Egg wars

On of the plagues of keeping bantams is that when one hen goes broody, they all do. Whether or not there is any link to the controversial theory of menstrual synchrony, I am loathe to speculate, and – being a male – it’s really not my business. All I know is that having started off the season with collecting four eggs a day, I am now getting none, because broody hens don’t lay.

That is not the worst of it though. When one of the hens takes ten minutes out for a drink or a breath of fresh air, the chances are high that one of the others will decide she prefers the eggs of the absentee and will simply take over. This leaves her own eggs growing cold and the deprived owner strutting around in fluffed-up fury (but of course refusing to do a straight swap). The only hope is to separate them all into their own individual runs, but this involves a nightmare of hammering together bits of wood and wire netting, which I hate…

On a happier note, Fluffy has now become a mother. We last met Fluffy as a deprived adolescent, ripe for the attention of social workers.

During the winter she has grown through the awkward phase, and, though no beauty, is at least respectable.

She has one yellow/white chick (which must be hers)

One black chick (which is definitely someone else’s)

And two brown speckled chicks (which could be anyone’s)

These chicks are two days old, and virtually self-sufficient. When you think that, as a human, you have to hang around for at least a year before your offsping can even feed itself properly, you do have to wonder what claim we have to be top species…


The sad tale of Fluffy

Between the thunder showers, I was putting new roofing felt on the bantam house, and giving it a coat of preservative. It’s luxurious accommodation: bantams are happy anywhere that is reliably dry and relatively well ventilated, and for many years my flock lived inside an old chest of drawers, (with the drawers removed). But about ten years ago, I relented and bought a flat pack chicken house (this was in the days before the ridiculously expensive and trendy Eglu made an appearance.) So this is where they have lived ever since.P1010855

The flock goes to bed very early: – by about six o’clock, they are all ready for sleep, even in high summer:P1010866

All, that is, except for Fluffy. Fluffy is now approaching adolescence, but still tries to creep under Madame Min’s wing at night-time. She is having none of it.P1010865

In fact, she’s always thoroughly disliked her offspring. And, as is the way of the world, the more she ignores Fluffy, the more the wretched creature runs cheeping after her. Possibly it has something to do with the name – for which I take no responsibility – but it has to be said Fluffy is not likely to win many prizes at a poultry show. I suppose, like the ugly duckling, it may turn out to be a swan, but I have my doubts.P1010858

As moral exemplars for your human offspring, chickens leave a lot to be desired. They not only indulge in child abuse, but refuse to share or play nicely. Plus, the cocks are flagrant practitioners of sexual harassment, and don’t even seem to care. Now and again, the hens become careless and stand on their chicks. They don’t care much either.

But give them enough space to get away from each other when they need to, and bantams eventually bed down into a grudging kind of flock mentality. And some of them even make good mothers. You can only see the back half of Ostrich, but she’s taking care of her three chicks. They obviously have a good future ahead, well-spoken with nice manners, while Fluffy….well, who knows?P1010862

Madam Min and the brood

On Monday, the first bantam chick of the year hatched overnight. The day after, there was another. Then Madam Min grew bolshie and decided she’d had enough, so she booted the rest of the eggs out from under her and refused to sit on them any longer.P1010625

I was not pleased. Another day or two, and I might have had six chicks. But broody hens won’t be told…. they change character completely once they start sitting. Madam Min is normally friendly and placid, but once she decided it was time to rear a brood, she growled and pecked at anyone who came near. For twenty-one long days, she clamped herself down in a kind of trance. A hen’s metabolism changes too: they barely eat or drink, and store up all their waste so they only need to do one huge dropping a day. But I suppose it is worth it. It certainly is for me:P1010629

The rest of the flock were out enjoying the sunshine. I only let them out if I’m working nearby, because fox attack in broad daylight is now distressingly common. In fact, for that reason, there’s been something of a change of cast since my last post about bantams, and a lot of my old friends ended up feeding fox cubs. It’s a constant battle…
Madam Min is married to Chairman Mao, who is Pekinese, and almost triangular:P1010619

He looks very splendid, but it’s all feather and no stuffing – inside, he’s not much bigger than a pigeon, as I keep telling him when he muscles around and crows at 4am. Plus, he’s a coward and runs away if my wellie boot shows any sign of fighting back when he attacks it.P1010621

Newly mown grass is an all-you-can-eat buffet for bantams. They follow the mower the way seagulls follow the plough. Once Madam Min’s maternity leave is over, she’ll be let out to join the rest.