Monday, 17 April 2017

The power of suggestion


I've been very quiet on the blogging front for the last couple of weeks because so much has been going on here and I've been somewhat reactive rather than proactive. Last month I went to my GP for a standard blood test as required every few weeks or months to check that my thyroid medication is at the correct level.

The GP said that she was concerned that my need for an increase in medication combined with a couple of other symptoms that we had discussed, may actually be masking something more sinister. She then went on to tell me that she wanted to test for uterine and ovarian cancer, heart disease, kidney malfunction and lung cancer. 

Well, talk about pulling the rug out from under somebody's feet, I was horrified and terrified at the same time. I'm sure she said lots of 'don't panic' type phrases, but if she did, I didn't hear them. All I could think about was that my father had suffered and eventually died from heart disease and my mother of liver, spleen and lung cancer. Having nursed my mother through those last few weeks, the memories of the, quite frankly, hideous death that she had came flooding back. All the images that I had locked away were now swimming around my brain.

So I went for an ultrasound scan, a chest x-ray, a raft of blood and urine tests, an ECG and more blood tests. I was called back in for additional blood tests, twice! For almost a month I was walking around wondering whether my body's automimmune disease had finally turned on other parts of my insides. 

Until the GP raised all these potential issues I had felt fine, absolutely marvellous actually and now I was wondering if my shortness of breath wasn't just due to being overweight, but was it a symptom of one of the conditions that the GP was looking for? Every niggle became a nag and a worry.

Now I know that it is pointless in worrying before the event, but our minds play tricks on us and I was losing sleep, losing a lot of sleep, worrying that I was harbouring a silent killer. Yes I know it all sounds ridiculously dramatic, but when you are staring at the ceiling at three in the morning yet again, everything becomes somewhat out of perspective.

Life on the smallholding continued as much as possible as normal, I kept as calm as I could on the surface and cracked on with the jobs that needed doing and making plans for the garden, the poultry and the house. Mr J had to rearrange a couple of work days so that he could take me to appointments, but otherwise things seemed normal. The chicks were growing well, the chickens were happy, we took delivery of some new chickens, life carried on as it should.

But in my head it was a very different matter, I have been in a state of panic for a month and inevitably that takes it toll on the body and on one's mood and I am sure that I have been pretty difficult to live with over the last month. Thank goodness Mr J is so understanding!

Finally on Wednesday this week, a full month since the previous appointment that started this chain of events, I returned to the GP to hear the results of all the tests. It seems I am not harbouring anything unpleasant and there appears little to worry about. 

There is an anomaly on my ECG and given my father's health history, she is referring my results to a cardiologist to check whether any other action should be taken, but I'm not really worried about that. When I was having the ECG done I was half sitting, half lying on the most uncomfortable couch so I'm not surprised that it was showing as having a minor blip, I was in pain and not really relaxing as required. And, she is referring my ultrasound results to a gynacologist just to check that there are no issues there, but she couldn't see anything untoward.

I can only tell you that this has been a very difficult month. I have felt very alone and very frightened. I have also taken stock of my life and am really rather happy with how I'm living and what I'm doing. 

I decided that if I had either heart disease or cancer of some kind that I would enjoy each day, live life to the full, celebrate the new morning, be grateful and thankful for all my blessings. And, that if I didn't have a health issue then I would do the same, but also celebrate my good health each and every day.

It has taken a few days for my brain to readjust, to stop panicking and to start this celebratory routine. Last night, for the first time in quite a while I slept for seven hours non-stop and have woken up feeling refreshed and ready to start this next chapter.

So here's to good health, to a loving family, to a bright future!


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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Chicks away! We're off to a flying start.


Last month I advertised our surplus eggs for sale locally. These aren't the hatching eggs that folks can buy to put in an incubator, but eggs for eating. The response was amazing (read about it here).

Since then we have found a gentle rhythm of folks who are now coming regularly to collect eggs from us. Today I have spoken with a lady who'd like the rest of our surplus eggs, so it seems that we are now going to just about break even in terms of feed costs and the chickens will be paying for themselves. At least until autumn arrives and they reduce or stop laying.

I have registered as self-employed so that our egg sales are all above board and as they should be and I've also asked about what I need to do if I want to sell any of our surplus fruit and vegetables. The member of staff at the local council was incredibly helpful and has sent me all the information that I need to decide whether that is a route I want to go down and in the next few days I will make that decision. So now I am officially a smallholder and trying to eek out a living. Thank goodness for Mr J working outside the smallholding as I can't see the smallholding making a profit for a goodly while, if ever!

But making a profit is not why we live here or why we chose to raise and grow our own food and as long as we keep our reasons for our lifestyle in mind, I don't suppose we can go too far wrong.

Back to the chickens; the older girls in the flock (those that we rescued last year together with Jack and Diesel) are definitely slowing down their egg laying activities. So that we can ensure a good number of eggs in the future we need to have young birds maturing throughout the summer and hopefully some of them will lay during the colder months.

The seven oldest chicks are now almost ten weeks old and have grown rapidly in both size and confidence since they moved into the mixed flock field. It's lovely to watch them scampering up and down the length of the field looking like they are without a care in the world. Taking a photo of them is now very difficult as they rarely stay still for long!

The chicks from the next hatch are now almost six weeks old and are going through that scruffy stage where they have most of their feathers but still have chick fluff on their necks and rumps. They are also growing well. I divided the hatch of eighteen surviving chicks into two houses, one contains solely white Jersey Giants (JG) and the other has some JG crossed with Australorps, Silver Laced Wyandotte and a couple of JG that are destined not to be breeding stock.

I advertised some of the JG chicks for sale and within a couple of hours agreed the sale of three of them. Inevitably purchasers only want the girls so that they don't have to deal with noisy cockerels, but that suits us very well. The boys are broader in the chest and longer in the leg than the girls and as table birds, they are ideal.

I'm relieved that these chicks are leaving us while still fairly young. Once they have moved from the nursery houses into the chicken field with the adult birds, I start to get to know their personalities and parting with them is a little harder.

The most recent hatch of chicks are still in the nursery pen in the stable and still need heat to keep them warm while they grow enough feathers to survive outside. We lost one of them, the weakest chick, after a couple of days, so that leaves us with twenty chicks racing around the nursery pen. There are Cream Legbars, a couple of hybrids (Big Red and Diesel's babies), some Australorps and more white Jersey Giants. All of these chicks are from eggs laid on the smallholding and I'm delighted to have such a healthy looking group of chicks from our own birds.

On Sunday I was contacted by a woman who helps to organise a 'hatching chicks in school' programme to see whether I'd be interested in giving a home to some chicks. Of course I jumped at the chance to have some other layers in the flock, even if they won't be laying for several months! She also organises duckling hatches, so I've expressed an interest in having some ducklings too and I'll wait to hear whether we can have any ducklings in the coming weeks and months.

So tomorrow we will welcome sixteen chicks that are almost four weeks old and give them a home in one of the nursery houses. While there are some Cream Legbars in the group, the rest are breeds that we don't have yet, so I'm excited to see the little bundles of potential brown, blue and cream egg layers. Of course, if there are males as well we will make a decision about whether to breed from them, find them new homes or pop them into the freezer at a later date. 

Our next hatch of chicks is due in a couple of weeks, this may, might, perhaps (probably not!) be our last hatching of chicks for this year. We also have the first of our ducklings due to hatch around the same time. I'm very excited about the duck eggs in the incubator, there are a couple of eggs that I bought in and eleven fertile eggs from our own ducks. I;m keeping my fingers crossed that this will be a successful hatch of ducklings.

In other news, all though still chicken related, I was delighted to see that Country Smallholding magazine have printed an extended version of an online article that included some of my input. This month's edition of the magazine has photos of the covered walkway that Mr J and I built, the metal pen that we use for the ducks and of the medium and low tunnels I built that safely keeps the birds' drinking water out of the reach of all but the most determined (and low flying) wild birds. It's nice to know that I've got our biosecurity right!

I am still vlogging daily and now that I am used to walking around with my phone (for the camera) and a small microphone clipped onto my top, it has become less time consuming and invasive of my daily routine. I record and edit one day and upload it the next, so if you'd like to see the new arrivals shortly after they've arrived, you will need to visit my YouTube channel on Friday 7th April.

I need to go and prepare the nursery house for our new arrivals, but first, as always, I think it's time for a cuppa!
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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Monday, 27 March 2017

How many baby chickens?

It was Mr J's birthday this weekend and I had set some eggs in the incubator with the hope that they would hatch on his birthday. Well, nature has a mind of its own and from late in the afternoon of day 19 in the incubator, we could clearly hear cheeping and peeping of little chicks.

On day 20 I got up to be greeted by two little chicks and throughout the day they seemed to arrive in a gentle but steady stream. As we went to bed there were eleven little fluffy chicks stumbling their way around the incubator.

As so often happens during hatching, I was unable to sleep very much as I get so excited about the new little lives that are presenting themselves in the incubator and so, at 3am or thereabouts, I was sitting in the kitchen blearily staring into the incubator and fifteen little pairs of eyes looked back at me!

On the day of Mr J's birthday, we moved eight of the chicks to the nursery run to snuggle under the brooder (the electric mummy) so that there was more space in the incubator for the more recently hatched birds. By the end of his birthday, there were twenty baby chickens. I had put twenty-seven eggs into the incubator, three were not fertile so were removed at day five, which left us with twenty-four fertile eggs. Twenty hatched chicks from twenty-four eggs is a very good hatch rate and I was delighted.

The day after Mr J's birthday yet another little chick hatched, giving us a total of twenty-one!
I think that we have two hybrids that are Big Red crossed with Diesel, they are very black with a smidgen of brown on their necks, seven Australorp, four Cream Legbars and eight Jersey Giants.

All these eggs were laid here on the smallholding, they are all the off-spring of birds we have here (or have had here as Squeaky and Big Red are no longer with us).

To make space for these little newly hatched chickens, the four week olds (all eighteen of them) have been moved into nursery houses in the chicken field, actually they are just outside the chicken field where I have easy access to them and can attend to them regularly throughout the day without disturbing the other chickens.

Split between two nursery houses, the eighteen chicks are now in groups of nine Jersey Giants and a mixed group of Australorps, Silver Laced Wyandottes and a couple of Jersery Giants (that we know we won't be breeding from as they have the wrong colour legs to be true to the breed standard). They are all doing well, they are feathered and off heat and seem very pleased to have grass to run around on and eat. 

The seven chicks that were in one of the nursery houses have also moved. They have graduated to the shed with the mixed flock and after just two nights in with the older girls, they seem settled and are running around the field very happily. They have learnt that their food and water is inside under cover and also seem to have grown tremendously in confidence and agility,

There have been some other new additions to our flocks. We have a lovely White Sussex girl who has spent most of her time with the young seven, Mr J and I have decided to call her Auntie Mabel. She's a very friendly although somewhat timid, chicken who no doubt will find her feet and settle into the mixed flock very well.

Two new thirteen week old pullets (young female chickens who haven't started to lay), these are a cross between a deep brown egg layer and a very dark brown egg layer and they should (fingers crossed) give us deep to dark brown eggs when they start laying. There are also two more of this cross-breed chicken that are now six weeks old and they will remain in a nursery house for a couple more weeks.

Yesterday four laying girls arrived, three that will also lay dark-ish brown eggs and one that is a Leghorn cross and she lays white eggs. 

Between the new arrivals and our existing flock, we should be able to offer a nice selection of colour of eggs in our egg boxes.

All the newly hatched chicks, the four week olds, the six week olds, the eight week olds and the thirteen week olds cost a pretty penny to feed, so thankfully we are now selling the eggs of the layers to help pay for the feed costs.

I've also sold some of the Jersey Giant eggs for hatching and as long as we continue to see hatching eggs and eating eggs, the girls will pay for their own food. At least during the summer. When autumn returns and throughout the winter, feed costs go up as there is less grass to eat and fewer bugs in the garden and of course, if there is a lockdown again this year, the feed costs will soar as the birds are restricted to being inside.

Not all of the chicks will be laying birds, obviously some will be males and they will either be kept as breeding stock or will feed us throughout the latter part of the year. So today we have fifty chicks that over the next few months will start laying or be moved to a separate area. And that should keep us in eggs for a while!
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Thursday, 23 March 2017

Gluten Free Naughty Salted Caramel Cake




Gluten Free Naughty Salted Caramel Cake

Ingredients

6 ozs Butter
4 ozs Caster Sugar
2 ozs Black Treacle
3 fresh Eggs
1 tspn Salted Caramel Flavouring
pinch of Sea Salt
7 ozs Gluten Free Self Raising Flour
up to 3 fl oz Milk

Method

Preheat oven to 180 C, 350 F or gas mark 4 - 5. Grease and flour 2 x 7 inch cake tins.
Cream the butter and sugar.
Beat in the black treacle and eggs.
Add the sea salt and caramel flavouring.
Gently stir the flour into the mixture.
Add milk if required to make a thick but smooth cake batter.
Spoon cake batter into tins and bake in centre of oven until deep golden brown and a knife comes out of it clean.

When cooked, leave to stand for a couple of minutes to allow cake to shrink away from tin sides and then turn on to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.

For filling and topping (see my video of making the topping here)

3 ozs Salted Butter
3 ozs Caster Sugar
2 tblspns Golden Syrup
1/2 tin of Sweetened Condensed Milk
Generous pinch of Sea Salt

Put butter, sugar, golden syrup and condensed milk into a heavy pan over a medium heat.
Stir continuously to prevent toffee/fudge from sticking to the pan.
When light golden brown and it coats the back of a spoon, remove from heat and sprinkle salt into topping.

To make up cake

Place one cake layer onto a plate, gently pour the toffee mixture over and allow to spread to the edges. 
Put top layer of cake on and pour toffee mixture over it.
Allow toffee mixture to cool before serving to prevent burns.
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Wintery social day


Sunday 19th March. What a fabulous day we've had! 

Last year a group of smallholders, most of whom live in Wales, met up at a smallholding in Carmarthen for a barbecue (read about it here) and afterwards we all agreed that it would be good to have a regular meet up and I readily offered to host the next get together. We had thought that we'd have a social event before Christmas, but Lockdown meant that having lots of folks coming to the smallholding wasn't a good idea.

Now that the restrictions have been amended and as long as we are careful with our biosecurity, it feels safer to have friends to visit. So, at fairly short notice, we threw our doors open to a group of smallholders, alotmenteers and all round good eggs. Actually today, throwing our doors open was the last thing we wanted to do, the weather was appalling! We did however want to see our friends.

They arrived sensibly armed with wet weather clothes, wellies and enthusiasm. After a hot drink to warm up, we headed outside for a look around. Now it doesn't take very long to walk around our smallholding especially as at this time of year wandering around the chicken field isn't an option. The lockdown restrictions mean that only essential staff/owners are allowed into the birds spaces and given the feistiness of the roosters, stressing the boys by having lots of visitors is probably unwise.

So, we wandered, as best one can in 40 mph winds, around the annual vegetable garden and food forest area and then the area behind the piggeries. We looked at the three week old chicks and everyone made appropriate ooh and ahh noises. Our little plot of land doesn't take very long to walk around and afterwards we talked about how being a small plot means that we have to make the best use of the available space for what we are trying to achieve here.

I was struck (as I was at the barbecue too) at the resilience, humour, skills and knowledge of this group of friends, I feel blessed to know them. 

After a couple of hours of merriment and refreshments, those smallholders who lived furthest away headed home to be back in time to attend to their animals and by late afternoon all of our guests had left for their own smallholdings.

Our little home returned once more to the quietness that we are accustomed to, with only the sound of the incubator's fan whirring away in the background. I like the peacefulness here when it's quiet, but oh boy, did I enjoy having a houseful of folks and I'm very much looking forward to our next gathering of smallholders.

Anyway, I hope that my friends had as nice a time as I did and before we finish the washing up, I think it's time for a cuppa!
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I also post vlogs daily (almost). You can find my YouTube channel here.
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