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Journey to a smallholding

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March 2018

DEFRA and Bird Flu

On Monday morning we found some of our chickens dead in their coop. Others looked sick.

Upset, panicked and concerned, I phoned my vet. They told me to call DEFRA and report it. Terrifying.

The vet on the phone at DEFRA was very helpful. After asking an awful lot of questions, he sent field vets out immediately.

I was really worried. What if I had bird flu? What if I’ve caused this and they say I can’t keep animals anymore (complete overreaction I know!), what if they take all of my girls away? My mind was whirring with all sorts of worry. When the DEFRA vets turned up and started putting their space suits on I didn’t feel any calmer!

They were here for hours. They did full autopsies on the dead chickens. They did visual and medical checks on the sick ones. Throughout this time, they were really friendly, kind and incredibly patient, answering all my silly panicked questions.

Thankfully, it wasn’t bird flu. It’s mycoplasma. Possibly brought in by my new chickens. The remaining chickens are being treated by my vet and should recover.

The idea of having to deal with DEFRA is terrifying. It’s serious and means trouble. Or at least that’s what I’d thought before I’d ever dealt with them.

In reality, they were helpful and kind and reacted so swiftly and professionally that they could really teach our NHS a few things!! If I had to contact them again in the future, I wouldn’t be so worried. It turns out that they’re one of the good guys.

As for my girls, it’s still early days in treatment, but I have all of my fingers and toes crossed that they’ll make a full and speedy recovery.

If you need any information on bird flu, visit https://www.gov.uk/guidance/avian-influenza-bird-flu

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Blue skies, warm sunshine and new chickens. What a difference a few days makes.

I write this while sitting on a bale of straw in the chicken coop, watching my girls (old and new) sunbathing.

The sky is bright blue and the sun feels warm on the skin. Only a few days ago we were deep in snow. What a difference!

We bought four new chickens on Sunday to keep our remaining two girls company. There’s been lots of establishing the pecking order since then, but today the sun has brought a truce like Christmas in the trenches! Everyone has decided to get along and bathe in the glorious sunshine.

Our new girls are from Burcombe’s Poultry near Bath and I have to say what a lovely place that is. We already can’t wait to go back and get more, and possibly ducks too, in the summer. I’m also more than slightly jealous as his farm set up was my dream.

Today, the new girls are getting more confident around me, which is nice. As I sit here typing, one of them is sat on the bale next to me, happy as long as I don’t move too much. I also have one sunbathing by my foot. One is snoring. I can’t help but smile.

This is the most content I have felt in a long time. I think this might be my happy place. Covered in dust and chicken poo, sat on straw, in the sun.

3 years ago I would have never imagined this. Now I can’t imagine not doing this. I am officially crazy chicken lady. Funny how time changes you.

Storm Emma hits Bridport

On Thursday Storm Emma hit the UK and for the first time in many years, Bridport had serious snow.

Although forecast, we didn’t really think we’d get any. Bridport is in its own microclimate and at only a mile from the sea, we never get snow.

On Thursday morning we woke to no snow, and thought we’d missed out as usual. By lunch time it hit us hard.

I checked on the chickens as soon as it started to snow heavily, and unfortunately found Ginger in a ball in a dust bath, frozen and covered in snow. The other two were fine, sheltering in their house.

I instantly scooped her up, snuggled her in my arms in my hoody, hoping my body warmth would warm her. I stood there for a long time, sheltered in the run, freezing, trying to warm her.

After a while she was perkier, but when I put her down she fell over. I couldn’t leave her like that. So I made a straw nest in a box and brought her in the house to warm next to the radiator. During the evening she seemed warmer and a little better, but it wasn’t looking good.

Meanwhile, we covered the hen house in sheets and added lots of straw inside to keep the other two warm. We topped up their drinkers with warm water every hour and gave them corn to warm them up.

Ginger stayed in all night in the spare room, which certainly intrigued the cat! We checked on her regularly (including the very curious cat) and put a little dinner kit of pellets, corn and water in the box with her, but unfortunately she died in the night.

I’m gutted, but at least I know we did all we could for her. When the ground defrosts, she’ll be buried with Violet and Snowball. Although my husband says we can’t bury every chicken in the garden, she was one of the originals, so I feel it’s right to do.

Today the snow is deep and frozen on the top. Impossible to walk on and checking the chickens every hour has been treacherous. We both fell over in the snow in our pyjamas at 7am this morning when letting them out of their house. Hilarious and painful at the same time.

We haven’t had to deal with animals in the snow before. Bridport never has snow. But this has made me realise how tough having animals can be. What could have been a fun couple of ‘snow days’ was hard, worrying and constant work.

I say that because as well as the chickens, the cat has been a pain too. He was out when it starting snowing heavily and we panicked. We ended up walking round in a blizzard calling his name until eventually he came back. Then confined to the house, he got bored, scratchy and shouty. This morning he clearly needed the loo, but when we we opened the door he refused to go out. He also refused to use the litter tray.

Eventually, we carried him out to the garden to supervise a loo break, but bless him, the snow was frozen over and he couldn’t even stay on his feet. Hilarious to watch, but impossible for him! So we brought him back in and eventually he gave in to the litter tray. He had a look of humiliation on his sorry face, whereas we were relieved.

Having animals is a huge responsibility. Something people shouldn’t take lightly. There are great times, funny times, and very sad times to be had when keeping animals. Nothing is easy, but it can be very rewarding.

Tonight the snow is still deep, so we’ll see what adventure tomorrow brings. In the meantime, rest in peace Ginger. Goodnight girl.

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