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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