Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Teenagers

After the very disappointing episode of the chicks in May of this year, I quietly decided to try my luck once more without reporting on my every move thinking it might be a bad omen.

I am very pleased to say that I have succeeded ...finally!

I have four beautiful chicks whom of which have now reached their teenage era. I have three Dorking's, one of which is a definitely a cockerel due to its stocky legs and mature head comb for its age. The other two I believe are hens along with one baby buff orpington chick, namely buffy! It's very hard to tell the sex of a chicken at this age though. You only really get to know when they're much older and those tell tale cockerel neck feathers come through.

They are now five weeks old and basically look like mini chickens (no more chick fluff and have full featherage). I have been advised to keep them on chick crumbs for five months. They seem to love the stuff and get very excited when its feeding time in the morning.

I am using the maternity ward to get them used to the outside life, grass and bugs. It's quite a challenge getting them in and out though as the Dorking's are really flighty and will escape in just a flap. I have to keep an eye open for Toby cat as I know he would pounce on them in a heartbeat!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

OH Deer!!!

On feeding the chickens this morning, I was met with a jaw dropping sight. Patch two had been totally massacred by Deer. My spinach had been gnawed within an inch of its life and my runner beans were nothing but leafless stalks.

I had seen them hanging around the top end of the farm recently but didn't think for a second that they could clear the fence into the patch. We'll have to up the height of the existing fence now as once they've had a taste they will surely be back for more. For now I have propped up dozens of 6ft planks against the hip height fence and I shall keep my fingers crossed that it stops them getting through for now. A few old Cd's on string have also done the job in scaring them off ...for now anyway!

Update: 26/07/09
I am pleased to say that the runner beans have come back with a fighting spirit and are doing me proud. Although just a few weeks ago they looked like they could just do with being ripped out, they are now abundant with leaves and blooms with the promise of beanage!

Carrot Catastophe

Much to my dismay, my carrots have failed me!

I have been watching them get taller and taller over the last few weeks, but of late they have been beginning to produce flower heads. I thought that if I gave them a good pruning that they would put they're energy back into the root rather than the flower and foliage.

I happened to bump into a friend of mine Ben, also a keen gardener, and told him of my problem. He advised me that carrots do this sometimes and that once they have 'gone to seed' (producing flower heads) they are completely useless and will not grow into a full sized carrot, pruned or otherwise. The reason for this can be a number of things but the two most common are lack of water (even for one day) or that they have become too hot in the sun, even for a short amount of time. The best advice he could give me was to pull up all the ones with flower heads and to keep an eye on the others. I can still plant carrot seed right up until the end of July so, as I have had to pull so many, I'm going to plant a load more where the peas had been ... or should I say had bean!

Friday, 12 June 2009

Clucking Good Eggs!!!

I decided some time ago that once I had built up a good surplus of eggs that I would try my hand at selling my wares on a little table at the entrance of the driveway. Last week I found a reasonable sized piece of timber and painted it cream. I needed something catchy and memorable on there as opposed to just 'Free Range Eggs For Sale'. It didn't take me long to come up with the right diction.

I sat at the kitchen table yesterday evening with a large glass of red wine and painted the wording black and red. I was very happy with the end result and hammered the stake of the sign in with a mallet the following morning. I dragged a table to the end of the driveway and busily went about making it look very country.

I decided to put just four boxes of eggs out to see how it went. I didn't want all of them to be pinched so kept a load back just in case. I needn't have as everyone was very honest and I had a clear table by 4:30pm, with the right amount of money to match! Feeling very pleased with myself, I re-stocked the table in time for the potential evening trade and went to feed the chickens their corn and collect the new eggs of the day.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The Chick/s

The sun has seared down on us for the past two days of this Bank Holiday Weekend. It was supposed to be lashing with rain today but to our delight the sun sunk into every nook and cranny it could find and left me with a bit of a burnt back!

Today will be remembered by me though for the coming of Lavender's chick or chicks. I'm not sure how many exactly have hatched but I definitely had a glimpse of one for a split second around lunchtime. As she is firmly fixed to her spot and refusing to leave her brood, I offered her several spoon fulls of mixed corn which she wolfed down in seconds! She is a devoted Mother and will not move from her position, she knows she has little ones to look after now and that overrides everything, even food and water!

I have noticed though that she has lice and no doubt the chicks will have them too. I used to use Gold Label lice powder on them but have since been told that it has been discontinued. I shall have to look into some chick friendly remedies that will also work on Mummy.

UPDATE 26.05.09 ...
I am very happy to say that Lavender has two beautiful little chicks! very cheeky and very chirpy, they are just wonderful. She still remains sitting on three unhatched eggs, one Orpington egg and two Dorking eggs. They are now three days overdue so I don't think they will come to anything. I shall remove them in the morning if they haven't hatched.

For now Mother and babies are doing fabulously!

UPDATE 27.05.09 ...
Not a happy report I'm afraid. I have just been in to see Lavender and the chicks and have found that she has crushed them to death during the night. It is so upsetting as they were doing so well and were so healthy. The other eggs are still unhatched so I have taken them away now. It has really upset me I have to say as this is the second pair of chicks I have had to bury.

I left the chicks with her once they had hatched as there were no other chickens around her to cause problems. Unfortunately once again I have learnt the hard way and next time will remove any hatched chicks immediately to insure they have a better chance of survival.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Piggy Summer Camp ...Bog Style!!!

As we take the turning from late Spring to early Summer, the time for the piggies to go to their Summer residence has now arrived. Here on the farm they have masses of room to graze and rootle about but nowhere to wallow in cool, sludgey, muddy shade away from the sun's glare. Only this morning I caught one of the girls attempting to have a dip in the water trough. She had managed to get both front trotters in and fought to squeeze the rest of herself in, but to no avail.

The plan has been for a while that the girls would head down to the bog land in Charlie and Harry's care for the summer months and as the weather has now become really quite warm, that time has now come.

The bog is an amazing place, a tranquil haven hidden away by the river. All you can hear is the tweeting of birds and the occasional startling screech of a pheasant. Charlie and Harry live here very simply alongside nature. You immediatley feel calm at the bog and it really is a place to stop and smell the flowers. It is mainly woodland opening out into a large grassy area leading down to the river where the crayfish nets bob about on the riverbed waiting for the next hungry signal crayfish.The grassy area consists of a fine vegetable patch and a newly erected area for the pigs to dwell in. It really is the perfect site for them and the boys have been working hard all weekend, even creating a maze through the snail infested nettles for interest. The area also includes a stream in which they can wallow and drink. Now that the area has been secured by the electric fencing all we need now are the pigs.

The two new Mangalitza's were also meant to turn up this morning but we haven't heard anything as yet. We are expecting a blond one and another black and white swallow bellied female. The plan is now to take the two new girls on and then borrow a boar for six weeks or so too come along and do his job, so the piggyness may continue!

Charlie had managed to borrow a horse trailer from one of the locals in the village in order to shift the girls safely from A to B. We had had daydreams about walking them from the farm down to the bog (a 10 minute walk or so) but we know that we have to pass a few houses with rather large dogs and knowing that the girls have a dislike of such creatures, we decided against the idea. We didn't want total chaos on the country lanes!

We did have some fun and games trying to get them from their pen into the trailer so we had to give them a break for half an hour, or so, to let them calm down. I tidied the kitchen whilst Charlie went to check on them for second time and before I knew it he'd announced that he'd got them all in the trailer and was heading out of the driveway down to the bog. I jumped in my car with all the other pig related bits and pieces, food, solar panel & battery for the electric fencng, and followed Charlie.

It was a breeze getting them out of the trailer into the new pen. They trotted about quite happily exploring the newness and loved the crunchy snaily treats that were hidden like miniture eggs on an Easter egg hunt.

Feeling pleased with our morning's work we headed back up to the bogshack and cracked open a lovely bottle of wine whilst Harry fired up the pizza oven. The bog shack boys have recently built this fabulous clay pizza oven from clay out of their stretch of river. I had seen Hugh Fernley-Whittingstall do something similar on River Cottage a few weeks back and was most impressed.
Delicious pizza after pizza came out of the oven having only been in there for around 35 to 40 seconds! Seriously, after eating a real handmade pizza like this, you would never touch a fast food version from a well known chain again! the difference is just staggering.

Charlie and I checked the crayfish traps for an interesting pizza topping. I hadn't realised how big the signal crayfish were. It was the size of a teenage lobster, and on the pizza it was just divine.

The afternoon was a beautifully drifty one and to top it off, my little girl crawled for the first time! What a perfect end to a perfect day!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

"Lavender's Brood ...dilly dilly ..."

Lavender, my beautiful blue/grey Cochin hen, has been broody since 9th April, when I promptly stuck a selection of eggs underneath her along with one of her own. Four Dorking eggs and two Buff Orpington eggs have remained and should hatch any time now.

As I was so desperately unsure of what I was doing the first time round when I had chicks, I am determined to make it work this time round and make sure that all the little chicks survive. I went up to our local country store yesterday and purchased a maternity ward for Lavender so as to separate her from the others. It's just a basic run about a couple of feet long and one foot wide and an enclosed bedroom area where she can be private and sit on her eggs.

She took to it very well and the transfer was a lot easier than expected from the main hutch into her new quarters. She was a little confused at first and pecked at the wire to the run area for a bit. I calmed her down by placing my jacket over the run and she went inside to discover her eggs. There was minimal pecking on the wooden sides and then silence. I opened the door to the hutch five minutes later and she was all spread out over her eggs as normal ...smashing!!!

I was worried that I was really going to stress out a pregnant Mother to be, which from my own experience is not a wise thing to do! but, It all went swimmingly in the end and she seems right at home now.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009


Bubs and I took our places either side of the stable door to let the Dorking hen's and their Cockerel out as we do every morning. I always open the top door first so that they can fly up and sit on the door to view the cobbled courtyard and decide exactly where they would like to place themselves. Each hen gets a round of applause from the pair of us as they take flight and land, a very good way of teaching clapping in it's true context!

We played out our normal scenario and watched as all three hens flew up and then down. We stood and waited for Maestro to make his grand appearance but it never came. I peaked over the top of the door to find an empty stable and no Maestro at all.

Confused, I looked around the stable yard and then saw the feathers. The trail led off through the large iron gates, across the driveway and up the bank towards the road. I followed the feathery path and it disintegrated into leafy woodland with no further evidence of Maestro at all.

I returned to the stable yard to find Burt looking rather pleased with himself. He had already filled Maestro's shoes and was frantically clucking to the girls over the old lettuce I had scattered about for them. It's a trait, I've noticed, that all Cockerel's have. They will inform their ladies of any food or tasty bugs they've found and will wait for them to tuck in before they finish the leftovers.

Burt was the next one in line for the pot but due to Maestro's demise, he has now secured his place at the farm. Looks like the best cockerel won!

"Come on Girls ... Chop Chop!!!"

Sunday saw the first real taste of Summer for me. We had a beautiful eggy breakfast thanks to our very considerate hens which, gave us the oomph to attempt the first pig walk.

The bog boys came up and joined us for breakfast where we sat and discussed tactics to control excited and skittish piggies. We delayed their morning feed to give ourselves every chance of them sticking close to us and decided on a triangular formation so as to keep tabs on the slackers at the back!

The route around the farm was about half a mile and all went fairly well. At one point they got a little bold and decided to head off as a herd on their own but were smartly brought back to heal with a frantic shake of the pig nut bucket!

They like to nibble at your heals as you walk along and when they cross your path its like walking into a wall! they are so muscly and stand strong.

We have decided to make it a weekly event so they stay nice and trim and don't get all chubby. Mangalitza's have a tendency to put on a lot of fat if their diet is not controlled so we are very care full about what they are given. They don't get given all the scraps from the kitchen and just have a jolly good rootle about every day after their pig nut feed every morning, to find nice grubs, snails and worms. With the exception of a hot cross bun each on Easter Sunday, they have to find their own food which is plentiful if you have a good root about!