gillybirds

What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Feeling Broody

  

Summer is finally here and Mary Queen of Scots has decided she wants to be a mamma hen. Yes, she’s gone broody. My dad says down the country she would be referred to as a “”clocking hen”! Apparently this is a common occurrence with her breed – marans. Sadly, since we don’t have a rooster she is sitting all day all in the nesting box on top of eggs laid by the other ladies, ruffling her feathers and making a funny growling sound if disturbed. Like all mothers she is aggressive if she thinks she is being taken away from her potential babies. For now, she is a slave to her maternal instinct and it takes courage and patience to persuade her to neglect her mothering duties. 

There are plenty of remedies suggested for broody hens – bathing their undercarriages in cold water, keeping them in an anti broody cage for a few days, blocking up the nesting box.  I tried the latter, only to find that poor mamma hen in her desperation had knocked over the board and was sitting  all squashed up underneath it, ignoring all discomfort and carrying on with her task. If I didn’t lift her out several times a day she wouldn’t eat or drink, or poop, just carrying on sitting keeping those (un) fertilised eggs at a just the right temperature, for about three weeks until they would be due to hatch. Sorry Mary, this isn’t going to happen. Only in your dreams. I’m sorry. 

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Hen Friends

How lovely it is to visit an old friend and get acquainted with her very pretty hens who roam free around a large garden. Mr Rooster, a fine beastie, even keeps the family dog in check. On a fairly rare sunny day we enjoyed fresh scones in the garden and our feathered friends were there to peck up the crumbs when we finished. Back when we first met in the late 1990’s our chat would have been of small children, potty training and learning to read, now our own little chicks are grown up we talk of university, gap years, egg production and scaley leg mite and had a tour of the abundant vegetable garden.

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Mr Rooster is the fine silvery grey bird just left of centre.
PS you can follow me on Instagram as Mrs Gillybirds.

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Early Risers

I have a hen with gender identity issues.

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She, (Apollo), thinks she is a rooster. Or at least behaves like one. Ok, apart from laying an egg every day. She is bossy, noisy, nosey and king/queen of the coop. She has the glossiest most lustrous feathers. And did I mention she was noisy?
Yesterday was the August Bank Holiday. The last Monday of the year that you get to sleep in late, guilt free, until the Christmas holidays. Did we get to sleep in? No.
At 6.31 am most of us, and probably most of our neighbours, were awoken by Miss Apollo bawk-a-bawk-a-BAWK-A-BAWK ing welcoming what turned out to be a lovely late summer’s day, very,very early.
In a befuddled state I jumped out of bed, and padded across the grass (bare foot) to the coop to see what all the fuss was about.
Look, she said. I’ve laid an egg for you. It’s a lovely sunny day. Get up. Enjoy.
Have some stale toast I said, throwing it into the coop.
I returned to bed, leaving a trail of grass cuttings through the house, up stairs, and under the sheets.
Pulling the pillow over my head I tried to slip back into a good dream
6.56am BAWKABAWKABAWKABAWKAAAA
not again.
Another trek across the grass.
Did you not hear me the first time? She clucked. I laid an egg, and now Darling has laid an egg. It’s Monday. The sun is shining. You should be up making me porridge and admiring our handiwork.

So in the end I got up, let the dogs out for a sniff, and had an early hot cup of tea enjoying the brilliance of a freshly cut new day.

Today the Gillyboys are back to school. The alarm went off like a siren at 6.45. It is a grey and damp day. To be honest, I’d rather be woken up by a chicken.

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Of course, in my head, this is how I look every morning as I feed the Gillybirds!

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A new Summer Menu

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After the success of the yoghurt, I have been giving the Gillybirds a few new food items to see what they prefer. It must be hard to get excited about eating dried meal pellets day after day. With the high temps and bright sunshine I wanted to give them fruits that had a high water content to help the hens feel cooler.
A couple of overripe nectarines were welcomed with joy. Some fairly black bananas were treated with suspicion. And melon was a huge success. As with introducing new food to small children, these were not all introduced at once, but over ten or so days. Hens poop enough without putting their little digestive systems through unnecessary trauma.
I also made them a formal dust bath from an old washing up basin filled with sand and soil. The aim of this was for them to get into and “splash” themselves to cool off. However they treated it with disdain and spent a couple of hours walking round it. So I dumped the contents into their run and they were happy enough to scratch through it.
To give them some more exercise, inspired by Gillyboy number 4’s Sports Day, getting the girls those bikini ready bodies (LOL), after raking the run I brought in some new big branches and laid them out like hurdles. It also gives them some new perches to watch all the garden activities we as a family have enjoyed on these long summer evenings. It has been still bright at 10.30pm.
I have been closing the coop door only partially as it is so warm, and the sun is up so very early. The hens can let themselves out ( their eyes can detect sunlight at least 45 minutes before ours) and start their day well before ours. However on Sunday morning I was awoken by lots of cross hen noises again and again. I sleep at the front of the house, the coop is at the far back corner of the garden so this was Very Loud indeed. I ran downstairs thinking they were being annoyed by a cat or even a fox…but no, the coop door was closed too narrowly and they couldn’t get out and were just letting the entire neighbourhood know what a lazy owner they have! A rooster could not have made any more racket. After a quick feed they had all laid within ten minutes so I guess they forgave and forgot pretty quickly.

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I meant to say that the best way to ripen soft fruit so us humans can eat it is by keeping it for a day or two in a paper bag.
If things get too ripe I have an excellent banana loaf recipe that is a family favourite.
Enjoy the summer!

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Gone with the Wind

A weather vane (or weathercock) is an instrument for showing the direction of the wind . They are typically used as an architectural ornament to the highest point of a building.
The design of a wind vane is such that the center of gravity is directly over the pivotal axis, so that the pointer can move freely on its axis, but the surface area is unequally divided. The side with the larger surface area is blown AWAY from the wind direction, so that the smaller side, with the pointer, is pivoted to face INTO the wind direction. For example, in a ‘Nor-Easter’ (a wind that blows FROM the north-east), the pointer will point TOWARD the north-east. Most wind vanes helpfully have directional markers beneath the arrow, aligned with the geographic directions.
But why do so many vanes have roosters on them?
In the ninth century A.D the pope reportedly decreed that every church in Europe should show a cock on its dome or steeple, as a reminder of Jesus’ prophecy that the cock would not crow the morning after the Last Supper, until the disciple Peter had denounced Him three times (Luke 22:34). Because of this story, “weather cocks” have topped church steeples for centuries, both in Europe and in America.Rather cheekily I think the ladies who embroidered the Bayeux Tapestry back in the eleventh century even included a scene of a craftsman attaching a rooster vane to the spire of the Westminster Abbey. In the picture you can see him on the left hand side.
Alternative theories about the origin of weathercocks on church steeples are that it was an emblem of the vigilance of the clergy calling the people to prayer, like a rooster crowing at sunrise, that it was derived from the Goths and is only possibly a Christian symbol, and that it is an emblem of the sun.
It is probably the banners which flew from medieval towers in Britain, Normandy and Germany which are the precursors to our modern weather vanes. The word “vane” actually comes from the Anglo-Saxon word “fane”, meaning “flag”. Fabric pennants would show the archers the direction of the wind. Later, the cloth flags were replaced by metal ones, decorated with the insignia or coat of arms of the lord or nobleman, and balanced to turn in the wind. From come the banners which the early American colonists favoured for their meeting halls and public buildings for example the butcher would have a bull or pig on his vane.
Early weather vanes had very ornamental pointers, but modern wind vanes are usually simple arrows that dispense with the directionals because the instrument is connected to a remote reading station. An early example of this was installed in the Royal Navy’s Admiralty building in London – the vane on the roof was mechanically linked to a large dial in the boardroom so senior officers were always aware of the wind direction when they met.
According to the Guinness World Records, the world’s largest weather vane is a Tío Pepe sherry advertisement located in Jerez, Spain. The city of Montague, Michigan also claims to have the largest standard-design weather vane, being a ship and arrow which measures 48 feet tall, with an arrow 26 feet long.
A challenger for the title of world’s largest weather vane is located in Whitehorse, Yukon. The weather vane is a retired Douglas DC-3 CF-CPY (yes that is a full size airplane!) atop a swiveling support. Located at the Yukon Transportation Museum beside Whitehorse International Airport, the weather vane is used by pilots to determine wind direction, used as a landmark by tourists and enjoyed by locals. The weather vane only requires a 5 knot wind to rotate.

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Nowadays if you have the cash and the inclination you can have a personalised weather vane. This one with the mummy hen and her chicks is actually covered in gold leaf, I’ll let you read the manufactures blurb for yourself….

This Hen with Chicks weathervane design is a new favorite here at West Coast Weather Vanes. We love the picture of the mother hen marching proudly ahead of her two chicks with a clutch of eggs balanced on top of each directional (north, south, east and west arm). As shown in the image here, we applied optional gold leaf to the hen’s beak, comb, and legs as well as the chicks’ beaks and legs. We also created four golden eggs….we stamped the names of the couple’s four children on the four eggs. Inside each egg is a lucky penny from the year each of the four children were born. The weather vane can be made in all copper or a combination of copper and brass. Because the weathervanes are made to order, the choice is yours.

Personalised Weather Vane
I think the Gillybirds would really love one of these atop their coop. Or maybe not. Perhaps if one of them lays a golden egg we will consider ourselves vain enough to having our own weather vane made.
In the meantime my usual indication of wind speed and direction is looking at Lucas the pup!

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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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