Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Christmas preparations

As with so many homes at this time of year, we've had a hectic week of preparations for Christmas celebrations. Just not for our own Christmas!  

We had decided to give a few of our ducks to our friends and family for their Christmas meals and so this weeks I've processed four ducks and a chicken (for our own use last weekend) and I've made more fudge and coconut ice.
I've also been searching through my favourite recipe books for a good recipe for Tosca cake, which is a traditional Swedish cake made with almonds. It is one of Mr J's favourite cakes, I haven't had it for years and although I will be cooking one for him, I won't be having any as I developed a severe allergy to almonds several years ago (which is probably what happens if one is greedy enough to eat marzipan straight from the block!).

On Thursday I gathered armfuls of greenery from the garden to make a door wreath for my sister. I kept it very simple, using holly, ivy and a variagated euonymous.

I made lots of small bunches of stems which I tied together with fine cable ties, snipping the excess off. I then wired each bunch on to the twiggy base using florists' wire making sure that I covered the stems of the previous bunch with the leaves of the next.

I was very pleased with the final result and so was my sister, who by now will have it hanging on the front door of her cottage.

While I had all the greenery in the house I thought that it might be nice to decorate our home with some branches of leaves, so I put a few branches around the mirrors and made a candle decoration with bunches of long cinnamon sticks tied with ribbon and dried fruit.

When my sister came to visit (with her husband) on Friday, she brought with her some more of the bedding that we use for the ducks. She buys it in bulk and with the last delivery, she ordered an additional ten bales of bedding for us. It means that we can have it at a slightly cheaper price than if we bought the bales individually. We had asked for ten bales as we thought that would probably be enough for four to six months. That was before the DEFRA imposed the lockdown of the poultry. When I built the chicken palace, we needed to add a deep layer of bedding on the floor which used up five bales of bed-rap and two of wood shavings and we refreshed the floor of the chicken condo, which used three bales. So it looks as though we will be ordering more bed-rap sooner than we expected.

Little White has now grown into such a splendid cockerel that we have renamed him Big White, this also helps us distinguish him from the younger white Jersey Giant cockerel. 

The oldest Jersey Giant female is now at point of lay and although she hasn't produced an egg yet, I am sure it won't be too long before she starts laying. Big White has certainly started taking an active interest in her which she is not entirely happy about, but also isn't running away from him.
The Australorps are down to just six in number, during the lockdown they are living in the same space as the Jersey Giants and Dieselette, who prefers the company of her Australorp friend than of any of the other chickens. I still have to choose which of the young males to keep and which to despatch. I thought that I had decided but then became unsure. I am more concerned with good behaviour traits than their physical perfection, but it would be nice to have birds that aren't too far from the standards of perfection laid out for the breed.

I suspect, although I should make it clear that I have no real knowledge, that a poultry lockdown may become a regular occurrence. If we need to protect our birds during migration of wild birds, then it would seem to make sense that there will be two periods of lockdown in a year. So with that in mind, I have been thinking about what I can do ready for next year or any future lockdown to allow me to continue feeding the birds green leaves from the garden.

Having carefully grown crops to feed to the birds during the colder months, I have a garden chockablock with lush brassica that can't be fed to them during the lockdown as it is not under cover and so could potentially have been pooped on by a sick bird. Next year I think I will create a couple of beds with a selection of brassica, chards and spinach that I can cover in early November to keep them safe from contamination from overhead. I will also grow some in pots and move them into the greenhouse towards the end of summer, then I can harvest from those too for our chickens and ducks. Then, if there is no lockdown, either we or the birds can eat the leaves and, if there is a lockdown, we'll have a good source of fresh vegetables for the birds. As I plan to grow plenty of winter squash next year, they should be able to have some of those too. If the girls have to be shut away for a month or so at a time, I want to be able to offered them a varied diet.

It's almost time for us to head out to the local shop to buy a few last minute items, like cream and milk (and chocolate!). I hope that everyone has a joy-filled and peaceful Christmas.
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