Thursday, August 30

G is for...Gizzard and Gravid.

G is for Gizzard. Following on with my ABC of life with the Nesbitt chickens we come to G!
Some technical information today!

A Gizzard is a compartment in the chicken's digestive system that grinds up food. It is lined with keratin and uses small stones (grit) to break the food down to smaller pieces.
Many other birds have this same organ.

The digestive process is as follows…
The beak moistens food with Saliva.
Food is not chewed. The oesophagus takes the food down to the crop to be stored.
After a chicken has eaten, the crop will feel full and bulge. Food from the crop slowly passes down to the proventriculus. The proventriculus mixes the food with acids and digestive enzymes. Food is then passed through to the gizzard where insoluble (flint) grit has accumulated.

 ( As our hens are free-range and allowed to forage wherever they please - they have sufficient grit in their natural diet. From time to time I add some grit but this is rare).

Food is ground down by strong muscular action in the gizzard. From the gizzard, food is passed through to the small intestine and is reduced further with enzymes from the pancreas. Bile produced by the liver and stored in the gall bladder helps to break down fat. The intestines digest the food, taking nutrients from it. Water and the remaining undigested food is absorbed in the large intestine.

 The caeca are a pair of tubes that allow fermentation of undigested food to take place. This is emptied every 24 hours or so and is a light brown (mustard colour) froth. This can often be confused as diarrhoea by the novice. The cloaca / vent passes a combination of faeces and urine, together with eggs from the oviduct. This is the only rear orifice chickens have. The name cloacae means "common sewer". Eggs travel through here to exit the body. Sperm enters here, and urine and faeces also exit the body through that pathway, hence the name.(Sorry were you eating?)

Gravid, A bird that is about to lay an egg is called "gravid," just like a woman who is about to give birth.
A female chick is hatched with one functioning ovary and all of the eggs (as in female gametes, not shelled eggs), that she will ever have.

Once she is sexually mature, she will lay one shelled egg about every 24 hours during each laying cycle.
A laying cycle lasts about 21 days.
The female gametes are called follicles. A number of them will develop at a time; the largest will get fertilized if sperm are present.

This large follicle is the egg yolk; it is intended to be nourishment for a developing embryo, and is referred to as a yolk sac. Whether fertilized or not this yolk sac passes through a series of organs to become a shelled egg.

 Its first stop is an organ called the infindibulum, wherein that sticky membrane surrounding the yolk sac (called the chalazae) is deposited. This takes about 15 minutes.
 The next stop is an organ called the magnum, where the albumin, or egg white, is formed; this takes about 3 hours.
Next it goes to an organ called the isthmus, where shell membranes are formed; this takes about one hour.
The last stop is the uterus, or "shell gland," and this is where the shell is deposited and becomes mineralized. This last step takes the most time, about 20 hours.

Then the egg is then ready to be laid.

Fascinating eh? Now you know.

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Sunday, August 26

Keeping Fit-the nice way!

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I really do not enjoy going to the gym! Why exercise in a stuffy room when we have such as this on our doorstep! Home to Danby Beacon and back - 11 miles! Now that's the way for me! Oh and I did have good company too!

Tuesday, August 21

F is for Food & Feeding (Chicken stuff)

Continuing my saga of ABC with the chickens in the Nesbitt household!

Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Breakfast for the chickens. A mixture of mixed chicken corn, porridge and white long - grained rice.

There are some who say chicken food should have XX% of this and XX% of that, but only on a Friday in August etc, but I tend to go down the route of a 'base' proper feed (mixed corn) and anything else they would like, because if they don't want it - they won't eat it!

 In the early 50's, a left over of WW2 where 'self sufficiency' was just a way of life and not an alternative like it is today, rationing was still going and the open market amongst neighbours was a terrific 'local economy' in it's own right. My grandparents wouldn't have a clue about XX% of vitamin X. They fed the chickens with what they had and that was usually a mixture of corn and left overs - potato and other peels boiled up and thrown in the Pen.

The chickens were happy and they laid eggs!

 hat's the thing really, which I know from my own experience of getting my first hens, putting them in a hen house built by Jon and then wondering what the heck I do next ? Will they starve? will they die?, are they too hot, cold etc. The list goes on. But after a while you realise they are pretty good about anything you do and you'll soon know from lack of eggs or general health that it maybe (maybe) something to do with you.

There are basically two types of feed; 1. Mixed Corn, probably the most essential and 2. Layers Pellets. Before we continue - Layers Mash is the same as Pellets but crushed up into a powder and especially easier for very young chickens. There are also Layers 'Crumbles' which is a kind of halfway house, but my local Farm Supply Merchants don't sell it, so I assume there isn't much of a market for them. So it's a bit the same as a baby growing up Mash to Crumble to Pellets.

In the mornings I feed them what amounts to about a handful each and in the afternoons, about the same. Teatime is treat time – egg noodles, rice noodles, spaghetti etc. You should bear in mind though that mine are in a large open area in which they can scratch around and find their own bit and pieces.

During the summer I have the benefit of the Kitchen left overs  and they are spoilt on almost a daily basis with jacket potato's, bread, sandwiches (not meat) etc. In the winter we boil up all our left overs and peels and this goes in as well. The only other thing is grit. This can be purchased in Farm Suppliers, maybe good garden centres. I also use the shells of the eggs I’ve used in the kitchen and roast them til they're nice and crunchy brown, then crunch them up into a grit like condition. This is a common and known method and is not scorned upon.

 Our chickens are not fond of greens – this is probably because they have such a large area of grass to please them. Over the past few nights we have made the most of the weather and have been having BBQ’s. We see the hens searching the grass for insects and the like – often until dusk when they will make their way to bed. When we do feed them it is always interesting to watch them eat all the sunflower seeds first!

Whatever we feed them, nothing beats the tranquility of sitting in the garden and watching them eat away!
Happy Hens!

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Tuesday, August 14

E is for Eva

In my ABC theme - life with the Nesbitt chickens, E could be for Eggs - but I have a plan as I think Y will be more difficult and I have discovered some amazing information about the Yolks of eggs - so I will save that idea for Y! E could be for Ernest, the cockerel but I feel I gave him his share of the public glory when I wrote in C for cockerel, 

 The E has GOT to go to Eva.

Eva would live with us if she could. Often when I open the door she is there, waiting and ready to jump into the kitchen - in fact she has been known to make it to the snug, where she was happy to perch on the settee!

As explained in previous posts, we name our pets for significant reasons, usually after somebody we know, ie our pets all have human names. In the case of Eva, she is named after Jon's Aunt Eva but has also taken on the personality of the 50's singer 'Little Eva'.

Eva -  quick to jump into the kitchen and let others know where the action is!

Always under the garden seats looking for food.


Eva - loves a nibble of anything going!


Eva - loves a cuddle!
(Please note my hair has been rescued and tamed since this photograph was taken)

I guess it shows that Eva is my favourite chicken!

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Sunday, August 12

Before and After.

Continuing with sorting out our house - we turned our attention to the driveway. We desperately needed some new garage doors due to years of my reversing talents (ahem). Once again we turned to Farrow & Ball for inspiration, choosing Pitch Blue. We are thrilled with the reults!

Monday, August 6

D is for....Dustbath(and Drama and Drenched!)

Continuing with my ABC based on our chickens - D is for the dustbaths they enjoy so much! Here is a short video I recorded way back in the days when summer meant sunshine! The distinct sounds of their contentment are quite clear.

 Chickens don’t bath their bodies with water the way humans do, they use soil to clean their plumage (feathers) and this form of bathing is very vital to their health. Chickens really enjoy taking a dust bath to clean their feathers and help with mites and other parasites that like to feast on chicken and sap their energy.

Dustbaths help remove excess oil from the chickens feathers. Dusting is also a method chickens use to cool off when it’s hot.

Whilst our chickens have a variety of places they enjoy dustbaths - mostly in the hedge or in a patchy area in the neighbouring field, another good source for a dust bath to help control lice and mites is wood ash from our Rayburn. Wood charcoal can very beneficial and an important supplement for our chickens. Charcoal has the capabilities to absorb toxins and is capable of absorbing up to two hundred times its own weight. Extensive research suggests that animals consume it for its medicinal, toxin-binding properties. The charcoal is also a laxative and so then can work twofold and move the impurities it absorbs out of the body. If worms or worm ova are present, it can to some degree help move them out of the body as well.
Our chickens also from time to time are seen eating the wood ash as well as charcoal. Wood ash is highly soluble in vitamin K, followed by calcium and magnesium. Vitamin K is useful for blood clotting in poultry. Wood ash has a very nice texture to aid in dust bathing and adding it to our chickens dust bath to eat and dust in must give our chickens a double-benefit!

(For more ABC fun follow the link in my sidebar.)

It is also a treble offering for D's this week following our motorbike adventure on Sunday.
The weather forecast (why do we listen?) stated that the better weather would be over towards the Lakes and not too good here on the North East Coast! Like utter fools we decided to have a little tootle over to the Lakes. The weather was LOVELY here, but we feared this would change. We packed a picnic and headed over towards the Lakes.
As we made our way along the A66 we noticed the BLACK sky above the area we were heading, even lightning at one point, so we changed route and headed along to Hawes. Whilst we had stopped for our picnic we had put on our waterproofs, it was so lovely at Hawes, we removed our waterproofs and packed them away. After a cup of tea we set off for home - normally about an hour. Just outside Hawes we came to our first road hold-up. This is how the North Air Ambulance reported the incident.

"Yesterday afternoon we airlifted a 65-year-old motorcyclist near Bainbridge in Wensleydale, North Yorkshire. The man had collided with a car and sustained a severe leg injury. Our doctor and paramedic team worked closely with a Yorkshire Ambulance Service road crew on scene. The man was then taken to James Cook University Hospital in Middlesbrough, a journey which took just 15 minutes. We wish him a speedy recovery."

Having stopped and enquired that there was nothing we  could do, we continued along our route. It soon became obvious we had misjudged the waterproofs situation. We pulled up and dragged on our jackets and over-trousers - not easy in the rain. Once again we set off and in a matter of minutes we came across floods! We made our way through the huge puddles across the roads and just when we thought that we were managing, an idiot in a large 4x4 thought it was hilarious to overtake us at speed, midst the flood sending a torrent of gushing water over both us and our motorbike! (We did report him to the police!) Jon managed to remain in control of the situation and would you believe we then came across SNOW!
The conditions were reported here in the local press.

Again, Jon's experience and skill ensured we made it home, but what a DAY!