Having mentioned homemade mayonnaise yesterday, I have had a number of requests for the recipe I use, so here it is:

Mayonnaise with a little black pepper

Mayonnaise with a little black pepper

  • 2 large egg yolks
  • a generous pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp mustard powder
  • ¼ pint extra virgin olive oil
  • ¼ pint sunflower oil
  • apple scrap vinegar (or commercial cider or white wine vinegar)

I use my Kenwood Chef with the balloon whisk attachment. Make sure all your ingredients are at room temperature.

  1. Put the egg yolks in the bowl with the mustard and salt and whisk up together
  2. Very gradually, add the oil (the two sorts mixed together) – just a few drops to begin, whisking on a high speed
  3. Very slowly add more oil, whisking all the time until the mayonnaise thickens
  4. Once you have a thick mixture, you can add the oil more quickly, but make sure you whisk it all up to combine it well
  5. Once combined add vinegar to thin it to the desired consistency. With commercial vinegar a teaspoon might be enough, with homemade you might need a tablespoon or more.
  6. Store in the fridge in an air-tight jar.
  7. Flavour as desired with, for example, crushed garlic and freshly ground black pepper

You can make it by hand, but it is a slow business and you need to be really patient and add the oil a drop or two at a time until quite a lot of it is combined.

I don’t see any reason you can’t use duck eggs instead of hens eggs. Wherever they come from, though, remember that mayonnaise is not cooked, so you will be eating raw egg.

If you haven’t made your own mayonnaise before, you might be surprised how yellow it is and how rich. As you can see from the recipe, I use half olive oil and this comes shining through in the flavour, so choose oils you like the taste of and play around with the relative amounts of different oils.

The magic hen house

The new hen house arrived about an hour before I set off on my travels last Thursday. This allowed just enough time for me to help Mr Snail get it unpackaged and round the back of the house. The only construction required was attaching the laying boxes, sliding two doors into place, slotting in the perches and attaching the mesh run. Of course, the old run had to be dismantled and the old house moved out of the way. Mr Snail said he would do all this whilst I was away so that it would be fully installed by the time I returned home. And, thus, on Friday morning I was able to see a picture of the house in situ via Facebook and by Friday evening Mr Snail was able to report that the run was attached. There was a slight issue with attaching the drinker and feeder, but snipping a couple of pieces of wire allowed these to be attached and removed the need for a stand to support them.

The girls spent their first night in the new house last Thursday – sleeping on the floor rather than on the perches, but that is their choice and not a problem – there is plenty of space. The house is lovely – there is a big door at the back to allow easy cleaning, two perches, an adjustable vent and two nest boxes. The pop-hole at the other end from the big door opens into a run with another pop-hole in the solid end of this through which they can exit into the garden. The run is about a metre long, so I wouldn’t want them to be confined in there all the time, but it will provide a secure space for them should we wish to leave them safely overnight at times when our neighbours are not available to put them to bed.

The house is made of recycled agricultural plastic (old silage wrap, feed buckets, silage clamp covers, dumpy bags, fertiliser bags etc), so uses a resource that would otherwise simply be dumped. Hopefully we will never have to replace it because it won’t rot and should any component break, the company who made it will be able to make a new one: each house is built to order anyway.

Rare as hen's teeth: a Lorna egg

Rare as hen’s teeth: a Lorna egg

In addition, the people who made it appear to have added some sort of magic ingredient because yesterday, Mr Snail discovered Lorna sitting on one of the nest boxes, and when she stood up she revealed an egg. Her eggs are very distinctive and cannot be confused with eggs from any of the others. This is amazing, because the last time she laid an egg was June 2013. Having not produced anything for a year and being one of our oldest girls, we assumed that she had just run out, but clearly we were wrong. And just to prove that it wan’t a fluke – she has laid another one today! It was a very expensive way to get more eggs from her!

My theory is that because the new house is black inside and has no window, her laying has been triggered by her experiencing a very distinct difference between day and night. The only other possible explanation I can think of  is that I have recently started giving the girls a little of my homemade apple scrap vinegar in their water and it must be better than the commercial stuff, but I can’t believe that would trigger such a major effect. Either way, we’re happy and clearly Lorna is too!

Esme lays an egg

Two small eggs from Esme and two large ones from Aliss

Two small eggs from Esme and two large ones from Aliss

If you have been reading this blog for more than a couple of months, you may remember me describing Esme’s big moult back in the autumn and the effort that she was putting into growing new feathers. That was back near the beginning of November and since then she has not laid a single egg – rare for Esme as she has been one of our most reliable layers. However, I’m pleased to say that egg production has resumed – she laid her first on Saturday and another this morning. Perhaps spring is in the air!

Clockwise from top left: Lorna, Aliss, Esme, Perdy

Clockwise from top left: Lorna, Aliss, Esme, Perdy

Esme is four years old and we did wonder whether she would lay again, but over the past month she has plumped up and is looking very healthy, so it’s good to know that she is making a contribution again. Sadly, Perdy (only two years old) is not bothering, but is looking very healthy now, so hopefully we’ll have some eggs from her soon too. Lorna, on the other hand is our slug-hunter extraordinaire, but hasn’t laid an egg since last June (and then there was only one in the whole month).

So, if your hens stop laying, don’t despair, it’s not necessarily the end of production.

Garden dinner

I love the time in the year when it is possible to eat a significant proportion of our food from out of the garden. We are not quite there yet this year, but last night we did start with spring onions, potatoes and sage from the garden (plus an egg):

Ingredients for dinner

Ingredients for dinner

and ended up with Glamorgan sausages, boiled new potatoes (variety Colleen) and lettuce for our dinner:

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Not quite  a garden dinner, as the lettuce came from a local farm and the Glamorgan sausages were made with breadcrumbs from a homemade loaf (organic white flour from Shipton Mill; wholemeal from Felin Ganol) plus Snowdonia Black Bomber Cheese and freshly ground back pepper, but with the sage and onions and bound together with the egg. Not entirely home-grown, but very satisfying that almost everything was fairly local.

I am having a slight problem, however, at breakfast time. Despite the strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and red currants being covered in fruit, none of it is ripe yet. Thank goodness for rhubarb to keep me going in this rather lean period!

Sick Chick

The past 48 hours have been fairly fraught in the chicken department – it turns out that Gytha wasn’t just cold. ..

Mr Snail-of-happiness had to go away on Wednesday down to Surrey; not long after he left I embarked on a thorough chicken house clean. When I pulled the tray out from beneath their slatted perching area I was worried to see that it contained a lot of liquid. I had noticed that Gytha’s rear end was a bit grubby, but since she has been active and eating well, I had not investigated. However, clearly something was wrong here. I put the cleaning activity aside and inspected Gytha – she had a sore patch beside her vent and a very dirty bottom. So, I came in and consulted the wonder that is the interweb-thingy. Several options seemed possible… worms, bacterial infection or possibly she was egg bound. I had already felt externally for an egg and couldn’t feel one, so went to look at poo. Ah, the joys of chicken-keeping! After inspection of the hen-house and all visible chicken poo round the garden, I was pretty certain she didn’t have worms and I couldn’t see any blood in any of it, so perhaps a bacterial infection? The answer, in the short-term seemed to be natural yoghurt. So I made a mix of layers’ mash, warm water and live yoghurt (which I make myself). This turned out to be very popular with chickens!

I went back to cleaning the hen-house in the drizzle… scrubbing all the bits with soapy water, rinsing with clean water, drying the floors and perch and then putting it all back together with a generous dusting of diatomaceous earth in the places where red mites hang out. Finally I filled the nesting boxes with shredded paper ( great security measure… what thief is going to steal your personal details when they have been shredded and then covered in chicken poo?).

That seemed to be all I could do for Gytha at that stage, so I went back to editing and intermittently fretting. Mr S-o-h was away overnight so I fretted on my own.

In the morning I inspected the area under the perch – not much poo, no blood. Gytha was quite perky. I gave them some more food with natural yoghurt and I went back to editing. After lunch, I decided to wash Gytha’s rear end, feeling that it would be better if she was clean. So, I filled a bowl with warm water and caught my chicken. I reckoned that the best place to try this operation was in the greenhouse, as she then couldn’t escape and it’s nice and warm in there. So, I inverted my chicken to see how messy she was and found her vent distended and blocked with a yellowish mass. I rinsed her off and dislodged some of the mass, but wasn’t sure how rough I could be with her in getting it out. The smell suggested to me that what I was seeing was rotten egg. Back to the interweb. My word, there are many sites about chicken keeping and a whole range of suggestions of how to deal with ‘bunged up’ chickens. The most sensible thing would have been to take her to the vet, but Mr S-o-h had the car and the bus ride takes 45 minutes each way… not a sensible option with a sick chicken, I felt.

So, first I tried introducing some oil (sunflower) into her vent with a syringe. This did not seem to have any effect, but I sat in the garden and watched her for half an hour to see if the lubrication would help her to pass anything. Nothing happened.

Finally (after the vets had closed) Mr S-o-h arrived home. Now there were two of us we could try the next suggestion – soak her in warm water for half an hour (yes, 30 minutes) to make her vent muscles relax in the hope that she would, with a big push, be able to pass the mass of rotten egg. We filled a bowl, Mr S-o-h collected Gytha off her perch and I sat on the kitchen floor holding her in the water. It was much easier than I had expected… there was a bit of a struggle, but the water was nice and warm and I held her firmly… and held her… and held her… my word the minutes pass slowly when you are sitting on the kitchen floor holding a chicken in a bowl of water. She fell asleep – my hands started to seize up. I considered the possibility of opening a chicken spa… and dismissed it. Finally I lifted her out, we wrapped her in a towel, then transferred her into a cat carrying box with a hot water bottle underneath. We left her with a bowl of water in the dark.

We looked for a result half an hour later – nothing.
We looked for a result another half hour later – nothing.
We looked for a result before we went to bed – nothing.
We got up this morning and took her to the vets.

We have a lovely vet – he’s not the nearest, but we have been going to him for years. He knows our names, what we do, where we used to work, that Mr S-o-h has been writing a book. We have never had to take a chicken to him before.

To ensure that we got the most out of our trip we took on of the dogs to be vaccinated too. According to the vet’s computer this particular dog was dead, but he resurrected her, so that was ok. He gave her the vaccinations and then came the chicken… I don’t think he sees many chickens, but he wasn’t fazed. He inserted his finger into her vent (I clearly could have been much rougher with her, and wish I had) and dislodged a mass of egg and other stuff. The diagnosis? A soft egg had become stuck and had rotted, plus she had developed an abscess. Poor Gytha.

We are home now – with antibiotics to be given in liquid form twice a day  and a new syringe to wash out her insides from the rear with warm salt water (our vet is very keen on salt water). We administered the first dose of antibiotics, straight down her through from a tiny syringe, when we got home and it turned out to be remarkably easy – although she may have worked out what we’re up to now and dose number two may be more of a challenge. The flushing out of her vent is going to wait until tomorrow – I think she’s experienced enough invasion for today. She’s had a meal of natural yoghurt mixed with mash and some dried meal worms and we wait to see if she recovers.

I’d better get back to work now, otherwise I won’t be able to afford the vet’s bills!

Chickens in more healthy times

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