Saturday, 23 July 2016

Broody hen v incubator

Our last brood at three weeks old
Mr J and I are preparing for an exciting week ahead. By this time next week we should have a good idea of how many new chicks and ducklings we have. And we will then be able to compare how well the incubator and brooder do in comparison to the broody hen.

On 1st July I put ten duck eggs into the incubator. They were gathered over a period of twelve days and are the eggs from Frederick and Mrs Warne, who are Aylesbury ducks (a commercial strain rather than exhibition birds). When I candled them on day six there were three that were obviously unfertilised. Now I'm not quite sure how on earth she has managed to lay unfertilised eggs. His 'attention' to her is relentless and we have thought that we should get a couple more Aylesbury ducks, just to give her a bit of a break.

On the 5th July one of the Cream Legbar chickens became broody and because we had the space and some potentially fertile eggs, we moved her to an isolation house where she has been sitting on her clutch of at least six eggs. There may be more eggs if she laid a couple more after being moved. I haven't disturbed her to find out how many are under her, although I know that she has been lovingly attending to a rubber fake egg.

Then, on 6th July I put eleven Australorp eggs and four from our own girls into the incubator, which should mean (I hope) that the chickens will hatch just before or around the same time as the ducklings.

Last night, we had to remove one of the duck eggs. It had gone bad in the incubator and was smelling dreadfully, so that leaves us with six fertile duck eggs and fifteen hen eggs. Late on Sunday night I will take the supports out of the incubator, top up the water reservoirs and remove the turning cradle in readiness for the hatch in the next couple of days.

I did notice that the incubator was running a little cool during the first week, so the ducks may be slower to hatch, but it has been so warm for the last week that I think the incubator has been running a tad warmer than 37.5 degrees that it should be, so maybe that will bring them back on time. Having said all of that, I don't mind when they come just as long as they hatch safely and are healthy.

So, at some point next week, the grand hatch should start. I will try to video some of the chicks and ducklings hatching, but I also aim to spend quite a chunk of the hatching time either outside or away from the smallholding. For the last two hatches I haven't managed to get anything done. I have sat in the snug staring at the incubator, willing the eggs to break open and stupidly I have got quite stressed at watching little chicks try to break out of their shells and then fail, so thought that if I was out of the way, I wouldn't get upset.  I can almost hear Mr J's snort as I type this, he knows me well enough that my good intention of staying away from the incubator is unlikely to come to fruition. Although, if there is also activity in the broody hen's house, I will be torn between sitting inside or outside!

We are once again heading into unknown territory, ever eager to learn new skills and absorb new information, I feel a little worried about doing the right thing for the ducklings, but also know that instinct will tell me when it's the right time to take them from the incubator and put them into their pen in the stable under a heat lamp. And, I'm not sure when we are supposed to integrate the broody hen and her chicks back into the flock. So, to help me work out when I start to integrate the broody and her chicks, I am taking a webinar chicken raising course on Sunday evening.
Big Red and Little White enjoying a dust bath in their sand pit

I am comfortable that we are getting the process right for the chicks. Big Red and Little White are now eleven weeks old and live with Jack and Diesel on their side of the chicken field. Red is becoming a more handsome chap with each day and has been practising his crowing skills (he has a surprisingly deep voice for a young chap). Little White can't really be described as little any more as she is almost as big as Diesel, eventually she will be more than twice the size of Diesel. Of the four that hatched last time, I am increasingly convinced that we have one Jersey Giant cockerel and one hen, that the Australorp is a hen and the hybrid, well, I still can't work that one out!

So over the next month we will get to see whether the broody hen or incubator and electric brooder are less work, less complicated, more efficient and more productive. Even though it was purely coincidental that a hen went broody at the same time as we were ready to put the next eggs into the incubator, I am really pleased to be able to watch the differences in person.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Creamy Pasta Chicken Italia recipe

Last night I made a lovely pasta dish, so thought I'd share the recipe with you.

Gluten Free Creamy Pasta Chicken Italia

Ingredients for 2 hungry folks or 4 for lunch

125g Tesco gluten free dried fusilli (or any other GF pasta)
Pan of boiling water
1 pack Heck Chicken Italia sausages cooked
1 small tub of Philadelphia cream cheese
2 large cloves garlic, crushed in a garlic press or chopped very finely
Little grated nutmeg
Large pinch (or more to taste) coarse ground black pepper
Splash of milk if required
50g mature Cheddar cheese, grated
Sea salt to taste

Cook the sausages in your preferred method (I like to cook them in the oven)
Cook the pasta as per the manufacturer's instructions until al dente (cooked but still firm, you don't want soggy pasta in this dish!)
Cut the cooked sausages into small bite size pieces.
Drain the pasta once cooked and put in a medium large saucepan, add the chunks of sausage and crushed garlic and stir over a low heat for a few minutes to release the flavours of the garlic.
Turn off the heat, but leave the pan in place to use the residual heat on the cooker.
Stir in the cream cheese and it will start to melt and coat the food.
Add grated nutmeg and black pepper.
If the mixture is too thick and gloopy, add a little milk to make the sauce smoother, keep stirring gently so that it doesn't stick to the base of the pan.
Add the grated Cheddar cheese and stir gently until melted. Taste to check for seasoning and add a pinch of salt if required.
Serve with salad.

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Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Volunteering on our smallholding

A little while ago Lisa from Cottage Coppicing got in touch to ask if I would like to swap a day of her energy for sharing some of our ideas and practices with her. As this sounded like a fabulous swap, I jumped at the idea. So this morning Lisa came to our smallholding for a chunk of the day. 

Because so much of my day revolves around food, growing, tending, harvesting, preparing, cooking and eating it, I thought our day together should start with 'second breakfast'. So earlier this morning a made a sticky ginger loaf and some fruit salad to have with a (decaf) coffee before we got started.

Lisa was having a 'me' day and chose to spend it with us as a change from her usual routine. I was chuffed to bits to have some additional help in doing some more physically demanding tasks.

So Lisa asked a few questions and I told her about how we came to live here and how my health had impacted on our decisions about the way we would live in our new home.

I showed her the eggs in the incubator, the 3 week old chicks, the young cockerels who are 6 weeks old, Big Red and Little White who are 11 weeks old and the rest of the chickens. She met the ducks and asked whether, if I could only keep one would it be ducks or chickens. I said ducks, because I like their independence and Mr J said chickens because the ones we have are friendlier than our ducks.
Lisa turned one of the compost heaps in a matter of minutes. This task would have taken me about an hour and then I'd need to rest for a couple of hours or so, I don't think Lisa knows how grateful I am for her volunteering.
The compost heap is coming along well, it certainly isn't going to be three week compost, but it will probably be an eight week compost heap, which I still think is pretty good going.

We then went inside for a cold drink, in the heat of the day (and it being surprisingly breezy here) I am extra careful about keeping up our fluid intake and taking breaks from the sunshine.
We headed into the stable to continue the mucking out that I have been doing bit by bit since we moved here. Lisa shifted five barrow-loads in no time, so I emptied the wheelbarrow each time it was full, into the area of the chicken field that is becoming the 'circle of love' for the part of the field with the shed in it.
Lisa sat in a chair in the field and held some kale for the birds to peck at and true to form, Big Red and Little White jumped up onto her lap to eat the kale and be stroked.
I think that Lisa was up for doing plenty more, but I was starting to get hot and tired and it was definitely time for lunch, so we had a picnic lunch at the kitchen table and talked some more about our plans and ideas for the smallholding and Lisa's plans for the summer holidays. Lisa works with wood and makes lovely items that she sells in her etsy shop, (link above) I particularly like some of the little garlic chopping boards. I've asked Lisa to make me some robust plant labels to go under the currant bushes, so that we can identify the variety of currant for years to come.
After Lisa had gone, I wandered back to have a look at how much had been achieved and I am delighted that she has cleared about a third of the old muck in the back half of the stable area. There is still one more barrow load to take outside, but that will have to wait until it is a bit cooler.

The other thing that I spotted in the stable was that Red and White have finally discovered the shallow bucket with sand in it that I put in there over a week ago. They were very happily have a dust bath in the nice clean sand. These two little birds are such a pleasure to spend time with. I suspect that if Lisa wasn't 100% sure whether she wanted to keep chickens before that, the two young birds sold the idea to her.
If you'd like to spend a day with us on the smallholding exchanging ideas, enthusiasm and energy, please get in touch.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Garden tour for Dad

My father and I in Spain summer 1964
Today marks ten years since my father died and I although I am long past the mourning stage, I do think about him often and I enjoy knowing how thrilled he would be for me in having such a loving partner, a super place to live and a gentle lifestyle.

My father had a love hate relationship with his garden, much of it he really enjoyed and like all of us, sometimes it just felt like a chore. It was Dad who helped me discover the joy of growing plants and even as an adult with my own home he would grow annual flowers for me in his greenhouse and give them to me when they were ready to plant out after the last frost.

So, this morning as I did my daily walk around the garden, I took photos of the things that I would show to Dad if he was here walking around with me.
The tomatoes in the greenhouse are coming along. We ate our first tomato earlier in the week and there are now another four ready to eat. I've think that next year I will get the plants into the ground in the greenhouse rather than grow them in pots as the ones planted directly into the soil are growing much more strongly. I'll also get them into the ground earlier than I did this year.
One of the Cream Legbar chickens has been sitting on a clutch of eggs for 11 days now. We leave her alone to do her broody thing apart from checking on her twice a day and partially opening the door to her little house each morning (and closing it at night) just to give a little ventilation in there. She is lying so flat on the eggs that she looks like she has melted. I hope that she is as good at being a mother as she has been about sitting on her eggs.
The patty pan squashes are just starting to grow little fruits, this one is about an inch across, small but as it's our first squash in the garden, I think it looks just perfect.
 The squash are planted on top of one of the spent brewery grain compost piles. When we made the pile and planted the squash plants in little soil pockets, the pile almost reached the top of the pallet bay. As you can see, it has now reduced to about half the height it was.
The pumpkins that were planted in a large compost heap are coming on in leaps and bounds. Some of the leaves are now about a foot across and there are lots of flower buds, so hopefully we will get a few pumpkins. The seeds were given to me by my grandson, so I would like to be able to give him a pumpkin as a 'thank you for my present'.
The sweetpeas (which were my father's favourite flower to grow) have burst into bloom as they scramble up the rustic wigwam that I made using hazel poles. The scent of them fills the air around them and is a lovely way to be greeted as I walk through the gate.
This apparent mess is the nest that Mrs Warne has made in the base of a compost bay. We haven't had any eggs from the ducks for a few days and last night Mr J discovered that she had created this splendid nest and found three eggs in it. She certainly looked less than impressed this morning that her stash of eggs had disappeared, so I hope that she doesn't now go and find another place to build a nest. It won't be long before (hopefully) there will be some ducklings to join them in their side of the paddock. The eggs are due to hatch around 29th July and the ducklings should be out in the paddock with them two to four weeks later.
The broad beans have grown well, it's the first time I have grown them as I didn't like them when I tried them as a child. I ate a few this week in a supper made from home grown vegetables and I really liked them. So now Mr J will have to share the broad bean crop!
The pea plants have started cropping even though the plants are less than a foot high, now we have put some netting up for them to climb up, I am hoping that they will scramble up the netting and produce even more lovely pea pods filled with sweet little peas.
The damson trees (or are they plums?) are heavily laden with ripening fruit. There are so many fruit that we will be able to eat them fresh, bottle, freeze, make jam, jelly, sauces, sorbet and wine and still have plenty left over for the birds, bees and other insects to have their fill.
White flowered White Lady and Flavour Star runner beans are in full flower now and small beans are starting to form, although I've noticed that a few of them are showing signs of slug attack. I will need to be more vigilant about slug removal in the mornings and evenings. I really dislike picking slugs off plants, I hate the residue that gets left on my hands (or gloves) and don't take any pleasure in disposing of them.
The Legbar girls had been a little under the weather since their move to their new house, but I'm pleased to see that they have picked up again and seem happy and settled in their new arrangement. They are even starting to accept that the new Cream Legbar cockerel is their mate and tolerate his 'attention'.
I am delighted that the parsnip bed is thriving, I was so unsure that the parsnip seed would germinate as I didn't get them into the ground until late May. But nature has a way of catching up and the plants are now six to eight inches high. The marigolds that mark the rows of parsnips are redundant in terms of being row markers, but are giving a wonderful display of colour and the pollinating insects are loving them.
I am completely confused by the growth of some plants. This bed has perpetual spinach on the right carrots (and weeds) in the centre, dwarf sunflowers on the left and two rows of purple sprouting broccoli. Some of the purple sprouting seems to being growing well, but other plants are hardly growing and I don't understand why there's such a disparity in size. The plant in the back of the photo is about twice the size of the two nearer the front.
I have the same issue with the January King cabbages. Most of the two rows are romping away, producing lots of new luscious growth, while one plant has almost failed to grow and two near it are not doing as well as the rest.
 Some of the first lettuces that I planted have been harvested by cutting at the base, then regrown and we've had a second crop of leaves, but now they have started to bolt and go to seed. So this morning I lifted those plants and gave them to the chickens. I know that the girls prefer kale to most other greens, so I wasn't sure that they would touch the lettuces, but the plants see to have met with their approval.

A little later this morning, my sister and I will be going to put some flowers on Dad's grave, so I'm going to cut some sweet peas to take with us, but in the meantime, of course, it's time for a cuppa.

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