Saturday, 30 January 2010

Sasso Pics

Here are some Pics of the Sassos. It was freezing this morning, so I didn't take as much time as I should have done in setting up the shots.

Firstly, the gorgeous Roo

Then Mrs Roo

And finally, Mrs Roo-too

I will take my camera next time its a clear day and see if I can get some group shots, and some shots at a better angle.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Sasso is a french breed, apparently much prized for the quality and flavour of the meat.   

You may remember that last year we decided to try raising our own chickens for the table.  We started by buying in 6 week old chicks, the plan being to give them a good free range life until they got the chop at about 18 or so weeks.   We ended up with Ross Cobbs, which are fast growing birds, designed to be given the chop at about 10 weeks.     It was an interesting experience, but it wasn't really the "Good Life" we had envisaged.  The birds grew very quickly, and weren't really interested in rooking around and exploring.  By the time we started to dispatch them (at 18 weeks) they were enormous.   So, we decided we'd try again, but we'd go for a traditional breed and raise the birds naturally.  The plan was to get a trio of Dorkings,   let them breed, then we'd keep the girls and eat the boys.

Good plan, but a long term one. We wouldn't be eating chicken again until the offspring of the birds reached 26 weeks, so it would be at least 6 months from when we got them, probably longer as it was late in the year and fertility was likely to be low.

We went ahead and got the Dorkings,  and decided to get some day old Sasso chicks to raise for the table in the meantime.  There is a lovely lady who specialises in Sassos (on a large scale) , and delivers to this area.   I tried her several times, but her hens had all gone broody and consequently she had no chicks, nor any fertile eggs.  Her website is here  and she has some great info on the breed.

On Ebay, I found a chap selling Sasso eggs, so I bought some (and some Ixworth eggs as well,  thought we'd try those for the table too), and we hatched our own.  We ended up with 2 Ixworth chicks and 3 Sassos.  They were all brought up together, but were completely different in personality.  The Ixworths were thugs - all the way back to when they hatched - and the Sassos were the softest, friendliest chickens I'd ever encountered. One of the Sassos , Roo, spent a lot of time on my shoulder.

When we moved the 5 of them to the allotment,  they continued as before.  The 2 Ixys turned out to be boys, and continued to be thugs;   the Sassos turned out to be 2 girls and a boy,  and continued to eat out of our hands, were happy to be picked up etc.  Roo, the boy, turned into an absolutely stunning cockerel,  and the girls turned into really pretty little hens.     I emailed the egg seller to tell comment how friendly they were, and he wrote back and said his are all like that too.

So, because they were such lovely birds, we decided we'd breed from Roo and his girls.   The Ixys, who by this time kept trying to fight with Roo, met their original planned fate.

There is more than one strain of Sasso, and the ones we have aren't quite the same (but they are similar) to the ones on the Smart Chicks website. 

It's my turn to do the Allotment birds tomorrow, so I'll take my camera and see if I can get some pics.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Our first Sasso egg!


One of the Sasso Ladies has started to lay!  

DH brought the egg home, so we'll open it tomorrow and see whether it's fertile or not.

New blog layout

I really liked the new layout of HardupHester's blog, and so I followed the link to the place where she got it, and saw that the artist concerned had posted lots of tutorials on how to create and adapt backgrounds.  So I've had a go (as you may have noticed).

I haven't finished yet, it's taking me ages to find suitable pics of the Girls and then editing them to get the bits I want.  
Over on the left of the blog (assuming you can see it) we have my gorgeous Bluebelle -  Delilah -  and lovely Legbar - Milly.   Delilah is the oldest of my girls, and the last of my original three. 

EDITED TO ADD: I've changed the layout again since I wrote that; Delilah isn't currently pictured; Milly is now on the right.

I've noticed that the change in layout has affected the layout of the photos in earlier posts. Oops.  Oh well.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Cockerel attack!

Captain Flint has started to attack DH.    

I'm not surprised; as I've pointed out to DH, one day there's him and his Missus,  then there are 7 others next door,  and then they are all sharing the same paddock (although not the same house).   And as we know at least one of the Littlees is a boy too, he's obviously feeling threatened.

Each day, DH comes back with evidence of the attack.

Today I went to the allotment with him, as we were cleaning everyone out and it's always nice to have a second pair of hands to do this job.   Flinty decided to attack me too.      The second time he attacked me, I decided I'd better do something about it.   I know with agressive hens the best way to show them who's boss is to push them down, gently but firmly, as if I was the cockerel.  I decided to do this with Flint, but I couldn't get my hand on his back to do it.    He was really quite spectacular, with lots of Hong Kong Phooeey leaps and chops.  I took a sideways stance, with one fist out. Not to hit him, of course, but to protect myself.    WIth this, I was able to back him up, and eventually I got him into a corner and kept him there.   His leaps got a bit less frenetic, and then he stopped.

I've no idea if I've won the war (I doubt it!), but I've won the battle,  and we were able to both be in the same paddock without any trouble.    I'm pleased that I was able to do it without having to physically do anything.
I've got some amazzing bruises on my leg from his first attack!

Friday, 22 January 2010

Once Upon a Time in the West

This turned up from EasyCinema the other day.  I must have added it to my list of films, probably when we came back from seeing the Spaghetti Western Orchestra.  I've seen the Clint Eastwood spaghetti westerns numerous times, but I've never seen Once Upon a Time in the West.  Not ever. Not even when I was small.  I'm not really a fan of westerns, so I expected to find it tedious.

We watched it yesterday.   I was really pleasantly surprised.  It's a loooooooong, slow moving film, the kind that just wouldn't get made today.  The plot unfolds slowly,  it takes a long time to work out who's who, who's pretending to be who,  who's a good guy, who isn't.     I had to pay attention as a lot of the characters looked very similar.    Charles Bronson was interesting, such a "lived in" face. Actually I had a bit of a thing for CB when I was a child,  I saw him in The Great Escape and thought he was gorgeous.   II'm not sure what the appeal was now,  although his grey eyes are lovely.     Mind you, everyone in this film seemed to have piercing or beautiful eyes, part of the fantastic lighting.

The music, by Ennio Morricone of course,  is just incredible.  I found the music for this really compelling,  more so than Clint's westerns.   The main theme has a recurring bit  which is done with voices.  When this piece played (which it did, a lot, throughout the film)  I kept hearing it à la Spaghetti Western Orchestra (played on a Moog Theremin).

I'm not sure that I'd watch it again, at least not for some time.   There is something really special about watching that sort of film for the first time, when I  don't know what is going to happen or how it is going to turn out and I'm trying to work it all out.       I remember the first time I watched "The Sting" (again, as a child - I watched a lot of films then).  I was really upset  when the FBI man told Robert Redford that he could go, so that Paul Newman knew who had betrayed him. And when Paul Newman shot Robert Redford, I was somewhat distressed.       I like watching The Sting now,  but there isn't that, that...engagement  with the characters and the story, that not knowing the story brings.

Hmm. I might try another unseen spaghetti western.  There aren't any others directed by Sergio Leone that I haven't seen, but I might try another director, as long as the score is by Ennio Morricone.  

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Mrs Flint comes back into lay

We've discovered that Mrs Flint has started laying again.   We've had two eggs from her - we've had one and OC has had the other.  But we haven't eaten the egg yet so we don't know if they are fertile.

The flock of 7 need to start moving on to Layers pellets, and we need to finish the transition for Roo and his Ladies.

Ringing the changes

Time to ring the Allotment birds.    

We need to be able to tell them apart, especially as they are all getting to laying age. Well, those that turn out to be girls will be laying soon.
We have not had any experience of tagging birds before, although one of the two Dorking Girls we bought had a spiral ring on her when we got her.  I ordered a selection of sizes, each in a selection of colours, from Karen at Merrydale/Regency Poultry.  Armed with the little bags, and a tub of grapes,  we set off to the Allotment to so the tagging.

We did it in end, although we still have one little brown Dorking to do.   All birds are tagged, all on the same leg (so we can use the other leg on subsequent birds, as we're likely to run out of colours).

But it was getting too dark, and I didn't take a pen, so we'll have to make a note tomorrow of which bird in which pen is which colour.
Roo and Captain Flint didn't need marking, as there is currently no chance of confusing them with any of the other birds. 

I've also started keeping detailed records of each bird, as once they have started breeding we won't know what's what or who's who.  I've just realised, I need to get some tiny rings for chicks.   I hadn't thought it would be necessary, but I can see that I'll need to know which chicks belong to which mum.


Monday, 18 January 2010

Bye Bye Ixys

The Ixys have been dispatched.

They were 23 and a half weeks old, which was a bit younger than we intended. However, they were getting more and more thuggish, and it was going to be a problem for the two female Sassos having three cockerels in the pen.

(Because the two lots of Dorkings aren't yet integrated, we didn't have anywhere to separate the boys off to;  as soon as the Dorkings are in one pen, we'll have a spare pen to bring the boys on).

DH came home with one of the Ixys, OC had the other one.  Ours is currently hanging in the shed, as it's cold enough out there to be OK.

I feel a bit sad;  goodness knows what it's going to be like when we have to cull the gentler Dorkings!

Saturday, 16 January 2010

War Horse

Went to see "War Horse" at the New London Theatre  last night, with my friend Y.   It was...amazing.  Very emotional,  and the effects were brilliant.

I didn't know much about it. In fact, I knew nothing about it before Y told me about it on my birthday.    I read up a little and learned that it was set just before and during WW1, and was the story of a boy whose horse gets sent over to be a cavalry horse, and he goes to try and be reunited with it.

I also learned that it was done with "puppetry",  which was intriguing and actually quite misleading as I was completely unprepared for the magnificence of the horse "puppets" (which were life size, possibly larger).  I mean, mention puppets and I thought of - well - puppets,  or hobby horses.

I've owned horses for a large part of my adult life,  and I was fascinated by how well the movements and reactions of the horses were captured,  even down to the movement of the ears.

The battle scenes of World War 1 were depicted brilliantly,  and as we were right near the front it seemed as though we were right there.  At one point, a tank comes on stage, turns round and goes back,  and the tracks of the tank were right over our heads.

It was incredibly emotional.  Mainly, for me, because of the story of the horses and what they went through,  but also because of the horrors of WW1.   I cry at most things, so I was prepared with tissues;  at one point I could see Y wiping her eye and I could hear the chap next to me crying, so I got out my pack of tissues and handed them each one. The chap next to me was very grateful.  
When I got up to leave, I turned round to put my coat on and I could see many people in the row behind, both men and women, had also been crying.  

It was very thought provoking, and we talked about it all the way back to Paddington - firstly about what we had seen, the bits that we found most gripping etc,  sheer admiration for the "puppets", and then admiration for whoever came up with the idea. I mean, who would have thought of this, and then had the ability to get funding for it - explaining the vision of the magnificent near-real horses that we saw on stage.  And then the effort in building the horses so that they could move like real horses,  and then learning how to get every stamp of the foot, flick of the tail, shiver of the neck so spot on.

We talked about what would have been different if we had been sitting further back or higher up.  I think that we would have had a different perspective,  and I suspect that we would have found the horses even more magnificent.  I think we would have lost some of the feeling of being in the middle of things though, and we wouldn't have felt the ground shaking.  And I wonder if  thetank would have been quite as scary if we hadn't been under its tracks .  I might go again  with  my DH,  and  sit a bit further back.

If you get the chance, go and see it.  I don't imagine for a moment that everyone would be moved to tears by it, but  I also can't imagine that anyone would go to this and come out thinking it was a waste of an evening. 

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Chicken Porridge

Because of the cold, the Girls have been having a treat of Chicken Porridge every morning.    For the first few days I made the porridge using leftover chick crumb. The boiling water turns this  to porridge beautifully.  We've run out of crumb now, so I'm using normal layers pellets and boiling water; this takes a bit longer to transform.

Have you ever made Weetabix and hot milk?  It doesn't matter how much milk you add, the Weetabix turns solid.  The trick is to add some hot milk. let it turn solid, then add  more hot milk until you get that comforting baby food consistency.   It's the same with pellet porridge.

The Girls are now used to having this "treat" and start squawrking (sp?) each day until it is delivered. I suspect they think that this is now "normal service".

Luckily for them (well, in this context), Snow is forecast again this weekend, and so the cold snap - and the Porridge deliveries - will continue.

Very fortunately for us all, I placed a feed order on Monday, and the delivery man managed to deliver yesterday.  Just in time - we're almost out of goose feed and corn at the Allotment,  and we would be out of Layers Pellets  for my Garden Girls during next week.

Friday, 8 January 2010

First butter of the year

The bad weather has been forecast to continue for ten days, so I decided to pop out yesterday, as there were fewerpeople on the roads.    We were running low on butter, so I went to the cash & carry for double cream as there was a BOGOFF on Bounty kitchen towels and Fairy Dishwasher tablets as well.

The journey was fine, but the car parking was troublesome. I eventually managed to manouevre my car into a "space" in this huge, near empty car park.  Then some bloke in a 4x4 decided to park next to me! All this space, and he had to park right next to me!  My concern was that Wilhelmina (my Focus) would slide into him when I tried to get out of the space.

I knocked on his window and asked him if he would mind parking a bit further away. I explained that I had spent quite a long time sliding iaround before I got into my space  and, under the circumstances,  I was nervous about having another car beside me.  He moved... a long way.

Anyway. Because the weather had kept many people away, 2 pint bottles of double cream were greatly reduced.  I normally buy 5 x1 litre bottles, but I bought 4 x 4 UK pint bottles this time (10 Litres, so double my normal quantity).

I make the butter, pot it, chill it, then freeze as much of it as I can.   The trick is to find containers which are either (a) suitable to use as butter dishes, direct from the freezer (for which I have a quantity of small Lock 'n; Locks, each of which hold about 250g),  or something I can use to shape the butter while it chills, then I turn it out into freezer bags for freezing.  Getting butter *out* of a countainer is a bit of a challenge. In the past I've tried jelly moulds,  ice cream scoops, ice cube trays (which I now use to freeze garlic butter),  ice cream moulds, burger presses.. the list seems endless.

When I bought so much extra cream, I didn't really consider the container situation. In fact, I didn't consider it until I was pottting up and started to run out of usual pots.

I got out my "Individual Cheesecake tin" which I bought from Lakeland a while ago.  Last time I made butter, this worked reasonably well, I didn't leave too much butter behind when I pushed out each little "cake".

But this time, I had soooooo much butter. My 10 Litres of double cream produced:
  • Buttermilk: 3 litres (it might have been 4 litres, I can't remember whether I included the last 1 litre or not). 
  • Butter: 11.5lb Sorry about mixing my metric and imperial. I find it easier to do the butter in pounds and ounces, because my rule of thumb is to add one teaspoon of salt for each pound of butter.
So, I raided my cake tin cupboard.  I uncovered a "deep muffin tray". I lined it with paper cake cases, and filled it up.  

Then I found two "pork pie tins".  I lined the sides (the bases are removable) and filled those up.   And still I had more butter waiting to be salted.

Two spring form "baby cake" tins were the last option, and then I was out of sensibly sized containers.  I did think about rolling the remaining butter and freezing it in logs, but  I decided to make extra garlic butter instead.   

Garlic Butter is easy to deal with,  because I put it into flexible ice cube trays. Once the butter is frozen, I pop it out and put them into a bag. This means I can get out the exact amount I need, when I need it.

Our freezer is "frost free", so the only use my flexible ice cube trays get is when they are used for butter.   I have one with hearts (from when I was a young romantic),  and a set of 4 Winnie The Pooh ones which were a present from my Auntie Joy.  It's a bit spooky putting WtP, Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore into the frying pan when I'm frying mushrooms. 

It took quite a long time, mainly due to rooking around in cupboards for containers,  and the need to do so much garlic. However, the washing up is the same irrespective of how much butter I make,  so  from that point of view, bulk is good. 

I have to confess that a lot of the buttermilk went down the sink. That's why I can't remember if it was 3 litres or 4. I kept 2 litres, which I'll used to make buttermilk bread and soda bread, and possibly some buttermilk pancakes... but there's a limit to how much of it I can use in one go.  I keep it in the fridge in an airtight jug, so it lasts for a while.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

New Year

We've had blue eggs for the last few days,  a lovely - early - surprise from Milly, our cream legbar.  Not sure why she's decided to try laying so early in the year, especially with the atrociously cold weather, but we're very happy to see them.

Delilah (Bluebelle) has laid (or is it "layed" when one's talking about egg laying?) a few times since Christmas - a couple of dodgy looking eggs, a softy,  and two almost normal eggs.   I'm very pleased that she wants to lay, but she is getting on a bit (in Hybrid terms) and I'd be happier if she decided to retire completely.  I'd rather have her, eggless, for longer.

Jasmine, the Welsummer, hasn't shown any interest in laying.  She didn't start until she was forty something weeks old,  so it seems like she has the most sensible approach.

Down on the allotment we've started to merge two of the flocks.  Today they were left with the divider between their pens open, so they could go in and out of each others area at will.   We made sure they were shut up in their correct coops overnight, as it's too soon to risk having them shut in together with no means of escape.  As soon as we don't need to shut the pop holes at night, we'll let them choose where to sleep.  Regrettably, that seems some way off.

Apparently the snow is on its way South, so we're expecting it tonight.   I have  a hair appointment tomorrow, which I'll have to cancel if the snow is bad.   I usually have my hair cut and coloured every 6 weeks, but it's now been 13 weeks since my hair was done:  my November appointment was cancelled because I was at my parents; I wasn't able to remake the appointment with certainty until the week before Christmas.  On the day of that appointment my poor hairdresser was very ill.     Fortunatelt, I wasn't too fussed about getting it done before Christmas,  my hair is very curly and to a great extent it disguises the fact that the colour is growing out.   It is getting a bit wild though,  the cold weather makes it somewhat dry and frizzy.  Never mind, I've saved some money in not having it done, and I'll put that into a piggy bank for "something frivolous".

One of our allotment neighbours (the one who took on 2 of our geese) has decided he'd like to keep hens as well, and it looks as though we'll be hatching some fertile eggs for him.  He's chosen "Light Sussex", which are an excellent utility breed and very pretty too.    I'm expecting that we'll be able to get hold of some fertile eggs for him in February, and it will be good to be raising chicks again.