Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Well Manicured Smallholder

Y'all may have noticed a gap in the reporting on the farm.  The Farm family have been on holiday.  I shall give you a quick update before bed, hopefully I can elaborate on all points separately later!

This was Farm Baby's first trip away.  We had decided that 9 months was a reasonable age to start galavanting around the countryside.  We chose to visit the Lake District for a weeks break.  It rained most mornings but the afternoons were much warmer and more pleasant.  We did the usual holiday doings, relaxing, walking around the holiday centre, which was in the middle of a red squirrel nature reserve.  However, we also did some trips that were very 'us'.  The best of which was to a couple of Car Boot Sales.  We made some good purchases.  I have been trying to perfect that cluttered look that farmhouses have. Somehow farmhouses manage to have rooms full of stuff, stuff on every surface and it just works!  So far all I can manage is looking like I have too much stuff!  It is definitely a learned knack, or perhaps I am trying too hard. LOL.

Anyway, we managed a few good buys but my favourite by far is a beautiful wicker trug.  I have been looking for one for ages.  But modern ones are expensive, not ridiculously I know but trying to live cheaply and efficiently and self sufficiently means that I am always on the look out for the most economical choice.  New wicker trugs are even more expensive, presumably due to the work required.  So when I saw this sitting lonesome on a rug by one of the stalls, that was it.  I was having it!  I also got a quirky copper jelly mould shaped like a hen - for the wall in the kitchen - farmhouse clutter people!!

Regular readers will know that we recently purchased eight Lohmann Brown hens with whom we have been having a laying problem.  While we were away they were being cared for by Farm Dad and then Farm Mum.  As you know their egg production had fallen away to practically zero before we left.  We had started them on a good solid diet and regime and were just crossing our fingers.  As you can see from our 'What's The S-Coop?' module egg production has increased.  The last two days we have been up to four!!  Much better.  I had been expecting 4-5 a day so this is a much more cheerful number!  Big smiles on our return to the farm, a nice welcome home present.

The vegetable patch had tried its best to give us a welcome home that we would enjoy and in some places it did.  The cabbage and brussels are doing well.  Broad Beans and peas are growing like crazy.  Farm Mum is jealous of what look like are going to be HUGE onions and the garlic is stonking along.  There was a couple of raspberries ripe and farm baby enjoyed the first taste of produce from the garden - flappy arms and kicking legs of approval there!

The garden on our return.  Potatoes in the front, onions in one tyre, rocket, celery and beetroot in the other.  Raspberries behind and the bean patch in the top left corner.

Here are the beans.  Of all the Runner Beans planted (approx 40 ish?) only 8 are clinging to life.  All the French Beans died again!  We have heard that our neighbours on the hill have also given up on their Runner Beans as they have succumbed to the same strange fate.  We are blaming the odd weather we have been having.

Onions to make your mum jealous!

Potatoes and cabbages are fighting back on the side of self sufficiency growers everywhere!

I said I was growing celery, and I am!  Here it is!  All the other 19 plants went the way of the Runner Beans but this guy soldiered on.  Spare a thought for his fallen friends!

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Sweet Smell of Success

What's been going on round the farm? Let me give you a sneaky peek!

Outside our backdoor I have been growing a climbing rose and it is doing amazingly well.  It isn't very tall yet but I am hoping to get it climbing across the whole entrance.  The scent is amazing and it is great to walk past every time I go out.

Broad Beans are doing well, as are the Strawberries.  As you can see they needed a good weeding, which they got!  I don't know what it is about Strawberries but they seem to attract weeds!  Beans have died AGAIN, I have started some more.  This is their last chance.  I have never had problems with beans EVER but I have no idea what is wrong this year, I have tried different methods and different spots.  I think my bean harvest is going to be limited this year!

What a great box... hmm... what can I do with it...

Time to make the downstairs bathroom girly.  On the day of many mishaps I decided that I would just spend the rest of the day being girly with the contents of my scrap material bag, so I made a set of curtains for our little downstairs toilet/shower room!  Added the little placemat thing the next morning!

Last thing that I set about doing was making further inroads to Farm Baby's nursery.  I finsihed off her horse and added some clouds to the somewhat over powering sky!  Just a couple of chickens and a beehive to go.  Well, that's what's planned, who knows if I'll be able to stop there!!


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Good to Have a Bad Day, But I Wouldn't Recommend....

It was good to have a bad day, makes the rest of the time seem that much better!   Thanks for allowing the little private rant, sometimes its good to go ARGGHHHH!  LOL!!

Even though I haven't felt 100% today (headache, sore throat.  Maybe that's why I found the cats in the nest boxes unfunny: coming down with something!  Find it funnier today! Silly boys!) I have been much more upbeat, the dogged chicken is looking good, although still a little sore and the drain is unblocked, it was just a case of elbow grease with a plunger.  My laundry made it out the washing machine alive!  And nothing cleans a kitchen floor like washing machine water!

To top it off my little chickens managed two eggs today.  I am starting to think they may be younger than we first thought.  I know little about such matters but the egg at the bottom of the picture is white, as you can see, and the shell is rough and very fragile.  Now, we have had some like this before and eventually they starting becoming more like the one at the top of the photo.  Could it be young chickens just 'learning' to lay that causes this?  Or is it just because they've been off lay for a while, they need to get back into it again?  Either way I hope this is a sign.  Cross what you got people!!

A check of the perimeter showed only one place that the dog could get in, or indeed the chickens out, it was by our yard gate.  So a makeshift defence has been built and looks to do the trick.  We are getting a new gate hopefully, so when that is in it'll be even better.  Bizarrely, after all the 'stressers' to these chickens they have actually laid better today, although I wouldn't recommend the last few days as the way to go if your chickens aren't laying!!!  We shall see what tomorrow shall bring and see if omelette can be back on the menu!

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Not A Great Day...

Bum, Bum and a double dose of double BUM!

Not a good day, this was yesterday not today.  I was up to my eyeballs yesterday with the thought of blogging far from my mind.  

Let me elaborate and to do so I must take you back further, to the day before.  There had been no sign of one chicken.  At any feed time, both feed and treat!, there was only ever 7 hens.  I was mildly worried but not overly so, they do wander around and perhaps we were just missing each other.  My worry was that the farmers dog had got them, she has form!  Our neighbour caught her with two of their three hens in her mouth.  Both were rescued but one suffered a limp for several days.  That evening however all 8 were tucked up in their coop at doors closed time.

Next morning I saw that my fears had been realised, chicken 8 was sitting in the grass, most of her back feathers missing and when she tried to walk it was a hop!  I checked her over, beyond a raw back there was no physical damage and she was feisty enough.  She ate well and drank but she decided to stay tucked up in the long grass by the coop all day.  If they were laying badly before a meeting with Dog isn't going to improve things.

I have to admit at this juncture that I don't KNOW it was Dog.  But she has form and was seen lingering around our farm gate most of the day with a suspicious look in her eye, I thought she was after the cat.  She is under also suspicion for possible involvement in the incident which created Cut 'n' Shut cat.

I retreated to the house to begin my chores.  

The kitchen sink is blocked.  No problem, its done this before, I'll get the plunger on it.  No cigar.  Made no difference.  Must be blocked solid, I'll leave it to Farm Guy, as I am not geting involved in taking pipework apart.  I got on with my other chores, which included laundry... can you guess whats coming next?  I didn't.  I go back to the kitchen.  The pipe blockage is apparently some distance down the pipe as it has also stopped the washing machine from emptying.  (They both go into the same pipe to leave the house)  So the washing machine has emptied into the sink, and across the work surface, and into the cupboards below, and across the floor, and under the cabinets on the other side, and into the door mat, and under the bin.  I get some towels and a mop.

I didn't do any more chores.  I don't like today.

I sat in the living room with Farm Baby and made girly curtains for the downstairs bathroom.  I also made Chicken Earrings to celebrate my (non-laying) hens!  I couldn't find any earrings I liked but I did find some cute charms, so decided to make my own.  I also got some Strawberries charms too, so I have a pair of Strawberry earrings now too!  I had to buy loads of charms so I made many pairs, if you're interested I am selling them on eBay - shameless advertising!

To top off my delightful day I would like to add in this day as well.  I thought we may have been getting over the chicken not laying hump as we have had an egg a day for the last three days (no zero egg days inbetween), even with Suspect Dog Attack Day.  But today scuppered that, zero eggs.  To make matters even worse on the egg laying front I found the farm cats asleep in the nesting boxes!!!!  Come on!!?  If this isn't a sign that the world is conspiring against making these chickens lay I don't know what is!

A Great Big Pooh

Farm Baby loves yellow. It is without a doubt her favourite colour. As a result there is nothing that brings a smile to her face than Winnie the Pooh. So when Farm Guy saw on Freecycle that someone was giving away a 2 foot high Winnie the Pooh, he knew he had to get it for her. So last Monday he drove half an hour beyond our house on the way home from his work, into the middle of nowhere to claim said ted.  He loves his little girl!

This is Pooh after a trip through the washer and dryer. He is a definite hit and is now a permanent fixture during playtimes. Thanks again Freecycle!

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Emptying Boxes with Finesse

We are still in the process of unpacking boxes from our move two years ago! There seems to be a never ending supply of them and to be honest it gets old REALLY fast. So anything that I can do to make it more exciting is a plus. Today's box was a tricky one...

Yes, it is box of melted, funny shaped candles.  My parents used to own a bookshop and coffee shop and when it closed there was a load of mismatched candles left over and I claimed them.  I then kept them in our attic in our old house, an attic that heated up majorly in the summer.  When we moved we uncovered a bizarre selection of melted wax!  Still, they were dutifully packed and came with us to the farm, where they took up their new residence in the barns.

Why are they so grubby looking?  Because last winter we had a burst pipe in the barn directly above the room this, and other boxes, were being stored.  Everything got very wet and covered in a nice thin layer of general euch..

I started my clearing of the box by chopping a few candles up into smaller chunks and reserved the wick.

I raked around in the jar cupboard and found some pretty examples.  This is an old Salsa jar!  I popped the wick into the jar and stood the whole thing in a pot of boiling water.

I then added the chunks of old candle and turned the heat right down so it was just keeping warm.  And left the wax to melt.

Once it melted I took my jars out of the pot and using various devices, as you can see, I made sure the wick was central and left it to set.  The wax sinks slightly as it cools so I melted some extra in another jar and topped up as it set.  My candles were scented so I didn't need to add extra scent which was a bonus.

And now I have nice jar candles that I can use when and wherever I wish, which is much better than a box of old wonky candles. 

I am sure there will be veteran candle makers turning in their seats as they read this but it seemed to work and I am happy with this method of emptying boxes!

Monday, 6 June 2011

Time for a Cute-y Interlude

 I wish I could say that this little soul was mine but unfortunately its not.  His mum has been in the field next to ours for several weeks enjoying the outdoors life and keeping the foot of grass on our side of the fence in the veggie patch nice and short!  She must've given birth today or yesterday.  The little one is still getting used to his legs at the moment!

And the chickens....

Saturday, 4 June 2011

There's a chicken in the...

So, what's been happening with the chickens? Well, I can tell you what's not been happening. Egg laying, that's what. I have to admit to a certain level of person-without-patience disappointment. I know it has only been a week but there is something quite sad about going down to the coop to collect the non-existent eggs. There is always a level of hope that today will be different, there will be a pile of beautiful eggs, but nope. Their egg numbers have dropped steadily since they got here, we are down to none or one a day and figure that this doesn't seem right, not for a hen breed that averages 280 - 300 eggs a year, even if we don't manage that we should manage more than one from eight hens! So we are on chicken check.

We have researched all the possible things that could cause chronic egg failure and are going to tick them off one by one.  Our thinking so far is as follows: 

It could be that they haven't settled in but they certainly don't appear to be fussed or stressed or 'out of sorts' but it could still be that, nothing to do about that but wait.

We aren't sure of their exact age but we are sure they are neither too old nor too young. I don't believe it is that at all, they laid 5 eggs on the afternoon they arrived, so I cannot believe that they suddenly decided they were too old the day after they got here!

We aren't sure of worms but they seem parasite free. Again it seems unlikely to us that they suddenly went off lay the day after we got them cos of worms, but we will look into worming anyway. 

As a result we are going for feed.  This seems to be a common problem so a change to diet is called for and Layers Pellets is the new grub of choice. We went off today and bought the new food and they started it this afternoon.  We'll have to see if that makes any difference.  If it doesn't we shall look at the next of the  possibilities.

Talking of feed a couple of cheeky chickens appear to have found where we keep the new feed (and the old stuff and the guinea pig food).  Apparently the new stuff is a hit as it is good enough to steal!  These two, you have never seen two smugger looking chickens!  As you can see this particular shed is well organised!!

The chicken invasion continued.  Yesterday was a brilliant day here, really hot weather and ideal exploring conditions for a renegade hen and her big fat hen friend.  Whilst sitting have a moments peace during Farm Baby's morning nap I glance across my living room and the invasion has begun.  This is Renegade (seems as good a name as any) she has let herself into the kitchen, both front and back doors were open I'll admit, and is now becoming more frustrated with her inability to peck up the rug pattern!  She is duly shooed back outside.  This little lady is a one for adventure, the same evening I had to go through to the neighbours garden and extract her from under the hedge.  I had failed to lead her, piece of corn by piece of corn, to the hole in the fence.  She nearly got there but the presence of a tree just boggled her mind and she turned around and headed back.  I had no choice, I went round through their front garden and scooped a chicken.  Their dog was bouncing of the living room windows... oops!

Shortly after the living room wave of hens had been dispatched, I went through into the hall.  To discover a chunky hen sleeping on the carpet!  Have these chickens got no homes to go to?  I think Renegade is a bad influence on her fellow flockmates!  This particular chicken was less easy to 'scoot' ,she insisted on competing in a long staring match with the guinea pig before she allowed herself to be ushered out of the door: accompainied by the sound of victory squeaks from the pig!

The afternoon was spent lazing in the sun with farm baby and a magazine, too nice a day for chores, who needs clean plates anyway, we'll just get takeaway!  We shared an orange, chickens don't like orange, although a piece of peel, snaffled from the blanket was good for a game of chicken style 'Capture the Flag'.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

The Chicken Goes.... Walkabout

Our chicken ladies egg production has been going down rather than up, which is not the plan. So we decided for some action. One of the factors in chickens not laying is stress and it was becoming clear to us that the girls were getting stressed by the whole 'being shut in a pen' style of life. When we were visiting them they would all bunch at the door and try to slip past. We had only been locking them in to try and 'hammer home' where home was!  As they are always tucked up in their coop when I go to shut them in at night we decided that a week was long enough it was decided to bite the bullet and let them loose!

So around 10 o'clock today I went down and found a queue of hens, as usual, at the run door.  This time though I blew their little minds and just opened the door.  They were so excited that they didn't even make it over the threshold before they started scratching and pecking - there was a chicken traffic jam at the gate.  I positioned myself, along with Farm Baby, on a picnic blanket just outside the pen and we watched.  As soon as they had cleared the doorway the scratching began and for some reason no matter where I put the blanket the best scratching was underneath it!  One little hen immediately marched down the hill into the neighbours field and did her own thing down there, the others stayed close by, more about renegade hen later.

The cats were most happy that they could finally get in and see what all the fuss was about in this strange enclosure that we had built.   They are used to hens, as the neighbours hens often came into the yard but sometimes the temptation to make them go "pUUckkUUUKKK!" is too much and they try and give them a bop.  The hens seem to be holding their own  however, either giving a bop back or just giving the cat a hard stare and wandering off.  I am glad that there isn't any malice, the boys are for keeping the rats, mice, rabbits down on the farm so we don't want to put them off hunting, but the chickens aren't prey.  Perhaps we could get them 'Don't Eat Me' T-shirts or something.  Rocco (ginger one) wasn't happy with just a look around the outside, he had to see what was going on inside.  After trying out the perches (yes, he really did) he vacated.  Not his kind of place at all.  Monty just decided the whole thing was a great platform to survey his domain - thanks mum and dad for building me a castle.

We have one wandering chicken, however, probably the one that tried to escape the second we bought them and the same one that was desperate to get out of the pen as soon as she arrived.  She was the one that wandered off into the field straight away.  She is going to be a problem.  Shortly after their release it was time for Farm Baby's nap so up we went to get some sleepies in.  I glance out of the landing window and their is said chicken marching across the yard, a good distance away from the coop, she'd have to pass through a couple of barns to get there.  I complete the baby horizontalification and go back down, the chicken has gone.  From the yard it is easy to get onto the road, and although it is a quiet country road we are on the brow of a hill and you can't see what is just on the other side, and people often take it too fast.  I don boots and go off to check for her. 
There she is, standing in the middle of the road, she has gone down the road, past our farm and is now looking lost.  I stand in the middle of the road and call.  She looks at me as only a chicken can.  I flap my arms like a chicken.  The stare continues.  So, shameless as I am, I add some top of the voice clucking.  She comes running.  That crazy chicken run, the legs kind of splaying to each side, wings open.  She follows me back round to the others who don't seem to have even missed her.

Later, after a trip out, I return.  Its scraps time so I go straight round with my 'chicken bucket' from the kitchen.

4 ...5 ...6 ....7 ... 'oh now where is she!' 

I feed the others then go looking.  This time she is tucked in between a couple of barns giving it legs in some dirt and completely oblivious to me.  I ask politely if madam would care for some scraps.  I get the chicken look and she goes back to her pecking and scrapping.  Fair enough.

No increase in the eggs, still only one today, and I am sure it is by the same hen, always same colour, shape and position.  But hopefully there will be more as they settle into the routine.  Haven't got to locking in time yet so I hope I find a full compliment of chickens when bedtime comes!

Chickens on the Loose - The Video

Okay, this is my first ever video so please don't laugh to hard, you might pull something!  I would also like to apologise for sea sick enducing nature of some of the footage, we have a brilliant little camcorder, great for pocketing but don't the easiest to use, I shall try to improve for further vids!  

Rocco is featured in this he is our little 'cut 'n' shut' cat who went through the big operation where they had to re-build him (hence cut 'n' shut cat)- see here for story - I think you'll agree he is looking good!  Even if his tail is a little wonky!

**Update: All chickens were safely in bed at lock up!  Hurrah!!**

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Making the Most of Our Mint

Our herb garden I thought was a loss.  The plants looked sad and leggy and ... well... dead.  But they have burst into life and we now have very healthy looking plants. 

This is our mint.  It was taking over the herb garden so the few straggly leafless stems were transferred into their own little tyre raised bed.  When I first transplanted it, it looked like it was barely alive but look at it now!  There are two mint plants in this tyre, a kind of rough leafed one with rounded leaves (front of picture) and a second one that has shinier, more pointed leaves (back of picture).  I have no idea what each one is.  The shinier leaf smells more spearminty than the other but I don't know if it is.  If anyone recognises either then please let me know what they are!!

It was the shiny one that I choose for my Mint Tea experiment.  I have never made tea from anything that I have grown myself so this was all pretty hit and miss!

I picked a few leaves, tore them slightly and poured on boiling water.  I let it seep for a couple of minutes then took out the leaves.  The result was a very attractively coloured and very refreshing drink.  I think I will have to have it again!  Does anyone know any other herbs that make good drinks?