Monday, 29 September 2008

Drastic action.

Tonight there was trouble.

Not only were the Bigees making it difficult for the girls to enter the Cube, this time there was squawking (how do you spell that word) going on, and the Littlees were being chased out.

So, DH and I got out the Eglu, put it in the run, scooped up the Bigees and shut them in it.

Tomorrow, if there is any sign of the Bigees not letting the Littlees in, we'll repeat it. And if it continues, we'll simply move the Bigees into it every night before the trouble starts.

I'll need to get up early to let the Bigees out, and I'll have to keep the Eglu door shut during the day as I don't want to risk the Littlees using it.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Milly's new toy?

The Littlees stopped cheeping a few weeks ago, and startedmaking a really bizarre sound, a bit like the Raptors made in the film, Jurassic Park. A few days ago they had both developed very distinguished screeches, so that we could easily tell from insude the house who was making the noise.

Today I went out, shiting the girls in the run first. I came back a couple of hours later and let them out; three ran out into freedom, Milly stayed in the Run. I left her to it, but after a couple of seconds she was screeching as if in a panic. I rushed out, expecting to find a fox - nothing. She stopped. I went in, she started, I went out, no fox. I told her off for crying "fox" too often.

When I was back in the house, she started again. It went on for some time, and then suddenly in the middle of a sqwark he voice changed from a screech to a bok. She seemed to have scared herself, as she then continued to bok furiously, interspersed with mini crows, a bit like the egg laying announcement.

And it went on. And on. And on. She was like a kid with a new toy.

I had to mow the grass, and the noise of the lawnmower stopped her noise. I'm not sorry. It's lovely (although a little sad) to hear her new voice, but you can have too much of a good thing, can't you?

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Oh! Oh! Oh!

So. Last night we got back very late, and went straight outside to check whether the poor Littlees had been forced to roost on the perches in the run. My torchlight didn't pick up any birds, so I shone it into the Cube. I could see Delilah and Scarlett, sitting in the doorway as usual, but I couldn't see Jasmine or Milly.

I went round and opened up the egg port door, and there they were - sitting in the nest box.

Tonight, I went out to check the status at about 8.30pm. No lost chickens, so I shone my torch into the Cube...and I nearly dropped it in shock.

Not only were Jasmine and Milly in the Cube.... not only were they actually on the roosting bars instead of the nest box..... but they were the ones sitting at the front with their heads poking out of the door.

I snapped off the torch and rushed away in case I disturbed them and upset things.

Oooh! Is this just a fluke, or is it a good sign??

Watch this space!

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Grumpy old women

I tried.

Two nights ago, same old hassle with the Bigees not letting the Littlees in. So, I went and sorted it out, and then later tried moving the Littlees manually onto the roosting bars. It was not succesful. Jasmine didn't like it, and ran back to the nest area.

Last night it was pitch black, and the Littlees gave up and tried roosting on a perch outside. I went out to hoik the Bigees out, but they were very sleepy and didn't want to move AT ALL;it was a bit undignified.

Tonight I thought maybe I was overcomplicating things and decided I'd use the torch method if the Littlees got stuck outside. I was busy looking at embellishments for wedding invitations (thank you, Ebay!), so my DH went out with the torch. But he didn't use it, and we had another undignified ejection.

I'll try the torch tomorrow (and the next night if necessary), and if it doesn't work then I will get the Eglu out and put the Bigees in that at night for a few nights.


Sunday, 21 September 2008

Cranky ladies

For goodness sake!

Last night Delilah and Scarlett went to bed first, and then refused entry to Jasmine and Milly. Each time one of the poor Littlees waited outside the door, one of the Bigees gave them a big **peck** on the back. The Littlees tried and tried, without success.

Then Delilah got up, came downstairs and started to eat. Jasmine seized the opportunity and managed to get in to the Cube. Milly was about to make an attempt when there was a sqwark from the Cube, and Jasmine came down the ramp at speed.

Delilah marched upstairs, and we were back to square one.

We decided to intercede at this point. DH opened the eggport door, and shooshed the Biggees out of the Cube and into the Run. Jamine and Milly ran straight up the ramp, and the Bigees followed a few moments later.

When I checked later with atorch they were all in their usual places.

Tonights the last night. If they all go in, and the Littlees are still in the nestbox, I'm going to manually transplant them on to the roosting bars. If the Bigees go in and refuse to let the Littlees in, then I'm getting the Eglu back out and the Bigees will find themselves being put to bed in there, with the door shut, until the Littlees feel more comfortable in the Cube.

Friday, 19 September 2008

A pressing matter

Yesterday our new apple crusher arrived, and so we set about processing our own apples for the first time this year.

We had many kilos of two varieties. The third tree's apples are still not ready, and my eyes water at the memory of my having to sample it. We found we still had to at least halve the apples before crushing them, but it was OK. Having washed, cut and milled the 10 or 11 kilos, we were ready to move on to pressing.

In previous years we've used my multifunction Bosch food machine thingy. I have the fruit press attachment for it (along with numerous other useful attachments, most of which I have had to import from Germany or the US, as the machine is no longer sold in the UK.) We even used it last year, when we processed 120Kg of apples. This year we decided to dig out DH's ancient wine press to use.

It was easy to use, and quicker than the electric pulper, but it didn't do a good job of extracting the juice. We ran the pressed pulp through the Bosch, and got loads more out so we decided to stick with the Bosch.

And part way through the second 10 kilos, it packed up. Horrible smell, worse sound. Likely the motor or the gearing, both of which are uneconomical to replace. We thought about buying a new base from Germany, which was more cost effective than buying the spare parts from Bosch in England. Maybe. Not sure it's really worth it...apart from the numerous attachments I have in various cupboards.

So we went back to the wine press, as I'd already washed and cut the third ten-kilos of apples.

Later, we checked out the Boswch again, and it seems that it might be OK. I'll see what it's like next time I need to use it (which will be next time I make butter). We decided that it's probably pushing our luck trying to use it for apple processing again, so we decided to invest in a proper, decent sized, apple press.

Once again, came up trumps. We found them yesterday when we needed to get some bits and pieces (that failed to turn up from another supplier). Although AoB do Next Day Delivery, we want to finish the apples over the weekend if possible, so we drove over there again today to collect the press.

It's all been washed and sterilised; DH is up a ladder collecting a few more crates of apples; and we'll crack on with it tomorrow.

Open Plan

Yesterday I decided to remove the partition that separates the nest box from the roosting bars.

The Littlees went to bed, followed later by the Bigees. I presume the Bigees didn't really liike the new open plan arrangement as they came down the steps again whinging loudly. After a few minutes, the Littlees also got up and came downstairs.

I ignored them. When I checked later, everyone seemed to have gone to bed. Much later, I took a torch and had a peep inside and saw the Littlees were cuddled up in the nesting area, and the Bigees were spread out over the roosting bars. I mean really spread out. "This is MY space" spread out.

This morning there were no cuts or anything, so I assume everything was OK. I'll leave the partition out for the next few days and see what happens. Next step will be to try manually transplanting again, which I'm hoping will be more successfull as they are all in sight of each other anyway. I'm also going to make sure it is pitch black when I do it. I thought it was dark last time, but it might not have been dead of night.

We'll see.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Same Old, Same Old

The "bullying" continues. Mostly it happens when a Littlee crosses Delilah's path, but we have seen her seek out the Littlees for a spot of bullying on several occasions. There is only a bit of pecking going on - that we see, anyway - but the chasing away is not pleasant.

I already have three feeders in the Run and now, when I put extra stuff out in the Run for them - pellet porridge when it's cold, for example, I use three bowls. Scarlett and Delilah can only man(hen?) two bowls at once, so it ensures the Littlees get their share, even if they are being moved on from bowl to bowl. I'm used to this sort of behaviour; I had horses, and horses do it all the time with piles of hay, and that's where I learned the "one extra" trick.

The Littlees are continuing to sleep in the Nestbox area. I tried moving them in the dark into the roosting area, but Scarlett attacked Jasmine immediately, so I had to abandon it. I've been reluctant to force anything, as I don't want to add to the pressure. However, I do wonder whether the separate sleeping is re-enforcing the difference and therefore contributing to the problem. I think I'll give them until the weekend, and then maybe try blocking up the nextbox at night. Or I could remove the divider I suppose.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Oven-ready chicken

Scarlett has had a scatty botty for a few days, but it's been too cold to risk bathing her. This morning the weather forecast was reasonable, so I filled my sink with lukewarm water, and went to collect her. Scarlett seems to quite like being bathed, and she is quite happy to stand and be hairdryed, so I wasn't expecting any problems.

As I washed her bottom, I found a big bald patch underneath a chickeny equivalent to a combover. When I got her out of the bath and investgated further, I found she was "oven ready" in many places.

Poor little love.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

At last!

After the Littlees had put themselves to bed in the Cube last night, we had a bit of a soap opera from the Bigees. They went to bed, then came down bokking furiously, Then they went up, and then they came down and went out into the garden.

Then Milly came down, Then the Bigees started bokking at her. She went back up the ladder. The Bigees tried again.

Eventually, everyone was in bed.

This morning, I found poo in the nest box, so at least one of the Littlees decided to sleep there. I don't mind that, I can try and persuade them out of it later. The great news is that we can remove the Eglu from the run.

So in the pouring rain this morning, that's what I did. It's sitting on my terrace at the moment, waiting to be pressure washed.

The Run needs rearranging now to make better use of the space, but I've decided to make one change at a time, and removing the Eglu was today's change. I did rake up the Ausbiose, put down some Stalosan, and put the Aubiose back down, but that's really housekeeping rather than a major change. I hope.

Delilah still being horrible to the LIttlees, but she hasn't been pecking them (that I have seen), so that's progress too. Right?

Monday, 8 September 2008

Clever Girls!

I'm so excited!

Just popped out to see what the Girls were doing. They've been very vocal for the last couple of hours, mainly because we have a load of green parakeets roosting in our garden.

The Bigees came running over to see what was going on, the Littlees didn't. I thought they might have gone to bed, so I opened the egg port on the Eglu to find..nothing. It was empty. Then I peeped through the ventilation slot on the Cube....and they were in there!! CLever girls!

Not sure if they'll stay in when the Bigees go to bed, but what a result anyway! Only two nights of being moved in there after dark, and they know what to do.

Clever, clever, clever girls!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Morning After

Wide awake at 5am - me, I mean - waiting to hear what was going on in the Cube. I'm fortunate that my Walk in Run means that I can happily leave the pop hole on the Cube open, so the Girls can get themselves up whenever they want. Otherwise, I would have had to get up then and go and pull the Littlees out before they all woke up, as if there was trouble, the Littlees wouldn't be able to get away.

At 6.30, I heard them bouncing down the ladder, and then they were all rather vocal. I got up and went to see what was what.

There was no blood, but the Littlees were keeping away from the Bigees. I watched for a couple of minutes, and saw that wherever the Bigees went, the Littlees scuttled away. So, I hoiked Milly over onto her side of the Run. Jasmine wouldn't come close enough to be hoiked, and, thanks to my fencing across the middle, I had to walk out of the run, down the side, and in the other end. Honestly, it's not much fun when it's that early on a Sunday morning and it's pouring with rain.

I then went back to bed for a couple of hours, before getting up properly and letting them out to free range.

It seems to have gone well, so we'll carry on like this - manually moving the Littlees when it's dark - until it's time to take the next step. And of course I'm secretly hoping that they'll get the idea, and put themselves to bed in the Cube anyway. We'll see.

Cider Making

We have 3 very old, very productive apple trees in the garden. When we first moved in, we arranged for a tree surgeon to come and prune them for us, but unfortunately we didn't really know what he should be doing, and he didn't do a very good job. We ended up with few reachable branches, and lots of fruit that even with a ladder and a huge pole cannot be reached.

We are besieged each year by a flock of green parakeets, plus starlings, pigeons, and Cyril the Squirrel. The pests munch part of an apple, and then it rots on the tree, falling down onto our grass eventually. Every day I pick up a small tubtrug of rotten half eaten apples.

In spite of this, for the last two years we've made our own cider. Last year, we processed about 120Kilos of apples, and it was hard work on my hands. We wash and cut the apples, then put them in a bucket and use a blade to cut them; then we pass them through the fruit press attachment on my food processor.

The cider last year was more successful than the previous year, thanks to us investing in a book. However, the quality was still a bit variable, so this year I decided to book us onto a one day cider making course. I picked the September course, as I estimated that would be when our apples would be ripe.

The course was really useful. We'd been using the right technique, but we learned some really great tips, and how to measure and control the process. We also used a proper apple mill, which was fantastic, and we came home determined to buy one second hand. No chance. We did, however, invest in a hand mill, which we're hoping will make the apple preparation process significantly easier than in previous years. We're waiting for it to arrive, and I'm getting impatient.

I also invested in a small pasteuriser, so I can preserve apple juice for later consumption. I normally use a jam pan (or asparagus steamer) to do my pasteurising, but this is very limiting in terms of the size of bottle or jar that can be used. The proper pasteuriser will mean I can pasteurise large bottles of stuff, so it will be great for next year's cordials as well.

I'm sure I'll be writing more about this once the Mill has arrived and we've started processing.

FOr ther l

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Tonight's the Night?

We've planned for Tonight to be The Night we put the Girls together. I'm nervous.

We've been out all day. I left the Girls shut in their respective halves of the Run. As well as a full Grub of pellets, lenty of grit and oyster shell, and water, each half had a whole iceberg lettuce, half a white cabbage, two corn cobs, and a bowl of pellet porridge fortified with yoghurt and Poultry Spice.

We got home at about 6.30, to find Jasmine was in with the Bigees.

We let them out for a bit of a range, and while they did so we took down one row of the dividing fencing, in anticipation of tonight. The idea is that if it goes wrong and the Littlees need to get away, the middle fence will be low enough for them to get over relatively easily, whilst being a bit big for the Bigees (who are much heavier) to manage.

I went out at 7.30 to find they had all put themselves to bed, and in the correct places. Jasmine's sojourn with the Bigees was presumably a bit of an accident then.

Anyway, it's dark dark dark now. In about 15 mins we'll go and transfer the Littlees into the Bigees bedroom for the night.

Fingers crossed.

Well, we've done The Deed. They are all in together.

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

Weighing in (upd 10Sep)

We're only weighing Milly at the moment. She's still very small compared to the others, and she gets picked on the most.

Milly was 20 weeks old on Fri 29 Aug
Wed 10th Sept: Milly 1260g (+150g, =15%); Jasmine 1365g
Wed 3rd Sept: Milly 1106g (+100g, =10%)
Wed 27 Aug: Milly 1006g (+52g, =5%)

I'll have to weigh Jasmine at some point, just so I can compare the two of them. Maybe next week.

Previous weigh-ins:
Tue 22 July: Milly 559g; Jasmine 810g
Tue 29 July: Milly 620g (+61g=+11% on prev week); Jasmine 892g (+82g =10%)
Tue 05 Aug: Milly 715g (+95g=+15% on prev week); Jasmine 987g (+95g = 11%)
Tue 12 Aug: Milly 825g (+110g=+15%); Jasmine 1084g (+97g = 10%)
Tue 19 Aug: Milly 954g (+129g=+16%);Jasmine 1145g* (+61g=+6%)

Note: Milly was 18.5 and Jasmine 19.5 weeks old on the 19th August

All I Need to Know In Life I Learned From My Chickens

This was posted on the Omlet forum some time ago, and I know it's been doing the rounds within the chicken keeping communities. Thought i'd share it here.

All I Need To Know In Life I Learned From My Chickens
by Michaele Oleson

Wake up early, stay busy
Rest when you need to, but always stay alert
Visit your favourite places every day
Scratch out a living
Routine is good Plump is good

Don't ponder your purpose in life - your brain is too small
Accept the pecking order and know your enemies
Weed your garden

Look after your children
- Sit on them if necessary-
Take them for walks, show them the little things and talk constantly
Make a nice nest - share it with friends
Brag on your accomplishments
Protect your nest egg

Test your wings once
in a while
Squawk when necessary
As you age, demand respect
Leave a little something for those who care about you

Chase butterflies

Blog Merging

I've decided it's too confusing keeping two Blogs.

I had one just for my hens, and another for other bits and pieces. I've decided to merge them, but I've only moved the stuff from this month (al three days) from my general blog into here.

I might rename the blog here, but I guess I'll keep the URL the same.

Corn on the Cob

This year we grew Corn on the Cob for the first time. My DH loves to grow veggies, but there are very few that he actually eats. Corn isn't one of them, so I get them all to myself.

The Corn has been wonderful! Following a tip from Bob Flowerdew (Gardeners' Question Time) I tried eating some raw. It was delicious! You can only do this within a few minutes of picking the cob, because the sugar starts turning to starch immediately. After about twenty minutes, it's still edible raw, but not so great.

I can't understand why anyone would boil them, it does nothing for the flavour and texture. I always grill my Corn. Years ago I started off by barbecuing them but, even with a gas bbq, it became a bit of a faff to get the bbq out every time I wanted corn cobs. Then I read somewhere - Delia's Summer Collection I expect - that you can do a very passable job with a really hot grill.

The grill is put on at full heat 10 to 15 mins before you want to cook the cobs. Move the rack so that the cobs will be just a whisker or two away from the heat. Brush the corn with oil (I pour oil onto a piece of kitchen towel, and then use this on the cobs. Then grill until brown or slighlt blackened. Turn slightly. Grill. Turn, grill. Until all sides are browned or slightly blackened.

I often eat them just like that. Sometimes I put on a tiny bit of butter. Yum!

After several weeks of corn feasts, we harvested the last few cobs two days ago. I've now eaten all the reasonably sized ones, and I have a few half-ripe ones which I'm giving to the chickens. They go mad for corn cobs.

DH has already dug the old plants out of the bed, it looks really empty there now.

Definitely a crop to continue next year.

Chicken Gardening

Chickens make excellent gardeners.

True, they tend to prune the flowers - sometimes to extinction - but they clear beds brilliantly. I love watching them do that chicken salsa, as they use their feet to clear debris and look for tasty morsels.

My girls have recently had access to or Pampas grass bed, and they have done a wonderful job of clearing the surrounding bed of weeds, dead plants etc.

The only downside is that when they clear it, they tend to clear it on to the grass. Yesterday I raked up 5 tub trugs worth of dead stuff they had removed: plants, dead grass, and leaves. Obviously this wasn't just from the Pampas bed, it was from the entire chicken "paddock".

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Getting married!

My one and only lovely stepdaughter, "C", is getting married.

I'm really happy for her. Her partner is a great guy; when I first met him and I was telling my close friends about him, I said "he's practically perfect", and so I would refer to him as "Mary Poppins".

There's lots more I'd like to write, but I don't want to invade their privacy by talking about it all on my blog here, so I'll stick to writing about the bits which relate more directly to me.

Monday, 1 September 2008

Solar water heating: the beginning

The hallway is full of stuff. But not as full as I had expected. I thought the hall would be full of panels, tubes, boxes.

After a few months investigations into solar energy, and considering the ins- and outs- of the various options, Darling Husband (DH) recently placed an order for the necessary equipment to use solar power to heat our water.

It was a few years ago that DH first expressed interest in doing something. We were having a second storey put on our kitchen extension, and we were wondering whether to do solar panels at the same time. We decided to wait and see whether the Government would get its act together, and time passed.

We had come back to the idea several times in the intervening years. Should we heat water? Or should we go the whole hog and generate electricity, supplying the extra back to the Grid? What was available? What was the cost? Would it work?

Then we had a period of uncertainty where we were seriously thinking about moving house. We spent money having a fence put up, as it was cheaper than moving. Then I concentrated on my chickens. Then we thought again about moving, getting as far as deciding which area of the country we wanted to move to, getting our house valued, and then visiting the new area to see exactly which villages we would consider.

Anyway, life moved on, things happened, and we decided we weren't going to move after all. So solar was back on the agenda. DH did a lot of detailed research and decided that we would go for the water heating option (rather than the full generation option). And to cut a not very long story even shorter, he ordered the stuff we needed a week or so ago.

I have to confess here that, up to this point, I've left the decisions to DH. Now it's actually going to happen though, I want to make sure I understand it all.

The new hot water tank, which is a necessary part of the process as it has coils in to heat the water by solar and to heat it up by gas central heating, is taller and narrower than I was expecting. I was adamant that we had to have a tank that had at least the same capacity as our existing tank, so this is what we've ended up with. This new tank will have the pipes all on the same side, which we hadn't really been expecting, so we could have had a shorter fatter tank. Never mind, it's here now.

We installed a water softener a couple of years ago, and I'm expecting that the new tank will be much more efficient than the old one, even without the solar heating. The old one is about 11 years old, and for 9 of those years we had that very hard water typical of our part of the country. I don't know if I'm right, but I would expect that the old tank to have a thick inner coating of limescale build up, much worse than the washing machine in the Calgon ad.

I wonder what we'll do with the old tank? Will we cut it open so I can see inside?

On a practical note, we'll have to reorganise the airing cupboard completely to accomodate the new tank, because I don't just use the shelves for spare bedding and towels, I also have a shelf in there which I use for proving dough, and I wonder how we'll fit that in. Maybe at the side? Mind you,the new tnk has a smaller girth, so we might be able to put shelves in front of it, which we can't currently do.

The airing cupboard walls are the only walls we haven't had replastered (we renovated this house from foundation to roof), and I know the plaster in ther is shot to pieces. Taking the old tank out will give us an opportunity to fix that too.

Apparently, fitting the tank is the first task. That's probably not going to happen for a little while, as DH just happens to have a lot of work on for the next couple of weeks. I have a cousin who is a CORGI registered plumber, I was going to ask him to come and service my central heating boiler so I might see how much he would charge to fit the new tank.