A Day of Chickens and Potatoes

With the sun out and showers forecast for tomorrow, I decided when I woke up this morning that today I would finally clean out the chicken coops. It’s incredibly difficult to clean the allotment chicken coops over the winter due to the water being off and having two large wooden nest boxes to clean. Plus it takes forever to dry and I’m always loathe to put in fresh bedding onto damp wood – it just seems like a recipe for disaster. The Nest House has desperately needed a clean out for a while so my plan was to tackle that one first.

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way! When I arrived on site I said hello to Cliff and Geoff who were making final preparations for their new hens. Cliff had reserved ten hens from the British Hen Welfare Trust which is an amazing charity who rescue ex-battery hens and re-home them. Once the girls hit 18 months old, they are no longer commercially viable as they won’t lay an egg every single day. So animal rescue charities like the British Hen Welfare Trust, Fresh Start for Hens and many more, approach farmers and rescue the girls before slaughter. They often arrive on site in a very sorry state. Stuck indoors in crowded conditions, these poor girls have little to no understanding of what the life of a chicken should be. They don’t know how to scratch, how to sunbathe or have a dust bath. Even eggs sold as free range are not what most people would envision as free range – a large field with chickens roaming everywhere. With the added impact of six months of Flockdown, these girls may not have been outside ever.

Cliff and Geoff separated the girls into three different coops. Four went into Geoff’s coop. As his coop is already split into two sections, it makes integrating the flock easier because they wished able to see the others without being able to damage the opposing team. Three of the girls were set up in the little coop on Rachael’s plot and will be cared for by Jason and Nicole, some of the sites newest recruits. As the hens build their strength, Jason will be busy building a new coop on their half plot. The last three went to Cliff who, like myself, has a real soft spot for Warren’s. Warren’s are often overlooked but I have always found them very friendly with lovely personalities. If you are a long time reader of this blog, you may remember Evie with her snazzy jumper, Doris, Lottie, Maisie amongst the rest.

With Gertie fed (or at least having given her the opportunity to feed unimpeded by the others!), I headed back home for lunch. I promised myself I would pop back after lunch to do the coops. Back home, I watched the Topknot Gang enjoy the sunshine and free roaming time. It’s so lovely that they finally get to explore the garden again after so many months locked away. I demolished lunch, grabbed my iPod and headed back to the allotment.

My first port of call was the New Coop. I picked up Gertie and tried to get her to feed some more. She half-heartedly had a go for a few minutes before getting bored. Leaving her in the food bowl surrounded by the others, I propped up the nest box roof and began clearing out the old bedding. There were quite a few inquisitive faces greeting me each time I returned from emptying the bucket. Turfing out the marauding birds, I finished removing all the old bedding and began to clean out the coop. Fortunately, the nest box dried quickly and I threw in a good layer of new bedding. Instantly, there was a loud click and in walked Ginny to inspect my work. She approved, I think, as I was no longer shouted at.

Taking a short break, I walked across towards Cliff’s plot where several people were chatting. The site has two new enthusiastic recruits who have taken on the half plot next to Cliff’s. Busy working away it turned out they wanted to have chickens and Cliff had reserved them some from the rescue charity. After a lovely chat about chickens with Jason and Nicole, I headed over to the Main Coop to start sorting out the Nest House.

As I removed the boards in the bottom of the Nest House, I discovered a beautiful little mouse nest. Inside, were four tiny little mice. Milliseconds after my discovery, nosey Flora appeared. Chickens can and do eat mice and I didn’t want these defenceless mice to be gobbled up. I chased Flora out of the Nest House and covered up the nest with a board to protect them as I finished cleaning. It was quite a quick job, made easier by not having to endlessly chase Rey out of the way. By the time I was putting in the new bedding, Polly was loitering, clearly wanting to get into the nest box. That was my cue to hurry up.

As soon as the door was shut, in dashed Polly. I left her to it, hoping that she will lay an egg. By now my husband had appeared armed with three trays of seed potatoes. We discussed where we would plant them as it’s important to rotate the crops. In the end, we decided to plant two sets in the first two sections at the top of the plot under the Jonagold and Cox’s apple tress. The remaining set of seed potatoes will be planted in the raised beds on Geoff’s plot. As my husband worked away, I sorted out Maude and Mavis’s water and food.

With only one coop to go, I opened up the Omlet and began. Luckily, cleaning these out are so much easier than the other larger nest boxes! Mere minutes later and it was done. I told Maude and Mavis that I expected them to try to lay eggs now they had a lovely clean nest. I doubt they will listen but it was worth a shot!

Before we left, I popped into the greenhouse to check on the seedlings. To my surprise, some of them are already coming up! It looks like we are going to be inundated with turnips and chard. The less said about the peas, the better!

Covered in dirt and dust, wearing a happy smile, we headed home pleased with our progress and hungry for dinner. The plan for tomorrow is to plant the remaining potatoes, water the plants in the greenhouse and clean out the Omlets in the garden.


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