Jonathan: Remember the chicks I brought home from the croft along with the eggs, just a few weeks ago? Well, another hen must have thought that was bit of a lark, getting three weeks maternity leave and then handing over the chicks for fostering! She turned up at the hen house this morning (with more than 70 hens I do not count them every day!), dashed into the mob of feeding chickens and left me with two tiny chicks scattering in opposite directions. I’d wager a golden egg that she started off with at least a half dozen or so, the majority already lost to gulls and ravens ; so I really had no choice but to bring them home to care for. Now it has to be said that the work in rearing chicks is pretty much the same whether you have two to look after or twenty two. So Denise had the bright idea of seeing how they got on with the older chicks, currently in an ark out on the lawn. In the two went, and they didn’t much like it, and for that matter nor did the eight-week old chicks : however as the dislike took the form of each party huddling in a corner, we thought – they’ll be fine. We went in to get lunch : after which – just one chick in the ark. We hunted high, we hunted … well actually we just hunted low: in fact I crawled on my belly in amongst the giant Phormiums and the Veronicas, and if we could have put our beating hearts on pause a while – to catch hold of any cheep astray on the breeze, we would have done so. But alas, no tiny chick to be found – dead or alive. And the other chick was bleeding from being pecked by the older chicks – all higher up the pecking order. So that was the end of that experiment! The remaining, 2-day old chick was scooped up and the chick-box, infra-red lamp, chick feeders etc etc all set up – now for just this one chick. Now at this point it would be natural to pause and reflect on the economics of this: one tiny chick raised by hand for at weeks and weeks, unable to interact with others of its kind until big enough to look out for itself (chickens can be the most viscious schoolyard bullies), and even then it may lack the social and living skills required, and will be unhelpfully dependent on human company. But by now we’ve passed the point of commitment, and it would be a betrayal of all that it means to be human to … well, I need hardly elaborate. Patient report: after a wash with very dilute TCP and a liberal application of Savlon, two-day old chick is getting better.
Denise: The first batch of home-made pasata 2015. Late, due to lack of tomatoes ; and quite likely Last, for the same reason. Usually I make a couple of dozen of these to fill up a shelf in the pantry, to add a bit of sunshine to our winter diet. But this is quite possibly all we’ll get this year. So, as the peppers and chillis have done unusually well this year, my ‘usual’ make-it-up-on-the-spur-of-the-moment-depending-on-what’s-available recipe has something added to stimulate the sluggish winter circulation! Not sure I’ll bother labelling these, as they’re not for sale!
Jonathan: We first started keeping chickens in 2005, long before we got the croft, but here in the Big Garden we were struggling to work out how best to house and contain them. In Spring 2007 we realized that as the ‘hummocky’ area in the SE corner of the garden was too rocky for growing fruit and veg and even hardy shrubs didn’t seem to thrive, we should fence it off and build a good sized walk-in (well, stoop-in!) hen house. Our own design proved to be very successful and robust, except that the Onduline roof sheets are not very durable, and the space under the building proved a haven for rats. Last year, having rebuilt all the other outbuildings, we decided that we’d rebuild the house to the same internal design, but of blockwork on a concrete base, and – to harmonize with our other outbuildings – clad with timber boarding and a galvanized corrugated steel roof, and this time complete with fully paved inner courtyard, drainage etc. In short, keeping all the best features and improving on the could-have-been betters. That rebuilding was finished this Spring. With insulated floor, white-painted walls, well ventilated but free from draughts, and good light (except of course in nesting boxes), and outside plenty of greens brought to them, dust bath and access a scratching area it’s henny heaven!