Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Women, ducks and chicken

It's International Women's Day and while I was letting the birds out this morning I thought back to the first IWD celebrations that I remember taking part in, all the way back in 1986, over 30 years ago. I was thinking about how much life has changed, how many differing roles I've had in that time and yet, hopefully, I am still true to myself. I thought about some of the amazing women that I've met, that I've been inspired by, watched (and as best I can supported) struggle through adversities and still hold everything together. And I thought about another woman, one who has inspired me the most throughout my whole life, my sister, who if she wasn't my sister, I would choose to have as a close friend.
Over the last year or so I have met a group of adventurous, bold, brave and inspiring women who have chosen to live a life not too dissimilar to ours. Some are pig farmers, others keep sheep, most have poultry and some focus on plant crops, but all of them have a great sense of humour and a level of grit and determination that has allowed them to thrive in their smallholding lives. Happy International Women's Day to every woman everywhere.

Back to our smallholding.

Yesterday we took a trip out to Stroud in the Cotswolds to buy a secondhand incubator. It's the same as the one we use now, a Brinsea Octagon 20. It will allow us to incubate two sets of eggs at the same time, which means that we can hatch some ducks. 

As if the ducks knew our plans, this morning I found three eggs in the duck house, so all of our girls are now laying. I'll leave it a few days for the new layers to settle into a rhythm and then I'll check for fertility by putting a few eggs into an incubator and candling them after a week to see whether there are tiny embryos developing inside the eggs. As soon as I am sure that they are fertile, I will pop a batch of duck eggs into the incubator to hatch. We have one girl that is smaller and noisier than the others and I think she is a Cherry Valley bird rather than an Aylesbury (although I purchased the hatching eggs as Aylesbury), I don't really want to breed from her, so I will select the larger eggs laid by the other two for hatching and keep the smaller bird's slightly smaller eggs for eating.

Once we have had the first hatch of ducklings of the year (and I've got over the sheer joy and excitement) I will be able to offer hatching eggs for sale secure in the knowledge that they produce good birds. We will grow the hatched ducklings on, keeping a couple of the girls to increase our flock and depending on numbers, sell the other ducks and dispatch the drakes for our freezer. And we will repeat the process throughout spring and early summer to give us a small income and a well stocked freezer giving us some food security for the rest of the year.

We are now getting lots of chickens eggs each day, actually we have way more eggs than I know what to do with. The daily egg count is now in the region of 18 eggs and however much Mr J and I like eggs, even we couldn't eat that many. So I need to find a suitable way to sell some eggs locally. To that end, today I am going to put the feelers out a little more and see if there is a market in the next village for some fresh eggs from chickens that are raised on organic principles. 

I thought that I might do a weekly delivery of eggs to folks who have already ordered them. I would put an honesty box at the end of the lane, but I don't think that there is a safe place for cars to pull over to buy them and the last thing I want to do is cause an accident. I will put a sign out on our lane to show that we have eggs for sale at the farm gate, but securing a regular order of eggs is much more sensible. In an area of lots of smallholdings and farms, selling eggs is not necessarily as easy as it might be, but I hope that there are some local folks who would prefer that their food is raised organically and would like to have our eggs.

Delivering the eggs to the local village would also limit the number of vehicles coming on the smallholding. I am still trying to restrict movements to reduce the risk of the spread of avian flu, although I've put a deep strip of straw drenched in disinfectant in front of our gate which, hopefully, would kill of any potentially harmful microbes from tyres as they drive through it. There's a fine line between suitably cautious preventative measures and utter paranoia about others coming on to the premises. I choose to stay on the suitably cautious side of the line.

I was pleased to see yesterday, that this article in Country Smallholding was published online. I made a contribution to it by sharing my thoughts and ideas with Kim, who wrote the article and by being a case study. You can read it here.

I now need to head outside and tackle some fencing issues, but first I think it must be time for a cuppa!

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