An amazing visitor to our garden

An unusual  caterpillar caught my eye in our garden yesterday. It was on our verbascum and had stripped quite a bit of the flower.

An unusual caterpillar

I put a description into google and it soon showed our caterpillar. We had expected it to be a large moth but were amazed to find that it is an Eastern black swallow tail. The amazing thing is that it is found in Mexico, Central America and South America. How on earth did it get here!

The adult wing span is between seven and eight and a half centimetres. The wings are black with two rows of yellow spots. Between the spots is a powdery, iridescent, blue.

Before I had looked it up my husband had picked it up and put it over our back fence in the strip of woodland because it was stripping our verbascum. Once I had looked it up he regretted not keeping it.

It is a mystery how it got here and I can only imagine that our unusually warm weather has helped it to survive. It is protected from predators by it’s bright colour which warns that it is toxic so hopefully it will survive to become a butterfly.

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The chicks have a bit of time out of the dog crate

The chicks have only been in the dog crate for five days but we felt that they were already outgrowing it. Blue and Lemon have been doing a lot of chest bumping and flying at each other and chasing each other around. They are obviously competing for top place. Jasmine takes no notice of it at all. She stays out of it and usually has her head in the food dish.

I was still concerned about the chicks putting their heads through the chicken wire so despite it already being a double layer I decided to add another layer. I had some spare wire so I attached a third layer at the bottom on the outside of their part of the run.

Once I had done this I opened the door to the dog crate. Blue accidentally found the way out and once she had realised she was out she hopped straight back in.

Blue was first out of the dog crate

The chicks showed no sign of wanting to come out and in the end I chased them out.

All three chicks are out

They are not wandering far

You can see from this photo that Blue still has a bare bottom. It has been bare from the day we got her and she still has only a few pins on her bottom.

Lemon was soon heading back in

They didn’t move from this spot until Lemon lead the way back in and the other two followed. They showed no further inclination to leave the dog crate.

I shall leave the door to the crate open when we are at home and give them some time to get used to it like this before removing the crate. I have set up another water bottle on the gate to their part of the run.

I have also started them on grower pellets. I have broken them up a bit to start with and mixed them with the chick crumb. They seem to be eating the pellets so I will gradually withdraw the chick crumb.

It will be interesting to see how long it takes them to start venturing out and exploring.

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Egg shells

I have baked some egg shells in the oven, crushed them and added them to dishes of mash which I gave the girls yesterday and today.

All the girls seem to have stopped laying apart from Freckles. She has now laid three eggs (every other day) and all have been under her roost spot and have been soft shelled. The really odd thing is that Dandelion had this problem last year from the start of her laying and yet this year she is fine.  Freckles has always been the best layer and was always at the grit and her eggs always had little calcium bubbles on the shells. This makes it weird that she is now laying soft shells.

I saw her go to the grit yesterday for the first time in ages. My theory is that as  she had taken a months break from laying she had stopped going to the grit. I hope the crushed egg shells will give her boost.

Three dishes but at first this is the favourite one

Speckles tries another dish

The girls decide that all three dishes are okay

Emerald and Speckles both stopped laying in June last year so I think that they are now finished for this year.

I have another theory about the seramas. They are a breed that is prone to going broody. I think that when they don’t go broody they need to take a break from laying eggs. If broody they would naturally take a break. Freckles recently took a break and Cinnamon and Dandelion were laying at least every other day until the last day of May and are now taking a break.

Freckles laid twelve eggs in April and then two in May before her break. Cinnamon laid twelve eggs in May and Dandelion laid thirteen eggs in May. Emerald laid fifteen eggs in May and Speckles laid four.

I am hoping that Freckles egg shells will soon get back to normal. Of the three recent eggs each time she has looked unhappy but less so on each occasion. Each time she has taken herself to bed early and each egg has been broken under her roost spot in the morning. This morning the shell was less soft and was intact on the top but broken on the bottom from landing on the shed floor even though the layer of shavings is deep.

I hope this improvement in each egg will continue until she is fully back to normal. It is ironic that she is currently our own girl laying and yet we have been unable to eat any of her eggs. I have had to resort to buying eggs once more.

I am hopeful that Cinnamon and Dandelion will resume laying after a break. More importantly though I hope Freckles gets back to her usual, good, egg laying, self.

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The chicks have bedtime sorted

I didn’t think there would be a problem with the chicks going in at bedtime and I was right. About nine o’clock each night they settle in the little coop and I just have to close up the door.

As I am always awake early I have been opening their door at five o’clock which is when the automatic door on the main chicken shed opens. As soon as I open the door they come straight out and into the food dish.

I then go back to bed. If I am not out so early it won’t matter if they come out later but while I am awake early I feel I may as well let them out at the same time as the other girls.

The chicks soon investigated the little coop

At bedtime they settle in the little coop

The chicks come out as soon as I open the door

They head straight for the food

All three at the food dish

I will let them get used to this first and then later I will try to encourage them to perch. I am confident that when they outgrow the dog crate they will be fine about going in the coop at bedtime.

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The garden is amazing

This time of year is the best for our garden. It’s when the rose peaks and the veg plot takes off and everything looks lush. Even the front drive has a splash of colour.

Colour on our drive

The other side of our drive has the plant that colonised all by itself

The rose is looking amazing over the cabin roof

The rose on the fence

The rose on the fence looking in the other direction

Looking down through the arches

Close up of an allium

The veg plot has grown

Clematis and honeysuckle on the fence opposite our kitchen window

The view from our bedroom window

I just love the garden at this time of year.

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Freckles had a problem

Freckles hasn’t laid for an entire month. As she is usually our best egg layer this seemed odd. She usually only takes a ten day break when she has gone broody but this time she hadn’t gone broody but just stopped laying.

A few days ago I felt she was getting ready to lay again. If I came up behind her she would drop into a squat. She started going into the nest box for about half an hour and then would come out not having laid. I put it down to practising as a few of the girls do this when about to lay after a break.

Yesterday she looked really unhappy. She had a peculiar stance and her eyes were closing. I felt she was having an egg laying problem.

Freckles looks most peculiar and very unhappy

I picked her up and inspected her. Her vent looked normal and that odd bump is just soft feathers but it looks exaggerated because she has her tail down. When her tail is up the bump appears to disappear.

I felt helpless as I knew she just needed to get an egg laid. Some people suggest a warm bath to relax the muscles but it was getting near the end of the day and I felt that it would be likely to cause her more stress.

Freckles put herself to bed early. She was first in whereas she is usually the last little girl in. I felt this was the best place for her.

In the morning she ran over for some corn and seemed back to her usual self again. I checked in the chicken shed. Under her roost spot was an egg coloured puddle and then I spotted egg yolk on the bracket behind her perch. There was no sign of any shell at all.

It appears as if she has laid an egg without any shell. I worried about the shell being inside her but I have read that if this is so they rapidly look very unwell and she was digging and scratching as usual. I couldn’t see anything unusual about her vent.

She later went in the nest box for about half an hour and came out shouting. She was obviously unaware that she had discharged the egg earlier. She continued the day as normal.

She was soon happily perching with her flock mates.

The flock perch together

Hopefully the crisis has passed. These girls do like to worry us.

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The chicks have a new home

We have now had the chicks for two weeks and they have doubled in size. They were outgrowing the hamster cage and it was time to move them on to the next stage.

Yesterday I started getting the dog crate and the nest box/coop ready for them. We had to make quite a few adaptions to make the dog crate escape proof. Usually I only have girls in there for a day or two to make sure they know the coop is where to go at bedtime.

This time the chicks may need to be in there for two weeks as I need them to be big enough not to be able to put their head through the dividing chicken wire. I worry on two counts, they could get their head stuck in the wire or they could pecked from the girls on the other side.

If it turns out that the chicks outgrow the dog crate before I feel that the chicken wire is safe for them I will come up with something else to line it with. It already has a double layer of chicken wire but I could put something finer on their side. I will worry about that later.

My husband decided that instead of screwing the perch system down he would use a bolt so that it would be easier for me to remove it for cleaning. The chicks will be in this bedtime coop for up to four months so it needs to be easy to clean.

Movable perch system

My husband drilled a hole through the trough for the bolt to lock in to and put a catch above the trough to hold it in place. It can’t move or tip up but I can undo the bolt and slip the trough out from under the catch to remove it for cleaning.

Nest box/coop filled with pine shavings

The chicks have outgrown this space

This will be the chicks new home

I decided to fill the dog crate tray with soil so that the chicks get used to being on soil. It will be better for dust baths and will provide grit plus it won’t matter if it gets flung out.

We had to modify the dog crate. First we put some aluminium trays under the tray to lift it above the horizontal gaps as we thought the chicks may be able to get through them. Then we had to raise the coop on a piece of wood so that the ramp would drop into the higher tray. We then had to attach some wood between the coop and crate to block the gaps. We also put some wood on the left of the tray to block that gap.

It actually took most of the afternoon getting everything ready. I fixed a water bottle and put in a dish for water and a dish for food by the ramp where it is less likely to get soil flicked into it. The water dish probably will get soil flicked into it but the bottle is a back up.

It was now all ready for the chicks.

This morning I put the chicks in their new home and they immediately started pecking at the soil. They then found both water sources and a minute later had found the food dish.

The chicks in their new home

They find the water

They find the food

The only thing that remains to be seen is if they find the coop at bedtime. I think they will as they seem pretty smart.

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Beautiful flowers

I had such a lovely surprise yesterday evening when my lovely neighbour knocked on the door and was holding a beautiful flower arrangement. She said they were for me. I couldn’t quite believe such lovely flowers were for me!

She went on to say that she had hosted an event and didn’t want to leave the flower arrangement behind and that she and her husband were going away on holiday the next morning.

She said that she had missed my birthday the week before (I didn’t think we did birthdays) and that she knew that I would look after them and enjoy them.

As I had just poured a glass of wine I invited her to join me and we had a good catch up. Her husband came looking for her a little later and both our husbands had a beer. We viewed the garden and of course the girls and the chicks.

The flowers are sitting on the end of the dining table as they are too large to sit anywhere else. The scent is lovely too.

Beautiful flower display

I was so touched to be given these and will enjoy them for as long as they last. What a lovely surprise!

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Speckles lays an egg

Yesterday Speckles laid an egg after exactly three weeks break. Her poop seems less sloppy recently. I hope that laying an egg is a sign that whatever was going on with her is getting better.

Speckles lays an egg

The egg on the right is Emerald’s and the egg to the left of it is Speckle’s larger and paler egg. I couldn’t resist adding Cinnamon’s egg at the back on the left and Dandelion’s tiny egg in front of it.

Speckles has been driving us mad with her shouting/screaming in the afternoon when Emerald goes in to lay her egg. She has done this every other day for the last three weeks.

Yesterday while Speckles laid her egg Emerald watched from the ramp of the nest box. About an hour later Emerald went in to lay her egg. For the first time in three weeks Speckles didn’t shout.

Has she had a light bulb moment and realised that as she herself has just laid an egg, Emerald has gone in to lay an egg and not disappeared? It certainly does seem like that.

We are hoping that Speckles will continue to lay and will stop shouting every time Emerald goes in to lay. Chickens are more complicated than we sometimes might imagine!

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Planning ahead

When the chicks get too big for the hamster cage they will have one of the nest boxes (actually called small animal houses) as their coop just we have always used before for this purpose. The draw back with this is not having a perch and so the chicks having to sit amongst the night time poop.

I have tried to come up with ideas for a temporary perch before but nothing was really successful. As the chicks are going to be in there for a longer period than previously, probably four months, I feel it’s more important to try to come up with some sort of perch. Also from the way they spend time on the platform in the hamster cage I feel that they want to perch and it would also help them with the eventual transition to the chicken shed.

Yesterday I looked for something that would be free standing to add to the nest box, when needed for new girls, but that could be easily removed when it reverts back to being a nest box again.

I first tried the pet shop but found nothing suitable. I then tried the pound shop which is next door to the pet shop. I found myself in the gardening bit and picked up a herb trough. I thought it could be repurposed and at a pound it didn’t much matter if it didn’t work.

I thought the chicks could perch on the edge of it but it would be better to have a perch that they could grip all round. I thought a thick bamboo stick would be the right size and I could attach it with wire to the herb box through the gaps either end of the trough.

I set about this and was quite pleased with the result. This could sit in the nest box/temporary coop and be removed when no longer needed but kept for the future when needed again.

I plan to half fill the trough with pine shavings for easy poop picking. We also plan to screw it to the floor of the little coop nest box so that it can’t tip up. We will use just one screw in the centre to hold it place and I will keep the screw driver in my chicken store cabinet so that I can remove it at any time.

My movable perch system

The perch in situ

I got Freckles to try it out

I used Freckles to demonstrate as she is the easiest girl to pick up. In the photo Freckles was just leaving as I had to plonk her on the perch and then grab my camera. I wasn’t quick enough to catch her on the middle perch.

It will sit lower than this as I had just plonked it on top of the shavings but when properly installed I will clear the shavings and place it on the floor of the little coop then fluff the shavings around it.

I think this will work. Time will tell!

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