Magrat

That’s ‘cos you’re a wet hen, Magrat Garlick,’ said Granny.
Terry Pratchett, Wyrd Sisters

If you’ve ever read the book and wondered what a wet hen* looks like, I have some examples:

Although all my hens are named after Mr Pratchett’s witches, until today I didn’t have a Magrat… now I seem to have four.

So far today, we have had 22.6mm of rain – that’s nearly an inch – and it’s only 11:40am.

-oOo-

* Apparently, in the US wet hens are angry, but here in the UK they are soppy.

Boots – the world according to Sam Vimes

New boots - I hope they last!

New boots – I hope they last!

Now I know that quite a few of you are Terry Pratchett fans like me (well, perhaps not like me, because you probably don’t name your chickens after characters out of his books), but for those of you who aren’t, I want to recommend that you take a look at his writing. He is generally considered to be a writer of comic fantasy and that is certainly true at the most superficial level. However, in my opinion, he is a remarkably astute social commentator, as well as having what appears to be a vast knowledge of history, philosophy, science and literature. Well, maybe he is just good at research, but he certainly draws on it very elegantly in his writing.

Anyway, I was thinking the other day about the economics of poverty… at least the economics of being poor in an affluent society and remembered the best explanation of this that I have ever read. I should explain that Sam Vimes, the character in this excerpt, is from a very poor background, but  finally marries a very rich woman.

The reason that the rich were so rich, Vimes reasoned, was because they managed to spend less money.

Take boots, for example. He earned thirty-eight dollars a month plus allowances. A really good pair of leather boots cost fifty dollars. But an affordable pair of boots, which were sort of OK for a season or two and then leaked like hell when the cardboard gave out, cost about ten dollars. Those were the kind of boots Vimes always bought, and wore until the soles were so thin that he could tell where he was in Ankh-Morpork on a foggy night by the feel of the cobbles.

But the thing was that good boots lasted for years and years. A man who could afford fifty dollars had a pair of boots that’d still be keeping his feet dry in ten years’ time, while the poor man who could only afford cheap boots would have spent a hundred dollars on boots in the same time and would still have wet feet.

This was the Captain Samuel Vimes ‘Boots’ theory of socioeconomic unfairness.

― Terry Pratchett, Men at Arms

And that does seem to be it… over the years I have been lucky enough to be able to afford to buy some good quality items and I can attest to the money that this has saved. In addition, if you can pay for them, it’s possible to choose things that are designed to be repaired… our bamboo flooring in the kitchen can be sanded down and refinished, meaning it will last for many years; on the other hand, cheap laminate flooring has to be replaced once worn because it just can’t be repaired or rejuvenated.

As things stand, this is a difficult cycle to break.Leonard Cohen was right when he wrote

The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes
Everybody knows

– Leonard Cohen, Everybody Knows

Prickly Chickly

I posted last week about Esme’s sudden loss of feathers and over the week the reason it happened so quickly has become clear – the new ones were just below the surface ready to burst forth! She has been reluctant to be handled during her moult, but I managed to catch her yesterday afternoon and hold her whilst Mr Snail of happiness took a few photographs.

New neck feathers

New neck feathers

The new feathers are very prickly at the moment, resembling porcupine quills, but are coming through in great abundance. It’s interesting to see the colour contrast too – her old feathers are quite brown and faded, but the new ones are beautiful black and white. She is still losing some of her old ones, though not at the same rate as last week. It is possible that she will have a complete new set within the next few weeks.

Back and tail area

Back and tail area

One she’s finished growing her new feathers it will be interesting to see how long it takes for her to start laying again. In the past she has always laid over the winter, but as she ages (she’s nearly four years old now) we expect her laying to decline. The two youngsters, Aliss and Perdy*, are less than two years old and are still laying every day or two. Lorna, the same age as Esme, as only ever laid intermittently, but we keep her because she does other jobs in the garden and is our top slug-hunter!

New wings

New wings

One of the joys of keeping backyard hens is to see these natural cycles taking place. We do not provide our girls with extra light or heat during the winter, so their bodies follow the seasons. This means that we are bound to get fewer eggs in the winter, but we don’t mind that, as eating seasonally is an important aspect of understanding the food on our plates.

-oOo-

* In case you’re wondering, Esme, Perdy and Aliss are named after some of Terry Pratchett’s witches – we used to have a Gytha too.

A year and a day

Yesterday was my blog’s first birthday, and I missed it – I’ve never been any good at remembering anniversaries.

Over that year I wrote 120 posts and had more than 7000 hits. I wrote about floods and other water-related issues, gardening, death (human and chicken), starting a business, permaculture, knitting yarn, ethics, food, money and naming my hens after Terry Pratchett’s witches.

It turns out that the most common searches that have brought people here (other than ‘the snail of happiness’) are ‘eating slugs’ and ‘knitted bath puff pattern’… and, sadly, in both cases the searchers will have been disappointed. My conclusion about slugs was that, although you can, you probably wouldn’t want to; in the words of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall when discussing recipes he’d tried that included slugs:

leave out the slugs

And as for the bath puffs – crochet them, you get a much better puff.

There have been quite a lot of searches for snail cake, and I feel compelled, at some point to make a snail-shaped cake and write a post about this because it seems a popular subject. Mind you, the searchers might be looking for some sort of cake to feed to snails and that’s something I’m not willing to explore. Although I was recently involved in a discussion about starting a snail farm, which might be a good way to feed the hens.

There have also been some inexplicable searches that have led people here; I have no idea what a ‘finger lime tree’ is, nor why anyone would be searching for ‘work in the same box’ and I don’t even want to consider ‘soiled mice caging’. However, most of the searches are relevant, and I hope that readers have found answers to at least some of their questions or pictures of the things they were looking for. One or two of my posts have been inspired by searches, such as ‘can I keep chickens in a fruit cage?’ although, on reflection, it’s probably too late once the search has been done!

So, what’s to come in the next year? Well, hopefully reports of huge abundance in the garden, progress with my diploma in permaculture design, the etsy shop finally opening (and being successful) and lots more inspiration from comments, questions and reading other blogs.

And finally, one thing that has happened, but I have not blogged about is that Mr Snail-of happiness published the conclusion to his novel BATDIG on Kindle a few weeks ago. Check it out here.

BATDIG CoverBATDIG Part 2 Cover

Searching high and low

One of the interesting features of WordPress is that, as an author, you can see the searches that people use to get to your blog. It’s a somewhat diverting activity and I have spent some time today examining the search engine terms that have brought people to investigate The Snail of Happiness.

I can certainly understand why you, dear reader, would arrive here as a result of searching for ‘knitted snail’ or even ‘chickens not eating slugs’, but I’m less sure of why you would be directed here as a result of typing in ‘homel things made by waste indian’ or ‘animals beginning with m’ (have I mentioned any animals beginning with m? oh, yes, there’s that post about a mouse eating my bean seeds). Or indeed that, having seen the Snail of Happiness blog in your list of search results for ‘sticky earthworm’, for example, why you would visit… although if that’s how you got here in the first place, then ‘welcome’ and apologies that the worms are rather more woolly than sticky.

I can only assume that the person who search for ‘food during rain in nitt’ arrived because there are mentions of  food, rain and Agnes Nitt (aka Perdita, a Terry Pratchett character that my chicken Perdy is named after) in various places. But, once again, if it’s you – welcome, and I’m glad you stayed!

Anyway, one way or another, folks are arriving. So, as a public service, I thought that I would try to address a selection of the questions and issues you have been seeking responses to…

can you drink worm wee tea?

Do you REALLY REALLY want to? Have you smelled it? Admittedly the dogs seem ridiculously interested in the stuff, but they eat dog food, so clearly have no taste!

gardening without mouse

Go for it! I always try to garden without mouse. I suspect the Beatrix Potter might have a different answer, though.

how does hugh fearnley whiitingstall stop slugs?

Actually, I don’t know the answer to this. I suggest that you ask Hugh – he seems like a nice chap, although I don’t know him either.

how much tomato can a slug eat?

How big is your slug? I’m guessing that if it’s one of those banana slugs, you’ll have to provide it with a really big tomato.

good explanation for cakes

Cakes are an essential part of the diet – they ensure happiness. Do not believe people who say they are bad for you.

i am a little earthworm

Congratulations, I am a Snail of Happiness.

can i keep chickens in a fruit cage?

Yes, but only if you don’t want any fruit.

growing snails in spare bedroom

I’m not sure whether you want to grow them in your spare bedroom… in which case I suggest a vivarium rather than having them free range… or whether you have them growing in your spare bedroom and want to get rid of them… in which case I have found chickens to be very effective (although they may make a bit of a mess).

amigurumi for happiness

Well, they make me happy… and if you make them with the ‘happiness yarn’ that someone else was searching for I don’t see how you can go wrong.

how to keep a pampered snail?

Is your snail pre-pampered? If so, it’s probably best to keep doing what you’ve been doing. If you are looking for new ways to pamper your snail, perhaps you could get together with the person who wants/has them in his spare bedroom and work something out between you.

And one final one, that has me stumped, perhaps other readers can help out:

the best potato you will ever see in your life because you probably won’t see very many potatoes because you have potatoes monia which means that you are afraid of potatoes which kind of cancelled this google search out because you have a retarded fear of potatoes………..freak

-oOo-

Honestly, these are all genuine search engine terms that people used to get to this blog… !

Peace in our thyme

Please excuse the pun, in fact our thyme expired over the winter and I haven’t got round to replacing it yet. This short post is, however, about peace.

Bathing together… well, three of them anyway

Last night, for the first time, all four hens chose to sleep together in the old hen-house. The previous night Perdy had joined the oldies, but Aliss had remained resolutely alone in the palatial new house. But last night when I went out to close the doors on them at 9:30 they were all together. Aliss was sitting just inside the door and I had to tuck a few tail feathers in, but they had all chosen to remain together. So, we now seem to have a single flock once more.

I can’t help feeling that giving them plenty of space in which to interact has made life much easier than had we tried to confine them all together in a small space.

-oOo-

For those of you visiting for the first time because of the lovely nomination from Metan, they are named after Terry Pratchett’s witches:

Esme: Mistress Esmeralda Weatherwax aka Granny Weatherwax
Aliss: Black Aliss (she’s a black rock chicken, you see)
Perdy: Perdita X Dream aka Agnes Nitt
Gytha: Mrs Gytha Ogg, aka Nanny Ogg (alas no more – the chicken not the original!)

and finally Lorna… the rogue non-Pratchett chicken, named by Mr Snail-of-Happiness: he’s banned from naming any more until I run out of witches, and we’ve got to get to Anagrama before that happens

The newbies

We have been profligate in the chicken department… after the demise of Gytha we decided that a replacement was in order so off we went to the chickenery (or Country Lane Nurseries as they call themselves) to get a new girl to add to our flock.

‘We’d like a chicken,’ we said to the nice lady.

A chicken?’ she responded with slight incredulity, or possibly amusement.

‘Yes, a chicken. One of ours has recently died and we want a replacement. We have two others that also came from here.’

One chicken?’

‘Yes, please’

‘Well, we don’t advise getting a single one… she might get bullied by the existing chickens, so it’s better if she has a friend.’

Now, I know this is common thinking, but we have limited perching space in the hen-house and three fit nicely, but it would be a squash for four. But the prospect of our newbie getting bullied was too much… so we bought 100% more chickens than we had intended to. They will just have to get very cozy in the hen-house… or sleep in the laying boxes.

So, let me introduce our two new ladies:

The new girls

Carrying on the Terry Pratchett witches theme, that’s Aliss at the front (Black Aliss because she’s a Black Rock) and Perdy at the back (Perdita aka Agnes Nitt – another Speckledy).

Esme, being the boss (as befits the one named after Esmeralda Weatherwax – chief of witches despite them not being hierarchical, unlike chickens) has decided that she will spend time letting them know the pecking order:

Esme letting everybody know who’s boss

She has been strutting up and down and making herself look big – plus when allowed direct contact, she occasionally pecks and sits on the newbies. Interesting thing this chicken behaviour. Lorna is not interested particularly and is just getting on with life as normal, hence her absence from the photos.

They all slept together last night, but during the day we are mostly keeping them apart until they are more used to each other. By August we should be having eggs from all four. Plus we will have built a new and bigger house for them… and we may even have stopped being rained on for more than a day or two. Actually, perhaps we should build them a chicken ark!

Chick-tastic

We’ve had chickens for nearly two years now: three of them. It took a while to decide to get them, but we haven’t looked back. What Soulsby Farm has to say about them is so true. They fulfil the permaculture principle of being multi-functional: they provide food, control pests, cultivate the ground, produce a fantastic compost ingredient and are highly entertaining.

There is much on the internet about naming chickens, including many forums (or fora as my school latin makes me think). So, let me introduce our girls:  We have two Speckledies Esme (who has blue eyes like her literary namesake) and Gytha (who has brown eyes). Most people have no idea why I would have called a chicken Gytha, but you see, there are three of them and I thought of the three witches (Pratchett not Shakespeare, you understand); I drew the line, however, at Magrat, even I wouldn’t call a chicken Magrat however big a fan I am of Mr P. So Mr Snail-of-Happiness got to name chicken number 3: Lorna is a Calder Ranger, so named by because she is the Lorna Ranger (you get an idea of his sense of humour).

We haven’t bought an egg in nearly two years – thanks girls for many delicious meals.

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