Friday, 21 October 2016

Sheep Meds and Rising Sap

Sheep meds - against worms, fluke and Clostridium infection
A text message in the week from Sue and Rob reminds us that this is the time of year to catch up on our annual round of sheep medication. Both farms subscribe to the "nearly organic" school of management (Yes, I know the purists deny the existence of this one; you cannot be "nearly" organic, you either are, or you're not) - we do not do any un-necessary drugging, like the day to day dosing with antibiotics performed by the commercial boys, and we try to only use the vet when we have a known, proven disease.

The smallest bottle of Covexin you can buy - 50 ml.
3 conditions in sheep, though, have us convinced enough to be 'likely', so we allow these (worms, fluke and Clostridium infection) preventative meds in and hang the organic 'ticket'. The worms and fluke are just because it is wet, boggy land, and worse just outside our boundary, so that the little snails which act as secondary host to the fluke could easily get at us. Having said that, every time we slaughter a lamb we get the butchers to slice through the liver enough to confirm that it is 100% free from fluke damage and we have not had a bad one yet. In our defence we also own that the local farm co-ops all stock the fluker and wormer; a sure sign that plenty of farmers locally do this too.

The Clostridium thing is a little more complicated. We were not doing this up till winter 2015/16 and you may recall that in that autumn/winter we borrowed the lovely Suffolk ram 'Rambo' from Sue and Rob for 5 weeks to 'see to' all our ewes. A good job he did too, giving us 3 pairs of twins. All seemed well and we shipped him off back home with everybody happy and healthy. Or so we thought. I don't think I said this in the blog but, unfortunately, 2 weeks later, he suddenly upped and died for no apparent reason. They found him stretched out in the field at morning rounds.

The lovely bright red bark of dogwood.
Dogwood grows round here like weeds
Now, we don't know for sure that it was Clostridium that did for him (nobody spends money on post mortem on run-of-the-mill sheep like ours) but from our research and digging (including talking to our vet, of course) that is pretty much the only thing that causes fast, unexplained death with no prior symptoms and it can lie dormant in the animal and then be triggered by the stress of moving the sheep around. Obviously we also have no idea whether Rambo had it all along, or picked it up at home or at our place but the advice was to get everybody vaccinated.

A local donkey makes it into the '365' album
When you go to buy meds for sheep here you immediately hit a problem well known among smallholders and frequently moaned about. The manufacturers of the meds do not cater for us and the smallest quantity of drug you can buy is designed to meet the needs of normal size flocks.

Coming back into lay after the oddly late moult.
Our advised drug for the Clostridium (Covexin 10) comes down to 50 ml bottles and the dose is 1 ml, so you have to buy 50 doses. It is €37 or so so we have to try to share the 'pain' between a few smallholders. In our case, we bought the Covexin, Sue got the wormer and fluker. In fairness the drug lasts 3 years in the fridge and any new animals get introduced to the treatment via a double dose, 5-6 weeks apart, so between us we will get through about a third of it and only throw away about €25's worth. Ah well.

The 'new' kittens are 5 months old now.
So, over I went to do the first of the paired jabs  on 2 of Sue's new ewes and the new ram, Silas, replacement for the late Rambo (May the Lord have mercy etc). It was my first chance to clap eyes on him properly and weigh up his prospects of doing a good job for our ewes and I must admit to being a bit taken a-back by how tiny he seems compared to my mountainous Mummas. Apparently he is "all there" and has been making muddy foot prints on the flanks of Sue's ladies but he's only 6 months old and might not be 'man' enough. He is, though, our only option currently and we are going to raddle him up and give him the benefit of the doubt. In fairness we are not that pushed about getting a gazillion lambs off our 4 ewes so if he 'misses' or manages only singletons we will not be upset. We will look forward to using him again in 2017 when he is a big, strong 18 month old shearling. Good luck Silas.

Domesticity goes on for ever.
A little amusing aside on the meat-stock. Over the few years I have been here I have had a few happy chats with a neighbour about producing our own pork, lamb, chicken, etc. He is a life long beef farmer but amazed me by never having eaten any of his own meat - his animals go off to the big factories locally and into the supermarket food chain.

I was never intending to get that deep into Twitter. I seem to have
racked up 3000 'tweets' mainly chatting to the smallholder crew.
He tells me wryly that he is sure it is gorgeous (young, healthy, tender, almost organic (that one again!)) but that if the family wants beef on the table then herself has to trot off to the supermarket and buy anonymous meat in cling film packaging like "everyone" else. I joke with him that he is mad and surely just a little bit curious to sample his own product. Well he told me this week that he has decided to try it so a heifer has been chosen, taken off to local man Webb's (who does our pigs) and is currently hanging in the cold store there before being butchered up, and "herself" was sent off to town with a wad of money to buy a BIG freezer. Thought that'd amuse you.

This pic is a bit of a fake. The apples are
from our cider tree, variety Dabinette but
the cider is by the guy down the lane who
gave our pigs the pomace after squeezing
his normal dessert apples.
Meanwhile here today, everybody seems to be through their feather moult and feeling the sap rising. I have seen the Araucana cock dusting up with a Marans or two. Through the kitchen window I saw our #2 Buff Orp rooster set about the biggest male turkey poult and promptly get beaten up by all three poults acting together. One we think is a female, but maybe turkeys do this as a pack. Later I saw the big male turkey poult get hold of the smaller female by the scruff looking for all the world like he was about to mount. Child snatcher! On my afternoon rounds I inadvertently walked by that #2 rooster and felt the flap and strike of a kick-out. He'd had a little pop at me, the silly lad. He doesn't want to start that malarkey. We don't entertain human-aggressive roosters here. Then at lock up I had lost the turkeys. They were in the kitchen garden with the male in full display mode, tail erect and fanned, strutting his stuff like a pro. I had to shepherd them to bed. In his defence, as soon as he saw me his tail went down and he allowed himself to be shepherded.

Finally a fun pic taken by one of our archers, Yulia, who (with hubby 'Colly', of course) has recently brought lovely little Feliz Sophia into the world and now brings the baby along to our sessions to watch us 'arch' from her buggy-cot. I had offered to cuddle her (the baby, not Yulia!) during our coffee break to give Mum a chance to drink her tea, and she caught this cute pic of me doing bottle feeding duties. Ahhhhhhh.

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Keepin' it 1600

It might be mid October but the sap's rising in Co. Roscommon.
This in-calf heifer got in with the 'boys' by mistake.
The reason this blog avoids the wise blogger's 'troika' of taboo subjects (politics, religion and money) has less to do, in the first case, with the wisdom and more to do with the fact that politics leaves me cold. I am delighted to vote on the day and have enough interest to make sure I am voting 'sensibly'. I then take an interest in the results but once they are in I pretty much put the whole malarkey back in its box till next time.

Whole leg of pork gets its dry-cure
Contrast that, if you like, with Liz's driving passion to eat, drink, sleep, knit (?) and work through every minute of the pre-match analysis, then stay up all night while the results roll in AND, afterwards, to stay well abreast of things and in touch with all the expert moves and howling gaffes of the candidates and politicians in power. This applies equally to UK, Irish, Euro and American elections as well as all the sideshows that come along in the form of referendums (referenda?); Yes Equality, Brexit, 'Repeal the 8th' and the like. When Liz is on her deathbed and some young relative asks, "Any Regrets, Auntie Lizzie?" I suspect that up there will be that when the results of the Blair/Labour Landslide were rolling in on that famous night, she went to bed in the early hours and missed the fall of Portillo.

Incidentally, the pics in this post bear no relation to anything written as, obviously, I do not get a lot of pics of political 'slebs' out here in Roscommon. But, where was I? Ah yes. If UK politics leave me cold and Irish Politics just confuse me (more on that later), the American politics have, up to now, left me frozen in a hypothermic torpor. Then the Trump/Clinton thing happened. Suddenly I am amused, amazed, appalled and wide awake, watching in horror as a country I always assumed would do the steady, sensible thing and occasionally get brave enough to make a Lady (gasp!) or a Black Guy (gasp!) President seems to have gone steaming happily off the rails. I am no expert and I have only recently been paying attention but it seems to me that our Mr Trump has got to be the Republican nominee despite no-one really wanting him there, despite them fearing that he is a loose cannon who might say the wrong things, watching him like rabbits caught in the headlights as he does just that, and now no-one knows how to undo the nomination. We seem to just have to go with this and hope that the election undoes him for us. There is wry comment about "a man like that getting within reach of the US Nuclear Codes"

Nugget enjoying her freedom
My recent interest has been helped by that relatively new thing in US Politics, the subscriber (cable) channel, political comment "pod cast". Liz has latched onto 3 main feeds in this - namely "Keepin' it 1600", "538" and "NPR Politics" (links at the bottom of this post). They have funky, modern, website-y names (the 1600 refers to the fact that the White House's address is 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, there are 538 'college' votes in the state-by-state elections and NPR is National Public Radio) and comprise a small group of well informed, lively, experts (plus, sometimes guest panellists) just discussing the latest events, gaffes, TV debates or electioneering moves as if they were sitting in a pub relaxing and chatting.

Annual Pig Census arrived 2 days late for our two.
These are subscriber channels, so they feel no need to stick to BBC-style political correctness or balance and the language can wander into "fruity" if they are more excited or appalled than normal. Many of those taking part have 'done it for real' previously, for example running Barack Obama's campaign(s). I particularly like the 'Keepin' it 1600' one and, despite my professed dislike of such stuff, find myself asking Liz regularly, "Anything new from the 1600 lads?" If there is, we sit down and listen to it together and I then harass Liz with all manner of 'how does THAT work?' questions and we check out the latest graphs and graphics.

A morning moon.
It will all come out in the wash, I guess, on November 8th. Then I can put it all back in its box. "PussyGate" defeated by "Human Decency"? I have got to thinking though, how good it would be if we could get some of these political pod-casts going in Ireland. I said earlier that Irish politics confuses me. I come from a world where you knew (for a while!) what you were voting for - the Tories were the 'management', Labour was for the working class families and Union types and the Liberals were somewhere in the middle or were the only ones interested in stuff like organic farming, green issues and so on.

In Ireland we have the two big parties (Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael - FF and FG for short) with no obvious policy (or recent record) differences between them. Even local political activists can not give you a clear answer if asked why I should vote FG or FF. A commonly held view is that these 2 became the main parties during the Civil War (in the 20's), with one voting for partition of the country into Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State (as being the best solution they thought they could realistically get), while the other party wanted to hold out for independence for the whole land mass as one entity. This conflict divided communities and villages, pitted brother against brother and father against son and for many it still rankles. They vote FG or FF now because in the 20's blah blah blah. They are still fighting the Civil War through the ballot box.

My frustration at not being able to get answers which matter to me (you know - pensions, Brexit, rural broad band, water supply, support for village life and , yes, even small holders) had me thinking how good it would be to get a few of these podcast discussions up and running, to hear what intelligent, informed, politically savvy people (Nate Silver with his statistics, Adrian Kavanagh - Irish University lecturer "whose main research interests focus on the geography of elections, with particular reference to the Republic of Ireland") are saying is good, bad, sound or unsound politics. Then I'd be able to go to vote having half an idea what I was voting for, rather than the 'attrition' method I use currently. (Not him or her because they support X, nor her because she won't say whether she supports Y or not.... ah well, that just leaves these ones then.... now what is '1st preference'?)

And now, just in case you are still awake, three links generously provided by Liz to those podcasts. Good Hunting.

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Lazy Bones

One of the luxuries of being (pretty much) retired on account of being made redundant is that the working days are your own. Nobody chases you to clock/swipe in or makes you book holidays out of your measly allowance if you fancy a day off.  I do work round here occasionally, obviously, but I find I am an expert at winding down when a big job is completed and that 'momentous' occasion of a 'finish' comes round.

A gorgeous brawn from the pigs' heads. There were 3 such 'tubs'.
One is gone already and one in the freezer. This one made
 a handsome contribution to breakfast. Not all of it, obviously.
The latest such completion was the pigs - reared, taken on their final journey, brought home and butchered and variously frozen as joints, salted down as whole legs, cooked into dog treats (ears) or some 'scratchings' and even brawn (heads). Finally all tidied away out of sight. That was Tuesday and I have to confess to sitting down at that point and not really achieving much till this afternoon (fencing). Like I said - too good at winding down. Lazy bones.

Horse Chestnut. Needs a good frost to do
proper colour but it is trying.
It is one of the reasons why the veg garden is such a disgrace at the moment; the other being that I am also expert in what I believe the behaviour experts call "displacement activity", doing something else to avoid doing the job you should be doing. Office workers, faced with a big pile of jobs will reach, instead, for the "to do" list pad and spend ages compiling one, even adding jobs they have already completed so that they can enjoy the buzz of ticking one or two off.

Three of the ewes waiting for the ram to arrive next month.
In my case, this spring, every time I looked at the scary forest of docks, creeping buttercup, grasses and plantain which was winning in the veg patch, I then looked to my left at the huge pile of tree 'rounds' from our felled spruces and the hydraulic splitter I had borrowed. Needless to say, the logs got beautifully split and stacked and the weeds were left to grow even taller. There was building too and archery, pulling thistles in the East Field, brush-cutting in the woods or through the docks, the poly tunnel, mowing and so on. No end of ways to avoid that veg patch. When I did feel like weeding, there was always the big raised flower bed. I think that won because it is so much smaller and you could see progress and sense the end of the tunnel.

Big field mushrooms in the East Field
And so it went on; all the nice weeding weather of summer (well, there was SOME at least) came and went and still the veg patch is an embarrassment where I dare not take visitors. We even toyed with the idea at one stage of fencing it round stock-proof and letting the pigs or sheep at it.  But no, I cling to the idea that I will get stuck in one day, in my "little and often" mode (like my digging of the pond - 20 barrows (1 hour) a day across 5 months).

Soldier out for a stroll.
Some of we smallholders use volunteer labour - lads and lasses who sign up for a working 'holiday' through one of the green/organic/ecological organisations and will come and do yay amount of hours per day for you for the price of bed and board. We have a smaller scale version of that happening in spring when a friend from Kent who loves digging, weeding and veg gardening is coming here for a week. Some people whizz round in front of their 'cleaning lady' so she never sees how bad it was. I will be getting stuck into the weeding well before this guy arrives so that I can show him that I "made a start" and didn't wait round till May for him.

Nugget earns a free ranging winter by doing such a good
summer job in the bee hive dept.
Meanwhile, one worker who has definitely completed her assigned task is our one remaining rabbit, Nugget. She has done such a good job keeping the grass short around the bee hives that she has barely a leaf left and so she has earned a free ranging winter. She is very sensible and hangs around the house and buildings and must be good at avoiding Mr Fox (touch wood) because she survived last winter when she escaped by mistake and took ages to recapture. This (free ranging) is good because apart from a chunk of carrot I give her at breakfast just to keep her tame and give me a chance to check on her health (and presence) each day, I do not need to worry about feeding her or keeping her drinker topped up. She also might help with the weeding in the veg patch though I doubt it - she's never down there!

Extreme hedging
Over the last few days we have been "enjoying" the sight of someone else working hard - a local farmer brutalising his hedges with an impressive weapon. No flail-mower for him smashing the small branches in that so familiar way, leaving them shredded and a pale eye-sore. No this machine is a big and very fast-spinning circular saw on an arm that can pivot into every possible position. It slices through big ash trunks up to 5-6 inches thick with a loud "Ker-ANGGGG" and a roar of hard working diesel engine.

A 365 pic of, I think, a chunk of bog-oak but I don't really
know what species of tree it is. 
They use these things on hedges which have got away and grown up into tall rows of ash and sycamore. They slice up the sides to remove width and then buzz through all the tops sending big trunks and branches sliding and toppling down - OK if they fall into the field but requiring some rapid work with a grab to clear them off the road. In fairness these are mainly ash which coppices very well, so the hedges only look brutalised (all be it neat and boxy) round to spring time when they quickly bounce back in a healthy display of small leaves and shoots.

Nice colours from lichen and heather in Cloonargid Bog. 
The hedges don't need doing yearly when you do them this way but I can't help thinking they'd be better done little and often. Perhaps the lads have their own 'to do' lists and a rake of possible displacement activities.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


One of the three turkey poults - they are doing well.
Today sees us roughly in the middle of that Liz "Dentist Hell" of which I spoke in the last post - easily the most painful day but also the 'bottom' of this particular helter skelter ride. From now on, in theory, it is all mend, repair, getting better, recovery and the like. Just to add salt to the wound, this would have been the day she should have flown to Spain, off on a lovely sunny, relaxing, food-rich, sociable (long) weekend with a group of Internet chums including our good friends Mazy-Lou and Airy Fox.

Dustbin Lady and Crate Lady out on the front drive with the
Yes. As we were driving to the dentist, Liz should have been on the bus from Ballaghaderreen to Dublin Airport, checking in for Bilbao. Then this dental thing loomed up with rubbish timing and Liz decided that exploring the foods of Spain was not really practical for now, so she dropped out.

A lovely gift of acorns from Tara. Genuine Irish Oaks.
So, off we toddled to Balla-D and Liz's date with Destiny and as we turned out of our lane at the crossroads in the village I spotted, sitting on the kerb, a lady runner in jogging shorts and a bright pink top. Thinking she was just resting, I recognised her and said to Liz, "Hey, isn't that your friend from The Play?" It was and Liz had already spotted that both her knees were bleeding from nasty grazes.

All quiet in the pig pen - just a million footprints
Obviously we stopped, did a quick U-Turn and scooped her up. She was feeling very foolish as she had just fallen for no reason she could see, but was also in a lot of pain and shock. Ouch! We drove her home (she'd already run about 2.5 km outbound so was a way off, especially on bleeding knees) and all agreed that now that we are 'grown ups', to fall and graze knees takes you right back to school days where the teacher would gather you up and pass you to the School Nurse who would wipe your cuts down with horribly stinging antiseptic stuff. The days of stretchy pink cloth sticky plasters.

A good vet could get them back on their feet? These ladies went
down to Castlerea in a trailer but came home in the car. 
That, though, is surely enough pain and hurt for one blog. Mine is only the mental 'anguish' of finishing my lovely Oxford Sandy 'n' Black piggies, Somerville and Ross. It hardly compares and especially now that we are through it and able to enjoy the 'product' end of the process - getting our meat back and butchering it up into joints and cuts. The whole job has gone seamlessly. I always worry that something will go awry - we'll fail to load the pigs or we'll have a break down or puncture. So far it has gone well with us (pre-dentistry!) working well as a team, loading, hauling, talking to the butcher, then collecting the split carcasses (he even split the heads for the brawn), butchering them up and finally stowing them in the freezer(s).

All you need to cut up a pig - Scott Rea's excellent videos on
YouTube.... oh and maybe his 25 years experience!
This year we discovered a series of videos on YouTube by a butcher from the UK, Scott Rea. Scott videos himself with a camera over the shoulder as he does master classes in the various aspects of butchery. They include making salt beef, making brawn (or "head cheese") and so on but most importantly today, in how to cut up a pig.

With the ribs removed, these lovely sheets of front "belly"
will become string tied, rolled rib roasts. 
He has 25 years experience and shows and explains the process really well, so I found myself watching a chunk of video, then pausing the tape while I did THAT to my carcasses, then looking at more. Respect, Scott. You are now my go-to butchery mentor! I learned some new cuts this year which I had not seen or done before this year; a (string-tied) rolled rib roast, for example, steaks from one of the big muscle blocks in the leg and boned out loin-chops. Also a new way of doing rib-chops.

The Dining Room Table gets a bit of abuse.
All that lovely meat is now cut up, bagged, labelled and (amazingly) squeezed into the freezer. We had been going a bit mad using up thawed portions of frozen left overs; the shopping list dry-wipe board says "BUY NO MEAT OR FISH" in big letters at the top. We had also been turfing out stuff that had a lower priority than our new 'harvest' and might survive long enough in the fridge to get used up safely.

All bagged and labelled ready for onward shipment to the
Utility Room freezers
I can also tell you that the pork is GORGEOUS. Tonight (fairly late after all the butchery and other normal jobs) I cooked a couple of the boneless loin chops, deliberately very simply so that I could get the full flavour; just veg oil and heat. I served these with mash and broccoli. It pains me to say that Liz missed out on this too, restricted as she is to soup today. She said it smelled and looked lovely. Finally on pork, we have salted down 2 of the whole legs to try our version of 'Parma' or 'Serrano' ham. These lads get a dry cure of mixed salt, sugar, star anise, bay, peppercorns, coriander seed and dried chillies (Thank you the Strawbridge father and son team) patted and massaged into them daily for 21 days (and the brine which gets sucked out of the meat by the salt layer, drained off). They then get air dried for about 8 months hanging in our spare room. Last year it worked a treat, hence we have gone for 2 legs this year. It's an expensive cut if it goes all smelly and maggotty but so far we have not had that happen.

K-Dub rollers down the first layer of mix and the matting on
our newly buit roof sheeting. 
Meanwhile, the kitchen project moves on another stage. K-Dub spots a dry day and zooms over here so that we can sheet over the roof frame and apply the fibre-glass weather proofing. I am told that "no-one uses torch-down bitumen felt" any more; the stuff we used so dramatically on our Utility Room roof (flames, smoke, coughing, worries that the whole place would go up in flames). There is now a good product spawned out of the boat industry, a modern (non itchy!) version of fibre-glass which comes in rolls that you can just tear to shape. overlap, squidge round corners and mouldings and then cover with a 2nd, pigmented layer of the same mix (softener and catalyst) as a top coat (or 2).

The pigmented topcoat
It is quite new still so no-one really knows what the life will be on roofs but all indications are that it will go longer than bitumen felt and is certainly less easy to damage by walking around on it. The building industry has adopted it whole-heartedly and the fire-regs boys also prefer it. K-Dub (and colleagues in Dublin) have done some huge roofs in the city with it and they love it. It is also a nice, trustworthy, solid GREY. It LOOKS like it will last. Inevitably it is more costly than torch-down felt but hey, you have the added bonus of getting high on the fumes! I was talking about falling over whisking you right back to school days; well those fumes had me right back to building fibreglass canoes at school, too.

Well, I suspect that this is enough for this post. I hope that by the time I write again, I will be able to report Liz well on the mend and with at least one pork supper to her name (and the fallen lady jogger fully recovered). Good luck now.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Staying Healthy

That crab apple and blackberry jelly. 
We, jointly, are not great fans of the medical profession and try to spend our days staying healthy and avoiding doctors, dentists, hospitals, opticians and the like. We try to eat and drink healthily and avoid breaking things or damaging ourselves. Liz has been doing Yoga for ages and I have just started. But, hey, neither of us are getting any younger and when the above plan meets the combined forces of the medical profession it tends, like us, to creak.

A well weathered chunk of elder.
Recently those medics have got all their ducks in a row and lined up a synchronised assault on our health fortress; we have just had to cave in. Between us we have received demands for breast exams, overdue eye-tests and, most pressingly, Liz has been going through her own private Dentist Hell. No more detail on any of this specifically (patient confidentiality etc) but we have lately been involved in runs to Sligo, Roscommon and local centres armed with forms and appointment cards etc. One of Liz's 'experts' is not even as lowly as a mere 'dentist'. No no. He is an Advanced Dental Aestheticist. Now!

The Hubbards at Day 55 look a lot more like chickens now.
This is all well and good and is no doubt "vital" and "advisable" but we do not love it and we wish they would all just do what they need to do and then return our dusty files to the shelf marked "OK. Leave these people alone for another 5 years...They have suffered enough". We are happy to return the favour by being healthy at these lads and not pestering them for more expertise.

It is National Potato Day (apparently) so here is a spud
flower and a fly. It is growing in our Keyhole Bed as a volunteer
and does not seem to know it is October.
Meanwhile livestock does not stop growing while we take time out to get our acts together and the pigs, in particular are "finishing" (that farmer euphemism for 'they are big enough now to be booked into the butchers for their final journey'). They are booked in to Webb's in town and I just need to train them to go easily into the trailer so that they will do this for me with not a bother on them on the day.

Another session on the kitchen gave us
a roof frame.
Regular readers will know that we have previously constructed a "race" of fences running up from their pen to a place where I can "plug in" the trailer. I just need to show them that this race is OK and that the trailer holds no fears which I do by feeding them all their meals  on the 3 days leading up to departure, IN the trailer. It is horribly cynical and feels like an evil betrayal but in this way, by the morning, they trot up into the trailer for their breakfast and barely notice as you click the ramp shut behind them. Obviously it hurts and wrenches a bit but if you can't do this stage, then you shouldn't really be in pigs. We know that the butcher we choose is also going to treat them with respect.

Very few clouds for a proper lit up sky, but I quite liked this
sunset shot today. 
Very little else to report today. The Hubbard chickens are at Day 55 and looking much more chicken like (as opposed to dinosaur). The ducks are all in full flow egg-wise so we are actually getting more duck eggs than chicken eggs, despite the opposite disparity in numbers. The kitchen extension chugs along.

Sunset cattle. 
We had a session at it this week where we laid the mini-wall of 4" blocks (top left in my picture) to fill in the triangle between Tígín and old kitchen extension and we built as much roof frame as we could (on account of the wet cement in the mini-wall). We also had to engage the "customer" to start planning where worktops and white goods would go, shelves, power, doors opening in or out and hinged left or right. Decisions decisions.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Not 100% Convinced.....

On the left our pure-bred Cuckoo-Marans hen. On the right a
'possible' youngster. 
Followers of this blog will know that we are slowly trying to 'evolve' our chicken flock to one of pure bred Buff Orpingtons and Marans. This from our starting point of Sussex Pontes and via our current motley collection of weirdos which include some bizarre Araucana x Game birds and some hybrid, bantamised Buffs with odd, clumsy, short legs but who were/are, none the less, prolific egg layers. Those we called our 'Mini-Buffs'. The 'evolution' is being done mainly by natural wastage, just not bothering to replace the unwanted types and trying to hatch probable Buff or Marans eggs. Please draw a veil over the fact that we slid the 2 blue Araucana eggs under a Buff broody this spring to keep her sweet and then let her hatch 2 'black babies' - see earlier post.

Those young 'Marans' at 3 months.
For the Marans breed, we had only had our geriatric Cuckoo-colour hen, 'Squawk' and no Rooster, so we purchased 12 of the dark brown, speckledy eggs from the farrier who looks after the horses of our friend and sheep supplier 'Mayo-Liz'. We put them in the incubator we were 'keeping' for Charlotte while she moved house. With permission, of course. The farrier had said that he could not promise that these would be Cuckoo colour Marans, but they were definitely Marans, possibly of his other three colour options - Copper, Blue or Golden.

One of the geese fires up the new season
with this 179 g whopper.
Well, those babies are now 3 months old and we are not 100% convinced that they are pure-bred Marans. We do not claim to be experts, never having reared the breed before, but they seem so long in the leg and so upright that we worry that they will never fill out to the Orpington-style, rounded, Mumsie shape of Squawk. I even texted Mayo-Liz to check that Mr Farrier does not keep a few game cocks running around his place who might have been sowing wild oats but she assured me that he doesn't. In their favour is that the eggs were definitely Marans, so at least the Mum must have been. We have 3 grey-ish birds who I could believe could be the 'Blues' and the 3 darker birds are all starting to get a coppery hue to their cape-feathers, so they might be the 'Copper' Marans. Ah well, they will get the benefit of the doubt for now and we will try to ignore their upright, tail-erect, Tottenham Hotspur badge, fighting cock looks.

The Corporal's dark-tailed lacy lady. 
Meanwhile we also have a possible issue with one of the three hens from the 'Corporal's group. Although she is a perfect pure-bred (pb) Buff-Orp shape, she has a few dark tail feathers (with brown edges) and the feathers on her back each individually have a pale edge. This 'lacing' (as they say in poultry circles) and the dark tail are, I think, not allowed in the breed standard for Buff-Orps and may indicate that Mum was one of the mini-buffs or possibly our old Sussex Ponte, 'Enda' (both of whom lay the buff-coloured eggs).

Our young Golden Hornet crab apple tree
gave us almost 3 kg of good fruit and a few
splits for the piggies.
Outside of chickens we are more certain that we are on track. We have re-started our goose egg season with 2 found on the same day, and Liz has already had one of these as her breakfast 'dippy egg' - it weighed 179 g. I cleared the rest of the standing crop from the polytunnel and was delighted by some huge Sarpo Mira red potatoes. I struggle to get enough water into that part of the garden and generally expect light crops on the spuds, but these guys must have been growing near enough to the edges that they pushed some roots out to where the rain runs off the sides.

'Baker' sized Sarpo Mira from the poly tunnel.
We have been enjoying these as beautiful baking potatoes with stews etc or as mashed potato. The are a fairly resistant variety Blight-wise, anyway but growing them early or late in the tunnel helps you miss the worst blight weather. These were as clean as a whistle.

Soldier the Cat checks out the jelly bag.
Our little, young crab apple tree pleased us with a yield of 2.994 kg of good fruit plus a few splits and bruised one for the piggies. Liz combined this with an equal weight of our nice local blackberries and gave it all a good boil up. I then strained it through the 'jelly bag', added sugar and boiled it to set point. I say that as if it is easy - I have NEVER been good at getting jams and marmalades to set.

Crab Apple and Blackberry Jelly cooling.
The recipes say boil for 10 minutes, test for set point and, oh if it is not set, try another 5 minutes. I just assume it is going to be more like 30-45 minutes. This time I even didn't bother putting the Kilner jars into the dish washer for their 36 minute wash/sterilise till I'd started the brew. Happily I did eventually get a set point and the crab+BB jelly is cooling and setting nicely out in the kitchen on the worktop even as I write.

Log Rat nailed from 30 yards away
Finally in the archery department I am happy to report that in our (most likely) final outdoor shoot of this year I finally nailed that elusive sneaky target 'Log Rat'. That after 5 months of trying. Those arrows on the ground in the picture are NOT all my misses, by the way, they are arrows I have retrieved for other archers (we helpfully do that for each other). Mine are the ones fletched in a rather fetching (fetching fletchings?) bright orange and green. It was good to finally 'get' that pesky rodent. Now we move indoors and go back to target practise in the big Badminton hall at Castlerea's "The Hub" sports complex. The poor, much-pierced animals get a holiday through the winter.