Why do You Even Care?

Another season is nearing completion, lots of our little chicks were eagerly awaited and joyfully picked up and taken home by new families.

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Reflecting on this season and my own ambitions, I have to ask myself, why do I even care?  Why do any of these people care and get so excited to pick up chickens?  Why would I or they consider the expense of a coop, chicks/chickens,  weekly supplies and added chores for the sake of eggs?

Originally we added feathery companions to our lives for the sake of our children, fur allergies made a pet dog or cat impossible, but a goose… we could have that.  And to think I hesitated, almost didn’t get those adorable goslings.  Thankfully I went through with it, because she has added so much joy and has touched each member of this family so deeply.  She demonstrates to us gratitude, kindness, trust and loyalty, I don’t think even I could have taught that to my kids, because she has taught it to me. She surprisingly taught us that she thinks and that she feels the same things we do like: happiness, anger, fear, tolerance, contentment, joy and loneliness.

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I think we all subconsciously know that all animals feel, but we’re are taught from a very young age to desensitized feelings towards the animals we eat.  We’re taught that a chicken’s brain is so small that they are quite literally the stupidest creature.  Ironically as I write this, I hear a familiar squawk from our front porch, on the railing is our Black Maran free ranging hen telling me that she wants to lay an egg and to come outside and take her to her crate.  And that’s it, that is the reason I care, because I confirmed what I subconsciously already knew, they feel and they think.

These people and myself have made a choice to involve ourselves in the animals that feed us.  We get to care for them and treat them the way we feel they ought to be treated.  A bonus is that they actually become familiar individuals to us and enrich our daily lives.  We want to look after them, we want to treat them well and we want to see them happy and healthy.

Know that you are in control, you get to choose where your food comes from, you live in Canada for goodness sake!

If you want to raise your own chickens for food or eggs, you can!  You can give them kindness, compassion, respect and gratitude and in turn they will give you amazing eggs or themselves.

If you don’t want to raise your own birds, you are FREE to buy them off of someone who shares the same concerns as you.

If you understand that pigs are in the top 5 of the most intelligent animals on earth, but goddamit they are delicious, then you are free to find a person who raises pigs ethically. Pay a little more and get your meat from them, I think you’ll find it is like the eggs and taste better too.

Find a farmer who raises his own beef and purchase through them directly, you are free to do that!

You live in one of the greatest countries on Earth and you are free to make choices and you are free to care.  There are loads of farmers and homesteaders that ethically raise  animals for food and you are free to choose them to feed your family.  In these times, it is so easy to find them using Facebook, Kijiji and other social media platforms. Visit your local Farmers Market too, there is really no excuse.

If you decide you’d like to raise your own chickens, there are lots of breeders like myself available to get your chicks from.  We don’t throw unwanted chicks live into a grinder, we are knowledgable and we’ll help you plan for your growing flock.

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Choose to care and teach your kids to care.

Choose local!

Now I have to go let Rosie out so she can continue her adventure free ranging and I can collect her gratitude in the form of a delicious egg!

P.S. we no longer eat goose 😄

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Lesson: Share Freely

Back in May of 2014 we decided to do something different and take advantage of our 2 acres in the countryside and get 2 goslings as pets for our kids.  We were surprised by how enjoyable they were to raise, but the fact was we had no idea what we were doing and I had questions.  The internet surprisingly had little information regarding geese, so I reached out to Dave, at Clarence Farm Store where I get my feed.  Dave said “I know just the guy to help you out, he knows everything about everything Poultry, he’s the guy I call if I have questions, and his name is Hilton”.  Dave said he’d call Hilton and pass along my phone number to him, I didn’t really expect him to call me back, I mean he didn’t know me, but he did call me back, in fact I think it was the same day.

Hilton immediately made me comfortable with his kindly greeting and welcomed me to ask as many questions as I’d like.  We eventually started to talk about his speciality: chickens, and when I mentioned expanding our Poultry interest to chickens, he invited my family out to his place to see his.  He didn’t know us, but he found someone with a new interest in Poultry and he wanted to help us see how easy and fun it was to have chickens.  We took him up on his offer and travelled to his place and he greeted us outside and took us all back to his Chicken House.  I think it must have been a trailer that he converted into a building, inside he had neatly kept pens sectioned throughout and in the pens were different kinds of breeds of chickens.  Hilton introduced us to the different types of chickens he had and gave one of the kids a broom stick fashioned with a cup on the end, he explained how to use it to get eggs out of the pen without getting in, and then let them have a go at it.  Later he let the kids each hold one of his White Plymouth Rock hens, his favourite breed for newbie chicken owners with kids.  He later took us into his furnace room where he kept his incubator and showed us his new hatchlings, of which he let the kids hold.  He then took us out back of his Chicken house to see his Call Ducks. He shared so much with us that day, including the eggs collected, it was wonderful and it was that visit that made us comfortable and excited about getting chickens for ourselves.

We got Charlie the rooster not long after that and then some hens for company.  As we got more birds and I needed help with the million questions I had,  I would call Hilton, and I called him a lot!  He never made me feel bad about calling him so much, he was happy to help and I learned a lot from him.  He had a no nonsense, realistic and calm approach to most Poultry problems and that mannerism in him taught me a lot,  and I utilize it every time I have a situation with my birds.  He became a mentor to me.

Last November I planned a Backyard Chicken Seminar and I told Hilton all about it, and he surprised me by attending.  I was so happy to see him there and was proud of myself afterward when he told me I did a good job and ironically about how much information I knew, ironic because I learned most of it from him.

My friend Hilton passed away this morning, I’m not sad, he led a wonderful life with his health in good shape up until a few weeks before he passed.  He was in his mid eighties and was a busy man, he had lots of friends and was well known on the Island and in the Maritimes for his love and knowledge of all things poultry.

I am very grateful for having the privilege of knowing him and soaking up some of his knowledge.

Most importantly, I am grateful for learning from him how to share my interest in poultry , and share it freely, just like he did.

I will miss him a lot, I know a lot of people will.

Sometimes we flock to our search engines for information, but the best sources of knowledge and wisdom come from folks that have experience. I encourage you to seek them out, not only will you learn many things, you may gain a good friend.

R.I.P. Hilton Bryanton, my friend.

 

 

I Have a Confession…

 

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                                                 RIP Harriet

Having backyard chickens can be very rewarding, they offer a great form of distraction from the monotony of… blah, blah blah.  I thought about being philosophical about how batshit crazy the world is, and how the hobby of Poultry Keeping, a farming swatch woven in our past, is an enjoyable distraction from it all.  But the truth is, well,  I have a confession: there are some aspects of Poultry Keeping that are not fun.

Chickens are prone to illness and injury, if you become a Chicken Keeper you will definitely have to care for a sick or injured bird, it is inevitable.  The reality is that Avian Veterinary medicine is specialized, so not very many vets would have the knowledge base to treat your ill bird, and you may wince at the cost for their help.  There is loads of information online to help you determine why your bird is sick and give you advice on how to help them.  Once you learn the basics, you will surprise yourself with the knowledge you’ll accumulate.  (I have a post on this Blog about First Aid Kits and basic medications you should have on hand, scroll down to find it).

At some point your bird may not be able to recover and as a Keeper, you have a responsibility for the humane welfare of the animals you look after.  In other words you may have to take them to the Pearly Gates and push them in, because you know they’ll feel much better and happier on the otherside.

I recommend you read the blog of an Avian Veterinarian, “mikethechickenvet”.  He has a fantastic post about euthanasia methods for the Backyard Chicken Keeper.

We had to drop one of our favourite hens off at the gates the other day.  I had tried to help her recover for 4 weeks, at one point she started to eat again, got her strength back and I thought, “wow, I did it!”, then she relapse and started passing blood, I knew she wouldn’t recover and I didn’t want her to suffer anymore.  It is the worst part of being a Backyard Chicken Keeper, but it is the most important part, you have to be able to make those tough decisions and follow through with them.

Another part of Chicken Keeping that is not all that fun is the winter.  By about February you’ll see lots of ads for people wanting to sell their flocks and all their equipment. They’re sick of messy coops, higher feed and supply costs, frozen waterers and cold chickens.  You can deal with all of this if you prepare and you plan for winter.  You are Canadian after all, you can get through it!  You will have to clean the coop more regularly as the birds will spend more time in it, clean it up daily to keep up with the mess.  Occasionally you will have to dig a path to the coop, think of it as a way to get off your arse in the winter and get some exercise.  Waterers will freeze, but they do make electric heated waterers, or there are lots of DIY chicken water heater ideas online.  Vaseline rubbed into the chickens combs and waddles will protect them from frostbite, also ensure that your roost is wide enough that they can stand flat footed, they will sit on their feet to keep them warm and protect from frostbite.  Your feed costs will spike a little, as they will eat more to create the energy needed to keep warm, you may also want to add higher carb grains like corn and oats.  You can employ the “Deep Litter Method” in your coop to help create an insulation on the floor to help keep the birds comfortable, you will have to turn it over daily and add new shavings to keep the bedding dry, but at the end of winter, you’ll have a wonderful composted mulch to add to your flower beds!  As long as you have enough birds in your coop, they’ll keep each other warm. If you don’t have enough, they’ll struggle through the winter, so make sure you have enough birds before the cold months come.

As far as I am concerned, their enjoyment factor outweighs the few unpleasantries of having chickens.  I have found it rewarding to be able to learn how to look after chickens.  It is an amazing feeling to be able to help my chickens through illness and injury and know that I did that, I can do that, all on my own.

My chickens have helped me learn to never underestimate myself or my capabilities, and in turn they have amazed me with theirs.

The Perfect Match

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A long time ago when my daughter was 2 I thought it might be a good idea to think about getting a dog, I had only ever had cats growing up, but for whatever reason I thought maybe a dog was a good idea.  I bought a book called “The Perfect Match”, A Dog Buyers Guide, which details the characteristics of each breed so that you can pick the breed best suited for your family.  We found a puppy and 2 weeks later I was begging the breeder to take him back… I was ignorant and had a small child, I didn’t know a puppy was like having another baby! That book has been on my bookcase ever since and I found a use for it in November.

In November I hosted a Backyard Chicken Seminar and I used that book to help explain the little known fact about Heritage Chicken Breeds.  That incredible fact is that you can apply the same principle to selecting Chicken Breeds.  There are loads of different Chicken Breeds and each is unique and like dogs, you can select a breed that is going to best suit the vision you have about the type of backyard flock experience you want.

I have just myself learned the lessons of understanding Breeds and how that ties into the expectations and enjoyment of my backyard flock.  I primarily have Black Ameraucanas and Welsummers, last summer I ordered a new bloodline of Welsummers and the breeder offered me the Black Maran chicks she had hatched out as well, so I took them all.  As soon as those Marans turned 7 weeks old, all hell broke lose in their A frame nursery tractor outside.  The Marans began to pick at my Welsummers and this began a frustrating series of tactics trying to manage my newest additions.  I wanted to give the Marans a chance, I wanted to see if they’d change as they matured.  I continue to have issues with most of my Marans, only 2 out of 6 behave they way I want them to.

I was recently talking with my friend Hilton who has had chickens most of his life and I told him about these Marans and he gave me some information that explains their behaviour.  He said that the Maran is a busy breed, they need to be kept busy, lots of space and do not tolerate boredom well at all.  He said if they get bored, they will find something to do, and picking on a friend is something to do.  And it makes perfect sense, they are the only bird that will be out in the pen when the weather is miserable, and if I watch them, they tend to be scanning and looking about all the time.

The Backyard Chicken experience we envisioned and have is a large coop with a large fenced in pen.  In the winter the pen space is reduced to less than a quarter due to snow, so in the winter their square footage is significantly reduced.  The Ameraucanas we have are an ideal breed for this set-up, they are not what I would consider to be a “busy” breed, they are very happy to be tended to and treated like pets.  They are happy to have their food served to them, have their babies raised for them and very happy to hang out in their designated space.  The Welsummers are a bit busier but not as assertive as their coop-mates, so their busy nature is occupied by avoiding their bossy friends.  The Marans on the other hand are busy and bossy and therefore are just not a good fit for my set-up.  Hilton is right, the Maran needs lots of space, and I haven’t been able to give them that, and that has been the root of the problem from the very beginning and it started in that confined A-fame tractor space last summer.

As you prepare the Backyard Flock experience that you have envisioned, take a lesson from me and research the breeds your interested in, and find your ideal that will fulfill your expectations… your perfect match!

Let Me Introduce You…3

Let Me Introduce You … Part 3

 You have already met my main breeding flock, but I have a few other members to introduce you to…

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Angus: This lovely boy is a son of Charlie’s from last season.  I had lots of little boys left over from my experiment into offering pullets and once this lad hit about 15 weeks old, he stood right out.  In comparison to his other brothers, he was remarkably handsome: he was much taller, completely black and his feathers had a higher gloss to them, his comb was bigger and more red and his eyes were big and his face more appealing.  I watched him closely to see if his behaviour matched his good looks and I was so happy to see him defending hens from his brothers and respecting his father’s space and authority.  I even watched him show some hens some treats and allowing them to eat before himself.  There was no way he was leaving us, I would keep him, I didn’t know the how’s of keeping another rooster, but I would figure it out.  His brothers are gone now and he and his father run the main coop together, he continues to respect his father’s authority and by doing so, Charlie tolerates him very well.  I think it is important to have your main roo “teach” a willing new cockerel his ways, so that if something were to ever happen to him, you have a good replacement.  Charlie is an exceptional rooster and I am so grateful to have the opportunity to have him nurture his own offspring to hopefully be almost as good as he is.  I have ordered a new bloodline of Ameraucanas from another breeder and hope to have a new line with Angus next season.  This season I may use Angus to help out with some Olive  Easter Egger chicks.  Unfortunately for all the other hens in the coop, Angus has a serious girlfriend, and you’ll meet the lucky lady in a moment.

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Seamus:  Last year we had a lovely Splash Maran rooster named Ragnar, he was a gorgeous boy and we bred him to a few of our Ameraucanas and we hatched the most beautiful Olive Easter Egger chicks.  Early in the season I went out to the garage in the morning and very sadly found Ragnar dead in his bedtime crate.  We were all devasted, and I had no warning that anything was wrong with him.  His offspring all grew into amazing birds, his girls were beautiful and his boys were all big, strapping lads who each were gentle and sweet.  I sold all his boys to good homes and easily found homes for his girls.  When you cross a black feather to a splash feather you get a blue feather every time, and they all proved to be stunning, I wanted to have another Splash Maran roo, but they are not that common, or easy to find. As the Law of Attraction would have it, a lady contacted me via my ad for Guardian Roosters to purchase an Ameraucana rooster, but she had a proposal, she had a few Splash Maran roosters and wondered if I’d do a trade.  So, this is how Seamus found his way to our place.  He is a bit of an odd duck, he doesn’t have much of a personality, but he is very gentle, not at all aggressive.  He is very tall and lanky and has lovely powder blue legs.  He does not like being held and it is no fun carrying him from place to place because he is very strong and likes to flap his giant dragon wings, I can’t believe he hasn’t knocked out one of my teeth yet, although he has given me a few fat lips 😁  I called him Seamus because he absolutely loves clovers and I wanted to give him a proper Irish name. Hopefully he will not be too much of an oaf and he can get the job done so we can hatch out some lovely OEE chicks this season.

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Dottie:  We got this little lady when we got Ragnar, she is a Blue Maran and she is tiny, but boy can she lay a big egg.  She is a funny little hen and a complete slag!  We forgot how beautiful she was until after her moult this past fall 😆. We matched her with Charlie last year for some Olive Egger chicks and all of her hatchlings were boys, and ironically they were enormous!  Her boys were also gorgeous, as they were blue, but also had layering feathers of various shades of tan and yellow.  They were also very sweet and gentle and I can’t wait to hatch out some more of her babies this season.  Side Note: It is winter and her Hen Apron is already tattered!

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Raven: This lady is Charlie’s very first baby.  Originally we had Charlie, then we got him 2 Easter Egger hens to keep him company.  When spring came we thought it’d be fun to hatch a few eggs, so we built an incubator with a lobster cooler and Raven was the first chick we hatched.  Her mother was a real character!  We had to re-home her because she thought she was the Supreme Leader and would not let anybody into the brand new coop, she would chase them all out.  Not only that, but she would not let Charlie leave her side, if he’d leave, she would through down an epic female tantrum and he’d come running back.  I needed him for breeding, so she had to go!  When Raven gets her spot on the top roost and some brave hen makes the mistake of sitting beside her, she reminds me of her mother as she pitches that poor hen off the roost! Raven does not contribute to our breeding program because she is a hybrid, but she lays lovely green/blue eggs.

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Elvira:  Last season I had one Ameraucana pullet left over and I kept her for myself.  I wanted to see how our Ameraucana line turned out, and she has grown to please me.  She is tall and all black and a really good looking girl, she has started to lay ahead of her mom and aunts and her eggs are a lovely blue.  She presents herself as a sweet hen to me, but I think her coop mates would strongly disagree.  At the end of the day, I finish by cleaning out the coop in preparation for the next day, while I am doing this the hens are sorting themselves out on the roosts.  I dare say each night I have a bit of a chuckle watching her be a complete be-ach to the other hens, particularly the Welsummers. Some of the Welsummers group up on the drop board of the roost at bedtime and I noticed there was a lot of screaming and flapping, and then I witnessed what was going on.  Elvira would jump on the board, lower her head and like a raging bull she runs towards the Wellies, ploughing them off the board like a bowling ball with legs.  She does this every night, then the next day, when I come out to the pen, she runs out to greet me and lets me pick her up and give her a hug.  What can I do?

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Annie:  The moment has now come, please meet Annie, Angus’s one true love!  Annie is one of Ragnar’s babies, I was so sad to lose him and I had lots of reservations for OEE pullets, but I wanted to keep just one of his girls, and she is the one I kept and she is truly a gift.  She is and always has been an absolute sweetie, she lets anyone pick her up and give her hugs, she is such a baby.  She is also Angus’s one true love!  They are always together and at dusk he sneaks past his dad in the coop and sits up beside her on the roost.  When I come in to take him to his crate at night, he tries to look inconspicuous so he can stay with her for the night, it is hilarious!  Annie won’t be contributing to our breeding program because she is a hybrid, but she lays beautiful olive green coloured eggs.  I can only hope that Seamus can help us offer OEE chicks as lovely as Ragnar did ☺

Incarcerated!

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I currently have 2 naughty hens in lock up due to the heinous crime of feather picking!

My sick beds also double as jail cells when necessary, when you have a bird displaying bad behaviour… lock’em up!

Feather picking is a common infraction amoung our Chicken friends and it is unacceptable.  Feather picking is habit forming and the habit can transfer from bird to bird, and if left alone, can lead to cannibalism, so you want to stop it immediately.  Winter is the time of year when this behaviour rears its ugly head, why… well what would you do if you were stuck with a group of people day in and day out with nothing to do?  We’d pick fights, they pick feathers; they’re bored and they’re irritating each other.

During the winter it is good for them to get outside a bit, they don’t mind a bit of snow and cold.  It is ideal if you have a small door open to the coop that they can come and go as they please.  If you can,  throw some kitchen scraps or chicken scratch on the ground to give them something to do. A variety of options throughout the winter will help elevate those boring winter days.

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Why I Lock’em Up

An old timer will tell you the only way to fixin a feather picker is with the sharp edge of an axe, but I have put so much energy and even money into each bird, that this was not an option.  The first time I had a feather picker, I tried isolating them for a good chunk of time, then I put them back in the coop to see what happened, and behold, no more feather picking.  My reasoning is that when you remove them from the flock for a period of time (solid 2 weeks), they lose their position in the flocks’ hierarchy. Their re-introduction sees them reduced to the bottom of the pecking order and now there are no lower ranking members to pick from and the behaviour stops.  Sometimes, you will re-introduce and the bird will continue, take them back out and isolate again for another 2 weeks, try again.  If the habit continues after that, we’ll you tried…

Cue the executioner!

Let me Introduce You…

When I originally got my Ameraucana chicks, the breeder also had Welsummers, so for variety I ordered 4 Welsummer chicks.  They grew into 1 hen and 3 roosters.  Those 3 roosters were the sweetest roosters I have ever had, not a mean bone in the one of them, I decided to keep one because they were so lovely.  That was difficult, I didn’t know which one to keep and I really don’t know why I have the one I do, but he is wonderful all the same.  The other 2 boys easily found homes.   We named the rooster we kept Cletus and named his sister Henny Penny, but if we were going to breed we needed a new blood line.  We were lucky enough last summer to find a lady in Nova Scotia who had them and we finished the season off with 7 pullets.  In the early fall I had an opportunity to get another cockerel from a different breeder, not wanting to regret passing up the chance, we now have a second rooster, and I am very grateful for that, as you’ll learn.

Let me Introduce You to my Welsummers:

 

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Cletus: My daughter accurately calls him a big “marshmellow”, he is the sweetest rooster ever, not a mean bone on him and not even a little bit aggressive or regrettably assertive either.  Yes, I did say “regrettably not assertive”.  Taking a special interest in roosters has helped me understand their behaviours, this summer helped me understand that there are some behaviours that are necessary in building the most ideal rooster.  A rooster should not be aggressive, but should be assertive.  It is in my opinion the most important attribute be assertiveness, and sweet Cletus lacks this.  His fertility was not spectacular this past season, and he got fired from overseeing the main run as he  was unable to keep a bunch of cockerels in line because he lacked assertiveness.  He is a wonderful sweet character who is adored by each member of this family, so he is safe here, mostly as a pet.

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Merle: We got this young lad this fall from a breeder in New Brunswick.  I was happy to see that even though I did not raise him from a Chick, he was very lovely and sweet.  He is very easy to handle and not at all aggressive.  Down by the Bay Backyard Poultry made a couple TV appearances on the local news and we were also featured in the local newspaper and Merle was the star.  I also put on a Backyard Chickens Informational Seminar in November and Merle accompanied me and allowed several people to hold him.  I will most likely take Merle to the local school when I participate in the Agriculture Department’s education day.  He definitely is assertive, but he needs to work on his romance skills cause his ladies are not big fans of his just yet, they like Cletus better, and I guess if I was a hen, I would like Cletus better too!  I have great expectations for Merle this season!

The Ladies:

Henny Penny: She is Cletus’s sister and she is quite a character. She is a bit of a loner, not in a sad way though, and was the lowest ranked hen, but she has never looked pathetic, never whallowing in self pity. I think she quite enjoys her solitude, not playing fiddle to the hierarchy of the other hens, and staying out of reach of the rooster.  I would enjoy her company some mornings, as she’d join me as I sifted through their bedding to clean up the poop, she’d be happily beside me scratching away.  In the early fall she fell rather ill with a respiratory infection and spent almost 3 weeks in a sick crate in the garage.  Life was miserable for her when she got put back in the coop, she was the target of significant harassment by all members of the flock.  It was difficult, but the only way she could regain any position in the flock, she’d have to  endure and I’d have to leave her to it.  One fantastic day (for her), I introduced the new Welsummer and Maran Pullets to the coop.  I don’t think I have ever seen a happier hen, back to her old self, except now she takes great new found pleasure in being a complete jerk to the newbies, as if she’s earned the right 😉

Vivian: We haven’t had much of an opportunity to get to know our newest members, but this lady has stood out.  She is not at all shy and wants you to notice her.  While you are in the coop, she will get up on the roost so that she is face level with you and you cannot resist picking her up and giving her a bit of a squeeze.  If you find a hen at your feet and it is a Welsummer, you instantly know it is her, it’s always her.  She is a sweet little hen who has very quickly become a family favourite.

Marj and Fern: These 2 ladies are busy trying to fit in and hold their own with the older flock members.  With caution and respect, they approach the food trough and eat quickly, and they’re not afraid to attempt perching on the second level roost, very brave if you ask me.

Lucy, Billy Jean and LouLou: These 3 wee girls are the smallest of the pullets.  They were spending their days seeking shelter from the older members of the flock, who revelled in their smaller stature.  I have since put them in a breeding pen with Merle for the winter so I can ensure they get fair share of food and water.  I must say though, they are thick as theives and band together to stay away from Merle, poor Merle!  Lucy has always been know to curl her feet up and snuggle in when you pick her up.

I look forward to getting to know my newest members better over the new season.