Friday 29 April 2011

Oh those chickens!!!!

Being erstwhile smallholders, or petite fermiers, or idiots, we have a need for manure. Up until we got our sheep this had been a problem, despite having had a brief flirtation with donkey manure.

However: Once the sheep arrived and we started bedding them down in their own barn, the recycling process began, of grass to sheep tummies then up again for rumination then down into the tum again then wayhey out the t'other end to end up as piles of poo. Mixed with the straw this turned out to be the answer to our manure prob. The sheep do a lot of recycling. Especially when able to travel betwixt field and barn at their leisure throughout the day.

It goes like this: Out for eats, back to the barn for rest and recovery and chewing, then back on the feet in preparation for a wander back out into the field for some more eating, but first must find space in the internal plumbing system, so must go to wee and poos before we start on the move, so they leave this unwanted provender in the sheep barn or just outside it. This has resulted in a huge amount of manure, far more than if they were out in the Side Field all day and only brought back in for the night.

So it is a good thing that they are productive in this way, although there is more work involved for me because of the piles of manure they are making.

Anyways, not complaining! Can fill two barrowloads alone of poos per day, and that is without sorting out the wet straw. Impressive don't you think and a good production line in place. I pick up the poo in the barrow and walk it down to Hubs' veg plot in preparation for the next bit of digging.


These hooligans have taken it into their heads to get to it first. This pile was twice the size. It will be reduced to nothingness if I don't protect this precious pile. And I must admit to thinking that there is a decided lack of teamwork by the chickens. They used to go into the sheep barn and ruffle up the straw so I didn't have to do it. As payment they had the poo. I thought this was fair. There was still poo out in the Paddock sufficient to provide a smaller manure heap, I was saved the job of cleaning out the barn, so all were mutually benefitted.

Then they stopped doing the barn and now just raid the manure heap. So I have decided to cover up the heap with a tarp to keep them off it. If they want the delicacy of sheep poo, then they will have to go get it themselves!

And as for the hens sitting in a huddle beneath the rabbit hutch, three in total:

Once a day, with squawking tempers, two will poiyoing out of the 'nest' as if shot by a gun. They will be irritable, have a shout at all around, grab some food, then somehow get themselves back in that squeeze of a 'nest box'. Only the black hen, which you can see in the photo, stoically remains in situ. There is absolutely no chance that any chicks will survive this behaviour from the three of them, but I have given up with the situation, and leave them be. Shop bought eggs it is until they sort themselves out.

Somehow the earlier comradeship of the flock, whereby they laid their eggs in turn normally in the same nesting place, and it seemed to be all for one and one for all, well that has disappeared. They have become very individualized.

And the new cockerel, who was so mild mannered, has become kingly and strutty now, and even took it upon himself to defend his girls against a possible new king, which was my three year old grandson. Somehow that cockerel thinks that Joshua is going to steal, and mate, with his girls. (Joshua is the one on the left. His Dad is on the right)

Perhaps it is Joshua's peaked cap. Or that he is not much bigger than the cockerel. But the cockerel really does see J as a threat, and keeps trying to square up to him.

So I chucked him out of the Courtyard, the cockerel I mean, and he went and had a sulk under the tractor, which made Hubs feel sorry for him and me feel guilty. I tell you, this smallholding lark really stretches one's patience sometimes!

And here is me in my pinny. I love my pinny. I made it from a skirt which had seen better days. My pinny is patched where holes have appeared in it through its constant washing and usage. My pinny is wide and long, as a pinny should be. No fangly dangly tiny frilly noncy pinnies here. A pinny should cover properly, and should have sufficient material in it so it can be useful. It should not be a tiny handkerchief of a pinny, hardly bigger than a fig leaf. And please note the footwear. Boots. These match my pinafore very well, don't you think! But please ignore the hat, and the fact that I am wearing an old bosom upholder with straps which have become so tired that they are constantly slipping down my arms rather than staying up on my shoulders, which makes my bosomy figure even more bosomy. But Hubs and my son love me anyway!

Wednesday 27 April 2011

The hen saga continues...

Hen update: Two eggs today. One laid out front by the hay bales, one under a giant weed growing by the Tall Barn. Both retrieved before Gussy could get at them.

Gone somewhere else: two of the hens sitting under the rabbit hutch which looks like they have been ousted by the black hen who is now sitting by herself in that spot.

Too late I came upon the info that hens who are driven into the need to sit upon eggs have an internal body clock which must be obeyed. And that if a hen is removed from the nest she has built then it can cause them much upset apart from the fact that they are really very angry to be shifted and tell you so with great vigour. This internal mechanism makes her sit for about three weeks, during which time she will only come off the nest to snatch food occasionally. In our experience this happens after she has been in situ for at least half the sitting-on time. This means that she is virtually starving, although that internal mechanism slows down her metabolism such that she is not at risk.

Unless some do-gooder, seeing her being outed from her original nest by a usurper who thought it necessary to acquire a ready-made nest which caused a bit of a jostle in the small confined area, that event being followed by another hen deciding to do the same, thus making the hugest of jostles all of which the do-gooder thought was unfair on the first hen.

So do-gooder unceremoniously shooed away the other two, and got hold of the original hen who didn't think much of that at all and told the do-gooder so in no uncertain terms, even having a go at some unclothed skin on the do-gooder's arm although did no harm. With a clean tea towel, thinking that it was best that no human aroma became stuck to the scent of the egg, the do-gooder, with one hand, gently picked up the eggs, of which there were ten because other hens had been contributing to the nest as well, and carried the unhappy hen under one arm and the bowl of eggs in the other, to a different place, whereupon all were placed.

She didn't like that at all. But did go into sitting mode. Only not on the heap of eggs although she played football with them for a bit although did not cause any breakage. However, they were abandoned and grew cold therefore the life inside the eggs came to a stop.

In exasperation the do-gooder saw this and alas patience dwindled away, for this do-gooder only ever tries to do what is best, only sometimes 'best' is a tad off-kilter.

So the hen was let out of her new home. With head held outstretched and wings flapping madly she charged at speed back to her old nest site, shoving the other two hens to one side so she could continue with her sit-on although she had no eggs upon which to sit. Her hormones told her to sit so sit she did.

What the hens do when they have a sit-on together, is that when one is driven to find food the other will steal her eggs while she is away, and vice versa. Unfortunately when the eggs hatch, there is a possibility that the chick will be thrown out of whatever nest it has hatched in, and attacked.

To have three hens sitting thus so, means that the likelihood of them rearing young is much reduced.

For the kitchen, this means that three hens are out of action and are likely to remain so for a while, so no egg production. Not only that, but the do-gooder's attempt at giving the first hen a chance to rear a family backfired big time, for not only were the eggs abandoned, but the interruption to the internal mechanism of the hen has put her health at risk apparently.

So the do-gooder did the only thing left to do, and that was give up. Let them get on with it. They want to sit in a heap, then let them sit in a heap. But she did make a blessing for the ill she had inadvertently done the hen, and carried on with her blessings to include all the animals currently residing on her petite ferme, and who are contributing to producing learning curve after learning curve.

And a word on 'learning curves': Some use the expression 'muddling through', but if I use that expression myself then I tend to feel defeated and slow within myself, all purposeful energy seeming to evaporate.

However, if I use the term 'learning curve' with which to tackle the various problems which come our way, then although I feel out of puff a little bit my energy still holds good, although it will feel as if I am trying to climb up a mountain at least as big as  Everest, if not bigger.

Somehow, 'learning curve' fires me on, makes me feel that I am contributing to the growth of myself. And each learning curve bolts on the learning curves already learnt, so that one feels the accumulation of knowledge and experience growing as the learning curves bolt themselves on to each other. 'Muddling through', for me, makes me feel the reverse. It makes me feel inept. 'Learning curve' says 'Crikey, this is hard work, and why does it have to be this hard, and I can't do this...' but still gives me the energy to keep trudging onwards until that particular learning curve is done.

I am getting quite plump now with the learning curves that have wrapped themselves around me!

As for the hens, the learning curve for them is still very much an ongoing process. I have fought the idea continually aired by Hubs, that they must have a chicken run in which they should be kept until the eggs are laid, then they should be let out for the rest of the day. I have said that they should do henny things because they are hens. So, hens on a sit-on under the rabbit hutches, one upset hen and her two chicks still in a rabbit hutch, one egg laid out front on top of one of the hay bales, one egg laid under a weed. By the way, on examination of the sit-on spot, I saw that the black hen has wedged the other two hens further back in the space, so at least I know where they are.

This learning curve is heading towards the acceptance that Hubs is probably Hubs right, and that order needs to be established for the general well being and peace of mind for both humans and chickens!

And the ten cold eggs? Boiled up and given to the pigs. Nothing is wasted when one is a petite fermier.

Monday 25 April 2011


The rotovator has died. It was old when we got it, and now it is beyond repair. It resides now in the Gate Porch, out of the way of the weather.

The lawnmower resides with the rotovator. That was old when we got it as well. Engine still sort of goes OK, but the blades have gone all wonky underneath due to the task put upon this machine of trying to mow rough, uneven, stone laden ground into a lawn. It is not quite a dead'un, but nearly is.

The strimmer does not reside with these two machines. It was working for ten minutes or so in its first outing of the year recently, then it stopped.

The tractor is alright though. But the cutter is not. That is a dead one too, having got a big crack just by the bit that someone welded to heal another crack.

The car got a sicky, but is not dead. Upon returning to the car, which was parked in a car park up aways, I espied a puddle. Quite a big puddle. One that could not be ignored. So I looked at that puddle, with interest. Not panic. Just interest. I glanced at the handsome young Frenchman chatting away on his phone nearby. Always, when in a situation which is not good, an angel is sent my way. And this helpful angel Frenchman also looked at the puddle. Directed me to a garage nearby. Asked if he could look under the bonnet. I said no, he had helped enough. Anyway, car not dead, but unexpected money had to be paid out.

The grass is growing apace. The sheep are munching as much as they can, but moan dreadfully if made to go into the same patch of grass two days running even though they have only half eaten what is on offer. 

The chickens have gone odd, three of the hens deciding to cohabit in a sit-in underneath the rabbit hutches. Can't think why they would want to do that. It is very squashy, and any eggs laid sort of get kicked about from hen to hen. Not sure what to do about these three. Leave them for the moment then.

The grey rabbit has had babies. Nine. Cute. But are for the pot. Will Hubs be able to do the deed and send them into the freezer? Only time will tell. He has not managed it so far with the other rabbits we have bred. Its the way those ears flop about. Very cutesy. Makes Hubs go squishy.

The little brown hen sat on eggs and got four chicks, none of which are hers, three being blond barenecks, and one little black'un. But the crows, they came a-calling, and then there were three. And then the magpies paid a visit for to find supper for their brood up in the tree nearby. So two little chicks were left. Hubs said to let nature take its course. But I thought it unfair on the little brown hen to be robbed of her family, so she is in the rabbit hutch for safety. She hates it. She swears and cusses and carries on in anger at being treated thus so, and does not listen to my explanations as to why she has to be penned up in a rabbit hutch.

The little piggies are continuing to follow their desire to be miners, and are practising the art of digging holes with great energy. To contain them within their small temporary paddock they have been introduced to the electric fence. So what they do now is mine away beneath the wire, although they are unable to break through because they are also busy growing into bigger piggies.

And the wheat has appeared down in Hubs'  veggie plot, together with other plantings we planted there. The rotovator gave its last gasp of life on that veg plot, and the lawnmover was mortally wounded when working out front by my veg plot, which has also now got sproutings. The tractor's cutter was terminally injured when cutting the Back Field.

So how are we going to manage with our main tools for working the land no longer usable. And I have got to go and buy eggs because our girls are doing henny things which do not include donating their eggs to us. And how are we going to get those little piggies down to the woodland paddock after our trailor was kept by the garage where it had been taken for repair the garageman laughing fit to bust at the state of it and saying that he would pass it on to the local scrap metal man. And where are we going to put nine bunnies while they get big enough to possibly eat but that is only if Hubs can do the deed which he has not managed to do so far. And should the sheep be given into about having their electric poles moved every two days so they can eat the choicest morsels and leave the rest which is not worthy of their attention, when the ground is rock hard and the poles have to be banged in and there are loads of poles to shift and it takes ages and ages with them shouting all the time because they know that when the poles are in place they will have new munchings, or should we deaf-head them and make them eat the older pasture, not minding that they are standing at the gate nearby yelling their indignation.  And should the little brown hen be given in to and released out into the world which includes her henny mates, black crows, and sqawking magpies. Does it matter if those little chicks are eaten by others........

Thus, then, the life of a petite ferme tumbles along in its quiet and timeless way.....

Monday 11 April 2011

Long or short? Itches. Freak out.

It's that time again! Seeds bought with enthusiasm over the Internet in February now need planting. Oh drat! Didn't make time to sort out the veggie beds again. Promised ourselves last year to be more organised for 2011, but we aren't. The beds are a mess and need to be sorted out before we can plant. This we did. And all we fetched up with was ground which was full of dried and hardened lumps of earth after we finished digging, this problem being caused by the sun coming out and drying the land quicker than we could work on it.

This year we have a big patch, a middle patch and two smaller patches of veggie beds. It is only the middle patch that is anywhere near ready for veggies, this being our first veg plot and three years old now. But we are trainee smallholders, and as such must keep plodding on with the seed task.

In an effort to save time, I have decided to forego the pleasure of pots. Last year I planted loads of pots with seeds. Felt my halo shining brightly as I surveyed the rows and rows of planted seeds. But the halo slipped sideways, eventually falling off my head altogether as I failed miserably to keep the watering regime going, and then the hardening off, and then the planting on site, and then the continuing watering, and weeding, and everything else one has to do if one is going to grow one's own veggies. Eventually all effort expired and I gave up.

So: This year I have decided to bypass the pot-stage and plant directly into the ground. In short rows, having found these very easy to manage, and cramming loads of rows all together, the theory being that if any insecty-thing came to eat one specific type of plant then it would have a hard job finding it amongst the mass of foliage. That's my theory anyway. In eleven rows I have mixed up salad-type veggies with things like cauliflowers, cabbages, and sprouts, thinking that once the salads are out, then that will leave room to spread out the last three.

Yes it is quite a small patch. And yes, I did manage to get eleven rows of seeds planted in that space.

And then it came to the bottom patch, Lester's domain. This was not to have noncy short rows, he said, but we would have proper smallholder-type rows. As you can see, they are considerably longer than the rows I made! But then he did use his nearly expired ancient rotovator, and all I had was my three pronged implement.

Anyway, we planted sugar beet to feed the animals, and wheat. Two rows. Felt terribly excited as we planted that wheat. Felt as if we were really on our way to self sufficiency. Envisage fronds of wheat ears blowing gently in the summer breeze. Ok! OK! I know it is only two rows, and not a whole field, but at least its a start.

So Lester has the long rows and I have the short. Which of us, I wonder, is going to produce the best crops!

And I am sooooo itchy. Some creature, or creatures, has/ have seen fit to have a huge munch of me, particularly around my neck. Think this attack on my personage happened when I was mowing the path to the river. When I was huffing and puffing over ground which was not particularly mowable I was too focussed on my huff and puff to pay attention to what was happening to my bod.

I have fetched up with more red-bumped-bitten-skin than left-alone-unattacked skin.

Crikey but I am all of an itch at the moment. And why is it that when one starts itching proper itchy bits, that bits which shouldn't be itchy then start to get itchy as well!

Buuuutttttt.....a thought. Perhaps the creatures of nature were paying me back for the dreadful deed I did the day before I got attacked. This time I was out in the front garden, mowing again, and not paying any attention to anything much, other than phantasizing about a ride-on lawn mower, a phantasy, I am afraid to say, which is indulged often by myself.

Feeling sweaty and sugar-deficient,.......nearly finished.....travelling along at a stately pace.....and there...betwixt feet and lawnmower was........:

Nnnooooooo! Not Hubs. Nor the chickens. There! Hanging off the end of the hoe!

And so there I was, doing my lawn mowing task, and betwixt the lawn mower and my feet, just about to be stood on, was a snake. A grey one with black markings on its back. There it was. In the 'lawn'. By my feet.

What did I do? I let out a squeal is what I did. And abandoned the lawn mower with a speed which is admirable in one such as myself, being in the 'over sixty' age bracket. With speed did I charge along into the house, to there shiver and shake my news at Hubs who was at that precise moment busy working on his PC.

With boldness did Hubs stride forth and fetch the snake from the 'lawn'. And did deposit it in the Courtyard for all to see. 

And this deed that I did but did not mean to do, for this was I punished by the laws of nature? An eye for an eye? Or in my case, one lawn-mowered snake for a neck full of itchiness!

Methinks it is time for a swig of Baileys and a nibble of choccie. For the shock. And here is the Oak Tree Veg Plot which will hopefully have wheat growing in it soon, and a very proud, and justifiably so, Head Gardener Hubs.

Friday 1 April 2011

Saying 'Hi' to old friends

There is something quite lovely about going out into the garden for the first time, after a few days of rainy weather have kept you indoors, and discovering that the winter sleep that the garden was mostly enjoying last time you saw it has now departed and that life is bursting forth with gusto.

To walk round and say hello to this plant, that tree, and enjoy the pleasure in knowing that they have survived the chills of winter and are still with us. To feel saddened at the few who didn't, and 'Should I leave it a few more weeks to see if it has survived or pull it up now' are ponderings upon the mind, the hope being that perhaps, just perhaps, some spark of life will shine through.

The rolling through of the seasons, that is what we are coming to enjoy now we are living a country type of life. It fills the heart with a magic that money can never buy.