The Great Betty

This year, 2017, marks the 10th year of our chicken keeping experience, and today, on her tenth birthday, we pay tribute to the great and glorious Betty, one of our first three hens, and a remarkable survivor.

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Betty, on the day she arrived in our lives

Betty came to us, with her two sisters, Hetty and Letty, on 2nd September 2007, a rather dull and damp Sunday as I recall. We had spent the previous weekend, August Bank Holiday, building a 4ft by 3ft chicken house from plywood, plus a six foot long 4 foot high fenced run to keep them safe. We took delivery of these feathery bundles and our hearts were instantly captured.

Although all three hens were bought as point-of-lay, Betty looked much younger than the other two and took longer to come into lay; Hetty laid an egg within a couple of hours of arriving, Letty’s first egg arrived a couple of days later. But Betty took nearly two months to produce her first effort. I was away at a conference on the momentous day and nearly whooped when I received the triumphant text from Paul that the Betty egg had arrived!

Despite being the youngest, Betty soon showed her character and took her place as top hen, and with every successive addition to the flock Betty let the newcomers know who was boss, ably assisted by her henchhen, Hetty.

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Hetty, on the right, about to clean Betty’s beak!

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Betty in 2008, note the shrunken comb

In a remarkably long life (for a chicken), Betty has rarely been ill, or even off-colour; but she has caused concern once or twice. Once, she managed to get fine twine wrapped around her legs, but even hobbled by the twine she still managed to out-hop and out-manoeuvre us! We finally cornered her and removed the twine, but she struggled pretty much all the time; Betty is not into cuddles.

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Betty and best friend Dora, March 2017

Three times, she has had a foreign object lodged in a nostril. The first time, I was alarmed to see a huge “growth” on the side of her beak, and after the inevitable chase and struggle, we caught her in order to investigate. After determining that it looked like a lump of dirt, I proceeded to soak it and gently manipulated it with tweezers, until I finally freed it and Betty could breathe properly again. When I cut the lump open, I found a sunflower seed at its heart! She had snorted one of her favourite treats and there it had lodged, gradually accreting dirt, mucus and goodness knows what else ! Every two or three years since she has managed to do the same or similar, and each time it has been a bit of a struggle and has taken the strength of two adult humans to hold her still while investigating and removing the foreign objects!

Having started laying later than the others, Betty gave up laying after about 4 years and has divided her time since to keeping the rest of the flock under her thumb and terrorising the cockerels.

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Betty disappeared every morning for a couple of weeks; this was what she was doing!

I never realised, when I first started keeping chickens, that they could live to be 10 years old, but Betty has achieved it. She is a little less active these days, finds the steps down from the henhouse in the mornings a little troublesome, and will now let us pick her up gently and place her on the ground when she hesitates on the top step; we are still not allowed to give lengthy cuddles, however. She is not quite so territorial over food, allowing the others to take food, even her favourite grapes and sunflower seeds, but she can still deliver a quick peck to another hen if they transgress some unwritten but fiercely policed chicken rule.betty_closeup.png

She has seen a lot of hens, and two cockerels, come and go over the years; she lost her henchhens Molly and Polly in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and her beloved Hetty in 2014 also. I’m glad that, after Hetty died, she made a friend of Dora, our other Black Rock and very like Hetty in colouring. Dora sleeps next to her on the perch, keeps an eye on her during the day, and generally provides companionship whilst the other, younger, hens race around about their own business.

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I know that every day with Betty in our lives is a bonus. Her body has to give up eventually, but her spirit is so strong that I think she will be Top Hen for as long as we keep chickens.

Happy Birthday to our Great and Glorious Betty!

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The 10th Birthday Portrait

See also my coverage of Betty’s eighth birthday celebrations.

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Mother’s Day

Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day, is just another overly commercialised gift giving opportunity, designed to increase sales for makers of greeting’s cards and sellers of overpriced cut flowers. Or so I used to think. We start life wholly dependent upon our parents, but as we grow up (and if they have done a good job of bringing us up) we inch imperceptibly away from them, building our own lives mentally and physically elsewhere. Sometimes, we still live with or close to them, but spend our spare time with friends; sometimes, we live great distances away and see them only intermittently.

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Thelma in 1948, aged 20

Even after I married, I lived only twenty minutes drive from my parents, and used to visit often; sometimes calling in after work for a cup of tea, sometimes going ‘home’ for Sunday lunch. Even when I moved further away, I still managed to visit monthly and spoke on the phone (no Skype in those days!) several times a week. I still took it for granted that my Mum would always be there, as a sounding board, a source of friendly gossip, a familiar voice. I suppose, I never really thought about a special day for mothers because mine was ‘always there’. And then she wasn’t. My Mum died in January 1993; 24 years have gone by, and every year since I would give anything to have been able to give her a gift and an overpriced card for Mother’s Day. I guess I really did take it for granted that I would have her, if not forever, then at least for a lot more years.

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1991

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A Sad Goodbye, 2016

This year has been one of settling down again, of getting our home into shape and enjoying the long warm summer. It has also been a year of sadness in the flock with a number of bouts of egg peritonitis and an unexplained death.

Goldilocks was the first to cause us concern this year. She was the last of our three Fenton Rose hens. Goldilocks had begun to look peaky at the end of January, with distinct signs of peritonitis. I took her to the vet for treatment and Emma gave her booster injections but it was already too late, I suspect. She died on 3rd of February, lying in the sunshine in the conservatory; she was 4 years old.

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Goldilocks

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Goldilocks comforting Charlie when he had a bad chest infection

Ruby, one of our Rhode Island Red hens, had been struggling with a saggy crop for some time and we thought we were handling it reasonably well, but it got worse and instead of soft and squidgy became hard and impacted. I had exhausted all of the information and advice on various poultry forums, so I took her to the vets. Emma was about to go on maternity leave, so she couldn’t perform the necessary operation, but she consulted her colleagues and one said he had seen it done and would have a go. I should have stopped right there and taken Ruby somewhere else, but I stupidly trusted them and poor sweet Ruby died under anaesthetic, on 8th March; she was just over 2 years old.

Both Maisie, the Whitestar, and Dora the Black Rock (and Betty’s right-hand hen) have suffered with peritonitis; Maisie suffered it twice. The first time it happened, after several days of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, I took Maisie to the vets for something more radical. The two vets at our usual vets practice who had had a real feel for hens-as-pets have both seemingly left, either on maternity leave or for good; the remaining vets seem to be its-only-a-hen-cull-it types and I lost all patience with them when they refused to treat Maisie and would offer only euthanasia. I took her home, gave her double doses of the antibiotics/anti-inflammatories, and supported that with Nutridrops and Bach’s Rescue Remedy to try to get her to eat and drink. It took a week, but she and I got her through it, her poo returned to normal, and she was anxious to return to the flock – hens really do not like being on their own and ache for company. I spent a lot of time with Maisie,  sitting with her to keep her company, chatting with her, and encouraging her to eat by providing lots of tasty morsels with high nutritional content. She perked up, started to eat gradually, and eventually joined the flock on their afternoon ramble around the garden. Once her poo looked normal and she was eating and drinking without constant encouragement I felt safe in letting her off the drugs and letting her stay outside. I know that, once she has had one bout of peritonitis she is likely to continue having problems, but instead of a euthanized hen, we have a happy healthy girl, so I don’t regret taking the time and energy getting her whole again.

Maisie in her temporary accommodation in the conservatory, already looking better!

No sooner had Maisie recovered than Dora showed signs of the same thing – hunched, off her food, mucky backend and yellow poo with green bits in. So indoors she came, to be cosseted and drugged as Maisie had been. Dora recovered very quickly and was back outside with the flock inside a week.

Dora, back to health

Dora, back to health

In the early autumn, Maisie succumbed a second time to peritonitis, but we caught it early, started her on the regime, and as soon as her poo was normal again, she went back outside. She laid a couple of eggs, then decided to have a late moult! She currently looks rather odd without her tail and with a shrunken comb, but on the other hand her coat is a gleaming white and she is running around fit and well.

Angel snoozing on my lap in the sunshine; the wind is whipping his tail around!

Angel had big feathery feet that occasionally needed washing

The fifth birthday party in May 2016; cake, naturally

The summer was long, hot and dry at times, and very calm. The flock went about its business, roaming the field each afternoon, snoozing in the shade on hot sunny days, visiting the conservatory to hoover up crumbs dropped by careless humans! It was an idyllic time, and I loved lounging outside in the sunshine with hens around me and Angel the cockerel dozing on my lap. Summer slid into autumn and the warmth and sunshine did not abate; we picked fabulous crops of raspberries and blackcurrants, and examined our apples weekly for signs that they were ready to pick. In early October, the apple crop was ready, we had a crusher and a cider press on standby and waiting to turn it into our first cider brewing. On Saturday 15th October, it was a lovely sunny mild afternoon, so after chicken-house-cleaning, we set to and crushed and pressed our crop from five apple trees and set up 6 demijohns full of golden juice! Most of the hens wandered off when they realised there was no food to be had, but Angel hung around, watching us, clucking occasionally, trying to get into the laundry room to find treats, and eventually settling down to a nice snooze in a patch of sunshine in the garage. He was his usual self, both on Saturday and on Sunday when the sunny afternoon was as warm as a summers day. On Sunday, as he did every evening, when the flock began to wend its way to bed, Angel waited at the gate to the compound for his humans to come to pick him up and give him a cuddle then escort him personally to bed, where he had a few sunflower seeds as a treat and some corn, then retired to the nestbox to snuggle up with Rosie and Tamsin, his two Croad ladies. Sunday 16th October was no different; Angel stood patiently while Paul bent to pick him up, cuddled him and walked over to the Croad house, and put him on the ladder and gave him his treats, then said good night and closed the door. We finished locking the rest of the houses up and were about to leave the compound when we heard a commotion in the Croad house and although the stomping noises were not unusual Rosie’s terrified screams were. We rushed over to find Angel in the nestbox in the throes of a heart attack so massive that, to be honest, he was probably already dead. We tried compression and mouth to beak resuscitation but to no avail and he died in our arms. He was five and a half years old.

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Angel’s favourite pastime, being cuddled by his daddy

We had hatched Angel, his brother Jarvis and two sisters Daisy and Isabella over two days, 28-29th May 2011 (see Hatching Update and many subsequent posts). They were the sweetest chicks, with little feathery feet from the moment they left the egg; Angel was buff coloured initially, eventually growing to a pure snowy white; for a couple of days when he was small he held one of his wings straight up from his back, so the name Angel was was coined and stuck. In March 2012 Angel had injured his eye, and the left eyeball was eventually removed, but he recovered well and showed great resilience in overcoming his disability. He was the sweetest and gentlest of giants; he never once pecked me, never attacked a human, was reasonably considerate to his hens, and was in general very easy going, allowing us to cuddle him whenever we liked (which was often!) He went about his business muttering his little song, had a deep resonant crow that took a lot of effort, stretching his neck up and to the right and finding his voice from deep in his ample chest. Since he died, I miss his crowing and his constant chatter. The hens and even the other two cockerels have been quieter than usual; Rosie and Tamsin took a long time to recover from the trauma of being with him when he died. We shall never forget him, he was an important part of our lives and the heart of our flock for over 5 years, and could never be replaced.

R.I.P

Goldilocks, Fenton Rose, born spring 2012, bought 8th July 2012, died 3rd February 2016

Ruby, Rhode Island Red, born winter 2013, bought 7th March 2014, died 8th March 2016

Angel, Croad Langshan, born 29th May 2011, died 16th October 2016

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The Year of Knitting Lacily: March Update

The last shawl of the challenge! I can hardly believe it! The challenge has been pretty fraught at times, with too little yarn or too few beads, but this was not one of those times. For my twelfth and final shawl, I have been knitting Lady of the Blue Forest by Ashley Knowlton. There are two versions of this shawl; one is almost square and takes nearly 500m, the second is triangular and takes half that. I have been knitting the smaller of the two, but would really like to knit the larger one at some point in the future. The yarn I used is Amana, which was November’s colour in the Wharfedale Woolworks Colour Therapy Sock Club of 2015. I have failed to find the meaning of Amana and it’s relevance to the colour blue, but there is no denying it is a very pretty semi-solid. I did not use beads this time, although the shawl would look lovely with some blue beads worked into the flower-like edging.

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As you can see from the amount of yarn left, I could probably have managed a third section of the pattern, giving a three-sides-of-the-square shawl, and it would have been helpful if the pattern had offered this option. As it was, I had 44% of the yarn left over, plenty for a larger shawl. Another helpful feature would have been a blocking diagram or advice on blocking. The edge has lots of points, but because the pattern has a number of elements along the edge it is not always obvious what should be a point and what should not. All in all, a very pretty shawl, I just wish it were larger!

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Technical Notes:
Pattern: Lady of the Blue Forest by Ashley Knowlton
Yarn: Wharfedale Woolworks Yorkshire Rose BFL, colour Amana
Needles: Addi 4mm circular 100cm
Yarn remaining: 48g (approximately 170m)
Finished dimensions: top edge 102cm , widest point 57cm

What Next?
I have been cooking up another idea for a challenge, but it needs further development, and so I am holding off starting it for the moment. Meanwhile I have lots of work to do for my City and Guilds course, and lots of fairisle I want to knit before next winter. I have also opened an Etsy shop, selling knitting and crochet stitch markers, called GranaryKnits, and I am blogging about that enterprise on the GranaryKnits WordPress blog. Never a dull moment!

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The Year of Knitting Lacily: February Update

For once, it was not the yarn or the pattern that was the challenge, it was the beads with this month’s shawl! I have been knitting Fine Vine by Marisa Hernandez, a nice shallow crescent shawl with a pretty border. I had some lovely pearlescent size 6 beads that looked ideal to match the Wharfedale Woolworks yarn in Demeter, a splendid earthy semisolid. I planned the layout of the beads, but didn’t count the total required – 650ish would be enough wouldn’t it?! The problem was compounded because the beads were variable in overall size and very variable in hole size. I ended up having to abandon the fine crochet hook and thread some of them onto the stitches using cotton. When it became obvious that I was going to run out of even the smaller beads, I tried to buy some more, but the shop was closed over Christmas and New Year, so I bought some Miyaki size 6 white perlescent beads instead. They turned out a little whiter than the original beads and so I planned their inclusion gradually so that it looked deliberate instead of desperate! I used all of the second set of beads and needed just one more bead to complete!

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The border and body of this shawl are pretty, but I did have trouble with the top edge. The shawl is knitted outwards from the centre top, and the increases at the edge are achieved by knitting front and back into the first three stitches at the beginning and end of each right-side row. This construction results in a very tight edge, despite trying very hard to keep the increases loose. The blocking was therefore rather a trial!

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On the whole, I am very pleased with the shawl;  the colour is beautiful, and unusual for me as I normally avoid browns. I like the border as well, especially the heaviness of the beading. I’m looking forward to wearing this!

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Technical notes
Pattern: Fine Vine by Marisa Hernandez
Yarn: Wharfedale Woolworks Yorkshire Rose BFL, colour Demeter
Needles: Hiya Hiya steel 3.5mm circular 100cm, casting off with a 5mm needle to ensure a loose cast-off
Yarn remaining: 14g (approximately 49m)
Finished dimensions: top edge 150cm , widest point 46cm

February’s challenge
The last shawl of the challenge! I can hardly believe it! I have two really pretty blue skeins to choose from for this one and a fabulous pattern, Lady of the Blue Forest by Ashley Knowlton.
There are two versions of this shawl; one is almost square and takes nearly 500m, the second is triangular and takes half that. I shall be knitting the smaller of the two, but would really like to knit the larger one at some point in the future. The yarn I have selected is Amana, which was November’s colour in the Wharfedale Woolworks Colour Therapy Sock Club of 2015. I have failed to find the meaning of Amana and it’s relevance to the colour blue, but there is no denying it is a very pretty semi-solid. I shall not be using beads this time!

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The Year of Knitting Lacily: January Update

What a lovely shawl! Slow Dance by Nim Teasdale is a beautiful all-over lace design that you can grow as much or as little as you like. The lozenge shapes fit together neatly, and are flexible enough for you to be able to use up every scrap of your skein of yarn. With this in mind, I started to weigh my remaining yarn during the last two pattern repeats, and determined that each row was using 2g of yarn. This enabled me to knit almost to the end of the ball; I wasn’t sure how much yarn the stretchy cast off would take so I erred on the side of caution and was left with 9 grams.

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This is another shawl from Nim’s Love is Friendship Caught on Fire collection, and features two charts which can be used singly or in combination. The overall effect is more geometric and less flowery (or leafy) than other designs I have completed in this challenge. The yarn is a lovely semi-solid turquoise from Wharfedale Woolworks. It is called Laguna, and is a one-off hand dyed yarn in Kirsty’s beautiful Yorkshire Rose BFL sock range, so I was still restricted to 385m and 110g. I also used approximately 920 Debbie Abrahams silver-lined clear number 6 beads and a 1mm steel crochet hook.

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The cast off I used was the straightforward Russian cast off, as I thought Jeny’s extremely stretchy cast off would be too bulky on the delicate edge.
For the record, I knitted the setup chart, followed by chart 1, chart 3, chart 2 twice, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3, 2, 3 extended, and row 1 of chart 2 before casting off on the wrong side.

This shawl is lovely to wear, sitting easily on the shoulders and rippling down the back in a cascade of silver!

Technical notes
Pattern: Slow Dance by Nim Teasdale
Yarn: Wharfedale Woolworks Yorkshire Rose BFL, colour Laguna
Needles: Addi steel 4mm circular 100cm
Yarn remaining: 9g (approximately 31m)
Finished dimensions: top edge 135cm , widest point 85cm

January’s challenge
Just two more shawls to go and I shall have completed my personal challenge to knit a lacy shawl a month for 12 months! January here in Yorkshire is usually cold but with lovely bright days even if they are short! I’m thinking of another beaded shawl, this time using some lovely pearl beads I bought from Justadaydream’s Etsy store. These beads have already determined which yarn I use! Wharfedale Woolworks penultimate yarn of this year’s sock yarn club is Demeter, the Greek goddess of the harvest. Wikipedia says “Though Demeter is often described simply as the goddess of the harvest, she presided also over the sacred law, and the cycle of life and death”, and also suggests that, etymologically speaking, her name could be translated as Mother Earth. With this in mind, no doubt, Kirsty has produced an interesting semi-solid yarn in shades of brown ranging from light stone to an earthy rich humus; pearl beads will enhance this, representing small pebbles in the soil.

The pattern I shall be knitting is Fine Vine by Marisa Hernandez, an all over vine motif with a lacy leafy border. No beads are specified, so I shall be placing them myself, in the border to enhance the leaves.

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Comings and Goings in 2015

This year has seen a lot of upheaval, both in human terms and for the flock. We had been living in rented accommodation since September 2014, while the house was completely renovated. Driving to and fro every day, spending all day “at home” in an 8x10ft hut trying to keep warm and dry and tending to the flock, made life very difficult. But we survived, and moved back at the end of October. Life is slowly returning to normal.

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Goldilocks exploring Charlie’s new house with the old house in the background, left

On the chook front, we gave Charlie and his ladies a new home, built indoors over winter and finally erected on 21st February. We reorganised the layout of the pens for Charlie and Freddie, giving them each more room, then put up Charlie’s new house. There was much interest from the flock! By the time we had finished it was starting to get dark, so we didn’t have time to take the old house down but left it in place, closed up for the time being. Charlie, Ruby and Goldilocks had no hesitation, but marched up the steps into the new house, and did not even try to go into the old one! It was an instant success – clean warm and dry, no draughts, no rats able to gnaw their way in. Charlie had a new home at last, having lived in the old plywood coop for two years. The plywood house was the first hen house we built, over August Bank Holiday 2007 to accommodate our very first three hens. In the eight years we used it, it has been home to ex-batts, chicks, lone cockerels – virtually every chook we have had has lived in it at one time or another.  I’m not sorry to see it go as it was difficult to clean, but it is definitely part of our chook-keeping history and an important learning experience, informing our subsequent designs and housebuilding techniques.

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Betty admiring her birthday cake!

On 1st April, we celebrated Betty’s eighth birthday, a grand age for a hen! She was a little bemused by the attention but enjoyed the muffins, grapes and other special treats.

It was my birthday in May, and I had no idea of what I wanted as a present from my husband. It was his suggestion that we expand the flock, and, knowing that I really liked cream legbars, he started looking around for a supplier. It was difficult to find a local breeder with stock available, and we ended up back at Storrs Poultry, where they had six left. They were garden variety rather than show quality, and in rather a poor state, having ragged

Amber in 2014

Amber in 2014

tails and solid clumps of dry mud on their feet making it difficult for them to walk, but we took them anyway. I think that having six new hens is a wonderful birthday present, better by far than diamonds!

Sadly, May did not finish on a happy note. Amber, the Fenton Rose, died on 24th May cause unknown. She had been point of lay in July 2012, when we had driven to Stafford to buy her and her two sisters, so at less than three and a half she should still have been active and healthy.

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Goldilocks comforting Charlie

Amber’s demise seemed to trigger a certain restlessness in Goldilocks, the last of the three Fenton Roses. She no longer seemed content living with Charlie, Ruby and three of the legbars, but took to pacing up and down by the pen gate. Eventually she followed me out of the gate one day and took up residence in the Palace, becoming Betty’s new wingman. She did, however, make an unscheduled trip back to Charlie in rather memorable circumstances. At the end of July, Charlie developed a chest infection, lost his voice completely, and was feeling very sorry for himself. He went to the vet, and was put on antibiotics, then just sat around in the pen thoroughly fed up. His flock seemed to give him a wide berth so he was alone in his misery. Goldilocks, his erstwhile girlfriend, stood outside the gate to Charlie’s pen and looked at me as if to say “well, let me in then!” When I opened the gate she went straight over to the “bus shelter” where Charlie was perching and hopped up beside him. She stayed there all day, snuggled up to him, and slept in Charlie’s house that night. A couple of days later Charlie was starting to recover his joie de vivre, and Goldilock’s again “asked” to be let out of the pen to rejoin the main flock. She had never done that either before nor since; it was a complete one off,  to give comfort to a poorly cockerel!

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Scarlett at the start of her drastic moult

At the end of August, Scarlett the Rhode Island Red started to moult. Whilst that was not in itself unusual, the manner of her moult was. She lost 90% of her feathers over just 48 hours, and although the weather was warm, she seemed not to be enjoying the sunshine in her skin, but sat hunched and miserable in the shade. I wondered afterwards whether her extreme moult had been caused by some vitimin deficiency,  but I could find nothing in the reference book on chicken health that suggested rapid moulting was a symptom of anything. She refused food and water, and we tried syringing water into her beak to keep her hydrated, but then on 6th September I noticed that she appeared to be blind, and was shaking her head from side to side. Since it was a Sunday, I could not take her to the vet, but resolved to do so the next day, and gave her anti-inflammatories and antibiotics as a stop gap. Sadly, by morning she had died. We had bought Scarlett at point of lay on 7th March 2014,  so she was a little under two years old. She should have lived longer than that.

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Scarlett and Freddie in Spring

Once we were back in our home and settling in, I started to think about getting some more hens. The Palace, built to accommodate fifteen, was housing only six hens, and winter, albeit a mild one, was rapidly approaching; it seemed like a good idea to fill the house with hens to help them all to keep warm! One Saturday, I was looking on Facebook and noticed a member of the Poutry group I belonged to was selling four point of lay hens. The pictures were enticing – four different breeds, in good condition, and local to us – and no one else had as yet offered for them. Off we went to Barnsley, and bought them on the spot. And so, on 28th November, we welcomed to the flock Myrtle the Copper Black Maran, Daphne the Columbian Blacktail, Lavender the Cream Legbar, and Marigold the Rhode Island Red. They have settled in nicely.

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Dilys in April

But, as seems to happen too frequently, as our attention is diverted by a set of new hens, an existing flock member falls ill unnoticed. Dilys, one of Black Rocks we had bought in March 2014, suddenly took to sleeping in a nest box. I thought she was just reacting the the influx of new flockmates, but on 30th November she seemed rather hunched up and she let me stroke her (which is unusual). The next morning, she was still in the nest box and reluctant to stand, so I took her indoors, gave her antibiotics and anti-inflammatories, and some water as she was probably dehydrated. I left her in a quiet place to see if she would pick up, but an hour later I found she had died. The second unexplained and very sudden death this year. And another young hen, only just two years old, who should have been with us so much longer.

So again, the year has ended on a sad note, but there were plenty of good things too. We lost three hens and gained ten. We had a significant birthday for Betty, some illness amongst the flock (one bout of chest infection for Freddie and two for Charlie, Betty’s slightly swollen face that quickly healed, and several hens with suspected peritonitis who recovered), and a new home for Charlie and for ourselves!

In Memoriam
Amber, Fenton Rose, hatched Spring 2012, bought 8 July 2012, died 24 May 2015
Scarlett, Rhode Island Red, hatched Winter 2013, bought 7 March 2014, died 7 September 2015
Dilys, Black Rock, hatched Winter 2013, bought 7 March 2014, died 1 December 2015

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The Year of Knitting Lacily: November Update Update

Well, Lila is finally finished! Kirsty at Wharfedale Woolworks came through with a matching skein of hand dyed Eirene, a little paler than the original skein but giving a nice contrast for the body. The body is straightforward short-row stocking stitch. The pattern says to use a firm cast off to help maintain the crescent shape of the shawl, but did not advise on which cast off to use. I opted for Slip Stitch Crochet Cast Off, which is quick and simple and very firm.

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Technical notes
Pattern: Lila, by Gillie Parsons
Yarn: Wharfedale Woolworks Yorkshire Rose BFL, colour Eirene
Needles: Pony bamboo 4.5mm circular 100cm
Yarn remaining: 83g (out of 220g), approximately 290m left
Finished dimensions: 115cm at neck edge,  275cm at hem edge, 51cm maximum depth

Additions: size 8 silver-lined clear beads, approximately 375 used

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Home Sweet Home; or There and Back Again

We moved out of our house in September 2014. It was a wrench but had to be done if we were to realise our dream of a comfortable home. Now, fourteen months later, we have moved back, to a completely new environment. The house has been remodelled internally (see Our House Reborn), completely insulated (see If in Doubt, Insulate It), made airtight and given a state of the art ventilation system (see Airtightness and Ventilation) that recovers 93% of the heat from the outgoing air and uses it to heat the incoming air. We have solar panels on the roof, and pipework under our field bringing us hot water and heating via a ground source heat pump (Renewables in a Low Energy House). We have lost a bedroom (knocked two into one) and gained a conservatory. This is going to take some getting used to!

Setting up the blower door test

Setting up the blower door test

Initial impressions are: what a lot of space (the remodelled rooms are roomier!), and isn’t it warm! We shall have to keep adjusting the heating controls until it feels right as we adjust to the climate within the house. So far, the underfloor heating on the ground floor is barely on and the radiators on the first and second floors are cold, but the temperature reads 20.5degrees Celsius. Admittedly, this has been a mild October but it has been very windy at times this week and we have felt nothing of this within the house (unlike in previous years when a windy day meant a very cold house!).

The old saying goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating”.  In our case, the proof of the airtightness is in the blower door test. In an earlier post in this series, I mentioned that the blower door test performed before any work was done registered 16.9 ach (air changes per hour). In my second post, I said this:
“Although we cannot hope to achieve Passivhaus standard, and will struggle to meet EnerPhit, there is a lot that can be done to improve on 16.9ach. We have our fingers crossed for 3ach, but we shall have to wait and see”. Today, the waiting is over, the second blower door test has been performed, and the result is 2.5ach (an average of 2.2ach at 50Pascals pressure and 2.74ach on depressurisation).

Thermal image showing the "cold" spot on the old end wall

Thermal image showing the “cold” spot on the old end wall

The problem areas found were with the wall which was once the end wall of the original barn and is now an internal wall between the stairwell and the kitchen/living room/bedroom,  and the woodburning stove. The wall was always considered to be an issue, since its solid construction forms a thermal bridge; the test showed that junction points were one degree Celsius colder than adjoining walls, so 19degrees instead of 20degrees, which in a house where the internal temperature is maintained at a comfortable constant 20degrees, this should not prove a problem, condensation-wise. The woodburning stove is another matter. It is a Chesneys Milan 4 Passive, marketed as the only stove suitable for airtight houses. However, the installation instructions, which we only saw when we eventually took delivery of the stove, admit that the stove is not airtight. There is a row of slots behind the door which is inadequately sealed, and through which we had experienced draughts when the wind was blowing hard from the south, but in addition the flue connectors,  although correctly installed were also leaking at the junction with the fire. We removed the fire and sealed up the flue and retested, resulting in a 20% drop in air leakage.  Recalculating the result of the blower door test based upon the blocked up flue gives us a reading of 2ach. This is a phenomenal result! Our house is over 150 years old in places, with a mixture of solid wall and cavity wall construction, and to have reduced the leakiness to only 2 air changes per hour is wonderful! Huge kudos to Green Building Company for getting this result!

I shall be blogging about our first year in our reborn home at three monthly intervals, recording  what it is like living in such an environment. Look out for the next post in February 2016.

For other posts in this series, see:
Our House Reborn
Airtightness and Ventilation
Water, Water Everywhere
Renewables in a Low Energy House
If in Doubt, Insulate It

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If in Doubt, Insulate It

When we first discussed with Bill Butcher of Green Building Company the insulation techniques required for our house, using innovative materials was the last thing on our minds. We had assumed, in our naiveté, that Kingspan was our only option. We were so wrong!

I freely admit I don’t really understand what U-values are; I had never heard of interstitial condensation; I didn’t know that houses were supposed to breathe.

As the design of the renovation took shape, it became clear that our particular combination of extreme environment, solid walls, and rain penetration would require something more radical than just sticking Kingspan on the walls and hoping for the best.

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Innovative materials
Bill researched the available materials and found that the German company Knauf Aquapanel had been supplying an innovative product for passivhaus building, called TecTem. TecTem is made from perlite, an amorphous volcanic glass that has a relatively high water content, typically formed by the hydration of obsidian. When heated to 900degrees Celsius, the water is driven off and the perlite expands, giving a lightweight material with the additional property of being able to absorb and dispel water. It is mold-resistant, fibre-free, eco-friendly, and completely recyclable. It has excellent thermal properties and breathability. It would be ideal for use in the barn part of our house, where the solid walls and lack of damp proof course mean that we have problems with moisture; moreover, the ground floor suffers from rising damp in one corner. Just one snag; TecTem is not currently available in the UK. But Knauf were interested in working with us to provide a solution to our problem and supplied us with the TecTem direct from Germany. In return, we are supplying them with data on the performance of the product. Within our walls, buried behind the insulation as well as attached to some of our beams, are over 50 moisture and temperature sensors. These report wirelessly to an Omnisense monitor that transmits the data gathered to a central database where it can be analysed, coordinated by Tim at the AECB. We are really excited that our project to give us a warm home will help future builders and architects to choose the right materials.

I have already written about the use of Foamglas in preventing thermal bridging on our steel i-beams, and its use as a tanking material along our dampest wall. In addition to TecTem and Foamglas in the barn half of the house, we have another Knauf product, Thermoshell, on the walls of the 1990s extention, that is in the kitchen, living room and master bedroom. Thermoshell consists of two parts. First, on top of the parged stonework, horizontal studs are fixed, comprised of very high density foam called XPS with a layer of OSB chipboard on the outer face. The whole stud is 100mm thick. In between the studs, 100mm batts of Earthwool mineral fibre are fitted. The whole is then covered by a sheet of Intello and a service void is constructed on top using ordinary timber 2×2, with plasterboard and plaster skim completing the wall. Of course, this does have the effect of reducing the dimensions of the room by about 120mm per wall, but once completed the difference in size is not noticeable.

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The really interesting thing about the wall treatments, whether TecTem or Thermoshell, is that the insulation and plasterboard is not just taken down to the floor on each level; it is carried down the whole height of the house in one continuous layer.  The floorboards along the edges of rooms were removed to facilitate this, and where floor joists impinged they were remodelled and ruthlessly taped for airtightness; stud dividing walls were cut away from their junction with the outer walls or removed altogether and rebuilt on top of the continuous insulation. This method ensured that there are no breaks in the insulation and the whole house is warmed as a consequence.

Bill Butcher has blogged about the technical choices for insulating our home on the Green Building Company’s website.

The third innovative material to be used in the house are Vacuum Insulation Panels (VIPs). These panels are attached to the inner embrasure of each window and external door. They were necessary to minimise the depth of insulation around each window where the window could not be enlarged. Our windows were mostly originally cut into a windowless barn, and were made deliberately quite small. The few windows in the newer extension were made to match the small size. We had had new Ecoplus doors and windows installed some years previously and so could not feasibly have the openings enlarged. Moreover, enlarging them would have required bigger lintels and the whole project would have just got completely out of hand! Vacuum panels were the answer.

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VIPs do require special handling. They are made to measure for each flat surface of each opening; they cannot be pierced, and so have to be stuck in place; any other covering material, for example window boards or plasterboard, have to be similarly fixed with adhesive. A far as aftercare is concerned, we do have to be careful not to puncture the panels, so roller blinds fitted into the embrasures are not allowed; but otherwise there is no problem as they are protected by window boards and plasterboard. They are only 10mm thick but have the insulating property of other insulation material that is 100mm thick. More technical information can be found on Bill Butcher’s blog.

Notes

The U-value is the overall heat transfer coefficient that describes how well a building element conducts heat or the rate of transfer of heat (in watts) through one square metre of a structure divided by the difference in temperature across the structure.

Interstitial condensation is a form of structural damping that occurs when warm, moist air penetrates inside a wall, roof or floor structure, reaches the dew point and condenses into liquid water.

For other posts in this series, see:
Our House Reborn
Airtightness and Ventilation
Water, Water Everywhere
Renewables in a Low Energy House

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