Chicken crazy with Martin Gurdon

Wonky and Heseltina

Wonky and Heseltina - Credit: Archant

What a busy month! It’s all going on with Martin’s flock

It’s been a busy month involving sickness, death, a possible coming out of retirement and a trial separation.

Let’s get the sad stuff out of the way first. We now have two hybrids rather than three, as Bea, physically the healthiest looking of the trio of birds we were given in the spring, suddenly started looking peaky and sank fast.

Along with everyone else, she’d stopped laying eggs but hadn’t actually got round to moulting and growing new feathers, which tends to be the precursor to fresh egg production. One day she spent most of her time under a bush, didn’t bother to turn up for supper and offered little resistance when I scooped her up and put her in a hospital cat box. Normally a greedy animal, she turned up her beak at sweetcorn and raisins, so I knew things were serious. The next morning I took the now wretched looking bird to the vet who agreed and we had her dispatched.

A diagnosis wasn’t offered, but my suspicion was egg peritonitis, which would have meant an egg-laying attempt, and the egg breaking inside her system with poisonous results. It’s a pattern I’ve seen before, and hybrids, who are prodigious layers, seem quite prone to this. Fourteen days on, nobody else is ailing, which makes me think this is the most likely explanation.

A regular performer

On the egg laying front after a barren few weeks we’re starting to see one or two a day, with Collider the Marans a regular performer. I was also very surprised to see Slasher the Araucana clamped to the nest a few days ago. Never a great layer, she hasn’t produced an egg for a very long time and is now heading for her ninth year. A few hours later I found a neat egg that was the right shape, but pale off white rather than the blue/green that is a signature of Araucana eggs. Either the bird was faking it, and this was someone else’s egg, or the colouration goes from Araucana eggs when the layer gets very old.

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Finally we come to Hestletina the Polish crested bantam, who had some egg binding problems earlier in the year but now seems to be in good health. However, she’d taken to hiding all day in the chicken run she shares with Wonky, a cockerel with a demanding libido and a crude seduction technique.

To give her a break I erected a large metal dog crate under our pear tree, added food and water and inserted the bird into this bijou playpen. She seemed to enjoy it, making happy noises, scratching and eating, something that was repeated the following day, but on day three she successfully evaded capture and has since spent a lot more time outdoors with Wonky, even helping him preen. Frankly, it’s more than the filthy brute deserves.