Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Chickens in the house

This is perfectly normal in our house and I suspect other chicken owners will not find it remotely unusual either, given that I've heard stories of hens coming in to lay eggs in baskets on Welsh Dressers or behind sofas.

If you leave a door open and the girls are already free-ranging in the garden they will always come in our house. I think they view it as a natural extension of the hen house. They peck all the crumbs from beneath the kitchen table (I'm an outdoor girl not given to much in the way of house work, my husband says that's why we keep dogs and chickens) and wander through the kitchen looking for scraps. They do not eat Teddy's biscuits for some reason (he is relieved), and, if they are allowed to, they will go to sleep in the sitting room. They have also been upstairs to visit the children when they are sick.

They do leave presents of the unwelcome variety behind, so house visiting is now strictly limited to a few minutes in summer time (and not at all if your name begins with M). I was therefore surprised  a few years back to come downstairs and discover Rennie, our Cuckoo Maran, in the hall happily scratching and pecking away at the door mat. It took me a few minutes to work out how she'd got in because all the doors were shut, then I realised she'd come in through the cat flap which Murphy (our mad pointer whom we later had to rehome for the attempted murder of a delivery man) had broken while he was trying to eat someone's leg. Thereafter it became a habit (until the cat flap was mended) but only by Rennie, who as the largest of our hens had to really squeeze through (as the picture shows).

Caught in the act!

Ren is a woman of traditional build. M calls her 9, 10 (as in the old rhyme 9, 10 a big fat hen). This means she suffers from occasional egg-boundedness. Now she's older she's more or less able to sort it out herself, but in her younger days we nearly lost her a couple of times and I learnt pretty quickly the benefits of a warm bath and olive oil carefully administered in the egg vent (sorry to be so graphic  early in the morning). M discovered me apparently washing one of my hens in the kitchen sink not long after they'd arrived and took this photo, no doubt wondering what kind of mad woman he had married. Without the explanation I'll allow the photo does look rather funny...

Normal people wash their hens in the kitchen sink too right?
The girls are all getting on a bit now (they're about five), but still laying most days and throughout the winter too bless them. Hens bring a certain something to a home whether they're inside it or not. If you've got space I would really encourage you to get a couple- I guarantee you'll be hooked within a week. It's something to do with the fluffy bottoms and soft friendly chatting. They really aren't difficult to look after and the eggs are heavenly, with golden yolks and the softest fluffiest whites. You'll never lose the joy of finding a new one freshly laid in the hen house.



Enjoying a dust bath together

The small egg is known as a wind egg, hens sometimes lay these when they're just starting to lay. It was about 3 cm long. One of Rennie's (needless to say)

Over-sized hen or under-sized plant pot?

An egg-bound egg, well actually three, distorted and odd-shaped with soft shells. At least she got it out. Poor Ren!

A double-yolker from Mrs Peckham, cooked

A double-yolker, freshly opened

Mavis, as a cream crested legbar, lays blue eggs

You should write the date on eggs in pencil, because the shell is porous and pen ink will go through and contaminate the egg

Mavis, striking looking, but a victim to her nerves

Collecting freshly laid eggs from the nest boxes


Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Chaffinches and Bumblefoot

This is an unpleasant-looking bacterial or fungal (couldn't find a consensus on this but if any of you know different please correct me) infection that affects the feet of finches, and for some reason female chaffinches in particular.

I know about it only because I spotted one of the female chaffinches in our garden a few weeks ago with what looked like a clump of bird seed stuck to her right foot. Having had a look through the binos I realised it wasn't something she'd trodden on as I'd first thought, but a growth on her actual foot. Remarkably, it doesn't seem to bother her and she hops about feeding and moving quite happily and can fly without impediment too. It just looks awful.


So what with Bumble (as we've taken to calling the little chaffinch) and Poppet (our dunnock with the wasted leg), I feel we are fast becoming a refuge for birds with unwell legs and feet! At least they know they can come here and always find an easy source of food, which is important in this current cold snap.



Friday, 22 February 2013

Comic Canine (and Feline) Capers

Ted and Cleo, our dog and cat respectively, do not get on. Cleo has her own room downstairs where she reigns utterly supreme: if Ted ever ventures too far inside her domain she emerges from her specially-made box (lined with heated pad) an incandescent fury of sharp claws and furiously hissing tongue. Not surprisingly he is very respectful of her in there. Likewise, if she ever goes into his space (the rest of the downstairs), he chases her without further notice. 

So you could say a happy status quo exists between them with near-perfect symmetry and harmony.

Teddy is also not allowed upstairs (apart from special occasions like xmas eve when he slept in L's attic room because Digby, an enormous black hairy bouvier, was staying for Christmas, and although  Ted likes to think he is sociable, in reality he can only manage a few hours before his conversation is exhausted and he retreats beneath the table with eyes imploring me to make the other dog/s go away), so there is no special preference for one above the other. 

Before we reached that oasis of calm they shared the whole house- which meant in reality that Clee spent her days asleep upstairs on our bed, lying on whatever black outfit she could find (usually M's work trousers- not great with a white cat), and running the gauntlet of passing Ted when she wanted to go out the cat flap to the loo. Needless to say he spent his days guarding the bottom step waiting for her. Over time this meant she gave up even trying to get outside to the loo and started leaving poos and wees on the pedestal mat at the base of the loo (don't worry- there aren't any pictures). 

This comes close to but does not beat the time my parents were feeding a cousin's cat in Wimbledon. The human parents left for their holiday happily forgetting to pass the key on to mum, so she spent a fortnight lowering bowls of cat food through the letter box using an intricate system of ropes and pullies to ensure the poor felines didn't starve. When the cousins returned home she feared the worst, but they reported back quite cheerfully that there was no cat mess anywhere in the house- the clever cats had done it all in the loo!!

I digress.

For a few months therefore Cleo broadly lived upstairs, and during that time she developed a rather charming habit of sitting on the edge of the bath whenever I was in it. I'd tell her about my day and she'd purr quietly. We've been together a long time- since before husband and children - so we know each other pretty well. She has been party to all my secrets, triumphs and disasters over the years, all of which she greets with the same inscrutable "I am above your petty concerns but I pity you all the same for being at the mercy of such paltry emotions" type expression on her face that is so well known to all cat lovers. 

One day I was in the bath and she hadn't showed up, which was unusual. I was just starting to get worried when I heard the cat flap bang violently, quickly followed by the the sound of paws pelting frantically up the stairs, presumably with Ted in hot pursuit. She screeched along the landing, flew into the bathroom, leapt up on the side of the bath, lost her balance because of the momentum, went straight over and disappeared under the water. 

Have you ever seen a wet cat? 

I tried, unsuccessfully as it happened, not to laugh.

Cats hate being laughed at. Even more than being watched when they go to the loo. They also hate looking stupid. The worst of it was that there was no way she could pretend she'd meant to do it. This was far worse than the time she head-butted the wall when she'd been aiming to jump on the window sill. And even worse- Teddy had not chased her up the stairs at all because he knows not to, so the soaking really was for nothing.

Sadly she never sat on the edge of the bath with me again, and not soon after that we moved her to her own room downstairs. 

There is a matching story for Ted, just to even things up, because that seems only fair.

Last week he was trotting merrily round the yard with me while I fed the horses. Once he'd exhausted all his favourite bunny holes he sat down to watch me, and as he did so the yard cat appeared behind him from no-where. For no reason that I could see it suddenly decided  to run past Teddy. Approaching from behind as it did, Ted was obviously unaware it was there until it raced past at full pelt and scooted down to and underneath the five-barred gate and on into the next field.

Ted (understandably), set off in instant pursuit, little legs working furiously, and tongue yipping with joy as he gave chase. Surely, this time, he would catch it, it really wasn't that far ahead. If he just kept his eyes on the cat and nothing else....he wouldn't see the fast-approaching 5 bar gate that the cat had scooted under effortlessly.

The result was that he ran full pelt into it. It stopped him in his tracks I can tell you with the most awful noise, the sort of sound that makes you wince even if you haven't seen what's going on, which unfortunately I had.

Terrible mother- I fought (again unsuccessfully) an overwhelming urge to laugh.

The poor lad- he sat down shaking his head looking rather bewildered as if he wasn't sure what had happened. All thought of the cat had obviously been knocked out of him because after a moment he got shakily to his feet and trotted unsteadily back to me, whimpering.

I felt very ashamed of myself for laughing and thought for a horrid moment he'd hurt himself, but examination mercifully showed only a tiny bit of blood where he'd bitten his lip. Nevertheless I spent the rest of the night checking his pupils and shaking him awake in case he had concussion. M (needless to say) found the whole thing hysterical.

I'd like to say Ted will never do that again, but he has form: a couple of years ago he made himself very unwell by licking a toad, despite being told not to. He spent the night retching and frothing at the mouth and I thought "he's learnt his lesson, he'll never do that again", then a week later we found him in the garden looking guilty with a wet toad at his feet.

Ted with his ENORMOUS cousin Digby

Cleo, the White Fairy Queen


Wednesday, 20 February 2013

An afternoon At Keyhaven

Beautiful weather yesterday (where has it gone today?). We took F and L to Keyhaven to let off some boyish steam on the beach. I always find the sea very affecting: I have to be careful about being near it on powerful days when it's energy is sometimes too much for mine. I've come back with migraines before and left feeling edgy and overwhelmed by it. Get it right though and it can be amazing: restoring, rejuvenating, cleansing or sometimes just peaceful and calm. Luckily, yesterday was a soothing rather than unsettling day, one of those when you can sigh out the stale stuff and breath in the fresh and feel it doing you good.

 F (middle son) discovered a passion for metal detecting last year which has him well and truly in it's grip and he is rarely parted from his detector (it sleeps in his room) so it inevitably came with us. 
He's had a fair amount of success with it in the fields near home, finding all sorts of interesting pieces ranging from a silver sixpence to a medieval spur. It's kick-started what we hope will be a life-long and abiding love of history and it has been amazing to see how much he's learnt in a relatively short space of time (and has left me wondering what school history lessons could learn from all this?). There were no amazing finds today but I think he enjoyed it nevertheless.

L is our mountain goat, rarely on the ground if there's a tree or a rock to climb, so the enormous granite boulders stacked all along the beach were his pretty-near perfect playground (no good for his mother's stomach or heart though- all that leaping over crevices, but hey ho, that's the lot of mothers of boys).

Ted meanwhile enjoyed leaping on an unsuspecting M who was enjoying a gentle snooze in the sun and not at all prepared for what he described as a "proper French kiss with dog breath" Mmm, lovely.


I love Keyhaven for it's salt marshes and seabirds. Here's the view towards the light house across the salt marsh. The second photo is Hurst Castle, built by Henry VIII in response to the threat of invasion from the French.

Sandpipers and a Gull

Geese on the wing (I think Brent)

This lovely Egret is a permanent resident and was having a lovely time catching things

I'm reasonably good on id's for garden birds but rubbish at seabirds so Keyhaven always provides a good learning exercise for me. I can now identify turnstones, oyster catchers, egrets and sandpipers.

Turnstone (perfectly named as it turns out- we saw them flicking pebbles over to look for goodies)

The Needles off the end of the Isle of Wight

More Turnstones

Sandpiper (I think)

Oyster Catcher

We rounded the afternoon off with a pebble-tower building contest and then had a competition to see who could knock the tower down with a single well-aimed pebble. L won. I (for once) came a close second, F was nose-down on the scent of something metal that turned out to be a fishing weight so wasn't playing, and M (for once) came a close third. Happy days!


Friday, 15 February 2013

Why do dogs roll in poo?

What a beautiful day it's been. The sun has shone, the mud in the fields has become less gooey and Minty has only needed one rug (a sure sign of Spring). It cooled down quickly this evening of course, warning of frosts to come, but at least we had the day to bask in the sun and pretend winter is over.

Teddy had taken up his Spring/ Summer position (on the front porch, lying in the sun pretending to guard the house when what he was actually doing was snoozing) and I was getting encouraging garden centre feelings of buying plants and potting them out, which is always nice.

L was off school as half term started early so we took a trip to Winchester to visit Wells Bookshop that antiquarian gem hidden in the medieval streets where once, many moons ago, I worked. We left with his new half term purchase of Tintin's Lake of Sharks held out in front of him so he could read as he walked while I shepherded him down the stairs out the door and across the road to the car (hazardous in the extreme).  

We headed over to the yard to feed the ponies and tuck them up for the night.
As is usual, Teddy disappeared as soon as we got there, no doubt heading off to check out all the bunny holes under the hedges. Neems disgraced herself by leaning all her weight on the electric tape until it snapped, enabling her to wander over and check up on supper preparations. This was naughty of her and she'll get a shock tomorrow when the tape is reconnected to the battery.

An hour later and the various night-time jobs were done. We whistled for Ted and walked back to the car. He appeared across the fields looking rather sheepish which made my heart sink because that can only mean one thing: he has been rolling in poo again. Sure enough when he got near enough for us to see him properly our cream dog had turned brown and it was everywhere- all over his face, his snout, ears, tail, legs, paws and body.

Why do they do it?

He has an unaccountable penchant for rolling in fox poo, which is the foulest smelling substance known to man. He knew he'd been naughty because he jumped into the boot of the car without meeting my eyes and normally he sits down and waits to be lifted in.

Back home and he slunk off into the back garden as soon as he was let out of the car, breaking into a run when he saw me following with the rubber gloves and washing up liquid. He knows very well what this means. It means a cold hosepipe in the garden.

Ten minutes later and he was clean, and shivering, and throwing me hurt reproachful looks from behind the greenhouse where he'd retreated once the shampooing was over.

Now he is all silvery white and fluffy again and smells (for the time being at any rate) sweet.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Rescuing Coco

Two years ago I was looking for a pony for L. Visiting a local yard there was a pony in the field who caught my eye because he looked rather ragged and uncared for. I asked the owner about him and she said "it's a really sad story, he was dropped off here a couple of days ago by a lady who had 6 horses and couldn't look after them anymore. She said if I couldn't take him he would be put to sleep. Would you like him? I won't charge you anything for him."
I said no, that he wasn't what we were looking for and went home. 

I didn't sleep well that night. Images of the pony kept popping into my brain. Finally I must have dropped off because I woke at 5am with a start, the pony large before my eyes.
I woke M up. "It's no good," I told him, "I've got to go and get that pony. He won't let me be."

I dropped L off at school picked up the trailer and went straight round. I gave her £50 because she'd been his first guardian angel and had horses of her own to feed and care for. He came home with me.

He was in a pretty bad way; thin and depressed with dull eyes and dry flaky skin all the way up his neck beneath his mane, his hooves needed attention and he had an infected tooth protruding out of his mouth which made eating and drinking very hard for him. Whenever he tried to drink most of the water would spill straight out of his mouth again, so I suspected he was probably also dehydrated.

My vet came out the following day and took the tooth out, the farrier came the next and sorted his feet, and we wormed him- I've never seen so many worms come out of a horse before.

Checking droppings for worms

He had a passport with his name in but we decided to give him a new name to start his new life with us and called him Coco. Here he is during his first week with us.

In this photo you can see how round his tummy is- this isn't health, it's caused by worm infestation which can cause permanent damage to the gut

Hi expression in this photo shows how shell-shocked his experiences had left him. His eyes were lifeless when he first arrived and he moved as if going through the motions with no real engagement at all. You can also see how think his neck was

 It is quite amazing how quickly ponies put on condition if they are properly cared for. Coco was having two small feeds a day containing a pro-biotic to help his digestion and in no time began to leave his unhappy life behind him and slowly started to look healthier. We took him out for walks in the forest to help put some muscles back on and remind him there is a whole lovely world out there.

We also had the horsey chiropractor check him over. Not surprisingly his joints and muscles were not in very good shape, but he was moving more comfortably after the session.

A week later and he was already looking better, his eyes were brighter and his character was starting to show through:

Still with a very skinny neck but the shine is starting to come back to his coat

With a reduced worm burden and decent feed his stomach has begun to go down

A month later and you really wouldn't recognise him as the same pony. We began long-reining him and taking him out for gentle rides in the forest, both of which he loved. He tried so hard to get things right, always listening and doing his best.

His mouth healed up well but we started him off in a bitless bridle just in case.

Enjoying time in the paddock

And then, in August, four months after rescuing him, he went to his first show- a huge achievement, one that made all of us very very proud of him.

Here he is on the left as you look at the photo

Now he lives with my mother and her mare in the New Forest, goes out for a ride in the forest a couple of times a week, is snug inside a warm rug during the winter with proper feed and haylage, and in the summer dozes contentedly in his field beneath the dappled shade of a large old oak tree, a happy pony once more.