Mr Chuckles

Mr Chuckles

Mr. Chuckles is a small elderly Japanese bantam. His exact age is uncertain, what we do know is that he is at least 7 to 8 years old. During the past summer he has had a respiratory complaint which caused some crackles from his lungs, but also blocked up eyes with both eyelids firmly closed. We took him inside the house to our hospital wing for a little while, until he was able to see again at least.

After a couple of weeks he had improved, his sight was back and his comb a bright red instead of being blue/black on the edges. He was also eating a lot better than he was outside where he had to compete for food. Having been rejected from the Japanese bantam coop by newer arrivals, come evening he tended to go into coops at random, none were welcoming and he looked isolated when looking inside.

Mr Chuckles

Mr. Chuckles looks much happier inside a brooder where he can easily eat and drink without harrasment. He also now crows in the morning which to our mind confirms he is happy with his lot for the moment.

Just before roosting time (or more accurately, lights out) he is taken out of the brooder and cuddled whilst having his head and ears stroked, he obviously enjoys this as his eyes close and he makes little chuckle sounds which gave him his name. This makes chicken keeping and all the work that goes with it such a joy.

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Treating Scaly Leg Mite

Scaly leg

What is scaly leg? Scaly leg is an infestation of a parasitic mite Cnemidocoptes Mutans. They burrow under the scales of bird’s legs and feet. This causes the scales to raise, creating a thickened, lumpy appearance with white growth. Scaly leg is very irritating and painful to the birds affected. It should be noted that this condition is highly contagious. It’s entire life cycle is spent on the birds, so it is passed on by direct contact.

Recognising scaly leg in your own birds is not easy, it requires you to get up close by picking up suspected birds for inspection. Scaly leg is particularly difficult to spot on certain breeds e.g. Silkies and Brahmas, they have feathered feet which might well disguise the condition. These type of breeds are also more susceptible.

Bantam Cockerel with Scaly Leg

There are a number of ways of treating the condition. There was a time when old engine oil, creosote, or diesel was used, but that wasn’t good for the birds. Surgical spirit can be used, but again irritating for your birds. You could always use Invermectin, but this isn’t licenced for use on poultry although it is used on other farm animals, Invermectin is a liquid that comes in an eyedropper, put 2 or 3 drops directly on to skin or on the leg themselves. We favour a proprietary treatment called, yeah you guessed it, Scaly Leg Remover spray and an ointment called Scaly Leg Ointment which suffocates scaly leg parasites whilst soothing and calming irritation. You can use both, but not at the same time.

Scaly Leg Treatments

The spray and ointment will need repeating in 4/5 days time. The spray has the advantage in that it is easier to use and the birds get relief almost instantly as it kills the mites. You could use plain old Vaseline, it will do the job just fine. It will take some time to break the mite’s life cycle, but if you apply the treatment over several weeks, come the bird’s moult the legs should look normal.

How about prevention? Well I use plenty of Louse Powder and Stalosan F in the bedding and nestboxes. Stalosan is an anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal powder and helps prevent future infestations. Stalosan F is also a good disinfectant, helps to keep the bedding dry and combats ammonia.

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New Housing Coops

New Coop[

We are in the process of upgrading our coops. The coops originally supplied have served their purpose and were largely very sturdy in construction, they did however let some of the worst weather seep through the sterling board and the coops themselves were on the small side. Having heard that a near neighbour of ours was producing new coops at a decent price, using good quality timber, we jumped at the chance.

Having described our needs to Joe, the features of these new bespoke coops are impressive. First of all, the build is excellent with quality wood. All the parts are made off site and just bolt together at this end. Each coop has 6 nestboxes, 4 roosting bars, metal roofs (we insisted on this) and they all come with a weather shelter attached with concreted floor if requested.

Coop Interior

With the floor area of each coop being much larger than the previous housing, this allows the birds to dust bathe, particularly in winter. We can then add some louse powder and some Stalosan (anti-bacterial/viral powder) to the bedding and also to the nestboxes.

We also had a new goose shed as well, which is minus roosting bars, pop hole and nesting boxes. Geese being a bit fickle, we thought getting them to mount their new ramp into the new shed would be troublesome to say the least, but no, they went straight up their new ramp and into the new shed at our first attempt. Quite surprising really. Now after several weeks they have no apprehensions about going in.

Attached Shelter

Back to our hens. The real test of course comes when the birds themselves start to use them. So far we have had 7 new housing units and all of them have been a rip roaring success. As can be seen by the photo below, they look at home and readily compete for the best nestbox or perching bar when they first go in at night. It takes about 2 to 3 weeks for the birds to be at ease with their new housing. It has to be said that cleaning these coops is more work and uses more bedding, but the birds are worth it. You can also stand upright in these coops which makes cleaning a little easier.

In their new housing we will also be installing some decent lighting. We chose a relatively inexpensive option, consisting of 2 light bulbs, an indoor control panel and a solar panel. This particular system we got from Amazon. With the two light bulbs lit it casts quite a bright light for the birds to choose their roosting position for the night.

Cosy Night Ahead!

We are very happy with the new housing, they are very bird friendly and each coop can easily cope with up to 30 birds. If you wish to take advantage of Joe’s coops contact him on Tel 07817 359593.

Take into account that your coop once ordered will take several weeks to appear on site. We can though assure you that the wait is well worth it!

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A little gold Wyandotte bantam cockerel named Smokey has lived a long and happy life. He had great looks, a super little crow unlike any other male and a lovely warm personality. His lovely dapper gait and the supreme gloss of his feathers, all adding up to quite a character. We knew as we entered 2016 his days were numbered. We reckon he must have been at least 7 years old. His last year with us was not quite what we expected.


Unfortunately, his health was a constant worry as he suffered from numerous eye infections during the summer, which culminated in a tumour during December. We very reluctantly put him to sleep to end his suffering.

He started out in life back in 2009 and became a pin up for our new collection of Brahmas. I guess he really became their mascot. Where ever the Brahmas went Smokey was sure to follow. He just loved being with these big guys. Even more remarkable as his sleeping quarters were down the hill at the other end of the garden, in a coop devoted to mixed bantams.

Apart from his love of the Brahmas, he was largely a solo act who was happy with his own company and occasionally that of admiring female bantams. He is being missed already. We are left with very fond memories to treasure.

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Fraser – The Co-pilot of the Lohmann Browns

Fraser was a rather handsome Silver Laced Wyandotte bantam cockerel, who’s main concern in his later years was looking after the many females of the Lohmann Brown flock.


He has been with us for over 7 years and has assisted a number of different leaders of the flock. His first appearance as a youngster was life changing. He made a dash for the Black Rock girls in a neighbouring flock. This was a huge mistake as Troy, the cockerel and leader of the flock jumped at him violently and in a flash poor Fraser lost an eye.

Fraser soon got over this incident and remained a very loyal second in command. He also helped to break up fights between younger males. Sleep peacefully old friend, you are missed!

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Solitaire a Belgium Bantam

Solitaire as a Lonesome Chick
Solitaire arrived to us via the Royal Mail, as a hatching egg from Ebay. I remember ordering some Brahma hatching eggs, she was the only egg that hatched. The chick didn’t look quite right for a Brahma, for a start she was tiny. Unfortunately, being the only chick she had no friends. As we placed her in the brooder, we scratched our heads over what to do. A mirror worked for a short time, a small teddy went down well. At night she would go to sleep under one of its arms. Eventually we got the only thing she really wanted, which was another chick. Donald the hen man had a chick which he kindly gave to us. Her new friend was an araucana chick, quite a bit larger than Solitaire. Nevertheless, they both quickly cemented their friendship.

It was a delight to watch Solitaire with her new friend, who we called Mystique on account that at the time we had no idea what breed she was. It was clear that she was growing larger than Solitaire by quite a margin. When they got much older, you couldn’t separate them, where ever Mystique was, Solitaire was there by her side.

Solitaire and Mystique

Solitaire has repaid our attention to her needs in bucketfuls. Whenever we had a problem with chicks, it was dependable Solitaire who came to the rescue. We can’t count the number of chicks she has brought up. On numerous occasions she has been a foster mum to many chicks bought from Ebay as hatching eggs. Not content with that, Solitaire has come to the rescue when a broody has decided she’s fed up with sitting on eggs. Her life revolved around hatching eggs and chicks. Whenever she saw chicks, she immediately adopted them. It was also the same with eggs. A clutch of warm eggs were irresistible to her as she carefully rolled one after another underneath her small breast.

Solitaire with Chicks

Solitaire for most of her life (6 years) lived with a flock of Japanese bantams. Our Japanese bantams go broody at the drop of a hat and they also sit on eggs as a mothers co-operative. Several hens sit on a clutch of eggs together, they take it in turns to go out of the coop to drink and feed. When the eggs hatch and the chicks are ready to go outside into the run, all of the several mothers escort the youngsters outside. Solitaire was always in the scrum ready to do her bit.


She died a week ago, sadly from some sort of cancer. At first we thought she had Mycoplasma and treated her with antibiotics to no effect sadly. We put her out of her misery once we realised it was the end. Most of our birds are incinerated when they die, but with Solitaire it was different, we buried her in the garden to remind ourselves of her unique personality and how we miss her presence. She gave us a lot of joy, and will be greatly missed. Fly high little one, you will be in our hearts forever.

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Individual Personality Traits

Chickens are very sociable, having friends and enemies, show self-awareness, can memorise over one hundred faces, can count and what’s more express emotions like grief, fear, anxiety, frustration, friendship and boredom.

Don’t you just love the many personality traits of your birds, that’s both the good and the bad. I like the way some individuals are always on the lookout for new food opportunities. Apart from their layers pellets and layers mash, the birds also get a seed treat later in the day, which makes sure they all not only go to bed with a full crop, but also with a good burning fire inside, especially in the winter months. Then there is the seed tray near the house which is nearly always present for ad lib munches throughout the day (pigeons permitting).

Rosie - Do you remember 'Chicken in the Basket?

Some individuals however, want to venture into the garage, and then if our attention is elsewhere, into the house. Rosie makes it her business to take advantage of any distraction on our part. When spotted she is a past master at avoiding capture, by either hiding behind things, or making a run for it into the house. Rosie, it should be explained is a Hamburgh bantam, being small is a distinct advantage in this particular game. We have found her on top of one of the kitchen work surfaces helping herself to porridge (not ours luckily, but the hens) or more often these days, helping herself to either Molly’s or Oliver’s (our cats) leftover food, which she manages to polish off in seconds. So as you can see, some of our hens need close observation.

Rufus one of our Brahma cockerels (now sadly not with us) enjoyed the attention of the more outgoing brown hens. The video below illustrates the great affection he was held in by some of the birds he shared a coop with. It’s moments like these that makes keeping hens so rewarding.

He just loved being hand fed, so at feed time he would seek me out to have that personal attention he so craved.

Another rooster by the name of Smokey is a Gold Laced Wyandotte bantam, he’s one of our favourite birds. Apart from his stunning good looks, he has a crow like no other. Not in the least bit harsh, it strikes a perfect note.

Smokey is around 5 years old now. He was boss of one of the bantam coops, alas recent new blood has ousted him from that perch, now he prefers the quiet life in his autumn years and now can be found in the brown layers coop. At one time, 3 years ago, he was always with one of the Brahma flocks, following them everywhere, we ended up thinking he was their mascot.

Solitaire with some Silkie and Japanese bantam chicks

I can’t end without mentioning our lovely little Belgium bantam, Solitaire (yet again). Every year she saves the day by acting as surrogate mother. Over the years she must have raised over 50 odd chicks and her devotion to them is without equal. Show Solitaire eggs or chicks and she is on them in a flash. If you look closely, you might just be able to make out her gorgeous whiskers. I guess this is her vocation in life. She is quite elderly now, when she finally hands in her dinner pail, boy are we going to miss her.

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Spring Fever

Wing Protector Saddle
modeled by one of our Brahma girls

As far as our birds are concerned spring has sprung! Our males are jumping on almost anything that moves, so jackets (saddles) are essential on certain favourite girls. The saddles we are currently using come from the United States. They do take longer to arrive once ordered, but they are handmade, high quality and come in a variety of patterns and colours. Best of all they are half the price of those available in the UK. Go to this page to see them.

With mating hormones pumping through all the males at the moment, we do of course have to put up with fights. The worst offenders by far are the bantams.

A blood covered male bantam

Needless to say we don’t leave them in a bloody state. They receive a full body wash followed by a hair dryer, which they absolutely love. Once they get over the initial shock of a hair dryer, they start to droop and doze off, some even turn their heads to one side to allow the warm air to rush over them.

Some of the boys are persistent offenders in the fighting stakes. We keep a special eye of these. When we see two males facing up to each other, a raised voice is often enough to get them to part, followed by another raised voice with a finger pointing at them. Strangely, our geese don’t seem to like chicken fights near them and will often run at the pair, causing them to part rather quickly. Our guinea fowl also hate fights in their vicinity and will charge at them to great effect.

As befits spring, we have to date raised some Japanese bantams, Vorwerks (a German breed, who share their name with vacuum cleaner apparently) and a small number of large fowl Silkies. All these eggs were hatched with a modern automatic incubator. We then had to find them a brooder. As the Vorwerk chicks were under our only heat lamps, we had to find a suitable broody hen to act as a foster mum, then there would be no need for artificial heat. At this time of year there isn’t any trouble in finding broody hens, we are almost tripping over them.

Solitaire and her adopted chicks

After trying several, the last one of which decided these chicks were definitely not for her and to underline the point she flew out of the brooder and tried to escape by flying hard against the workshop window. Finally, Solitaire came to our rescue. Solitaire is Belgium bantam and who’s whole existence centers on sitting on eggs or brooding chicks. I fetched her up from the Japanese bantam coop (her current home) and showed her the chicks. It was almost as if someone had flicked a switch, she almost immediately started to make that familiar clucking sound, so we put her down near the chicks and she gathered them up.

Returning to our new poultry saddles. The birds themselves clearly think these new ones are ‘the bees knees’. One look at our white Brahma below shows how jealous her neighbours are of such stylish apparel!

Chic Fashion

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Chickens & Rats

Our Target

Chickens and rats always seem to go together, where there are hens for any length of time rats are sure to be. It’s the prospect of free food that is the magnet.

Where you store the feed is important. All feed should be in rat proof containers. Ours are stout plastic bins, which so far have kept the rats at bay. Metal containers are probably better, but more expensive. That’s not to say rats are not a problem, they are. They have become quite a headache in fact. Not content in eating the remains of feed scattered outside, they decided to try and get at the source. To this end they have gnawed a sizable hole in the side of the wooden shed to gain access to hen central.

Rat hole in Shed

In the process of feeding your birds some feed is always spilled and rats take advantage of that. The number of our birds has increased of late, aided by a number of unplanned pregnancies earlier this year. I can recall at least four occasions when I have suddenly come across a mother with her new chicks, all wanting shelter and food. At present we must have getting on for 200, that’s a lot of birds who all need food. So from the rat’s viewpoint it’s the place to be. You can’t go wrong, food remains where ever you look.

We have been doing our best to reduce our rat population, using various methods with mixed results. Having two cats helps a little. Molly (the bird professional) and Oliver (the rodent expert) are brother and sister. Oliver is the one who has made his mark with the rats. During a single week recently he managed to kill a sizable rat and two weasels. All were left at or near our front door, kind of him!


Our other line of attack have been with traps. We decided a while back that using poisoned pellets was not an option, too indiscriminate, a danger to wildlife, our birds and cats. To start with we used an electronic rat trap, this has been the only method that has worked. This was placed right against the gaping hole in the shed. We caught quite a number (adults as well as youngsters) during this past summer. Our handyman takes the corpses for his pet owl, who is very grateful I’m sure.

As we entered autumn and then winter the trap stopped catching. Wrongly, we left it there in the vain hope we would eventually start catching them again. What we didn’t know was the trap had been rendered useless. After close examination, we found it had stopped working some time back. The batteries had lost any charge some time ago and as a result, the rats it did attract had peed on it and eaten through wiring. So we’ve now ordered another different model.

Victor M240 Electronic Rat Trap

In the mean time we have been liberally placed spring traps in various place in the shed and elsewhere. Also spring traps inside plastic tunnels scattered around outside. When using spring traps make sure they out of the way of wildlife and domestic pets. For baiting spring traps, we use peanut butter, cheese and occasionally meat of some sort. However, the results so far has been nothing, well apart from a single weasel. Weasels whilst being a real threat to chickens, also eat rats. So we are basically hanging on for the new electronic trap to arrive.

Quite apart from the hole in the shed, the rats has also been nibbling some of the chicken housing. We have a few very small coops with wooden sliding pop hole doors. On three coops they have eaten part of the doors, leaving a significant gap through which they and probably weasels could get through. We have had to fix metal plates on the outside of these doors to plug the gaps and also to stop any more damage to the all important sliding doors.

It’s easy to forget the danger rats pose to the birds themselves. They will take small chicks. even nibble chickens legs and feet. Rats making a comfortable nest in a corner of a coop (INSIDE!) is an experience some hen keepers have had. The thought makes me shudder!

Rat hole bottom of Brahma coop

We can see rat holes and runs all over the place, far more than previously, so our rat problem is in danger of spiralling out of control. The prospect of rats ruling the roost is one we cannot allow, so we’ve go to get to grips with the problem and soon.

Rats are intelligent creatures, they know their surroundings well, so well that they will notice any changes immediately. This poses a problem when setting traps and other devices. It will usually take a while (weeks) before they get used to seeing them in their environment. So catching or killing rats is a time consuming business requiring patience and above all, determination.

We will report back on our success or otherwise soon, so watch this space.

Update April 2015

The traps eventually caught several young rats, but one of our cats caught two large adults. The adult females are the ones we need to catch. Breeding females come with a bounty on their heads.

Further Update August 2015

We decided our rat problem was on a scale that needed professional help. So we engaged the services of Graham Pest Control based in Blairgowrie. Having had 3 visits now by George, who has set baited traps around the place and placed trays of baited wheat underground in rat burrows, we have noticed all the daytime sightings of rats are no more. I have also found 2 bodies outside which I quickly incinerated. So there is hope at the end of the tunnel. This will of course not eliminate the problem, but rather get it down to manageable proportions. It should be pointed out that George was very careful where the poison bait was placed taking into account the hens, our cats and the local wildlife.

Further Update February 2019

Our professional pest control people finally got on top of the original problem. In 2018 the rats returned with a vengence, partly due to one of our neighbours renovating some old byres. Our guess was that a large number of rats fled the byres only to find rat heaven just next door! Their main requirements, food and water, were here in abundance. The rats presence was obvious at night, the numbers were staggering and they became quite brazen, holding what we can only describe as ‘parties’s in front of our eyes. Their appearance also coincided with the installation of new housing for our birds, it soon became clear that the new coops were being chewed by the rats and something had to be done and quick if we were to avoid a disaster. To start with we used a home remedy which is not harmful to pets, wildlife or our hens. This remedy whilst not harmful is actually illegal, so if you want to know what the recipe is you will have to .

The home remedy went on for some weeks and was quite successful, the number of rats in the evening were much reduced, however we could still hear them squealing. After seeing yet more damage to the new coops I decided to use poison bait applied directly down open rat holes. I had to make sure that the chosen holes were not in the open runs, but down the sides of coops where hens could not go. After each application I covered the holes with plenty of soil and kept an eye on them each day, just to make sure that the holes were not open again and that they were not dug up. So far we have seem to have wiped them out, but time will tell.

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Slaughter of the Innocents

Today Thursday 13th November, 2014 has been a day I’d rather forget! We left the house for only a brief spell and returned to total carnage.

It was time to scrub and refill the hens drinkers, all 18 or so. I started with the usual small drinkers for the bantams, when I suddenly came across a lot of feathers in a corner near a small coop. I deduced it was a couple of Wyandotte bantams that must of had a scrap. I was walking behind the shed and up to the path leading to the Silkie run and their drinker when I came across a little Hamburgh bantam male who was lying on the grass path dead. Now what on earth has happened here I thought!

Wyandottes, Hamburgh (middle) & White Leghorn

Little did I know this was just the beginning of a very traumatic trail of bodies. Having discovered the bantam Hamburgh male, I then discovered one of our young Gold Brahma males dead. He was lying with his head inside a large tuft of grass, he obviously was doing his best to hide during the attack. This was getting serious. I then discovered several Lohmann Brown girls dead under some of our trees. Oh no, what predator can this be? It was all a bit overwhelming and I needed some assistance to patrol all the land and quickly. The chances are that some are still alive but badly injured and needing help. I approached a couple of near neighbours and thank goodness they came forward to assist. It wasn’t long before they too discovered bodies, a female Brahma, a little Wyandotte bantam girl, a female White Leghorn who was discovered in a neighbouring croft trying to run away, it was becoming a nightmare.

In total we had 14 dead and 7 badly injured. Just about all of them had quite wide teeth marks on their lower end and across their backs. This suggested a dog or perhaps an otter. Otters have been known to butcher entire hen houses of birds. One of our neighbours said they had seen a spaniel trying to get over one of our fences, but thought we were around so we must have seen it.

Gold Brahma (left) & Lohmann Browns

The notable thing about the whole massacre was that all the bodies were still around. No sign of attempts to drag any body away for a meal, so it slowly became a clear that the spaniel seen earlier by a neighbour was probably the culprit. It turned out that the dog in question was owned by another near neighbour and had a track record of invading gardens and even houses in the area.

The injured birds were all in a deep state of shock, we did our best to comfort them and quickly gave them all a spray of antibiotic. We needed some systemic antibiotic from our vet to inject the birds with. With only the two of us treating the injured, one of our neighbours offered to pick up the antibiotic from the vet for us. Most of the injured birds were still in deep shock as the day ends. The next day two of the injured birds were cause for concern. A Brahma female who’s two female companions were killed, was showing no signs of interest in either food or water. Also, a little female Wyandotte bantam female seemed to have lost the use of her legs and was unable to stand at all.

A miserable end!

Some of our birds that met this awful, frightening end to their lives had a lot invested in them. The Brahma male was hatched by us and nurtured whilst a chick and then a grower. In other words lots of time are spent bringing them on, including special feed. To use the example of the Brahma again, Brahmas take two years to fully mature, so you can see it’s a long process from egg to a mature bird. To loose one in this fashion is not only heart breaking it’s costly as well.

Other birds of ours that died that day were Silver Pencilled Hamburghs. These are not easy to find anywhere. Whilst not actually on the rare breeds list, they are comparatively rare and are an old breed developed in Holland and Germany prior to 1700. Obtaining suitable eggs for incubation is time consuming and not always possible.

I’m so upset that on the once occasion they needed me I wasn’t there. All our birds know me by sight and especially the sound of my voice. To think in their panic they probably expected me to come rushing over to rescue them and no help came, that really is very upsetting.

Silver Pencilled Hamburghs with chicks

All dogs need to be on a lead when outside, it’s common sense. Dogs worrying sheep with lambs is one problem crofters here still have to deal with each spring, despite all the signs put up. Amazingly some dog owners still allow their dog to roam freely, causing mayhem where ever they go. Dog owners then create when their beloved pet is shot. I’m only sorry neither of us have a gun licence!

Just to add to our woes, a male Hamburgh bantam who had not been too well for a while, suddenly took a turn for the worst and was loosing his balance and flopping all over the place. The symptoms now were clear, another Marek’s victim. The Hamburgh bantams are unfortunately particularly susceptible to this disease. He was put to sleep promptly.

All in all a very tough day. We were away for less than an hour and in that short time a rampage by a small dog turned everything upside down!

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