Hooray, we have 4 new additions to the Casa Valhal homestead: Helen’s Happy Hens! Although technically they are called pullets if under 12 months old, Helen’s Happy Pullet’s doesn’t have the same ring to it (ha ha). It’s been a few months since we finished Cluckingham Palace but we didn’t want to buy the birds during Teanna’s 8 weeks Summer visit as we were too busy exploring Portugal. I also didn’t want to buy my hens then leave them for days on end as I wanted to get to know my ladies and bond with them. We also ventured on a 5 day road trip to Lisbon and a couple of overnight stays and it would have been tricky to find someone at short notice to look after them.

The naming game

Welcome to our quartet of gorgeous ladies. First things first, we all need names as we can’t be calling them K, F, C and Colonel Sanders forever! It was difficult to choose a name without meeting them first and discovering their personalities but I wanted to make a name plaque so needed to chose the names in advance. Personally I love flower names e.g. Blossom, Poppy, Daisy, Lavender, Rose, Daffodil, Clover, Lily, Holly, Ivy, Hyacinth, Marigold etc. and I also love gems e.g. Ruby, Sapphire, Diamond, Emerald, Onyx etc. It’s quite funny as 28 years ago I was choosing names for my son Joshua and as I didn’t know the sex of my baby I had the name Blossom Jenna if it were a girl. It turned out my first born was a son so he got the name Josh. In hindsight Blossom Jena could have been shortened to BJ which is not a great name for obvious reasons (ha ha). 19 years ago I was deciding on names for my daughter and I knew the sex of my baby before she was born and I had Emerald and Lavender on my top 10 list but again I was concerned that her peers might shorten Lavender to lavy (meaning toilet) and I thought Emerald might just be shortened to Em so decided upon Teanna Bonita Harmony instead. I take this naming game very seriously (ha ha). It’s easier naming hens as I doubt their mates will bully them because of their name but you never know.

Why keep chickens (hens)?

The main reason we want to keep chickens is for the glorious fresh eggs. Whilst we coped well during lock down with no shortages here in Portugal, I often think about what it would be like if we did have limited supplies of food in the shops. We can grow our own fresh organic fruit and vegetables but we don’t have extensive land to keep cattle. If we were to have chickens and fresh eggs almost daily, I think I could survive quite easily. We love eggs and do eat quite a lot so it makes total sense for us to keep chickens. Hubby used to have 12 hybrid chickens when he lived in Scotland so he has some knowledge, I however am a chicken virgin hence why I joined the Facebook Funky chicken fan club group. Chickens are very sociable animals, incredibly friendly and apparently a study has shown they are capable of empathy which is more than some people! We are so excited to eventually have some feathered friends and I’ve heard they are great natural lawn mowers which is fantastic as I don’t have the space for goats.

Where to buy?

We researched where to buy hens and initially I wanted to buy from a homesteading breeder but I couldn’t find any local to me so I had the choice of either the markets or various agriculture shops. I’ve heard a few negative stories that some people have bought sick birds from the markets but others say they have bought from markets with no issues at all. In the end we decided to buy from the market mainly because we get to view the birds before buying and can see if they are healthy or not. We also can check their beaks as we don’t want birds with partially clipped beaks. Sellers often do this to avoid them pecking each other but I have read that this can cause feeding issues with them having difficulty picking up grain from the ground hence why we wanted their beaks intact. If we buy them from a shop and we are not happy it would be difficult to reject them. I know it would also be difficult to return to a market but I did see an elderly lady return a bird once at the Arganil market. She whipped a chicken out of her handbag and was holding it by the scruff of its neck and shouting at the stall holder. I really wish I could have understood their conversation. By her actions and level of angriness I can only assume she had previously purchased the chicken and was bringing it back for an exchange or refund as not satisfied. Maybe it was a rubbish layer. Anyway I was thinking to myself how far did she travel with a chicken in her very nice handbag? Is this the Portuguese equivalent to returning a size 10 pair of skinny jeans to Topshop because you can’t fit one leg in them but at the time you were so prepared to slim down to fit in them for your holiday but then couldn’t resist office cake Friday! You could also explore rescuing battery hens to give them a nice life.

My main worry was buying male not female as we want our hens as pets but mainly to lay eggs. We don’t want a cockerel/rooster. I’m not sure my sanity would cope with the “cock a doodle doo” malarkey at the crack of dawn (ha ha). Our difficulty buying our hens was the language barrier and although I researched the Portuguese phrase for “point of lay” we did have a slight communication difficulty with the seller but ended up with 4 beak intact healthy girls (hopefully). I wanted different colours if possible to I can distinguish them apart. I have read that the white hens grow larger, are not great layers and usually used for their meat here in Portugal but we wanted a variety so bought one anyway. It wasn’t easy trying to check the hens to see if their beaks had been trimmed. The markets pack the cages full so it’s a tricky business trying to purchase them and check them over for healthiness. I really wanted one of the grey speckled hens but all their beaks were clipped so we didn’t bother. There were so many different birds and some cute yellow fluffy chicks. I fell in love with the baby ducks but resisted because if I buy ducks hubby will want to build a pond for sure and I have a DIY chore list as long as my arm for him to start once we have finished having paddle boarding fun on weekends (ha ha). My heart breaks to see all the bunny rabbits crammed into small cages and it takes all my inner strength not to buy them and save all the bunnies. If I had more space and money I would buy them all and start a Binky Bunnery. It was a crazy 20 minute drive home from the market. I just assumed they would be put in 4 separate boxes but the seller put all 4 in one small box. I sat in the back with the girls and sang to them, god bless them. It was a bit of a traumatic journey (mainly for me) but we made it home safe and sound.  

What breed to buy?

The physical traits used to distinguish chicken breeds are size, plumage, colour, comb type (fleshy growth at the top of the chicken’s head), skin colour, number of toes, amount of feathering, egg size and colour, place of origin and characteristics/temperament of the chicken. There are 3 types: for eggs, meat or ornamental purposes and some can be classed as dual purpose. Chickens come in generally two size, bantam or standard. There are literally so many breeds you can buy apparently over 500! I have heard that the brown hens are good layers and that the larger white hens are for meat. Ideally I wanted different types of hens as variety is the spice of life.

Requirements?

Love and care each day.

Space – chickens require a minimal of 3-4 square ft inside coop per chicken at night and at least 10-15 square ft outside (chicken run area) if not a free range chicken. The more space the better in my opinion. Ours have the old ruin as a chicken house overnight which is 24 square ft so they have more than double the required space indoors. Ours have a large run for outside space with a covered area for shade and I will also let them out daily to roam the top garden. If you have the space for free range then all the better.

Secure area – chicken house for them to rest at night with a perch and nesting box with wood shavings and outdoor run.

Free range or not? Remember that they still need a secure place to rest at night even if free range and they do love to eat and destroy plants and love creating dust baths. I would have loved to free range my hens but it’s not possible with our garden layout.

Food – chickens are omnivores and love foraging naturally for food especially bugs and grubs. I am hoping they will help reduce our ant infestation. There are several articles online about feeding your chickens cheaply and this includes seed sprouting and fermenting seeds, I haven’t tried this yet. They love kitchen scraps especially green leafy vegetables. They also love meal worms and earth worms and potentially you could start your own wormery if you wish. Don’t forget the chicken pellets as these provide good nutrients and corn can be given as a treat. To drink, chickens require fresh water daily and you can add a splash of apple cider vinegar or lemon to keep the mites at bay. Our girls already love to eat my organic Portuguese cabbages.

Fox and dog proof both the house and run and secure from other predators such as eagles, hawks, owls and other animals that might bury underneath for the eggs e.g. rats and snakes. This means having to dig down and put the base of fence into the ground. We dug really far down and used cement.

Monitor for ticks and lice.

Don’t forget chickens can fly! Some people clip their wings.

Eggs

From approx. 20 weeks – 3 years of age healthy chickens should lay 1 egg per day per chicken with one day off so 1 chicken should produce approx. 6 eggs per week. You should bear this in mind because once they stop laying what are you going to do with them, will you keep as a pet or use for meat? Although I eat chicken regularly, I couldn’t face slaughtering a chicken so for us I think we will keep them on as pets.

Chicken poop

This makes a great addition to the compost pile and great fertiliser.

Meet the Girls

So here are the girls: Carol, Maggie, Judith and Michonne, yes we are both crazy TWD fans. They adapted and settled in well to their new home. I am looking forward to the fun and frenzy chicken momma lifestyle, I am sure there will be plenty of drama and future stories to tell. I hope they enjoy living here and that they love the country life and the sweeping scenic panoramic hillside views as much as I do.

Carol

Carol is the ringleader for sure and top of the pecking order. Her BFF is Michonne and they like to hang out together. She is the playground bully (ha ha).

Maggie

Maggie may look innocent but she seeks revenge by projectile pooping on the others if they annoy her. She is not bothered about hygiene and can fire a code brown out her ass as quick as lightening, BEWARE! Her BFF is Judith and they like to hang out together and mimic each others walk. The terrible twosome are so funny to watch.

Judith

Is the small cute one with the fluffiest butt feathers. With Judith, the light’s on but no one’s home (if you know what I mean) but I love her dumb fluffy ass and to me she might not be the brightest star in the sky but she is the brightest star in my heart.

Michonne

Michonne who I assumed would be the naughty one is actually the most quiet and shy. She is super intelligent and was the first one to work out how to climb the ladder to reach the coop. She was also first to try out the perch and work out how to drink from the water dispenser. A bit of a smart ass in a good way.

The Chicken Whisperers (Chicken Momma & Papa)

I am slightly worried that I may get a new nickname of “The crazy chicken lady of Vinho”. I’m O.K with this, I’ve been called a far lot worse (ha ha).

Cluckingham Palace & Views

Views throughout the different seasons

I LOVE the views from Casa Valhal garden. Each season brings different colours and I hope my girls fall in love with the ever changing views as they really are spectacular. I never ever take this stunning view for granted as living for 8 years in Bristol in a first floor flat with no access to a garden was soul destroying so I relish my little haven.

Carol’s causing chaos!

It’s already crazy chaos! Carol the white one is the lady Mafia boss and she is kicking everyone with her little dinosaur feet so drama queen Maggie has retaliated by doing a huge code brown (poop) on her own foot then discreetly wiped it down the side of Carol’s white feathers so she ain’t so white and pure anymore. Carol has no one to blame but herself (ha ha). They were struggling to get into the coop so hubby made them a ladder out of odd bits of wood he found in the shed. He now wants to make them a seesaw!

Shabby chic to Shabby shitty

The ladies had a wonderful first night in the coop. The shabby chic nesting box curtains that Teanna lovingly handmade are wrecked! It took one night to turn them from shabby chic to shabby shitty (ha ha). Maggie is the main culprit and likes to projectile poop everywhere like she is in prison and having a dirty protest (ha ha). I keep looking at these before photos, they were so very pretty once upon a time. I should have made the hens pay a non refundable damage deposit like a hotel (ha ha). I’m not sharing the after photos as it was BAD!

First night

My ladies had a great first night in their coop. They all put themselves to bed into the little renovated stone ruin. Carol and Michonne found a nice spot on the perch but Judith just sat on the floor which I found odd. We went to all that effort to make epic nesting boxes with straw and a perch and Judith prefers the floor! It’s like when I bought my children an expensive gift for Christmas and they preferred playing with the huge cardboard box (ha ha). As for Maggie, she sat ontop of the nesting box and fired out many poops from a height all over the place. It was utter destruction when I opened that door this morning, poop city (ha ha).

Cheers

Cheers me deers (as us Bristolians would say). We are planning to raise a glass or two tonight and toast the completion of a long enduring project but a worthwhile DIY adventure. Cheers everyone!

I’m still shocked at what us 2 oldies managed to accomplish by transforming the tiny old ruin into a chicken coop and run, such a rewarding project and all made from recycled and donated materials. A huge thanks to Helen W (Facebook friend) who kindly donated the roof tiles. I literally owe the roof over their heads to Helen. I will keep you all posted with regular updates of our new little family. For now I’m off to hang out with my ladies who I already LOVE to the moon and back XXXX