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?

Who’s a chicken?

For more than two months now UK poultry have had to be confined to keep them separate from wild birds because of the risk of avian ‘flu’. Originally it was suggested that they should be housed 24/7, but when it was realised that is was not possible, netted areas with water and feed kept under a solid cover was deemed to be acceptable. The end to this restriction is in sight: after the end of February birds will be allowed to range once again as long as various mitigation measures are in place.

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Approved disinfectant and Self-assessment form

The situation varies a little across the UK, but here in Wales all poultry keepers are required to complete a self-assessment form which they must have available if they are inspected. This outlines the actions that they are taking to minimise contact between wild birds and stock (e.g. use of bird scarers) and the biosecurity measures being implemented (e.g. hosing down and disinfecting concrete paths, disinfecting boots after accessing poultry).

For the duration of the restrictions, the hens Chez Snail have been happily foraging in the fruit cage, which has been connected to their small run and house by a netted corridor. Their small run always has a ‘roof’ over it to give them somewhere to shelter from the rain, so their feeder has been in there. Now they are going to be allowed to range free round their half of the garden, however, a different sort of feeder seemed like a good idea. So, I bought a rodent-proof, wildbird-proof feeder…

The hen stands on the pedal,the lid opens and there’s the food. It can only be activated by something weighing more than 500g, so garden birds and most rodents won’t even be able to open the lid. We can keep this out on their range without fear of attracting wild birds.

The only issue now, is training them to use it. Yesterday, we put it into the fruit cage propped the lid open and there was some interest…

Today, even with the lid propped open, they very carefully avoided it… hens really are chicken when it comes to new things. So, Mr Snail has been out there showing them the ropes… with some success:

I hope they get the hang of it soon – or at least before the end of the month!

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.

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

Making chicken food

In the UK it is illegal to feed kitchen waste to your hens. It is ok, however, to make feed specifically for chickens. Our hens really like a mix of oats and whey… a sort of cold porridge… so last weekend I decided to make this for them.

Whey can easily be separated out from milk using a bacterial culture. Thickening the mix by the addition of rennet makes straining the curds off much easier. And if you allow the curds to drain overnight, you maximise the amount of whey that you can extract.

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Even more solids appear if you heat the whey up to nearly boiling

It’s also possible to remove extra solids from the whey by heating it to just below boiling point, allowing it to cool again and then filtering through muslin once again. I started with 3 litres of whole milk and ended up with about 1.5 litres of whey. Of course I had lots of waste curds, but that was ok because I turned them into soft cheese. In addition, the solids that come out of the whey as a result of heating are otherwise known as ricotta.

You see, it’s not illegal for humans to eat the waste left from making chicken feed…. how convenient!

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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