A good year for berries

It seems to be a really good year for berries of all sorts. When I look out of our bedroom window the roses are now a mass of rose hips.

The climbing plants on the fence opposite our kitchen window are loaded with berries and they are so pretty.

Shiny red berries

Pink, mauve and blue berries

They remind me of jelly beans. I am not about to eat them any time soon though!

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The girls love spring greens

I give the girls greens every morning. I usually give them some spinach and some big spring green leaves. I put spinach on the patio area which is devoured quickly and big leaves in the run to keep the girls occupied.

By the end of the day just the centre stalks are left as the greens are picked clean.

I spread them around on both sides of the wire so that all the girls get a chance at them. It is interesting to see the different groups in action.

Speckles is firmly top girl. She is happy to share her leaf with Dandelion and Cinnamon. They have been together the longest and she has mothered them at times and seems to regard them as her girls. She will share with them easily.

However she won’t allow any other girl on her leaf. She chases off Ebony and Flame. She chases off the silky girls and the five amigos don’t dare to get close.

The silky girls will share a leaf and the amigos will rush in and steal a bit. The amigos do get leaves to themselves when the other girls lose interest.

Ebony and Flame will share and the silky girls are brave enough to move in too but not the amigos.

The amigos are the bottom girls. The silky girls are next. Ebony and Flame are next and  Dandelion and Cinnamon are above them with Speckles firmly at the top.

It is amusing because Speckles came in at the bottom and was afraid of her own shadow. She was beneath the smaller girls at that time. As she is now the longest serving member of the flock she has worked her way up to top position and isn’t at all fazed by Ebony’s sturdier size. She is now a very confident top girl.

I couldn’t get photos without some blurring because all the girls were pecking with their heads constantly bobbing.

Speckles shares with Dandelion and Cinnamon

The three are happily pecking together

Flame sneaks a bit of leaf

The silky girls share another leaf

Spangle has just nicked a small bit of leaf and has it in her beak.

Ebony moves in

Marmite manages to take a bit of leaf

All the girls get a share at different times but it is interesting to see the pecking order at work.

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Our vintage crockery

We have been catering together for twenty years but have been doing afternoon teas on vintage crockery for the last five years. We also hire it out if people want to use it with their own afternoon tea.

It came about when we did an afternoon tea for a wedding and they wanted to hire vintage crockery for it but found it too expensive. We lent them our own vintage set for their top table and used our standard crockery for the rest of the tables.

We decided to start collecting vintage crockery at antique shops and charity shops to provide our own service and we made it more affordable.

We decided that we would need enough for between 100 and 120 as that was likely to be the largest number for a wedding.

A school that we catered events for asked for a couple of afternoon teas from us and liked them so much that they asked if we could supply afternoon tea on vintage crockery for their speech day/prize giving event as a treat for the parents and students at the end of the event. They asked us if we could cater for 170!

This was five years ago and we rushed out to the antique shops, further away from us, to top up our collection to cater for them.

Every year it meant that all the vintage crockery came out for this event and we would replace any breakages to keep the number at 170.

This year we gave the school notice that this would be our last year of catering for the speech day. We have been finding that this is just too big for us. It is stressful and hard work and as it takes place on a Thursday we also have to fit in our corporate lunches as well.

We started at half past six in the morning on Thursday and got back home at half past six in the evening. The following day the washing up took all afternoon. It all has to be washed by hand. We have a system. My husband washes up in our work kitchen and does the cake stands, sandwich plates, tea pots, coffee pots, milk jugs, sugar bowls and silver ware. I wash up in our domestic kitchen and do the trios which consist of matching cup, saucer and side plate.

It takes me as long to those as they all have to be matched up to their sets once more and stored in boxes of 20 trios all different. This means if we have a tea for 20 we pull out one box and for 40 pull out two boxes and so on.

As this is the last year of this event we decided to go through the crockery and get rid of the trios that we like the least. When topping it up to 170 we bought whatever we could get our hands on.

I am taking the overflow to the charity shop so it will have gone full circle. I have reduced the trios to 128.

Last year I took a photo of the crockery on our dining table after I had washed it up. As this is the last year of this number of trios I have taken photos before and after washing it up. It took me four hours to wash it up and another couple of hours to sort through it all and separate out the trios to go to the charity shop.

I have boxed it up with the 20 I like best in the first box then the next best 20 in the next box and so on. This way the prettiest crockery will always go out to the smaller functions.

Vintage trios waiting to be washed up

A daunting task ahead of me

The trios are washed up

And stacked in sets

I am so happy that this is done and that we will never have to do such a large number again. It has been a good event to make buying the crockery worth while and the crockery has paid for itself many times over.

In future though we don’t want to take on anything of this sort of size. Afternoon teas for 50 or under are the ones we like to do. We have a minimum number of 10 and are happy to do those too. We have been averaging nearly one afternoon tea a month for these smaller events which is much more in our comfort zone.

We are not getting any younger and we are trying to make our lives easier. We have stopped doing any hot food, stopped offering to stay and serve at events, stopped taking on any events that are too large and will no longer take on more than one function in a weekend.

We are both feeling so much happier now that we have this last big one out of the way. That washing up alone was daunting where as I don’t mind washing up from the small ones. I just need to make a few trips to the charity shop next week.

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My thoughts on broodies and the different groups within our flock

Ebony was very quickly through being broody. My experiences with my seramas being broody is quite different to what it is with Ebony and Flame. I am not including Speckles in this because she has never ever gone broody.

Ebony all done with being broody

The seramas have never been allowed to sit on eggs and have never had chicks so they have no experience. They are going purely on hormones and instinct. Therefore they will sit anywhere.

It doesn’t have to be the nest box they laid their last egg in and in fact in Cinnamon’s case it doesn’t even have to be somewhere where an egg could be sat on. Cinnamon sat on the perch in the chicken shed when she was broody.

The seramas have tiny brains to match their tiny size and there is no logic to their broodiness. They make up for it with their cuteness though.

It is quite different with Ebony and Flame. The breeder uses these girls to brood and hatch his wyndottes. He chose them for their reliability when broody and he told us that Ebony had been a good mother to her chicks.

This meant that when Ebony went broody she had already had the experience. She knew that she needed to sit in what had been her nest box and she needed to sit on some eggs.

At the end of the first day of Ebony being broody I removed her favourite, high, nest box. I cleaned it out, put fresh pine shavings in it and added it to the line of nest boxes on the patio.

The next day Flame laid her egg in a corner of the chicken shed and has continued to lay her eggs there ever since. I remove her egg as soon as it is laid. Ebony showed no further interest in being broody. She has stopped laying but she seems to have worked out that with her nest box gone and no eggs in sight there is no point continuing with being broody.

I am pleased at this outcome because I had thought that if she insisted on sitting either in the nest boxes on the patio area or  in the chicken shed that I would have to leave her to it. She is too difficult to move. She is strong and she has a hard peck on her.

The little girls are so easy to simply pick up but the bigger girls are not so easy to handle, especially when they are angry.

This may mean that I won’t have to worry too much about Ebony and Flame going broody. They are definitely smarter girls and they also have the experience to draw on.

We definitely have three groups within our flock of twelve. I have always found that the girls that come in together tend to stay bonded together. I bought Ebony and Flame into the flock separately, five days, apart. This was to stop them being a bonded pair leaving Speckles on her own after losing her close, flock mate, Emerald.

It worked well as the three bigger girls are all equal and hang out together. Dandelion and Cinnamon hang out with them too because they have been around Speckles for a long time. They have seen girls leave the flock from before they joined the flock and from after they joined the flock. They seem to accept Ebony and Flame as part of Speckles group and these five girls are often hanging out together. As I have found in the past it has nothing to do with size.

These girls make up one group

These two girls are always together

The silky girls came in together and perhaps losing Blue from their trio has made them even closer. They are totally inseparable.

These girls stick together

This is the biggest group I have ever bought in at once and they are a very close group.

I wonder if the three groups will always stay like this. They all get on together with no more than the usual, pecking order, chasing from time to time but when it comes to hanging out together they are definitely three distinct groups.

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Baby moult

Chicks have a partial moult where they lose their baby feathers and get their adult feathers in. We have only had the five amigos for three weeks but when we first got them they all had tails.

Since then Vanilla has lost her tail and Marmite has only a short tail. This was the new girls in the first few days we had them.

New girls

Notice vanilla’s upright tail at the back of the photo.

Vanilla with no tail

See the difference now. I have been picking up white feathers from the run. She has moulted her tail feathers and will now grow her adult tail.

She will soon be back to her former glory.

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Ebony is broody

Three days ago Ebony spent most of the day in the nest box coming out just a couple of times for food and water and a quick dust bath. I wondered if she was going broody but at the end of the day she was out in the run and both her egg and Flame’s egg were side by side in the nest box.

Two days ago Ebony spent the entire day in the nest box, once again just coming out for food, water and a swift dust bath. At the end of the day she was still in there. I couldn’t shift her as she would peck me.

The breeder chose her for me as he said that she was a lovely, gentle, mother to chicks. That’s as may be but she has a scary, hard, peck. In the end I resorted to putting on gardening gloves and lifting her out.

There were no eggs so neither Ebony or Flame had laid. I closed the high nest box and decided to leave it closed. Ebony always lays in this nest box but Flame sometimes lays in the chicken shed and has once laid in the nest box on the patio so I thought that if she needed to lay she would find somewhere else.

Ebony was making the boc boc broody sound. At bedtime both Ebony and Flame were in the chicken shed and I chased Speckles in to join them.

Yesterday Ebony kept checking the high nest box and eventually sat in front of it. When Flame tried to join her she raised her tail in the typical broody way.

A bit later when Flame tried to join her again Ebony took her anger out on her. She held flame by the neck and didn’t let go. It looked brutal and I sprayed Ebony with water to make her let go of Flame.

Ebony is broody

Flame joins Ebony

Which causes Ebony to raise her tail

The typical broody pose

The next time I checked on her Ebony was settled in a corner of the chicken shed. We had friends coming to lunch so I decided to just leave her be.

Ebony settles in a corner of the chicken shed

When we took our friends up to meet the girls both Ebony and Flame were out in the run. I checked the chicken shed and both Ebony and Flame’s eggs were side by side.

I am rather surprised that these girls continue to lay when broody. With Flame she spent three manic weeks checking the corners of the chicken shed for eggs but continued to lay eggs during that time.

Now Ebony is obviously broody but still laying eggs too. I think these girls are brighter than broody seramas and have experienced hatching eggs before so Ebony seems to know that she has to be on her nest to sit. Broody seramas have no such logic and will sit anywhere.

I think Ebony was then desperate to lay her egg so she found an alternative place to lay but didn’t remain sitting as it wasn’t her nest. As both Ebony and Flame have now laid in the chicken shed I am going to take the opportunity to remove the high nest box.

I will clean it out, put fresh pine shavings in and return it to the patio area. It will be much easier to remove broody girls from the lower level and it will free up the top of the shelter as another surface for the girls to sit.

It will be interesting to see if Ebony continues to lay. It will also be interesting to see what she makes of the disappearing nest box.

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An update on the five amigos

We have had the five amigos for three and a half weeks now, four weeks on Wednesday. It seems like longer because they have integrated so quickly and easily. They are also growing quickly.

I have been a bit nervous about whether Vanilla was a girl because of a combination of her big feet, her red face and her deep, honky, sounding voice. I have been telling myself that I was being paranoid and that Blue was smaller than the amigos when we became certain that he was a boy. He had a red comb and wattles and he had no voice until he started crowing.

Yesterday I had a revelation. I was cleaning the chicken shed when I heard a honky kind of voice similar to Vanilla coming from behind me. I turned round to see that it was Sienna. I had a light bulb moment. It was the start of her grown up voice.

I realised that Vanilla is probably a bit more mature than the other amigos and the honky voice is the beginning of her grown up voice. The red face is also a sign of her maturing.

The other difference with Vanilla is that she has a very short tail but Marmite does too. I am finding feathers from the amigos so I think that they are having their partial baby moult and getting their adult feathers in.

I think that these are all signs that the amigos are growing up.


Note the difference in tail on Vanilla in the background.





Salmon is the smallest of the amigos. Smoke and Vanilla look the most mature. They were having a little spat yesterday and it had been obvious that Smoke was top girl from when we first had them but it now seems that Vanilla is second girl. Marmite is bottom girl with Spangle and Salmon seeming to be about equal in the middle.

As they are so well integrated I have now removed the feeding station at the bottom of the run from the day that I finished worming them.

I will give it a couple more days and then I will remove the feeding station from half way down the run. We will return to just one feeding station on the patio area which is better because the pellets don’t end up in the dirt.

The amigos come to the patio and eat from the dish and drink the water so I am confident that they know where everything is and we don’t need multiple feeding stations any longer. I have also removed the water bottles. I prefer not to have bottles in winter because they freeze more quickly.

The only progress still needed is for the amigos to perch at bedtime but I am sure they will soon latch on to it. I am leaving Dandelion to perch on their side of the chicken shed as she perches at the end furthest from the corner that they bundle into. I had hoped she might lead the way for them but so far they like their corner. I am sure that it is only a matter of time.

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Speckles is still moulting

Speckles has been moulting forever! She has also had a really poor year as far as egg laying goes.

Last year she laid 27 eggs which isn’t a great total. This year she has only laid 12 eggs. In March she laid 3 and in April she also laid 3. She laid 4 in May. She then took a month’s break in June and started to moult quite heavily.

Then in July she stopped moulting and her comb became red again. She then laid a further 2 eggs. I wondered if this was sparked by the heat wave we were experiencing at that time.

By comparison Ebony laid 24 eggs in August and Flame laid 25. These girls are amazing egg layers and are still going strong.

In August Speckles started moulting heavily again and has continued to moult ever since. She has very little tail left. Her head feathers are quite white and she has her usual feathers sticking out on her head. This is her trade mark and she has had these feathers sticking out since she was point of lay when we got her three years ago. They always return like this after her moult.

Speckles with very little tail

I do seem to have had some quirky girls. I have had really good egg layers and really poor egg layers over the years. It shows how different hens can be. For me though the eggs are not as important as having happy and healthy girls.

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Sharing a nest box

Ebony and Flame are so in sync with their egg laying that they both want their favourite high nest box at the same time. Ebony takes longer to lay her egg than Flame does so sometimes Flame joins Ebony in the nest box and Ebony will leave and return a few minutes later when Flame has laid.

Sometimes Ebony will reluctantly allow Flame to share. Now that they have settled into sharing a nest box they are a lot less noisy.

When I looked in the nest box yesterday Flame appeared to be virtually sat on top of Ebony. She had squeezed in behind her possibly so that Ebony couldn’t chase her out.

I went to get my camera but when I returned Flame was standing in the egg laying pose and her egg was beneath her.

Flame has just laid her egg

Sharing the nest box

As soon as Flame had laid her egg she left the nest box. About ten minutes later Ebony left the nest box and as usual their eggs were side by side.

I am so glad they have got this sorted out at last.

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A trip to Whitehouse Farm

Yesterday we took a trip to Whitehouse Farm. This is where we get our disposables and is also is where we have rehomed some of our girls in the past.

We rehomed Peaches and Barley at the farm last spring, one and a half years ago. We have visited them in between and I went along yesterday to see if they were still around.

Moira, the farmer, wasn’t around so I just wandered through the orchard where the chickens hang out. I know that she is happy for me to visit them when we are collecting disposables.

I soon spotted Peaches but there was no sign of Barley. As the two were inseparable I can only conclude that sadly she may have been taken by a fox. I know that Moira has a problem with foxes being quite bold even during the daytime.

There was also no sign of Claude, the huge cockerel, that had been resident for many years but he may well have passed to old age. Without seeing Moira I can only speculate so perhaps shouldn’t make too many guesses.

I spotted a new set up of an enclosed run and large coup and went to investigate. It was a breeding pen for silkies. I know Moira likes to take on new projects. There was one cockerel, possibly a replacement for Claude and three adult hens. There was another smaller hen which I would consider was at the “teenage” stage and there were seven chicks.

There was another empty smaller run and coup nearby so I would assume the mother and chicks had been in there until the chicks were big enough to integrate with the other silkies. They were all getting along happily.

Peaches hangs out with a friend

I am only able to identify Peaches because her comb flops to the left and Barley’s comb flopped to the right. She is moulting and the pair of them always looked very shabby when they were moulting and their combs would be very reduced in size.

Silkies and their chicks

The chicks are in the food dish

A selection of hens

A moulting Peaches

A few bantams in the mix

It was sad that Barley was no longer there but good to see that Peaches was still around. A free range life is always with it’s risks but I feel leghorns need a free range life and I would never consider having them again in my contained set up.

They are zippy birds and being contained made them bullying and caused them to pluck the other flock members. I know rehoming them was the right thing to do because they were in a more suitable environment for them and my flock has flourished without the bullying.

Integrations have been so much easier since Peaches and Barley left the flock and I now have a happy flock. I was pleased to see Peaches again.

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