Thursday, 28 May 2015

The wooden spoon for cuteness goes to... the turkey poults.

Before I announce the winner, the wooden spoon in the cuteness competition goes to these guys (or gals?)

I'm sorry, but turkey poults just are not cute. Goslings, yes. Chicks, yes. But poults? Even the word is not cute.
I guess I'm slightly swayed by the fact that we buy our turkeys as very young chicks and then have them in a broody box stinking out the entrance porch until they are big enough and ugly enough to go out. Most of our other poultry we now prefer to hatch under proper mums, or at least surrogate mums.

But young turkeys - lets call them turklets rather than poults - do have the advantage that, as they grow up, they become rather endearing creatures. This is not always the case with chickens and definitely a matter of opinion when it comes to geese!

The turklets had their first taste of grass and fresh air today.
It won't be long before they can roam free and roost in the stables.

For the moment, though, the turklets remain the ugly ducklings, so to speak.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Celery powder

I'm not sure what we'll use it for yet, but we've just made some celery powder, christening our recently purchased food dehydrator.

I am trying to make more use of the polytunnel over the winter and one such use is to hold crops in a state of virtual dormancy until they spring back to life in the spring. I tried this with celery this year and we had some lovely early celery stalks.

But now the celery is flowering and taking up valuable space, so I have pulled all but one plant up. This plant I shall use to produce celery seed.
As for the rest, it seemed a shame to waste them so Sue patiently chopped them up and dehydrated them.

A few minutes in a blender and we now how a wonderfully aromatic potful of celery powder.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Second place for cuteness goes to..... the lambs.

It's a month now since our Shetland ewe kept us waiting for 41 hours before giving birth to two gorgeous little lambs.

The girl lamb, who was first born, has always been much smaller than the boy, but she makes up for this with her boldness. She is always the first to investigate new things, the first to go straight up to new people or animals and the first to find a way out if there is one!
This occasionally results in her coming face to face with unexpected threats.

It wasn't long before I let the lambs outside with mum. They moved into a small paddock with just one other ewe, their aunty, whose motherly instincts had been heightened since she lost her lamb.
And there they have frolicked and played for the last few weeks. They still feed greedily from mum, but have started grazing too and nibbling the bark off willow branches.

They have also learned to run and jump and spring and leap and climb. In fact I'm sure they have spring coils hidden in their back legs. To watch them gambling around in the paddock is a joy.

They have names now too. Mutton and Geoff! The boy, obviously, is Geoff. The girl is Mutton... and at some point she will be!

So, if the goslings and the lambs couldn't claim first place for cuteness, just who or what does take the title?

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Collecting honey and splitting the colony

The thief leaving the scene with her swag.
Sorry, but you'll have to wait a while longer if you're tuning in to find out who comes second in the cuteness competition. I'll tell you one thing, it's not these girls!
For now, I've been working hard in the garden this morning but I've been driven inside while Sue upsets the bees!

One of our hives is an absolute monster. In fact, both hives went into the winter very strong, but one has, for some reason, lost its queen. When Sue inspected the hive a couple of weeks ago she found no eggs and no young brood. Furthermore, there were supercedure / emergency queen cells in the middle of the frame. I'm not the expert here, but Sue is rapidly becoming so.

Sue transferred some brood along with pollen and honey to the hive and is hoping that the bees get on with things and replace their queen.

Monster hive.
A tactical retreat to the house was in order.
As for the other hive, the rape pollen is coming in and, as we all know to our cost, leave that in the hive for too long and it sets like concrete. So today Sue took off a super of honey to extract. At the same time she has attempted to split some of the colony into a third hive. Otherwise a hive that full would be sure to swarm at some point. (They probably will anyway, but might as well make the best of things and increase our number of colonies. After all, these days it seems inevitable that there will be winter losses.)

Here's what it's all about.
Cells waiting to be uncapped. There's honey in there!

Friday, 22 May 2015

Third place for cuteness goes to ... ... ... the goslings

Yes, we have goslings! In the cuteness contest, they have however been severely let down by their parents.

Let's start with a brief resume of our attempts to breed geese. For the last two years our white geese have made a nest in the stables, dutifully laid their eggs and sat... and sat... and sat. They have viewed this as a team effort with all available females sitting on the nest. The males have been in charge of looking (and actually being) quite scary.
The problem is that nothing has hatched. When we have inspected the contents of the eggs way after they should have hatched, at least half have contained chicks rather than just yolk, so although fertility is not great, it should have been enough to hatch out a few goslings, which is all we really want.
I can only assume that all those girls shuffling around on the nest must have disturbed the eggs too much.

The grey geese, Giant Dewlap Toulouses to give them their proper title, made a much better attempt last year. One girl sat on a nest in their shed for the entire duration of the incubation. Then, two days before the hatch date, the other girl decided to sit too! The result was that all the eggs came tumbling out. I risked my life to put them back into the nest, but the damage had been done and our total hatch was a big fat zero...except...

Golly who was hatched in the incubator along with one other sibling who sadly died of unexplained causes at about 10 days old.
Golly was a boy but has this year started laying eggs, so we shall have to change our conceptions of him, sorry, her. (Sexing geese is not easy, though we had our suspicions).

Golly quickly imprinted on us and we would often hear his, sorry, her big feet flopping across the kitchen floor behind us, or her beak tapping determinedly at the patio  door to come in and be with us. She even went into school and met the children one day. But despite our best efforts, toilet training was not easy and Golly had to be consigned to life with the other geese. For a while she lived with the grey geese, but come the beginning of 2015 she had to be moved in with the white geese, who are clearly racist despite one of them having semi-adopted Golly when she was young.

A goose breeding plan for 2015 was hatched.
Firstly, I would keep the greys and the whites separate so that any greys born would not be inter-related (no comments about The Fens please!) and would not be cross-breeds either. Secondly, I would give the geese some old car tyres. This second decision may seem slightly surprising, but I had read about this on the interweb.
The geese were very late starting to lay this year (8th March for the Embdens and 20th for the Toulouses), but when they finally did they duly constructed their straw nests inside the tyres and deposited their eggs there. I let them roam in and out of the stables during their laying period, but only the pure-breed grey geese could get to their tyre. The white geese shared their tyres with Golly.

On 15th April, one of the white geese settled down onto a nest and a few days later the other girl settled down onto the other tyre. And there they stayed, apart from the occasional brief foray outside, which is okay as they leave their eggs deeply buried in an insulating layer of straw and feathers.

But Golly was still laying, so I set up a tyre for her too.

Meanwhile, over in the other stable, the grey geese had started laying later and so it was a couple of weeks before one of the girls started sitting. After last year's experience I decided to fence her off with sheep hurdles and to feed and water her within the stable. I set up another tyre for the other girl, but she decided to build a nest next to it instead!

Fast forward a couple of weeks and the two white Embdens were still dutifully sitting on their nests. Hatching time was approaching. I considered fencing them off from each other, but since they clearly had their own nests this year, I decided against it. BIG MISTAKE. One evening the behaviour of the geese had clearly changed. One of the girls was all clucky (not sure that's the right word for geese, but honky sounds even wronger!) and the boys were loitering around the stables making menacing sounds and their body language was none too friendly either. I knew that hatching was not far off.
The next morning I peered over the stable door to find... two white girls sitting on one nest! Presumably, desperate for motherhood, one of the girls had been tempted off her own nest at the last minute by the pipping of goslings from inside the shells in the other nest! Not only did this mean that one nest had been abandoned, but it meant that the other eggs would be knocked around at this crucial time.
There was little I could do now without risking all the eggs, so I decided to leave things be and to separate the nests next year. Things were clearly coming to a head. All four white geese now spent their entire time in the stable and close approach was highly inadvisable.

Then came the time. Early in the morning I went out to open the stable doors and I could clearly hear goslings! Our first ever non-incubator hatch! I peered over the door and could clearly see movement in amongst the girl's feathers. Then I saw two tiny balls of yellow feathers appear briefly before disappearing into the clouds of white feathers again. Then two heads appeared.
I ran to the house to let Sue know and we both spent a while peering over the stable door before we had to depart for work. At times like this going to work is not easy and I spend most of the day wondering what I will find when I get back to the farm.
What I found was two very healthy goslings off out of the nest. A third ball of yellow feathers was unfortunately still in the nest and not moving. How sad to have come all this far and not made it.
The rest of the eggs remained unhatched.
What with the abandoned nest too, this meant that the white geese had managed to hatch two healthy goslings from a total of 18 eggs! Not the highest productivity rate going, but a huge improvement on previous years. Not only that, but the goslings are showing suspicious signs (grey wings) of belonging at least partially to Golly! They could well have hatched from eggs laid by her in the then communal nest.
If this is so, then I can only assume that our female Embdens are not particularly fertile, though some of their previously failed eggs certainly had almost fully developed chicks inside. Anyway, it doesn't really matter. Their offspring are for the pot (sorry if this seems harsh, but we are not a pet farm) and it will be easier to identify them if they are patchy grey and white. A couple will be enough for us and any spares would have been sold off.

So, back to the Giant Dewlap Toulouse stable. Their offspring, if we got any, would be more valuable as their parents are fine specimens. A few days ago, their behaviour changed too. The sitting female began giving even deeper grunts than normal and the male stood alongside her. In amongst the cacophony they were creating, I thought I could hear the cheeping of babies, but I could not be sure. What with the other goslings, the noisy parents and the constant chattering and cheeping of the swallows in the rafters overhead, it was hard to tell.
Sure enough, next morning there appeared two grey goslings! Followed by another two! One didn't look too healthy. Maybe it was just a later hatched bird, but it had wandered into the straw away from the nest. It would need to get back to the warmth of mum's feathers pretty soon. I tried to get to it, but it quickly became obvious that this would cause too much disturbance to the rest of the family. I did manage to move the sheep hurdles so that mum could get out and the other girl was sectioned off and then I let things be and left the geese in peace for the rest of the day.
Next morning I found SEVEN tiny goslings being tended by two very proud parents and when I returned from work there, splashing about in a rainy yard, were EIGHT goslings inquisitively pecking at everything they saw and generally trying to balance exploring with staying safely with mum and dad.

Sue ventured into the stable to find another two smaller goslings, one in the straw, but still alive, and one which had managed to find its way to its aunt, the other sitting goose.

By now the two white goslings had grown alarmingly and were confidently spending most of their day with three of the adults out in the garden. The other girl Embden had returned to the previously abandoned nest! She clearly doesn't realise that you just cannot abandon your nest for four days and then go back to it. I'll wait until she goes for a wander outside and then clear the eggs from it, otherwise she will sit for ever.
But the two Toulouse parents had a lot more on their hands keeping their eyes on eight little youngsters which weren't particularly good at staying close to their parents. Not only that, but they kept ducking under various fences and gates leaving mum and dad on the other side.

Two days ago the inevitable happened. One of them succumbed to the dangers of the big wide world. I found it badly injured on the ground. The wound may well have been sustained from one of the white geese, though until now they had shown no signs of aggression. Anyhow, I decided that the best course of action was to place the injured gosling close to the rest of its family and then leave things be. It would struggle to keep up, but if they stayed with it there was a small chance it would make a recovery. I wandered off to tend the veg plot and when I returned about half an hour later there was just a scattering of down where the chick had been. Presumably the crows had found it and picked it off.
Reluctantly I decided that for a week or so the goose family would have to return to the stable and stay there. This would mean having to risk the wrath of George to feed and water them every day, but I am hoping that they will grow big enough to be safe from the crows and other dangers outside.

Well, that's nearly the end of the goose tale so far. But things nearly took one final twist yesterday morning when I found one of the older goslings inside the water bucket.

Goodness knows how it had got there, but it certainly couldn't get out again. Fortunately I found it before it became too waterlogged and managed to get past the sitting goose and remove it. The poor thing was bedraggled. I had to get to work soon, so decided to put it back with its family. But it was so bedraggled that it struggled to waddle, it's back end so heavily soaked. The dewy grass was not helping either and the morning sun wasn't warm enough to help it dry. I went off to let the chickens out and when I returned there was a dark, menacing figure prowling around the scene like a hyena. The ever vigilant crows were onto the situation!

There was only one thing for it. I had about 5 minutes before I needed to leave for work and if I left things as they were then this gosling had a fair chance of meeting a grizzly end. I needed to return it to the stables. But this meant risking a severe mauling from the gander. I got close but he was coming closer and closer, with one of the girls as backup, their hissing, waving necks like an irate Medusa. I quickly came up with a plan. I would let him go for me, grab his neck with one hand and grab the gosling with the other hand. I would hope that the second goose would not go for me too and I would do my best not to get a whack form the gander's flapping wings.

I took a deep breath and went for it. There was a minor scuffle and then, seconds later, I was fleeing the scene clutching onto a bedraggled gosling. I placed it back in the stables, next to the sitting goose, then I really did have to go to work. I just hoped that the gosling would be okay till I got home. To lose it now after it had come so far would be a huge shame.

I returned from work in the afternoon and headed straight for the stables. No sign of the gosling. I kicked the straw, half expected to uncover a sad ball of feathers, but nothing. I went out into the garden and there were two very healthy, very fluffy goslings! I couldn't even tell which one had been in so much trouble this morning.
Meanwhile, in the other stable, things may be a little cramped, like a large family squeezed into a one bedroom flat, but at least everyone is safe. Seven goslings remain and I have high hopes that we won't lose any more. They spend more time under the goose which is sitting than they do with their own parents, but everyone seems happy.

There are two more active nests, so come June we could have quite a lot of geese helping us cut the grass. Intruders beware!

Tomorrow... Second place for cuteness goes to...?

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

An Amazing Three Weeks

No blog posts for 3 weeks! Where have I been?

Well I've been on an incredible adventure. An adventure right here.

Our first ever lambs
Mutton and Geoff
My 500th bird species in Britain. A massive landmark.
Hudsonian Godwit
Our first goose-reared goslings

Boris - our first puppy

Test week at school, but I manage to fit in my 501st bird in Britain
...and my 502nd the next day!
I learn the dark art of welding
Lots more goslings!
And May has given us some rain at last.

In the next few days I hope to be able to write a little bit about each of these.
For now I'm off to play with Boris!

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