Since doing all that fox proofing work on Chookingham Palace and the henitentiary yard I have got into the lazy habit of letting them put themselves to bed at night. There didn't seem to be any point in closing the little wooden door on the henhouse at night, and then getting up at the crack of dawn to let them out again. Instead I've left the door open, since nothing else can get into their enclosure, and have allowed them to decide their own bed and breakfast times.
This has the advantage of allowing me to snooze until noon, before stumbling out to feed them. Until very recently they haven't been eating very much at all. I put this down to them taking a rest from producing a large percentage of their body weight each day in eggs. They were picking out the mixed corn and leaving the layers pellets in the feed trough. So I have amused myself by feeding them tasty treats. Porridge with sprouts and cranberries was on their Christmas menu.
Last week I experienced some subsidence in the ground underneath the weed membrane and chipped bark that surrounds Chookingham palace. I stood on the ground and my foot sank down to the ankle. Weird. The ground on either side was firm, but it was as if a little gully had appeared, leading from the foundations of the henhouse and across to the raised bed that stands in front of the wall into nextdoor's garden. I pondered it for a while, wondering if it had been caused by run off from the recent rains, and resolved to watch out not to twist an ankle in it, and to give some consideration to filling it in at a later date when I CBA.
The day before yesterday, when I went out to feed the chooks at lunchtime they were ever so cross and hungry. Their food trough was completely empty, and they were pushing, shoving and grumbling at each other in their hurry to scoff the food I'd brought. I thought it was nice to see them getting their appetites back and wondered if this meant they were nearing the end of their moult.
Yesterday the same thing happened. I came out at lunchtime, the chickens were starving, the trough was empty. So I filled it up extra much. Today it was empty again, the chickens were hungry and cross, and there was a large round hole in the ground in the middle of their favourite dust bathing area.
Go on, tell me you guessed it right back at the first signs of subsidence! Rats! Sneaky cunning rats tunneling away beneath the ground, not coming up for air until they are right next to the chicken food. How do they do that? I've been looking round the outside of the chicken run every day, expecting to see signs of digging if something is trying to get inside. But the first sign of these rats was the magically disappearing food. I think they must have had a hole that came up right behind the trough where I couldn't see it, and now they've probably got so fat from stuffing themselves with organic layers pellets with extra omega 3 that they couldn't squeeze into the old hole and had to dig a socking great huge one right in the middle of dust bath.
Anyone got a Jack Russel they'd consider loaning me? Just for a few nights? I did consider sitting up and waiting for them with night vision goggles and an elephant gun, but decided the neighbours might worry. So now I have shut the food inside with the chickens, closed the pophole door and removed the gangplank, and will have to crawl out of bed at first light to let them out.