Further chicken traumas

Well, I predicted that Hazel chicken wouldn’t make it to Christmas and yesterday she proved me right. Whatever the malfunction was that stopped her laying has finally beaten her, so I’ll be digging another hole down the allotment shortly.

RIP Hazel chicken. I think you had a good life.


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Small and perfectly formed

The show season in Weardale is well and truly on. Tomorrow is the start of Wolsingham Show (oldest agricultural show in England) and next week is the turn of Stanhope. Last week I made my first ever visit to the Weardale Show in St John’s Chapel.

Weardale instantly became my favourite agricultural show. No queueing for parking, spacious, friendly, extremely dog-friendly, generally very laid back, and very very welcoming. This is a small show in Upper Weardale, with an emphasis on local livestock showing. To be honest, I was expecting it to feel cliquey and local (in the Royston Vasey sense). Well, I was wrong, so I apologise: sorry Weardale Show.

The Weardale Show was an opportunity to try out two things – my new macro lens, and Holly’s de-stress training. Holly excelled herself. She is newly obsessed with smelling other dogs’ scent messages, and once we were passed the car park (Cars! Let me round up the cars! Pleeaase let me round up the cars!) she was happy checking out all those doggy messages. She also got to wear her new de-stress T-shirt. Whether it works or not, who can say, but she loves having it put on (and this is a dog that will attempt to take your arm off if you even think of examining her).

If you find yourself in the area next August, you could do worse than popping in to the Weardale Show. Maybe I’ll see you there?







After a long break (aka sulk) I’ve started posting stuff to flickr again. There are more Weardale Show photos here.



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Chicken traumas

I’ve had a malfunctioning chicken for a while. For whatever reason (most likely the ridiculous over-breeding that goes into commercial layers) she cannot make eggs with shells. Every so often she fails to pass her shell-less egg and becomes ill. I’ve been predicting for a few months that I’ll be down to three chickens before Xmas.

So it was a bit of a shock to realise that one of my other chickens was poorly. With hindsight I realise that she had stopped laying eggs. I hadn’t noticed because my remaining layers have gone feral, making nests under hedges and in flower pots. I just assumed that Rowan Chicken had found a better hiding place than the others. 

As with most home hen-keepers, I hit my poultry books (and of course Google) and diagnosed sour crop. This can be fatal, and often indicates an underlying problem, but is something you treat at home rather than run straight to the vets. Unfortunately, by the time I’d got back from a shopping trip into town, armed with the obligatory live yogurt, Rowan was looking extremely ill. She didn’t survive the night and is now keeping me metaphorical company up the allotment.

I’m realistic about chicken-keeping, but I’ll miss Rowan. Holly will really miss Rowan. Holly’s favourite game was to make Rowan turn on a circle. Rowan usually won by running under her belly. Rowan also took every opportunity to forage in the house, not helped by Holly’s habit of herding her ever further into the interior.

So now I have three chickens and two layers. At least Hazel, my malfunctioning chicken, is doing well (for now).






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Smugness: a cautionary tale

In heavy rain, Wolsingham is prone to flash flooding. The streets can turn into instant rivers and sandbags are a permanent presence in some vulnerable areas. Despite being rather close to the river, water runoff flows safely past our house and so we only fret when the river starts rising.

Last night we were sitting in the pub when the heavens opened. The downpour barely lasted long enough for us to reminisce about previous flood events, and mock the hapless householder whose broken down pipe was pumping water down their wall (“they need to fix that if they don’t want the damp to seep in”). It lasted just long enough for us to prolong our stay in the pub by two rounds.

So I really wasn’t expecting My Taller Half’s cry upon opening the back door “where has all this water come from?”. We had a flood.

First we checked the roof, then the door and windows. It looked like someone had turned on a hose. Then I remembered that sputtering down pipe we had been so quick to judge. Our back porch encloses the drain for the kitchen sink and back gutter. The force of the water had driven all the moss from the gutter into the drain and blocked it. Twenty minutes worth of thunderstorm was now sitting on our porch floor.

On the bright side, only the porch was flooded and I have now lifted off the final piece of hated lino. On the downside, our plans to get the floor tiled will have to wait for it to dry out. If only we’d had the foresight to get our gutters cleaned.

Next time I hope we think twice before passing comment on the misfortune of others.

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The Green Strawberry Thief

Nurturing plants up the Lottie. So much to do. I must net the strawberries soon.

My early strawberries start to ripen. One for me, one to the rot, two to the birds.

I net my first row. The others are still green. I will net them tomorrow.

I start to net. What’s this? Something is eating the strawberries – the green strawberries.

Cursing the blackbird as I net, I hear a shy chirruping from the hedge. I look up. A blackbird delicately tends to its young brood, oblivious to my gaze.

The Green Strawberry Thief. All is forgiven. For now.

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Not what I was hoping to tell you

There are no guarantees in nature, but I was rather hoping that I’d be keeping you updated on our garden blackbird shenanigans. Sadly, this is not to be. Something (I’m thinking mink, but I really don’t know) emptied the nest. One of the babies was dead on the ground, the others I presume were eaten.

It’s not all sad though. The sparrows are eating me out of house and home, as they have decided that my garden is the very best place to bring their loud and hungry children. We even have a tree sparrow family joining in. Lots of seed is getting dropped on the ground, so the chickens are happy too.

Two of the many sparrows that are visiting the garden right now

Two of the many sparrows that are visiting the garden right now

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The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen

For over a year we’ve had a tame blackbird living in our garden. With her pied plumage, she was easy to spot. More an honorary chicken than a blackbird, she would chide me if I was late in the morning letting the chickens out letting her into the chicken run. Bold and confident (unless I had my camera out, in which case she was incredibly shy), she would not be bullied by chickens or dog.

"My blackbird". She didn't like to show off her pied markings when I had my camera out

“My blackbird”. She didn’t like to show off her pied markings when I had my camera out

A non-breeder and reluctant flyer, she spent all last summer living it up in the garden, pretending to be a chicken, while other blackbirds squabbled and procreated but generally stayed out of the way. This spring I thought she would team up with a male, but she lost out in a vicious fight with a rival female. She stayed put though – the successful pair bred elsewhere.

Then one day I came back from a dog walk to an awful sight – a circle of blackbird-sized pale feathers next to her favourite hedge. I spotted the sparrowhawk tucking into a meal in a nearby tree. For two days I kept looking for ‘my blackbird’, knowing the truth but not wishing to believe it.

Roll on a few weeks, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching the rival female build a nest against the fence in my forsythia hedge. Not one of my regular visitors, nevertheless she makes no attempt to hide her activities, and has put up with a noisy dog, the construction of a new chicken fence, and builders. Lots of builders – the garden looks more like a building site right now. 

Eye Spy. There is a blackbird in this photo. Honestly

Eye Spy. There is a blackbird in this photo. Honestly

In a new development, a member of her first brood has found the nest. I often see it sitting on the fence, moping. Poor thing.

I can report today that the chicks have now hatched. The male gives me dirty looks before hopping onto the nest, but my new garden queen doesn’t care. The chicks are so quiet, you would never know they were there if their mother wasn’t so obvious. I spied them today though – there are at least three in the nest. I look forward to seeing them develop. 

I miss my old friend, but life goes on. The Queen is dead. Long live the Queen.

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