Friday, 22 February 2013

Gerald. In Memory.

R.I.P. Gerald
Gerald was the boar who several times came to visit Daisy. He often overstayed his welcome, but he really was a very gentle giant.
It's been a while since he's come to stay on the farm, but yesterday I heard the sad news that he passed away a few days ago. He was still at a pretty young age.
Apparently he had been off his food for a while and the vet had called, but quite out of the blue he was found dead the next morning.

We will have fond memories of him.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Little Owl's cover blown

There were not very many winter birds on the farm this year. We have fared very well for fieldfares and the lawns and hedges have been dripping with blackbirds, but that's been about it. We have been particularly thin on the ground on the raptor front. Our first winter here saw regular hen harrier sightings, two even taking up temporary residence in the field next door. Yet last year I saw just one, and all too briefly. Then last year was the year of the Short-eared Owls. This year, none. No merlin this year either, and even Peregrines have been hard to find.

I say that not very many winter birds were on the farm this year. I use the word were as I am now looking forward to Spring. And is if to confirm this, I heard this morning the first singing skylark of the year.

Late winter is the time of year when some of our native birds begin their breeding. They've toughed out a whole winter and their reward is to be back on their territories way ahead of the more migratory species.
One family known for breeding early in the year are the owls. Indeed, Barn Owls have been very noticeable of late. Sue and I had a fantastic sighting of one perched in the roadside hedge just the other day and its not at all unusual for one to float along the dykes, stalling every now and then to check out something below in the long grass.

But it's been the Little Owl which I have taken great delight in seeing this last couple of days. Probably because our particular Little Owls hardly ever show themselves during the day.
This is unfortunate, as in the world of owls, Little Owls are known as the species perhaps most likely to be active during the day, or at the very least long enough before the sun goes down that the human eye can still watch them.
But not ours. Oh no! Our Little Owls, for I think we have a pair, are virtually never seen. Though at this time of year a stroll outside when the stars are above will often be accompanied by their soft calls.

But yesterday, for just the second time in the last year, I saw one of them. And I have the Blue Tits and Great Tits to thank for that. For they were making a right kerfuffle in the Ash trees, buzzing and chiding. And the reason for all this commotion. Yes. There was one of the Little Owls sat bolt upright on a branch. It didn't stay for long though, clearly not enjoying having its cover blown.
Then this afternoon the Little Owl was back in the same Ash tree. This is the old one with the hollow stump. I have had high hopes of it being used by owls, either Little or Barn, in the past. And today this owl was clearly calling to another which replied from the other side of the garden.
Maybe one day there'll be a whole family sat along a branch. I live in hope.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Strange lights in the night

Remember this?

Well this bullock has obviously gotten a taste for the open range. Last week I spotted him happily munching away at the edge of the pond in the field opposite our house. He was behaving pretty much as a deer would.

Keeping a couple of sheep this year reminded me of the wild origins of these farm animals. They were remarkably nimble when they wanted to be.

I have put the number of the cows' owner in my phone, so gave him a courtesy call to let him know his bullock was on the loose. The biggest worry is that it strays onto the road - it wouldn't be the first time that cattle from the Settlement Field have played havoc with the traffic.
I don't know how country folk spot anything that happens, but the hapless owner of the cows was already on his way. Having said that, I saw a 4x4 driving up and down a track far away, but I don't think they ever worked out quite where their bullock was hiding.

The next day, there were two bullocks out!

All that was last week and I thought nothing much more of it. That is, until last night I was somewhat concerned to see what appeared to be a torchlight flicker and flash outside. My first thought was that we had an unwanted inquisitive intruder in the dark. But surely the outside light would have come on. And the front gate was closed - it would take quite an effort to get to our farm without a vehicle.

Then I realised from where the flashlight was emanating. For in the field opposite was quite a light show as three or more beams of white swept to and fro over the field.

I guess those cows were out again.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Hamming it up.

Two girls survive from Daisy's last-but-one litter. One has a distinctive eye patch. She was always the friendliest of the litter.
These girls were born on 12th March last year, so they are nearly a year old. They were not sent off at seven months old with their sisters, when they would have weighed just about 50kg.
No, for these girls there was to be a different outcome. For they were destined to become what is known as baconers - our first attempt at curing meat, the art of turning pork into bacon and gammon.

So we have let them grow, until they reached quite some size.

Daisy and her daughters having a snooze.

But tonight the livestock trailer came out. And that's probably not good news if you're a pig!

We had a very long day sourcing materials for the ongoing house renovation, so did not get home until just gone 5. Fortunately it's now still light, just, at that time so Sue rushed down to lock up the chickens while I got the trailer ready.

It took some effort to get the two young girls out of the stable and to keep Daisy in, but eventually they were in the small yard, within about 10 foot of where we wanted them to be.

But these pigs are now BIG and take no bossing. Time marched on, light faded, tempers frayed and the pigs steadfastly refused to go near the trailer ramp.
Efforts to hurry the process involved sections of metal fencing gradually closing down their space, but as the walls closed in  they became clasustrophobic. One of them just lifted the fence, with me standing on it, with her snout and they muscled their way through.

To cut a long story short, off course we won in the end!
I would like to say that patience was the victor, but mine was a bit pushed this evening.
Guess who's inside!
When a pig has an ear-ring, it's curtains!
After tomorrow morning, the next time we see them they will be neatly packaged up for us. Thirty packs of sausages are already sold. And the curing mixes are on their way from Mr Internet.

Doubtless there'll be a post on this alchemaic process in the near future.

Meanwhile, anyone like a seepstake bet on how much they weigh? I'm going for 86kg, but I could be way out!

Friday, 15 February 2013

Chicken Wars - Heads On The Block

A certain tradesman arrived before 9 o'clock this morning, having NOT been to any other jobs first. Sue said that if this happened she will be doing a naked streak down the land. That's over 500m there and back. I'll let you all know the time and date!

We also had a visit from the window man today, as well as the tiler (both at the same time) and two calls from the solar panel company. Then, in the afternoon, a lorry came to deliver a brand new wheelbarrow - more on this in another post. Two minutes later the lorry from the builders merchants turned up to drop off a ton of ballast and some cement bags. Then lo and behold the food merchants lorry arrives. We had our first traffic jam.

Meanwhile it was a very eventful day on the chicken front.

Cocky and Cream Legbar square up - thankfully separted by a fence.

The departure of several of our cockerels has been long overdue. Just with one thing and another we've not got round to it. Besides, the gang of young cockerels have been quite peaceful, six boys and two girls sticking close together and often coming right up to the house.
But once Cocky, the original, old dominant cockerel goes to bed, it's a different story, as the young cockerels take every chance to jump the females.

So Wednesday was set aside as a day for dealing with the chickens - dispatching a few cockerels, clipping wings, cleaning out houses, fixing bolts, latches and doors. But Wednesday was very, very cold. Wednesday night, after a couple of hours of snow flurries, the warmer air took control and it absolutely lashed it down all night. Catching any chickens would be extremely tricky slipping and sliding around in puddles and mud.

But this morning the decision was made for us. Today would be chicken day.
We had planned to clipped all the chicken's wings, as it won't be long before they are banished from the veg garden. Also the Cream Legbar hens, who have been housed separately with the cockerel, keep jumping the fence.
Wing clipping is a simple operation. It is catching the birds which is the problem. So we had planned to take them out of their roosting houses one at a time. However, what happened this morning happened after Sue had let them all out. For when she went to let the chickens out, one of the Indian Game cockerels had been getting a very tough time and all the birds, even the guinea fowl, had ganged up on him. He was laying on his back exhausted. I didn't hear it, but apparently the victorious cockerel was giving a victory crow the likes of which Sue had never heard.

And so it became chicken day.
We started by clipping the wings of the Cream Legbars and the Polands, all who are housed separately from the other poultry.

I could show you a much gorier picture!
Then the axe came out! I have talked about this before. This, for us, is the quickest and easiest method. First to go was the forlorn Indian Game. Then the other Indian Game cockerel - he fought back when I captured him, drawing blood with his spurs and giving me a nasty scratch down my arm.
Sue did the plucking while I cleaned the chopping board ready for the next victim.

Next we turned our attentions to the Welsummer cockerels, four very handsome lads. We were aiming for the morning's victor, identified by his somewhat floppy comb after the battle. But he was giving us the run around and one of the others conveniently decided to stroll into one of the chicken houses. Not a good piece of timing.

This Welsummer escaped...for today.

Finally, as Sue dealt with bird number three, I went searching for Mr Floppy Comb. He clearly knew something was up, for he was nowhere to be found. Eventually I found him and managed to catch him.

Guess who's inside.

And that was it, for now. We have two pigs going off on Sunday so freezer space is going to be at a premium.

While Sue got on with processing the chickens - my large, sometimes arthritic hands are not well adapted to plucking and gutting - I took the saw, the drill, a screwdriver, a box of assorted screws and various bolts, latches and other miscellaneous devices, down to the chicken pens.
Some of the doors needed better locking mechanisms, just in case Mr Fox comes round one night. But the other problem we have is doors blowing shut and chickens getting stuck in, or out. So a variety of contraptions were fitted to the doors today so that they will remain open, or closed, according to need.

And that was it. A most productive day. Darkness was welcome though, as a well-earned rest was needed. Guess what's for dinner tonight!

One final thought. I don't believe in god, but I will give thanks to the birds which gave their lives today. I may occasionally seem blase about taking their lives, but it never gets any easier. But at least I know they had a good life. Commercially, cockerels never get past their first day. I also know that to keep them any longer would be cruel though, cruel to the cockerels who would fight to the death and cruel to the hens who would be hassled endlessly  and there is not much romance in the chicken world.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

How do you like your eggs?

The only mystery about the origins of these eggs is which bird they came from.
The issue of food labelling has somewhat come to the fore of late. How can you know what's really in your burger?
Well, if the rules had been followed you would know. For we live in a civilised country which follows the rules, where food is traceable and carefully regulated.

Um..... What???....Well....Ummm...

There are many, many rules about food labelling. But it seems to me that most of them are there to help the food industry. By that I mean the world of big business, mass production, factory food. And their intense lobbying power has ensured that we are still a long way from really knowing what is in our food, whether it is good for us and, most importantly, where it came from and how it was grown or reared. Then there's the issue of what's been added to it, either while it was growing or even after it stopped growing.

For instance, just look at this egg box. "Quality." "Freshness".  Do those words mean anything?
Bird Brothers - nice name. Must be a small family business heh? And how cute and funny that eggs come from the Bird Brothers!
They are most definitely British too - but does that mean they were laid in Britain, processed in Britain, packed in Britain? It's not easy to know these days. And if they are properly British, does that mean that they are better? At least they've not come on a plane, but are our standards of animal welfare better than elsewhere? Is our food really so well regulated?

Hang on!

It's all OK. They're all "Assured".
And they come from "Enriched Colony Housing". Sounds good.
And they're all medium, so you won't get diddled with small ones hidden in the box and you'll know how many to use to make your cake.

And what's that small writing under the barcode say?

You know what.
I think I'll stick to my own unassured eggs, even if they are different sizes and colours. Even if they are sometimes a little dirty or mis-shapen. They don't need to be kept refrigerated after purchase. I know when they were laid. I know how the chickens (and ducks) are reared. I know what they're fed. And I know that they taste a whole lot better!

Yes, I'll take a dozen of these, please.

The small blue ones come from the Crested Cream Legbars. The long brown ones come from Chestnut. The large blue ones and the pale one next to them come from the ducks. The small white ones are from Elvis...

Chickens allowed to be chickens

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Get Chitting

Let the chitting begin.

Full Circle
This blog has now been going for over a year.
As the seasons turn full circle and another growing year is upon us, for the first time I find myself revisiting a subject I covered last year.

I seem to remember heartily recommending JBA seed potatoes for their excellent, informative website and their wide choice of potato varieties. Also coming into the equation were their very reasonable prices and sensible delivery costs. (And no, unlike some other blogs, I'm not sponsored by anyone)

While all of this is still true, I sort of decided that this year I would try to support my local traders and attempt to source my seed potatoes more locally.

A few Edgecote Purples left,
the last of 2012's crop.
Rotting In The Ground
Last year was a total disaster for potato growers.
I have already almost run out of stored potatoes and unfortunately had to actually buy some from a shop the other day.
Many potatoes across the land still sit under the sodden ground, if they did not rot when blight hit so badly last year.
In fact, I received a very helpful e-mail from JBA at the back end of last year advising to order this year's seed potatoes early due to severely limited stocks. Many of the heritage varieties are not available at all this year.
I intend to put my pigs on last year's patch as soon as it is practicable to do so. The geese have already excavated some of them.
The last thing I want is last year's tubers regrowing, with the possibility of carrying over the scourge of the blight into this year.

My favourites
After two years of potato growing, experimenting with many different varieties, I am getting an idea of which varieties work well, both in terms of taste and productivity. Of course, no year is the same as any other and no soil the same either.

So here's my list.
Top place has to go to Bonnie, a second early producing large cylindrical tubers with a rosy blush to their cheeks. Next up is Desiree - a more traditional variety which has proved very productive for me. I like the taste too. In joint third place, Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple. Both of these are very distinctive potatoes. Charlotte is an excellent salad potato which again has always cropped well for me and which seems to last quite well in the ground. Pink Fir is a bigger risk, being susceptible to blight as it is a very late one, but in a good year it more than repays the risk.
An early potato which is firmly on my list is Red duke of York. Unusually for an early, it makes excellent chips and roast. More traditional earlies, with their subtle and fresh taste, I find it harder to differentiate between. I have grown Arran Pilot and Dunluce very successfully, but always end up still eating them when all the other varieties are ready. So this year I am plumping for just Arran Pilot.

Consigned to the bin
I tried Swift last year, reputed to crop well and be one of the earliest, but it was a total disaster, so much so that I won't be giving it another chance. A couple of the new blight-resistant varieties lived up to their claims last year, but failed to deliver on taste. I won't be growing Shetland Blacks this year either. I love these potatoes, but they have not fared so well on my Lincolnshire soil as they did in London. And Salad Blues, so nice to look at, too often end up watery when cooked.

Spud Shopping
So it was that I started scouting around the local shops this year.  Back at the start of January I found almost all the varieties I was after in two shops. But it was a little too early to buy them - they would start shooting too soon indoors and I could not keep them outside, even in the garage, as I would not be able to keep them frost-free. So I resolved to return in February. And this I duly did this weekend.

But the news was not good. One of the shops, a little local trader, came good. But they tend to only stock the more obvious, commonly grown varieties. I did at least manage to get my Desirees, Charlottes and Arran Pilots. But the other shop, a larger chain, had run out of many varieties and the ones they had left were clearly the ones they'd got in back in January, already sprouting shoots a couple of inches long.

So last night it was back to the JBA website. And a bit of a shock to discover that I had left it too late! None of my favourites were in stock.

I began a sweep of the internet, searching for Bonnie a I was pretty keen to grow these again this year. A couple of the larger seed merchants had them, if I wanted to pay an arm and several legs!
I was beginning to resign myself to just growing the more mundane (but successful for many) varieties when I remembered another source of seed potatoes, J Parkers. They are a bit cheap and cheerful and attract their fair share of negative reviews, but I have had god success with their spuds in the past. Again they were only charging £3.99 for 30 and just £3.99 delivery.

A Cheap Trick
Not only that, but I searched Mr Interweb for a discount code. I failed, but did find one which expired in 2012. I decided to give it a try but to add 13 on the end and, hey presto, 10% off!

So now it's off to find the egg cartons I used last year and fingers crossed for a much better harvest.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Water, Water... Not Everywhere!

News update... I found the glove. But not yet the camera!

The one positive side to nine months of constant rain last year was that it considerably eased the job of keeping the animals (and plants) adequately supplied with water. We have several water butts and baths scattered around the land for water collection and for the last nine months we've not had to use the hose pipe or the outside tap at all.
But today the water butts were empty. The pigs are getting through about five buckets of water a day and the ducks and geese like to climb into every water container going, splashing about and generally doing their best to empty said container!

So today I finally had to top up all the baths with the hosepipe and fill the buckets from the outside tap.

But there is a major advantage to this change in the weather.
For the first time since I can remember, I was able to put a spade into the ground and turn the soil today.

Just one of the 52 veg beds, and the soil was still rather heavy, but things are looking up. Let's just hope that the weather shows a bit more balance this year. Months of drought followed by months of rain have not given us the best two years to start our venture.
But I've got a very good feeling about 2013.

Friday, 8 February 2013

More hot air

Missing Items
Now the camera's gone missing.
Presumably in the same place as the toothbrush charger (missing for over 3 weeks, the key to the garage (we have a spare) and one of my gloves.
I tend to put things away in safe places on days when the building work threatens to be particularly dusty.

A Crash Landing
And boy, could I have done with having the camera on me today as I went down to give the chickens (a generic term to include ducks, geese and guinea fwol) their afternoon feed. The guineas were going mad and I couldn't quite work out why, at least not until I looked over my shoulder into the field behind me to see a hot air balloon scraping along the ground, burners desperately trying to lift it back into the air. It did so for a few seconds, but then back down and it wasn't long before the balloon sagged and deflated.

A hare raced across the field and five roe deer flushed out of the dyke where it landed, then stood at the end of my land for several minutes looking inquisitively toward the strange invader.

It was just too far away, and I was a little too busy, for me to do anything apart from be a rather amused onlooker before continuing with my chores. We do seem to be on a fairly regular hot air balloon evening route and one has gone down before, but not this close.

Big Eggs, Small Eggs, Blue Eggs, Brown Eggs, Duck Eggs...
Vying with this for my attention was a rather late second collection of chicken eggs.

Late because I did a Wisbech run today. We are pretty much in the middle of nowhere, between Spalding, Wisbech and Peterborough. I try to save up all my jobs to do in one town, to minimise on driving. So today it was the pound shops for cheap seeds, the bank for cash, Topps tiles to ask some technical quesions, which they couldn't answer (but I did meet a tiler), and B&Q for tile adhesive and grout.
I was also following a tip-off on another blog that Aldi are selling fruit trees for £3.99 each - a ridiculous price. Even if one in three doesn't make it, it's still a good deal. So I purchased another apple tree (Gala), another cherry (Morello) a Greengage and a Peach tree, as well as a trio of long-stemmed raspberry canes. The trees were going like hotcakes, unlike the ready meals!

Anyway, back to the chickens.
They're laying in all the houses at the moment. You're never quite sure where you'll find the next egg nestled. And they come in many different colours now. The Crested Cream Legbars have finally started laying rather small but very blue eggs. We separated the trio off from the others in anticipation of the females coming into lay, but more urgently because the cockerel has been having some rather drawn out and bloody battles with Cocky, the established cockerel who rules the roost. They keep getting out though, so half term's work will be patching up the fencing and doors and clipping all the chickens' wings.

We got our first dark brown egg from Chocolate for a while today too. I don't really understand why she started laying, laid an egg a day for four days, then not another one for several weeks. Maybe the weather? Maybe that's just how things work.

Rock and Roll to a Pine Grosbeak

543.3 miles away from my farm a Pine Grosbeak has been located feeding on pines in a Shetland garden.
Only the sixth time in my lifetime that this species has been seen in the UK. But most importantly, never seen by me!
I did try to see one at Easington in Yorkshire a few years back. It had been hanging around (but not publicised) for 3 days, but decided to fly off a couple of hours before my arrival.
I saw another in Hertfordshire in 2006, but this one had hopped out of someone's cage. They'd even fed it pigmented food to change its colour. So that one didn't count.

In 2012 I only saw a couple of new birds for the UK all year, so here was an opportunity I wasn't going to let pass me by.

I was supposed to be flying up to see it on Monday, but this happened...

The black patch to the north of Scotland is not good!
Stenness waves 

  Eshaness waves  

Force 12 winds and 50 foot waves closed the airports and confined the ferries to port. A huge storm surge coincided with high tides to create some horrendous conditions.

So plans were rescheduled and on Tuesday morning I found myself at a small airport in central England with the pilot scraping the snow and ice off the wings of a small aircraft.
Our pilot prepares the plane for the journey
(courtesy of Andy Cotton)
The forecast was still  a bit dodgy, with a dumping of snow across parts of the country overnight and
strong northerly winds due to bring blizzards into the northern isles later in the day.

However our pilot, Colin, was not at all concerned about the buffeting winds we might encounter, or by the prospect of snow. Though he did inform us that hail would present more of a problem.

The sun rises, the snow melts and off we go!
(courtesy of Andy Cotton)
So it was that at 7:30am five of us (plus the pilot) squeezed into an aircraft and sped down the runway as the sun rose. We were desperately hoping that the bird would remain in the same garden as the previous day, for the flight and subsequent drive up Shetland would see us arrive some time after midday and we would need to leave before dark. In fact it would be prudent to leave earlier than that, as after 6pm there would be no-one around to clear the runway for our landing back in England in case of snow!
There would not be much time for searching the isolated settlements of Shetland should the bird have decided to feed elsewhere.

The journey was surprisingly smooth. It would be good to have a tale to tell of being buffeted around in the air, braving thunder and lightning, climbing onto the wing to knock the ice off... But it turned out that the pilot's exclamation as we left - "Let's Rock and Roll" - was not a prophetic one.

We could track our progress by memories of twitches as we passed up the East coast, over Lindisfarne, Fraserburgh, skirting the snow-covered Cairngorms and reaching the tip of Scotland. Past the Orcadian archipelago and onward we flew, the pilot skillfully avoiding any troublesome weather, either veering round it or rising above. The strong northwesterly cross wind slowed our progress, but by 11:30 this was the view from the cockpit...
Sumburgh airport runway comes into view.
(courtesy of Jim Lawrence)

The landing was smooth and we walked across the tarmac towards the airport terminal. We were stiffly admonished for daring to cross such a dangerous area without the presence of an official in a high-vis jacket! But right now only one thing was on our minds. Would the bird be there?

As we headed out of the airport, no joke, plumes of smoke rose up from the vicinity of our plane. We headed onwards to Housesetter in the north of the island.
Astonishingly we had hit upon a window of beautiful weather between the storm and the blizzard. Blue skies and breathless air greeted us.

As we pulled up at the garden where the bird had been watched the previous day, we were more than a bit relieved to find two Shetland locals pointing their lenses at the pines. We clambered up the hillside and strained our eyes.
For just a few seconds there was nothing, then this giant finch came lumbering through a small pine, just above eye level in front of us.
What a beauty!
An excellent photo of the Pine Grosbeak, taken by Jim Lawrence
We watched this lonesome waif munching its way through the pines for almost two hours, until the sky clouded over and rain threatened. Time was marching on and a text from the pilot informed us of snow back at the airport in England.
The scene of the twitch, otter in the bay, Pine Grosbeak behind us.
We hit a window of beautiful weather. (Andy Cotton)
There was just time for a quick scan of the bay below, where an otter was swimming on its back, before we began our journey back south.
A quick detour to Scalloway on the way back, where we watched an Iceland Gull along with Eiders, Mergansers and Black Guillemots in the waters below. Time passed too quickly in the company of a couple of old birding friends who were stranded on the island, having come over on the last ferry to run.
A mad dash back to the airport, where we met the pilot who regaled us with tales of how the sea had thrown a whole load of plastic drums all over the runway. Oh, as for that smoke we looked back on when we last saw the plane - just a standard fire drill.

By 4:30 we were lifting off on our way home. As it got dark, we witnessed an amazing effect as the flashing lights on the tips of the plane's wings strobe-lit the snowflakes, freezing them in the air like a plethora of jewels in suspension. Meanwhile the pilot shone a small flashlight onto the wing, checking for ice.
A healthy tailwind meant that in what seemed like no time we were flying low over the night lights of York City (or was it Lincoln?) and it was just after 7 when I bade farewell to the others and climbed into my car for the final leg of the journey.

Fifteen hours after walking out the door I was back home.
What an incredible day trip. What an incredible bird.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Girl, girl, girl...BOY!!!

See if you can work out what's going on with this picture.
On November 5th Daisy gave birth to 11 spotty piglets. I eventually managed to count 7 girls and 4 boys - a bit of a result. So far I've sold the 4 boys and one of the girls, until today when a couple of new pig keepers turned up to collect their two girls.

These piglets are the friendliest I have ever raised, maybe because they've been bought up in the stables and get more human contact. So catching them is not too much of a problem. Just put down a handful of food to stop them nibbling my wellies then grab the desired piglet by the back legs and carry to the waiting car. They squeal loudly at first, as their feet leave the ground, and wriggle a bit - they are surprisingly strong, even at this age - but this is the best way to pick them up and they soon settle down in the back of the car.

After sorting out the relevant paperwork (all on-line now) we headed off to the stable and it wasn't long before I had the first piglet dangling by the back legs.
But boy was I in for a surprise. For I was holding a boy!!

I don't know how this happened.
All I can think is that they did keep moving about a lot when I originally counted them. Since then, without marking them, it's not been possible to get them all in a line, facing the right way to easily tell boys from girls.

Anyway, I now have three girls and a boy left. Not a disaster.

These ones get to stay at Swallow Farm.

To celebrate the successful completion of Operation Shiftapig, we ate our first ever duck eggs (yes,that's plural as there was another one waiting for us this morning).

And delicious they were too!

Saturday, 2 February 2013

What an Eventful Week!

It really has been a week of change here on the farm.

Windows and radiators
After the big thaw at the weekend, building work has forged ahead, with a spate of new windows appearing to take in the glorious fenland landscape. And we now have radiators too!
It's not pretty...but it will be.

Even the chickens have been showing an interest.

After the snow, rain. After the rain, wind. After the wind, sun. After the sun, frost.
We've had a week of glorious weather, allowing the ground to dry out a little and the grass to grow green. There's been some pretty meaty fenland winds blowing through and at the end of the week we narrowly avoided a belt of heavy rain which hit everywhere further south, while we basked in sunshine. This morning I was surprised by a thin layer of ice on the animals' water, but it was still a lovely, clear day.

The chickens bask in the sunshine, sheltered from a biting breeze

Operation 'Shiftapig'
On the pig front, we're down to six piglets now as the last two boys were perfunctorily loaded into the back of a car on Monday. Two girls are due to be collected tomorrow and that will be Operation 'Shiftapig' successfully completed. We'll keep the remaining four to rear ourselves.

Those teeth can do a lot of damage.
But they're gone for now, swapped for these quail eggs.
Down in the mouth.
Even better than that, though, we may have rehomed one of the ganders. Some things on the farm are just too gritty to feature on the blog, such as the way two of the boy geese have taken to bullying the new girls when they go into the stables at night, biting at their backs and drawing blood. We've managed to separate them behind sheep hurdles, but have been looking to shift one of the younger boys. So it was like music to my ears when a fellow smallholder told me they were looking for a gander.

But before you think I've been incredibly underhand, I was totally honest about his history of violence, so it is possible that he will be coming back if he can't change his ways. I've let them know that I won't be offended if they eat him!

So, for today at least, peace and harmony broke out once more in the goose flock. Again I'm hoping that the change in flock dynamics may lead to the last aggressive gander changing his ways, but we'll have to see about that.

Well, that's pretty much what's been going on here at Swallow Farm over this past week.

Duck! Eggs!
But I've saved the best till last.
For today I looked in the ducks' house and found this... our first ever duck egg.

Let's hope that next week is equally as productive.

Twitching again
If things go according to plan, it begins with a little day trip to Shetland on Monday.
Yes, that's right. I did say a day trip to Shetland!

For in a garden 543.3 miles away  from here (as the crow flies, 785 by road/boat) lurks a Pine Grosbeak. It was photographed last Tuesday and today my industrious morning on the farm was interrupted by the wailing of my pager bringing news that it had been refound.

Now the only Pine Grosbeak I've ever seen was found to have escaped from someone's cage and, as such, does not count for my list. In November 2004 I missed one by just over an hour. Pesky thing flew off before I got there. In fact, the last new bird species I saw in this country was back in late May last year. New birds don't come along too often, so it's worth a little extravagance when it does happen.

I should be back for Tuesday though.
There's a chance I may even be able to start digging the veg beds.

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