What came first- the chickens or the blog?

Close encounters of the feathered kind


It’s been a lovely Easter. The weather has been perfect with leaves and blossoms bursting out by the hour. On Easter Monday we took a walk around Hillsborough Lake, a local beauty spot, known for it’s pretty forest and plentiful wild birds. Being the holidays families were there to feed the ducks, geese and swans as I remember doing there as a small child.
Naughty Lucas certainly enjoying finding any crumbs the birds left behind, and was very interested in checking out the majestic mute swans, of which there are many. When one swam by to give him a closer inspection however it was a different matter, he turned tail and ran away.
You’ve probably never eaten swan. Neither have I. Did you know that in the UK only the Queen is entitled to have swan for dinner? A quick google of swan recipes comes up with very little to tempt the modern palate however, describing the taste as moist, wet and muddy.
At there is a recipe should you happen to be in royal company and have nothing but swan in the fridge.
PERIOD: England, 14th century | SOURCE: Utilis Coquinario | CLASS: Authentic

DESCRIPTION: Roasted swan with Chaudon


11. For to dihyte a swan. Tak & vndo hym & wasch hym, & do on a spite & enarme hym fayre & roste hym wel; & dysmembre hym on þe beste manere & mak a fayre chyne, & þe sauce þerto schal be mad in þis manere, & it is clept:

12. Chaudon. Tak þe issu of þe swan & wasch it wel, & scoure þe guttes wel with salt, & seth þe issu al togedere til it be ynow, & þan tak it vp and wasch it wel & hew it smal, & tak bred & poudere of gyngere & of galyngale & grynde togedere & tempere it with þe broth, & coloure it with þe blood. And when it is ysothe & ygrounde & streyned, salte it, & boyle it wel togydere in a postnet & sesen it with a litel vynegre.

– Hieatt, Constance B. and Sharon Butler. Curye on Inglish: English Culinary Manuscripts of the Fourteenth-Century (Including the Forme of Cury). New York: for The Early English Text Society by the Oxford University Press, 1985.


For to prepare a swan. Take & undo him & wash him, & do on a spit & lard him fair & roast him well; & dismember him on the best manner & make a fair carving, & the sauce thereto shall be made in this manner, & it is called:

Chaudon. Take the issue of the swan & wash it well, & scour the guts well with salt, & boil the issue all together til it be enough, & then take it up and wash it well & hew it small, & take bread & powder of ginger & of galingale & grind together & temper it with the broth, & color it with the blood. And when it is boiled & ground & strained, salt it, & boil it well together in a small pot & season it with a little vinegar.



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A Whiter Shade of Pale


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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Meanwhile back at the coop

So while I was off skiing, it was very much business as usual at Gillybirds Manor. Ably looked after by my second in command, Gillyboy number one, the girls braved the persistent rain, protected by a newly added clear shower curtain and kept on laying.

It’s amazing that even their eggs are so individual and unique. I would love to know who consistently lays the long narrow eggs, they are huge!
Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day, is extra special when the pancakes are made with your own hens’ eggs.

On my return it appears that Spring is on its way in the garden, days are longer, and the sun has been shining, giving the girls plenty of sunny spots to dust bathe around the garden.


The have been some very pretty sunsets too.
I took these photos today. All the hens are looking really well, glossy feathers, bright eyes, nice red combs, it’s amazing how they have survived such a miserable damp mucky winter.


And Colonel Saunders pops up to say “hello Springtime!”


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Calamity Gill


I was hoping that once February came our stormy weather would blow away to somewhere else. You know the weather is bad when a dog bred for the snowy peaks of Tibet starts crying ten minutes into a walk when the rain Is coming sideways at you. Unfortunately after a lovely sunny day today we are heading for a massive storm overnight.
This morning the Gillybirds got to have a long time scampering round the garden in the sunshine, splashing through the huge amount of rainwater lying on the surface. This has been the wettest January on record. I’ve been worried about the hens getting trench foot.
To navigate the garden I have been wearing my son’s size 12 Wellington boots which are easy to shake on and off, they are enormous. It reminds me of when I was little I used to clop around the house in my mother’s fancy stilettos. Only this is muckier.
This morning I was refilling the hens water container and as I carried it back across the grass I stumbled, dropped the 5 litres of clean water and fell right into the muck and puddles, which splashed everywhere. I had to completely change my clothes, and it was only some time later I realised that I had given myself a mud face pack too.
At least I didn’t break or crack the water container. It is important for hens to have clean water, they would drink anything dirty or clean. We are all longing for Spring to come, though it hasn’t been too cold, and we’ve had no snow, we are longing for blue skies, warm sun, and the possibility of walking across dry grass in a pair of stilettos.

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Do you like butter?

Suddenly we have jumped from a long long cold Winter into fabulous warm and welcome Spring. Everything in the garden is bursting into life and colour including the weeds. And it has stayed dry long enough to get the lawn cut and sow grass seed on the bare patches.
The dandelion crop is over, their seeds floating like fairies to start new colonies elsewhere (hopefully the neighbours) and now the fields and flower beds are awash with lustrous yellow buttercups. When you were little did you hold buttercups under your chin to see if you liked butter? Or was it just our family? Apparently the strength of the yellow reflection was an indicator of how much you liked butter. I don’t think the medical profession use this as an accurate indicator of your cholesterol

The hens are very partial to dandelion leaves. Buttercups are poisonous however- to birds and cattle. And if handled a lot can cause dermatitis in humans. Once they die and are baled into straw for winter feed the toxins break down so they are fine in animals’ winter fodder.
But having looked at bare fields for so long it is lovely to admire the patches of golden yellow drifts of buttercups across meadows as I am out with the dogs.
And yes, I do like butter.


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A spring in her step

You know your poorly hen is well on the road to recovery when you have to chase her round the lawn three times before you finally catch her! It was like a scene from Benny Hill!
Pleased to tell you Colonel Saunders is much recovered, she has started laying good eggs again, we had a few days of no eggs, then a few soft eggs, and finally back to her normal regular daily eggs.
I have been keeping a close eye and the girls appear to be getting on well again and the Colonel looks perfectly relaxed back with her sisters.
Also you can see from this photo where she was so badly pecked new feathers are growing. They feel and look quite rigid and dark compared to the fully grown soft feathers she still has.

I realised this week that we have been keeping hens for one year now and it is great to have my many blog posts to look back on. Every week as a hen keeper has brought it’s own challenge- weather extremes, not laying, sudden death, hen bullying etc but it has been great fun and boy have we enjoyed those ultra fresh eggs!
Thank you for journeying with me Mrs Gillybirds and my three lovely feathered girlies. My blog stats tell me how many of you read this blog and what country you are from. Thanks for taking the time to read. I hope you have laughed a lot and learned a little from our tiny green coop on a small damp green island. Thank you to those who take time to comment, those I know in the real world, and those who have become friends in the virtual world. It has been a pleasure!

Colonel Saunders focusing her energies before she sets a new world sprint record for lap times around the garden.

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Eggstreme Weather

If I told you that this day last year it was 21 degrees centigrade and we were all eating al fresco you just wouldn’t believe me! Yesterday was the first official day of Spring but we appear to have headed right back into deepest Winter. Lots of snow, sleet, high winds, rain, snow, storms. Did I mention snow? Severe traffic disruption, closed airports, power cuts, fallen trees – our little country has ground to a standstill.
But life for the Gilybirds goes on. Three lovely warm eggs this morning were my reward for slip slidie slushing over to the coop. And they were rewarded with a warm breakfast of porridge, noodles and mealworms. yum. A near riot broke out.
Now they are tucked up inside with extra straw for insulation as this terrible weather is expected to continue for at least tomorrow.
Gillyboy number 3 celebrates his 15th birthday tomorrow. He was born very ill and spent the first 8 weeks of his wee life in hospital, his birthday always reminds me of the wonderful caring nurses and doctors who cared for all of us during that difficult time. Now, he is definitely taller than his mum, a super sportsman and all round good kid and in perfect health.
One of the Gillyboys is playing trombone at a local wedding tomorrow. At least it will be a white wedding!

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Puddle Hopping

One of my very earliest memories is my father bringing home a large jar of frog spawn for me to observe as tadpoles hatched and tiny delicate frogs emerged some weeks later. Unlike chicks developing inside hen’s eggs, or indeed a child growing in the womb, frog spawn in its clear jelly allows us to see how frogs develop and change almost daily, from a black dot to a green hop! Out walking the dogs early this morning in subzero temperatures I came across several large clusters of frog spawn laid in a large puddle which had quite a crust of ice on it.

This amazing photo of a frog with her spawn recently won a wildlife photography competition. It was taken by Walter who is only eight years old!


In Primary school it was customary every Spring to have a tank of frog spawn in the classroom and one lucky pupil got to take the tank home for the Easter holidays. There were always strange creatures being sent home from school. And not just the children! I remember my brother being given some silk worm caterpillars to nurture while we were on a caravanning holiday and the daily search for oak leaves which they noisily chewed through until one day they spun their silky cocoons. There was great excitement when a few weeks later two beautiful silk moths emerged and lived sadly for too short a time.
Anyway, back to the spawn. Amphibians are protected species so it is wisest and kindest not to take it away from where it has been laid. Moving spawn can spread fatal diseases to the frog population already under threat from the removal of their native wetlands. It is common for frogs to lay in puddles, ditches, streams or ponds in clusters of up to 1,000 eggs. That's a lot of potential frogs to be kissed before you find your prince 😉
It was Mother's Day here yesterday and this cartoon made me laugh!

Our neighbours have a garden pond, which would explain why every summer we have hopping visitors on the lawn, much to the dog’s bemusement, and which sometimes have a tragic encounter with the law mower :(.
For now, let’s leave the spawn safe where it is to begin the miracle of nature and herald the arrival of Spring. There may be still flurries of snow, and crusts of ice, but it’s on the way!

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Heart failure



This year I wanted to do something really special to show Mr Gillybirds how much I love him and enjoy being with him when he is home with us. Inspired by reading the story of the man who planted thousands of oak trees, making a woodland area for his late wife leaving a heart shaped clearing pointing towards her childhood home, which remained a secret to the family only visible by air.
husband’s tribute in trees to his wife
Last autumn I planted about fifty daffodil bulbs at the back of our garden on a slight incline in a heart shape, the plan being that by Valentine’s Day there would be bright waving yellow flowers displaying a love tribute to Mr G. However, the desirability of said bulbs to passing squirrels, puppies and the scratching of hens has resulted in a distinct lack of anything close to resembling a heart. You will see from the photograph that hardly any have survived the winter at all, except for one brave little flower who is only now at the beginning of March, showing his little yellow face.
Next year maybe I should do something more daring, like a giant bill board, or a tattoo. (Just kidding Mr G if you are reading this and suffering heart failure)



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New Spring Outfits


I have noticed that the Gillybirds have been looking a little tatty and untidy and realised that they are actually starting to moult, ie lose feathers, particularly around their necks. In fact, Colonel Saunders looks like some one has tried to strangle her. A careful gentle inspection had revealed that already there are little pin feathers growing back already.
Many household poultry keepers, particularly people keeping poultry for the first time, are puzzled because egg production markedly declines or ceases despite their laying birds appearing healthy. This seasonal decline in egg production occurs when birds go into a condition known as the ‘moult’. Moulting is the process of shedding and renewing feathers. During the moult, the reproductive physiology of the bird has a complete rest from laying and the bird builds up its body reserves of nutrients.The provision of new feathers or a coat (a feature inherent in most animals) is a natural process, designed by nature to maintain a bird’s ability to escape enemies by flight and better protect against cold winter conditions. Under usual conditions, adult birds moult once a year. Some may moult twice in one year and, rarely, once in two years.
Moulting takes place in a particular order. Feathers are confined to definite tracts or areas of the body surface, with bare patches of skin between. The first plumage is lost from the head and neck, then from the saddle, breast and body, then from the wings and finally from the tail.
When the first feathers drop from the neck and body, good layers often keep laying. However, when the wing feathers begin to drop, laying usually ceases. The presence of ‘pin’ feathers (new emerging feathers) usually indicates a short or partial moult. Some birds moult continuously and can be easily detected in the flock by the spotless condition of their new feathers. These birds are poor producers and should be culled. Thankfully our girls are still laying their quota of eggs. Time will tell if this is a partial or full moult, but I hope the girls will be back to their full glossy rusty plumage very soon. Still wearing many layers of clothing myself I long for warmer Spring weather so I can cast off a few woolly items and pack them away until next winter.
Natural moults can occur any time of the year if birds are subjected to stress. A bird becomes stressed when the environment or management presents a challenge to which the bird cannot respond without suffering a harmful effect. If a hen is subjected to a mild stress condition in late spring when in full production, she will suffer a drop in egg production; whereas, if a hen is subjected to the same stress condition in autumn, it will cease laying and moult. Common stress factors that can induce moulting include disease, temperature extremes, poor nutrition, predators and poor management. Or as experience has taught me – hot weather, cold weather, rain, change of food, days of the week ending in “day” (that’s a wee joke), will put a hen off her job of laying!
Interestingly, cockerels also moult and, while in this condition, are nearly always infertile because they have lost weight and their reproductive physiology is in a resting phase. Hopefully the same thing can’t be said about balding men 😉



It’s been really dry here so the girls have been out and about the garden and have discovered my Spring bulbs which they enjoy eating. As the pots of bulbs are near to the house they have grown very brave and bold coming up to the back door, despite two frantic barking dogs going mad on the other side of the door.


Poor Mr Buttons is having a moult of his own due to a skin condition on his back, it’s not very pretty at all. Where his waggy tail rubs across his back all his fur has rubbed off.
Finally, I discovered during my research for this blog topic, that scientists have bred a featherless chicken. I think this may be one of the cruellest things I have ever seen.


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