Sunday 31 January 2010

Questions and Answers Week - 1

The White Girls, Mother, Cappachino, Latte, Milly, Mona, Molly, Lovely, Big Lovely , Little Lovely and Jemima, the only shot of all ten of them together.
As lots of you have asked questions on chickens, I'll start with them.
Firstly to answer Charlotte's questions.
We got our first chickens on 31st May last year, and it was a brilliant feeling, something I had always wanted and something that finally made our plans complete. After all it's the birds and animals that turn you from gardeners into smallholders. We were frantically trying to build a fox proof shelter for them, although we got the house ready just in time, we had not finished the run when we had to pick them up.

Me, meeting the girls for the first time with their supper in the half-finished run.

They were 10 White Star Hybrid chickens, 18 months old and rescued Free-Rangers, they were from a local farm. By 'rescued Free-rangers we mean that the nice farmer allows a group of lovely women a couple of weeks to re-home as many of his flock as they can before they go for slaughter after living a pretty good life and laying for the previous 18 months. (This is the age when you stop being guaranteed an egg a day, every day of the year.)

The Brown Girls - Nutmeg, Bournville, Coco and Fudge at 5 weeks old.

The Welsummers were born in a local pet shop and were spotted by me when they were just eggs. After not very much persuading at all Lovely Hubby went and bought them. We managed to get the last 4 of a brood of 10. We got them on 18th June at 5 weeks old. It's been lovely to watch them develop into the beautiful confident girls they are now, all laying eggs. And, no, I don't have any rabbits, I would LOVE some but with a cat that loves the taste of rabbits heads(!!!) and a Jack Russell that would kill one as soon as look at it, I think it's kinder for the rabbits not to go there, please don't read this bit to Humphrey........he'll be traumatised for life!!

And now on to Penny's questions, the lovely 'green stuff' is grass......haha....I realise it's something hens in a small garden soon decimate, but we have about 8 acres of the stuff on our ten and a half acres of land, so it survives, anyway they love to eat in the neighbouring farmers fields as much as in ours so it lasts longer.

Whenever I am preparing ANY kind of veggies or salad I have a tray next to my chopping board and on it go all the trimmings and peeling and any 'bad' bits I cut out of anything, in fact all the stuff that used to go in the compost, goes into the chickens first. They get it at their next meal time. I give them the opportunity to eat everything, cooked or uncooked, they will leave anything they don't like.

When I'm working outside I pile all the weeds, outer leaves etc to the side of me and they are usually there pecking away. In fact if I dig a hole there's usually a chicken in it before I can put anything else in!! You can give them grass clipping, they do prefer shorter ones to longer ones though, there's more goodness in them. I also look out for veggies being sold off cheap in the supermarket when I'm out shopping in winter and we don't have as much of our home grown trimmings, especially things like cabbage and leafy greens, they do great for the girls.

Basically chickens can and usually do eat anything. It's best not to let them eat their own eggs (although they love them), and obviously don't feed them anything with chicken in it!! You can give them finely crushed up egg shell though, as this is a brilliant (and free) source of calcium, just sprinkle it on other foods. I am still learning about veggies myself and having great fun at the moment planning our raised beds for next year. The only difference between us is that I am growing excess to our personal needs this year ready for selling at Farmers Market to go alongside the eggs.

Milly, and Molly on the right.

In reply to Abigail's questions (via email, she has no blog...yet!!).......I do have a favourite chicken, (and I must whisper it quietly so as not to offend the others) is Molly, the most cuddliest and inquisitive of the White Girls, she of little stubby feathers and scrawny body, that lays the most enormous of eggs (ouch!), she's just a character and is the chicken that nearly froze to death at Christmas.

We have lost 4 chickens in the eight months we have had them. One to a fox, (Lovely) one to a Red Kite attack (Mona) and two (Mother and Big Lovely), peacefully by natural causes. We have had one bad outbreak of Red Mite which we dealt with by deep cleaning the houses and dusting with powders and sprays. One chicken had a limp the day the vet came to look at our pig enclosures and got herself a free anti-infllamatory injection by being a little cutey. So no, we have not had any vets bills connected to the chickens.

All the chickens come home each night to sleep in their house, no matter what they've been up to during the day. From day one I got them used to eating together at breakfast time and responding to my 'chook chook' call every teatime to come and get some goodies along with their pellets, this means I can at least count them at teatime and make sure they are all okay. I handle the girls on a regular basis, in fact they complain (loudly) if I don't, when they were young the ones that didn't like getting picked up were picked up twice as often, to get them used to it. They will now all let me hold, cuddle, open their wings and generally manhandle them when necessary.

To answer Sue's email questions.....the chicken future? The future is another new Henhouse, (like in the header picture) it arrives on Tuesday this week, and then 24 more White Stars in a couple of weeks. To answer your second question, they are all Layers and not for eating, if you pick up a chicken bred for laying you will feel quite a prominent breastbone as there is hardly any breast meat. Although Lovely Hubby at first used to visualise them in a pan surrounded by roast potatoes even he now realises they would make a mean meal. Thank goodness for that I say, I could not bring myself to eat one of my girls!!

Thank you for your chicken questions, if I've missed anything out I apologise, (sorry I do not have a picture of me cuddling a chicken, as I am usually the one taking the photos....but I'll see what I can do Charlotte!). (I have just had a couple more chicken questions, but I will add them on to tomorrows post.) I can not imagine life without 'my girls', they are the first to welcome us when we drive back on to the farm, they are cheeky and inquisitive, they 'help' in the garden and best of all they give us the yummiest of golden yolked eggs to enjoy as often as we wish and make some money from. I would quite happily live on a chicken farm, even when we visited a huge free-range farm (12,000) the birds came to us to be touched and held, and were just as friendly, so for me it's chickens all the way!!

Tomorrow the theme will be..........Lavender and costings (and a few more chickens)!

Sue xx

Friday 29 January 2010

Over to you............

This weeks posts will be slightly different,
inspired by you and your questions to me.
What would you like to know about our lives?
What interests you the most (the animals, the land, the veggies, the lifestyle....)?
What have you missed through joining as a follower more recently, that you would like a quick recap of?
What (or who) would you like to see a photo of that I may not have published yet?
Send a question, any question, in the form of a comment, or an email directly to me, and I will base a post around your answer.
I will spend the week (Monday to Friday) answering the questions on here and then at the end of the week the questions and their writers, will all go into a hat (probably LH's lovely flat cap) and a drawer will be made for a little goody bag of Lavender Loveliness from my Lavender's Blue farmers Market business.
Looking forward to seeing your away!
Sue xx

Thoughts About Planting..........

The only planting I've done recently!!
Thoughts about planting are on my mind most of the time now. (Thanks Max, I know you can already do yours.....sob..sob..!!)
Six of the nine at the back of the house, four of which will be potatoes and the others for salad crops.
We need to sit down and plan what is going where this year. We will have nine new raised beds at the back of the house soon. Six have been constructed and three are all cut out and waiting to be assembled, once our lovely manure filled puddle has drained away slightly. On a plus note, from this puddle we are scooping out buckets of the water to use as a feed on the polytunnel plants, well diluted of course, (mmmm.....smelly horse poo water just what every girl wants!!).

The tyres we tried out last year, (brilliant idea), are going to be used for our carrot crop this year. The carrots we got out of two of them last year were delicious and grew so straight and strong, so it's worth another go.

Potatoes last year.

Of the raised beds we had in place last year three are already planted out , two with onions, red and white, and one with a selection of lavender plants. The two smaller raised beds, that are currently resting (good name that for neglected), will most likely be used for a selection of squashes.

I need to sit and draw out my polytunnel plan soon. Firstly, (soon) it will be used to get an early start by planting all the seeds in trays and pots ready to go outside in all the other places. Then later it will be planted up with my lemons, limes, herbs, and more delicate things and of course tomatoes will be in there again.

The climbing frame and swing frame will again be used for growing climbing plants, possibly peas, or maybe as my Mum suggested, Sweet Potatoes which according to her Afro-Caribbean friends prefer to grow upwards rather than along the ground as she tried last year, (they watched with amusement whilst she tried that!!).

Our fruit trees are slowly showing signs of Spring awakening with buds appearing on the ends of branches and these have been pruned to allow for maximum strength in the main branches and the Raspberry canes we planted in the old chicken run are showing signs of life, so we may have some fruit too later this year.

It's been quite strange going back through our archive of photos to find these for this post and seeing the progress we've made, tidying the place up, building fencing and acquiring animals, it's quite uplifting inmany ways!

So, if I'm feeling positive (and I am at the moment), we could be pretty self sufficient in fruit and veg this year. Now I just need to get all this down on paper, plan it properly and Lovely Hubby WILL be impressed, heck I may even remember to label the plants I plant this that would be a first!!

Sue xx

Thursday 28 January 2010

Bestest Friends

Archie and Rosy side by side in Sophie's Bed. Our animals show no respect for who's bed is who's or from which water bowl they should be drinking or which food dish contains who's food.

Archie and Sophie (on what used to be my sofa, now claimed by the animals).

It doesn't help that Sophie the Border Collie eats Whiskas cat food mixed with Pedigree Chum dog mixers (she has refused to eat dog food since being a puppy over 10 years ago) or that Archies favourite snacks in the whole wide world are Gravy Bones dog biscuits.

Archie looking pretty in the grass.

They all, especially Archie, love cheese and onion crisps and if you refuse to give them one will inhale your breath for the last vestiges of flavour. Of course they all think our food is the best and would quite happily sit down and eat a full 'human' meal. her own bed!! The dogs are both trained not to steal foods and usually are very good, but Rosy being a puppy will sometimes give in to temptation, and aided and abetted by Sophie who is tall enough to reach onto the coffee table, will sometimes pinch the odd biscuit. But you can tell by the expression on her face the first time she sees you after the crime has been committed, that she knows it was wrong and she will never do it again........ever!!

A relaxed Sophie. The dogs and Archie are now developing a taste for the chickens main dinner of layers pellets and as the chickens tuck into breakfast each morning it is not unusual for the dogs to go and get a mouthful. Whenever we throw salad trimmings out for the chickens Rosy is there too tucking in with gusto to peppers and cucumber slices, if ever a dog could go vegetarian it is Rosy, she loves salad leaves and as of yet, we have found nothing that she won't eat and enjoy.

Rosy on Sophies other bed! The funniest sight is of her with a chip! You give her a chip and she hunts it and kills it, just like a cat would a mouse, why chips are treated like this I have no idea but it's very entertaining, and Sophie looks on in disbeliief that a piece of potato is treated this way and not just gulped down.

Toby, following me from the barn.

Of course there is always the exception to the rule. In our case his name is Toby, he is a cat, he eats cat food, and only cat food, he sleeps in a cat bed, his bed. He will come in to eat his food and go and see if his bed is available, if some other member of the family has got there first he will calmly walk out of the room through the catflap and vanish to his outdoor spot of choosing, it was the barn, now it is currently under some pallets on a bed of straw. He will return later to see if his bed has been vacated and if it has, will make himself comfortable and go to sleep.

Toby, our Cat!

The other animals all show him the utmost respect (including the pigs and chickens). He is firm in his identity.....HE IS A CAT.....the head of the house and we should all remember that!!

Sue xx

Wednesday 27 January 2010


At last all the Welsummers are laying!
Four Welsummer eggs.
And what lovely eggs they lay too. Each has her own distinctive colouring. Obviously I would have to spend many hours waiting, and following them around to see which lays which coloured egg, so I am happy just to note that I get one of each on most days.
Yesterdays eggs.
The White Star Hybrids are still laying, not every day as they used to but most days, so at the moment out of ten birds I am getting an average of six eggs, which at this time of year and taking into consideration the age of the White girls is very good. White Stars are chickens that would normally lay white eggs, but it is the 'hybrid' part that has switched them to laying brown eggs (they have Welsummer in their blood). Well I'm a happy 'eggy' person anyway.

The eggs in the fridge at the moment. We have just ordered another Hen House from the company we got our original from as we have decided to get another 24 birds next month. They will be White Star Hybrids again hopefully, once again rescued Free-Rangers. We have been so happy with the life we have been able to give our original ten girls and although we have now lost four of them, the others are looking magnificent.

Sue xx

Tuesday 26 January 2010

Time for Tea

Obviously the 'ladies' are not used to me being in the house all day and by teatime yesterday, currently about 3.30pm for chickens, they were all knocking on the back door demanding to see their Mum.
So what's a poorly girl to do, I got myself all wrapped up and went out to them, for tea they had their usual Layers Pellets and a sprinkle of corn and as a special treat for coming to see if I was alright, a broken up Christmas cake. To say they enjoyed it would be an understatement, it must have been the added brandy because they were all tucked up in bed by the time I got back from feeding the pigs.
I hope their hangovers aren't too bad today!
Sue xx

Monday 25 January 2010

Shock News - Man Gets Pig Pregnant!!

My view this weekend has seemed to mainly be the one above.
As for the title of this post........all my fingers and toes are crossed for this to be the news. For the first time ever we used AI (Artificial Insemination) to try to get Betty in pig (pregnant). If this has worked, in three months, three weeks and three days she should be the proud mother of at least eight babies!!
The daddy's name is Orlando (Gracebank Orlando 2 to be precise) but Lovely Hubby actually did all the hard work!! I'm so proud of him, pity he banned me from taking actual photos of the event, but I was needed to 'persuade' Betty to stand still, quite difficult when she weighs as much as me and is trying to eat my wellies whilst being inseminated!!
Sue xx

Thursday 21 January 2010

Inspiration Windowsill

Today I just wanted to post some pretty pictures. After yesterday with the loss of one of my chickens I feel down.
I sat at the computer to trawl the internet for rules governing selling your own handmade soaps, it's a veritable minefield of regulations, my brain was spinning, so I fired off emails to try to clarify things and spoke to various people on the phone (who all tell slightly conflicting tales), I'm no clearer now than when I began. Is there anybody out there who can simplify it for me?
I tried to do my accounts (woohoo I'm up to July 2009 now!) but the brain was not in gear, so I tidied my workroom (well hid everything in the cupboards) and wiped down the windowsill. I tend to put things on there to give me inspiration......well it's not working. I haven't made a single thing this week.
The trouble with crafting is that you have to be inspired to begin. If you just sit down and try to do it, it won't work, well not for me anyway. If anyone has seen my crafting mojo, please send her back to me, she seems to have gone on holiday (somewhere warm and sunny I hope) lucky thing! Sue xx

Wednesday 20 January 2010

As Dignified in Death........

Having dinner with Fudge.

As dignified in death as she was in life our beautiful Big Lovely died in her sleep last night.

After breakfast, of which she ate only a little, she wandered a bit with the others and then quietly took herself back to the nest.  The others came, laid their eggs in the other nesting boxes and left.  She remained watching and sometimes sleeping, the others acknowledged her as they entered and left the henhouse but left her in peace. 

When I checked for eggs in the early afternoon she was sat drifting in and out of sleep and 'spoke' to me in her gentle clucking way.  It was obvious she did not want to be disturbed.  But I checked her over for any signs of a problem I could have helped with.  There was nothing physically wrong with her, so I padded out her chosen nest box with more straw and placed her back.

She was still there at chicken bed time, watching the others as they jostled for their rightful places on the perches, contented in her chosen place.  I knew in my heart that it would be the last time I would see those inquisitive little beady chicken eyes open......but I hoped I was wrong.

This morning she was in exactly the same postion, looking as big and lovely in death as she had in life.  The only way you could tell she was dead was that her eyes were shut.  The most dignified death for the most dignified of my girls.

People who don't keep chickens may not 'get' this post.  But to me each and every one of 'my girls' are their own characters, they form part of our family and each one is respected for their place in the family.  We give the hens love, respect, food and warmth, they give us eggs, manure for the veggie patches and hours of fun with their antics. It's a good swap.

Life is precious, whatever that life, I know I'm an old softy, but what the heck I loved that bird.

Looking for worms with Jemima.

RIP Big Lovely.

Sue xx

Tuesday 19 January 2010

Piggy News

Breakfast time in the barn.

The pigs are now well and truly settled in their winter quarters.  They have made the barn into a real home for themselves and now that the outside space is all fenced off with the new electric fencing they are in piggy heaven.

They spend many happy hours digging all the deep rooted weeds out of the ground, something we are extremely grateful for.  They can turn the picture above into the picture below in a couple of days.

They have until the weather turns nice again to get this bit of land under control for us.  Lovely Hubby is going to use this area as part of his new worm venture, and will be building the worm beds here in the late spring/early summer of this year.

We use the little ante room of the barn to store the bedding and pig food as well as our chopped wood for the house.

And after a morning of digging for those tasty roots and weeds, the girls troop back to their cosy bedroom for a nice little siesta, after all it will be tea time later and they will need their energy to eat again.

Sue xx

Monday 18 January 2010

Misty morning.

This morning we woke to a misty world.

I went with the dogs to let the chickens out at first light, they need the daylight hours as much as possible at the moment, and with the slowly lengthening evenings are getting back into their previous egg laying routine. We are consistently getting seven eggs a day at the moment, which is good for ten laying chickens.  We have three of the Welsummers laying at the moment and one still to start, hopefully she will not be long behind her sisters.  The White Stars are now 30 months old, so should really be laying slightly less frequently than one egg a day each.

  With the chickens up and pecking around, we went to feed the pigs, they were having a lie in and only woke when they heard me rattling their feed bucket, they staggered blearily out of their bedroom and got stuck in.  It was almost five minutes until they looked up to say their thanks in their piggy way, with flicking of their ears and their friendly, snuffly, grunty sound.

We left the pigs to their peaceful breakfast and walked the fields the dogs and I.  We wandered through previously hard frozen puddles splashing and having fun, although I knew it would make for more cleaning up when I got them home we raced the muddy track and enjoyed ourselves.  As we wandered back past the pigs they were strolling out to their outdoor space looking slightly more awake and ready to face the world.

The sun tried valiently to comes out from behind the clouds and briefly backlit the pond, but it was thwarted quickly and the world has turned a shade of grey again.

I am making plans today for what we are going to be growing in the polytunnel, I need to look through seeds over from last year and check the seeds we harvested ourselves.

We will have 9 new raised beds to fill this year, 4 of them will contain our potatoes,  the rest we have yet to decide on.  I should imagine beans, peas and salad crops in a couple of them.  Time to go and plan.

Have a good day.

Sue xx

Saturday 16 January 2010

Quiet Saturday

We woke up to find the snow had vanished in all but the most sheltered of places.  The rain was falling and the track was awash and all the ditches about to overflow.

I headed off for the Farmers Market at Tetsworth and LH stayed fed the pigs and chickens, then retreated to the dry, warm house for a morning of paperwork.  The market was quiet with not many folk venturing out in the horrible rain, it dried up slightly later, but I suspect most people still have stock cupboards with goodies over from Christmas and from their bad weather stock piling of foods, so did not have the inclination (or possibly the cash) to come shopping.

We stall holders bought a lot off each other and gave the few folk that turned up the best customer service they had ever received.  I have many plans for new items for the stall and sat thinking and re-thinking of these whilst I had the time.  A good day, if a slightly quiet one.  We are off out now to our local Prezzo for a meal cooked by someone else for a change, leaving the house in the capable hands of Sophie who is sat watching as I type just as in the photo above.

Sue xx

Thursday 14 January 2010

I've been tagged......

I've been tagged by the lovely Penny at The Henhouse to show you my favourite photo.

I have many favourites, the ones of my sons as babies, the pictures taken on our spontaneous wedding day by the registrar and by my friends at work who had kept our secret so well. But one photo stands out head and shoulders above the rest. It's not a particually good one of me but I like it anyway.
It was the day of my son's wedding and un-beknown to us my Mum snapped this photo of me and Alan (Lovely Hubby) at the reception while we were listening to the speeches. We had been going out together for almost a year and sometimes I wondered if we were right for each other. Weirdly everything was fitting together too well and I had doubts that anything could be this good!
When Mum sent us this photo it made me think again.........if something is this good, you don't doubt it, you go with it and enjoy it. And that's what we have done ever since.

If you are reading this consider yourself tagged too! What is your favourite photo, and the reason behind it.

Sue xx

The Chickens Revenge.......

When you steal a chickens breakfast (see yesterdays post for details) you should expect that once that chicken is feeling better she will steal yours!!
Getting there just too late is not good enough. Looking sad will not bring back the Pedigree Chum!! Mum.....when all this madness is over can we PLEASE go for a walk? This is a madhouse, says Archie watching the scenes unfolding before him in the kitchen! Mmmm...better than layers pellets anyday, now where was that dog bed I fancy a snooze.....
In case you hadn't guessed, Molly is much better and is shortly to go back to the henhouse, she is getting her feet too firmly under the table already and LH says I cannot have a house chicken, especially if it won't wear a nappy!! Sue xx