gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Writing 101- rumours in the coop

Write a post inspired by a real-world conversation.
Today’s twist: include an element of foreshadowing in the beginning of your post.

Though the morning sun shone bright gold into the coop, there was a distinct chill in the air. Little Darling, Colonel Saunders and Apollo are out nervously scratching for bugs….

I’m not at all happy with what changes are being planned.
She can’t be serious.
Oh she is! I’ve seen her eyeing up our personal space. Measuring it for new comers I’ll bet.
Well, you’ve got to admit, we haven’t exactly been productive lately.
I try my best. But when a girl is losing her feathers there are more important things than laying an egg every day.
Well I’m not going to moved from my place on the roost.
Me neither. We’ve been here a long time. No new chicks with their fancy feathers are going to push me around.
I’d like to see them try- you’re a bit of a heavyweight.
Just because my plumage is glossier than yours, there’s no need to be jealous.
I’m not, I’m just stating facts. We need to start laying regularly again, all three of us, or things could get serious.
You must admit we have quite a good system going. She can’t actually tell which of us is laying, it could be just one, or all three on alternate days.
Good plan! I can’t understand why they call us “bird brains”
Anyway, we are internet celebrities, she can’t do away with us. Think of the scandal.
And as for Mr G, he’s just got the bill for our new coop. He’s worked out the cost per egg for keeping us far exceeds our worth.
But She wouldn’t. She loves us.
Still, I’ve seen that look in her eye when she’s googling all those fancy breeds. And her crestfallen face when the laying box is empty.
Here she comes! Look busy! And someone please go and lay an egg to keep us in her good books for another day.

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Today’s blog post is an imagined conversation between the three hens in Mrs Gillybirds coop

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Living the Good Life

Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.
Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

We are a small community of peace loving sisters. We have one purpose In life, a daily task to be fulfilled regardless of the weather, rising in the early dawn light and retiring as the sun’s last rays sink below the hills. What we produce is taken and used to improve the lives of others. This work takes a toll on our bodies, though had we been born in different circumstances, we may have spent our entire short life in cramped dark conditions and been disposed of once we had outlived our productivity.
We spend a considerable amount of our day eking out an existence from what nature and our generous benefactor provides. Our fare is plain and simple, mostly vegetarian. We drink nothing but water.
If any of us gets ideas above her station she is reprimanded with speed and severity. Strict order is observed at all times. Our conversation in general is quiet and respectful, our voices rising in a joyous song only when our task is completed.
A recent move finds us in much improved accommodation. Our boundaries have been extended, we have new territory to explore and navigate, rather than the limited area we occupied since we first joined the community. From the confines of our private space we enjoy watching the comings and goings of those around us, who often stop to encourage us with their chat. There is shelter from inclement weather, we are protected from those who would wish to harm us.
It is a good life here in the coop.

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Hen sitting thanks

At the end of the summer I should pay online tribute to my hen sitters while we have taken some holiday time away. Special thanks for their early morning coop opening, treat providers, egg collection, health and well-being monitoring, coop closing and being all round good neighbours and friends to P and L, Grandma Gillybirds and to Miss CC (no stranger to mentions on this blog) and also to our neighbour L’s mum who came especially to visit the hens over the course of one of the weeks we were away as she had grown up on a farm and was eager to see hens up close for the first time in years 🙂 awww
Our garden builders who carried on working in our absence also gave them lots of attention and probably too much of their own lunches, and finished their awesome looking very secure huge coop.

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All our hensitters heartily enjoyed their responsibilities (together with a long list of instructions from yours truely) and despite not being blessed with an abundance of eggs they loved spending time getting to know our feathered ladies better.
Thanks one and all!
There is actually a chicken hotel in England you can book your hens into check this out- but ssshh, don’t tell the Gillybirds!

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A New Residence

Last Saturday, thankfully a sunny day, we began to clear out a garden shed near the kitchen at the side of the house, and to redesign it into a hen house with a safe and secure run.

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Mr G worked off the frustrations of his week by banging out most of the horizontal planks on one side of the shed, we then forcefully removed one of the upright posts so the Omlet Eglu coop would fit in.
As part of our cunning plan we invited some teenage boys round for the afternoon with the promise of food, and once the shed was floored with a thin fabric membrane and covered deeply with wood shavings, the coop was lifted in (minus the hens of course). We needed all hands on deck at this stage. The coop is not so much heavy as quite large, with the legs and wheels attached underneath so need to be lifted up and in to the shed.
We then attached plastic coated wire mesh to the open side for security.
As the sun began to sink and our energy wane, we introduced the Gillybirds to their new and hopefully more permanent home. They were extremely cautious. New smells, new textures underfoot, no more open air run.

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Soon it was time for the security of their own wee green home and a good night’s sleep.
That was when I realised I hadn’t made a hole to allow me to pull out the lever to open and close the coop door, so it was out with the pliers one more time.

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Neither Mr G nor I are particularly skilled at DIY so this was a challnge. I feel we rose to the occasion, especially when my mother asked if we had got a professional into do the job!
The next day I managed one coat of paint to the side and front door (where I get access for eggs and for feeding and watering)

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The rest of the week has been very showery so the necessary second coat has not yet happened.
I am however delighted with this dove grey paint, you can still see the wood grain. The hens have realised that when they hear taps running they can see me working away at the kitchen sink. I get a really good close up view of them from the kitchen, when they are closed inside during the rain they climb on the steps and look out at me.
During dry weather they are now decimating my lovely secret garden which I have so lovingly planted over the past year. It is a small price to pay for their security and need for a piece of earth to scratch and peck.

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Times they are a’changing

Here at Gillybirds Manor we are one week into a major building project which will hopefully put an end to our considerable flooding issues in the garden. If you check back to the start of this Gillybirds blog here is evidence of the Gillyboys actually swimming on the lawn two summers ago.
This work has meant considerable disruption for us, for our (mostly) patient neighbours, for the dogs and most particularly for the Gillybirds themselves.

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Initially we moved them, with considerable effort from the back garden round to the front garden, placing them directly under our bedroom window. I realised how early they start singing their sunrise song!
It has been two years since we built the Eglu coop, and trying to remember how to deconstruct it was quite a challenge. However it all worked out well and we are able to rebuild it quickly and they appeared to enjoy a change of scenery, although seemed to miss the activity of the back of the house. Lucas the pup missed them too. (He is not allowed round the front of the property given his tendency to run away.)

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None of us likes change, it is unsettling, unnerving, can take away your confidence, and your ability and desire to lay eggs – however they settled very quickly, surrounded and soothed by our rather overgrown lavender plants, though I felt bad knowing this was a very temporary interim move, as their new location was directly in the path of where the heavy machinery was to manoeuvre for the next few weeks.
More to follow……

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These is My Words

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Now that school is out and life is a little less frantic it is time to flex my holiday reading muscles.
First on the list was ” These is My Words, the diary of Sarah Anne Prine” by Nancy Turner.
I have blogged before about pioneer women – Laura Ingalls, and the sweet hen lady Nancy Luce, and now I have a new pioneer voice Miss Sarah Anne Prine. If you enjoyed the Little House books, and the sharp dry voice of Mattie Ross in True Grit (another great book) you will love following the journey of Sarah with her family by wagon from Arizona to Texas, and their trials and hardships as they settle to life there. Along with tragedy there is romance, courage, faithfulness, a desire for knowledge, a heart that seeks true love and an indomitable spirit. I loved every page. It made me cry several times. There are two great dogs in this story, and also Sarah keeps hens and is very worried about them when the weather causes trouble. (Sorry no spoilers)
I was thrilled to learn there is a sequel! Hoping Mr Postman with deliver it soon.
“My life feels like a book left out on the porch, and the wind blows the pages faster and faster, turning always toward a new chapter faster than I can stop to read it.”
― Nancy E. Turner, These Is My Words

This copy was sent to me as part of the Good Reads First Read programme. I can’t wait to pass it on to the next lucky reader!
Thanks Good Reads 🙂

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Scratch and Peck

Summer is here! The blue skies and hot sun have coincided with a very busy week with a wedding, the last GCSEs, gaily boy number two returning home from Uni at the end of first year (yes, already) and a few farewell events as Gillyboy number 4 prepares to leave primary school.
The Gillybirds are keeping cool with watermelon and strawberries and some 5p lettuce from tesco. Yesterday we had three eggs laid for the first time in ages. Just a pity that one of them was soft shelled but that is progress!
I just thought if you were interested in chicken blogs, the very best one is scratchandpeck.blogspot.com.

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The blogger writes and illustrates her flock with wit and a great observance not just of hen behaviour but of us humans too. She has a great wee dog called Marky who considers himself part of the flock and regales us with tales of Pigeon, Lucy and the rest of her girls.
You can also find Lauren on Facebook.
The Gillyboys bought me Lauren’s book for Christmas last year. If you are ever looking for a gift for a henkeeper this is the one.
Lauren’s book “Once Upon a Flock” is available on Amazon
Lauren Scheuer, you are a wee genius! Keep up the good work!

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Song birds

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This morning I was abruptly awoken by a terrible racket coming from the coop. I really hope that I was the only one woken up in our neighbourhood.
I realised I had forgetting to close the Gillybirds in last night, and from the noise they were making I reckoned there must be a fox or other threat in the garden. I threw on my slippers and headed outside. It was 4.18am.
Outside there was a predawn mist, it was cold but bright, there was dew on he grass, and I was welcomed by our three feathered ladies looking bright eyed and bushy tailed, and clearly not in any distress at all, thank goodness.
I quickly realised that they were making a noise looking for their breakfast and I reckon, to compete with the birdsong choir that was going on int the trees all around us. After getting some food for them (surprising a couple of dozing dogs who just curled up and went back to sleep again) I stood for a few minutes just to listen to the wonderful feathered choir that was celebrating the start of a new day.
And thinking that if this was a choir audition, the Gillybirds would fail. What they lack in tunefulness however they certainly made up for in enthusiasm.
Perching birds, or ‘songbirds’ (passerines) account for nearly half the world’s 9,600 bird species. While singing behaviour varies, most takes place during the breeding season generally more in the early morning (and to a lesser extent, late afternoon). This is when they are settled in their territory and are marking their presence to others in the area.
There is also a school of thought that says birds sing most in the mornings because sound carries further, linked to the lack of general noise and the density of the air at that time.
The dawn chorus may can dip in intensity during the breeding season, mainly during the short mating periods and again when the young are being cared for. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to defend/mark their patch and tend to the young! In the UK during high summer, the dawn chorus starts as early as 4am. Yes, I can confirm this! The first birds to stir are usually blackbirds, robins and wrens.
For the most part, it is the males that sing – a consistently repeated pattern of tones, mostly from an elevated or conspicuous spot within their territory or breeding area. Some birds, such as buntings and skylarks, sing on the wing. While birds usually do not sing around their nests, a few sing a quiet ‘whisper song’ that can be heard only within a few yards. For a few species, such as robins, the female also occasionally breaks into song.
As a basic rule, songs are generally long and complex whereas calls are short and simple. Birds sing from their syrinx, a kind of double voice box at the bottom of their windpipe. Two sets of membranes and muscles where the windpipe branches into the lungs vibrate at high frequencies as air is exhaled. In fact, while singing, a bird can alternate exhaling between its two lungs and thereby sing in harmony with itself. How I would love to be able to do this myself.
The songs of birds are learned, not inherited. Within a couple of months, fledglings develop a ‘subsong’ that matures into an adult primary song in around a year or so as they reach breeding maturity. From this learnt behaviour, a number of species have a varying number of songs and calls. House sparrows have just one simple song; song thrushes and nightingales by comparison have several different varieties of song. Other species are expert’s at mimicry and will copy other sounds ranging from other birds to mechanised sounds that they may encounter. Starlings are well known for this and species such as the jay are known to mimic birds of prey such as buzzards to scare off intruders to their territory.
And hens, well they just open their beaks and let rip.
Especially at 4.18am on a Tuesday morning.
the picture above is a papercutting which I made about a month ago, showing a “stack” of hens – rooster, hen and chick, welcoming the morning sun

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A Whiter Shade of Pale

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The great thing about keeping hens is that when things are going well, reasonable weather, a balanced diet, plenty of exercise, the odd treat , brighter longer Spring days the hens just keep on laying. The eggy song which can be heard from quite a distance echoes around, heralding another oval masterpiece is sung daily. A fair amount of baking and a family favourite of bacon and egg sandwiches made with fresh eggs, crispy bacon and fresh white bread keeps on top of this eggy abundance.
And so dear reader, my blog has been silent. I hope you haven’t missed us too much. Consider that no news is good news as they say.
One mystery I did solve is that the layer of the elongated eggs is Colonel Saunders. They are whoppers.
The last few days someone (it can only be Apollo or Darling) has been laying ghostly pale eggs, as you can see from the picture, much whiter shells than usual. The egg inside is just the same golden yellow yolk and clear thick white thankfully.
I have consulted the chicken internet oracles and the general view is that this is due to a hen coming to the end of her egg laying season, preparing to stop laying and moult. Calcium levels in the shell are dropping. In fact today an egg was lying broken in the nesting box, showing that the shell was very weak at the time of laying. I need to remove broken eggs quickly as hens love the taste of their own eggs and I don’t want them to get into the habit of deliberately breaking them for a tasty snack.
Early readers of Mrs Gillybirds blog may recall that egg shell colour is determined mostly by the colour of the hen’s ears. Our girls have rusty brown ears and eggs are usually a nice pale brown colour, not these freaky white shells.
Over the next few weeks I will provide more oyster shell grit to increase calcium levels, and keep a close eye for the start of moulting.
Meanwhile we can all enjoy the Spring time sun as the garden comes to life after what was a mild but horribly wet winter. I look forward to being able to take a trip to the coop without the hassle of Wellington boots. And no more dirty dog paw prints on clean kitchen tiles!

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Home Alone

Last weekend for the first time ever I nervously left them home alone. Days of preparation leaving enough food, making the home clean and tidy, hiding little treats around the place and providing entertainment so that boredom would not be possible and cause them to trash the place. I spent two days and nights worrying, hoping they would neither starve or over feed themselves, listening to the rain beating against the windows and hoping they were being sensible and keeping warm and dry.
This wasn’t my children, or the dogs.
This was the Gillybirds.
And they survived. And so did I.
Phew!

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