Sunday, 16 October 2016

Autumn chores

We are having tremendous fun, preparing for winter, the hens and I. The henhouse (read the whole stable) is being turned into a hen playground. New climbing frames, a basket and wooden box filled with hay as resting places, the big sand box is back in one corner and the stable sofa is looking for a good spot. The only space in the stable that we are not re-arranging is the sheep pen.

As my constant worry has been the amount of dust created by flying hens, the sawdust had to go from the hen's loose boxes. Hemp has been my first choice as a replacement bedding. Eric had chopped hemp fiber in his new home and it looked really good. It's quite a chunky fiber and I think it will be good once our small birds have grown up a bit. They like to make sleeping holes in the sawdust and I fear they would need small spades to dig down into the hemp bedding. I might be wrong and I should have asked dear Eric for a digging demonstration. (Small spades dotted around the henhouse would look adorable, but maybe not....)

So we tested linen fiber instead. Linen is called flax in America, just to confuse the matter... It comes in smallish bales and when tipped out it smells heavenly. It looked like someone had gone berserk with a pair of scissors, chopping up linen stems. It was not as thick as chopped up hay stems but it still felt like small needles, when walked on, barefooted. The funny thing was that it was so slippery that it was like walking on ice. I could just picture our hens gliding around, bumping into things and breaking their legs. Plus the small sticks would make them itchy...

So we mixed the linen with a bale of peat and that seemed to work. The slightly damp peat softened the texture of the linen sticks and made the base firm enough to stay put. The smell of it all was not as fresh as sawdust but not as boggy as peat on its own would have been. My concern is that we should not support the peat industry at all but dusty lungs are not good either.

The hens loved their new bedding. First they tried eating it all, as hens seem to do with most things. The linen must have been tasty but after a few beak full’s of peat, they stopped munching away. Then they started digging in it and that worked well. Little Ulla made small sleeping nests in it for her naps and Matti just tried to turn it all, for some reason. So far it has not been very dusty but that can be because the peat is not yet completely dry.

The only downside with our new bedding is the colour. Peat is dark brown and our mix makes it glow with beautiful silver sticks. I clean out all the mess in the mornings and now I look like a very tired mole, trying to find small hen droppings, amongst all this. It takes forever and I will be as cross-eyed as a worried sheep, come spring. But it will be worth it, if it's less dusty for the animals...

Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My are now so fluffy that they look like wooly clouds. Mindy has taken on the look of a polar bear, floating about and Mandy is not letting me brush her coat at all and looks grim. I'm allowed to brush her head and clean her eyes but that's all. This makes her look like her body belongs to someone else. It's looks very peculiar and I'm dreading what we'll find, come shearing time. Probably a family of squirrels and some trolls.... Dear Mandy has always had a sensitive skin so it must hurt, when the brush struggles through all that wool. I might have to try feeding her some treats in between the brush strokes. Anything to make her look a bit less like the creature from the deepest forest, come to visit.

Between Mandy looking grim, Monty still looking for some of his new feathers, Henrika missing all her tail feathers and me wearing my new, slightly too big woolly hat, we are not making a pretty picture. Add dear Katie, with her still slightly crooked neck and we are ready to be taken on by the Samaritans... My dear husband looks a bit alarmed when he sees us all but he seems to be built of stronger stuff than this. We can only hope...

Molting season in a henhouse makes everyone look a bit scruffy but we are getting there. I can't blame anyone else for my hat, as I made it myself but at least it's very warm. And good looks are not everything, says Monty, although that tune will change once he finds his last, new feathers. Then he will be off chasing the hens again and the quiet time is over, in the village.

The sun is still warm, if you find a sheltered spot. I have my coffee outside in the afternoon, sitting on the lawn. It takes our sheep about five minutes to locate me and that means four soft noses trying to get into my coffee cup. They are convinced that I am hiding treats amongst the coffee. Molly then hangs around my feet, literally, munching away while the others give up and graze a bit further away. When I get up to go, there is a pattern of two Crocs shoes on the lawn. No posh café can beat that for fun! (Molly knows I have dry bread in my jacket pocket so by hanging around, she gets bread first). I love our funny, odd-looking sheep...

We have a huge house-fly buzzing around the house. I just learned that they live between 15-25 days. They taste the food with their feet and as they can only eat liquids, they spit or vomit on whatever they tend to eat. Oh goody!

Have a fly free week, all of you. 

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