Signs of spring in the garden

There are signs of spring in the garden. The pulmonarias have started to flower and so have the primulas. Bulbs are pushing through and new green growth is erupting. The first proper sign of spring though is always the snowdrops and hellebores.



I love to see the first snowdrops appear every year. Bigger, later, ones will follow but these smaller ones always come up first. It brings the feeling that spring is that little bit closer.

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Allotment plot

We have recently been asked by friends to join them in sharing a local allotment plot. It’s going to be shared by our good friends and neighbours opposite who have two boys a similar age to our eldest two grandchildren and their friends further up the road, who through them, have also become friends to us and have two girls a little younger, plus ourselves and then our friends opposite got their next door neighbours on board too.

We all felt the more the merrier as it is a large plot and the more hands the better. The idea is to provide a bit of social interaction and community spirit, to get some fresh air and exercise and to share some fresh produce.

The plot is in beautiful surroundings but has been empty for a few years so was very overgrown. We have been advised that we will need to put some fencing around the plot or the deer will eat everything.

Between us we are able to supply different things to get us started. Some of the guys are able to obtain stuff from their work such as pallets to build raised beds and a pathway and posts to attach the fencing. Someone has supplied a couple of wheel barrows and we have supplied a fork and spade.

The ground is full of large bits of flint which is why we have opted for some raised beds.

We plan growing some fruit canes, vegetables, probably a lot of potatoes in the first year and some flowers so that there is something for everyone. There has also been talk of a bench and some possible beer and wine partaking!

Overgrown allotment plot

The most daunting thing was getting the plot ready but we have until March before we can start planting so we will all do a bit at a time, individually or together, as and when we are able.

The allotment plot is now taking shape

The first raised bed is in place

In the wheel barrow are some of the large bits of flint removed from the plot. The pallets are ready for the next raised bed and a walkway through the middle of the plot.

View from the other end

A few weeks ago a guy from the parish council used a digger to scrape the top layer for us. We opted not to go for a rotavator as we didn’t want to dig in the couch grass. We plan on gradually digging a strip at a time and pulling the grass and roots out as we go.

My husband has been working on trying to get an edge to the plot and digging the strip as he goes. It is going to be hard work but this bit is the worse bit. It also gets dark early and has been quite cold so as we move into spring it should bring better conditions for working on it. It will also be much nicer working on it in the summer.

I will do some updates as we progress.

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Time to give Ebony her own post. I described Ebony as a bit of a thug recently but she has just redeemed herself in my eyes.

The reason I said she was a bit of a thug is this. All the girls have their pecking order behaviour. This usually involves a bit of pecking usually on the head or the back. Sometimes the pecks don’t even connect they are just a warning. Sometimes a stare will do and sometimes a girl will run at another and chase her away.

Ebony is different. Ebony grabs a girl and holds on to her. I have seen her grab Flame’s wing and as Flame tries to get away her wing is at full stretch. Ebony grabs the little girls by their back and as they run away Ebony is left with a beak full of feathers. It is not nice to watch.

Over the last few days I have seen spats between the little girls. I am putting it down to hormones as egg laying has begun because we have noticed this before at the start of egg laying.

Two days ago I was surprised to see Dandelion having a go at several of the amigos. She pecked and chased a few of them and then started a spat with Smoke. It looked quite brutal and they both had their ruffs raised and were really going for each other. I tried to get my arm between them to break it up but it had no effect.

Ebony spotted what was going on and went straight over and broke it up. I was amazed! Then yesterday when I was giving out the afternoon corn Cinnamon did the same with Marmite. Again both girls had their ruffs raised and were really going for each other. Once again I tried to get my arm between them but they moved round me and carried on.

Once again Ebony marched over to them and immediately broke it up. She sent the two girls in different directions. I was so surprised to see this two days running. It is as if Ebony is taking on the role of a cockerel. Despite being a bit of a thug herself she won’t tolerate girls fighting. She broke up the fighting so quickly and easily whereas I was unable to do this.

I think Dandelion and Cinnamon are reinforcing their top positions because the other girls have started egg laying. It’s the only thing that makes sense because Marmite is bottom girl. I think the egg laying gives them a new found confidence which lead her to retaliate. It’s probably not a coincidence that the spats are with the egg laying girls.

Ebony with her “mini me” in the background

These two girls look quite different really but their colour is exactly the same.


Ebony has a funny face when straight on

I always think this face looks like the face of a thug but well done to Ebony in being a keeper of the peace.

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Continuing with tylan

As Dandelion is still wheezing I have decided to continue with tylan in the water. Dandelion has been wheezing for seven days and I had given tylan for seven days but have now decided to continue until Dandelion improves.

In the comments Sophie said that her vet recommended three weeks as she hadn’t shifted myco symptoms from one of her girls. I also did some more research on mycoplasma as I seem to be compelled to do each time I have this problem.

I find sometimes by putting a different question in the search you can throw up new information. I put in the information that after using tylan in the water for seven days I still had a chicken wheezing. This lead me to some threads on forums which have the advantage of being conversations between people that have chickens or have had chickens with myco rather than just medical facts.

Some of the threads had chickens that had symptoms for many weeks despite using tylan. The answering chicken keepers said that it can be difficult to shift and can need three weeks of tylan to clear it.

The good news was that chicken keepers said that despite being difficult to shift in some cases they hadn’t lost any chickens that they had treated once symptoms had been seen. This is reassuring and I haven’t lost a girl to it since I have been able to identify and treat.

It is said to be stress that makes it reoccur and my research stated that the stress of moulting or cold spells can be the trigger so for Dandelion moulting combined with a frosty spell will have been the trigger.

The other thing that I am aware of is that chickens drink less in the winter as their days are shorter. To encourage them to have a bit more tylan I make a dish of mash from the tylan water. As Dandelion and Cinnamon are top girls I don’t have to worry that they will be kept away from the mash and it’s a good way to get a bit extra to Dandelion as she will be first to the mash.

Dandelion and Cinnamon are first to the mash

Dandelion has some mash

The conversation on one of the threads said that myco is much more prevalent in back yard chickens than most people think. It is very contagious and gets passed from hens through their eggs and on to their chicks so breeders may have it and be unaware. It can be passed from a chicken keepers clothing or footwear.

The general feeling was that we should be less scared of myco because once we are aware we can be vigilant and treat when symptoms show. Some flocks may have carriers and never know as it doesn’t present itself. Some flocks will experience stress and it will appear. Chickens become carriers for life.

Chicken keepers, rightly, have a dread of myco but back yard chicken keepers can live with it in their flock as long as they are ready to treat it. For me it means that I no longer need to worry about it coming into my flock because that ship has sailed.

The problem for me is that Dandelion is vulnerable to it. I already have to accept that Dandelion is unlikely to be a long lived chicken but I felt that about Amber and I had her for four years. I just hope to keep Dandelion as long as I can.

There is a chance that if I lost Dandelion the myco may not reoccur but only time will tell. For now all that I can do is continue as I am doing. I write posts like this because I hope it may be of help to others.

I am just hoping that continuing with the tylan will shake Dandelion’s wheezing in time. I will keep updating on her progress.

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Dust bathing and another girl getting ready to start laying

Dandelion and Cinnamon are such a close little pair. They can often be found sharing a dust bath, they keep each other company in the little shelter and they perch together at bedtime. They are never far from each other.

Dandelion and Cinnamon in a dust bath together

Dandelion and Cinnamon also have matching head pins. I thought that Dandelion had stopped wheezing but I could hear it again the last couple of evenings and I could hear it while she was dust bathing. She looks fine but I don’t like the fact that she can’t seem to shake off the wheezing.

I have extended the tylan in the water to seven days. The use by date on the tylan is the end of July so I may as well use it but want to keep enough back in case February has really bad weather which may set Dandelion back again. Once I have used my current supply of tylan I will order some more to keep in stock.

I think that Jasmine is getting ready to lay. Today she looked in the shed and the nest box and settled in the nest box for nearly an hour. I thought it was going to be her first egg but she left the nest box with no egg.

Jasmine in the nest box

I think she is practising and will probably start laying soon.

It seems that the girls are all getting ready to lay and we may well have them all laying before long. We are going to have an abundance of eggs.

There will come a time soon when I will no longer be able to tell which eggs belong to which girls unless I actually catch them laying. This morning I caught Spangle laying and her eggs are narrower and darker than Marmite’s eggs and Smoke’s eggs are rounder and larger but once there are quite a few more girls laying I know that I will lose the ability to tell them apart.

The bigger girls are easy because Ebony’s egg are beige while Flames eggs are white. Speckles lays so few but her eggs are white and enormous and so are easy to tell. Nine little girls laying will be a different matter though.

I will just mark any unknown eggs with a stroke like a five bar gate. It means my end of year egg record will look quite different this year.  It is going to be interesting to see how many eggs we will get this year.

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Since we lost Emerald, last July, Speckles has become our longest standing and our eldest girl. We got her in July 2015. Speckles was already moulting when we got her and promptly dropped all her tail feathers. I waited until September to add her photo to my “meet the flock” page as it took until then for her to get her tail completely grown back in.

This means she was about two years old or more so I would guess that she is about six years old. Anconas are supposed to be prolific layers. I have just researched them again and it says that they can lay 220 eggs a year which is an average of 18 per month.

Speckles is a very poor layer. Apart from Topaz, who only ever laid a few eggs, Speckles is our worst layer. She does lay the biggest eggs we have ever had from a bantam though. Her eggs are the size of a standard girl’s egg. Below is her egg record with us:

2015 Speckles laid no eggs as she was already moulting when we got her in July.

2016 Speckles laid 50 eggs in 6 months giving an average of 8 per month.

2017 Speckles laid 27 eggs in 5 months giving an average of 5 per month.

2018 Speckles laid 12 eggs in 4 months giving an average of 3 per month.

There is a pattern here. She is laying for a month less each year and laying half the number of eggs each year than the year before. This shows that even if she is older than I am guessing I don’t imagine she has ever been a good layer. It shows that a girl doesn’t always do what her breed is said to do.

It doesn’t matter to me because Speckles is a lovely girl and the number of eggs isn’t an important factor to me, it’s just something that I find interesting. I will be interested to see how she does this year.

Anconas are also supposed to become more white each year. I have just looked back at photos through her years with us to see how much she has changed. The main difference is that she has got fatter.

One thing that never changes with her moult is the little head feathers that stand up like a little crest. One of the things that changes the most with Speckles is her comb. When she is laying it is huge and red and in winter it’s small and pink. Her comb changes more than any other girl we have ever had. A cockerel would be proud of Speckles summer comb.I have gathered some photos of her from when we first got her until today.

August 2015

This was a month after we got Speckles when all of her tail feathers had dropped out.

September 2015

This was the photo I used on my “meet the flock” page once her tail had grown back in.

May 2016

Speckles has always liked to jump on my back. You can see her footprints where she has jumped on my back and worked her way up to my shoulder. I keep a cardigan for going in the run as it always gets footprints on it.

As soon as I bend she will jump on and she will stay on my back until I duck near the shelter or a perch for her to step off. I have no idea why she likes to do this but it is something that she has always done.

April 2017

As soon as Speckles is getting ready to lay her comb gets huge.

July 2018

Speckles with Ebony and Flame last summer.

January 2019

This is Speckles today. I think she definitely has more white than she first did.

Speckles today

I took this one to show her back and head. I think her head is whiter too. Speckles is a lovely girl.

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I have touched on this in the comments but I thought I would do a proper post for anyone missing the comments.

Dandelion is always the girl to suffer in cold weather. I think her frizzle feathers are not so insulating as the silky and straight feathers. To add to this she is moulting and has had pins only on her head for months. She of all the girls could do without not having head feathers in winter.

Dandelion this morning

Recently I could tell that Dandelion wasn’t as happy as usual and at bedtime I could hear a slight wheeze from her. I started another five days of tylan in the water. I stuck my head in the shed each evening to have an, up close, listen to her and for three evenings I could hear her wheeze.

Last night I could no longer hear Dandelion wheezing so I think she has come through again. Tomorrow will be the last day of tylan for this time round. I think it was the couple of frosty days that we had that kicked this off again.

It seems that every time we have frost Dandelion is set back but she continues to come through so I stay vigilant and treat at every set back.

Dandelion is better than last year when she used to get bubbles in her eyes. This hasn’t happened this year which I think is because it’s been a milder winter so far and maybe if she had head feathers she might not have had the wheezing.

Since the myco came into our flock I have always known that Dandelion was the most vulnerable girl. Last winter my husband delivered a lunch for a talk given by an exotic bird specialist who kept parrots and his wife had chickens. My husband told him of our experiences and he said that the eye bubbles meant that Dandelion was the carrier.

I have done loads of research on mycoplasma and have not come across anything saying this but it did make me wonder if that was the case. I did wonder if we didn’t have Dandelion in our flock would we remain free of myco in the future.

The situation is though, that we do have Dandelion in our flock and I love that quirky little girl. Dandelion is like the cat with nine lives, she keeps bouncing back. The more times she keeps bouncing back the more attached to her I become.

Dandelion survived her first year of laying soft shelled eggs and looking unwell before each one and went on to lay good shelled eggs the next year. Dandelion survived repeated bouts of myco flare ups with sneezing, wheezing and eye bubbles last winter.

Dandelion came back from a prolapse in the summer when other girls hadn’t survived it and she continued to lay eggs afterwards. Dandelion is a survivor and how can you not love a survivor like her!

Dandelion along with Cinnamon and Speckles is also a top girl. No girl pushes Dandelion around. Speckles will peck all the other seramas if they get in her way but never these two. Speckles considers these two her girls and looks out for them. She will still call them to the treats while keeping the other seramas away from treats.

Ebony is second in command behind Speckles and is a bit of a thug. She will peck and chase at Flame and all the seramas except Dandelion and Cinnamon. Being part of the flock the longest really counts as part of the pecking order and I would put Speckles, Dandelion and Cinnamon in joint top place.

This means that there isn’t an extra worry of Dandelion being bothered by other girls. Dandelion is firmly placed at the head of the flock and is first to the treats and bothered by no other girl.

So in conclusion I would say that even if Dandelion is a carrier, which we can’t know for sure, there is nothing to be done but to treat each time myco rears it’s ugly head again. I will always stay vigilant. I will always make sure I have a stock of tylan. I will always treat as soon as I see any symptom.

It will recur at times of stress and I think that frost is the stress trigger for Dandelion. Since I have known about myco and have treated with tylan each time I haven’t lost a girl to it. I think Dandelion will always be the most vulnerable to this but I think that by continuing as I am doing we should be able to safely come through this each time.

I am much more positive about this, this year, than I was last year. I hope we have Dandelion for a long time to come.

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Another girl has started laying

When Marmite started laying she laid two tiny, teeny, eggs on her first two days running. Marmite then missed two days and then laid a normal sized egg which was only a tiny bit smaller than Smoke’s egg. Marmite then laid four days running and her eggs were smaller than Smoke’s eggs so it was easy to tell which was which.

The day before yesterday there were two, Marmite sized, eggs in the corner of the shed by the pop hole in the late afternoon. There were no other eggs that day. First thing the next morning was a larger, Smoke sized, egg in the same corner of the shed.

This made me think that the smaller egg with Marmite’s egg belonged to another girl just starting as it was unlikely that Smoke would lay a small egg in the late afternoon followed by a larger egg first thing in the morning. It was too soon for another egg and unlikely that if two were laid close together the second would be larger rather than smaller.

Egg roller

It’s difficult to show the difference in size in a photograph but there is a noticeable difference in the flesh.

Smoke’s larger egg from yesterday morning is on the left. Next is the mystery egg (also slightly darker as the smaller eggs usually are) and Marmite’s egg, followed by Marmite’s egg from the day before and then Smoke’s egg from the day before is on the right. Smoke’s eggs are also rounder in shape.

I realise that when I have nine seramas laying it will be impossible to keep track of which egg belongs to which girl but I felt frustrated that I didn’t know who the new layer was. No different girls had shown any interest in the nest boxes and I hadn’t seen Marmite go in the shed either so I had missed the whole thing.

Today the mystery was solved. Spangle was very vocal from the moment I started cleaning out the chicken shed first thing. Smoke was in her usual corner of the chicken shed and Spangle joined her there.

The next time I checked on them Marmite was in the middle nest box. Spangle was still very vocal and was behind the nest boxes and looking under each one. It was as if she knew that Marmite was in the nest box but couldn’t work out how to get in. I picked her up and put her in the nest box nearest the shed to show her where to go.

Spangle stayed in the nest box and for a little while Smoke joined her then moved on to the middle nest box to join Marmite.

The next time I checked there were two eggs from Smoke and Marmite in the middle nest box, one larger egg from Ebony in the nest box next to the storage cabinet and Spangle was settled in the nest box nearest the shed where I had put her.

I put Spangle in the nest box

When Smoke and Marmite started laying they would run from the nest box if I lifted the lid. Spangle is a much friendlier girl and was happy to have me photograph her.

Smoke joined Spangle in the nest box

Marmite was in the middle nest box

Spangle settled in the nest box

When I next checked on them Spangle was out in the run and there was no egg but I felt happy that I now knew which girl the mystery egg was from. I also feel that Spangle has now learned how to get in to the nest boxes.

Well done Spangle!

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Continuing the moult

The moult seems so late this year, late as in as much as, it started in December and has now tipped over into January. Flame, Dandelion and Cinnamon all stared their moult in December.

The odd thing about moulting is that tail feathers seem to grow really quickly. We seem to see Flame’s tail getting longer each day. But pin feathers on heads seem to take forever. Dandelion has had pin feathers on her head for ages. At one point I said that they seemed to be finally opening as she had some fluff on her head. I now think that may have been the last fluffy feathers to fall out as her head is entirely covered in pins now.

Dandelion and Cinnamon spend a lot of time in the small shelter when it’s cold and every day I find Cinnamon’s feathers on the ground inside the shelter. She has loose wing feathers and pins on her neck and head.

Flame’s tail is growing back

Flame facing the other way


Cinnamon has pins on her neck

I had to catch her drinking to show her neck.

Cinnamon and Dandelion both have pins on their heads

Dandelion’s head of pins

Cinnamon’s pins on her head

It is really frustrating because these two don’t have head feathers at the coldest time of the year. I am willing those pins to open as they need those head feathers. You can see some feathers on the ground below them which have fallen recently as it’s not long since I picked them all up.

Dandelion is now dropping tail feathers too. If only we could choose when they moult then I would have them moult much earlier when the weather was warmer but it is out of our control.

I can only keep willing those feathers to come through as soon as possible.

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Chicken Christmas Presents

I am a bit late posting this because due to both lots of family being away before and during Christmas we hosted both Christmas dinners, celebrations and gift exchanging after Christmas. This then ran us into New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day before I had time to do this post.

I said in an earlier post that at that point I hadn’t had any chicken related Christmas gifts. That was to change and I received Chicken gifts from both lots of family. I loved my chicken gifts and our gifts have all been so thoughtful.

The  most unusual gift was a chicken stamp set from eldest son, wife and grandson. It has food grade ink so that I can stamp our eggs if I want to gift them but I like the idea of using it on stationary, envelopes, gift tags etc.

Eldest son asked me if I recognised the chicken and I wondered how I was supposed to recognise a breed of chicken from something so tiny although there was something familiar about it. It turned out it is the rusty chicken which is my avatar and also appears as the header on my blog.

I bought the rusty chicken when we were setting up the chicken run before we got our first chickens. It has remained outside the chicken run ever since and with the help of eldest son we used the image of it for my blog header and my avatar.

This is such a lovely personalised gift.

My stamp set

Rusty chicken stamp

Chicken prints

My avatar stamp

From youngest son and fiancee a note book with a great message on the front.

Note book

From son and daughter in law and grandchildren some kitchen items.

Oven glove and tile

We had lots of lovely gifts but this post is just to show the chicken related gifts. I never tire of chicken related gifts and they are all lovely. I am so lucky.

Edit – I missed one of the chicken gifts because I had put them away in our kitchen display cabinet with my collection of chicken egg cups.

Salt and pepper pot

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