Friday, 29 August 2014

An Innocent Abroad?

Sugar bowl and milk jug set.
Well, Liz's Birthday is now done and dusted and has been pronounced a success even though this weekend in Ireland is NOT a Bank Holiday, so that she does not get the '3 day break' around the big day as she did in UK. We managed to stretch it out to 2 days by having the special meal (we each cook that day for the other, the meal of their choice) on the 2nd day. Now that the presents are opened and revealed, I can shamefully admit to a serious outbreak of being a numpty, blundering around in the internet like an innocent abroad, like a country bumpkin in the big city!

A bit of fun - these napkins.
I will happily admit to being just no good at that sort of thing and would normally have Liz do it, like I plead with her to do all the actual ordering and talking to the waiter when we are in France. These though, were gifts to her, so I was on my own. I was grand as long as I was in familiar territory; I started off with a few bits (music, books) from Amazon, paying in Euros and knowing that the stuff was coming from within the EEC. It was after that it all started to fall apart - we 'needed' a certain body lotion from Van Cleef and Arpels ("First") and we'd failed to get it in town; the lady had advised that Galway City might have it. Pah! (says I) The internet surely, what could possibly go wrong?

That is how I ended up with our friendly postman, Ger' , strolling up our drive and demanding €17.69 in unpaid import duty one day and another €17 a few days later. I had managed to knowingly buy the body lotion from Florida (!) and some 'stocking fillers' with knitting pics on, un-knowingly also from the USA. I had no idea these costs would occur - I thought I'd paid my whack including the rather punitive shipping costs. Lesson learned, I guess - either don't let me loose on the internet with a debit card, or at least make sure I keep to the EEC. To add insult to shameful injury, the top had also come off the lotion in transit and some of the gloop had leaked out into the manufacturers posh packaging, but Liz has most of it and thinks she can rescue the situation.

On a happier note, one of the boxes which I thought might be a Liz present, turned out to be our 'MAQS' anti-varroa mite hive medication, so we can use that on Monday AND a gift from Mazy which we thought had gone astray, turned out to have been left for us by the courier in one of the pharmacist shops in Balla-D. We assume the courier was going there for his next drop and had failed to find us.

River Trout in creamy sauce with lemon and cucumber
For the Birthday meal itself we went with a salmon recipe out of our much-loved Irish Cookery book by Theodora Fitzgibbon. We had been given two big superb mountainy river trout by Anne and Simon along with three plump cucumbers in part payment for our pig-wrangling. We do not know a lot about Theodora F but she is a well known food writer and, from this book, more a collector of recipes, than a chef per se, and given to name-dropping her contributors. The book is nothing like a modern 'celebrity chef' book; there are no glossy colour pics, no shots of lady chef looking alluring as she licks chocolate sauce off her fingers, and no snappy "Naked Chef" style title. It is a soft back with a 3-colour cover and the pictures within are old monochrome period scenes of Ireland; St Stephen's Green in 1860, Cork Market c 1900 and so on. But the recipes we have tried out of it have always been excellent and this salmon recipe (used on one of these big trout) was a triumph which will go into our own 'repertoire' collection, simple but delicious. The trout's body cavity was filled with parsley, the outside rubbed with butter and cream poured over. It was baked for 10 minutes per pound, then diced cucumber flesh (minus seeds and skin) and lemon juice were added. It was well basted and returned, lidless, to the oven for another 15 minutes. Liz was worried that the lemon juice would curdle the cream, but no, it created a lovely, tangy, lemony sauce which was pure delight to mop up with the steamed, floury potatoes and the ruby chard. Excellent.

The Ramones on the front lawn
Meanwhile, we now have the lambs fully bucket-trained so that we can get them into the routine of being led out of the East Field onto the front lawn in the morning and then home again in the evening. We are keeping them in the wire-fenced field overnight and while we're not around for now; we are still not 100% sure they couldn't squeeze between the rails of the post and rail if they had a mind to do it. When you sit on the terrace table and watch them through the gaps between the rails, they sometimes seem scarily small and the gaps very wide. We may suffer a confidence failure and add strands of 'bull wire' half way up each gap on their side of the fence. It will not spoil the look of the thing, but might make us feel more secure.

The lambs are enjoying the new space - there will be grass there untouched by sheepy mouths for almost 2 years and there is good browse to be had from the big trees (ivy) and the hedge and bank. They also seem to enjoy gazing at the rabbits  in their runs and to wander into the currently disused keet run for a lie down when their bellies are full. They also come and look curiously at any human activity near their fence, such as when I was planting a load of daffodil bulbs this morning. They are lovely gentle things and I find them charming.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

All Go

Nearly complete - the new post and rail fence.
It seems to have been all go here since the arrival of the Silverwoods (see previous posts). Expecting their arrival we had postponed the task by fencing contractor, Paul (the thought of children mixing it with barbed wire  and Paul's 50 kg pile driver...) but once they had gone, Paul was anxious to get back stuck in. We had 2 nice long days at it, working on till 8 pm or so finishing with all the little titivating and tweaking that Paul, who is a perfectionist likes to do before he signs off. We had been joking about the fact that one of the posts nearest the road had his name written on it in green marker pen, where the batch of wood had been identified for 'shipping', but we both know that people will see the nice new fence (and, we hope, admire it) and then want to know who did it. We will happily tell them Paul's name and he will be happy for the advertisement and word-of-mouth recommendation.

New sheep-wire run along the lane-hedge.
On the final day he was collected from work by his wife and 4 children whom we had happily agreed to show round the place, so we were back in 'petting zoo' mode. They all seem to love the pigs and sheep and the little ones loved a chance to hold a Buff Orpington chick; although the oldest boy went all 'teenager' at that point and decided it was not cool. Paul's wife runs some kind of play group and she left wondering to herself (out loud) whether the play group might enjoy a visit. We are going to have to watch it - we already have Guide Leader Mrs Silverwood measuring up the new sheep field to see how many tents she can squeeze in!

Brawn under construction.
It only remains now to carry on the bucket-training the sheep; teaching them to follow the sound of a rattled feed-bucket, so that we can reliably walk them from the East Field round to the front lawn without anyone making a break for freedom. Longer term readers will recall that our first batch of sheep, which were Jacobs cross ewes in 2012 spent most of their time out on this lawn with me shepherding them around to stop them diving through hedges or down across the 'allotment', but they all have to be bucket trained first - it is a lot easier to attract them back by 'carrot method' than to chase them from behind and use the 'stick'.

Mango chutney - the muslin bag holds
the smaller, woodier spices.
As soon as this job was done, Liz wanted to make brawn from a pig's head donated to us by Anne (Thanks Anne) and also mango chutney, but we have no saucepan big enough to take a whole head from these monsters. We needed to split the head. This is always a rather violent and brutal task and seems a long way from the precision cuts and nifty knife work of proper butchery. My way is to hack-saw through some of the skull from the back, till I have made a crack big enough to take the sharp edge of my one-sided bill hook. I can then use the 7 lb 'lump' hammer to whack the bill hook blade through the rest of the way. It's not pretty. Liz still has to dislocate the long, lower jaw halves before it will fit in the pots.

The chicks at 3 weeks are now outdoor birds. 
We hope that when we take our own pigs to slaughter, if we intend to keep the heads and make brawn, we will be able to persuade the butcher to split the skulls for us; he's doing our butchery. Anne and Simon chose to do the cutting up themselves. I do not have the equipment or the skills, so I am going to hand over the money to the experts; the slaughterman / butcher will be doing ours.

Going through the hive debris looking for varroa mites
Meanwhile, it has come round to the time when all good bee keepers must check their hives for varroa mite. Many people know the name, and associate the words with all that is bad and disastrous about hive failures and 'colony collapse disorder (CCD)'. Varroa mite is now endemic in the British Isles and modern bee keepers pretty much have to accept that their bees will have varroa, the same way their cat or dog will probably get fleas, they just need to monitor the mite population and use one of the modern fume treatments twice a year to knock them down if they get too numerous.

Dead varroa mite. 
The treatment our group prefer is a new Canadian preparation called 'MAQS' (everyone pronounces it 'Max') which consists of strips which you lay in the hive across the frames, which fume formic acid throughout the colony. The treatment is temperature sensitive - it needs to be above 10 degrees to 'fume' properly. The bees hate it at first but soon get used to it - (formic acid is actually one of the components of bee sting), but it seeps into all the air-spaces and down through the wax cappings on the brood cells, killing the mites and mite larvae as they grow on the bee larvae. It presumably also seeps into any honey or pollen stores, but it is said not to taint the honey. You leave the strips in place for 7 days to do their work, then discard them.

A red spider mite (yellow ring) photo-bombs a group of
 much less mobile varroa mites. 
The way you know if you need to treat has been our task over the weekend. In the floor box of the hive there is a permanently fixed mesh floor (mouse and wasp proof but good ventilation) but below that 2 rails which will support a slide-in stiff plastic sheet, on which you can place a large sheet of paper. You leave that in place for several days, and then on a calm day, bring it to somewhere well lit where you can examine the debris which has fallen through the mesh floor onto it - dead tiny insects, bits of wax capping dropped by hatching bees, bee poo etc. In our case we also had some whizzy red spider mites who are presumably eating the other debris and over a hundred of our target species, the varroa mite.

Lovely card from Diamond
These guys are shiny dark or light brown, about 1.6 mm wide, and wider than they are long (like a crab). You then divide the total count by the days and if your 'mite-drop' per day is more than a guide figure for that month (33 for August) then you have a problem and you need to treat. Ours is, so we will be putting our MAQS strips in at the next visit.

Meanwhile, on a lighter note a nice Birthday Card for Liz from Diamond - this one all black with a nice London design laser-cut out of the front. Nice one Roger la Borde designs. Happy Birthday to Lizzie for tomorrow. May you have many many more. Oh, and we had another 'petting zoo' visit from Sparks and his son B(7) who also brought along a school chum named Charlie. Sparks and B loved it - Charlie turned out to be one of those kids who is scared of everything animal like - especially dogs, cats, pigs, chickens and geese. We had a bit of a thin time with the poor dogs locked up in the living room and pouring rain all day, but we survived. All part of life's rich tapestry.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

As Busy as...

Two teenagers phoning each other across our sofa?
This week we play host to a visit from most of the Silverwoods, plus a 'best friend' subbing in for the missing eldest, Em-J, who is off doing one of those 'holidays NOT with Mum and Dad' at Trabolgan Holiday Village in Cork; a bit like 'Centre Parcs' in the UK. In our group we have Mum and Dad Silverwood, young teenager J-M and her chum Emma, plus the 'smalls', M(8) and R(6).

Low-maintenance guests, pulling a 23 hour 'all-nighter'
in their tent. Midnight feasts etc.
In fact the teens have brought a tent, which goes up on the front lawn as soon as they arrive and into which they vanish delighting in the fact that the 'smalls' are banned from this chunk of territory. We are not sure they will be brave enough to sleep out there all night but they do that and more, well supplied with 'Midnight Feast' fare. They disappear in at about 6 p.m. and do not appear for breakfast or even lunch the next day. We only actually see them at 5 next day when Mum tells them that if they want to be re-stocked with nosh for their 2nd night, they will have to come out and collect it, she is drawing the line at bringing it to the tent flap!. In fact they do, of course, emerge for supper times, Liz's slow cooked pork one day and a (Hubbard) chicken curry the next.

J-M and Emma enjoying their camping (we hope).
Meanwhile, as well as the usual 'petting zoo', feeding the animals and collecting eggs, the smalls were well entertained with various games and madness. The latest must-have toy when you are that age is apparently 'Loom Bands', boxes of 2000+ tiny coloured elastic bands which come with a 24-peg (or so) plastic loom and a crochet hook. You lay out these bands stretched across the loom pegs in various configurations, using the crochet hook  to loop bands back across each other to form a weave from which you can make all manner of small items such as bracelets, gloves, small model poodle dogs and so on.

Mr and Mrs S on the loom bands after the 'smalls' had been
put to bed.
Hours of fun especially for the parents who, in our case had to take over when a small child got bored or stuck, or needed a change of scene like feeding the geese. A nice 'craft' for them to learn but the thought of dropping the tray of 2000 bands and having to pick them up and re-sort into colours.......? Mrs Silverwood tells me she has a 20,000 band box at home to re-supply the trays. I expect that one is kept under lock and key.

Loom band product - green and red for Mayo, blue
and yellow for Roscommon.
Another toy that impressed me was only a cheap thing but performed well and did not seem to be as brittle and quick to break as most of the junk the kids get through; this was the 'Bubble Rocket'. This was a plastic tube 'rocket' which telescoped onto a smaller plastic tube launching stand and was launched by the child jumping on a springy plastic 'bladder' full of air. The pressure of the child jumping on the bladder whooshed the rocket off up to 10-15 feet but, even better, the 'fins' of the rocket were horizontal loops of plastic which sat in soap-bubble mixture poured onto a tray in the launching stand. This way the rocket shot off the stand leaving behind it a trail of soap bubbles and the kids were able to do it over and over again without breaking it. Impressive.

Bee action around the hive entrance.
As I said, we have had before a game of 'tennis' (covered in 'Angry Birds' logos) where the rackets had a brittle plastic sheet across them instead of strings and the first attempt to hit the ball burst the sheet. We have also had a 'baseball bat' made out of spongy plastic and brittle tube, where the first strike at the ball broke the shaft. Frustrating and disappointing for the kids and just clever cynical marketing to the adults - they will never bother to take the goods back and complain because they were only a Euro or so.

We have been surprised this week by a sudden burst of busy activity in the bee hive, possibly as a result of the sun coming out again after a week or more of chilly, miserable breezes. All summer you have been able to go and look at the hive and you'd see plenty of comings and goings, but usually with only a dozen or so bees around the entrance  at once. This week I took a look at around 4 pm two days ago and saw a mini-swarm of over a hundred all coming, going and milling around in the sunshine. I called Liz over to see and then raced to grab the camera, but by the time I got back the sun had gone in and most of the bees had cleared out or gone back in, so my picture is not very impressive. The same buzz happened today. These will not be proper swarms as such - bees do not normally swarm this late in the year and, anyway, swarming behaviour is not like this. We are curious but not worried.

Stash of 15 eggs found in a hedge - someone's been busy.
And finally just a catch-up on our Pig #2 story from last week. This is almost a non-story. I took Mr Silverwood along with me on this morning's early-riser pig-wrangling adventure. We were off to catch Anne and Simon's second pig and haul her to the butcher's lairage and we'd gone mob-handed after last week's fun and games. We needn't have worried. This week's pig was a dream, caught into the trailer inside 23 minutes and delivered to Castlerea inside another 20. Job done. No drama. Mr S and I were back indoors by just gone 9 a.m. drinking coffee and waiting while the rest of the sleepy guests and hostess woke up. Only the teenagers failed to do so, and they got a rude awakening when Mum and Dad let the tent collapse on them. It could have been worse. There were evil plans being hatched to drop a dead pig's head in between the sleeping girls to give them a really traumatic rude awakening they'd never forget. You'll be pleased to know we are not actually THAT mean!.


Monday, 18 August 2014

Weighty Problems

The pigs under the beech trees
If you have read the link through to Anne's blog in the last post, you'll have seen their little double-take when their pigs stole a march on them weight wise. I have to admit to having had my own confusion around this when I went measure the girls at 4 months. We are using, as you will have read, the 'bust squared' method (see my 18th July post) and had estimated out our pigs at 33 kg-ish by 3 months, and were now showing as 50-55 kg at 4 months. In my head, I had that our 'Bible' (Liz Shankland's (Haynes) Pig Manual) was advising that porkers should be grown to 50-55 kg (about 5-6 months), baconers to 80-85 kg, so I was taken aback by my own measurements. Surely these little babies could not be 'ready' already, at only 4 months old?

Mapp still all baby-faced.
I started double checking and even fired off an enquiring e-mail to Margaret and Alfie, my training course 'experts' and to Therese and Michael in Kildare, where we originally bought the girls. Needless to say, it is all now sorted and I feel a bit foolish. The weights given in Liz Shankland and described as 'ready for butchery' are, of course, the dead, cleaned out carcass weights. My experts tell me that with Tamworths, I should be aiming for around 36 weeks and 90 kg live weight. They vary slightly from the 'bust-squared' figure by being slim of hip and not huge in the 'ham' department, so that you need to subtract around 6 kg from the 'bust-squared' figure. There's a relief.

Buff Orpington chicks under IR light, just because I liked
the colour of the picture!
Incidentally, I spotted that our beech trees seem to be doing very well for 'fruit' (nuts) this year to a degree where I wonder if this might be a 'mast year'. Beech mast was always, since Medieval times, a vital part in the farming of pigs, and the right to graze your pigs under the beech woods to eat the beech 'mast' was called pannage. I am amusing myself with the idea of me, the land owner, granting me the pig farmer, my own rights of pannage.

Taking his meds like a trooper.
We had a little minor hiccup in the Buff Orpington chicks department, when on Sunday morning one of them looked a bit off. He/she (I'll go with 'he' for now) was not running about like his fellows, and was standing with his head up and back, silently gaping as if weakly trying (but failing) to clear a tickle from his throat. Well, there is precious little you can do for these guys if they are going to 'check out' but we isolated him, kept him indoors under the heat lamp while his siblings were outside, dribbled small amounts of water and cod liver oil into his open beak and shut him up quiet to let him think about it.

11 healthy chicks enjoy the August sunshine. They are
well protected from the unseasonable chilly breeze.
Well, this time it had a happy 'ending' and he is now back running around, pecking food, drinking and squabbling with the best of them, to such a degree that we can not now tell him apart. (It was always easy - just look for the one gulping air!). One friend emailed suggesting 'Ribena' rather than water. We had no Ribena but we assumed this was just to get sugar into the patient, so we subbed in a little of Liz's elder flower cordial. Maybe it was that which 'cured what ailed him'!

Post and Rail fencing round the lawn.
In other news, fencing contractor, Paul showed up - we suspected he might just when we were about to have visitors! He is a really nice bloke and quite appreciates me helping him, so that gave me a lovely day of lining up runs of posts and persuading them into our variable soil using the 50 kg 'pile driver' on the back of his ancient tractor. Variable because in one place the post will sink easily into soft, pure Roscommon clay, straight as a die, descending 3-4 inches at each whack while at the next 'hole' it will stop dead at a big tree root or veer off and twist on a huge buried boulder. The former take seconds to put up, you can be half an hour trying to get some of the latter in.

We made good progress working through from lunch-time till 7 pm and getting all the posh post-and-rail posts in place, the tractor roaming around on our lawn on double rear tyres leaving only the lightest of foot prints. Tomorrow and Wednesday, however, we have the Silverwoods up and fencing equipment and children do not really mix, so Paul is off doing some other jobs and will return, we hope, on Thursday after we have rounded up and delivered (we also hope) Anne and Simon's #2 pig. Anne phoned me today; it seems that #1 has now been butchered (by them) having killed out at 85 kg or so. Her estimates of 125 kg live weight cannot have been that far out. 2 of them in my trailer at once might have been pushing the envelope a bit. It's all go!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

50% Success

Anne and Simon's pigs ready to go. 
An early start this morning has me nipping round our own livestock doing 'breakfasts' and releases so that I can couple up the trailer and hit the road by 07:45. I am headed for Mentor Anne's (and Simon's). Their 2 cross (traditional) breed pigs are ready to go on their final journey and we are providing the haulage vehicle, our little Fiat and trailer.

See also Anne's blog if you like, on http://anirishalternative.blogspot.ie/2014/08/whoops.html?showComment=1408039916196#c4573968651786064362 .

Temporary pig 'race' through the hedge
The pigs' paddock is in the corner between their drive and the lane on which they live, but has been, up to now 'behind' a hedge. Coming in, small and in their crate, the pigs could be hauled up the 100 yards of driveway, round the end of the hedge and back down the garden to their paddock. It was not really feasible to walk them back all that way, so Simon had hatched a plan to cut a hole through the hedge, lining it with pallets to make a mini 'race' leading to the trailer parked at the drive/lane junction. We both knew that the pigs might not want to go where the electric fence had been even though it was now turned off, and that they might not want to cross Simon's wooden 'clippetty clop' bridge over a ditch made of pallets.

50% success - one loaded. 
In fact neither of these hazards fazed the piggies at all, and we quickly got one loaded using the bribery of a bucket of meal and boiled spuds. However as a professional display of good pig wrangling, it was at that point it stopped being our finest hour. The 2nd pig hated the idea of getting cornered in the confined narrow space of the 'race' and was having none of it. Three quarters of an hour of trying included some near misses where Simon's feed bucket almost almost almost coaxed her in but then she'd spook and bolt, and 120+ kg of pig is not anything you can stop of it decides to barge you out of the way at a squealing gallop. I was tied up keeping pig #1 in the trailer, so Simon was just working up a good sweat on his own and the pig leading him a merry dance.

Narrow delivery lane. Topp reversing skills needed.
Time was running out - we needed to be at the butcher's for ten and anyway, Simon had a 'date' for 10 a.m. We decided to go with just the one pig, block the hole in the fence and head for town. After that decision what remained of the 'mission' went back to being plain sailing, an easy drive into town, a successful reverse into the narrow delivery lane and a problem free release of pig #1 to trot happily down the concrete into the butcher's lairage. A 50% success then and Anne will re-book pig #2 for a later date at which we may well enroll some extra man (or woman) power, but Anne tells me that pig #2 will now ONLY be fed from a bucket and will be coaxed down the race a few times as practice for her own big day, possibly next Thursday.

Left to right, Steak Lady, Mr SL and Liz.
For me, then, a whizz back home where we were to receive a visit from Steak Lady, Mr SL and 'Auntie Mary' (sister of Mr SL), down to have a look round the place and see all the new 'lines' (bees, pigs, goslings, this year's sheep) as well as to give Liz her Birthday presents (a little early!). We also fed them of course with many of the ingredients being home grown and the bread home made; they were delighted with that. They had arrived bearing various other gifts too, including some empty jam jars, so when they left we packed them off with their own vegetable crate.

Auntie Mary gets some 'tay' down her. 
They are currently in mid move, from Portmarnock down to near to the Silverwoods, with all the B+B students now 'evicted' to other homes and quite a lot of the furniture and 'stuff' already moved down to County Laois. The place they are buying has, allegedly, a rather fine and luxurious shed in the garden with heating, lighting and fancy worktops, so all the 'children' are full of curiosity as to the fate of that. Even more notable was that there was a fancy 'rabbitry' - a building also with heat and light, lined with rabbit hutches, but apparently the vendor is taking that one with him/her.

One of our honey bees on a leek flower
Meanwhile, no sooner had I posted bemoaning the lack of our bees using the flowers in our garden, than they suddenly are all over some leeks we left to go to seed over the winter. We have also seen them on hollyhocks and around the Kitchen Garden, so maybe the dearth of wild flowers is forcing them to look more locally.

That is it for this one. Catch up with you again soon.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Cat and Mouse, Wren and Butterfly

Liz and Sparks do 'beekeeper'
Monday afternoon sees us playing host to 'Sparks', Liz's brother, who is down for an overnight visit. He's on his own this time and is looking forward to a chance to have a good look round the place, relax, consume some of Liz's lovely food and have a good long heart-to-heart into the evening as he's staying the night. He is, as the Chinese (allegedly) say, "living in interesting times" at the moment and has some key decisions to make but distracted or not he is always welcome here; he pretty much built the place, after all (see all the posts from the first quarter of 2012).

So he arrives, grabs a quick coffee and then enjoys a tour of the latest livestock, taking in the pigs, geese and goslings, sheep and the baby Buff Orpington chicks. His afternoon coincides with our weekly bee-keeping tasks, and when offered the chance to suit up in the bee keeping garb and go assist Liz, he jumps at the chance, never having done anything like this before. The job today is to open the hive for an inspection and then, if the existing top 'super' is a buzz of activity, to stack a 2nd super on top, with the queen excluder board underneath it. Typical of Sparks, though, he doesn't just want to parrot this job and do what he's told, he is full of questions and interest, and we talk about the bee keeping for ages, finding him books to dip into and the Association magazine. Once Liz and I get going on that subject, it is difficult to stop us.

Well, the task went to plan and the new super is on, so that can now start filling with drawn honeycomb and hopefully some honey, but it is mid August by now and the big honey "flows" (that is how bee keepers refer to the busy periods of bees bringing nectar back to the hive from the peak flowerings of, for example, fruit trees, dandelions, clover, bramble etc) have almost finished. When I am doing my bumble bee surveys, I often add notes in the 'margin' telling which flowers I have seen my sightings foraging on, and lately these have noted that bramble is almost over and the bees are limited to knapweed, thistles and clover in the verges, with lavatera and lavender in gardens. The honey bees must be seeing the same dearth of flowers so that if you have not made a honey harvest by about now, then you are unlikely to get one. With getting our Nuc' (colony) only in late June, we've missed the boat a bit this year and will have to wait till autumn 2015 before we see any amount of honey

1st class travel arrangements for the chicks -
an old washed out paint bucket!
Other than that the place chugs along in its normal routines. We had one tiny hiccup when one of the 'Baker's Dozen' Buff Orpington chickens dies on us overnight. I have a sad little corpse to retrieve in the morning. We have, as ever, no idea why. There are almost never any symptoms These things just happen and they usually happen very fast, one minute the chick is a healthy and active as the rest, the next near-death or dead. We assume it is some kind of 'runt' development, thing, the weakling chick that would never have made it in the 'wild'? Anyway, we are down to a real Dozen now and , of course, all these look healthy and happy... but who knows?

Purple loose-strife in the pond.
One of our lambs is also concerning us in a small way; it is the ewe and she has gone lame, walking with a slight limp at the back end and seemingly a bit stiff when she gets up from the ground. Our sheep-man Kenny, has promised to turn up soon (!) to attach these ear tags to the sheep, so we will get him to invert the lady while he has a grip on her and he can cast his expert eye over her feet. She may have just taken a 'puck' from one of the boys (this is how they describe a 'clout' or a 'whack' here) and is bruised, but we know that sheep famously spend 23 hours of each day trying to commit suicide, so we had best get Kenny to check for foot root or other lameness issues.

Water mint. Sorry about the rubbish
picture. I was leaning out over the
pond, worried I'd drop the camera
in the drink!
I had a nice surprise this morning, a sight that I have never seen before (all be it not very 'nice' for the 'mouse' party) - a fluttering outside the kitchen door caught my eye while I was making coffee and turned out to be a tiny wren playing 'cat and mouse' with a big peacock butterfly. The wren was not much bigger than the butterfly, so the two looked at first like a pair of butterflies mating, but closer inspection showed that the wren had damaged the butterfly but not stopped it flapping. The wren had to peck and tweak at it for several more seconds before she had it subdued enough to grab the insect's head and fly off to some secret place, presumably to consume the prize. As I said, not a lot of fun for the butterfly, but a wren has to eat too and it was a charming sight.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Baker's Dozen

3 trays of Hubbard meat.
Well, that was 'it' for the Hubbard chickens. This is another post where those readers of a squeamish disposition, who don't want any detail on where their meat comes from, might like to look away; click down a few paragraphs. The remaining ladies got to Day 101, at which point they are no longer converting our expensive feed into body weight at a decent rate and, anyway, are getting too big to be useful as whole roast oven-ready birds, so they needed converting into frozen meat. They are over 3 kg at this stage (oven ready or 'cleaned' weight) and we can only really eat a thigh or wing or two at a sitting.

The Buff chicks enjoy some Roscommon sunshine.
I know (or 'know' through Facebook and the internet) quite a few small holders by now and have yet to find one who 'enjoys' killing the stock. I can do it and I hope I am doing the task as cleanly, as painlessly fast, and with as much respect as I can manage, but I absolutely hate the job. I dread the day as it approaches, I get through it as best as I can, and I am enormously relieved when it is all over.

12 of the 13 in the sunshine.
If you are curious as to the mechanics of this, I do it by catching the bird, cuddling her reassuringly as I carry her to my little private 'hole in the hedge' (I prefer to kill birds out of sight of any other birds), then take her by the legs so that she hangs head-down (and goes all quiet and relaxed), then take her head in my other hand, top of the head in my palm, thumb under her chin, then pull down and twist my wrist, breaking the neck at the 'atlas' bone. There is a brief 'explosion' of the wings flapping but you can see that the head is flopping around un-attached, maybe some small amount of blood from the beak and nostrils, and then it is all over. I hang the bird by its feet to bleed out. I always go back and check a few minutes later to make sure it really is dead (I poke the closed eyes to check for no reaction and make sure the legs and feet are starting to chill). Sorry if you didn't want to read this.

The new sheep trying a bit of 'picturesque'
Sometimes it works as smoothly as this and is dead easy, sometimes not so easy. In young, silly, naive birds who gather round your feet as you are just a source of food, it is simplicity itself, and their necks are easy to break. In 101 day old toughies, who have seen their siblings vanish, and whose necks are as tough as old boots. it can be more problematic. Ah well. the dead birds are hung for a while to cool down and then plucked, gutted and jointed. I am relieved that this part is all over for another year and I am not even sure we are doing 'meat birds' next year; Mentor Anne was a bit concerned at the huge size achieved by this year's birds and has rather lost the love for the Hubbard as a variety.

Red, white and 'golden' onions drying in the car port.
Meanwhile, our 'Baker's Dozen' of Buff Orpington chicks are thriving as you can see from the pics above. Yesterday and today, with the weather being sunny and warm (all be it with the occasionally shower) we have risked letting them feel the sun on their backs and feel the herbage and genuine ground under their feet in the rabbit run in the yard. They are still on a mix of finely mashed hard-boiled egg (incl shell) and chick crumb for now and they love picking the bits of egg out of the mix, but we need to wean them off the egg and get them onto chick crumb. We rescued them from the run last night as it seemed a bit chilly, but left the IR lamp turned off as their crate is in the spare room, the warmest room in the house. We were planning tonight they stay outside, in the rabbit run 'bedroom' with the door closed off with a chunk of plywood and a load of hay to bed down on. It is August, after all and the temperatures, even outside, were due to stay above 8 degrees, in their huddle in the draught-free house they would be fine. In a late night conversation with Mentor Anne, however, we changed our minds. Anne advised that they are far too young yet for this kind of adventure and might chill down and die from hypothermia; wait till they are at least 3 weeks old and have some secondary feathers (rather than just chick fluff), she says, so they were rescued again. Better safe than sorry. This morning they are fine and will go back out into the sunshine as soon as it warms up. Some indoor nights, outdoor days for these guys for now.

Mackerel with Gooseberry sauce
Back in Kent at this time of year, we used to eagerly await the near-neighbour (Eric, a keen fisherman) starting his mackerel season, and he would bring us fish less than 24 hours old (the only way to do mackerel!). He would swear by the good timing of the mackerel and the gooseberries coming ready at once. Surely no coincidence. Imagine our horror then, when, with a tub of gooseberries from our bushes, we headed for the usually excellent fish van and our belov├ęd fish lady "John Dorey's" to try to buy mackerel only to be told that mackerel is out of season. Pardon? No way! Is this some kind of local thing with the Atlantic Mackerel being out of kilter with the Roscommon gooseberries? We don't know. We adjourned to the local supermarket (where we have been badly disappointed in the past by flabby, tasteless mackerel) where the fishmonger was happy to tell us that the fish was really good at the moment, so we bought a couple (and wished we had bought 4!) and enjoyed them immensely with our sharp, fruity sauce. Good eating!

Friday, 8 August 2014

Underfed?

Snout in the trough....
I was getting a bit concerned there for a while. I am feeding my pigs with what seemed like a decent amount of food, based on the "by sight" principle of "do they hoover it all up in 20 minutes?" If it's all gone then you may not be feeding enough, if they leave some then you are feeding too much. Well, these young ladies seemed to be hoovering it up in about 15 minutes and are always ready (often squealing their desire!) for each meal. I was feeding by the 1 litre yogurt tub, one each for breakfast, one split between them for lunch and one each at supper. At each meal there is also fruit, so for example an apple and a tomato chopped up between them.

A contented Tamworth almost 4 months old?
There was nothing for it - I needed to refer to 'The Bible', Liz Shankland's (Haynes) Pig Manual. Liz S advises that you feed pig nuts by weight according to age, basically at 0.1 kg per pig per day per week of age, so that a 16 week old pig should be on 1.6 kg of nuts PLUS any fruit or veg you can add to that. She does not advise substituting fruit and veg for the nuts and hoping that your pig will put on weight based on a bucket full of knackered old cabbage and potato peelings.

I love the ginger bristles on these ladies, glowing in the sun
I needed to check the weight of food I am feeding, so a quick experiment with the yogurt pots told me that a pot is equivalent to 850 g. On that basis, Mapp and Lucia's 2 and a half tubs per day is over 2 kg of nuts! I am over feeding, if anything and the girls squealing for more are just lying (telling me porky pies?). In fact, Liz Shankland has pork animals (rather than 'baconers') on the 1.6 kg only UNTIL they are about 20 weeks old - after that you actually cut down to 1.4 kg to avoid the pig laying down that thick layer of fat all round. I am going to have to sneak the volume down a bit without Mapp and Lucia raising a written complaint to the Management!

13 healthy babies
Did I ever give you a final score on the Buff Orpington babies?  13 chicks was how we did; all now in the brooder box under Infra Red (though for the picture, I carried them to the sunlit window so that they could admire the front lawn and you could see them in the natural light). When I say 'final' score, I refer only to the hatch, we expect about half of these chicks to turn out to be roosters who will not be added to the flock, but the hens are very much part of our future as small holders, all being well.

In an earlier post, I was possibly a bit disparaging about the "lacks-a-daisical" time keeping of Kenny, our sheep man. I think it would be safe to include our "fincing" man, Paul in that category too. We have done a lot of business with Paul and we have long ago learned not to hang about waiting on his returning calls, coming up with quoted prices, or showing up to erect fencing when he says. When he arranged to have the woodwork for the post and rail fence round the front lawn delivered "on Monday" we fully expected it to arrive on the Thursday, and when he left us on that day saying he'd be "back next week" (now this week) to put the fences up, we both mentally decided to believe that when we saw him arrive with tractor, fencing wire, rammer, monkey strainer and all his other gear.

The geese and goslings race home to supper,
from orchard to their house
In fact, it has not been a problem, because a) time is a commodity of which we have plenty here and b) it has given us a chance to take advantage of a cheap offer in the Irish DIY chain 'Woodie's' for some 'Forest Green' fence paint. We have been able to unpack the rails and posts, dry them in the sunshine, and larrup a good old layer of this paint onto them prior to putting the fence up. Painting downwards onto fence rails when they are all in one place is always easier than working your way along 54 m of fence painting the bottoms of rails 'upwards'. If some of the rails have to be cut, we can always nip round and paint the grain ends after the event.

There are not many apples in our orchard this year but
this Bramley cooker is looking good so far.
What else is there tonight? Young 'Pirate' is now well settled and getting quite cheeky with his waiting out front of the house and sometimes yowling for attention. He can hear us when we retire to the terrace furniture for a coffee and a chat and will come round and jump up on the table, un-bothered by the objecting shouts of the dogs indoors. He then finds a lap and gets himself comfortable; the only problem being that he is one of those cats who 'knead' you with their front paws while purring, so your belly gets a bit lacerated by those claws through the thin summer clothing. That's about it for this one.