Old time readers of the blog will know that I have a flock of mini bantam chickens. Pekins are perfect for us, small, friendly, cause minimal disruption in the garden, and oh so amusing to watch as they scuttle around. A few years ago I bought some eggs to hatch under a broody chicken, and accidentally ended up with a Polish. Cav, the result from that accident was a real character, a bird who blundered from disaster to disaster. When she died I hatched out some of her eggs, and ended up with Big Bird.
Big Bird is head cockerel in the flock at the moment, so it comes as no surprise that the eggs we hatched out earlier this year ended up having him as the dad.
Over the summer they've grown up, and now look like miniature adults. We thought we'd worked out which were boys, and which were girls, but in the same manner with which the bees have been misbehaving this year, we got it rather wrong!
We thought that the one on the left, with minimal wattle and comb was a girl. In the middle, bigger wattle and comb, therefore a boy. On the right, a regular Pekin rather than a Polish x Pekin we weren't sure. So names were chosen... Lilly, Freddy & Pip.
Except two weeks later, Lilly decides to start crowing. So rather than being names after characters in The Archers, he has now been renamed to Lillee after Dennis Lillee, the Australian fast bowler. As for the other two, knowing our luck they'll be boys as well. Mind you, we are now down to 3 cockerels in the flock, Millar died a few weeks ago. He'd had a really rough winter, had to spend a couple of weeks being nursed through a cold inside the house, and was my companion in the dye studio for many weeks because he was struggling to get around the garden. This summer he got a new lease of life, and spent most of his time hanging out with the new babies. He was such gentle soul, and it still feels odd to wander out to the garden and not have him wander up to say hello.
The babies are no longer the littlest chickens in the garden though. Last week we adopted a whole flock (14 hens and 2 cockerels) of Seramo bantams from a neighbour. They're moving back to the town, and can't take their chickens with them. They've spent all their life living in an enclosure, so watching them learn how to be proper chickens has been lovely. It's not until you watch a chicken out and about that you realise just how much goes on in their little heads. These newbies make my existing chickens look like giants, they're tiny, if you're not careful you can mistake them for a large blackbird.
Very slowly my flock of chickens has been reducing in number. Of the original 6 only 3 are left, and some of the later additions also died.
Life is good if you're a chicken in Dugoed. You get to be completely free range over 3/4 of an acre of garden, and have free run of the sheep field behind us. There's always a human who will indulge you in a handful of peanuts, or will turn over a patch of garden just so you can find worms....
However, in order to maintain the good life there needs to be a balance of males and females. Of course, the last batch of eggs that I hatched were all males, and I seem to have been playing catch up ever since.
Hence, 4 new additions to the flock.
Meet Lazy & Kate and Niddy & Noddy.
They're 4 young Pekin pullets, the same breed as the rest of my flock (if you ignore the Big Bird). They're still quite young, so no eggs laying for a while, but will hopefully keep my flock of boys happy.
Kate is the tiny Millefleur speckled one on the right, and is already the character of the group. First out for food, never stops eating, and is tiny in comparison to the others.
Lazy is the dark brown, she had to be the opposite to Kate because so far she seems to be able to have a nap anywhere...
Niddy is the grey lady, and Noddy the brown. They've yet to reveal themselves as much as the other two in terms of character. When you've been raised in a shed, with attached run, with 30 other chickens for company, moving to our green and open garden, with regular human contact is a real shock to the system. When I got Penny and Farthing 2 years ago it took them a month before they left the top lawn and dared to venture down the steps!
They'll get there though.... They've already been introduced to worms! Niddy was a particular fan, it won't take the others long to learn.
After a very wet winter it's finally starting to feel spring like. A whole week of dry weather has reduced the sogginess, and everything is feeling the benefit.
I've been able to dry fibre faster than I can dye it, which is a first for this year. Over the past couple of months I've been reaching the point where there isn't a single spot I can put damp fibre, on a very regular basis. With a bit of sunshine, and a slight breeze I've been drying stuff in 24 hours without even having to bring it in to the house.
The chickens have also been most appreciative of the drier weather. After a whole winter of refusing to get out of bed because of the rain, there's now a rugby scrum of fluffy bodies in the rush to get out of the door every morning.
They've also been able to indulge in some much needed maintenance, an afternoon dust bath and snooze in the sunshine is just the ticket.
The dust gets in to their feathers and cleans out all the dead skin. It must feel wonderful to be able to have a good scratch after so many weeks of dampness.
After a while all the itches are scratched and they just close their eyes and enjoy the sunshine. The first time you come across a pile of bodies, lying on their sides with their feet stretched out you tend to think the worst, but hilariously they are just napping.
Of course the sunshine and longer days have the additional effect of kicking reproductive systems in to play. We're now getting eggs again, which is lovely.
But the boys... they're being boys.
I am weak willed, and have 4 cockerels because I raised them all from eggs and couldn't bring myself to get rid of any of them.
Froome, my chocolate brown cockerel has his own little gang of 2 grey ladies, and they keep themselves to themselves. Big Bird is top cockerel, he bosses over a giant gang of all the other ladies, known as the Dark Side. Dusty is Big Bird's henchman, he hangs around with the Dark Side flock, but doesn't challenge Big Bird's position. Poor Millar belongs nowhere though, Froome is certainly not going to share his ladies, and Dusty isn't willing to let another male in to their flock. As a result Millar is always on the edge of things, trying very hard to convince the girls that his smooth good looks are what they want. In winter this is fine, but spring has bought rising testosterone levels, Millar and Dusty are scrapping for seniority, and the right to hang around with the flock.
My cockerels are looking a little like they've gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson... Millar is now living in his own house until the rush of spring fever subsides and they can all get on again.
Miss Penny is being a bit of a naughty girl at the moment. She's been half heartedly playing at being broody for the past 2 months. However when we've actually tried to put some eggs under her she's soon got bored and decided to wander off and get some food. When you next look though she's popped back, until you appear, at which point she's still starving hungry and will stamp her feet until she gets raspberries.
Seriously, she gets on the feed bucket and hops from foot to foot demanding that you feed her. It's hilarious!
This morning, in an attempt to convince her to give up on motherhood I carried her down to the bottom garden for a scratch around in the emptied compost bin. Five minutes later I look down the path and spot this.
A chicken... half way up a verbascum plant. The other flock had appeared, and Penny was having nothing to do with them.
She looked a little precarious, but very pleased with herself!
Verbascum are huge plants, but I'd never really seen them as being a potential chicken roost until now.
I love summer, the long days seem to stretch on forever, and being able to do stuff outside without adding layers, and battling the rain is glorious. Somehow though the days still aren't long enough, and the list of things I want to do takes over. I got back from Woolfest a week ago and gave myself the week off, I've been doing things around the house (more of that later), and generally giving myself a break from so much screen time. In my average working 6 day week I spend at least 2 of them on my laptop and it's nice to be free from editing photos, wading through emails, posting on social media, and other stuff that's required to make everything about Hilltop Cloud "work".
However, that means there is some catching up to do. I've not posted on the blog in a while and lots has happened.
First update is about the chickens. They've got new digs! This was my 30th birthday present to myself, the old small chicken house was starting to fall to bits and despite my best efforts I couldn't get on top of the red mite that had taken up permanent residence.
It's an Eglu Go Up! from Omlet, made from plastic so it will be easy to clean, and should last a long time.
After a bit of a strop about how they'd arranged the old house just how they liked it, and the new one didn't smell right, the gang have decided it will do nicely. It's currently home to Froome, Millar, and the grey ladies, together with Penny. The Dark Side currently sleep in the large shed, Dusty, Big Bird and the Supremes are all black so when they rampage around the garden they're collectively known as the Dark Side, given Big Bird's bullying streak it seems a bit apt.
Miss Penny has decided the new house is just what she wanted, and she's been trying to brood some imaginary eggs for the past couple of weeks.
Wiggo and Penny are now sporting some very smart maroon coats. Wiggo in particular was in a bit of a state, when chickens mate the cockerel stands on the back of the hen, and Wiggo's frizzly feathers are very brittle and over time she's been left with no feathers on her back. It means she gets chilly in the colder weather, and is also exposed to full power of the sun. The fleece is nice and light and after a bit of a strop she now doesn't even notice it's there.
You might have noticed that there was no mention of Boyo in the housing arrangements. Boyo is now living in the great chicken house in the sky, with unlimited supplied of tasty worms and as many snacks and ladies as he would want.
The grey chickens are 4 years old now, and for little chickens that's quite a good age. Recently he'd become a gentle old man, who quite liked a cuddle, and a snooze in the sunshine. He fell asleep in the vegetable garden one sunny afternoon and didn't wake up.
I do have something to remember him by though, my fiend Katharine bought me this tea towel and mug , which is uncannily like Boyo in his prime surrounded by his flock of ladies.
It's not just the chickens getting a new look house, behind the scenes I'm busy working on a new website for Hilltop Cloud, it's looking great so I'm hoping to get it up and running by the end of the week.
There have been 3 new additions to my mad flock of chickens.
One of the perils of hatching your own eggs is that you never know what you'll end up with, so you might just end up with lots of boys who mooch about the place, get in to scraps, and do nothing but eat (sound familiar?)
So far I've been a bit unlucky with my egg hatching, the first clutch was 2 girls and a boy, then last year I ended up with 3 boys... And of course the 2 who are no longer with us were both girls as well, so all in all the flock composition was a little boy heavy.
That's where these 3 beautiful black ladies come in. As my grey chickens get older they're laying less egss, and they also means more girls to go round and keep the cockerels happy.
They started off by being Boyo's little group of girls, and he did a wonderful job of introducing them to the delights of our free-range garden. Unfortunately they've decided he's a bit old for them, and they're now firmly part of Big Bird and Dusty's hareem. Penny is most happy, because until then she'd had 2 cockerels "taking care" of her...
A Broody chicken is a grumpy chicken. She likes to be left, on her own, in a gloomy spot, where her little brain will switch off for 3 weeks.
This is the chicken who is sat on the clutch of eggs. She's got roughly a week to go, we candled the eggs a few days ago, and it looks as if the boys have done their jobs, as all 6 seem to be fertile. There are no guarantees, but I'm hopeful that at least some of them will hatch out.
My particular breed of chickens are know for being good mothers. This also means they will go broody at the drop of the hat. Going broody is the state a chicken needs to be in if it is to sit on eggs for 3 weeks. They pull out the feathers on their under-belly, raise their body temperature, and will sit in a nest box without getting up for hours at a time. Broody is great when I want to hatch out eggs, but if I don't then it's a bit of a pain. Chickens who are broody are also grumpy, and will sometimes bully the laying chickens out of the nest box. They're also not laying any eggs themselves, and in their head they've already laid a clutch of eggs, and are sitting on them.
Wiggo, in the photo above has gone broody, and is being very grumpy about it. I lifted her out of the nest box, partly so she ate something, but also because if I do it enough times they do sometimes snap out of it. Whilst doing so, she made her feelings known and I did get a few well aimed pecks on my hand. She is looking a bit of a state though, with Cav gone she's now bottom of the pecking order, so does get pecked by the others, and her frizzle feathers are weaker and prone to breaking. She's not in pain, but she does look a little ridiculous.
Speaking of Cav, my friend Katharine made me a very lovely Easter/sorry Cav died present.
Much better for me than chocolate, a cupcake box filled with batts inspired by my flock of crazy chickens. Most of the fibre is fleece from her flock of sheep, and I'll have some of the fleeces on my stall at Wonderwool Wales.
My gawky babies of the spring are now all grown up. Of the 6 eggs I hatched, 3 survived, and all 3 are cockerels... good job I bought some more adult hens this summer. I'm far too much of a softy to get rid of them just because they don't lay eggs.
They spend most of their time hanging around together. The more mature ladies find them far too brash and exuberent, and the older cockerels will have nothing to do with the wippersnappers.
They've also discovered the delights of girls, and as a result have been harassing the ladies, and then run off when caught in the act by the older cockerels. They are a trio of sex pests. Most of the hens don't want to know and will just turn tail, or even give them a good pecking.
This however, is Penny. Penny doesn't do saying no. Not a day goes by when Penny doens't have to be rescued from underneath a pile of exuberent black cockerels who all think she's the best thing since sliced bread. This afternoon Big Bird was standing on her facing one way, and then Millar got in on the act as well by standing on her head. Subtle, they are not.
This is Big Bird. He's Cav's son, Cav was my tame accidental Polish who blundered around getting confused by everything, and was happiest when sat on your lap being hand fed. She was killed on the road last spring. Big Bird has no such issues. A more brash cockerel you could not hope to find.
They've also found all the good spots to hang out. Dad's workshop is nice and dry, and comes complete witha tame human who provides a regular supply of corn. They've even been known to sit on the shelf by his lathe watching him turn. Lets hope they don't fall off or it might be a very fast form of rotisserie chicken!
I am all too aware that it has been far too long since I shared any photos of this years baby chickens. They really aren't babies any longer...
This photo just sums them up. Curious, and interested in everything, particularly if it might provide food. Preferably in the form of cake. In a fashion typical of teenagers everywere they'd much rather exist on a diet of junk food.
I also love this photo as it shows off Big Bird's eyes. He has deep molten eyes, very un-chicken like, they're utterly beautiful.
Of course when you see him like this all of sudden he's not so beautiful and looks so very like a miniature dinosaur. Stick on 2 mini arms and you have a perfect T-Rex lookalike.
I'm also in love with his little inidan head-dress of mini feathers poking straight up! Of couse in his head he is big tough cockerel and is having none of this looking cute!
Speaking of cockerels.
This is Boyo, my oldest lad, alas, he's now been usurped by the younger model, and is having to hang around with the babies.
All the girls seem to prefer Froome's surfer boy highlights and muscular physique.
We're in mid-chicken moult right now, the shed looks like an explosion in a feather pillow factory, and it's really interesting to see hwo much the chocolate colour of Froome and Wiggo has been bleached by the sun.
The dark colour on his chest is fresh feathers, you can see the pale patches where the old feathers remain. Over the next few weeks he'll loose the pale ones and go back to being chocolate coloured again.
This feather shows the bleaching perfectly, in the middle part it was tucked under another feather, with just the ends exposed to the sunlight. The sun is so incredibly powerful a bleaching agent, though of course it's not going to be with us for much longer. Chickens moulting is just another one of the signs that summer really is over.
Baby Chicks are no longer babies...
We've gone through the awkward partially feathered stage, and now just look like mini adults, from now on it's all about getting bigger.
This is Big Bird. Sex unkown, but possibly a cockerel, mostly based on beahviour, Polish chickens don't have wattles, and of course he's a cross between a Polish and my Pekin cockerels. He's so like Cav, sometimes I have to do a second take, everything from the mannerisms, to the head movements.
There's even a few white patches on his plummage.
The bird in the foreground is most definitely a cockerel, he's even been caught trying out a few experimental (very pathetic) crows! We've called him Millar, partly as it keeps with my cycling name theme, but also because it goes very well with his sister Dusty.
She was being camera shy this morning, but as you can see, I have yet another ridiculous chicken on my hands. She's ended up being Dusty because she looks exactly like a feather duster with a head poking out of the top!