Wednesday 31 August 2011

Chicken News

 Pretenders to the throne - in their favourite place on top of the Broody Run.

Now that all the pigs have left the farm it's time to give the chickens some serious building up and attention before the Winter sets in.  I want as many as possible of them to survive the cold Winter nights and that means getting them super healthy now. 

A couple of them are having a slight moult and are looking a little worse for wear, some of them had a tussle with Mr Fox and look even worse for wear.  So I am giving them their extras in the form of Seaweed extract in their water, Garlic powder in their food and lots of tasty little snacks and treats that can be hung around chicken world for them to find over the course of the day, including bunches of freshly picked spinach, cabbage halves and all the tomatoes that fall from the plants before I have time to pick them.

We have new arrivals to cater for too, so there is always Chick Crumb around, which all the girls love, it's sometimes hard to make sure the chicks get their fair share!

This is Mummy Bird and her babies, she is a Speckledy that sat on, and hatched out a couple of Lavender Pekin Bantam eggs, I wonder if the little babies wonder why their mummy is so tall.  They follow her round all day and tuck themselves under her on the perch in Henhouse number two every night.

Can you see two little light grey bundles of fluff under her?

These are the latest arrivals just three days old with their Mummy, Little Lucy.

So after Mr Foxes visit and a couple of natural deaths over the last couple of weeks our numbers are seriously down.  The count this morning was:


21 Hylines
7 Speckledys
1 Light Sussex
1 Welsummer

Lavender Pekin Bantams

Caldwell the Cockerel
his wives  Alice, Little Lucy, Iris and Prudence

4 young Pretenders to the throne
4 chicks

It took me ages to count them, they were bobbing in and out of the henhouses chasing each other around and generally causing me much laughter and bafflement.  The saddest thing was realising that Rachel Rock Star was amongst the victims of Mr Fox, so no longer do we have a lovely Black Rock amongst our girls.

We are letting numbers reduce naturally over the course of the Winter, as it no doubt will, some of our girls are quite old now and in their retirement.  Next Spring we will bring in some fresh blood in the form of some Point of Lay birds, to get our egg production back into action.  At the moment we get on average 15 eggs a day, and now that the Pekins have stopped laying for Winter there are no more little Pickled Pekin Eggs to sell at the Farmers Markets.

Back tomorrow with the launch of my 'How Low Can you Go' Challenge.

Sue xx

Tuesday 30 August 2011

A Pig Free Zone

Last night we delivered (in two journeys) the last pigs on the farm to their new home.

Feeling so guilty as they all rushed to the fence to see Mum, and her tomatoes, I was at least pleased that we have found them a good home.  Yes, they will be turned into sausages etc, but not for a few months and in the meantime they will be well looked after by our friends Charles and Sue who have Sandy Lane Farm just a couple of miles from us.

It was Sue who taught me how much pigs love their backs rubbed and their ears tickled.  They helped us out with straw when we ran out, and we have both been there for each other when pig feed deliveries have been slow in delivering on time.  They run an organic farm with all the animals benefiting from all the excess veggies that don't get sold at the Farmers Markets they run and attend.  So my lovely little boys and girls will at least spend the rest of their lives with people that care, eating food that is good and mixing with lots of other pigs on the lovely Oxfordshire countryside.  I couldn't have asked for much more.

Now their arks have been swept out (backbreaking work) and are ready for us to sell at the Thame Smallholders Sale in a couple of weeks.  Three of them left the farm on Saturday and we have 5 more to sell, the end of our little pig empire.

Back tomorrow with news on the chicken front!!

Sue xx

Monday 29 August 2011

Money in my pocket, space in my cupboards.....

We're just back from the Bank Holiday Monday car boot sale in the neighbouring village and what a busy morning it's been.

I now have money in my pocket and space in my cupboards.....what more could you ask for.  I did have a wander around and bought three lovely enamel bowls, but apart from that I stayed firmly behind our table making money, not spending it.  We are well into our Year of Living Simply and it's proving to be uplifting in lots of ways.  When we come to move house, hopefully in the next couple of months there will be less to pack and the cupboards will already be nice and clean and clear, a lovely added bonus to all this sorting.

We are having one last final push with the sorting out this week in our efforts to jettison the extras, there is one last Car Boot sale of the season at Warborough, the lovely village where the folk are friendly and the sun usually shines.

How did you spend your Bank Holiday Monday?

Sue xx

Saturday 27 August 2011

A Good Day

It's been a good day, the rain poured down, with only brief interludes of sunshine, we've been busy from 6.30 this morning, but we have achieved SO much.

After feeding the young pigs and the chickens, we enticed Martha, with the use of some lovely juicy plums into the trailer and set off for her new home.  Once she was unloaded she did a couple of circuits of her new paddock and who should hear her from the other side of the fence, but Maud who we delivered there yesterday.  She trooped down to the fence with all the babies in hot pursuit to say hello to her newly arrived sister.

We left them in the very capable hands of Anthony and his staff at Fallowfields Country House Hotel to settle in and prepare themselves for Monday when they have the wonderful Fallowfields Fair going on, with farm tours and lots of activity and crafts for all the family.

To see more of Maud and Martha's arrival there, and news of his gorgeous little Dexter calf that was born overnight visit HERE, Anthonys' wonderful Blog post from this afternoon.

When we got back there was just time for half a cup of coffee before the arrival of Alex all the way from South Wales with his two little boys, who quickly made themselves at home on the farm, cuddling chicks and helping with the loading of the three pigs arks they were buying off us.

After scones and coffee round the kitchen table they set off back for home with the first acquisitions of their new pig breeding enterprise.

So a successful day in our downsizing of the pig empire and after a swift tidy up of the house, it's been a horrible muddy day here on the farm and with two dogs trooping in and out of the house while we were busy outside things were a little 'foot printy' to say the least.  The time is now just before 5pm and we are chilling out, something we have never been able to do before about 7 or 8 o'clock before now.  Maybe a sign of times to come when we can start to take a bit of much needed time to ourselves.

The car is loaded up ready for a car boot sale either tomorrow or Monday, we will wait to see what the weather holds in store for us before we set off for an open field!!

Sue xx

Friday 26 August 2011

Moving Houses

After delivering Maud and her little rabble of unruly offspring to their new home at Fallowfields Country House Hotel this morning we drove home in the clearing rain to enjoy some breakfast and then the real work of the day started.

We have a couple driving from Wales tomorrow to pick up three of our pig arks.  It's nice to be able to help someone setting up for the first time in pig keeping with some very good price pig arks.  As we wouldn't dream of letting things go to a new buyer in the state they were in, we have had to set to with shovels, spades, rakes and brooms to clean them all up.  This would be easy if they looked  like they did when they were new just over two years ago......

... but now they look more like this.

Of course by the time we had finished our late breakfast the big black clouds had rolled back over the farm and although Lovely Hubby promised me they wouldn't, they distributed their heavy loads of rain all over us as we toiled and sweated, covered from head to foot in straw, dust, webs and well I'll leave the rest to your imagination!!  The farm has had heavy rain all through the night and the place is a mud bath, I'll not complain though if the weather takes a turn for the better now, it's Bank Holiday Weekend, come on whoever up there's in charge of the weather we need a bit of sunshine.....please !!

Tomorrow we set off again to deliver Martha to meet her new beau....Thriller the Tamworth boar, I hope she'll be suitably impressed.

Have a wonderful weekend whatever you're doing.

Sue xx

Thursday 25 August 2011

Last Day on the Farm

Today is the last day on the farm for Maud and her thirteen little tearaways.  She is being a brilliant Mum, keeping them in order, introducing them to new foods day by day and taking them for walks around the orchard when they get too boisterous, something I've never seen done before to get piglets into order, but I suppose needs must when you have so many to control.

They still crash out in their favourite hollow, but now they fill it to the top, they have grown so much in their three short weeks, the boys play fight with each and they all explore every nook and cranny of their surrounding area, nibbling at undergrowth (and hosepipes) and visiting the other pigs in their pens.

I'll be sad to see Maud go, of all our pigs she is the most gentle, the only one that wouldn't dream of pushing and jostling me for the bucket, she is calm and laid back and likes nothing more than a back rub and a tickle behind the ears, she eats carefully out of my hand and will trot quite happily beside me until I decide where to pour her food.

Maud aged 4 months back in October 2009.

Tomorrow she leaves for her new home at Fallowfields Country House Hotel, where she will be joined on Saturday morning by her sister Martha.  They have many happy years to come, living in wonderful surroundings with people that care and lots more lovely babies to nurture.

Sue xx

Wednesday 24 August 2011

Message to Mr Fox

A message to Mr Fox ....... I don't know what language you speak, or if you understand images, but the sign above is for you.  The little signs are hanging all around, if you can't read I don't care, touch the fence with your sensitive little nose and you will be able to guess what it says. 

And if I see you again I will give chase, with my trusty yard broom, just like yesterday, (although this time I might put my wellies on first, my slippers are ruined !!).

My girls are not for eating, they are mine, part of my family and that is why we spent hours last night taking down their fence, re-erecting it in a taut, safe way, so that the current is as powerful no matter which strand you touch.  The reassuring click. click, click in the kitchen tells me they are protected.  The dogs sitting guard tell me that all is well, and if you come again Rosy, will give chase, her hackles will rise so she looks like a ferocious little dinosaur and she will bite if she catches up with you.

We are ready for you.

(Although I do admit you are a beautiful specimen.)

And isn't Google Images wonderful....I typed in electric fencing (well actually I typed in 'fencing' first and got lots of images of men fencing, with swords) and got a picture of our signs, then I typed in 'blue broom' and I got a picture of my broom.....good stuff!!

Sue xx

Tuesday 23 August 2011

Still preserving...... ( and rescuing chickens from the jaws of death! )

I didn't get round to any reading yesterday, when Lovely Hubby arrived home, we sat on the patio drinking coffee and catching up with news.  We storted out the diaries and made as much use of our time in the coming week as we can, our aim is to leave ourselves as free as possible to be able to get up to Scotland to visit our lovely Mum.

Then while LH nipped off the farm to run an errand I decided to use up the  red and green basil plants on my kitchen windowsill they were looking quite sad and past their best. I believe strongly that everything should fulfill it's destiny, and their destiny was Pesto!  So I dug out my yummy recipe and luckily I had all the other ingredients in the store cupboard to be able to whizz up two double batches of this wonderful mixture.  I put it on the Blog once before nip over HERE if you want to use it.

The colours zing out and look wonderful, the Red Basil Pesto started out looking very lavender but settled down to a speckly grey within minutes.  They are nestled securely in the fridge now and will be used over the next couple of weeks in pasta dishes, quiches and well....lots of things.  I made the red one extra garliccy and it smells divine.

When I came to label the Plum Jam the day after making it, I discovered it hadn't set very well, at first I thought I'll just use it as Plum Sauce, but then I bit the bullet and tipped it all back into the jam pan and reboiled it hard.  Now it's back in the jars and although it's still not as firm a set as I would have liked I think it will stay on the toast now.  Reboiling it meant I lost two jars worth through evaporation, a shame but we still have five jars to squirrel away.

Today it's the turn of the tomatoes, because of our extended chat yesterday I forgot to pick any in the polytunnel and when I went in there first thing this morning they were everywhere like wonderful red jewels of every size and shape, I had a HUGE bowl full and thought I'd turn it them all into some jars of sauce while they were so very fresh.  Again using my jam pan so I could do it all in one batch I added lots of garlic, some red onions and lots of other little tasty things from the garden and the cupboards, we'll see how many jars I get when I get the pan out from the bottom oven of the Aga later on today.

Halfway through doing this I had to dash out to defend my girls from horrible Mr Fox and believe me he's a huge brute, he had the cheek to stand looking me straight in the eye, completely miffed that I'd managed to rescue Scrawny Neck from his very jaws!  Now she's also missing all her wing feathers on one side as well as the ones on her neck, not a pretty chicken, but she's MY chicken and by god he's not having her or any of my girls while I'm here to defend them.

Sue xx

Monday 22 August 2011

Dripping with Damsons

It's been a long, hard weekend.  I've been on the farm alone, well that's if you dont count the 25 pigs, 43 chickens, 2 dogs and 2 cats.  Lovely Hubby was needed by his Mum for the weekend, so he flew from Luton on Friday morning.   Next time I will be able to go with him, because we won't have the pigs and the farm will be easier taken care of in our absence, but this time it was necessary for me to stay at home.

I got all the usual chores done, including some of the weekend ones that we usually do together, but added to this workload was the need for being on constant fox-watch mode.  Every time the dogs sprang into action I hurried out to see what the commotion was, and every time the chickens started crowing and shouting to each other I was there, like a tightly coiled spring I was ready for action all weekend. 

When I left the farm yesterday for the Farmers Market I left washing flapping on the line and the radio blaring out full blast hanging from the top of the shed.  I was on tenterhooks all morning and couldn't wait to get back to the farm, although at the same time I was dreading what I might find. 

The fox did visit over the weekend but the dogs saw it off and I don't think it's been back since.  I know when it's been around because Rosy, the little Jack Russell has an immediate reaction, the hackles on her back are instantly up and she can follow the trail for miles, she's been a wonderful little guard all weekend.  The chickens have a lot to thank her for.

The pressure is beginning to take it's toll and I feel absolutely drained today.  Everyone's fed and watered, one of the veggie beds is emptied, weeded and covered (no more crops going in that one) and now I am sat with a coffee, waiting LHs imminent arrival back on the farm.  I think that's me for the day, I think a day's reading, rather than weeding sounds like a good idea.

And the almost 4 kilos of Damsons that I picked yesterday......well they're nestling in the freezer waiting for me to get round to a rather large batch of Damson Gin for Christmas, it's a good idea to freeze them for a couple of weeks anyway, it saves you having to prick all those little fruits.

Here's to a quiet day.

Sue xx

Sunday 21 August 2011


(Click on the picture and it will get bigger.)

I can't remember where I picked up this picture, somewhere in Blogland, if it was off you .... thank you.  It is very apt and just how I view life.

We all only have one, we have to make the best of it we can, life is too short for bickering, falling out and wasting time (unless you want too).

Grab control of your life with both hands, heed the words on the sign. Smile at the first stranger you meet, if they think you're mad perhaps they're right....does it matter?


When you're reaching the end of it you'll look back and think....That was fun!!

And it will have been a life well lived.

Happy Sunday.

Sue xx

Saturday 20 August 2011

Getting in the mode.....

I'm really getting in the preserving mode now, it feels we are on the cusp, the cusp of the new season and yet we are still in August, it should feel like Summer.  The mornings are cool and damp, the sun rises slowly sending it's rays over chicken world first thing each morning and burning off the dew on the long grass, the fields all around are about to have their final crops cut and the evenings descend swiftly, earlier and earlier each night.  Where the chickens used to retire at ten o'clock only a couple of weeks ago they are now heading for home at 8.30, jostling for their positions in the houses.

How obvious this jostling and taking up of normal positions has been in the last couple of nights, the gaps where others used to sit not yet claimed.  The pecking order and hierarchy not yet quite sorted out, lonely Fudge, waits in vain for her sister to join her.  Bournville's body is the only one we didn't find, I hope her end was swift, she was a big powerful bird.

In the house yesterday to take my mind off things I made a batch of Plum Jam, we don't have any mature plum trees yet, but a lovely person at Lovely Hubbys' workplace had harvested their bumper crop and brought all their excess in for others to help themselves to, when not many people did, LH asked was it okay to take the lot and was told it was fine.  I sent the generous donor a pack of our lovely eggs as a thank you the day after.  So I set to and made Jam, how rich ruby red and jewel like the colour and how sweet the taste.  Seven lovely jars for us to eat through Winter, give as gifts to friends and family, and to admire while they nestle in the larder.

Am I the only sad person who opens her home made stores cupboard and just admires?

Then, the bug had bit.....I spied the previous days harvested tomatoes and chilli peppers on the windowsill, I chopped up the larger ones, added a couple of fat (homegrown) cloves of Garlic and some herbs and left the tray all day in the bottom oven of the Aga.

By teatime, all I had to do was whiz it all together in the food processor, with a sprinkle of sea salt and black pepper and now I have two jars of rich roasted sauce, a similar colour to my Jam, so first priority this morning is label writing.

Yesterday this beauty arrived, okay so it's not truly beautiful, (unless you have a wood fetish), but it's practicality outweighs any boringness of colour.  It's our brand new Apple Store, we've wanted one for ages but always held off, was it really necessary, would it do the job, would it ever pay for itself, would it last.  When we finally reasoned that the answers to all those questions was YES we decided to bite the bullet and get it.  The only thing was I didn't realise how BIG it was going to be, now WHERE DO WE PUT IT?

I see us being like Tom and Barbara Good, with our spare bedroom storing all the harvest of Summer, after all the huge chest freezer lives there already and that is the only space left that we can keep cool and dry enough so the produce will last well.  So up the stairs it's going, and now comes the fun part....filling it up!

I hope you all have a lovely weekend, after the shock of the past couple of days we are settling back into our routine and I'm off to the Farmers Market tomorrow to peddle my wares, so I better go up to my little workroom and make some wares to peddle!!

Sue xx

Friday 19 August 2011

Do Not Read if you Are Easily Upset

Do not carry on reading if you are easily upset - really!

Mr Fox came to visit yesterday.  Or perhaps it was a couple of foxes.  The electric fence had shorted in the torrential rain we were having, the dogs were inside keeping dry (you can't blame them).

Outside a massacre took place.

Death count 

 8 Lavender Pekin Bantams
3 Hylines
2 Speckledys
1 Welsummer - 'Bourneville'

The other girls (and boys) are completely shell-shocked.  The houses were looking very empty last night.  Our last remaining Welsummer , Fudge, is devastated, she has lost her three sisters one by one over the last year, they went everywhere together.

Today I am on Fox watch, the fence is on and working, Maud is loose in the Orchard so she can protect her piglets (they still fit through the stock fence so escape from the pen on a regular basis but remain in the Orchard luckily).

The farm is a quiet place.

RIP my beautiful girls, I'm SO sorry your end was so brutal.  I'm sorry there are no words left in me today.

Sue xx

Thursday 18 August 2011

Pitter, patter.....

No, not the sound of more little trotters, the glorious sound of the rain.  I know it looks like we are in the midst of Autumn out there, the chickens are huddled under any shelter they can find, the pigs are having a 'straw day'....their version of our 'duvet day' when you huddle down and keep cosy, their little snouts came briefly out of the arks for breakfast and then swiftly retreated.  I'll not have much trough filling to do this afternoon.

Why do I say the 'glorious' sound of rain, well my veggie beds really need it at the moment, we were beginning to look very prarie like, with dust bunnies rolling around the farm on windy days, but the main reason is the Blackberries. 

I wandered the farm yesterday checking my wild outdoor larder, the Rosehips, the Blackberries etc.... and what is there is small, dry and hard.  I walked to all our favourite picking spots from the last couple of years and found the crops about 50% down on last year.  Hopefully this rain and then, fingers crossed a couple of days of sunshine (over the Bank Holiday would be good, can I book it please?) should do the trick and bring on what is there to a reasonable size for picking and jam making.

A shock discovery after an hour of looking there are THREE ripe almost good sized Blackberries in one photo....woo hoo.

If the crops don't improve much I will hold back from picking entirely and leave what is there for the wildlife, after all I still have some jam over from last year, I can manage, if it's a bad Winter as lots of folk are predicting they'll need them more than me.

Sue xx

Wednesday 17 August 2011

One of this years success stories.

One of this years resounding successes is the Grapevine in the polytunnel.  After looking after it for three years I have finally got a bumper crop of juicy green grapes.  Lovely Hubby is always grabbing a bunch when he passes and eating them like sweets while he works on the tractor (yes, it's in bits again!!).


The only downside to it is that it really has taken over the polytunnel and is still growing.  I stand up from weeding to be tapped on the head by yet another branch that has grown two foot overnight and is dangling menacingly overhead.

Oh, another downside......the wasps!! Hundreds seem to come in to feast on the fallen grapes , so I've made the decision to snip off all the remaining bunches, some for LH to munch on, some to be squished into grape juice and the rest as a treat for the chickens.

Other plants running rampant in the polytunnel at the moment.......Tomatoes, Aubergines and Chilli Peppers.  All the above were turned into a delicious sauce last night for our tea served with Spicy Cous Cous and Peppered Mackerel for LH.  Yummy!!

Sue xx

Tuesday 16 August 2011

Jemima, a trip down memory lane, and piggy first aid.

Sadly on Saturday Jemima slipped away.  She has been looking like she was set to die for the last couple of weeks, but something has always caught her interest and made her rally round, (I'm convinced some chickens just choose when to die!).  But on Saturday morning she came out for a drink had a last wander round Chicken World and then sat herself in the doorway of house number one.  She left enough room for everyone else to get in and out to lay their eggs and have little chunnering chats with her, but sat basking in the morning sunshine for a couple of hours.  And then she was gone, simply and peacefully, what a nice end to a life well lived.

Going through the old photos to try and find one of Jemima on her own, that's her at the very top of the post.  I realised how far we have come since we got our original 10 White Star hybrids, way back in Spring of 2009.  They were all approximately 2 years old and were rescued free-rangers.  From day one they were characters and each had a name to suit, they thought they lived in our house with us and made themselves very at home.

That's Mother above surveying the living room and then she proceeded to sit on the floor to watch some of the match!

They all roamed the farm, coming and going as they pleased, but always running to greet us when we appeared from the house.  Jemima is the second from the left in this photo.  I could recognise each and everyone of them, from their slightly varying feather patterns although they all changed slightly with each moult, so I had to watch the new patterns develop.

It's funny going back to old photos, you find some good shots....these are three of our four Welsummers, back in 2009 when they were young and went everywhere together.

And this little lady arrived on the farm in August of 2009, I can assure you she no longer sits on the table and drinks tea!!

Yesterday when I went to feed the pigs, these little ones were lying fast asleep in the ark absolutely covered from head to toe in mud.  They were completely dark brown all over.  I though it strange as when pigs wallow usually it is just their bottom halves or all down one side that gets muddy and these were literally covered in it.  I looked around to try and find a hole they might have fallen in but there was nothing.... except a lot less mud in Mum's wallow!!

It all became perfectly clear this morning, looking in the ark to check them while Maud was eating her breakfast, they were all fast asleep (again) but glowing pink!!  They must have got sunburnt yesterday while they were roaming about, and sensible Mum had given them all a mud bath and sent them to bed!!

Clever girl is my Maud!!

Sue xx

Monday 15 August 2011

Shhhh.....Piggies Sleeping

Slumbering quietly in the orchard, 13 little piggies and their Mum.

The babies all tucked up cosy in a little dip filled with straw...

...big bad Farmer Man goes by, whistling loudly, ears prick up...

...grumpy Mum staggers to her feet...

...but all is well.....might just as well go back to sleep then!!

Sue xx