gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Getting acquainted 

it’s now about ten days since the new girls moved in. Initially they were extremely timid and clearly not used to human contact at all. But already three (Betty, Izzy and Mary) out of four have become less cautious, more inquisitive and have associated the click sound I make as I approach them as the promise of a tasty treat. Jane remains very much in the background, lurking in the shadows. But it’s early days, this pedigree fluffy bottomed lady will come round eventually I’m sure.

 

“Betty”

  

“Jane”

 

 

“Mary”

 

“Izzy”


These ladies are much more vocal than the previous Gillybirds. From the moment they are released from the coop  with a flurry of feathers until they reluctantly are shut away at night they cluck, bock, squawk, peep, purr, growl…on and on. The only thing I haven’t heard yet is an “egg song” like the Gillybirds used to sing as they laid an egg.

And there have been plenty of eggs too! So everyone must be feeling quite at home here at Gillybirds Manor.

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Where are the Other Two?

Yesterday CC and I took a trip to a farm selling hens and met hundreds of them. Of most colours, sizes and all very noisy! The farmer reckoned that at three years old my hens were finished laying and offered to home them for me with his hens. He pointed out some “retired ladies” clucking happily amongst his own hens. This option offered me the opportunity to buy new laying hens and avoid the difficulties of introducing them to the older girls by removing the older girls altogether. it has always been my worry how to deal with introducing new hens into a well established flock. Apollo and Darling have not laid eggs for quite some months now and this is the time of year when new hens are at the “point of lay” at 16-18 weeks. It may seem very harsh but in the end it was an economic rather than an emotional choice. I keep hens for very different reasons to why we have dogs. Hens are not really pets. They are entertaining and pretty to look at but their purpose here is to provide eggs. We have already had to deal with the loss in the deaths of both Sweet Violet and Colonel Saunders. Apollo and Darling have not been disposed of but will hopefully enjoy their time as city birds retired to the country. The old hens have gone to live in a large community of old and young hens where two extra non laying mouths to feed are not a problem. 

So this morning our girls journeyed from the Big City to start a new life with lots of new friends out in the countryside. They appeared to be settling in well by the time I left.

 
Here are some of their new sisters – 


The eldest Gillyboy took these photos yesterday in anticipation of the departure of his feathered friends. I think they sum these lovely girls and their wonderful friendship up very well. Thanks Matthew.

   
 

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Choosing Royal Names

It seemed only appropriate that the girls be given Royal names since as I collected the new team of Gillybirds the birth of a new royal princess was announced. So ahead of William and Kate’s confirmation of the name of their sweet baby, allow me to introduce my four princesses- 

  
Queen Isabella of Spain “Izzie”

  
Mary, Queens of Scots “Mary”

  
Queen Elizabeth the First “Betty”

  
Lady Jane Grey “Jane”

  

 The images are very poor but I’m anxious for the Press not to intrude too much at this time as the new girls are quite easily spooked. 
We were however delighted to discover a small pale egg lying in the coop this afternoon.

Welcome to the world Your Feathered Majesties!

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It’s a Girl!*

*actually, it’s not one but four girls! 

The Staff at Gillybirds Manor officially announce the arrival of four little feathered princesses.

While the attention of the world’s press was fixed on the birth of a little princess today most people will be unaware that here at Gillybirds Manor four new girls arrived in less ceremonious fashion, in an old sack actually. In the back of my Mini car.

All are settling in well, though are a bit nervous of their new surroundings and new people. But we are sure that all four will enjoy their new palatial plastic coop here at Gillybirds Manor.

  

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Four legs bad, two legs good *

  

For the past month I’ve been hobbling around with the aid of crutches.  Too much exercise, it appears, is just as bad for you as too little. For the medically minded over-running resulted in a stress fracture to my right medial condyle.  For the rest of you, I broke my knee and carried on running and walking (limping) for two weeks before seeking medical attention. (For the record I would like to point out at least I got a Personal Best in the 5 k Parkrun that day. Go me! )

Today I cast off my crutches! And headed straight for the park for a long overdue dog walk. The voice of the knee consultant ringing in my ears. Slowly, slowly. And NO running for at least another four weeks. Boo.

This is not a major injury. It has caused pain, sleeplessness, frustration, disappointment but it will heal. And quickly. I’ve missed out on running events I had planned for this Spring, including a leg of the Belfast Marathon. I spent ten days on a ski holiday confined to the Great Indoors watching DVDs, crocheting and reading until my eyes bled. My mother in law has moved house and I haven’t been able to assist in any way. I missed a great day out climbing a Northern Ireland’s highest peak with a bunch of good people. 

It has been a learning experience too. How we take our mobility for granted. Stairs, heavy doors, revolving doors, rickety disabled access lifts, not being able to push a shopping trolley, disabled toilets, getting comfortable in restaurants or on planes, having people tut loudly in Tesco if they get stuck behind you in a crowded aisle. Thank goodness for Internet Grocery shopping. Staff in restaurants and shops have been really helpful I’m pleased to say, offering chairs to sit on while queuing, suggesting alternative ways into buildings, letting us park in disabled spaces, generally making me feel less of a nuisance and more comfortable with my mobility issue. It’s the general public who still have a lot to learn.

Carrying a handbag, or indeed carrying anything is impossible unless it’s a rucksack. Heading downstairs in the morning I learnt to pack my rucksack with all the essentials – glasses, phone, iPad, lip gloss, crochet hooks etc. Also your hands get so very sore pressing down on the crutch handle after a while.  Could they not be made a little softer? And in nicer colours?

As a very active person I’ve had to rest up, sit down, take a break, just stop doing all the things I love. And that’s been really hard. And it’s only been for a very short time. With it being Easter visitors brought an unending supply of Lindt  Chocolate Bunnies (my fav) so lack of exercise and a diet of creamy Swiss chocolate has taken its toll.

On the animal front thankfully hens don’t require regular walking. They haven’t been neglected in any way, nor have they looked reproachfully at me with big puppy dog eyes as I sat day after day with my leg elevated on a footstool wearing slippers not walking shoes.  Fortunately the crutch crisis occurred when Gillyboy number two was home from Uni so he has clocked up a good few miles tethered to a small naughty dog. Thanks P.

 I’ve travelled through airports in a wheelchair. People, cases, bags, trolleys come hurtling towards you at this lower level making you feel very vulnerable. Everything is right in your face. Unless it’s a check in desk or passport control. Then you feel like a very vulnerable tiny person. And how hard it is to make conversation with your helper who is both behind and above you, so much easier face to face. Funnily enough one assistant told me he was a chicken farmer as well as an airport worker.  I told him I had two hens. He told me he had 16,000. How we laughed! All credit and a big thank you to Easyjet and the staff in Belfast International and Geneva Airports. Every assistance to get me and my busted knee checked in, through security, and on and off planes in a cheery manner. Including a fancy coach taking me right to the airport steps when as if by some miracle I rose from the wheelchair and made a cautious hobbling dash up the steps. 

Today as I parked far, far away from the Knee Clinic and struggled on my four legs up the road, carrying my large folder of MRI photos, (and my huge handbag- what was I thinking?)  a car stopped to offer me a lift. Now like all mothers I caution my children from accepting lifts from strangers. In this instance i accepted the offer from a kindly student nurse who helped me into her car and drove me to the door. 

Now that my crutches are gone I’m looking  twice at those on sticks or crutches, in wheel chairs. Looking for ways to help, to make life a little easier. Just like I try to do for everyone.

And enjoying every step!

out walking again!

*apologies to George Orwell pinching a quote from “Animal Farm”

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You are radiant with charm

Were you ever aware of the Victorian language of flowers? Lilies symbolised beauty. Roses represented love. If your suitor gave you red roses you knew he was mad about you, if they were pink you could be assured of his affection, if yellow roses arrived he was only interested in friendship. And black or dark roses – well, make sure you put your affairs in order as someone wanted you dead. Flowers were used to say what could not be said in those more formal times. A bouquet given to you upright sent a positive message, and beware if you were given flowers facing the opposite direction. Mind you nowadays if you get a bunch of Bonnie Jeans from the garage from your gentleman caller I would maybe encourage him to try a little harder!

Anyway, while on a recent holiday in France I was entranced by these beautiful flowers in a restaurant.

  

These are ranculus asiaticus, a cousin of our buttercup. A Victorian maiden would blush with pleasure at being told, without words, that she was “radiant with charm” should she have been presented with these. Whereas Mrs G headed straight for Amazon.co.uk and ordered a delivery of ranunculus asiaticus bulbs in an attempt to cultivate these very special pretty paper-like blooms in time for the summer.

When the bulbs arrived they looked anything but charming 

Actually they reminded me of the hens favourite snack of meal worms. They had to be planted with these little “fingers” pointing down. I worked very hard, filling pots with soil,  planting bulbs and watering.  Only to discover that Naughty Lucas had jumped into a big pot and dug out and scattered its entire contents when I was tidying up the tools.  The Victorians would suggest he should give me a purple hyacinth to ask for forgiveness.

For now, here’s hoping by the summer I will be posting pictures like this 

there are no words for such beauty 

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Birthday Celebrations

Gillyboy number 3 celebrated his birthday with a Ugandan themed birthday party. He is heading there as part of a Fields of Life project in the summer.

 

  

 I had fun making a striped cake copying the bright colours of the Ugandan flag, complete with the national bird of Uganda – the grey crowned crane.  The flag of Uganda was adopted in 1962 with six horizontal bands of black yellow and red.  The black is for the African peoples, the yellow for the Afrocan sunshine, the red for the blood uniting all Africans as brothers. The grey crane was adopted as it is known for its gentle nature  and it’s leg is raised to symbolise the forward movement of the country.

Any resemblance of the grey crane on the cake to a chicken is purely to my own poor sugar craft skills. The cake was striped inside and out, thanks to the fabulous colouring Pastes made by Wiltons and was consumed with gusto by hungry teenagers.

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Total Eclipse of the Coop

Last Friday morning here in our small damp little island and for just over an hour we all enjoyed a rare an unusual spectacle – the sun shone. Even rarer than that, we had a solar eclipse. It wasn’t a total eclipse, but at 95% it was still spectacular. We were all quietly enjoying a bright sunny morning.  Spring was in the air.

 

my beautiful Mother’s Day daffodils

  

naughty Lucas up on the table catching a few warm rays

  

the Gillybirds busy in the coop loving the brightness

Gradually the moon’s shadow moved over the sun and by 9.30 am the sky was still bright blue, but it was really dark.  The bird’s were singing their twilight song, it was most peculiar. How scarey it must have been for people centuries ago who didn’t know what was going on. It must have really freaked them out. Fortunately by around 10.30 the sky was back to normal and the moon had moved on.

We had all been well warned to not look directly at the sun during this event. Back in 1999 I observed our last eclipse through a pin hole made in a shoe box. For me, eclipse fashion hadn’t moved on much so I once more donned the shoe box on my head and it worked very well.  The youngest Gillyboy was provided with welding goggles in school. They also projected the sun’s image through a colander onto white paper to get multiple images. 

all the best dressed eclipse watchers wear shoe boxes!

I watched the hens closely to see if they would head off to bed due to the failing light, but they just carried on scratching and pecking as is their usual morning routine. Not fazed by the solar event at all. 

  

  If you want to check when an eclipse will be coming your way this NASA solar eclipse calendar is really helpful.Looks like Antarctica is the place to go if you want to make it a regular experience. 

Local BBC coverage has some great photos too. 

I didn’t capture any images worth sharing. Social media was a busy place to be on Friday morning and it was fun to watch the event as others were witnessing it (or not, if it was cloudy where they were).

I wonder what we will at be like when the solar eclipse next comes to these shores in 11 years time. Older and hopefully wiser. 

Gillyboy number 3 celebrates his 17th birthday today. Next time he will be 29! 

And my dear friend CC told me, in 11 years time she won’t even be as old as I am now.  That’s friends for you😛🌒

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Our little grey friend

This winter we have had a daily visitor to the coop, enjoying the wild bird food left for the garden birds who come to call regularly on the Gillybirds. 

The grey squirrel is perhaps one of the most commonly seen of British mammals being highly visible in parks, gardens and woods. Our squirrel is very entertaining, balancing precariously on slender branches, leaping fearlessly from tree to tree, dangling upside down grasping with those tiny little paws to catch hold of the pouches of seeds and nuts left hanging for our feathered visitors. A few years ago we had another regular squirrel we called Stumpy as he only had half of that wonderful twitchy fluffy squirrel tail. We often made up stories of how poor Stumpy lost his tail. 

Gabriel Hemery writes in his blog :

“Grey squirrels are a serious pest and the bane of woodland managers across Britain. They strip the bark of young trees, which can severely reduce their growth, increase susceptibility to disease, cause dieback of stems and branches (often a safety hazard in public spaces), and can kill trees; especially when the bark is stripped right around a stem.  They also eat song bird eggs and have driven out the red squirrel from its native range. The species, that some now regard as a ‘tree rat’, was introduced to Britain by the Victorians about 130 years ago.  It is more aggressive than Britain’s native red squirrel, which has been squeezed further and further north in the country.  Greys also carry squirrel parapoxivirus or ‘squirrel pox’, to which they seem resistant, but which is fatal to reds.  The IUCN has listed the Grey Squirrel in the top 100 globally worse invasive species. According to the Forestry Commission there are 2.5 million grey squirrels in Britain but only 140,000 surviving red squirrels. The Red Squirrel Survival Trust is working hard to promote the survival of the red squirrel by advocating targeted control of the grey squirrel, and has attracted a lot of support and media interest in its work.  If you live in Cumbria, Northumberland or other remaining strongholds of the red squirrel in Britain you can get involved in the RSST’s work in these areas.”

Jamie Oliver has caused a bit of a kerfuffle suggesting that we should help control grey squirrel numbers by making slow cooked squirrel pie. If you are vegetarian or think this is barbaric please just click away from my blog now! 

courtesy of luxphotodigital

If however you have no qualms about sampling a fine textured white meat that tastes more subtle than rabbit meat you can have it delivered oven ready to your door for £4.95 per squirrel. Or you can go all “Hunger Games” and try catch one for yourself. (Good luck) 

In Victorian times squirrels were customarily eaten in the UK, served in many forms and squirrel brains were a delicacy eaten in the USA until very recently when it was discovered squirrels are carriers of Creutzfeld Jakob disease. There are however a few restaurants in the UK which have begun serving this meat over the past few years.



Our little guy (or girl) would certainly be hard to catch even if we wanted to! I think we will leave him to a life of stealing nuts and performing acrobatics around our garden. As for our old friend Stumpy….well we haven’t seen him in quite a while. Oh dear. 

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Fit Birds

long time readers of this blog may well recall the post about the Great British Baker Richard and his Eclair Stair/chicken ladder. Feeling inspired and doing a garden tidy up, I squeezed a rather long old wooden ladder through the coop door, leant it against the hen house and encouraged the Gillybirds to ascend the ladder by lifting them onto each rung until they reached the top, then flew tentatively down.

It has been a big success! Hens can get fat and bored in winter with nothing much to do and this isn’t good for them.  Every day the Gillybirds take it in turns to climb the ladder and jump/flap down. A little encouragment is made by placing treats on the hen house roof – meal worms or raisins. I think they enjoy it very much.



Its very hard to get decent photos so I have taken these rather dark shots from the kitchen window. I wish you could see them smiling! 

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