Exploding hens and wobbly eggs

OK, before you start to worry, let me assure you that no hens were harmed in the production of this post.

One of the joys of being a gardener is watching the seasons change and savouring the different produce. However, keeping animals adds an extra dimension to this connection with nature. I know, for example, that there will be fewer eggs from the hens in the winter, which makes them all the more precious in the summer. But hens do other stuff than lay eggs and perhaps the most spectacular is the autumn moult. Now, not all hens moult and not all moult completely, and those that do moult don’t always do it in the autumn. However, every so often one of the hens embarks on a complete change of feathers…

and so, Tiffany has gone from being fully-feathered last week to well on her way to oven-ready today. There are feathers all over the garden and in the hen house… to look at it, you really would think one of them had exploded (or been got by a fox).

Anna had a much more gentle moult over the summer and you can see her beautiful blue-grey plumage in one of the pictures above. Anna has always been rather rubbish at laying eggs, but having got over her moult, she is doing her best now. The other day she produced the egg on the right in the picture below (the middle one is ‘normal’ sized and the one on the left is from Aliss our smallest hen):

3 eggs

well, that’s not very impressive, Anna

Yesterday, however, she did manage to lay a normal sized egg:

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well, that’s a better size

However, all that effort that went into making a white and a yolk left no energy for a shell:

We’re hoping that the next one is full-size and fully formed!

Not much like spring

Despite the sowing of seeds in the limery, spring has not really arrived here yet and I daren’t sow any seeds outdoors for fear of them drowning! Of course the day when it was gardening weather this week, I was stuck in a training room doing a food safety course and exam. Now I have some free time it’s chilly and raining. I did manage to plant a new rhubarb root earlier, but then the rain started so I’m letting some of my little helpers get on with a bit of weeding and pest management:

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slug-hunting (I hope)

I’ve finished my editing work for the week, so I’m getting on with my first ever crochet sweater:

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work in progress

Sadly, the picture doesn’t do the colour justice… I would describe it as teal with some coloured flecks. The yarn is from New Lanark – a favourite maker for me, although this is the first time I have used their chunky wool. And, as ever, Max is keeping an eye on progress. He’s a bit chilly as he was clipped yesterday, but he does look lovely:

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Max has had a hair-do

The wet weather is forecast for the whole weekend, so it looks like more indoor seed sowing and crochet are on the cards. What are your plans for the weekend?

Three Things Thursday: 1 September 2016

As usual I’m joining with Emily of Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As she says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, chickens – happy and behaving naturally. Specifically the fact that this:

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Feathers!

is because of this:

Moulty Bluebell

Moulty Bluebell

not because of a fox or other predator. This is quite an early moult, but it’s good because the weather is still pleasant, so she’s not shivering or drenched (yet). As you can see the two new girls are also doing well; they are both laying almost every day… so I’m grateful for their eggs too.

Second, crafty activities. I spent the whole of Sunday sewing, crocheting, paper-crafting and generally being creative. I’ll write a whole post dedicated to some of the sewing sometime in the future, so here is an example of some paper-craft:

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Mr Snail’s birthday card

Third, tomatoes. For many years I have found it impossible to grow tomatoes. Every year in our old greenhouse I got only a tiny crop before the plants succumbed to Botrytis mould. This year is the first full growing season for the limery, and I’m delighted to report it’s turned the tide and I can now produce my own tomatoes – hurrah!

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

 

Three Things Thursday: 30 June 2016

Joining with Nerd in the Brain (and others) for Three Things Thursday’. As “Nerd” says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

First, home-grown fruit and vegetables. In the past week we’ve had herbs, leeks, potatoes, raspberries, peppers and tomatoes, plus our first courgette. There may be rampant weeds and rampaging slugs (it’s been wet recently) but we are harvesting.

Second, sensitive plants. The seeds I sowed that came from The Eden Project germinated well and I’ve now got lots of plants. They need potting up, but before I do that, here they are in action:

And I just want to assure you that I don’t regularly molest my plants like this!

Third, happy hens and lots of eggs. The new girls have settled in well. Oldies and newbies are still choosing to sleep in separate houses, but Aliss is laying in the main house. Mags has not yet started to lay, although she’s grown well and is becoming calmer and more sociable with us. It’s good to see them functioning as a single flock.

So that’s it for this week. What are you feeling grateful for?

Aliss lays an egg

In a week in which the news is full of the horror of another mass shooting, football violence and yet more refugee deaths, not to mention wild claims about the results of Britain remaining in/leaving the EU, it’s good to focus on events at a more personal level (if only to remain sane).

And so, I’m delighted to tell you that one of our new girls, Aliss 2, has laid her first egg today, just 2 weeks after we got her. She’s still quite a small hen, but she managed a 43g egg. For comparison, Tiffany’s egg today weighed 76g.

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Eggs from (L) Tiffany and (R) Aliss 2

You may be wondering about why she’s Aliss 2… well, she is so similar to our original Aliss (late of this garden), that we just knew that we’d end up calling her Aliss anyway. I had thought she might be Two-ey, but the Aliss has stuck. For comparison, this is the first Aliss:

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Aliss the first

And this is our new girl:

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Aliss the second

The first one was a good layer and it looks promising for our newbie.

Do you have good news to share this week?

Bathtime

Personal hygiene is important whether you are a human or a hen. We have an area of wood chip in the part of the garden that the hens occupy and this provides perfect conditions for a dust bath when the weather is dry. The new girls seem to be especially keen

I even managed to get a little film of Mags in action:

Oh for it to be that easy for humans! Over the years of writing this blog, I’ve pondered several times about eco-friendly grooming, finally settling on buying shampoo in bulk (I haven’t yet found a shampoo bar I like, although I haven’t given up on the idea) and washing with real soap (bars not liquid). I’ve tried a number of different soaps and particularly like the stuff made out of goats’ milk. Sadly, the little business that I bought some from a couple of months ago don’t have any in stock at the moment, so a new search was required… and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a company that not only makes soap without the use of any palm oil, they also don’t use plastic in their packaging. I’ve only just ordered from The All Natural Soap Company so I can’t show you a picture and I can’t say for sure whether they live up to their own description, but I have high hopes… I will report back.

Three Things Thursday: 2 June 2016

As I have been so bad at blogging in recent months, I’m wondering whether some structure might help. So, with this in mind I’ve decided that each week I will join with Nerd in the Brain (and others) and write a ‘Three Things Thursday’ post. As “Nerd” says…

*three things that make me smile: an exercise in gratitude – feel free to steal this idea with wild abandon and fill your blog with the happy*

So, without further ado, here they are…

First, something I completed a few weeks ago, but that I haven’t blogged about but is still making me smile every time I see it… my completed Arizona Dreams throw. I’m still sad that Colinette, the company that produced the kit, is closing down, but very grateful that I have had the chance to work with some of their yarns (and have some more squirrelled away in my stash).

Second, I’m loving the abundant growth in the limery at the moment. Summer is here and we have tomatoes and peppers developing, melon flowers, passion flowers and pitcher plants thriving. Plus there’s my lovely light-catcher creating rainbows (thank you Pauline).

Third, is both sad and happy… or old girl Lorna died a few days ago.

She was six and a half (not bad for a chicken) and she’d had a fabulous life, digging holes, eating slugs and invading the vegetable patch. She’d even laid eggs up until a couple of months ago. She went to sleep the other day and didn’t wake up. Since she was the last of our original flock, it does seem like the end of an era. However, our hens are working girls and so we needed a couple of replacement layers. We chose a Light Sussex and a Rhoderock (apparently that’s the correct name for what we have previously called a Blackrock). We’ve been enjoying watching them settle in. Tiffany is putting them in their place and making sure everyone knows she’s top chicken. We have named them Mags (short for Magrat) and Aliss II (our last Blackrock was Aliss). They are a little skittish at the moment, but here are a few pictures:

Mags is clearly less mature than Aliss II judging from that teeny-tiny comb, but there should be eggs in a month or two.

So that should be my three things for the week, but I just want to add my gratitude for Skype, which allowed me to chat with Kate (Tall Tales from Chiconia) yesterday prior to her setting off for Brisbane for an operation on her spine. I’m sure those of you who know Kate and her blog will join with me in wishing her well… I’m hoping that next week one of my ‘three things’ will be gratitude that Kate is on the mend.

Bags, beans and ebay

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A repair like a carrot!

I realise a whole week has gone by without a post… a combination of being busy and having a computer problem. The latter was related to an overheating power input, which was rectified with a new cable with replacement plug secured with Sugru – a cheap and simple solution, but one that took a little time because of the logistics of finding the replacement and then having to wait 24 hours for the Sugru to dry. The current obsession with excessively replacing electronic equipment is a real issue environmentally, and so I’m delighted with any solution that allows me to keep using my computer… I fully support the Restart Code, which you can check out here.

Away from the computer, the declutter continues, with five successful sales on ebay this week. I find the whole process of sorting out online auctions somewhat tedious, but it’s a good way to make sure unwanted items go to homes where they will get some use, so every now and then I grit my teeth and do a few listings. This time I sold five out of six items listed, which seems like quite a success to me.

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Drawstring bags for vegetables

Reducing clutter is also taking the form of turning some of the “I’m keeping this because it might be useful” things into things that really are useful.So, I spent a while cutting up an old sheet to make cleaning cloths (more on this in a later post when I’ve finished experimenting). In addition, I made four drawstring bags from off-cuts of very thin curtain fabric to use when we go shopping. We always take our own shopping bags, but rarely remember to take individual bags to put vegetables in. I used scrap fabric and some cotton tape that had been around some clothes I bought (rather than plastic packaging), so the resulting bags really are something for nothing. So far I’ve made two large ones and two small ones, but I’ll dig out some more fabric soon and make a few more. I’ve also been working on a crochet bag using yarn oddments… more on that when it’s finished.

And then there has been the garden. Two of our raised beds have been mulched over the winter, but the other day we took the mulch (Mypex) up from one of them, netted it and sent the chickens in to clear our any pests and weed seeds.

They spent a few hours in there on two days and then the bed was ready for planting… just a few roots of docks, dandelions and buttercups had to be dug out first. This afternoon I planted it up with broadbeans and potatoes… fingers crossed for a good harvest.

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Plants in – scarlet-flowered runner beans and potatoes

Farewell, Esme

All good things must come to an end and so, just like the witch she was named after, Esmeralda has not seen the end of 2015.

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A recent picture with a tatty Tiffany

 

Esme was one of our first hens, so we have had her for more than five and a half years. For a long time she was our best layer and provided us with many hundreds of eggs. Like her namesake, she had blue eyes – a feature that helped me decide on her name – and was top hen for most of her years with us.

Sadly Mr Snail found her dead in the hen house a few mornings ago – there had been no illness and she had been happily pecking around eating corn and oats the day before, so it seems just to have been old-age.

Although it’s sad to lose any animal, it’s also good to know that they had a happy life and, in this case, were responsible to converting our huge slug surplus into something we could eat. And now, her final contribution is added fertility to the garden, as she’s been laid to rest in the new raised bed.

Thank you, Esme, and goodbye!

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A very young Esme

Bare bottoms and ruffled feathers

It is, as Winnie the Pooh would say, a very blustery day. In years gone by, this would not have been too much of an issue for me – I would have settled down with my editing, putting not so much as my nose out of the door. But not so now – keeping livestock means that you have to consider their needs before your own and you must venture outdoors whatever the weather. In my case, it’s only ensuring the welfare of four chickens, which doesn’t take long, but it does make me appreciate the dedication of all those farmers who care for their animals in all conditions 365 days of the year.

So, out I went in my pjs, wellies and raincoat first thing this morning to let the hens out, check their water and feed and give them a handful or two of corn. Out they pop, whatever the weather, and start to scratch around. They seem to prefer to drink from a puddle rather than their water bowl when it’s wet – I guess the mud gives it flavour!

The wind ruffles their feathers and they get soggy in the rain, but most chickens are waterproof and well-insulated and they have a dry house with perches and nest boxes, so they don’t have to be exposed to the elements. Unfortunately, however, naked chickens are not so protected from the elements and so we need to keep an eye on poor Tiffany.

A week ago she looked like this:

Bye-bye feathers

Bye-bye feathers

Just a couple of days ago, she looked like this:

A bad-hair day, chicken-style

A bad-hair day, chicken-style

And now, she’s getting lots of feathers on her back, but her rear-end is rather exposed:

I think she might need some big pants if those feathers don't grown back soon

I think she might need some big pants if those feathers don’t grown back soon

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before she returns to her warm and feathery glory like Anna in the background here:

Back: Anna, post-moult; Front: a very tatty Tiffanny

Back: Anna, post-moult; Front: a very tatty Tiffany

Chickens with full plumage, like Esme below, may get ruffled, but are simply not bothered by a day like today:

A fully-feathered bottom weathering a very blustery day

A fully-feathered bottom weathering a very blustery day

So, here’s to all those dedicated people who are out in the fields and on the hills caring for their cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry whatever the weather.

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