gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Fly me to the Moon

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You may be surprised to learn that hens can fly. I know you know they are birds, but perhaps you thought they were more like penguins and ostriches, having wings purely for decoration. I have however seen it with my own eyes. Until yesterday, only a short flap from the top of the coop ladder to the ground, but when I let them out for a run around yesterday afternoon, not one but two girls took flight and flew at least ten feet across the garden following me. It was quite a moment. hen flight is not a graceful swoop but a great crashing of wings with a little startled face followed by a heavy landing.
Some hen keepers trim the hen’s wings by clipping the first ten or so feathers off. Only one wing so they can flap but I guess rather frustratingly for them, end up turning in circles. Apparently wing clipping doesn’t hurt, it’s a bit like getting your hair cut (that usually only hurts when you come to pay the bill)
A second school of thought is to let the hens keep the ability to fly should they need to escape from predators. In France noticed Mme Caroline had pea netting over the hen netting, I assume to stop her flock from flying away. This would be my thinking too, just in case the dog does escape to the garden while they are out and about; or a cat, or even the urban fox we see occasionally.
To have the power of flight must be a wonderful thing. I’m not good with heights but the pleasure and thrill people get from parachuting, bungy jumping, zip wiring, wing walking, parascending is obvious. My dear friend Miss CC has done at least two of these things for charity as well as ticking them off her “bucket list” of life experiences. (My own bucket list is a bit more gravity-centred.)
We have all been saddened by the passing of Neil Armstrong this weekend. The first moon landing is one of my earliest memories. A moon landing is certainly not on my bucket list. But it is good to have challenges, objectives, goals, aspirations, both short and long term, so you aren’t spinning round in aimless circles like a flightless hen. I wonder if Neil ever asked himself- If you walk on the moon as a young man, how can anything you do for the remainder of your life on earth match that? As we start a new school year, full of fresh blank exercise books, bright starchy shirts and sharp new pencils, I will leave you to ponder Neil’s own words :

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The Great Escape

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I can’t believe that today, mid July, all the house lights have been on and it has rained constantly. Not even proper drops but that fine misty air moisture that soaks everything within a couple of seconds. The two boys left at home and I had a DVD and relaxing day. I got loads of knitting done. One boy who will remain unnamed was still in PJs until dinner time. Now I don’t insist on black tie at the dinner table but in the interests of hygiene and decency tonight the malingerer put on day clothes before his evening meal was served.
I digress. The garden once more is slowly disappearing under water, the hen’s coloured tags on their legs are indistinguishable because of the mud, so I jacked up the coop to move it to higher drier ground again. Having taking their water container indoors for a wash and refill, when I returned there were only 3 hens in the coop! Thankfully the dog was safely indoors, he don’t do rain, and Violet was spotted at the far end of the grass scratching merrily away. I noticed recently that when the coop is jacked up they have been pushing their wee heads into the gap between the wire mesh and the ground, a very small space of 5 cm at most. Miss Violet must have just given herself an extra boost and wriggled out when I wasn’t around. Since she looked so happy I let the others out for a good run around. I had some bread in my pocket, once Darling and Apollo discovered that they abandoned their search and opted for the fast food from my hand. I got some great pics, and a few pecks too. They weren’t too pleased when the bread was done and followed me around the garden in the hope for more. We all got rather wet.
And in return we collected two eggs today, up to 95 in total now, so heading rapidly towards our first egg century. Mr Gillybirds the accountant will no doubt be pleased that the cost per egg is now less than the cost of a good steak. Provided you don’t order any sides. Or a drink. And you are not still in your pyjamas.

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Keeping our heads above water

It’s the last day of the school year today, so lots of good byes and thank yous before we break up for the summer. Our small damp corner of the globe has been even damper this week, we’ve had serious flooding as a city, including our own garden which was so bad my scamps of sons were actually swimming in it on Wednesday evening. When weather throws a curve ball at you, you’ve got to go with the flow (literally), laugh and take photos. Mind you if it was coming in my front door and flooding the house like some people in the city I would not be laughing at all.
And my poor wee feathered ladies are sitting just above the water line, covered in muck, pecking about in the “glar”. We did have to rescue them on Wednesday evening moving the coop to the highest part of the garden. The dog was going mad, barking and splashing through our new water feature, I suddenly realised that in the rapid moving of the coop the cage had split and a hen had escaped. To my horror she was now beak to nose with the dog, they were eyeball to eyeball. Before either could react I grabbed her up and yelled for help to get the dog inside, and keep the other hens from escaping to certain peril either by drowning or becoming dog’s dinner. It was quite a moment!
This week we passed the fifty egg mark! Someone laid the teensiest little egg which I used to make a most delicious dark chocolate and raspberry brownie cake for our biggest son, who is 19 today. (I did add other eggs as well.) We ate it warm from the oven last night as today is the beginning of summer adventures, the next night we will all be under this roof again is 22nd July. It’s hard to keep track of who will be where and ensuring that appropriate clothes are washed and dried . Biggest boy is off to Spain (sun protection and light clothes), two boys are off camping locally (serious wet weather gear, possibly life jackets if the flooding continues) and Mr Gillybirds big bike hike – the length of England and Scotland starts next Friday (Lycra shorts and muscle rub). Smallest boy and I are mostly staying here at Base Camp, if the grass doesn’t dry out soon I may consider planting a paddy field of rice, or building an ark, or both.

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Running Around Like a Headless Chicken

This time of the year with school and activities stopping for the summer break, us mums get very busy organising parties, gifts, thank yous, farewells, and in our house it is the beginning of the birthday season too. I have lists with sub-lists of tasks to get through as well as all the normal day to day things. I need to urgently find a tent peg mallet that may or may not be lying at the back of a crammed shed covered in dead spiders. And teach my boys how to erect the said tent as I won’t be there to help. My problem is that subconsciously I know for 8 weeks from 12 noon next Friday the children will be at home looking to be entertained and fed and I will get nothing else done until September.
The phrase “running around like a headless chicken” comes to mind, but do you have any clue as to it’s origin?
WARNING those of a nervous or squeamish disposition go read something else!
Well, in Colorado in 1945 a poor rooster called Mike had his head chopped off by Mr Olsen the farmer. Only he didn’t do the job properly. The axe missed his jugular vein leaving one ear and most of his brain stem intact. Since basic life functions such as breathing, and heart rate, and chicken reflect functions are controlled by the brain stem Mike survived. When Mike didn’t die Mr Olsen decided to care for him, feeding him a mixture of milk and water through an eye dropper into his throat. Once used to a new centre of balance Mike could get himself around easily, attempting to peck at food with his neck, and trying to crow, although only a gurgling sound came out of his throat. The enterprising Mr Olsen charged 25 cents to the curious public, and went touring with a side show. Mike even appeared in Time magazine. Sadly while on tour one night Mike choked and passed on to the big chicken coop in the sky. He had survived headless for 18 months.
Mike’s legacy in his hometown lives on. In Fruita, Colorado they celebrate “Mike the Headless Chicken Day” every May, he even has his own website http://www.miketheheadlesschicken.org!
So when you think you are about to lose you mind, remember Mike the Headless Chicken – its a no brainer!

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Paws for Thought

There is a sign by my kitchen sink which states “Always try to be the person your dog thinks you are”.
I consider this to be sound advice.
My dog thinks I am the greatest friend, companion, provider, soul mate, he is completely devoted to me, I am the centre of his little canine Universe. Where I go, he wants to go; where I rest, he will be lying snoring beside me within a couple of minutes. Even as I type this blog his paw is hitting my hand looking for a gentle scratch on his ample belly. He is jealous of others who compete for my attention. This is not always a good thing. Should Mr Gillybirds show any sign of affection the dog acts as the most diligent chaperone. A chaperone with a fierce bark and a set of fine sharp teeth which he is not afraid to use.
I didn’t even want a dog. I don’t like dogs. As a child I was terrified of dogs. I was a cat person through and through. Nevertheless when the oldest son, then aged ten, bought a plastic dog bowl and started cutting out puppies for sale ads in the local newspaper I responded to the old saying “Every boy should have two things: a dog, and a mother willing to let him have one”. After a bit of research we went to pick a Tibetan terrier puppy, one of a litter that had been born on December 25th. In the spirit of Christmas, with Tibet being a bit east of here, we decided to call him Caspar after one of the three Wise Men. Craftily the dog breeder lifted him from a heaving mass of wriggling pups and laid him on my chest as if I had just delivered him myself. One look into those deep brown eyes and I was a goner. Sadly Caspar died after only a week from Parvo virus and it was shocking just how attached we had all become to the little pup. As soon as we could we picked another pup from a different breeder, and so Buttons came into our lives just over seven years ago. The Vet refers to him as “the zen dog”. He is very chilled out, but is quick to find his Inner Canine should there be a bone, a squirrel or a postman. Not being one to boast but I should mention that one of his distant cousins, who answers to the wonderful name of “Fabulous Willie” won Best in Show at Crufts a couple of years ago.
So how can I become the devoted, loving, friend and all round decent person he believes that I am? I have no idea. Just try to be myself, but better. But perhaps I should bear in mind the words of Ann Landers – “Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you are wonderful”.

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Jubilations!

The past few days have seen the massive celebrations for Queen Elizabeth the Second’s Diamond Jubilee, locally and nationally. Also there has been a big deal made with the Olympic torch relay which came to our small damp corner of what remains of the British Empire very early on Sunday.
Of course here at home we welcome any event worthy of celebrating and yesterday under threatening skies we had a bit of a family garden party and barbecue, with most joining in the spirit of the occasion and dressing in red, white and blue. Faces were well painted, the remains of which are embedded in the best towels left out for the use of visitors. It’s lovely to have any excuse to get together, and even better that my mother in law who lives abroad was here for the weekend too. The rain stayed away so we had al fresco garlic and chilli prawns and Angus beef burgers which were delicious and finished off with red, white and blue pavlova and a Union Jack trifle.
I did have a bit of a mishap with the trifle, my dad had crushed garlic with the back of a spoon, unknowingly I used the same tainted spoon to smooth the custard on the trifle. So far no one seems to have noticed. It reminded me of one of the boy’s birthdays when I had decorated the birthday cake in an Olympic theme, must have been 8 years ago. Number four son who was then aged 4 got into the party room and picked every last it of icing off the top while we were in the garden playing games. When the crime was discovered, with great presence of mind I flipped the cake over and quickly iced the reverse side in a similar theme. And told no one.
Not to be outdone in the festivities, the hens celebrated by laying their 25th egg, a little silver jubilee of their own. An extra treat of corn was provided.

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Here they all are looking very patriotic, standing to attention, when in reality they are just being naturally inquisitive. They only have to hear the sound of the kitchen door opening now for them to rush to the back of the coop looking to see who is coming and what tasty treat they might be bringing. Hens are very attracted to the colour red, a treat of cherry tomatoes causes a near riot within the coop. They also love dandelion leaves, the stalks of cauliflower and corn cobs. Thinking they would be like budgies in their tastes I bought a pound weight of dried millet at the pet store, but they look one disdainful look at it and walked away. Their daily diet is “layers pellets”, a bit of a misnomer as only Violet is actually laying at the minute. The pellets look most unappetising. Hens also need to have grit in their diet to give calcium to their shells. I love to watch them drinking, they take delicate little sips then tip their heads back to swallow. I watched Apollo daintily drinking the dew drops hanging on the bars of their run the other morning. Also hilariously they chase any flying bug that comes into their area. It would be good to stake out a larger run for them, but recently a magnificent fox ran right across the back of the garden in the middle of the afternoon, which made me fear for their safety if they were less protected from predators than they are currently.
As for the dog, he still takes an immense interest in the hens, guarding them jealously when visitors come to inspect them,but also barking wildly when they fly from the door of the coop to the ground. I have no doubt that given the opportunity he would help himself to a fresh chicken dinner. Yesterday though he was on his best behaviour, with the promise of left over burgers he joined in the celebrations, if only in honour of the Queen’s corgis.

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In the eye of the beholder

Last week round our way was the annual Agricultural Show. We live in the leafy suburbs and in my opinion this is perhaps not the most convenient place for farmer types to come to show off their prize pigs or ogle the latest in farm machinery. Also it makes getting out of my driveway in my “Mum’s Tractor” (ie MPV) a complete nightmare for four days. But the lure of getting to sit in a large John Deere tractor, laugh at the antics of skittish kid goats, and be completely overwhelmed by the sheer bulk of the pedigree Charolais bulls never fails to attract us every year.
This May of course as a hen keeper I was eager to get to the Poultry Hall to check out the chooks. The cacophony of cockerels met us at the door. Now I think my four girls with their rusty plumage are very handsome, but at the Show there were some real stunners. And some bizarre ones too. There are some very odd looking breeds with feathery feet or Afro type headdresses. There was a magnificent dark green iridescent duck which was so breath-taking lay beautiful I stopped trying to capture its lustre in a photo and just stared for longer than was polite.
What was most striking was that in general the roosters as well as being very vocal, sported magnificent plumage, brighter, glossier, more abundant than the ladies. They were strutting around crowing loudly while the hens were sitting, mostly contented. Some had even laid eggs. Whereas these boys were making their presence felt by whatever means possible. It would appear that particularly in the bird world the male of the species is the more attractive – think of peacocks and even the humble blackbird, whereas when it comes to humans it is generally us hens who put on a brighter display.
You may not be familiar with the tv show “Dating in the Dark”. Contestants meet in a completely blacked out room and get to know each other by using their other senses and just chatting. It’s fascinating. In a recent episode a girl was completely smitten by the gentle humour and interesting soul searching conversations she’d had with a faceless stranger who had even composed a song just for her. She was so looking forward to seeing him for the first time. She was pretty sure she had met The One. Now when the couples are seen for the first time at the end of the dating process it is done through the use of a one way screen so they cannot see each other’s reaction. Thankfully when the young man in question was revealed he could not see this girl’s face drop and tears leak out when she saw that with his glasses and Side Show Bob type ginger curls he wasn’t “her type”, she felt no attraction to him at all. How sad that his physical appearance meant so much more than the way this man when unseen had met her emotional needs and had reached into her very heart. However, I’ll be the first to admit that the first thing I noticed about Mr Gillybirds was his lovely smile. So I’m not in any position to judge.( His first memory of me was my Police sweatshirt.)
One of the most common questions I’m asked since the hens arrived is- do you not need to have a rooster so the hens will lay eggs? Well, no, hens will lay most of the year, a rooster is only necessary if you want their eggs fertilised for chicks. And if you want to alienate your neighbours. But living in a house with a husband and four boys, there is quite enough testosterone flying around, and at times enough preening and prinking in mirrors before a night out. I’ll stick with my feathered girls for now.
So for those of you who follow this blog, here are some photos of some of those prize winning roosters at the Show.

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Singing and Camping in the Rain

The feathered ladies have now been with us for two weeks. We’ve had 13 eggs so far which Mr Gillybirds, the accountant by profession, tells me cost-wise works out at something a little less than buying a Faberge egg. But so much more fun.
Three of my girls are now laying- definately Violet and Darling. Not quite sure of the third.
The one thing that has surprised me is the amount of poop these girls make. Apologies to those reading this with a cup of tea and a nice biscuit. But surely Mrs G you realised that hens are birds? I hear you say. No I didn’t quite make that connection. I thought maybe like the dog there’d be a land mine left in the garden maybe once or twice a day but no, these ladies make their run look at best like a modern art installation. And football in the garden is even more of an interesting game than before. Never mind I’m sure the grass will be lush with all the added nitrogen.
We’ve had so much rain and strong winds that their lovely rusty red feathers look very bedraggled. Yesterday I had a brainwave and put a large plastic table cloth over the top of the run so they could strut about dry for a while. It has lacy edging and would have looked better with a cake stand and a couple of cupcakes on top.They don’t seem to work out that it is dry in under the coop.
Number three son is going survival camping this weekend with the Chief Scout Bear Grylls. It’s all very exciting to be promised breakfast with the man who allegedly eats live grubs and filters water through his sports socks, but in the spirit of The Great Outdoors no tents are allowed and he has to bring a pen knife and matches. Two items not normally within a hand’s reach of a 14 year old boy. But I’ve seen the forecast. It’s not good. I’m thinking of packing him that lacy table cloth for shelter, just in case.

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A little Daily Miracle

One of my favourite films is the Addams Family Values. There is a scene where Wednesday asks a visitor to pass her the salt at the dinner table. Her mother interrupts asking “what do we say when we want something Wednesday?”To which Wednesday replies “Now!”

It is a 21st century condition that generally people want everything now, if not yesterday. Time is speeding up, running away, passing through our fingers like fine sand on a beach.

Watch news as it happens live.
More internet data faster.
Lose weight quicker.
Reverse time and look younger.
Ready meals, fast food.

The day I saw ready grated cheese to buy I was dumbfounded, or as my mother would say “gobsmacked”. Who doesn’t have time to grate cheese?

Ok so I am not in the world of employment, being at home raising 4 boys is not a real job (apparently) so I probably have more time on my hands than most. I take pleasure in the making of things, chopping, peeling, grating. I love to bake, to root around the fridge and make soup out of whatever I find, to knead dough and wait for it to prove.
My greatest passion is for hand crafts – cross stitch, knitting and card making. It gives me pleasure to design and craft unique and I hope beautiful things which will give others pleasure. These take time. Some only minutes, some days, weeks, months. A card is probably enjoyed for a few days, a hat or scarf for a season. The wedding and baby cross stitch samplers hopefully for a lifetime. Not to be able to make time to do these things would trouble me. I take pride in each one of my own little creations.
What has this got to do with the hens? It takes a hen 25 hours to lay an egg. The shell only hardens in the last 10 seconds of its journey. I have discovered there is something magical about lifting a still warm egg from the nest it has been so gently laid in. Apparently, my hen- acquainted friends may well verify this, as she lays her egg a hen sings a bright song of triumph. How lovely. I think I would too. It’s wonderful. It’s a little daily miracle.

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How do you like your eggs in the morning?

Well, surprise surprise I arrived back after a wee coffee with a friend to discover AN EGG on the grass! I couldn’t be more proud if I had laid it myself! 🙂 Unable to finish my cherry scone I was pleased to have a real treat for the mystery egg layer and an encouragement to her feathered friends to get laying!
These ISA Brown hens should lay 310 eggs each a year. That’s a fair few. Just delighted. Hope this means they are settling in.
We had a pastoral visit from J, our pastor’s wife and from C a dear friend who bought me fresh sushi for lunch and offered to mind the girlies when we go on holidays!
I forgot to mention that Violet rather boldly flew from the door of the coop down into the hen run first thing this morning. Quite a sight to behold, all those copper and white feathers fluttering and flapping with more enthusiasm than grace.
So now I have a dilemma – what do I do with the first egg? Boil, poach, fry, scramble or wait for more and make a celebration cake ( hen themed of course).

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