Monday, 18 March 2013

A birthday egg from the geese

I've not mentioned the geese for a while, but the other day they came up trumps with their first ever egg...on Sue's birthday.

Since then we've had a few, though it's a bit unpredictable where they turn up. Today's was just laying in the middle of the goose paddock.

All this is very good news. It means the geese are settling in. We were a bit worried that no eggs had been forthcoming, as the traditional date for them to start laying is Valentine's day, though friends of ours have geese which started laying way back in December.

A quick resume of our history of goose-keeping, for those new to this blog. We chanced upon five geese which turned up on a friends perfectly manicured lawn. But we had no idea of their age and only one seemed to be a female. Our best guess was that this was a pair and their three young sons. The three sons proved overly boisterous, to say the least. The goose paddock was not a peaceful place. We sold one to somebody who was after a gander, but then we lost the female (who had never laid anyway) to a fox.
Apart from their grass-cutting abilities, this left us with three rather useless males.
Not wanting to give up, though, we managed to get our hands on four rather delicate new girls, but this just made the young boys more aggressive.

Scene of the first egg find.
So one was given away (with an offer to take him back if he proved too aggressive). He was subsequently named Edward and settled in well to start with, but has since become too aggressive to the other geese and is now being lined up for the pot.

But Edward's departure did the trick as far as our clock was concerned. The old male has established dominance and is fairly gentle about it. The girls have learned to stand up to the young gander when he gets ideas above his station.

The goose flock are now living in harmony.

The dominant old male.
Should we name him?

We'll give them a while longer, but if they carry on like this we may have to give them names.

Anyway, back to that egg. It was huge. Somewhere on the way to an ostrich egg.

Goose, duck, hen

Tonight Sue had it scrambled and I had one fried, on toast with our own bacon.
There was certainly a lot of egg! And delicious it was too.

It's a pity, though, that the geese choose to lay when the ducks and chickens are popping out eggs left, right and centre. As soon as the building work's over it will be cake-making season again.

And, while we're on the subject of eggs, I found another secret clutch today, tucked in the corner of the leaf mulch heap. Fifteen in all! Daisy tried to eat the lot, though the piglets managed to snaffle a few of them.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Free Water

Yesterday was cider making day. A small group of us spent the day cutting, bashing, squashing and squeezing a third of a ton of apples. The weather was threatening and our breaks were timed around the frequent showers. But a little bit of rain couldn't put a dampener on a fine day spent with like souls.
And of course there is the 30 litres of fresh apple juice I brought home, most to be turned into cider. A little will be reserved for pure apple juice and some will be turned into cider vinegar, a great all round panacea for the chickens.

The reason I talk about the cider day is by way of contrast with today's weather. For there was no escaping the wet this afternoon. I just bit the bullet and got wet. Very wet.

I decided to take advantage of the situation, experimenting with how far gravity would carry this surfeit of water from the various water butts I have.
I managed to fill all the baths and paddling pools as well as watering all the plants in the polytunnel with a healthy dose of fresh rainwater.
Baths and pools all full.

My bendy gutter,
formed with plastic bottles and string,
took the water round the corner
and into the waiting bath.
But still I watched more and more water just pour onto the land. Undoubtedly there will be a time this year when all that water would have come in useful. But at least I won't need to connect the hosepipe to the outdoor tap for quite some time now.

That's the positive spin on today's deluge. The ducks and geese go along with this.

However, the chickens, guineafowl and pigs are not quite so overjoyed. For today their homes were turned into a quagmire.

Luckily the pigs can choose somewhere a little less muddy.

Putting the chicken houses off the ground
seems like a very good idea right now.

Monday, 11 March 2013

A Secret Egg Stash

When I returned from India recently, there was a note waiting for me

John, check the big chicken house. I found 12 eggs in there yesterday!

Of course, since then there's not been an egg laid in the big chicken house.

But as I came back from the chickens this bitterly cold morning, I happened upon one of Elvis's hens clambering through the gate on her way out of the goose paddock. The thought crossed my mind to check the goose house (which they've never used) and lo and behold, there, nestled in a depression in the straw, lay eight perfectly uniform eggs.

This hen had obviously been keeping this little house to herself for quite some time.

Unfortunately, when I don't know how old the eggs are, I don't like to use them, but Daisy will appreciate the protein. She eats them whole, shell and all.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Walking the Plank

I keep thinking that living in a house while it is being renovated must eventualy get easier.
Well, here's how we now have to get across the kitchen.

until the tiles are set at least...

At least progress is visible elsewhere.

to this...
From bathroom...

to utility room
and out comes the kitchen...

Meanwhile, outside...
the solar panels are off temporarily to allow work to the roof and guttering
and the chimneys need rebuilding.

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Three Woodcocks!!!

Slicing our own bacon with Sue yesterday evening felt good. This was what it was all about and went a long way to curing my post-holiday blues.

But today things got even better.

Building work progressed well. At one point we had four vans in the drive. (Not, of course, the evasive plumber though). I even managed to overcome my fear of heights enough to scale the scaffolding which went up for the chimneys to be rebuilt.

The view from up top

As I went out in the semi-dark to lead the geese into their stable, three birds flew low over the stables. They were clearly visible against the moonlit sky. My first thought was that some of the guinea fowl had got over-excited and had embarked on a most ambitious flight.

But it took just a couple of moments to realise that htese dumpy birds were smaller than the guinea fowl and had long, straight bills.

Three WOODCOCKS!!! Amazing.

Farm tick number 105.

To confirm my identificatin, they uttered their distinctive high-pitched squeaks before gaining height to cross the road. I think they went back down in amongst Don's trees.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Thanks Speckledy

Speckledy, how we will remember her.
Today I found a rather sorry sight when I went down to the chickens. For there was Speckledy perched in the shelter looking none too well, hunched up and listless.
I left her to see what developed, but when I returned later she was lying on her side in the dirt and the other chickens were beginning to pay her some most unwelcome attention- they can be so very merciless.

Speckledy was one of the original hens which came with the farm and has served us very well. But now it was clear that she was not long for this world. So I carried her down to the stables and laid her to pass away in peace.

Sue shed a tear for her. I have become more hardened, but of course I am still sad. Speckledy had her own character. She was always very gentle and would often take herself off to roost alone.

She will be missed by both of us.

Bringing home the bacon


When I first thought about keeping pigs, I dreamt of bacon, sausages, gammon and ham on tap. For these were the products which lured me away from veganism many years ago!

The sausages came, but the other products weren't so straightforward. So up till now we've been eating a lot more pork chops and joints than we ever used to. Not that they aren't totally tasty.

From our second litter, though, we kept two girls to the grand old age of almost one year. Their fate, to be salted and cured.

The morning they went away

Safely delivered to the abattoir

And on the afternoon before I jetted off, they came back from the butchers.

I managed to get the 150 or so packs of sausages into the fridge and freezer, but I had to leave poor old Sue to deal with the rest of the two pigs. T
here were four whole sides, which she cut along the length to separate the loin from the belly. These were destined to become back bacon and streaky bacon. Pork belly has proved very popular with our customers, so some of that went into the fridge ready for collection. This was fortunate as all four of our freezers are bulging at the seams!

There were also four gigantic legs to be turned into smaller gammons.

That's a lot of meat to sort out.

Sue spent the rest of the evening cutting the meat into manageable chunks and she then set about the ancient art of curing the meat.

We had ordered two prepared dry-cure mixes from Surfy's Homecuring Supplies - one traditional curing mix and one smoked. We thought that for our first effort it would be safest to rely on a ready-mixed cure.
Essentially a cure is a careful mix of salt and sodium nitrite. The latter gives the cured product its pinkness. To this are added the ingredients which give the distinctive flavours and characters to be found in the vast range of hams, bacons and gammons.
The drycure mixes are carefully weighed out and rubbed all into the meat. We chose to do this in tupperware boxes, but zip-lock bags supposedly work very well, if you can find big enough bags. A vacuum packer is the professional's choice.
Each day the meat is turned and rubbed again. How long this is done for depends on the thickness of the slab of meat.
The instructions that came with the Surfy's cures were excesslent, as was the e-mail support Sue received when she asked them about wet-cure procedures.

We decided to take off the skin on this occasion. Not only does the cure take longer to penetrate the skin, but the rind is a real obstacle when it comes to slicing the bacon. We have plenty of crackling from our pork and can't really see the point of rind on bacon.

For the gammons, Sue followed a Hugh F-W wet-cure recipe - curing salts plus lots of sugar, juniper berries, spices...

And now, on my return from India, the bacon was ready.

And so began the job of bacon slicing. I borrowed a slicer from a friend and we proceeded to massacre the meat!
Well, it didn't take long to get used to it. The first lump of cured loin came out a bit ragged, but we ended up with some rather rustic slices of back bacon plus a good quantity of bacon scraps - they'll be delicious in omelettes - and a couple of wedges we've called bacon steaks.

But by the end Team Bacon was running like a well-oiled machine and we now have a mountain of fine bacon in the freezer, enough for us for the next year. We ended up with a much wider range of bacon slices than you find in the shops.

And for a late dinner, of course, bacon sandwiches. DELICIOUS!

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

From The Himalayas to The Fens

I've been away from the farm for a week or so, indulging myself in some birdwatching in Northern India.

Sunset in the Himalayan foothills
I am in awe every time I see the Himalayas

I never realised they were only an inch high!
A White-breasted Kingfisher tries to swallow a baby turtle
Back-seat driver.
I had a thoroughly relaxing and enjoyable time in the company of two good old friends. However, Sue was left to look after the farm on her own so the break was a relatively short one.

Returning to frost wasn't too much of a shock, as nights in the Himalayan foothills can get rather chilly too.
A day and a half's journey home had taken it's toll on me though. As I drove through the farm gates, it struck me what Sue and I have built for ourselves. There's just one final push to be made with the house renovations.
But building work hadn't progressed as much as I had hoped. The very expensive limestone tiles we spent ages choosing for the upstairs shower had turned brown. The plumber was being a complete arse
It didn't take long for a spot of post-holiday blues to set in.

I have now visited India five times and every time I visit I am fascinated by the people. For much of the place is noisy, dirty and overpopulated. Most people have very little, though it's not as poor as it used to be. Yet most people seem totally accepting of whatever goes on around them.

Every time I visit it acts as a remedy to the pressures of our society.  It reminds me that it is far better to be happy with what you've got instead of unhappy about what you don't have.
Not to say that hard work and ambition don't have a place. But so many never take the opportunity to sit back and enjoy where they've got to.

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