Saturday, 4 June 2016

A thoroughly disheartening start to June

What's the difference between a turkey and a fly? Turkeys drop more easily. Read on and you'll understand.
It's been a bad start to June and one which has put a heavy demand on my stoical resources.

1st June
The grey goose now has three beautiful little goslings. She is already bringing them out of the stables. Unlike the white Embdens, she has done the decent thing and hatched them all out at the same time.
Meanwhile outside it rained and rained and rained. The 1000 litre water butt I had to empty to repair is now full again and I spent much of the day using the rainwater to irrigate the plants in the polytunnel. I planted my pepper and celery seedlings into the polytunnel beds along with another round of coriander plants. I came upon this little cryptic fella under a plank too.
Can you see it?

He's most welcome (I don't know why I'm assuming it's a he).

A freshly fledged tree sparrow appeared on the feeders today for the first time this year. Its mum (or dad, for both sexes are alike) was feeding it. These birds are becoming rarer and rarer in the English countryside so I am very proud to have them on the farm.

And so to the turkeys. I kept a close eye on them all day and mum seemed to be doing a great job looking after them. They spent quite a bit of time in the herb bed and quite a bit of time sheltering under a wheelbarrow. Mum spreads her wings and all you can see of the poults is all their legs poking out underneath mum. It looks like a 24-legged turkey!
When the rain got heavy I ushered them into their shed where they stayed for a while before going out for another wander. Come early evening I decided to round them back into the shed for the night. They had already taken themselves in but I could only count ten chicks. I counted three times. Still just ten. I wandered round the garden for ages looking and listening for a lone turkey poult but to no avail. Sue found it later on (well, Arthur actually, who has a very keen nose for such things) but it was dead.

2nd June
Everyone who has raised turkeys talks about how easily they give up on life and today I began to witness that. For when I opened up the turkey shed there was one of the young birds lying on its side, apparently dead. When I picked it up it was still moving, just. So I brought it inside, wrapped it up, put it under a heat lamp and fed it as much sugary water as I could. But after an hour it became obvious that it was to no avail.
We had been doing so well with the turkeys and I was now regretting the decision to let them out. Lesson learned for next year. I moved the turkeys back into the stables.

I spent the afternoon planting out my various pumpkins and squashes with names like Hundredweight (self-explanatory), Cha-Cha (not so), Table Queen, Golden Nugget, Delicata, Sweet Dumpling and Naples Long. These go into the more exposed veg patch where I grow big plants, but it does put them more at risk of attack by rabbits and slugs. So each one gets a tree protector until it becomes established. They usually take a bit of a knock for the first few days outside, but after a week they get their roots down and from then on growth is rapid. I've put 25 plants out, so I'll be very happy if 20 come through which will give us plenty enough pumpkins and winter squash.
The tree protectors keep the rabbits from nibbling but they do nothing to protect against the silent enemy from underground, the slugs. So I sprinkled organic slug pellets around the base of each plant. The advantage with these, as well as supposedly not harming other wildlife, is that they don't just disappear when it rains so the extra cost is offset a little.

In the evening we were off to the monthly CSSG (Cambridgeshire Self-Sufficiency Group) meeting for a talk on edible plants which can be part of a forest garden. This is a system of gardening I know a fair bit about, though I tend to dismiss it as a little gimmicky. However, I'm always open to new ideas. I just think that the way forward is to integrate the best bits from lots of different systems - Forest Gardening, Permaculture, Polyculture, No Dig... I've not yet dabbled with Hydroponics or the one which relies on the cycles of the moon - can't remember what it's called.
In fact there's a fair bit of Forest Gardening goes on in my patch anyway, it's just that I don't go for all these exotic plants which you can, in theory if you really wanted to, eat. I'm all for trying out new things, but there are very few which eventually earn their place in my veg plot.

Anyway, we enjoyed the company. This group is very different to the Fenland Smallholders (from whom they split somewhat acrimoniously just before we came on the scene). They are the old guard, the more hippyish element, very open and extremely knowledgeable. It's such a shame the two groups can't merge as each has particular strengths which would make them very strong together. For the moment, Sue and I keep a foot in both camps. Unfortunately the CSSG is a little too distant for us to get more involved.

3rd June
Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but today was one of those most disheartening days which occurs every now and again. Smallholding is never all rosy and sometimes demands a very strong resolve.
If you only want the view through rose-tinted glasses, then I'd suggest you stop reading now!

Sue had gone to a friend's to continue with making goat's cheese and to try to figure out why their efforts at goat's milk ice cream kept failing (turns out it needs more fat, something to do with goat's milk being naturally homogenised).
I opened the turkey stable to find a dead youngster with no head! Whether it was attacked by a predator (rat, weasel, stoat?) wasn't clear but would present a big problem if it were. I more suspected that it had passed away in the night and that the others had pecked away at it - poultry can be incredibly insensitive creatures.
Another young poult was looking not too good either, droopy winged and it's eyes half closed. It was no surprise when Sue found it dead later in the morning. This was feeling like a losing battle. Worst case scenario would be that some disease was jumping through the flock at an alarming rate, but my suspicions were still that the birds had just gotten too cold when we had let them outside on a wet day and possibly developed pneumonia. Whatever the case, I felt terrible. I feel responsible for these young lives and although I expect losses, this was becoming serious. Of course, the practical side of me was also thinking of the number of turkey dinners we would be missing out on, for that is the reason for rearing these young birds.

Just when I thought things couldn't get much worse, I discovered a neatly laid out pile of peacock tail feathers next to my digging spade. The only explanation was that Don, our neighbour, had found the body of Captain Peacock. This was a gentle way of letting us know. Having survived the road for so long (and presumable developed a bit of road sense), I suspect that the verge cutter may have done for him.

I spent the rest of the day doing big, physical jobs in the garden, trying not to think too much about other things. I got about half of the lawns mowed - quite a feat considering how long the grass had got. Then there was the strawberry patch to tackle. Despite my earlier weeding efforts, it had become overwhelmed with grasses and docks. With the soil nicely watered this would be the ideal time to start the not inconsiderable job of weeding before laying down straw and netting to protect the developing crop.
I called Sue in to help and we got half the job done before running out of energy. The remaining seven turkey poults made it through till the evening. What would we find next morning though?

1 comment:

  1. Sorry to hear it's been a tough time with the turkey chicks. I really admire your posts John, I appreciate so much your honesty. If I'm lucky enough to have a smallholding one day then I'd rather go into it knowing the harsh realities instead of pretending it's all fun and games and everything works out! Hope you and Sue are getting some breaks in between, I should think it's a busy time of year and the gardening and veg must take up more time than the animals!


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