Saturday, 10 December 2016

Tackling Prevention Zone jobs

 Last Monday I spent the afternoon moving some pallets to the edge of the vegetable garden to complete the pallet fence with compost bays. I was very pleased with how nicely it finished off the vegetable garden. 

The pallets held down one side of weed suppressing membrane and on Tuesday I moved several barrow loads of wood chippings (from our trees that were taken down last month) to cover the membrane and complete this side of the vegetable garden. It looked splendid and I was very excited to have quite so much space in which to make compost.

Late Tuesday afternoon we learnt that Defra had announced a 'Prevention Zone' to protect our poultry from the risk of Avian Flu. It took me quite a while to find out what was needed to be done to comply and the announcements that I saw said it covered England. Mr J and I realised that if Wales didn't have such measures, it very soon would. And Wednesday morning I found the relevant information saying that it applied to Wales and Scotland too.

So after careful reading I came to the conclusion that I would need to find a way to keep the birds inside a covered area for the next month at the very least. Reading between the lines, I suspect that this situation may well continue for longer.

Our birds are kept in four separate areas, one for each breeding flock and so we needed to create four separate pens for them. What a headache! But, looking for a positive in all this chaos, it has meant that we've had a long hard think about which birds we really value and we've assessed whether we want to keep all the birds or reduce the number of different breeds that we keep.

In the end, I decided to put the chickens into two areas and the ducks in their own pen. So armed with strong resolve and somewhat weak body I started to tackle the task. The irony of this announcement coming a few hours before Mr J went back to work for the week didn't pass me by. There is an urgency to getting the birds under cover and so regardless of my body being in the throws of another hashimoto's attack and regardless of having used just about all my energy making the pallet fence, my plan for the rest of the week curled up on the sofa had been scuppered as Mr J works four days a week and he was returning to work on Wednesday morning. It was time for me to dig deep and get on with it!
 I started by putting chicken wire around the top section of the stable where up to now it had been open.
 The gate was only waist high so that also needed extending to full height. I am so pleased that we have collected so much scrap wood this year, it meant that I could rummage around in the piggery and find suitable pieces of reclaimed timber to use. There are still nails in the wood and I didn't have the strength to lever them out, so I wrapped duct tape around them to protect our hands and act as a warning to be careful handling that section of wood. This week I have wished over and over that we had electric drill/screwdriver (one of those ones with a battery pack so they can be easily used where there is no power supply), because using a manual screwdriver for this kind of task was rather soul destroying.

The chickens will still be sleeping in their shed, so I moved their flexible fence to give them a narrow corridor between the shed and stable along which to travel morning and evening. This corridor will then be covered and enclosed to ensure that the chickens are protected from contact with wild birds.
I hung their vermin proof feeding station from a beam and placed buckets of water with apple cider vinegar and garlic on to a pallet (so it's less likely to have wood shavings kicked into it.

They don't seem terribly impressed at their sudden confinement. The Cream Legbar girls aren't too bothered as they prefer to be out of the wind and rain, but the boys and the other chickens are looking quite stressed. I am sure that they will settle down, especially once I have the walkway covered and enclosed as they will then have access to at least a small area outside.

 Mr J and I spent Wednesday evening trying to work out where and how to create a covered area for the Jersey Giants and Australorps. We spent half an hour or so looking at the back piggery, but it's roofing panels have deteriorated significantly over the last year and there are large oil drums of 'we don't know what' that could well be toxic to birds, so we talked about ways to fence off that part of the piggery to allow the birds to use the rest of it. It looked like a nightmare of a job and I was already feeling fairly fragile.
Thursday morning I had a lightbulb moment, I had realised how to turn the outbuilding that I've refer to as my garden room into a comfortable place for the black and white birds. I took out the wood, hazel poles, bags of bags, paddling pool and a host of 'stuff' that we had dumped there to be put away once we had somewhere for these things to live. The dry wood I stored in the wood store in the stables and I put everything outside the old barn door (which doesn't open, so I wasn't blocking it). Once clear it became obvious that this would be an ideal chicken palace.

 So with the drizzle steadily soaking me through I went to the vegetable garden and dismantled the lovely pallet fence that I put up only four days earlier!
I had almost run out of cable ties having used so many to create the fence, so was careful about not waste them, placing all the pallets before actually securing them together.

I used the gate that I'd made by lashing together chicken wire panels which had been between the two chicken fields, but as it wasn't going to be needed for the next month, this seemed the simplest way to make a door. I found the longest piece of wood that we had, but still it wasn't quite long enough to reach the top of the outbuilding, so I created a small base from two pieces of wood which, once bedded into the ground at just the right place, allowed the upright wood to be wedged into place. In this photo you can see that I hadn't quite managed to knock it vertical yet. I put a piece of 2"x1" across the top of the door to stop the door falling out and another length of wood (2"x4") to brace the vertical length. It was still pretty wobbly and needed securing at the top, but I didn't feel well enough to be climbling ladders so I sent a message to the tree surgeon to see if he was free to help me for a short time. 

As the chicken house is wider than the doorway I needed to move it inside before putting up the second side of pallets. This meant moving the Jersey Giants who, by this time, were looking very stressed at all the change going on. I moved them into the field that Big Red and his girls had been in and Little White continued to crow his stressed and mournful crow while he watched me push his house out of his field and into the outbuilding.

I moved the last few pallets into place and was so tired that I started crying as I screwed them into place. I was relieved to hear Mr J's van come along our lane only to realise that it wasn't him, it was our friend the tree surgeon coming to help. There is something about having someone you don't know terribly well arrive, it makes you put on a smile and not show how rotten you are feeling and that is exactly what I did. And it helped to have somebody else there, I felt less overwhelmed by how much still needed to be done. 

He hopped up his ladder and straightened the vertical post, securing it with a fixing plate that I had ready. Then he stapled chicken wire from the roof downwards across the full width of the outbuilding. 
When Mr J got home he carried more bales of wood shavings and chopped rape seed stems (bedding often used for horses) to the outbuilding. I had managed to spread the contents of two below and around the chicken house, but run out of strength to carry enough to cover the whole floor area. The light was fading fast, but there was just enough light to carry the Jersey Giants to their new accommodation and put them in the house for the night.

I ached all over and headed inside to start cooking our supper and looked forward to having a long hot soak in a bath. After supper we watched a little television and then I headed to the bathroom. This was going to be the best bath - ever! 

Or not. As I turned off the hot water tap, it came away in my hand with water gushing at full flow into the bath. To avoid flooding the bathroom I pulled out the plug. We searched for an isolating valve for the bath, but there wasn't one, so Mr J turned off the water at the mains. Too late I realised that now I had no water in the bath and so that was the end of my hot soaky bath idea. It seemed that this week was just going to throw everything it could at me to make life awkward. I went to bed feeling rather sorry for myself and as I lay there in a cold achy grump I started thinking about just how much worse things could be. Sometimes it's good to give yourself a mental kick in the pants, I pulled myself out of my sorry mood and fell into a deep sleep.

On Friday morning before I let the birds out of their house, I fixed the final row of chicken wire into place securing the bottom of it to the pallets and overlapping it by about fifteen inches with the top section put on by the tree surgeon. I secured the overlap in a few places to ensure that the birds wouldn't be able to get out and created a makeshift lock (with baling twine and a hook) for the door. Then I let the birds out to explore their new temporary home.

I moved the Australorps into the new chicken palace, Little White greeted each one by letting them know who is boss. There was a bit of jostling and shoving, but nothing violent, but then if I was a chicken, even one as big as an Australorp cockerel, I don't think I'd take my chances against Little White, he is a very large bird.

Then I turned my attention to the ducks. I lifted the flexible netting that has been around one third of the vegetable garden (the short side at the far end of the veg area and along the side by the duck enclosure) and moved it to create a narrow passageway from the duck house into the small enclosure where the ducklings were in the summer. This means that the ducks avoid walking under the trees where wild birds like to sit and deposit their droppings below. The ducks are very upset by all the change, they now have an area about forty feet square, but that will reduce by at least half.

Tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon Mr J and I will create a makeshift covered enclosure for the ducks. I have run out of strength to carry any more pallets, so will need to rely on him to move them from the garden to around the duck pond.

We have looked at the options of buying an enclosure, which I think will be the answer in the long term, but we need to get the ducks under cover as soon as possible, so a rough framework covered on the outside with chicken wire and covered over the top with a tarp, some corrugated metal panels and a rigid, clear, twin wall plastic panel will have to do. It will keep them safe even if it doesn't look pretty and we will have complied with the Defra order.

I have hung a bottle of hand gel on the gate for visitors to use and we've bought an approved disinfectant for a foot dip before we enter the birds' enclosures. Hopefully, we now comply with all the biosecurity measures that we need to.

I plan to spend most of next week on the sofa or in bed to recover from the stress and physical strain of the last few days. But before then we have one other event to enjoy.

Tomorrow morning we are heading to Bristol for several reasons. Firstly I want to visit my parents' grave because I like to place a Christmas wreath on their grave. Then we are going to a shop to buy a few essentials that we will need in the next couple of weeks. After that we will be heading to collect our two new family members.

Monty (front) and Tabitha are nine years old, their last owner has passed away and we jumped at the opportunity to give them a home. Hopefully they will be happy to curl up on the sofa with me as they get to know us over the next week or so.

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Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The Whole Hog Part 3 Braised Hock

Image Credit Porc Wales

 In my continuing effort to try preparing and eating as much of a half a pig as possible, today I cooked some hocks. The hock is the portion of the leg above the trotters and below the knee. I had four to cook and this was the first time I've prepared them. 

 I cleaned them by covering them with cold water in a deep pan which I brought up to the boil and then drained after 3 minutes of rapid boiling. 
I drained them and refreshed them under cold water. I have a washing up bowl that I keep purely for food preparation and I sterilise it with vinegar after I have used it for meat or fish products.

I scored the skin to allow all the flavours to infuse.

I then returned them to the pan, covered them again in water and added some seasoning. These included pink peppercorns, fennel, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, paprika and bay leaves. In hindsight I should have added the cloves later in the cooking as I didn't want the meat to taste too strongly of clove so scooped them out after half an hour. It would have been easier to just add them later on!

I brought the water to the boil and then turned it down to a simmer. 

After an hour I added two small diced onions and two small cored apples and continued to simmer gently the hocks for a further two hours.

I lifted the hocks from the stock (they were hard to pull out as the meat was falling away from the bones) and using a knife and fork removed the skin and fat from the meat. They didn't look terribly pretty or appetising at this stage, but they did smell wonderful.
I returned the bones and fat to the pan and continued to reduce the liquid to create some stock.
 Mr J and I had well filled hock & BBQ sauce sandwiches for lunch and after it had cooled,  I froze the remainder of the meat for use at a later date. As this was pork (rather than having been cured to make ham), I think next time I would add some salt to the stock during cooking.

The four hocks cost around £12 and yielded 1lb 6oz of lean cooked meat, which is enough for four meals for the two of us (8 good portions of meat). I will certainly be buying hocks again and next time will try curing them.

I bought this free range pork from Martha who I know and like the way she cares for her animals. 
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Monday, 5 December 2016

Thinking inside the box

Over the last couple of weeks I've noticed that the chickens have been queuing. A little like humans queue, they have been patiently and not-so-patiently waiting in line. But they haven't been queuing for rations, for the sales to start or for a food in short supply, they've been waiting to have access to the nesting boxes.

It seems to me that it's not a good idea for the girls to have to wait to lay their eggs, it must be a difficult enough process to go through without having the stress of waiting for a quiet space. So Mr J and I have been mulling over the best options for adding nesting boxes to the chicken shed. We thought about buying some lovely new plastic nesting boxes which we can attach to the shed wall either on the inside of it or externally, we thought about just putting some plastic boxes on the floor of the shed, but in the end we had a much smarter idea.

The chickens in the field with the chicken shed have access to the stable which we've converted into the chicken condo. It's a double size stable with a smaller section at the back and earlier in the year we had a couple of plastic containers in the back section in which the girls laid their eggs. Then one day I discovered a small rat in one of the containers and we decided to move their nest boxes. Since then we've found a way to keep the rodent population to a minimum (with a highly effective electric rat zapper) and so we could put nest boxes back into that cosy small section at the back of the stables.

We had a look around at what we had available to make some nesting boxes from. I was keen to use plastic containers to minimise the risk of mites finding a safe haven and we also needed something to secure the nest boxes in place. 

We had an old set of shelves made from melamine type boards, so we turned it on its side, secured the shelves back into place to accommodate some plastic boxes between them. Rather than have the shelf unit resting on the floor we put some concrete blocks on the floor to raise the shelf unit about eight inches off the floor.

We found three plastic boxes that fitted very neatly into the available spaces and made do with one smaller stacking box. I prefer the deeper boxes as I think the higher sides will give the girls more privacy while laying, but as I don't want to buy yet more plastic boxes, the stacker box will have to do until we can find either a matching box or something similar. I put some straw into each nest box and placed them into the shelves.

It looked great and certainly Big Red thought this would be a highly suitable place for his girls to lay their eggs. He hopped into one the boxes and started making his lovely little clucking, ticking noise that he does to encourage the girls to lay. Then he tried to jump out of the box and that's when we realised the flaw in our planning. The box tipped forward under his weight and landed upside down on the floor in front of the shelf unit. 

We needed a bar or something to hold the boxes in place. I found some bungee cords in a drawer and some cup hooks and fitted a makeshift holding cord. This didn't stop the boxes tipping forward a little bit as the birds got out of the nesting boxes, but it did stop them falling on to the floor.

The girls were very interested in what we'd made for them, but seemed wary of the wobbly box situation, so we were back to hunting around for a solution. We found the answer in two long heavy wood off-cuts that were in one of the piggeries when we moved in and put them in front of the boxes. This barrier not only stopped the boxes from tipping forward, but gave the girls a step to jump onto to give them easier access to the nesting boxes and to make it even more accessible to the smaller girls, I put this small log as an initial step.
This morning the girls have inspected the nesting boxes, but then returned to their old box in the chicken shed to lay. I am sure that it will only take a few days or so for the girls to start using the new nest boxes, so I have placed a rubber egg in each box as an encouragement.

Mr J and I visited a DIY superstore today, although it wasn't really that super, to buy a few tools that we need. I wanted a new axe and secateurs, ones that I could keep separate from every day use and keep clean for hygiene reasons and they will be added to my bird processing tool box.

We also had a good wander around and looked for things we wanted, like a pair of tongs to use to turn wood in the wood burning stoves although they didn't have any. But they did have the ceramic sink draining boards that I have quietly (and fairly vocally) liked for so long. Mr J and I stood in front of the drainers for a few minutes wishing that they weren't so expensive and then, to my delight, he added one to the trolley and headed for the tills.

 If you like the look of this drainer, here's a similar ceramic sink drainer or this one CERAMIC BELFAST DRAINER (these are affiliate links, please see the small print & disclosure tab above).
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