When Your Cat Has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 2

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Tuesday 5th February 2015, we started on our journey from Manchester to The Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) in Liverpool, full of hope that our much loved Phoebe cat would be cured from cancer.

What a day to be snowing!  Already stressed by the whole situation, and feeling bad that Phoebe couldn’t have breakfast as she will be having anaesthetic later, we looked hopelessly on as the traffic crawled through the thickening snow.  Phoebe meowed angrily at the back from her carrier as I checked my watch constantly.  Our appointment was at 9am – we had set off at 7.45am and didn’t hit the motorway till 9am!

Afraid that we would lose our appointment I phoned the hospital, who were brilliant.  They assured us they would still see us.  Relief didn’t even come close!

I was in awe when I saw the hospital, firstly because I’d recognised it from the Animal Hospital TV series.  Entering through sliding automatic doors, there was a large waiting room with separate seating areas and a friendly sympathetic reception.  Water available for pets, vending machine for humans – it was a veterinary heaven, and a wonderful establishment, if only we didn’t have to be there in the first place!

After checking in at the desk and filling out forms, we were taken to one of several consultation rooms by a lovely lady called Ana Rita who asked about Phoebe’s health from being a kitten to present and then examined her.  Both Bart and Phoebe are incredibly well socialised cats and although they are not crazy about being at the vets, they tolerate all the necessary groping with no grumbling whatsoever.  Which makes them very popular clients!

Phoebe was to stay overnight where she would have various tests, including ultrasound to investigate the cancer in her stomach and radiographs and samples to be taken by needle to check if the cancer had spread.  As it turned out Phoebe ended up staying 2 nights due to waiting for tests to be performed.  We missed her and so did Bart, who wandered around the house calling for her.

When we picked her up we were like eager children.  Phoebe has a B cell lymphoma affecting the stomach wall.  The good news was that the cancer hadn’t appeared to have spread although there was a possibility that some microscopic spread of the disease may not have presented itself yet.  More results were pending but we were to return in a week to see the full story and discuss treatment.  Phoebe hadn’t eaten particularly well while she was at the hospital and she mewed all the way home.  She went mad for her poached fish that I had prepared for a treat and Bart was suitably happy again.  So for the time being, we were grateful for every bit of good news we had and enjoyed having Phoebe home.

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Brotherly/sisterly love 🙂

Over the next week we watched Phoebe like a hawk.  Although we continued with the same medicines we started with, we could still expect her to be sick at least once a day.  And the blood coloured vomit made a return 2 days before we were due in Liverpool again.  Her weight had gone down to 3.45kg – not dangerously underweight but she had lost half a kilo since the vomiting started.  We were relieved to be back at Liverpool for her next appointment which was on Valentine’s Day.  James was our oncologist, who explained that the blood in Phoebe’s vomit was the tumour ulcerating and it was expected to reduce, or stop with treatment.  The suggested treatment would be chemotherapy, as surgical removal would be more invasive and would also remove some healthy tissue of the stomach wall so reducing the size of the stomach.  Chemotherapy will be in the form of an injection (vincristine and cyclophosphamide) and Phoebe would need to have  this once a week for a month initially.

The treatment of cancer in animals is different to treatment of cancer in humans.  It isn’t considered ethical to cause animals suffering with larges of amount of chemo, so they are given smaller doses which hopefully will be effective in treating the cancer, or at the very least slow down the development.  Cats in particular seem to cope with chemotherapy quite well but we can still expect to see side effects like hair loss and nausea.  The sense of taste can also change, so we will need to watch which foods Phoebe prefers.  As well as this, we have been advised to  manage her waste with gloves and to double bag it before disposing of it.

Over the next few weeks, we made the trip to Liverpool every Thursday with Phoebe.  She is fed the night before but not on the morning of her treatment as she has to have a blood test prior to the chemo, and it can affect the results.  The blood test checks the white blood cells – if they are too low, then Phoebe would not be able to have chemo on that day.  While she stays to have her treatment, Steve and I have 2 or 3 hours to kill before picking her up, and this is how we got to know the Wirral so well!

It did us good to get out to explore the local area while Phoebe was in good hands as there are great areas for walks to clear your head and to take your mind somewhere else.  The Wirral has a lot of sandstone and you see formations of it at Thurstaston Common.  The largest one is ‘Thor’s Stone,’ which, having time on our hands, we climbed on a number of occasions!

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Me, at Thor’s Stone, Thurstaston Common

The hospital is also not far from West Kirby beach, where you can walk out to Hilibre Island on a good day.  I haven’t made the full journey to the island yet as we had to turn back due to the tide, but we’ve had a stroll on the path round the boating lake.  Its nicknamed ‘the Jesus walk’ as it looks like you are walking on water when the tide is high enough.  Again, you have to check the tide before venturing out!

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West Kirby beach

Nearer to the hospital in the village of Neston, there is a fabulous little coffee shop called Elephant Coffee which I fully recommend.  Independently owned, they do serious quality coffees, with home made food and served by friendly efficient staff.  They provided us with some much needed light relief during our stressy days!  Their location can be found here http://elephant-coffee.co.uk/contact-us

If anyone has the misfortune of serious illness with a pet and end up being referred to the Small Animal Teaching Hospital, I hope all turns out well,  but it really is a good place to be referred to. The staff and students there are very professional and empathic, very much appreciated when you are nervous and emotionally charged.  And there is a waiting room full of other anxious owners, just like Steve and I! As well as the appointments, the odd emergency comes in too, which can be distressing to see, but great that the staff are so efficient and dealing with cases like these.

Phoebe coped well with her first chemo treatments and soon became a favourite with both staff and students as she didn’t need sedating for her injections!  Every little helps with the cost!  When we get her home, sometimes the bandage will have slipped off, revealing a shaved area on a foreleg where the injection site was.  Her vomiting stopped almost immediately but we still had to give some medicines; 1 x Prednisolone tablet 5mg twice daily, a quarter of a Famotidine 20mg tablet once a day (instead of that messy Zantac syrup!) and to continue with Antepsin.  Phoebe hated the medicines but I became an expert after experimenting with different methods.  I have long given up trying to force a tablet down her throat and with the help of a pill splitter and mortar and pestle, I ground tablets up and made pastes with them.  Depending what tablets they were, sometimes I added a single drop of water to make the powder bind before adding a tiny amount of Webbox Lik-E-Lix, which is like a yoghurt for cats. Using a blunt knife, I make this into a paste thick enough to stay on my finger and then I can smear this into Phoebe’s mouth.  Rather than open her mouth which makes her resist, I lift the upper lip at one side of her mouth and pop the paste in under her cheek.  Sometimes, she may froth and lose some of it, but I am confident that she gets most of her meds this way as in the past she had a habit of holding tablets in her mouth to spit out later!  Sometimes I miss, and some of the paste ends up on her face, but again, its not lost as she cleans it off.  The most difficult part of medicating Phoebe was that she learnt to hide when she heard the sound of the mortar and pestle!

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My trusty medication kit

At week 3 of chemo, Phoebe’s blood test showed that her white blood cell count was low and she couldn’t have treatment, which was disappointing, but it just meant her body needed a bit longer to recover before the next bout.  She had treatment as normal the following week, and also a scan to see how the lymphoma was doing.  Scans bump up the monthly veterinary bill considerably, costing aroung £200 each time.  Add to that VAT and chemo plus various other addititions it can add up to around £400.  A ‘cheap’ vet bill for me would be for chemotherapy only which was around £130.  A good reason to make sure your pet has adequate insurance!

By April, Phoebe’s medication had been reduced to one Prednisolone tablet every other day and a quarter of a Famotidine tablet daily.  The fact that she had not been sick while under treatment had made us quietly optimistic and sure enough, the sheet we were given at the end of the next scan read “there was no evidence of the gastric mass, and the subtle changes they saw in her intestines have also improved.  There was no enlargement of any of the abdominal lymph nodes.  She is in complete remission and we are very happy with her progress.”

Yayyyy!!!

However, we still needed to continue with treatment for a while.  Cancer has a nasty habit of coming back.  Instead of every week, Phoebe’s appointments became fortnightly.  We had a bit of a hiccup at the end of April when Phoebe was sick twice and went off her food.  After phoning Liverpool, they advised us it was a reaction to the chemotherapy that can suddenly happen (some patients get it all the time, so I guess we’ve been lucky).  They got in touch with my local vet, Beech House, to arrange for Phoebe to have an anti-sickness injection and pick up some anti-sickness tablets (Cerenia).

Shaun at Beech House, was pleased to see Phoebe doing well and Liverpool had been updating him with all her visits at the hospital.  The anti-sickness treatment worked a treat and Phoebe was fine again.  Funnily enough, she never had a reaction like that again.  Over the next few months we continued to go for chemotherapy sessions which became every 3 weeks, with an occasional scan to check she was still in remission.  James our original oncologist left the hospital to further his career, which unnerved us slightly.  Strange isn’t it, that we get used to a certain vet?  Phoebe was still in good hands and we got used to seeing different faces after that.  James made a brief return to do some cover work and was happy to see Phoebe’s improvement, adding that it hadn’t been all good news for some of his other clients.  It was a sobering thought.

It hasn’t been all plain sailing though.  Chemo takes its toll over time and it was important that Phoebe ate well.  We pandered to her tastes, fed her separately from Bart and increased her wet food to keep her weight up.  Luckily she’s not a terribly fussy eater, and she maintained a steady weight of 3.85kg since treatment started.  Sometines her white blood cells show up as low, and she would have a reduced chemo dose.  As a one off she was also given an antibiotic injection to help her immunity.

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Shaved forelegs and no whiskers. But still a beaut!

From the outside, Phoebe didn’t look like a cat receiving serious treatment, although she had shaved patches on her forelegs from various injections.  Sometimes she would have treatment through a back leg due to the veins in the forelegs having being used so many times, but she was a model patient!  By summer, her fur along her back had thinned and she had lost her whiskers and all but one of her long eyebrow hairs  Her shaved belly from the scans, was permanently in a state of regrowth.  But Phoebe didn’t care about her uneven fur, and behaved as normal throughout, demanding attention and occasionally winding up Bart!  Sometimes, after a chemo session, she may be quieter than normal for a couple of days, or a bit off her food, but the treatment for her cancer was all in all a positive experience for us.  So far, so good anyway – I know only too well not all pets have the same happy outcome and I am thankful to all for Phoebe’s recovery to date.

I will conclude our cancer story soon – its been painful sometimes reliving it through diaries and paperwork so apologies for the delay!  Hope our experience will help others – please feel free to comment or get in touch 🙂

Chicken Swing!

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I was quite intrigued at the thought of a chicken swing for my chooks when I first heard of this product.  It conjured up thoughts of Tweety Pie cartoons, and when it was initially out of stock, it made me want it all the more!  My other half scoffed at the idea (like men do) and said he could make one for half the price (which he didn’t).  I waited till the chicken swing became available again and snapped one up for my flock.

Priced at £19.99 from the Battery Hen Welfare Trust, all proceeds go towards helping to rehome ex-battery hens.  This is not any old perch for your hens as the swing is designed to be pumped by the chicken to keep it swinging.  The perch is bright yellow for the benefit of your birds (they are attracted to red and yellow colours) with an appealing corn cob design which gives them a secure grip.

Ideally, the swing should be fitted low to the ground to encourage hens to use it.  The chooks gave it a wide berth.  My flock prefer to use the mounting block in the run when they want to perch on something, so after a few days, I ended up placing the block nearby in a vain attempt to get them to hop on.

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Anyone want a go?

Weeks later, the swing remains untouched and still bright yellow through lack of use!  I have left it up hoping one of my chooks will have a eureka moment.  However, all hens are individuals, so please don’t let my experience put you off – if you think your hens might like this toy, order it from http://www.bhwt.org.uk/ and help ex battery hens at the same time.  Judging by the pictures on their website, the swing is appreciated by some hens who look very comfortable on it and seem to have the swinging motion sorted!  There is a great range of other gifts available for both hens and chicken mad humans if you are shopping for presents.

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Go on Bunty!

When Your Cat has Cancer – Phoebe’s Story Part 1

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I had wanted this to be a fun blog but inevitably some experiences need to be shared so other people can get the help and support they need. Feel free to comment if you have any advice for any pet owners out there.

My very special thanks in this blog goes to Beech House Veterinary Surgery, Radcliffe, Manchester http://www.beechhousevetsradcliffe.co.uk/ and the Small Animal Teaching Hospital, University of Liverpool, Neston https://www.liv.ac.uk/sath/

Cancer rears its ugly head every day but for some reason it never occurred to me that my pets could fall victim.  After all Phoebe never smoked, drunk or had a stressful job.  We took all the precautions of vaccinations and worming and did the very best for our pets, as you do and STILL…..

Phoebe’s cancer wasn’t very obvious to spot.  All cats are sick from time to time and cleaning up vomit is just part and parcel of cat and dog care.  My concerns came when she was throwing up a little too often, so after a vet visit we tried putting her on a sensitive diet which didn’t seem to make any difference.  There didn’t seem to be a pattern to her vomiting – she may be sick free for a day and then throw up twice the next, generally not long after eating.  She lost some weight too, but it wasn’t a major concern as she was a little on the heavy side.  It was when she brought up some pink froth one morning with some red flecks in it, that we took her in for further investigation.

Bart and Phoebe age 1. Phoebe is on the left.
Bart and Phoebe age 1. Phoebe is on the left.

That was January 2013.  Phoebe had some blood tests to eliminate the causes of her vomiting which came back negative, and then a pancreatitis test.  That also came back negative.  Each time, we were relieved at the result but it didn’t solve the vomiting mystery.

Meanwhile we had a major task of getting various medications down Phoebe to try to control the vomiting.  Her brother, Bart is wonderful with tablets but Phoebe knew all the tricks in the book after many failed worming attempts.  My heart sank when I was given some huge white Antepsin tablets (half a tablet 3 times a day) along with some Zantac syrup.  I ended up crushing them and mixing them with something sticky so I could smear it into her mouth.  This was the beginning of a long term medication programme, so after experimenting with a few cat friendly substances, I overcame Phoebe’s tablet aversions.  I couldn’t say the same for the Zantac syrup though.  Zantac is minty, which isn’t popular with cats, and application with a syringe just made it worse, with me missing my target half the time.  Phoebe would froth at the mouth after being given Zantac and run off like a rabid wildcat! (If you think you’ve heard of Zantac before, its often used to treat heartburn and stomach ulcers).

So, the tests didn’t come up with anything.  We booked her in for an ultrasound scan for the 22nd January.  This was the start of the big vet fees as it would involve a general anaesthetic to keep her still so clear images can be taken.  It was during this scan when the vets found a mass in her stomach.  Even so, the mass needed to be investigated.  We were offered an endoscopy (tube down the throat.  At the time this could only be offered at another surgery) or abdominal surgery.  It was one of those decisions where we had to go away and think about it.

Cost is always a difficult deciding factor when it comes to making decisions about our pets’ welfare.  I have now learnt the hard way and advise everyone with cats, dogs, etc to insure your pet because you never know if they may need long term treatment or major surgery.  My cats are indoor cats so I always considered them to be low risk from accidents and theft, but cancer is cruel and doesn’t discriminate.  And I guess kidney disease and urinary tract disease can crop up any time too, amongst other feline problems.  As my cats weren’t insured I would have to foot Phoebe’s bill myself.  Needless to say, I got Bart insured shortly after.

Steve and I decided after some soul searching, to send Phoebe in for abdominal surgery.  At the time Phoebe, had just turned 8, not particulatly old for a cat, and was strong and healthy, so I figured she could cope with the operation – and hopefully get cured!  The benefit of having the surgery was that if anything needed removing, it could be done at the same time, and if not, biopsies could be taken.  With all surgery, there is always a risk and therefore not a decision to be taken lightly.  I may not have taken that risk if Phoebe was elderly, for example.  But there was a good chance of her coming through and getting the answers to her illness so we took it.

So 24 January 2013, we dropped Phoebe off again in the morning.  By 2pm she had had the op and was coming round.  There appeared to be what looked like an ulcer and biopsies were taken for tests.  Even at this point we weren’t too alarmed, but as she had to stay overnight, we missed her and so did Bart.

The next day it was snowing.  We went to collect Phoebe in the evening.  Phoebe was glad to be back home after surgery.  She had a big plaster on her shaved belly and we were given a surgical collar for her to wear in case she picked at her wound.  She was advised to be kept where she couldn’t leap around, so we restricted her to our bedroom and moved her food and water there, and the litter tray in the ensuite.  I think she enjoyed having her private quarters and was a fabulous patient.  She loved having her food brought upstairs to her, and as she had been through a lot already, she was treated to poached chicken breast!

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The next few days was a waiting game as we waited for the tests to come back from the biopsies.  We had a cocktail of medications to give Phoebe in the meantime; Buprecare syringe 2x daily, half Antiseptin tablet 3x daily, Zantac 0.4mls 2x daily and quarter of a metrinidazole tablet daily.  The latter was particularly hated by Phoebe, along with the Zantac.  The kitchen worktop had a pestle and mortar permanently residing on the top, with various syringes alongside.  That pestle and mortar was a godsend for crushing tablets and I recommend getting one of these if you have a pet on long term medication.

3 days after her op, we took her in for a checkup with Shaun, who owns Beech House surgery.  Off came her belly plaster to reveal a very neat stitching job down the centre of her belly (the stitches were internal).  Phoebe never really bothered with her wound, so luckily I never used the surgical collar.  I was glad about that, as she doesn’t even wear a normal collar.

Apart from the meds she was having, Phoebe continued with a normal life.  She was allowed out of her recovery quarters and ate well and milked the fact that no-one was going to tell her off for anything!

Demonstrating her favourite 'ball' position.
Demonstrating her favourite ‘ball’ position.

Unf ortunately, Rachel, the vet who performed the op, phoned us on the 1st February and told us it was cancer.

Steve took the phone call.  We were numb and scared for our little cat, whom we shared 8 years with and had hoped for more.

Phoebe had a checkup that day at the vet.  Rachel had rung ahead of the appointment so we could discuss options (and probably to give us time to compose ourselves).  Not that I was very composed in that treatment room.  Phoebe had a lymphoma on her abdominal wall and the prognosis was poor.  Steve held it together but I knew it was breaking him as Phoebe was his secret favourite.

Rachel offered us some options, but the one that stood out for me was a referral to Liverpool University Small Animal Teaching Hospital.  They had an Oncology  Department specifically for cancer patients.  She warned us that it would cost, and we weren’t insured.  The initial consultation would probably cost over £1000, but at that point I didn’t care.  I would have taken any option to save my little cat and I didn’t want to waste any more time.

I would like to point out that we don’t have amazingly well paid jobs!  My decision to pay for Phoebe’s treatment (of which there’s no guarantee of a happy outcome) was fuelled by my commitment to do my very best for her as she is my responsibility – the unwritten promise we make (or should make) whenever we take on a new pet.  We would have to cut costs in other areas of our lives, but I felt quite matter of fact about this.  I’m sure plenty of pet owners would agree with my decision if faced with this same misfortune, and luckily Steve and I both work full time.  I feel for anyone faced with the same situation who would not be able to afford treatment.  So once again, I strongly recommend having your pet insured, and if you never have to make a claim, then you can call yourself lucky!

Rachel did not waste any time in referring Phoebe.  On Monday 4th February she confirmed she was making contact with the Small Animal Teaching Hospital (SATH) in Liverpool.  Later on we got a call from the hospital itself offering us an appointment for the next morning at 9am!  I was amazed and thankful for the quick response.  Our instructions was to starve Phoebe from 8pm as she would need an anaesthetic for another ultrasound scan amongst other examinations.  We were hopeful and anxious for the next stage of her diagnosis and treatment and really weren’t sure what to expect.  Phoebe on the other hand, didn’t know what the fuss was about and just enjoyed the extra attention she was receiving…

We fed Phoebe wherever she wanted!
We fed Phoebe wherever she wanted!

During this traumatic time for us, its a comfort to know that Phoebe wasn’t suffering and didn’t understand the concept of cancer.  All the emotional stress was on us, and if anyone is having a rough time, I cannot express enough how invaluable support from your friends/colleagues can be.  The subject of ill and deceased pets can be met with unsympathetic comments from people who don’t understand, so it’s common not to say anything and bottle up feelings.  This is particularly true in the workplace and there have been the odd time I’ve had to lie to get the time off to take animals to the vet, and would still advise anyone to do the same!  However, at the time of Phoebe’s illness I was particularly blessed with some great colleagues who got me through this and made me smile when I was down.  If you can surround yourself with people who can lift and support you, it can really help to ease the worry.

This blog is being split into different parts as its a story spanning 3 years!  Please visit again for the next part which involves chemotherapy, more ultrasound scans – and a lot of trips to the Wirral.

All grown up! My 8 month old pullets and cockerels

Ther garden gang of 2015
Ther garden gang of 2015

Its November and I am the proud owner of 5 new chickens since early April, 3 of which I hatched myself.  The term ‘pullet’ is a hen under a year old and ‘cockerel’ is a rooster or cock, under a year old.

I have to admit that having cockerels have really opened my eyes.  They have fabulous personalities and look amazing.  If you’re not too bothered about having eggs and are prepared to manage their crowing, you can learn another dimension to chicken keeping by having a boy in the flock!  But before you go rushing off to buy one, don’t forget I have acquired these cockerels by luck of the draw – in an ideal world, all the chicks I hatched would be hens, but hey ho! I am still learning myself; at the moment, things are sweet and I put this down to the fact all the boys were raised together from young.  This year’s chicks have integrated well with my adult hens (although the boys did get a pasting from Mabel!).  I am conscious of the fact that I have 3 boys to 6 girls – the text books recommend 1 boy to 10 girls.  This could be a problem in spring once the hens come back to lay and the boys get hormonal, but I’ll cross that bridge and keep you posted.  For now all seems well.

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Bunty

Bunty is a Pekin hen who is just a ball of feathers, including her feet.  She has not started laying yet unlike her sibling sister but she is very docile which is also typical of her breed.  Pekins are often chosen for children’s pets and their feathered feet means they are less likely to scratch and trash your garden!

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Siegfried

This handsome chap is Siegfried, a barred Wyandotte cockerel.  His crow isn’t as tuneful as the other 2 boys – he sounds like an angry pirate at times!  Wyandottes come in a variety of colours – the barred pattern on Siegfried look like fine stripes when close up.

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Well, you would never believe they’re the same birds!  Here’s Bunty on the left and Siegfried on the right!

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Molly

Molly the Aracauna is probably my favourite hen.  I know you shouldn’t have favourites, but a hen who flies up and perches on my shoulder is going to win me over!  And she lays blue eggs!  In previous posts, Molly is the first chick I hatched and needed a helping hand getting out of the shell.

Oscar
Oscar

Oscar has a lovely temperament, which again Silkies are known for.  You can see his dark comb and wattles which is a Silkie feature.   He hasn’t quite got the hang of chatting up the other hens yet, they just seem to run away from him!

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Tarquin

Tarquin is probably my favourite boy although he is quite the alpha male.  He has tried to assert his authority over me (the cheek!) but I responded by picking him up and carrying him around the garden in front of the others, so he knows his place now!  I always remember someone’s response on a forum to an enquiry about an aggressive cockerel – “Give him a pastry overcoat!”  Luckily for Tarquin I don’t eat meat.

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That’s Tarquin at the back, Oscar in the middle and Molly at the bottom.  All 5 youngsters are quite tame and unlike my other hens, they will allow you to touch them and they are easy to catch.  It really makes a difference when you hatch your own and rear them yourself.  Being able to catch them easily also makes it less embarrassing for me when running my chicken keeping courses (there is a section where you hold a chicken correctly).  In the past there has been an element of Benny Hill when I try to corner a hen but these youngsters are going to come in handy!

If you are interested in keeping chickens my courses will be starting up again early spring.  Just click on this link if you want to book a place https://www.omlet.co.uk/courses/host/68687

La Digue Cat Tree

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Credit to my hubby, Steve, who will be putting this lot together!

This is my latest present for the cats, yet another cat tree!  We have recently added a third cat to the family, Ringo, a havana Oriental.  As he’s still a kitten, he’s incredibly active and loves to climb and roost in high spots, so what better reason to have a nosey on www.zooplus.co.uk at their incredible selection of cat trees!



I love Zooplus.  Most of my cat supplies are from there as they stock a massive range of food and pet products.  My first cat tree lasted about 5 years before the 2 Siamese wrecked it, but I have saved the good parts as spares as the screw threads seemed to be universal.  This new purchase is a model called La Digue and is cream coloured, and cost £69.99 with free shipping.

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This model features a hammock at the bottom.

The only tool needed to put this tree together was an allen key which was provided along with instructions.

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Meanwhile, Bart and Ringo found the packaging!

The next tier has a hideaway box and another scratch post with a platform and toy.  The flat surfaces are covered in a plush fabric which can be vaccuumed easily.

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The removable cushioned cover is on the top platform – the drawstring fastening needs to be tightly secured.  The finished product is sturdy and fits in the corner of the room neatly as the base is 50 x 50cm.  Its 167cm tall, and you can see there’s a lot of climbing opportunity there!

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Bart and Ringo give their approval!

Ta daaa!  Assembled within 20 minutes!  Of course, it would take me a bit longer.  Thanks Steve!

Family Pet Show, Manchester 3-4 Oct 2015

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Had a fab visit to this pet show at Event City near the Trafford Centre on the Sunday.  Shame I only had 2 hours to spare as there was a packed timetable of talks and displays that I missed out on.  Anyway here’s a quick round up with my personal highlights.

Friendly welcoming staff at the entrance is always nice, especially when you get a goody bag as well!  There were plenty of dog owners who took advantage of the fact you can bring your canine friends too.   They were well catered for as there were watering facilities inside for them, and a grassy area outside.

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Me with Lavender

These days the choice of exotic pets available is growing.  Shortly on entering the show, I came across Safari Phil’s stand and joined the throng of children wanting to handle snakes and lizards.  I decided against the massive cockroach, but opted for Lavender as she was cute.  “Aaah, she’s lovely,” I cooed.  “What is she?”

“She’s a chocolate brown skunk.”

Thoughts of Pepe Le Pew came into my head.  Sure enough Lavender didn’t smell of lavender – but similar to ferret.  She was very sweet though!  Safari Phil does a lot of educational workshops with a huge selection of creatures; have a look on www.SafariPhil.co.uk

Across the way, Salford City College was promoting their animal management courses with the help of Fozzy, the coati.  Again, I had to ask what he was (well, he was very unusual!)  The courses also cover exotic pets, so anyone interested can have a look at www.salfordcc.ac.uk for more information.

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There were lots of the regular animal charities there, including Dogs’ Trust, Cats’ Protection League and HAPPA, but  I was particularly pleased to see the SOI Dog Foundation who do so much work for the dogs and cats of Thailand.  If you haven’t heard of them, check out this link,  www.soidog.org and have your tissues ready.

Parrot Rescue UK had a colourful crew behind their stand…

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On the subject of animal welfare, I got chatting to Jo Hinde from the Rabbit Welfare Association, who was sharing a stand with Runaround.  Their innovative rabbit housing design really caught my eye.

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Runaround, owned by Paul and Caroline Lord of Dunham Massey

I really liked the tunnels and the fact the whole structure was secure, to keep the bunnies safe and prevent escapees!  You can find out more at www.runaround.co.uk and tips on rabbit welfare at www.rabbitwelfare.co.uk.

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Having gone through the phase of horse mad teenager many years ago, I made a beeline for some ponies.  (Mentally, I am still a horse mad teenager – I confess to wasting time on Preloved occasionally).

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These beauts are from Leopolds Equestrian Productions and I was kicking myself for missing their demonstration.  I will definitely catch them next year!

Caught some of the dog show though.  This is Scruffts, the fun show for non pedigrees, and this class is the Golden Oldies.

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Academy 4 Dogs were busy!  They had agility displays and obedience workshops going on.  As well as dog training, they offer other doggy services like hydrotherapy and grooming.  Visit them at www.academy4dogs.co.uk

DSC_0141I have to recommend that you plan your day well if you visit this show.  Along with the educational talks and the displays, the Have-A-Go Arena hosts various activities.  You can try your hand at grooming ponies, cats and dogs, and even long rein a pony!

As well as the obvious attractions of getting up close to furry, feathery and scaly friends, there were some stands offering great services.  North West Pet Scanning can offer ultrasound scanning to your pet in the comfort of their own home – www.northwestpetscanning@aol.co.uk

Ady Baxter was on hand to do amazing caricutures of people or pets, and I can definitely recommend him!  His Facebook page is L.A Snakes caricatures and you can also email him on abaxter8878@hotmail.co.uk

I also fell in love with these…

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These are helium filled balloons with little weighted legs so they stay beside you (or your child!)  I love the wide range of animals that were available www.shop.balloon-besties.com

Kew Little Pigs was another busy stand – well who wouldn’t want to come and see these gorgeous micro pigs?

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www.kewlittlepigs.com

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We finished our flying visit by going into the new Cat World area sponsored by Asda.  Dogs are not allowed in this enclosed area but there is doggy day care available at the show – brilliant!  The fencing in this area is provided by ProtectaPet, with an overhang to avoid escapees going far.  Look at www.ProtectaPuss.co.uk if you need to cat proof your garden.

Cat show arena
Cat show arena
One of the cat show entrants. What a cutie!
What a cutie!

I have been to pet shows before but this one stands out for me with the variety of businesses, live animals and demonstrations.  It is very family friendly with good disabled access and great to see so many well behaved pets/children enjoying their day out!  Next year I will be spending all day there 🙂 Not told the husband yet.

Rearing chicks, and finding out the cockerels from the pullets.

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My last post was a real mouthful, sorry!  That was just a combination of a build up of events and me not getting round to setting up this blog sooner.  This post is also going to be a chunky one…

Third Week

By 3rd week, I mean the Araucana is 3 weeks old. The Wyandotte and Pekin are a week and a half old and the 2 Silkies are 4 and a half weeks old. Just to confuse things! The Aracauna had developed feathers like little angel’s wings, but now they were spreading to evenly cover his back, and his wings were lengthening. He can preen himself and stretch a leg out without falling over! The two Easter chicks are at the wobbly stage Aracauna used to be. Pekin chick was born with feathers on his feet so I’ll have to watch the hygiene of the brooder. The Silkies also have feathery feet, and typical of the breed, a fifth toe. The skin is also black which is another feature. I have often read articles saying Silkies are docile and make good children’s pets…I have to say my two Silkies are like thugs! The suspected cockerel is starting to square up to my hand when I clean the box and the other one is following suit. Their feathers are fluffing out more and they are becoming more gangly, like teenagers with attitude!

The incubation kit, including the plastic brooder is due back at Pear Tree Poultry so I had to kit out another cardboard box for the newbie chicks as they are quite small and I didn’t want to put them in with the rowdy Silkies yet. I bought another feeder and drinker set and another anti-slip mat. The heat lamp gives off a reasonable area of heat, so we dangled it where it could heat both cardboard brooders, with the newbies box being slightly more raised. They will have to live separately like this till I think the newbies are bigger and ready to integrate with the others.

The temperature of the brooder should be a constant 33 degrees C (95 degrees F) but a good guide is the behaviour of the chicks. Loud cheeping means they are cold (they do this when we handle them for too long!) and if they are too hot they will position themselves away from the lamp and each other. They sleep a lot, like all babies and sometimes flat out – there were times we’ve had to check they were still ok!

Sleepy chicks!
Sleepy chicks!
Back, blue/gold Silkie, middle, black/gold Silkie, bottom, Araucana
Top, Silkies. Bottom, Araucana
Left, Pekin. Right, Wyandotte
Left, Pekin. Right, Wyandotte
 

Fourth Week

Sometimes chicks get a condition called ‘pasty butt’ which means poo sticks to the bottom. It needs cleaning off with a warm wet tissue or it accummulate and can affect the chick’s ability to defecate. Aracauna chick had a mild case of it and so did the Wyandotte chick. While I am checking bums, I also check feet for dried on poo which can build up and form poo balls on the toenails or underfoot, which can lead to a condition called bumblefoot. Apart from hygiene issues, these poo balls can cause lameness and unbalance the structure of the foot which then lead to deformities. Dried chicken poo can set rock hard but dipping the foot in warm water softens it and makes it easier to remove. Not that they appreciate these ‘pedicures’ but luckily I don’t need to do them very often as the older chicks get cleaned 3 times a day due to the mess they make. For now, the newbies aren’t too bad.

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Infra red lighting isn’t the most flattering!

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Fifth Week

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Silkies fluffing up nicely
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Araucana developing a little crest on top of the head
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Notice change of feather colouring on the Wyandotte’s wings

As the chicks get older and grow new feathers, they are able to regulate their temperature more so their dependence for heat becomes less. We can gradually raise the infra red heat lamp each week to wean the chicks off heat. However, the conservatory where they are living gets really warm, and at time of writing we are having a good spell of weather, so the heat lamp is switched off during the day and goes back on at night when it is cold.  This can be phased out till they are off heat altogether, but this will depend on temperature, how many chicks you have (they can huddle up for warmth) and when they are fully feathered out.

I decided to integrate the two sets of chicks now. They have been acquainted to each other when I have moved them out of their cardboard brooders for cleaning, and fortunately there were no dramas like there usually are when introducing new hens.  (I must definitely do a blog on that!)  I have also decided to invest in a dog crate to keep them in until they go outside. Partly because the Araucana had decided to to test his wings and can now fly onto the top of the cardboard box!

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Cardboard boxes are great for brooders but they become soiled quickly despite regular attention. The chicks are quite active now and often knock the drinkers over. The Silkies like to chest bump each other, which is boyish behaviour but apparently hens can do this too. The Pekin is also quite hyper at times -3 potential cocks perhaps?

Up to now, the conservatory was a no-go area for the cats. Now the chicks are safely installed in their dog crate, the cats can now have access and see what all the fuss was about. Phoebe didn’t care but Bart was quite intrigued. I hoped it wasn’t out of murderous intent, but Bart is a very laid back cat. Far too laid back to cause any damage. I saw him one day gently placing a paw through the bars of the crate, resting gently on one of the Silkies who didn’t even budge. Thats another good thing with keeping older chicks in the dog crate – they can see what’s going on around them so they become used to their environment.

Sixth Week

The weather has been really warm lately, which meant I could put the chicks outside for short periods. This gave the conservatory a huge sigh of relief, as they seem to eat a lot of chick crumbs and therefore produce a huge amount of poo, and odour with it. They have been losing their down which has been floating around in the air and settling on the floor and window sills while they grow their first feathers. Normally, it would be more practical to keep chicks of this age in a shed with the heat lamp. However, our shed was full (mainly with chicken keeping paraphernalia), so I was committed to being housekeeper to the chicks’ 5 star accommodation. No-one was looking forward to them living out full time more than me!

My current adult hens had a good nonchalant look at the babies. The Silkies had the audacity to give their elders some attitude. I was sure the blue and gold one will be cockerel but I think they may both be boys now. Typical!

Seventh Week

Chicks enjoying longer periods of time outdoors during the day in the Eglu run. They weren’t sure of the grass at first but it didn’t take long for them to realise its edible!  I just bring them in early evening, but they are off heat completely now.  The weather is being a bit erratic at the moment so I’m waiting for a steady spell of fine summer before they live out permanently.

It is possible to start introducing growers pellets at 6 weeks, but as the Pekin and Wyandotte were slightly younger, I figured that I was going to leave it as late as 8 weeks and it wouldn’t do any harm for them to stay on the medicated chick crumb for a bit longer. Coccidiosis is a common killer of young birds, and most chick crumb brands are designed to protect against occysts during the early stages.

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Two weeks since their last picture and some major changes with the Wyandotte and Pekin

Eighth Week

Well, I was sure by week 6 I would know which ones would be boys, but I am still undecided despite analysing pages of Google images. I think it would be more obvious if they were all the same breed and age, but hey ho. I’m sure I will figure it before they start crowing/laying.

I knew I had to make some decisions what to do with any boys and I decided I would give it my best shot at keeping them. I knew this because I was only half heartedly looking for rescue homes for cockerels. They do exist, by the way, but not many with the majority of them down south. I also came across lots of adverts for cockerels being offered free to a good home. Sadly, not many people want cockerels as they don’t lay eggs and crow in the morning (amongst other times), hence “free to a good home.” I am still of the opinion of charging a cost for any pet you want to rehome privately to put off anyone hoping for a free chicken dinner (either for themselves or for other pets). I know I would rather have any chickens in my care humanely put down by my vet if I couldn’t guarantee a safe home for them.

But thats not going to happen. Because I was going to do what all the text books advise you not to and keep my potential cockerels in a small suburban estate and hopefully not fall out with the neighbours!

There is no law to say you can’t keep cocks/cockerels on your property, unless it is written in the deeds of your house that you can’t keep livestock, which means technically, you can’t even have hens. However, the council can make you get rid of your birds if they are noisy and they receive complaints from your neighbours. It was while I was shopping for growers pellets at the local pet shop when I was chatting to a chicken owner there, when she recommended putting her male birds in a cardboard box at night to sleep. As it is dark in the box, the cocks don’t crow, and they can be let out after 9 o’clock to do what chickens do during the day. So, that should solve any crowing at the crack of dawn, and I figured if I put the box in the garage, if they did crow, they wouldn’t disturb anyone.

Steve wasn’t terribly keen to share the garage, which is now his music room where he holds his lessons. But as he didn’t fancy being woken in the early hours either, it was an easy win for me!

Ninth Week

Its June and its hot! Time for the chicks to live outside together permanently! I de-loused them individually and sprinkled some powder over the straw in the nest box. They seem to like piling together and sleeping there. At the moment, the youngsters will live separately from my older hens due to their size. The Wyandotte, Araucana and Pekin are still small and the hens would paste them for sure. The Silkies were older and bigger and I’m sure would hold their own but they are established with the baby flock so they are staying put in the Eglu.

The Eglu and run, as modelled by the garden gang of 2014 (on a rainy day)
The Eglu and run, as modelled by the garden gang of 2014 (on a rainy day)

I am pretty sure now, as the Silkies are actually around 11 weeks old, that both are displaying cockerel characteristics. That doesn’t surprise me too much as I’ve always suspected the blue and gold one to be a boy and I had secretly named him Tarquin. His brother had blossomed into a golden wonder and it was the shape of the fluffy crest on his head that confirmed it for me. So he is now Oscar. Male Silkies develop ‘streamers’ at the back of the crest while Silkie hens have a more spherical crest.

The Wyandotte seems to be growing bigger than the Araucana despite being younger, and the legs are thickening, a sure cockerel sign. Oh dear.

On the plus side Araucana remains small and dainty and I am fairly confident she’s a hen. My last Araucana was called Polly so I have named this one Molly, although they look nothing like each other. Araucanas lay a greenish coloured egg, so I’m looking forward to Molly’s produce!

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Polly, lavender Araucana, left
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Molly, creole Araucana, foreground

Not really sure what sex the Pekin is yet. I suspected cockerel at first as he was quite silly at times, bouncing on all the others. But the little comb that was visible from birth hasn’t really developed any bigger. I’m keeping my fingers crossed he’s a hen – too much testosterone so far for my liking!

Tenth Week

Tarquin is starting to crow! Its not a proper cockerdoodledoo yet, and not terribly loud (again, yet!) but I’m sure with some practise he’ll be in full voice. Time to get that cockerel box sorted.

I have seen some designs for a ‘cock box,’ most being wood and insulated to be as soundproof as possible, though this cannot be completely silent as the birds need ventilation. For me, asking my husband to build something like this is a no-no – it would be quicker to buy it if it was available! I opted for the original cardboard box in the garage idea. Good old cardboard boxes! Fabulous toys for cats, pet carriers, brooders for chicks and now sleeping quarters for manly chickens. Lightweight, eco friendly and easily disposed of and replaced. Good job I have an uncle who works in a warehouse!

So, every night, I put Oscar and Tarquin in the cock box, which is lined with newspaper and straw and close the lid. In the morning after 9am, they go out with the others. That is pretty much all I need to do to avoid any dawn chorus and neighbourly disputes.

Eleventh Week

Eventually, the chicks will live in the walk-in run with the older hens once they have integrated. At present one set of birds will free range while the other set stays in their run, so any arguments are had with a wire barrier between them. This is normally how I introduce any new hens but inevitably there will be fisticuffs when I let them loose together. Allowing new hens to free range the garden in safety beforehand will at least give them an idea where to run and hide.

In preparation for the youngsters living in the main run, I decided to do a big disinfect, not that a chicken environment can ever be sterile, but to kill off anything that may potentially harm young birds. In particular, I am referring to coccidiosis which is the main killer of chicks. It usually occurs in wet conditions and the occysts, which are the villains, can remain dormant for years. Affected birds are usually stationary and hunched with watery droppings and sometimes, but not always, blood in the stools. Coccidiosis can be cured by Coxoid (from any poultry supplies shop) if caught early enough. I always prefer to prevention to cure so I mixed my disinfectant to the required strength and treated the run. It was a strong solution and it smelt for days – I’m pretty sure any pesky occysts would have been obliterated after that.

Twelfth Week

Although Wyandotte hasn’t crowed yet, I’m convinced he is a boy. His feathers on his neck and back were becoming more long and pointy and his comb bigger and redder. So here is my third boy of the year, Siegfried! His sleeping accommodation will now be upgraded accordingly.

Pekin chick, like a typical Pekin, just got more feathery. Originally yellow with black splodges she is now predominantly black. Yes, Pekin is a she and her name is Bunty.

Bunty and Siegfried just chilling.
Bunty and Siegfried just chilling.

Its been quite a journey and learning curve from when I first incubated the eggs to the finished result – 2 girls and 1 boy were hatched out, and 1 died in the shell. Plus we bought 2 chicks who turned out to be boys, but that’s life! It has not been as straightforward as some people’s hatching experiences I’m sure, but I’ve learned plenty and hope anyone who stumbles across this blog will gain something from it.

L-R Molly, Oscar, Tarquin, Bunty and Siegfried
L-R Molly, Oscar, Tarquin, Bunty and Siegfried

Keep checking back to see how my lot are getting on – and if I’m coping!

Thinking of hatching chicks? Here’s my experiences.

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I actually started this journey of hatching chicks at the beginning of March 2015 but didn’t get round to setting it up on this site.  Many thanks to Ken at Pear Tree Poultry for the incubator hire and support.  More info on his services on his website www.peartreepoultry.co.uk So here it is, hatching chicks, with a few complications, but I guess that’s how you learn.  Enjoy!

 

It seems strange that although I have kept hens for almost 7 years now and into my fourth year of running chicken keeping courses, I have shied away from hatching chicks from eggs. I have always wanted to do it of course, but its the whole cockerel thing…like the majority of us, I live in a residential area and a cockerel crowing in Radcliffe suburbia is going to go down like a lead balloon. So the fact is, no one wants cockerels but nature is still going to dish them out. An experienced chicken breeder once told me, “ If you’re going to breed them, you have to be prepared to kill them.” Okay, so I’ve not got involved with the breeding part – maybe another time – but being a softy with all my pets, I wasn’t comfortable with choosing to euthanise healthy animals in my care. And THAT’S why I’ve never hatched my own chicks.

Till now.

On the subject of euthanasia, I am faced with the sad fact I will be losing my original hen Tallulah soon. She is nearly 7 and my favourite but in the last month she has deteriorated. Being Tallulah, she still enjoys going out with the other hens, who still respect her as the matriach, and nibbles at the huge selection of treats I prepare twice daily for her. She is slower now, eats less and sleeps a lot. At one point I made that fateful phone call to the vets to have her put to sleep…but then Steve pointed to her pottering round the garden with the others and I decided to let her continue living her days out as a hen while she’s still got the spirit.

So, probably not the best basis for making a decision to hatch chicks! I figured that I needed a project to offset some of the sadness I was going to face (temporarily forgetting that hatching chicks have their own problems too!) Also, I was going to be left with just 4 hens….it was at this point I started googling and came across Pear Tree Poultry in Preston.

The deal was £75 to hire an incubator with 7 eggs and a returnable deposit of £75. After the chicks have hatched I can choose to keep or return them. Surely after a week with the chicks I can easily give them back – cockerel problem solved!!

“Ha! You’ll never give them back!” I guess people know me too well.

And Ken at Pear Tree Poultry was confident I would probably want to hold onto the babies and at 6 weeks I would tell the boys from the girls. But he would take back any cockerels at £5 charge each.

The flipping chicks haven’t even been born yet and I’ve already decided to keep them!! I’m just going to have to man up, so to speak, over this cockerel dilemma and try not to get too attached.

DAY 1 One of those…and one of those….

Picked up the hatching kit from Pear Tree Poultry, Preston and felt like a child in a sweet shop as I chose the eggs I would be taking home;-

Poland

Barton Green

Gold Thurringian

Silver Laced Wyandotte

Blue Laced Wyandotte

Creole Araucana

Gold Hamburg

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The eggs are placed pointy end down and are to be left to settle at room temperature for several hours. Meanwhile, Steve and I debated on where to keep the incubator. It needed to be away from sunlight in a room where the temperature was constant. “Under the stairs is ideal” said Ken.

There is a toilet under the stairs. Any guests will be convinced I’ve lost the plot when they see an incubator and eggs while they’re on the loo. Undeterred, I badgered Steve to dig out an extension lead.

Once the incubator was topped with water and plugged in, it needed to be running for a couple of hours to reach the optimum temperature of 37.5 degrees C before we put the eggs in. Which we did; me, Steve and Dan, kneeling by the toilet like we were performing an egg ceremony. Here goes!

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DAY 2 The Eggs Under The Stairs

Ever now and again, I go and have a peek at the toilet’s new residents, not that anything was happening visibly. Ken had said we could just ignore them till day 18 but being a control freak I really had to check everything was in working order.

The incubator is a Brinsea Mini Advanced. The temperature is fairly constant although it was surprising how leaving the door open for a short while would cause slight fluctuations, but should there be any danger of extreme temperature changes, an alarm sounds. The eggs are automatically turned by a rotating base. If I could have the privilege of hatching as many eggs as I wanted, I’d love to invest in one of these (£129 Ebay). But then again, I’ve heard that a Silkie hen would be equally good. Maybe next time!

DAY 3 Tallulah

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My fabulous Tallulah

Sadly this was the day I had to send Tallulah to heaven. She had stopped eating and was stationary for much of the time and she needed help to send her off. I am grateful for the sensitivity shown by Pennine Vets, Tottington, for all the hens I have brought into the surgery, and particularly today as I was a complete blubbering wreck.

I knew there was a method to my madness when I decided to hatch these eggs. At least I can look forward to new life which will help take my mind off things.

DAY 4 Present for the Eggs

A parcel had arrived yesterday but I hadn’t got round to opening it till today. It was my latest Ebay purchase, a candling torch. It shines a bright light to show what’s going on inside the egg, so if nothing is going to hatch, you can tell early on. I can start candling from day 7 or 8 so not long to wait.

DAY 5 Humidity

Topped up the water in the incubator. Although we are fairly humid in the UK and apparently the eggs would be ok if the incubator ran dry (until day 18), I was going to follow everything to the letter and make sure there was some water in the well. It’s a quick job with some cooled boiled water and as I need to lift the lid off, there will be a drop in temperature. But eggs are quite forgiving when it comes to short temperature drops, after all, mother hen has to get off the nest occasionally to eat, drink and poo. When the lid of the incubator is replaced, you can see the temperature rise back to 37.5C on the display.

DAY 6 Egg Turning

Amusingly, I seem to be the only one who has seen the eggs being turned! And I don’t use that toilet much! They are timed to turn every 45 minutes alternating each time left and right with a whirring noise. There are some incubators where you physically turn the eggs yourself although realistically you wouldn’t be doing it as regularly, and not during the night! Just goes to show what a good mother a sitting hen can be.

DAY 7 To Candle or Not to Candle

Strictly speaking I could candle the eggs today, but I’m hoping I see more if I leave it till tomorrow!

DAY 8 Confused

Hmmm, disappointed – or confused? I candled one of my own hen’s eggs to see what an unfertilised egg would look like and then candled the incubated eggs, only to find there wasn’t much difference!! I put it down to inexperience and decided to continue incubating and candle again in a couple of days.

DAY 10 1 out of 7

Tried candling again…and no change. There was just one viable egg, a green Aracauna egg. When candled, it clearly showed the red veins inside, a black dot which represents the eye and air sac space, which would increase with time. There was also movement within the egg, just like a foetus in a womb! Unfortunately all the other eggs just showed a shadow of the yolk. I apologise for the lack of pictures – I did take some but for some reason, they weren’t great.

So, what now? Do I continue incubating and see if I get the one chick to hatch? Rearing one chick isn’t the ideal though. Time to email Ken….

DAY 11 Round 2

Ken was great and offered me some replacement eggs and extra hire time with the incubator. So, we took the 6 ‘clear’ eggs back so he could double check their fertility. He agreed, some were not fertile (there is sometimes the chance of that) but some eggs had shown white spots in the shell when candled which would have affected their ability to develop. Bad quality shells, eg porous or fine cracks can allow bacteria to get in.

As it was mid March, Ken’s fertile eggs were in demand and I could see the diminishing trays behind him. 6 new eggs to choose;-

White Silkie

Gold Thuringian

Barred Wyandotte

Gold Laced Polish

and 2 Pekin

I was determined to hold on to the existing Araucana egg even though it would have been easier to start from scratch with 7 new eggs. This means, if the chick hatches, it will be on its own for approx 11 days before the newbies (hopefully) hatch. Not ideal, but we’ll cross that bridge, and there’s no guarantee that chick will hatch. Ken said it was the first time he had heard of less than 50% fertility and he regularly posts his eggs out. Trust me to draw the short straw!

The new eggs came home with me and later that night I put them safely in the incubator.

DAY 16 A Quick Peek

I left the eggs alone for a few days before I finally gave into temptation and got the candling torch out. The Aracauna is still fine, filling up more of the shell and the airspace is increasing. I can also see 3 fertile eggs even on the 5th day! Technically its possible to candle them daily and record their development, but as the first week is when the foetus is at its most fragile (just like the first 3 months in a human pregnancy), I am going to leave them be till their 7th day and check again to see any further development.

DAY 18 Confirmation

Yep, as I suspected, 3 out of the 6 new eggs are viable – the Wyandotte, Silkie and one of the Pekin eggs. Day 18 is also a big day, sometimes known as ‘lockdown.’ This is when the humidity well is filled up, the turning function is in the incubator is turned off and we wait for chicks to hatch. Or in this case, chick. With this particular incubator, the turning function automatically stops after the 18th day. I took the base ring out and replaced it with a rubber net matting which Ken had provided as it helps newborn chicks to get their footing. It wasn’t ideal that the remaining 6 eggs would miss out on being turned as often during this period. Provided there was no egg hatching yet, I was going to continue turning them manually whenever I remembered, but if there is a hatching chick, the less the incubator was opened the better.

DAY 19 Pip!

Late tonight, just before going to bed I checked the eggs and saw a tiny indent in the Aracauna egg and I’m sure I heard some cheeping! Very excited!

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DAY 20 Desperately Seeking Chicks

A bigger hole greeted me this morning and I can see the tip of the beak and hear the cheeping. It would take at least 24 hours for the chick to hatch out and it was important that I don’t help the process as the chick is still absorbing nutrients from within the shell. My main problem is that this chick will be on its own till the others hatch 11 days later which isn’t ideal. I managed to find a local lady who had some week old Silkie chicks, so tomorrow Steve will have the pleasure of choosing 2 babies to bring home.

Helping Hand

It was around 24 hrs since the first pip when I became concerned there didn’t seem to be much progress in the hatching. A bit of a worry for my first hatch and especially when you read on forums how some chicks have popped out within 10 hours. Generally speaking chicks should be left to hatch on their own as enthusiastic peeling away of the shell and membrane could cause bleeding. I had seen on an expert’s website that there are some cases where help may be required if the chick is too big to manouvre round the shell but removal of the shell needs to be careful. I picked away cautiously, unlike the boiled eggs that I am expert at peeling and left half the egg intact which made the chick look like a Weeble. I was hoping the chick would make the rest of its exit himself. Not long afterwards he did and I managed to film it, although the lighting wasn’t great. He was still attached to the egg shell with an umbilical cord, which I left, but removed the majority of the shell. I can now leave him to dry off in the incubator while I get some sleep.

DAY 21 Early Bird

I had to be up early for a meeting so had a quick look at our new chick before I left for the day. He was unsteady on his feet, which is expected but actively making his way round the other eggs. His umbilical cord had come off so I cleared that away to reduce any bacteria. The plan today is that Steve will be picking up the new chicks who are a week old and putting them in the brooder. Our new chick will be ok in the incubator till I get back later. He will not need any food or water for up to 48 hours as he has absorbed all he needs to survive from the shell and he seems fine – born just a day early from the expected 21 days.

I have referred to the chick as ‘he’ and will be calling all the chicks boys until we find out what sex they are. I’m hoping that will help me cope if I have to part with them.

Posh Silkies

I returned later that evening to see our two new Silkie chicks happily settled in the brooder. They are partridge coloured and apparently quite sought after in the show world. One is a black and gold variety and the other blue and gold. I was quite envious of Steve going to choose chicks from a box of various colours, while I spent the day hours away at a business meeting!

I put our newborn chick in with the Silkies with no dramas. Definitely a lot easier than introducing adult hens to each other. Hope that will still be the case when the other eggs hatch. Now there are only eggs in the incubator, I took the opportunity to give it a quick wipe with disinfectant and to reset it for the next hatch date, which happens to be Easter Sunday! Its not ideal to have eggs of varying hatch dates as each time a chick is born, there is bacteria produced which could potentially affect the remaining hatch. However, under the circumstances it was the best I could do, seeing as I didn’t want to give up on the Aracauna chick, and I’m glad I didn’t!

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Silkie chicks foreground and background, Araucana on the right

First Week

Our Aracauna chick seems quite happy with the larger Silkies, although quite sleepy at times and clumsy. The first few days I put the blue non slip mat Ken had supplied over some newspaper, so he can get a grip, as newspaper on its own can be slippy and can cause spraddle leg in chicks. This is anything from a wide leg stance to the splits, but can be corrected, if not prevented. The Silkies liked to climb into the crumb dish and scratch at the food, and sometimes sleep in it, so that was cleaned regularly too. Their behaviour and mannerisms were just like adult hens and over this first week, I can see the Aracauna learning to do the same things. By the 3rd day he was drinking and pecking at the chick crumbs and also getting into the dish. His attempts at preening at first ended up with him falling over but as he got stronger, he became more adept.

Over the course of the week, I could see the tips of the Aracauna wings feathering up so he had more length to them. The Silkie chicks were growing at an alarming rate, to a point where I think I will put the Aracauna in with the newborn chicks when they pop out. Still he seems quite happy with his bigger siblings and between the three of them, they produce an amazing amount of poo! Not great when they are living in the conservatory and centrally heated by an infra red bulb! I am cleaning them at least twice a day but the non slip mat wasn’t particularly easy to deal with. I ordered some spare ones, and then read on a website that someone raised their chicks on kitchen roll, which isn’t as slippy as newspaper alone. Ahh, eureka!!

Second Week

I candled the remaining eggs in the incubator – there looked to be movement in all the 3 fertile eggs and I discarded the rest. Now its lockdown! Again!

Easter Saturday evening, the Pekin egg pipped! Lying next to the incubator, I could see the broken shell move ever so slightly and hear cheeping! And on returning from church later, the Wyandotte egg had also pipped! Brilliant! Shortly after midnight, I gave up egg watching and went to bed. I dreamt that the chicks were hatched and running around the incubator, and when I woke I joked to Steve about it. When I got downstairs, it seems my dream wasn’t far wrong…both the Pekin and Wyandotte were out of their shells and looking well! This was within the last 8 hours, which made me think that I was right to help the Araucana chick in hatching. Just goes to show the different outcomes in this project.

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Barred Wyandotte left, Pekin right

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The White Silkie egg hadn’t pipped yet.

Hmm, I thought, Easter Sunday was the due date and its still early afternoon…curiosity got the better of me and I grabbed the candling torch and the egg. Sadly, all seemed still within the egg despite having seen movement a few days. I broke the shell and saw the dead chick, with a partially absorbed yolk. It really is a lottery when we incubate a clutch of eggs – not all will make it to the hatch.

After a quick burial, we prepared the brooder for the newbies and put the Araucana chick in with them, while we separated the Silkies to a cardboard box with a hang down infra red lamp. This was all done quite hurriedly as we were having an Easter get together with the family that evening and the chicks were going to get a lot of attention!

Black/gold Silkie left, Araucana centre, blue/gold Silkie right
Black/gold Silkie left, Araucana centre, blue/gold Silkie right
Wyandotte left, Pekin right
Wyandotte left, Pekin right

So, the chicks got cooed at, talked about and photographed for much of the evening. When everyone had gone, I noticed the Araucana, who had spent most of the evening with the new babies was looking quite fed up and vocal (despite him being in the warm brooder). The Pekin chick had tried to cuddle up to him but he cheeped angrily at him so he backed off! I placed the Aracauna back with the big Silkies and he was instantly happy again, feeding, scratching and generally feeling part of the gang again! I guess he has spent the first 11 days with them and they were the nearest to parents he was going to get.

I had initially thought of separating the Aracauna as the Silkies were turning into big delinquents now, and he was quite small in comparison. They were starting to flap and jump and the blue and gold one in particular seems to be developing faster as he is bigger and his feathers are starting to change. He is also fearless – I’m pretty sure he is a cockerel!

So we now have 5 chicks of different ages and no idea of what sex yet.  My next blog is based on them developing and me finding out who’s who.  Plus their transition to the big world outside with my other four hens.  See you then!

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Hello and welcome to Fur and Feather pet blog!

Me and the garden gang of 2012

Hi, I’m Lisanne and I am a crazy cat lady but I am also mad about other pets!  I am based in north Manchester and at time of writing, I share my home with 3 cats and 9 chickens.  Also residing with me is my long suffering husband, Steve, and my son Dan when he’s not at uni.

I will be regularly updating this blog for any pet enthusiasts to have a nosey at my reviews, musings, experiences and recommendations.  They will mainly be based on cats and chickens as I have no room for any other pets at present, but situations change and one day we’ll move and increase our menagerie!  (We tried to move 5 years ago but that’s another story….).  I hope in the future I’ll also be blogging about my own ducks, horses, llamas, etc, etc.  Well, you’ve got to have something to aim for in life – wonder if anyone else feels the same as me?

Between spring and autumn I run chicken keeping courses for beginners and I have been doing this since 2011.  My chicken blog, although not intended to be a substitute for the courses, can offer some help and information on keeping these fab creatures.  And of course, my 3 wonderful cats, Bart, Phoebe and Ringo have given me experiences that the average cat care book cannot prepare you for.  Are you crazy about your pets too?  Visit regularly to see my updates – hopefully my day job won’t get in the way too much!

Lisanne