Thursday, 11 May 2017

Tales of the turkey clan and more

After a straight drive of almost 12 hours I arrived home from North Ronaldsay very late at night, so there was no time to pop in and look at the four new turkey chicks (known as poults).

In the end three female turkeys ended up sitting together on three loosely organised clutches of eggs. We weren't sure how this would turn out. The geese engage in this same sort of communal nesting and they are pretty useless at it! Last year we just had the one turkey hen who sat tight on her clutch and successfully hatched all 18 of her eggs.

So nothing could have pleased me more than to find one of the turkey mums roaming around with ten fluffy little chicks in the morning. More than that, there were five more under one of the other hens.
However, the mums were struggling to keep control of their inquisitive chicks, who were getting trodden on by an overly attentive stag. It wasn't really his fault, as they were buzzing about everywhere.
A couple of hours later and all the new poults were up and about, with two hens trying desperately to keep an eye on them all. Sadly a couple had not quite made it cleanly out of their eggs, but still there were thirteen chicks, each and every one a bonus for us.

My intention was always to bring them down to the warmth and security of a stable, but I didn't want to intervene before all viable eggs had hatched out. In the end though my mind was made up for me when the Muscovy ducks started picking the poor chicks up by the leg and shaking them around, perhaps confusing them for frogs.
I hastily collected them all into a bucket, captured one of the hens and carted them all off into the stables. I transferred the Muscovies to the chicken pen too, all except the duck who is sitting tight on  her own clutch of eggs.

The rest of the smallholding is flourishing too, with the lambs going from strength to strength and the mangetout in the polytunnel yielding a sizeable harvest.

I put some of the turkey poults up for sale and had sold eight of them within a couple of hours. This would leave us five for meat later in the year and the sale would make a contribution toward the upkeep of the turkeys.

Two days later three more fluffy little bees were trying to follow mother turkey around down in the turkey pen. But the last hen had come off her nest which still contained another dozen or so eggs. I think these were quite possibly laid after the turkeys started sitting, so whether or not any more will hatch is doubtful.
Anyway, I scooped up the three chicks and introduced them to the rest in the stable. The hens were quick to take them under their wing. The other hen went straight back onto the nest, but as I write several days after this event there have been no further hatchings.

Back in the house, the first clutch of meat chickens have been growing rapidly. They really do get very messy and smelly and soon stop being cute. It was time for them to go into an outdoor building under a heat lamp. During the day, in dry weather, they go into a giant cage on the lawn.
The geese are sitting tight on their nests too. They should hatch any time soon - it's difficult to know exactly when they started sitting. The two Embden ganders stand guard and make entry to the stables a little precarious, but they know I am the boss! Very occasionally one of the geese comes off the nest to stretch her legs and take a dip.

The laying hens seem happy now they are outside. I have been letting them into the orchard (still a fenced area and part of their controlled range, as restrictions are still in place for a little while longer) and it is lovely to watch them able to behave so naturally.

Further down the land the ram lambs have been causing me headaches. One of them learned to put its head down and sweep aside the electric fence with its horns. It didn't take long for it to teach another the same trick. So I would find them on the wrong side of the fence, happily munching away at my trees. A short chase and straightening up the electric fence would sort it out, but then one morning they were back on the wrong side of the fence within minutes. Time for them to go in the old pig pen, now well on its way to becoming a fully grown nettle bed. The Shetland sheep don't eat the nettles while they are growing, but I ventured in with the weed thwacker and they were more than happy to munch at the wilting stems.

Self-shearing can make you look
a bit silly for a while!

Their Houdini instincts mean that they will be going on their final journey a little earlier than originally planned, along with the third ram lamb who seems to have escaped the attentions of his castration ring. This of course makes things complicated when it comes to grouping the sheep.

They will probably go off in midsummer, once they have fattened up on early summer's fresh grass (assuming we ever get some rain and it starts to grow a bit faster). I have decided not to buy in extra sheep for fattening this year. The grass is slow to grow and I want to give the pasture paddocks a  chance to grow a bit lusher this year and to give longer breaks from grazing.

Wool Day inspired Sue to get back to the peg loom.

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