Jonathan & Denise: It was a month ago – at the beginning of December, that the news came that an outbreak of Avian Flu [Bird Flu] – which had already caused a great deal of loss in continental Europe – had reached our shores. The order soon came that all poultry was to be kept indoors or by other means entirely segregated from wild birds. The order applied in every part of Great Britain [that’s Scotland, England and Wales] and for 30 days. Unfortunately, during that time, there’s been wild birds found dead across the UK in which Avian Flue has been found, and sporadic outbreaks amongst poultry flocks. These flocks have been destroyed by the authorities, and biosecurity zones set up around the site of the outbreak. Compliance amongst back-garden keepers, small-holders [homesteaders in the US?] and – as we’ve seen with our own eyes – Hebridean crofters, has been far from complete. So it was no great surprise that, a few days ago, just before the 30-day lock-down was due to end, the authorities extended it until the end of February – another two months.
Jonathan: After two days of dreich keeping us indoors, we’ve been making the most of better weather today by working (mostly) outdoors.
Pity our poor chickens, who spent their first full day confined indoors for 30 days: three of the four UK national governments (all except N. Ireland) have issued orders requiring all poultry owners to prevent their birds having contact with wild birds. There’s an avian flu outbreak in continental Europe, and the order is intended to reduce the risk of it spreading in the UK. This is the first time this has been done, UK-wide, and our first experience of such a lock-down.
This morning Denise and I went over to Eight Askernish (which is about eight miles north). Denise finished off the cleaning up after the carpet-fitting and re-decorating, getting the house ready for for guests at Christmas and New Year. I was outdoors, fixing a leaking gutter, wire-brushing rust off the clothes line poles – to re-paint another day. I tidied round the garden too … and spotted fresh clumps of deer-poo! I called Denise out to take a look together: deer-poo is quite distinctive, rather like sheep poo, but the pellets are elongated – even pointed. When I come back to paint the poles, I’ll have to set up the wildlife camera – perhaps I’ll have a bit of luck and actually capture wildlife on aforesaid wildlife camera. It’s good to be working together like this, putting things in order, and planning future work together.
After lunch, back at An Gàrradh Mòr, we were both out in the garden. Denise was pulling weeds to take to the hen house so that the girls still get their ‘greens and we still get yolks that are deep yellow. I too had a wheelbarrow and fork, but took it out through the garden gate, across the road, and down the bank onto the beach. Last night, out for a walk with Tilly before bedtime, the storm was abating, the skies clearing, and Tilly and I had stood – me in my wellies – at the line where the surf turned back on itself, the sea sparkling with moonlight. The sands, too, glistened in the silvery light, clumps of shadow revealing great heaps of seaweed thrown up by the sea. It was that seaweed that’s been taking me down to the beach this afternoon. Three barrow-loads taken home to feed the soil of our garden – or rather, today, the soil of a greenhouse, feeding it for next year’s tomato plants. Seaweed Season has arrived! Gathering seaweed will now continue – every day if weather permits – bad weather to cast up the seaweed, better weather to collect it! – until Easter.
And last, but not least, Denise and I moved the new batch of seven Welsumer chicks into another greenhouse, where – as we do every winter – we set up a small wooden hen house used for rearing chicks – now no longer needing the heat lamp – until they’re ready to join the main flocks. The chicks have now finally joined Lucky, who made the same move three weeks or so ago. Poor boy, he’s been getting more and more distressed by his isolation: it’ll take a few days for things to settle down, but they’ll get on just fine!
Denise: You remember Lucky – the just-hatched chick Jonathan saved from imminent death? Well he’s growing fast, and looking to be a good healthy cockerel. We can’t put him in with the rest of the flock because, it’s pity but true, they’ll pick on him and he could be pecked to death. Better the other way around, a lonesome hen will generally accept – and in truth may well be very glad for – the company of a number of youngsters. So as soon as it looked like he was going to survive, we put a load of Welsumer eggs into an incubator and … here they are together for the fast time, Lucky and a random three of the wee chicks. The chicks are cute, of course, but poor Lucky’s at the scruffy stage, as different parts of his body take it in turns to grow adult feathers. Currently, it’s his head!