Thursday, 4 December 2008

Chickens and the cycle of life (not for the squeamish)


I feel it is time for a chicken update.


We had friends staying last Friday night and in the morning my friend and I went to let the chickens out. It was cold but bright and still, the sky blue against the bare branches of the apple trees. As we went into the kitchen garden I thought I could see the two older chickens, who have a separate chicken house, out in their run. Odd, I thought, and odder still that they should be lying down. Everything said not right. The bodies of the hens lay in the run, decapitated. Rob opened the door and reached in. The breast meat had been taken from each.

Rob is a countryman. "Stoat," he said. "Stoat or weasel."


"But how did they get in?"


They must have squeezed their way under the floor of the house. All around the outside of the run was protected with a chicken wire skirt but we had not thought that anything could gain entrance through the tiny space under the house itself. We picked them up and took them to the bonfire where they were ceremonially despatched later in the day with the prunings from the gooseberry and redcurrant bushes. Sad to lose them and sad that their end was such a brutal one.


So that is the last of the four chickens which my friend incubated for me to start out chicken keeping life nearly two years ago. One was killed by a dog earlier this year protecting her new chicks, the cockerel, the glamourous Ormerod, was chased out by the same dog right up out into the lane and never recovered, and now the last two gone to nourish a stoat in this cold hard winter.


But the four chickens we kept from the great hatching in early June are going strong (ten eggs, seven hatched, three given to a friend and four installed in a converted and accidentally stoat-proof garden shed). And just this week they have begun to lay. I was entirely happy with the idea that they might not lay until February or March when the days begin to lengthen so I was delighted to find a single pale brown egg lying on the woodshavings in the hen house. The next day there was another and then for two or three days I found nothing. Ian wondered whether they were choosing to lay outside. A cockerel will keep watch for a laying hen so when I found one of our cockerels hanging around the front path for ten minutes or so I wondered if a hen was somewhere hidden away. I went out a few minutes later for some logs and he was gone but a rummage about revealed six eggs under the jasmine, probably three days worth of laying from both hens. It is such a joy to have our own eggs again. The deep orange yellow yolk and fresh taste are a revelation all over again after three months or so of buying even free range in the shops.


And so the wheel turns, I suppose. I shall buy some more chickens to supplement the flock if only I can find time between work and the house and the potting up of numbers of bare rooted plants bought for the garden and the growing demands of Christmas. Cards bought or sent? None. Cake made? Yes. Puddings? Yes. Presents made or bought? Just one or two for the easy people. Tomorrow afternoon I will engage it with it. Promise.

25 comments:

  1. When we kept chickens we were constantly trying to keep abreast of their egg laying hideaways - never in the nest boxes! Sorry about the deaths - one of the reasons we gave up, Mr Fox was too clever for us.

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  2. We have often thought about keeping Chickens, but the wildlife around here is far to canny. Gary

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  3. Gosh, it's brutal out there isn't it? And very sad that having dog-proofed your hens that something else has got them. Still, your care for your new batch has been repaid, enjoy the eggs.

    Christmas.... just tell me when it's over! Like you, I've done the easy ones but must face the rest!
    Ooh, just spotted your previous post so will catch up with that.

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  4. Very interesting that - we reared some pheasants from eggs two years ago (David ran over the nest when haymaking and killed the mother but rescued six of the eggs which we put under a bantam). Before releasing them into the wild we made them a run in the field and when we got up one morning something had decapitated one and eaten the breast - we always thought it was a stoat - your blog confirms it.

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  5. This sort of thing is so upsetting. I'm sure you are as fond as the hens as I am of the doves. It must be lovely to have eggs though.

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  6. So sorry about the hens. Must have been horrible to find them like that. I remember my grandmother becoming quite upset when something got a couple of her chickens.

    I am still pretending Christmas is not coming. You are welcome to sail down the river of denial with me. I'll be floating along until about December 12th.

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  7. Oh dear, such a familiar tale Elizabeth. Sometimes there si just nothing more you can do except get some more and accept that sometimes nature wins, finding a way despite your best efforts. I hope it hasn't put you off? As for Christmas, er yes is all I can say! A good start has dwindled recently here but at least the pud is made. Still the cake to go. Try not to be too hard on yourself and take that 15 mins you reminded me about which I think is an excellent idea (let's stretch it to 30!) xx

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  8. Anything to do with animals brings sadness in its train. Dogs - however old they get, they break our hearts when they go. Cats too. Horses as well. Farm animals? They have to go to market or die. Hens, ducks etc - other animals get them. So when it happens, we cry, wipe our eyes and start again - that is animals.

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  9. I'm so sorry, Elizabeth. What a horrid thing to come down to on what sounded like a lovely winter's morning. That's nature red in tooth and claw for you, I suppose. Still, lovely news about the new babies laying already. Reminds me of a children's book I used to read my boy when he was little - it was called "Something Wonderful" and was about a young hen laying her first egg.

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  10. Must be awful to lose stock like that.
    I wonder if you get attached to the hens like you would a cat or dog? I wouldn't want to eat them, though the constant supply of fresh eggs would be wonderful to have.

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  11. Our hens seem to be lucky, but now I have written this Mr Fox will come tonight I expect. i actually saw one nearby on Monday a5 5.30 am after a trip to the train station.

    my own hatchlings from bought eggs did well and are laying this year.. well only one laying now but have laid since jan. need more point of lay ones after xmas.

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  12. Oh dear, you just can't win. Sorry to hear your 2 'old girls' met an untimely end.

    Eggs though - lucky you - I'm resigned to waiting...and waiting... and waiting for mine to start. They have nowhere else to go but the henhouse so I won't be looking in the undergrowth.

    Enjoy your Christmas preparations....

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  13. Very sad about your hens, Elizabeth, but you are so right about how lovely it is to have your own eggs. We just have no space here and besides I like letting hens roam free to fly up into the trees and so escape foxes. I am glad your summer hatchings went so well.

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  14. Oh no.! poor chickens, so upsetting, I hear so many people have lost their hens and chickens due to a nasty Mr Fox.

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  15. Sorry to hear about your hens, must have been awful finding them like that. We have put slabs down inside our large run to stop anything digging under the coop, the hens are most happy kicking around in large amounts of straw when not free ranging.

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  16. Poor chickens blumin stoat.. Love the photo of the mountain x

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  17. paulaqhttp://locksparkfarm.wordpress.com6 December 2008 at 12:12

    Poultry seems to come with a death sentence - if it's not fox, it’s rats or stoats or weasel or possible dog, cat (baby chicks) and so forth.
    I'm just gearing myself up for more poultry - need proper eggs - I guess one just has to be a little resigned.

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  18. That's the heartbreak of the darn circle of life! We've been mink and otter free for a year now, but I well remember the morning I went out to find more than 12 dead hens.
    I'm glad yours are laying and that you're enjoying the eggs - there's nothing like a truly fresh egg.

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  19. Well today we collected two White Wyandottes from a local breeder. Let us see how they settle!
    I think you have to look after them as best you can and give them as good, well fed and protected and comfortable life as you can provide for them. And if they are taken, as sometimes they will be because everything has to eat, be a little sad and a lot philosophical.

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  20. How sad - poor girls. I'm hoping our eglu cube will keep our Bluebells safe, because it's off the ground.

    The Wyandottes will be lovely though, good luck with them.

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  21. So sad to hear about the last two of the old bunch - but good news that the babies have started laying. And two new hens too, hope they settle in well, safe from dogs and stoats and foxes.

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  22. Thank you for visiting my blog.

    Sorry to read about your chickens. Our neighbours used to have some which regularly found their way into our garden. They gave them away to a farmer who had lost his to a fox, I think. Initially, we missed them but we don't anymore.

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  23. What a horrid thing to discover for you - stoats and weasels are such effective predators. Grim. Still, hope you get some lovely new characters and enjoy more lovely eggs next year. Emma x

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  24. Interesting to write to someone who is already in tomorrow. Sorry to hear about the chickens. Am a transplanted farm kid and I miss all the animals. Had to look up "stoat" to discover in the U.S. it is called a weasel. Blogs are so great when they can connect people all over the word! Better luck next time.

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