Here’s my new helper! It’s Lucky. In recent weeks she’s got into the habit of flying up on to my back, when I’m bending over in the croft hen house, scraping the floor, or whatever.
When I stand up, Lucky scrambles up to look over my shoulder, adjusting her stance and grip on my boiler suit as I go about my morning routine.
When ‘breakfast’ is served up, she’s off: her little wings flap against my ear as she launches herself over my shoulder, into flight, landing clumsily in the midst of the feeding frenzy.
In fairness we don’t know for certain that she’s Lucky. But it’s likely, because this pullet doesn’t seem to be close-knit into any social group.
Today, 1 March, Spring has arrived. And not just officially! Today we’re revelling in blue skies, warm sunshine and turquoise seas. And the forecast encourages us to expect more of the same for the most of the coming week. Outdoor tasks beckon, and we follow gladly, casting off warm layers and headgear and turning on their heads the winter-time excuses to hasten back indoors. Freedom under the sun, indeed!
Overnight, Jack Frost left his hallmark on the windows and windscreens [windshields]. We’ve seen little of him in recent years – this is only his second visit this winter – and probably his last. He didn’t stop long, though, as he’d got word that Sunny Boy was on his way!
The UK-wide poultry lock-down order expired yesterday, along with the month of February – and Winter. Exceot for a few localized problem areas in England, birds can now range freely outdoors, providing a number of precautions are observed.
The sheep seemed pleased with themselves, waiting for me in the middle of the road, satisfied with the warm sunshine on their backs. Later, just as I was packing up to head home for lunch, Primrose left the others, trotting over to see me, skipping with delight.
Even the harbour seals had grounded themselves on rocks to spend the middle of the day basking in sunshine. These are young seals. Can you see an older/darker one on the right having to make do with the lower shoulder of the rock. First on – Last off!
Back at the walled garden, Denise was washing and disinfecting in Greenhouse 4, working around the two remaining spring cabbages. (My but they’ve been tender and tasty!) Washing on the line under blue skies provide the final dash of light and colour that I’ve been painting for you.
That’s how to start the day. Put one foot down, the second foot forward … and away you go. It’s easier if there’s a routine to follow – at least until breakfast is done. Our lives are a patchwork of routines, or rather a patchwork that’s never quite put together – lots of blocks, but still no bed cover. Thank heavens, it’s the bits in-between – where we improvise, where life is most interesting. That said, even the patchwork blocks vary from day.
Here’s this morning.
Up when it was still dark, moon sailing high.
After ablutions and breakfast, I will – at this time of year, certainly – spend some time checking emails, re-working the task-lists, catching up with facebook, looking out for when it’s light enough to go and feed the livestock. If it’s light enough to drive with out headlights, then it’ll be light enough to see my way around at the croft. It’s three and a half miles to the croft, a third of that on the causeway across the Sound of Eriskay.
This morning I set off later – it was fully light (or as light as it’ll ever be on such a dreich winter’s day). I waited for Denise to come back from her morning walk with Tilly. There was an extra job this morning – two pairs of hands needed. The young Welsumer chicks in Greenhouse 1, now seven weeks old (Lucky’s three week’s older) are ready to join the main flock over at the croft. It takes two of us to get them ready to go: one to catch and snatch them as they scurry about, the other to pack them and keep notes: six hens (including Lucky), one cockerel, all with yellow rings on their left legs.
At the croft, the sheep get fed first. That’s because the Welsumer chickens are still under lock-down, shut in the hen-house all day and every day until the end of February: they won’t run around after me, stealing all the food I put down for sheep, for the geese, and even for … Come to think of it, it’s a good thing we live three and half miles away, and across the sea, because otherwise the hens would eat our breakfasts too – from under our very noses!
The chickens have been locked in for six weeks now, but they don’t seem too put out by the experience. They’re warm and dry, there’s daylight of sorts thanks to the windows high up in each gable, and plenty of ventilation to keep things pleasant. They’ve lots of company, plenty of room to get about – socializing with those they’re on good terms with, avoiding the others. And of course that nice man brings lots of lovely food – and fresh water too – every morning. They’re used to being indoors from time to time, anyway: who wants to go outside when there’s a wild storm and cold cold rain with it? ; and when young birds are brought along from the walled garden to join the flock, they’re locked in together for three days until the old girls have shown the new recruits around their new world. So there was a routine of sorts in putting today’s box of young Welsumers down, where daylight fell (rather dimly, on this dreich day) on the floor, and opening out the top of the box.
Being older and taller, Lucky was out first … the others needed a helping hand!
Beside the box I’d placed the feed bowl they’d been used to at Greenhouse 1, so they were more interested in the grain than exploring … those strange, un-seen, older voices could wait for now … couldn’t they?
But those strange, un-seen, older voices couldn’t wait to investigate those strange, un-seen, younger voices – and what they are eating!
By now, the geese have tracked me down. Mr Jackson is knocking on the door demanding to be let in … or is he demanding I come out to serve him with breakfast? I finished the routine in the hen house, and then led the geese to their favourite feeding ground …
At this point I fell off the edge of the morning block of patchwork, launched into free-form living until lunchtime. I say free-form, but my life over the next 2-3 hours would prove to be very much linear: cutting a slit-trench and burying the new armoured cable that’s to supply the hen house. The tools for this job consist of (a) a Spear & Jackson Neverbend spade with an ash T-handle, circa 1948, and with hardened steel blade worn by three generations of use to a tapered shape and the corners rounded off ; and (b) a 600mm length of treated off-saw 38 x 25 used to push the cable down into the slot. Oh, and (c) my booted foot. And a trained eye, and calloused hands, an aching back, and too many years studying at the university of pointless triumphs and glorious mistakes!
After twenty metres or so, I judged it might just take me long enough to drive home and get there just in time for lunch if I set off in just a few minutes. I straightened my beck, looked out across the sea and the hills of Uist … and I just got the feeling I might be … you know … watched. I picked up the tools, climbed back over the fence into Home Park, and … there was Mr & Mrs Jackson letting their breakfasts settle, considering what else might be done with the rest of the day, and where they might go for a spot of lunch, but in the meantime quite content to watch me work.
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.