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Trish Colton

Trish Colton

Trish has been writing general interest articles for over 35 years, published in the UK and abroad, 4 local history books and self-published another one.

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What The Cluck

A humorous look at keeping chickens as pets in your back garden

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Lifestyle Pets
Scotland, United Kingdom
35,000 words
100% complete
4 publishers interested

Synopsis

We have used chickens as a food source for centuries but these days more and more of us are keeping them in our back yards and gardens as pets - and discovering that they will keep us hugely amused, if we just spend some time watching them.

I do exactly that.  Over the years my various flocks' antics have had me laughing so much my sides hurt.   "What The Cluck" tells more of the stories that I began sharing in my previous book "Mucky Cluckers".

Here's an example; as is so often the case it features my lovely clown of a cockerel Fizz:

"He got up one morning and headed straight for Rebecca, with dishonourable intentions.  Unfortunately for him Rebecca was breakfasting beside Maggie, who did not like to be disturbed when she was eating and made that very clear to Fizz.   Poor old Fizz found himself being chased back from whence he came.   It was just his luck that Irene was on her way up the run, just as he was on his rather rapid way down.  That irritated Irene because her breakfast was being delayed.  

"So there he was, sandwiched between a grouchy Orpington and a tetchy Light Sussex.   His only way was up and he made a magnificent vertical leap.  The snag with his strategic withdrawal plan was that he came straight down again and found himself in the same adverse circumstances.  Before Irene and Maggie could have another go at him, he ducked under an adjacent log and legged it across the run, coming to a halt as close beside me as he could get."

And another with Fizz's sister, Pom-Pom playing the main role this time:

"One afternoon I let them all out into the garden and blow me if Punk didn't start her nonsense again!   I scooped Pom-Pom up and had words with Punk.   Pom-Pom and I sat on the garden bench, I put her on my knee and fed her a bit of corn. Then she glanced down and spotted Punk chomping on the grass nearby.   Panic stations!   And she decided that her best course of action was to climb up me.

"I presumed she was heading for my shoulder, but I presumed wrong. She got as far as my busty substances, found them rather comfy and settled down. She shuffled around a little so that my chin rested nicely on her back and then went to sleep. Well it was a lovely sunny afternoon, she felt safe, so why not?   I can't honestly say it was equally as comfortable for me. For a start, because she rarely does any digging, her claws are quite sharp.   Even though she was at rest, they stuck into parts of my anatomy that simply aren't used to that kind of treatment. And I suppose I could have moved my chin, but she had got it just where she wanted it, so it hardly seemed fair to put it somewhere else.

"After a while, along came Fizz who jumped up on my lap and began to preen. This woke Pom-Pom who thought preening was an excellent idea. That was another first for me - having a chicken sitting on my less than ample bosom, tarting herself up."

Outline

Introduction 

The names, breeds and ages of my chickens in present and previous flocks.  There will be pictures of all of them.

The book will be illustrated throughout with photographs.

Chapter 1

Various CEOs (Chickens Everyone Obeys); Changing flock dynamics; Introducing Fizz (the weirdo cockerel); Chickens vs local wildlife; Fine dining for chickens; Shunning the smoking shelter.

Chapter 2

Mostly about Fizz:  Fizz starts a choir;  Basil shows true cockerel bravery while Fizz demonstrates his version of it and a third cockerel shows off his diplomatic skills; Fizz's libido gets him into all sorts of trouble; chickens have the same IQ as human toddlers and Scrat gives an exhibition of hers; chicken Olympics; my flock disobey the rules of moulting.

Chapter 3

Tu-Tu finally becomes CEO; we replenish the depleted flock; introducing the newbies, who get their revenge for not being made welcome; egg laying quirks; Tu-Tureminds the newbies who is boss; Pom-Pom has a brainwave.

Chapter 4

Broody blues - many breeds go broody, which means fun and games for chicken keepers; a determinedly broody hen nests up a tree; shared parenthood; chickens in Africa; shopping with a newborn chick nestling in my bra; fascinating faeces.

Chapter 5 

Lap-chickens - not always as straightforward as it should be; Some "Great Escapes".

Chapter 6 

A pet hen has her own pet cat; friendships and alliances; Fizz loses track of his harem because he's a wuss;  the flock help us dig a new vegetable garden;  Pom-Pom and the paparazzi.

Chapter 7 

Foul tempered fowls; Punk the drama queen; Fizz encourages some lazy hens to get up;  Rebecca  doesn't want to lay an egg, no matter what Fizz says.

Chapter 8 

Fizz remembers it's time for his libido to wake up; Prissy causes a tailback, then Scrat causes a blockage; bedtime stories; why I've got grey hairs.

Chapter 9 

Chicken trickery; some hens ride out a storm.

Chapter 10 

Pom-Pom and her tomato addiction; wet, wet, wet; 

Chapter 11 

Cunning plans to see who can make me jump most; Rebecca's cunning plan to escape Fizz; Fizz's attempts at romance yield totally unexpected results.
Chapter 12 

Bath time; another Punk drama; Pom-Pom gets stuck in the snow; everyone hates Winter and the snow, but then spring arrives.

Chapter 13 

Mad Irene warns of danger; Fizz finally conquers Maggie, then accidentally whacks her; chicken thieves; the local pheasant makes me look stupid.

Chapter 14 

The flock give me a fright; another Basil goes on an expedition; Snowdrop goes shopping;  Punk spends the night in the lounge; Fizz is introduced to the vet.

Chapter 15 

The flock moves to Scotland in the middle of winter and are not impressed; Scrat gets bored, explores the new garden and shows the others how to get out; Pom-Pom has two close escapes; Rebecca meets her new vet; Punk attacks a pheasant; Avian Flu means the flock goes into lock down, much to their annoyance.

Chapter 16 

A history of the breeds that are or have been in my flock; Araucana (Punk and Rebecca), Croad Langshan (Prissy), Orpington (the late Maggie), Pekin (Tu-Tu), Poland (Fizz and Pom-Pom, Rhode Island Red (the late Titian, Sebright (the late Queen B), Sussex - Light (the late Mad Irene) and Silver (Nonami and Scrat)

Chicken Trivia 

From their relationship to Tyrannosaurus rex to their contribution to space travel, there are 22 quirky facts about chickens included in this final chapter.

Author

Almost a million people in Britain keep small flocks of chickens in their back garden, including the author.  The USA also has numerous backyard chicken enthusiasts across the country and an academic survey there showed that 57% of people who had backyard chickens kept them as pets.  There is a similar enthusiasm for these lovely, intelligent, often hilarious birds in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  And chickens do indeed make wonderful pets.  

Although there are over 100 different breeds recognised in the UK by the Poultry Club of Great Britain and a similar number by the American Poultry Association, nevertheless each chicken has a different personality.   But the one thing they all have in common is the ability to make you laugh.   "What The Cluck" is the continuing story of the author's small flock of chickens who kindly allow her to share their back garden.   "What The Cluck" continues the theme of how amusing chickens can be.
The closest living relatives to Tyrannosaurus Rex are chickens.  You might have thought this would have instilled a modicum of gravitas in them, but it has not.   Provide them with a nice clean nest box to lay their eggs in and some of them will use it, but there will always be the rebels who lay theirs in the middle of nettle beds or the stickiest, yuckiest mud patch they can find.  Another of their tricks is to jump into the back of a handy car, go for a surreptitious ride and leave an egg on the back seat instead of a "thankyou" note.   Chickens are far more intelligent than they are generally given credit for ... and far more devious too.

My first encounter with chickens was as a very young child; my grandfather kept them in his rural back garden.   If he could see me now, sitting in my garden stroking a chicken that has decided to sit on my lap, he'd probably throw his hands up in despair.  To him, chickens were there to supply his family with eggs and to be eaten when they could no longer do that.  


It was some years before I kept a flock of my own and by that time I had moved to Africa, where I lived for 12 years.   We were given two elderly bantam hens who took it in turns to sit on 13 eggs and managed to hatch one chick between them, which they shared.    

I returned to England 30 years ago and ended up living in a rural village in North Yorkshire in an ideal location to build up another small flock.  The daft antics of that flock prompted me to write "Mucky Cluckers", quite a few of whose readers have asked me on a number of occasions to write a follow-up.   The chickens and I later moved to Scotland (they weren't too pleased about that at first, but they've got used to it now). 

SERIOUS BIT
My flocks have been fortunate to be kept by someone who loves and cares deeply for them.  Not all chickens are so lucky.  Legislation has been passed in UK to improve conditions for commercial caged hens, which it does - but not by very much.   Even hens kept in barns don't fare much better, being packed far too closely together.  And "free range" is too often very loosely interpreted by commercial chicken farmers.  

However they are farmed, once they reach 18 months old and their eggs arrive less frequently, these birds are sent to the slaughterhouse.  There are charitable organisations in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia who rescue as many of these "past their use by date" chickens as they can and find new homes for them with caring owners.  The rapid response by these birds to a bit of TLC has to be seen to be believed.   Running costs for these charities are high, so although I can't possibly help all of them, I have chosen to help two that I know personally, by donating to them some of the money from that raised here.  I have indicated donation amounts in the appropriate reward levels.  So if you are interested in animal welfare, those are the rewards to go for if you can (and thankyou in advance).

Promotion

Mention it on numerous chicken related Facebook pages (including my personal page and Mucky Cluckers page), plus FB pages for chicken breed clubs in UK, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, as well as FB pages for Listening Books and booksellers' pages in those 5 countries.  The two chicken rescue charities I mention in the rewards are happy to help me publicise to their supporters.  Send reading copies to chicken and pet magazines, my local newspapers, Scottish editions of national newspapers, national magazines published by a locally-based publisher.  Leaflets and emails to independent bookshops.   Put it on Amazon, announce it on my blog and website (to be set up), announce it on my Amazon author page, Twitter (2000+ followers ). Pinterest and Twitter announcements.

Competition

Mucky Cluckers - Tales from the chicken run by Trish Colton
Publisher: Fallen Tree Originals (2012)

100 ways for a chicken to train its human by Diane Parker
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton; UK ed. edition (15 Mar. 2007)

Hen and the Art of Chicken Maintenance by Martin Gurdon 
Publisher: New Holland Publishers Ltd; First Edition edition (1 Mar. 2003)

Doing Bird Paperback by Martin Gurdon
Publisher: Constable (19 Mar. 2013)

Chickens, Mules and Two Old Fools by Victoria Twead
Publisher: Legend Press Ltd (3 Oct. 2009)

Sample

Chapter 1

As time passes flock dynamics are bound to change.   Inevitably a CEO (Chicken Everyone Obeys) will die and the mantle of authority will be draped over another chicken's feathery shoulders.  If there's a cockerel in the flock, he would normally be the one to take charge.  We have a cockerel, but it has never occurred to Fizz that he should lead anyone - unless it's toward a good place to hide in times of danger.  He is always far too busy bonking Punk, Rebecca and anyone else who stands still long enough for him to leap on them (and slip awkwardly off).

In truth, Fizz never was leadership material right from the start.  Tu-Tu was quite determined to be broody, so we had gone to collect three fertile Araucana eggs for her to sit on, but were captivated by some Poland chicks we saw there.   I was bemused by the energetic behaviour of one of them in particular and I just loved his bizarre, spiky hairdo.   All the youngsters were happy to take up residence on our shoulders and those of the breeder and her young daughter.   Not the weirdo though.  That one explored both of my shoulders, pausing only to check if there was anything interesting hiding under my hair.  Then he made it clear he needed to seek out pastures new, and was on the point of launching himself into the great unknown when I grabbed him and deposited him safely on the lawn.  I say "he", but we didn't know that at the time.  We took a second Poland chick so they would be company for each other.  The breeder was pretty sure they were both hens.  Wrong!   My mad chick grew up to be a crazy cockerel.

The chicks were kept in our kitchen for the first week while we sorted out their living quarters and we discovered that Fizz ran everywhere and ran frequently.   When we sat on the floor with them, he ran over our legs.  When we didn't, he ran through his food and water dishes and over his sister.  

His sister, Pom-Pom, was a quiet, refined character and immediately made it clear that she considered herself superior to us, superior to Fizz and superior to everyone and everything.   She has never found a reason to change her mind about that.

When Queen B, our first CEO, was still with us we all knew where we were in the pecking order, even me.  She nominated Tu-Tu as her enforcer, although to be honest she had no option as there was just the two of them for the first 24 hours.  As it turned out, the little Pekin was an excellent choice.  She put her heart and soul into the job.   Sometimes an icy look from Queen B was all that was needed to keep order in the ranks.  But if a good pecking was called for, Tu-Tu was happy to oblige.

Discipline was easily maintained by our dynamic duo, even after the arrival of the Polands.  Pom-Pom spent a lot of her time fast asleep with her head tucked under my son's armpit when we were visiting the run or the garden, so she wasn't a problem.  Fizz astonished the older residents of the flock by constantly rushing around, checking stuff out.  Unfortunately he went just too far on one occasion.     It was during a visit to the garden when Fizz learned the hard way that you do not mess with Queen B!   Her ladyship had scratched out a nice little hollow in a sunny spot over by the dry stone wall. It was late afternoon but the sun’s rays still had a fair amount of warmth in them, so Queen B took the opportunity to make herself comfortable and have a snooze. 

It was a perfect, peaceful summer afternoon until Fizz dashed over and pecked Queen B in the middle of her back. Then all hell broke loose! She was absolutely livid at this rude awakening, and by such a junior member of the flock at that. She clouted him from one side of the garden to the other and back again, pecking, feather pulling and yelling blue murder! We only had a tiny garden, but it must have seemed the size of a country estate to Fizz by the time Queen B had finished with him.

Things changed quite a bit when Tu-Tu hatched the Araucanas.  For a start, she lost her No. 2 place and dropped right to the bottom of the pecking order.  I suppose that's what happens when you disappear from the flock for several weeks.  It may have been for a good cause, but I strongly suspect chickens have longer memories than is generally realised.  They remembered how enthusiastically she had done her previous duties and recognised how vulnerable she had now become.  Despite encouragement from Queen B, she didn't regain her higher status until several years later.

One of the Araucana hatchlings was a feisty little cockerel.  We found a lovely home for this handsome chap, but not before he'd got the measure of everyone in the flock.  He left before there was time for a confrontation with Queen B.  Just as well really, because she would never have accepted demotion and I have a feeling he wouldn't either.  I suspect blood may have been spilled.

Tu-Tu quietly filled the top position when it became vacant a couple of CEOs later.   She had had experience as second-in-command, so she knows what's what and will stand no nonsense.   In her youth, Tu-Tu often had to jump as high as she could to deliver a punishment peck to a much bigger hen, these days one of her "looks" is usually enough.  If that doesn't work, two or three short steps towards the offender invariably achieves the required result. Her foster-daughter Punk is standing in the wings, so to speak, wishing like 
mad that mum would abdicate.   She has aspired to be the CEO since she was a mere chick.   But Tu-Tu has always stood between her and the top spot and Punk has more sense than to challenge her mum.  

Although it can't really be claimed that Fizz is a perfect example of how a good cockerel (or even a normal one) should behave, nonetheless he tries his best.   For example he will often call the girls over to munch on a tasty snack he's found for them, even if it does turn out to be a long dead leaf. These days they usually ignore his calls, ever since he invited them to sample my new red watering can. But when he discovered something that really was enjoyable in the shape of a succulent grub; Rebecca wandered over to check it out. No matter what she did she could not manage to keep it in her beak long enough to swallow it.  The little grub just kept falling out.   Punk was intrigued by all this activity, so she sauntered over to see if she could help.  She very kindly showed Rebecca how to pick the grub up, manipulate it to the back of her throat and swallow it.  I'd swear she had a smirk on her face as she walked off!

Although they are systems, the Araucanas have totally different personalities.   Whereas Punk likes to take her time getting up in the morning, Rebecca wants to be first out. She likes to ensure she is first to arrive in the run, first to have breakfast from the main bowl and first to take samples from all the cups hanging around the run.  As far as she is concerned it's The Law. But things don't always work according to plan. One morning both Tu-Tu and Nonami left the coop before her.   Unlike Rebecca they like to stand on the ramp for a moment or two, savouring the day before breakfast. They want to enjoy the aroma of a fresh winter morning and admire the frost on the field beyond the garden.  That 

sort of thing. Rebecca has no time for such nonsense, so she jumped over each of them in turn as if they were dominoes.

Then there was her encounter with our friendly neighbourhood pheasant. We first made his acquaintance a couple of years ago when he took over from his dad. We knew his grandad too.  When we are in the outhouse preparing the chickens' breakfast he marches over, stands in the doorway and demands his share. When he sees us in the garden each afternoon he races across the field, leaps onto the wall and gets stuck into the pile of corn he knows will be waiting for him.  But one day he decided he needed more supplies and jumped down into the garden to join the chickens.   He came face to face with Rebecca.  She glared at him, thought that should be enough to scare him off and turned away.  He turned away too and walked straight into Nonami's path.   She was having none of it and flew at him feet first!  That was enough for the pheasant and he retired to the safety of his wall.

Food and drink are obviously vital features of any creature's life, so the front cover of one issue of Practical Poultry magazine brought a huge grin to my face.  It said, "Discover what your hens need to eat".   My thoughts immediately flew to Prissy.   She seems to have a need to eat everything available and preferably all the time.  I've never met a chicken with such a voracious appetite!  Fortunately she also spends a lot of time running from place to place seeking any little snacks she may have missed earlier; such constant exercise ensures she never puts too much weight on.

There was one occasion when Pom-Pom was standing halfway between Prissy and a leaf she fancied eating.  She was so intent on getting to the leaf before anyone else did that instead of walking round Pom-Pom, she walked straight over her!   Pom-Pom was, understandably, less than impressed.  So she administered a big peck and kept muttering for ages after that.

That was an interesting month for our little Poland hen, one way and another.  For a start she tasted lager for the first time.   I don't doubt for a minute that she would have preferred champagne, but that's life.  My son had put his almost empty glass down on the lawn beside his chair.   Despite the bouffant hairstyle which covers her eyes, Pom-Pom doesn't miss much; so she wandered over and decided to taste test the liquid she spotted at the bottom of the glass.  She was thoroughly enjoying it too, when I hauled her away.

According to my son our little flock are the least adventurous chickens in poultry history. I think he may be right. As a treat (so we thought) we hung a pecking block in the cage part of their run; the weather had been miserable lately and therefore so were the chickens. The pecking block would occupy them for a while and give them a bit of pleasure.

Did it hell!   They were afraid of it and avoided it like the plague.   When they realised it was refusing to leave, they took to ignoring it and looked away when they walked past it. 
That should teach it!   But it didn't, so Punk decided to take action.   I didn't actually hear her swearing at it, but knowing Punk she probably did – she swears at everyone and everything at the least provocation.   But I have seen her attacking it. She started off by giving it a few hard pecks to teach it a lesson and discovered that actually, it tasted rather nice. Now she gives it a few pecks whenever she walks past.  But none of the others go near it, if they can avoid it.   My theory is that Punk has let it be known that she is happy to keep the pecking block under control all by herself. The others needn't worry, she will do the job alone because she's a courageous, community-spirited girl.   The rest of the flock can see for themselves that it is wasting away day by day, so plucky Punk is obviously doing a good job.

Unfortunately Fizz has learned how to do the "I'VE LAID AN EGG" cackle, so when the hen  who has actually laid the egg tells the folk in the next county about her achievement, Fizz duets with her.   The huge racket the pair of them make alerts me too.  So I hurtle down to the coop to retrieve the offering and hope like mad I get there before the flock 
does, because they've discovered how tasty eggs are and will happily dine on them if I don't get there first.

I've done my best to discourage this unfortunate habit of theirs, not least because it verges on cannibalism.   The coop has a fairly large air vent, which I can adjust to let more air in, or less.  I now close this completely during the day so the inside of the coop is a lot darker. It seems to have helped, although Scrat, in a helpful mood, laid an egg in their water dish for the others which they immediately and gratefully ate.   And I've just looked out of my window to see Prissy charging round the run with the remains of an egg shell in her mouth, being chased by the rest of the flock.

Tu-Tu used to loudly announce to the world that she'd laid an egg -  a surprisingly loud voice for such a small hen - but these days she keeps very quiet about it.   What's hers is hers and not for the delectation of the rest of the flock.

Twice a year their diet changes completely for 7 days when they are treated for worms.   I had to give them their worm treatment a couple of weeks ago; while this is going on they are supposed to be fed only special medicated pellets, no treats or normal food.  One day when I went to check up on them the three newbies were wandering round but nobody else was to be seen. However, I could hear a tap, tap, tapping from inside the coop. I lifted the lid of the nest box and discovered the source of the noise. There was Pom-Pom pecking away at a broken egg, with the rest of the gang lined up behind her, awaiting their turn at this delectable, forbidden treat.  There had been no egg eating incidents for ages, and I was hoping we had left that particular bad habit behind. Sadly it seemed I was wrong. Last time all I had to do was make the coop a bit darker during daylight hours. It worked then so I had hoped it would work again this time, but it seems that temptation won.

The egg eating became less of a problem when Tu-Tu went into broody mode. As soon as an egg was laid she snaffled it and rolled it under her hot little tummy.   Thus it was safe from marauders just wanting a quick snack.  Tu-Tu and I eventually reached a mutually satisfactory agreement.   I would allow her to lounge around in the nest box for as long as she liked, but any eggs would be mine.

Maybe Fizz introduced the whole egg eating experience - perhaps he felt the need to put a bit of extra oomph in his life and thought eggs might provide what he was lacking, because lately I've noticed that he will dance up to the girls, but quite often that's as far as he goes. Just the dancing, no bonking.   When he danced up to Nonami the first time, she looked apprehensive as she was still a virgin at that point. She'd seen what happened to the older girls after the flirtation dance bit and wasn't at all sure she was ready for it.   But Fizz then jumped on my knee and danced along my leg towards me!  Obviously the poor lad couldn't distinguish his youthful pullets from his old boilers.

Because the chickens only had the small area of the cage beneath their coop to shelter in when the weather got nasty, we decided to build them a smoking shelter so they had somewhere else to go as well.

When the corner posts were in place and the roof had been fixed on, Maggie very kindly went in to check that my son had done the job properly.   She takes her responsibilities seriously and inspected one particular post very closely indeed.  She was aware that darkness was closing in fast, most of the others had gone to bed and she would be following them soon. When no comments were forthcoming, we took it that everything was in order and carried on.  The next morning we put Maggie's favourite blue water dish in the shelter, opened the coop and stood back to watch the flock's reaction.

Did they get up that morning, do a double-take and nudge each other saying, "Wow, will you look at that!"   No.  Nothing.   Not one of those pesky fowls so much as glanced in the direction of their beautiful new refuge from inclement weather!   Despite her inspection the previous evening, Maggie headed for where her blue dish used to be.   When it wasn't there, rather than walk a couple of feet to the green drinker she slurped up some muddy water from a depression in the ground that must have been all of 1" deep.   For a few days they all made a point of avoiding their splendid new shelter until Punk accidentally found her way in.

I went to open up one morning and it was obvious that Punk had something on her mind.  Unusually for her, she exited the coop reasonably gracefully.  Her normal practice, once she's finally decided to get up, is to elbow the others out of her way so that she can rush into the run to see what she's been missing.   Today, it was more of a saunter.  I could almost (but not quite) hear her asking, "I say old girl, could I just squeeze past you please?"   I was busying myself poo-picking, so wasn't really watching what was going on around me.   When I'd finished that lovely job, I had a look round to see who was doing what and where.   It was then that I spotted Punk in the smoking shelter.   And she had that "How did I get here?" look on her face.   But at least she was a pioneer.

I had to think of some way to encourage the rest of them to use the shelter, then I had a brainwave.   Do you remember the Hansel and Gretel story, where a trail of breadcrumbs is laid.  Their idea was that they'd be able to follow the trail and find their way safely back out of the forest.   I pinched the idea and adapted it.   I laid a trail of mixed corn that led into the smoking shelter.  If I could have got to a bookies in time, I'd have laid money on Mad Irene spotting the trail first and eating her way in.  I would have won, too.   She didn't look up until she reached the nice pile of corn and an apple at the end of the trail.   Even then, she only glanced round briefly before attacking the apple with gusto.

And then there were two - because where Irene goes, Rebecca follows.  Titian was close behind and soon almost the entire flock was clustered round the door, mostly unable to get in because Titian was blocking the way.   Maggie wasn't among the "in" crowd.   She looked disdainfully across at them as if to say, "Been there, done that."   So when it gets rainy and windy and horrible, our lovely little flock has an alternative venue which offers them good protection.   But do they use it?  Oh no - they still all cram themselves into the cage beneath their coop!

So now when I go to let the chickens out in the morning I have a little ritual.   This involves throwing lots of pellets inside the smoking shelter, right along the whole length of it.   Then I dribble a handful of them just a little way out of the entrance.   The idea is that the chickens will spot the dribbles, then eat their way right inside.  I'm using this bit of skulduggery to get them used to going inside, so that when it rains or is windy and they fancy a change of scenery, they'll take a wander over there.   Or if they are in a thoughtful frame of mind and want to have deep, meaningful conversations with Maggie, they have somewhere private to go.

It worked very well, it really did - but only at breakfast time and only with one chicken.   Mad Irene remembers the first time I encouraged the chickens to use the smoking shelter, using exactly this crafty technique.  So now she always hurtles out of the coop, grabs a quick mouthful of pellets at the entrance and eats her way in.   Then she'll realise that she's on her own and rush out again.   That's because she constantly worries that one of the others will have something that would be much better in her beak.  What if someone's found a worm?  How will she know if she's stuck down in the shelter?   She can't bear the idea that she might be missing the opportunity to steal something nice from one of the others. 

It's obvious that some members of the flock pop into the shelter for a quick snack, because there's never anything left by lunchtime.   But they always wait until I've gone indoors before they sneak in.  However, I take comfort from the fact that, little by little, they are getting used to going inside.

Inevitably the day came when the weather was absolutely horrible.   The wind roared down the valley like a steam train going full pelt, and it rained on and off all day.   I had read lots of horror stories about people's chicken coops being blown over, with chickens inside.   Our chicken coop stayed resolutely upright and didn't move an inch.   Just as well really, since every single one of my daft chickens had gathered in the cage beneath it.   The smoking shelter gives far more protection from the wind than ever the cage does.   So why, why, why don't they use it?   Answers on a postcard please.

Chapter 7

Chickens can have mood swings, just like us.   I've twice seen individuals get really quite stroppy, for no apparent reason.  On both occasions the disgruntled individual chose to show her irritation by head butting the nearest hen to her - not once, but three times.

The first time I saw it happen was when Punk had a go at an astonished Irene, who was a full sized Light Sussex and therefore quite a lot bigger than the little Araucana bantam.  So the head butting was aimed squarely at her chest.  Size has never bothered Punk, neither hers nor anyone else's, bird or human.  She'll tackle anyone or anything when she's in a bad mood. And she's often in a bad mood.  

She even had a go at my 6' 2" son once, when he tried to stop her digging up the garden path he'd just spent ages laying.  He had carefully dug out a winding path across the lawn, following the course we took to get to the chicken run gate, that was fast turning into a muddy track.  He lined it with weed suppressant fabric and took ages filling it with loads and loads of gravel chips.  It goes without saying that Punk assumed all this had been done to provide a play area for her.  Somewhere for her to dig up and check for any tasty insects that might be lurking underneath.   My son did not think this was a good idea at all, especially as she was sending gravel flying all over the lawn that he would be mowing before too much longer.   So he gently pushed her off the path and onto the lawn.   She glared at him, stomped back onto the path and continued her important task of checking for tasty snacks.

So again he gently pushed her off the path and onto the lawn.   Once more she scowled at him, marched back onto the path and continued her vital task of checking for the yummy nibbles she was convinced were hiding from her.   Yet again he gently pushed her off the path and onto the lawn.   This really was too much!  He needed to be taught a lesson!  So she flew at him in the classic attack pose - feet foremost so that the bare skin of his unprotected arm would be the first thing her wicked little claws met.  Then she could follow up with a severe pecking.   She managed to draw blood, but had completely forgotten that not only was he an awful lot bigger than her, but he also had hands and they could be used to pick her up, pop her in the run and close the gate so she couldn't get back into the garden.  Boy, was she cross!

He annoyed Punk on another occasion too, although to be honest it doesn't take much to irritate her.  One evening he went down to lock up and Pom-Pom was comfortably hunkered down on the gate.   All the others were nicely settled inside the coop.  Maggie and Titian were snuggled up in the nest box, Tu-Tu was in solitary splendour on the back perch and everyone else had jammed themselves onto the front perch.

My son opened the side door of the coop to pop Pom-Pom inside.   This annoyed Mad Irene so much that she got off the perch, leaving a convenient space for Pom-Pom.  Unfortunately, that meant Pom-Pom was right next to Punk, who took strong exception to having to sit next to her ladyship.   So the Araucana decided to give madam a good, hard peck.  Fortunately the hand is quicker than the beak and my son managed to move his between Punk's beak and Pom-Pom's head.  So she got him instead.   This made Punk even crosser and more determined to get at Pom-Pom.   So she drew herself up to her full height, stretched her neck to its greatest extent and tried to deliver her peck over the top of the offending hand.   Her effort was just that bit too much for her equilibrium;  she overbalanced and fell off the perch!   That was the last straw!  She stalked off to the other perch, delivering a totally ineffective peck to Pom-Pom's tail as she passed it.

Pom-Pom is a different matter altogether.   She normally has a placid nature, even though she can be pretty obstinate occasionally.   But I saw her head butt Prissy three times.   Being thwacked in the chest by a headful of feathers isn't exactly painful, but Prissy looked astounded that it had happened at all.   I certainly couldn't see any reason for Pom-Pom's truculent behaviour, as Prissy was simply standing gazing vacantly into space and thinking.   Whatever her thoughts were, Pom-Pom had obviously taken exception to them and decided to act.

A more unexpected fracas began when Titian and Fizz had had a glaring match.  Necks were stretched forward, beaks were mere inches apart and they glowered at each other.   Neither was prepared to look away first.   At least not until Fizz forgot why he was glowering and took himself off for breakfast.

All was fine until that afternoon when the chickens and I went into the garden.   Titian and Fizz found themselves on the lawn, about a yard apart.   Fizz was wondering which girl to bonk next;  Punk was handy, but Tu-Tu was looking rather tempting.   So it came as a complete surprise when Titian fluffed up her chest feathers and charged at him.  The force of her onslaught sent him staggering into the temporary chickenwire fence.   Deciding that a getaway was his best defence, he tried to escape.   But Titian employed some fancy footwork (for a heavyweight) and walloped him just as he reached the chicken run gate.

He took off again and managed to get as far as the edge of the coop when Titian caught up with him and hostilities continued.   And this time, she had reinforcements.   Rebecca came galloping in and jumped on Fizz's back.  I could almost hear the thought rushing through her little brain, "Now you know what I have to put up with!"

I was about to intervene when Fizz managed to fly up onto the coop roof.   Titian decided she'd done enough to teach him a lesson and wandered back into the garden.   Rebecca, looking hugely disappointed, followed her out.

There was no obvious reason for either the morning scowls or the afternoon fracas.   Maybe Titian was irritated because Fizz has been bullying Irene recently.  Or maybe it was something else entirely.   You can never tell with chickens.

I had another fight on my hands too, during that particular summer.   That was the regular daily disagreement between me and four very determined members of the flock.   Whenever I let the chickens out into the garden, there was a race between me, the two Silver Sussex girls, Pom-Pom and Prissy to see who could get to any petals which may have fallen from my Begonia 'Crackling Fire'. Sometimes they drifted over from the plant's hanging basket to where the chickens were allowed to roam.  I tried to remove them before I opened the run gate, but often didn't remember.  I hadn't been able to ascertain for certain if they were toxic to poultry or not, although there had been no ill effects so far.  I was equally concerned about the possibility of sour crop developing, because the petals are quite long, but that turned out to be a groundless worry too.  Nonetheless, I wasn't entirely happy about the petals being eaten, hence the daily race to reach them first.

Punk has habitually been a bit of a sabre-rattler, but became rather more belligerent when she reached middle age.   She's always felt that she should be top hen, even when she was only a middle ranker.  Unfortunately while mum (Tu-Tu) is still around, she will never be able to achieve her ambition.  I imagine she must find this extremely frustrating.   Recently her sister Rebecca has also become a little more bolshie. Maybe it's an Araucana thing.

Not too long ago Punk realised that the only chicken below her, at that time, was our little Poland bantam.    So she made a point of giving Pom-Pom a quick peck whenever the opportunity presented itself.   She then moved on to not only pecking, but chasing too. Poor old Pom-Pom ran away, but as she doesn't see very well thanks to her huge crest feathers, she often ran into things.   For once Fizz remembered that cockerels don't just bonk everything in sight, they are also meant to keep peace and harmony in the flock.   So on one wonderful occasion he went over and stood in front of his sister so that her persecutor couldn't get to her.   I was so proud!

One afternoon I let them all out into the garden and blow me if Punk didn't start her nonsense again!   I scooped Pom-Pom up and had words with Punk.   Pom-Pom and I sat on the garden bench, I put her on my knee and fed her a bit of corn. Then she glanced down and spotted Punk chomping on the grass nearby.   Panic stations!   And she decided that her best course of action was to climb up me.

I presumed she was heading for my shoulder, but I presumed wrong. She got as far as my busty substances, found them rather comfy and settled down. She shuffled around a little so that my chin rested nicely on her back and then went to sleep. Well it was a lovely sunny afternoon, she felt safe, so why not?   I can't honestly say it was equally as comfortable for me. For a start, because she rarely does any digging, her claws are quite sharp.   Even though she was at rest, they stuck into parts of my anatomy that simply aren't used to that kind of treatment. And I suppose I could have moved my chin, but she had got it just where she wanted it, so it hardly seemed fair to put it somewhere else.

After a while, along came Fizz  jumped up on my lap and began to preen. This woke Pom-Pom who thought preening was an excellent idea. That was another first for me - having a chicken sitting on my less than ample bosom, tarting herself up.

When it comes to fighting, Punk and Rebecca sometimes act as a team and the rest of the flock, except Fizz, have learned to be very wary of them. Even if one of them is innocently wandering over with no thought of malice in her head at all, any hen in their path quickly moves out of the way. You can never be sure with those Araucanas.

Punk can be a right drama queen too, when the opportunity presents itself.  I had gone down to check up on everyone, noticed that she had made herself comfortable in the nestbox and had a far-away look on her face.   Unfortunately, things did not proceed as planned and when No. 1 Son went down to check them again, she was obviously not at all well.

She was tottering round the run, wings drooping and looking very sorry for herself.   A quick look and we saw what looked like egg white dribbling down from her vent.  Her vent also didn't look right at all.   There was no egg to be found anywhere, so we were very worried that it had broken inside her.   Although it was Sunday, we knew our lovely rural vets ran an emergency service.  OK, it would be expensive, but what choice did we have?  So we phoned, explained the situation and got an appointment to see her in a couple of hours.   Back we went to the chicken run to see how poor little Punk was doing.   

How was she doing?   I'll tell you how that scrawny-necked cockroach was doing.   She was absolutely fine!   She had deposited an egg in a convenient piece of mud by the cage gate and was busy tucking into some corn with the others.

We picked her up, checked her nether regions and everything was perfectly normal.   She started swearing at us (she can be a foul-mouthed fowl when she wants), so we let her return to yumming the corn.   Then we trudged back to the house to cancel the appointment with the vet.

Although Fizz is one of nature's true eccentrics, he was never a bully until Prissy appeared on the scene.   On reflection that's not quite true.   He went through a period of chasing Mad Irene away from wherever she happened to be at the time and also indulged in occasionally pulling out a few of her feathers. We assumed that was all sheer frustration because he never managed to have his way with her. She was a Light Sussex and therefore mostly white.  Prissy is a white Croad Langshan.   I can't help wondering if our daft cockerel thinks Prissy is really Irene in disguise and is simply carrying on where he left off.

Poor old Prissy has never really been accepted as a fully paid up member of the flock and from time to time finds herself getting unwelcome attention from the Araucana sisters too.   They don't mind sharing food with their equals or superiors, but they're blowed if they will be beak to beak with the lowest of the low – which is Prissy.   Fortunately she is thick skinned, takes no notice of their glares and nips and keeps right on eating.   Sadly Scrat and Nonami, the two hens who joined us at the same time as Prissy, seem to have formed an exclusive clique of their own and have not included Prissy in it, leaving her to take any flak that's being handed out all by herself.

Eccentric he may be, but now and again Fizz takes his role as a cockerel a bit more seriously.  One weekend  the pop hole was opened and as usual out shot Rebecca, immediately followed by Mad Irene.  Then Fizz danced down the ramp.  Obviously he'd spotted the early birds and, being a Marvin Gaye fan, had decided to give them a little "Sexual Healing". 

He got to the bottom of the ramp and realised that there were only two girls.  Good gracious, he couldn't manage on just the two!   In any case, he'd never been able to persuade our Light Sussex that she loved shorter men.  So he danced back up the ramp and into the coop.   There was a bit of a kerfuffle, then out stomped Tu-Tu looking more than a little hacked off.  Fizz followed close behind her.   As soon as he was certain she was safely downstairs, he turned and went back up again.

This time the air went blue, so he was obviously tackling Punk.   There was a heck of a ruction before she made an appearance.  She stood for a moment in the pophole, might even have turned round and gone back to bed.  But Fizz was having none of it.  So she flounced down the ramp and headed for the nearest food dish.

Back up the ramp strode our tireless little cockerel, only to come beak to beak with a very bleary-eyed Maggie at the top, whose beauty sleep had been ruined by the noise.   What Fizz wanted to do was get behind her and give her an encouraging push.  But being a bantam Orpington, Maggie had enough feathers to fill a duvet.  So there's no getting past her.   She began her slow, stately progress down the ramp.   Fizz had no option but to descend too - backwards.

At that point, Fizz gave up and didn't even bother Pom-Pom.  Something similar happened the previous year, so I wondered if maybe making the girls get up was going to become an annual event, but it didn't.

A few days later he thought of another angle to try.   He'd escort them to the nest box when they wanted to lay an egg.   He decided to practice with Rebecca.   The trouble was, Rebecca didn't want to lay an egg right then.   So although she was happy to go for a walk into the coop with him, she turned round and walked straight back out again.   He followed.  That wasn't what he had in mind at all!   So he ushered her back in.   She immediately led the way out.

Things weren't going according to plan at all.  Well, not the original plan.  But then he spotted Maggie standing knee-deep in one of Irene's craters - the perfect height for a bonk!  So he did his cockerel duty and felt so much better for it.

Chapter 15

We had decided to move up to Perthshire in Scotland.   We managed to find a lovely bungalow standing in nearly an acre of land 600 ft (183 m) up in the hills south of Perth.   Everything went through swimmingly, but the only drawback was that it meant we had to drive up from Yorkshire in early January.   By the time we had finished sorting out our cottage and packing the last of our stuff into our car - including a large guinea pig cage full of sleepy bantams and a cat box full of a cat who had not responded at all to the calming spray stuff the vet recommended - it was almost 8 o'clock at night and we had a 250 mile drive ahead of us.   I kept my fingers crossed that both the A1 and the weather would behave themselves.   Needless to say, neither of them did.  There were speed restrictions with various hold-ups on the A1 and rain, sleet and snow once we crossed the border.

Despite all that, we almost made it before we got stuck in the snow only a couple of miles from our new home.   There was only half an inch of snow on the road, but a steep hill was preceded by a sharp left hand bend.   There was no way we could get up enough speed to give us the momentum we needed to carry us onwards and upwards.   My son was trying everything he knew to get the car moving forward, instead of sliding sideways and backwards and dropping six feet into somebody's garden.  But without the benefit of winter tires, and an extra heavy car, he was losing the battle.  And did our little flock care?  No, all eight bantams were fast asleep in their cage in the back of the car.  The cat was not best pleased though, and noisily made sure we were aware of that.

The AA sent help and the man who came out to us commented that he had never known anyone get stuck in so little snow.   Nonetheless he followed us home in case we got stuck again, which we did.

We finally reached our destination at 4 a.m. and parked the chickens in the utility room.  They were not impressed and refused to leave the cage when we opened it up next morning.   Eventually Scrat's stomach got the better of her and she barged her way past the others, heading for the food and water.  One by one most of the rest followed.  Tu-Tu and Rebecca stayed put, so we had to lift them out and plonk them down by the food dishes.  They ate, drank and returned to the familiarity of the cage.

By the following day their new coop had been assembled.  It was set up on the patio as a temporary measure until their new walk-in run was delivered.  Once everybody had nodded off that evening, we transferred them to their new house.   Next morning we opened the pophole and waited;  and waited and waited.  Not one chicken appeared.  We peeped in and were greeted by eight frosty looks that clearly said, "This is intolerable!". 

It was obvious they were overwhelmed by all the changes they had had to cope with over the past few days.  Fortunately they were unaware they had been stuck in the snow, or they might have been really cross.  To make matters worse, it was windy and rain was threatening.  So they went on strike.  As fast as we hoiked them out of the coop, they rushed back in.  Finally, we gave up and broke a lifelong rule of not putting food and water inside the coop.  

If we hoped they would settle down quickly, we were in for a big disappointment.   The weather didn't help, as one storm after another made its way over to our patio.   Then the wind died down, the snow and rain vanished, the sun put in an appearance and so did Pom-Pom.  That was too much for the others, who disliked the lowest ranker blazing a trail, so they all came out.

When rain started falling yet again, Tu-Tu, Nonami and Scrat found an unusual shelter for themselves.   They squeezed under the pallet that their coop was standing on.  When I spotted them I was horrified!  I had visions of having to remove the heavy coop somehow so that I could help the trio get out again.  But they emerged easily enough when they realised there were treats to be had.

Day by day, the flock became used to the patio and gradually made their way to the far end.  We had put an old door across the entrance, to block them from the garden. It's almost an acre and we didn't feel they were ready for that much space yet.  Scrat, however, felt otherwise.  She thought she had spent quite enough time on the patio, so she decided to escape and check out the green stuff on the other side.   I was gazing out of the kitchen window when I noticed her waltzing round the garden, sampling the grass as she went.

We weren't at all sure how Scrat had managed to find her way out, so we watched and waited; so did the rest of the flock.   Then came the day of the great escape.  Scrat showed them how she had found a gap in the railings that was marginally wider than the others.  She squeezed through and flew down to the path below.  Nonami was quick to follow, with Punk and Rebecca  just behind her, then Prissy.  Being rather fatter than the others, Prissy had a bit of a struggle to get through, but with a supreme effort she made it.  There was no point in leaving the door blocking the end of the patio, seeing that they could now escape anyway, so we moved it.   That gave Pom-Pom the opportunity to take the dignified route to the garden via the steps, with Tu-Tu and a rather reluctant Fizz following on behind.

Although the flock now had a lovely big garden to wander round and always found their way back to their coop on the patio at night, we had decided to get them a big walk in run with custom made tarpaulin-type covers to fit on the roof.  We were in a completely rural area and had no idea if there were lots of predators around at night or not.  We wanted to allow them their freedom to roam around during the day, but also to have somewhere safe to be at night.  And judging by the dreadful weather we had experienced so far, they would need somewhere to shelter from the elements too.   

After a couple of years living here we have seen all sorts of wildlife including deer and red squirrels, but the only fox we have seen was a road traffic casualty at the side of a very busy road 7 miles away, on the outskirts of town.   Neighbours had reported once seeing a pine marten about half a mile away.  They are active at night and compete with foxes for some of their food.  Although they have a varied diet, which includes both small rodents, carrion and, surprisingly, honey, it would certainly not be beyond them to include a tasty bantam for a late night supper.  So a secure run was essential.

Not that a secure run was of any interest to a wayward Poland hen, it seems.  So when Pom-Pom went missing one evening we knew it was going to be quite a task looking in the multitude of bushes, hedges and trees to find her.   We searched and searched, but there was no sign of her and the dusk seemed to be deepening into night much quicker than it normally did.

Our garden has a stream running through it.  At one point the course of the stream had been altered so that it ran straight along the back boundary, before tumbling down a steep, sprawling waterfall.   The banks of the stream had been dug down so they were over six feet deep and its sides were vertical.   With a heavy heart I started walking along the edge of the stream hoping against hope that I wouldn't find her lifeless little body floating in the water.   I found her in the gully all right and she was, thank goodness, very much alive.   A rock was sticking out of the bank three inches above the water.   It was the perfect size for a Poland bantam to stand on while she waited to be rescued.   Heaven knows why or how she got there, but my son clambered down to collect her, passed her to me and we took her off to her bed.

The following week she went missing again at bedtime.  So instead of peering into hedges and squinting up into the branches of assorted trees, I immediately took a walk along the stream.   Not a chicken to be seen!   I had reached the waterfall and, fingers tightly crossed, peered as far along its length as I could see in the deepening gloom.  Not so much as a glimpse of a feather, so I was hopeful she was safely tucked up somewhere in the garden.   Just as I turned away, I caught sight of something out of the corner of my eye.  It was Madam - and this time she wasn't going to be so easy to rescue.  The boundary of our garden at that point is delineated with three strands of fence wire with a couple of feet between each strand, stretched above the deepest drop of the waterfall.   Balanced on the middle strand, halfway across, was Pom-Pom.   I was far too short to be able to reach her, so I called my 6'2" son over to help.  He held on to a sapling with one hand and stretched to his fullest extent.   He just - and only just- managed to grab Pom-Pom and bring her back to safety.

When we moved the coop into its nice new, safe run Rebecca refused to come out of the coop at all and if lifted out, she went straight back in and refused to eat.  So we put her indoors in the hospital ward with her sister for company.  To say Punk was irritated by this would be a massive understatement.  Mind you, she's irritated by absolutely everything!  

Rebecca gets extremely stressed if she's picked up, so force feeding her wasn't really an option.  However, we tried tempting her with treats, which worked a bit.  At least she was getting food of some sort.   They also had honey water and she condescended to drink that.   But she still wasn't eating her proper food.   So we took Rebecca off to meet her new vet and she was not at all happy about it.  In fact she decided to try and hide in the vet's sink.  It transpired that she had salpingitis (inflammation somewhere in the reproductive system) again, so she had the injection to stop her laying eggs.  It's not a nice injection and is a bit sore for her.  The vet had scarcely begun to inject her when Rebecca kicked up such a fuss she knocked the needle out! So the vet had to load up a new needle and my son tightened his grip on her (Rebecca, not the vet).  She stretched out in the cat box on the way home, pretending to be dead.  Her breathing gave her away though.

She also had to take antibiotic tablets. So when we got home I smothered her tablet in butter and my son held her while I prepared to shove it down her throat.  In the event, that proved unnecessary.  She took one look at the tablet, thought it was an illicit treat and grabbed it out of my hand.  Then she flew down to join the others in the garden as if nothing had happened!  

But a week later Rebecca found herself stuffed into the cat box again and carted off to see the vet.   We had noticed a white, viscous substance dribbling from her vent.  There was also one of her eggshells in the nest box, broken and paper thin, so obviously the Delvosteron hadn't started working yet.   We couldn't  be certain that the egg had made it into the big wide world intact and worried that some of it may have remained inside her.  That would put her in danger of further infection developing which could prove fatal.

Rebecca is the only one of our chickens who doesn't like being picked up.   She even objects to being stroked and has done right from being a small chick.   When her brother and sister jumped onto our hands to eat the chick crumb we held out for them, she lingered in the background, suspicious of our motives.  So she is never at all happy at having to suffer the indignity of being examined by the vet or us. 

Fizz knew just how to cheer Rebecca up after her ordeal at the vet and leapt on her.  But he was in such a hurry, he didn't notice that she was facing him at the time!  He sought consolation with Tu-Tu, but immediately slipped forwards off her.  At that point, he gave the whole idea up.

A couple of weeks later Rebecca was hunched up and standing by herself quite often; but she always does that when it's cold - and it was perishing cold plus windy for almost a week.  Fizz, being the responsible cockerel that he is, decided that it was important to keep her head warm.  So he stood on it!   However, we became very concerned when she didn't seem bothered, hardly moved and looked really unwell.  Also my son had felt a slight lump on one side which didn't feel like an egg.  So after giving her a warm bath just in case, we decided to take her to the vet's Sunday surgery.

She obviously didn't find our vet idea appealing in the slightest because when I went to check on her later that morning she was absolutely fine.  And she had left me an egg in the nest box.  She had had the injection to stop her laying on her last vet visit, but it can take a while to kick in.  So this should be her last egg torture for several months.

Then there was the day that McPheasant strolled into the run.  He was greeted by a greatly affronted Punk who jumped on his back and attacked him vigorously. When she'd softened him up, Fizz had a go.   Word must have got round about the kind of welcome to be expected, because although we had 27 young pheasants attending a conference in our garden last year, none ventured into the chicken run.   Our garden has obviously proved a popular venue, because there were 60 of them at this year's convention.

When I opened the chickens one morning I noticed there was a rather large mouse hole near the coop.   Armed with a Brillo pad to stuff down the hole, I dragged my son out to have a look at it.  Too late did I realise it was a dark, curled feather, not a hole at all! 

When I went to open the chicken coop the following morning, blow me if there wasn't a real mouse hole there, which didn't turn out to be a curled feather, like the previous day.   I could swear I heard giggling from inside it.  I soon put a stop to that when I stuffed my trusty Brillo pad down the hole and stood the chickens' water container on top of it.  That'll teach the varmints to try to fool me.

I suppose it was inevitable that wild birds would, at some point, find the food to be had inside the new run very inviting.  So I shouldn't have been surprised to see a strange bantam-sized bird in there one day when the door was open and most of the flock were out creating havoc in the garden.  Fizz ran back in to confront the poor thing, but couldn't make his mind up whether to attack it or bonk it.  Between trying to escape Fizz's attention and trying to find the way out, it was not a happy bird.  It eventually got out and spent ages yelling at me and Fizz about what it would do to us next time.  When I looked it up in my bird book, it turned out to be a female grouse.   Since then, sparrows and robins have invaded frequently, slipping in through little openings just big enough for them.  

During the avian flu scare when the flock was on lock-down in their run I tried to block those openings, but as fast as I found one the little birds found another.  They could find their way in easily enough and the sparrows could find their way out again - but the robins could never remember their escape routes.  So whenever I saw one in there, I had to go in, leave the top half of the gate open and encourage the red breasted nitwit to leave through the nice big space I'd made for him. 

When I looked out of the kitchen window one morning I noticed that once more Rebecca wasn't looking great - in fact I thought she might be dead!   She was hunkered down in one of the holes they've excavated as a dustbath in the run and wasn't moving, I couldn't even see her breathing.   I went out to check, she looked at me bleary-eyed, so I hoiked her out and stood her up.  She couldn't seem to stand for long before flopping down in an uncontrolled way - not at all like when they sit down for a dustbath or settle on the ground because they fancy a little rest.

Naturally I made a vet appointment, after all she's nearly 7 and when I checked a second time her tail was down and she was hunched up a bit.   When I checked again for a third time, she came running over to the gate to see what I'd got in the way of treats (nothing), she was bright eyed and bushy tailed, swore at me for not having something nice to give her and I could see she was fine.   Cancelled the vet appointment.

When the Scottish weather improved enough for the chickens to consider dust bathing out in the garden instead of in the shelter of their covered run, Pom-Pom decided she could do with a freshen up too.   She had a choice, of two lovely areas which had already been scooped out and given trial runs by her flock mates.   Apparently neither met her exacting standards, so she bathed in the grass instead.   Quite what she thought she would achieve, I don't know,   The object of dust bathing is to cover yourself with dry soil, which will soak up the old oil you've dispersed through your feathers.  You then get rid of it all by having a jolly good shake and hoping that at least some of the accumulated dust will land in your owner's cup of tea.   After that, you can start applying fresh oil.  But goodness knows what Pom-Pom was thinking or how she thought she was going to achieve any of that on bone dry grass.  It didn't stop her though; she kept going until she felt thoroughly clean.

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  • Paula Smith on Oct. 23, 2017, 8:14 a.m.

    Best of luck Trish - loved LOVED the first book

  • Helen Coates on Oct. 23, 2017, 4:19 p.m.

    All the best with this new one Trish :) xx

  • Bea Pratt on Oct. 23, 2017, 5:54 p.m.

    Looking forward to reading this. Bea

  • Liz Wicksteed on Oct. 23, 2017, 8:28 p.m.

    Looking forward to it!!

  • Susan Ratliff on Oct. 24, 2017, 6:05 a.m.

    Yay! Can't wait to read your latest book! -Susan and Larry Ratliff

  • Linda Pattison on Oct. 25, 2017, 4:34 p.m.

    So glad there will be another Trish!

  • Becky Lingwood on Nov. 3, 2017, 3:51 p.m.

    Hello , Good Cluck! Becky xx

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