What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Lucas stands guard

The Gillybirds were already in residence when Lucas arrived as a puppy nearly three years ago,so hens have always been a constant in his life. He did cry with confusion when Apollo and Darling disappeared only to be replaced by these exotic looking newcomers. He is very curious about the hens, but would never bark at them, unlike Mr Buttons whose deep bark sends them running for safety at the very back of the coop. It’s enough to put anyone off laying!

They have all got used to each other’s presence very quickly and he is always out having a chat in the yard with the new girls, and patrolling on fox/cat alert too!  


Lucas and Mary deep in conversation  

Lucas checking everyone is getting enough fluids. 

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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.










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!


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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Boogaloo and Graham

Whoever said never work with animals or children clearly was missing out on a lot of fun. This week a short film from Belfast, home of the Gillybirds,  was nominated for an Academy award, having already won a BAFTA award (British Academy of Television and Film Awards). The Oscar was awarded to “the Phone Call”.

Set in the 1970’s – the period of my childhood, in my strife torn city, the years of violence known as the Troubles are a slight presence in the background, but this is a story about families, the facts of life and two urban chickens called, you guessed it, Boogaloo and Graham given to the boys by their father. It’s a genuine “chick flick”. The boys quickly fall in love with their unusual pets though their mother isn’t so impressed with the “smelly birds”.

The boys carry the hens around on their shoulders like they were parrots.  I’ve never tried this. Given the sharp claws and strong grip of a hen’s foot I hope the boys had extra padding under their shirts. Well done boys! From experience of trying to take still photos with hens I know how uncooperative those feathered girls can be. Well done to the patient director Michael Lennox too.

This is a short comedic film, though the subject matter is not for younger viewers. You can find out more about the film here.

This interview is with a Local farmer who was the “hen handler” on set of the 14 minute movie. 

And I’ve got the names for my next two hens already chosen! 

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Annapolis Backyard Hens

Mr Gillybirds travels far and wide very regularly. I’m more of a home bird, preferring the comfort and familiarity of my nest of children, dogs and hens. Last week however I boarded a plane and headed across the Atlantic Ocean, touching down firstly in the quaint city of Annapolis. It was a packed schedule of meetings, dinners, breakfasts and general busyness, but being me, I got time to (a) visit a craft megastore and (b) find a blog post of hen related interest.

The City of Annapolis is old by USA standards, the harbour surrounded by mostly original wooden buildings from the 17th century, marks the place where Kunta Kinte of Roots fame was sold as a slave. Annapolis has the first treasury of the United States. It also is home to the elegant Naval College where we attended a service in the Naval Chapel with its most beautiful stained glass windows. It is very pretty even in the depths of winter. Homes have plenty of space round them. I mentioned to our lovely hosts that I was a hen keeper and was informed that hen keeping has become a popular hobby since legislation was passed in 2012 permitting home owners to keep them. The laws are very clear. Before getting your hens you are required to build a coop to a regulated size which has to be inspected and approved, to have your neighbours confirm they are happy with the prospect of feathered neighbours, you are encouraged to adopt rescue hens rather than buy hens, you are committed to taking good care by providing clean food and water, to visiting the vet in times of sickness and interestingly not to use them for human consumption, except for religious purposes.

It’s all very official compared to round our way. Looking out at our hosts spacious back yard, bordered by trees and an iced over majestic river, it seemed the ideal spot for a happy home for hens. I encouraged her to give it some consideration.

She mentioned that the city itself has embraced the idea of hen keeping, and twenty five and a half foot hen “blanks” had been given to various schools, businesses and art groups to decorate and place around the city to celebrate hens! Sadly I didn’t get time to jump out of a car and take photos. I did spot a Mona Lisa hen, but thanks to the joys of the Internet I’ve been able to find some just for you.

My favourite is the “sax and the city” hen, with me being both a hen keeper and saxophone player.

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And then there were two

As 2014 draws to an end I am sorry to tell you that the short but happy life of Colonel Saunders, one of the here remaining Gillybirds has come to an end.
She was looking very low over Christmas, spending much of the day sleeping with her wee head tucked in, showing little interest in tasty Christmas leftovers whilst the other two were chortling and clucking in a very festive manner over the roast potatoes, sprouts and strawberry tops on offer.
A big appreciative thank you to Gillyboy number 1 who has had to deal with the consequences of a deceased hen as I have been away.
Colonel Saunders has always been the bottom of the pecking order, the outsider, the observer, yet the hen who would chat quietly to me while I would clean out the coop. She was always last out of the coop in the mornings, descending the coop ladder with cautious, tentative steps and not much grace and often a great flapping of wings to welcome a new dawn.
She has had her ups and down health wise over the two and a half years of her productive existence. She had a passion for yoghurt and raisins, but never had a taste for mealworms (the chocolate of the hen community)
I know she was only a brown hen, but she made a contribution to our family, she was our pet, our little feathered friend.
Colonel Saunders, we will miss your tiny comb, your quiet put puts in conversation and your watchful eyes.
Rest in peace.

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It’s porridge, but not as we know it

In our house you need to be very careful in the mornings which pot you take your porridge from.
Those with two legs and no feathers get fruity, nutty porridge to keep them going for the day. We love it.
Those with two legs and feathers get porridge with pasta, raisins, sunflower seeds, meal worms, left overs of rice, potatoes, vegetables, bread crusts….
They love it!
In this cold weather, with so little sun light, we need to keep tummies full and warm to keep those yummy eggs coming.

The day starts at around 7.30 am when light is just showing in the sky, and the ladies usually retire for the evening around 4.15pm, earlier if it is very dark and wet. I love peeking in at them all snuggled up in their feathered duvets. I wonder what the chat is about?

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Weather bombed!

Happily here on our damp green little island stories in the media relating to bombs are much less frequent than they used to be.
This week we were hit by a “weather bomb”, not a meteorological term I have ever heard before, but the sound of it was quite terrifying! Explosive cyclogenesis is the official term for a weather situation where a storm intensifies as air pressure drops at its core dramatically (over 24 millibars in 24 hours).
We had very high winds, hail, rain, sleet, black skies, very low temperatures and on the coast the waves were huge. This colourful picture shows the estimated wave height, the black area is the highest waves. Surfs up!


This photo shows one of our favourite family holiday spots being completely battered by HUGE waves!
Here at the coop, it was business as usual thanks to our sturdy structure and covered area. Egg production is back on track, the girls are full feathered again and looking well.
Due to the low temperatures we’ve been having a hot breakfast to kick start the day


The yard has been safely enclosed so on days where the weather is kind the Gillybirds get out for a rummage around the bins where there are always lots of critters to munch on



Apollo is photo bombed by Colonel Saunders in this one!
We don’t much like bombs here, weather ones or any other type. But we’ve survived. There is snow in the air, and Christmas is coming.

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