With all the recent excitement of the spring flowers, I have been forgetting to photograph the goings-on of my beautiful ladies!
I know that quite a few of my readers are fellow chicken keepers, so today I took my camera when I went out to open the chicken house. At present I have six Buff Orpingtons and one Light Sussex. I have kept Buff Orpingtons for about six years now and originally chose them because of a story book called Nanny Fox which all my children loved. The central characters were Mrs Buff Orpington and her brood of chicks and the story started a family love for the breed.
There are also a number of largely feral chickens in the garden that have migrated here from next door and spend their nights roosting in my trees. Keeping my fingers very crossed I will say that we have not yet suffered any losses to foxes.
The Buff Orpingtons all sleep together in a heap on the floor of an old stable. Being a large breed they are too heavy to fly and so do not sleep on a perch. It is very important to make sure they are shut up every night as, sleeping on the ground, they would make easy prey for foxes. The Light Sussex does like to perch and usually sleeps on a window ledge in the stable. My ladies tend to stick together in the garden and above you can see most of them just setting out for their morning walk in the spring sunshine after I had opened the stable door.
After their moult last autumn the ladies are all sporting beautiful new feathers again. There have been very few eggs throughout the winter, but they are all laying now. The healthy red comb on the top of their heads is a sign that they are laying eggs. When they go broody and stop laying this comb will shrink and fade to a pale pink.
As soon as they get outside the ladies start to hunt out tasty insects to eat. They seem to have excellent eyesight, rarely missing any bugs unearthed as I garden with them.
Every morning as my ladies leave the stable, the chickens that have spilled over from next door head inside for a spot of breakfast.
There are a number of cockerels that have moved in over the last few years – tempted of course by my beautiful Buff Orpingtons. The ladies quite like the attention and as long as there is no fighting I am happy to let the handsome chaps parade around the garden. I do have one rule though – no cockerels are allowed in the stable overnight!
This particular cockerel I have named Harold. He has been around for at least three years and is most definitely the alpha male in the garden. As his hormones are rising with the spring sunshine I will need to put the ladies coats back on soon to protect their feathers from his attentions. Cockerels do not intend to hurt the hens, but they use their long talons to hold onto the hens feathers when mating. If the feathers get damaged the hens skin is exposed and can get badly scratched. The coats protect their backs.
Later in the day I noticed that one of Harold’s challengers had managed to collect a few ladies of his own. They all looked very peaceful together pecking in the stones outside my front window. I was behind the glass, so they were unaware of me taking photographs.
It looks like Mrs Buff Orpington has found a tasty treat. Cockerels are great gentlemen and will never eat before a lady. You will often see them rooting out bugs and calling their hens over to eat them.
As the weather is warming up I will need to keep my eye out for bugs such as red mite and lice, both in the chicken house and on the chickens. I have a powder that I put on the chickens about once a month to kill any pests living in their feathers. I will also give the chicken house a spring clean and dust all the walls and crevices with red mite powder.
On a practical note I know that many of you will be wondering how all these chickens affect my garden. Whilst they are a beautiful addition to the garden and I love to see them free ranging about, I have to admit that they do cause damage to the flower beds. I keep my chickens in the area that I loosely call the front garden. It is a large area of grass and mature trees that is also home to a sizeable population of wild rabbits and is visited by the odd monkjack. The main garden is fenced off and not accessible to rabbits or chickens. I do have flower beds in the front, but I keep my expectations low for these beds and stick to plants that are not too tasty – snowdrops, narcissi, peonies, bearded iris, box bushes and catmint are all plants that grow well in this area. When I had a smaller garden I kept the chickens in a very large fenced run to avoid damage to the flower beds.
I hope you have enjoyed this look at my chickens soaking up the spring sunshine.