Archive for the ‘Poultry’ Category

I can’t believe the last post I wrote on Sow The Seed was about how hot and dry it was in west Wales. Since then we’ve had to contend with torrential rain and winds bought by the likes of Storm Callum. The weather is now beginning to turn wintery with cold nights and frosty mornings, but some beautiful sunny days; hopefully a taste of the winter to come!

Old and new girls – Mavis and Edna

I also wrote back in July that we had lost the first of our rescue hens, and recently we lost the last two – we were never sure how old they were, so we can only assume they had come to the end of their natural lives. We also lost one of our Speckledy hens, so we were down to only one chicken. Luckily this only lasted a few days as we had already decided to get a couple of new girls from a local breeder. The new hens are Rhode Rocks and are said to be hardy and good egg layers. We’ve named them Mavis and Edna (those familiar with children’s cartoon Willo the Wisp will know the characters). In the meantime, our old hen has now decided to go into moult (just in time for the cold snap), and is looking very bedraggled and sorry for herself; nevertheless she continues to exert her authority and keep the new girls in their place, and Mavis has come into lay so we aren’t without eggs.

Goats keeping a watchful eye!

The goats are back in their winter field, enjoying the hedgerow and any grass that is still growing. We’ve also been giving them some of our windfall apples (in small doses) as even after storing and juicing as much as we can, we have plenty to spare.

The ducks, taking it easy for winter!

The ducks are now free-loading for the rest of the winter (we haven’t had an egg from them since September), but to be fair they are now old girls; one of them is over five years old.

I’m slowly putting the garden to bed for the winter, clearing out the polytunnel and covering all the beds with manure and compost for the worms to work in. It’s been quite a good growing year, helped by installing the rabbit-proof fence, and the dry spell meant that the slugs weren’t as bad as previous years. We’re now slowly eating our way through the huge amounts of squashes and sweet potatoes that grew so well in the hot weather, and enjoying the last few tomatoes and cucumbers before the winter veg gets into full swing.


Flopsy and Stompy enjoying willow

As I write this it is actually raining, and for once a good amount of rain, not just a few spits and spots which has done nothing for the parched ground. However, unless it rains all night this still won’t be enough; something I thought I would never say since we moved to west Wales 10 years ago. But while the dry sunny weather hasn’t been great for the garden, the goats and chickens have been enjoying it (the ducks less so) and have been sun bathing at every opportunity. We did start to wonder when the goats ever ate, as they always seemed to be asleep in the sun, but after filming them one night with the camera trap, we discovered they don’t really go to bed, and are up most of the night and having a nibble.

Low willow hurdle – debarked by the goats

As an additional feed supplement, and while the goats don’t have any access to the hedges in their current paddock, we’re giving them tree branches. Their favourite is willow, and as we have plenty we give them a few branches every now again. They’ll eat the leaves first and then using their sharp front teeth will strip the bark leaving just the bare stems. These de-barked stems don’t go to waste, as I’m now able to use the stripped willow in the garden to make hurdles and low fences. These I make in various places to stop the chickens kicking out the soil from beds when they’re free range. So it is a win-win situation for us and goats.

Squash enjoying the sun

Despite the lack of rain, the vegetable garden is not doing too badly. We’ve had a reasonable crop of peas and broad beans, enough for the freezer. The potatoes haven’t fared so well, and the tops have withered away and the potatoes left in the ground are being eaten by slugs. Another crop that appears to be enjoying the hot weather is the winter squashes. As the picture shows, they have gone rampant, with loads of fruit emerging on them. The only water they are getting is the water out of the ducks bath, once a week. So fingers crossed the fruit swell enough for us to get plenty of squashes for saving over winter.

On a sad note, we lost one of our rescue hens, Cottontail. She wasn’t looking well for a few days, so we ended up bringing her into the house, which is never a good sign. She wasn’t eating, and the following morning died. The remaining hens have really slowed down their egg laying, we think because of the weather, rather than any illness. And speaking to other hen keepers they’re experiencing the same. Hopefully once the hot weather finishes (whenever that might be), the egg count will rise again.

Ah, I spoke too soon, the rain has stopped and that’s probably it now for another week given the forecast!

We’ve been down to two chickens for a while, and having also recently lost a duck, it was about time that we added to our collection of poultry. Because of the Avian Flu lockdown, we had found it hard to find anywhere offering hens for sale, as there are various biosecurity measures in place to restrict the movement of poultry during this time. However a friend suggested we try a local animal rescue centre, as they often have rescue hens available which are looking for new homes.

Last weekend we set off into the wilds of Pembrokeshire to Greenacres Rescue, west of Haverfordwest, and a few hours later came back with three brown hens. They are typical ex-commercial brown hens, bred for egg laying. We’ve had these breed of hens before, but at point-of-lay, rather than a few years old as these girls are. We’ve always found them to be friendly and inquisitive (perhaps too inquisitive), and these appear to be just the same. We don’t know their background, however, all commercial businesses will still get a new stock of hens every year, so it is just as likely that they came from a commercial free range business as a battery/caged business..

They have settled in nicely into their new home, scratching, dustbathing, lazing about in the sun, and already giving us eggs. We’ve kept them separate from the other two hens for the time being until they get used to each other and we are sure they don’t have any health issues. But in a couple of weeks they’ll all go in the same run and house, and find their pecking order, and hopefully everyone will get on.

Our three new hens – Pickle, Chutney and Cottontail

Mr Duck has flown the nest!

Spring is definitely in full flow. The blossom is out on the fruit trees, the birds are busy making nests, and the swallows have arrived. However, there are also other signs of spring in our garden. Around this time last year, our drake decided to fly away one day and leave his ladies. He didn’t go very far, just down to the neighbours. He came back of his own accord a day later, and stayed put. However, he must have had the urge to try again, as he’s disappeared. None of the neighbours have seen him, and it’s been three days since he left, with no sign of him returning. We think he must have gone further afield to try his luck elsewhere. We’re not too bothered he’s gone, as he did molest the ladies a lot, and he was just another mouth to feed, with little in return. He certainly didn’t like us, often hissing at us if we got too close. The ladies don’t seem too bothered either (as far as we can tell), and they are still laying well. We’ll keep a look out for him, but I think given the time he’s been away he’s gone for good.

Whilst we’ve lost a duck, we’ve gained another occupant in the garden, just in time for Easter. A rabbit (we assume it is only one), has decided that they are going to make their home in our garden, and more specifically in our polytunnel. We’ve caught them on the camera trap, so we definitely know it’s a rabbit, and I surprised it the other day when I went to open up the polytunnel one morning. This is the first time we’ve seen a rabbit this close to the house, but given they have been growing in numbers in the area, it was only a matter of time before one appeared in the garden…but we hadn’t expected it to set up home in the polytunnel! We’re making efforts to remove it from the tunnel, but of course as soon as we laid a trap it hasn’t returned. We will have to play the waiting game!


Water, water everywhere

Water, water everywhere

The last time we had a completely dry 24 hours was the 2nd November 2015… and it hasn’t stopped raining since! This may be about to break, with cold and dry weather forecast for the end of the week, but I won’t hold my breath until I see and hear the evidence for myself (the rain has been waking us up every night). The ground is sodden, with springs popping up all over the place, where the ground can no longer take any more water. The ditch in our bottom field is now a proper stream, being fed by a number of springs, including the one in this picture, where two springs merge. At least we know some of the drainage work we have done over the years is working, with water being channelled away off the land into the streams.

Fir branch duck island

Fir branch duck island

The wet ground is making it hard to do anything outside. The areas we walk often, particularly to and from the animal houses, are thick mud. We’ve had to lay some temporary plastic garden track in one area, as it was getting hazardous to walk on the slippery mud. The animals don’t like this wet weather at all – even the ducks. The other day I found one of the ducks sleeping on top of a tiny mound of grass, with a moat of mud around her. I assume this was so she didn’t have to sit on the cold wet mud. So we’ve put some fir tree branches down for them, both to sit on and lay their eggs (their nest hollows had filled with water too). The branches act as a protective mat from the wet ground, and so hopefully this will make them feel more comfortable.

We don't like getting our feet muddy!

We don’t like getting our feet muddy!

The goats, needless to say, are also pretty miserable. They don’t like getting wet and will do their best not to get their feet muddy and wet. We’ve put down some paving slabs between the field gate and their house, so they (and we) have got somewhere mud-free and dry to walk. Luckily the field is well drained, so it’s not getting too muddy, otherwise I don’t know what we’d do.

The chickens seem least affected, continuing to peck about and keep out of the wet when it rains heavily. They don’t seem to mind the wet too much, and are continuing to lay well into the winter.

The UK record for the longest period of rainy days is 89, a record achieved in 1923 on the Isle of Islay. Eglwyswrw, a village in Pembrokeshire, about 20 miles from us, reported it had had 75 consecutive days of rain (on the 8th January), so perhaps the record is about to be broken. But I’m sure, like us, the villagers would rather this was one record they didn’t beat.

A full clutch of duck eggs

A full clutch of duck eggs

After complaining that the ducks weren’t good layers, all three of them are now in full lay. One of them (we suspect one of the older ones) has been laying a while – a light blue coloured egg, which she laid in the house. More recently we started getting a white egg (we think from the younger female), but laid under the shelter, and now we’re getting another blue egg. They’ve now all taken to laying under the shelter, in a little clutch. However, we do still randomly find eggs around the run, or tucked behind a barrel. They clearly aren’t as discerning as the chickens when it comes to finding a spot to nest, and seem to be able to just drop an egg wherever takes their fancy. This does mean we throw a few eggs away, as some of them are caked in mud, but even so we’re still getting a little overwhelmed with duck eggs.

Very few people seem to want duck eggs. There is a long-held belief that duck eggs carry all sorts of unwanted nasties, like salmonella (probably because they don’t always lay them in a nest box), but we’ve been happily eating them with no ill effects. The eggs are also a bit different to hens eggs, with a larger proportion of yolk to white, with white having more protein, but that makes them great for baking – they make wonderful cakes and fluffy Yorkshire pudding. Some people say they taste different, but we haven’t noticed anything particularly different about them, and have used them as scrambled eggs and omelettes. Maybe some breeds of duck produce stronger tasting eggs, but as Khaki Campbells are bred as egg-layers, maybe this trait has been bred out of them.

So with the hens going great guns as well, we often get six eggs a day. I’ll just have to make more cakes!

Ducks investigating new run (but not the house!)

Ducks investigating new run (but not the house!)

The ducks use of the spare chicken house and run was only meant to be temporary while we decided where we wanted to keep them long-term. This also enabled us to see what was required in keeping ducks, and make a more informed decision on their final location. We now know that ducks are extremely messy. Our original location didn’t have much grass, didn’t drain very well and was quite small, so we decided that a spare bit of ground next to the vegetable patchwould be better. This would enable us to get them into the vegetable garden and eat slugs – basically get them working for their keep!

We’ve constructed a new house for them (although they rarely seem to go in at night) out of an old crate and various odds and ends of wood we had spare. All we had to buy were the hinges for the doors, although given the time it has taken to make the house we may have been better off just buying a ready-made duck house! We also decided to use electric netting to contain them and keep the local foxes out. This will also enable us to move them around if they make a mess of their run, or if we want them in another part of the garden. Electric fencing isn’t cheap, but it is a lot less hassle then constructing a wire fence, and is more easily moved. Read the rest of this entry »

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

Matilda enjoying a dustbath

It was another sad week last week, as we lost Matilda the chicken. She faded away quite quickly, not eating or drinking, although hung on longer than we thought, so we decided it was best to cull her before she began to suffer. She is now buried in the garden, where we plan to plant a tree. The tree will be one of the main features of a new wildlife garden, which we’re currently planning. It’ll be sited in the remaining part of the old vegetable patch (part of which now houses the new log store), which has been covered in black plastic for a number of years. We’re planning on putting in a small pond (hopefully using an old bath we’ve had sitting around), and will be planted up with wildlife friendly plants and flowers. This will be one of those on-going projects (of which we have a few) to do over the winter and into the spring.

The rest of the garden is beginning to show the signs of autumn, with the trees slowly losing their leaves. I’m busy sweeping them up to make into leaf mould, so they won’t go to waste. Most of the apples have been picked and stored, but our late eaters are still hanging on. We’ll be picking them shortly and making some into juice, which was a big success last year. The garlic cloves have just gone in, and I’m having a go at winter onion sets (I usually just plant them in the new year) to see if I can get an earlier crop, as we tend to run out of stored onions fairly early on.



Definately a drake amongst the ducks

Definitely a drake amongst the ducks

I can’t believe it’s October tomorrow, but it hardly feels like it given the warm dry weather we’re having. It was reported today that it was the driest September in Wales since 1910 (when records began), and I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s one of the warmest. We’ve been reaping the benefits of this warm spell with a bountiful harvest of fruit. Our (relatively) new apple trees have produced a good amount of apples, given their age, so much so that the Lord Derby cooking apple tree broke one of its branches under the weight of fruit.

We’ve now had our ducks for 2 months and there’s still no sign of eggs. One reason for this is that one of the younger ducks is a male! He started out looking no different to the females, but as he has matured he has developed a curled tail feather, orange legs and a greenish tinge to his head feathers. He hasn’t shown any other male traits,  but this may be because the females aren’t laying yet so he’s not getting the signals! Anyway, we don’t want it to get this far as these are his sisters, and so we need to get rid of him. Unfortunately, as with so many animals, the males are unwanted, unless they are needed for breeding. We haven’t decided whether he’s for the pot or we’ll try to find him a new home. We would like to find a home for him if we could swap him for another female, as we’ve invested time and money in keeping him.

The chickens are going great guns, laying good-sized eggs now (so we’re not sure what we would do if we had duck eggs as well). Even Matilda, our oldest chicken, is laying again. One of the young chickens decided to go broody last week, which is unusual in such young chickens, and especially at this time of the year (usually it would be in Spring). She tried to stay put on the nest, puffing herself up to fill the box, and everytime we approached she would try to peck us away. Apparently the way to stop them going broody is to get their body temperature down, so each time she went back on the nest we dunked her backside in cool water. Not quite the Ice Bucket challenge, but near enough for a chicken! It took about 3 days of dunking before she stopped, and so far it seems to have worked.

I’m now starting to get ready for winter, digging over beds and adding compost and manure which can be worked in by the worms over winter. I’m also sowing more green manure than I have in the past, partly because I’ve got seed left over (Caliente Mustard), and also because I thought I could get it to germinate quickly because of the warm weather. It’s already in flower and the bees are enjoying a late crop of nectar. I’ll be able to dig it in before covering the beds with plastic so it can rot down over winter.

Autumn is starting to make itself evident, with leaves falling and nights getting colder. It sounds like the weather is about to turn next week, so it will be time to think about lighting fires and hunkering down for the winter. Let’s hope it’s not as wet and windy as the last one!

Our new Khaki Campbell ducks.

Our new Khaki Campbell ducks.

Here’s the latest addition to our flock – 4 Khaki Campbell ducks. We’ve talked about getting ducks for a while, but haven’t taken the plunge as we haven’t got a dedicated area for them yet. However, by chance a friend mentioned she needed to reduce her flock of ducks as she was over-whelmed with eggs, and the cost of feed was too much, so we thought why not! We could use the other section of the chicken run and “sick” house as a temporary home. And as for giving them somewhere to bathe, well it turns out all they need is somewhere to dunk their heads (although of course if they can have room to swim as well all the better), so a deep tub or small paddling pool is adequate. So off we went with empty boxes into the wilds of Carmarthenshire and came home with 4 ducks.

Two of them are about two years old (the two on the right of the picture), while the other two are only four months old or so, so have yet to gain their adult feathers and start laying. And apparently laying is what they’re good at – better than chickens, up to 350 eggs a year! We have yet to see any eggs, but it always takes a while for them to get settled and feel comfortable nesting.

They don’t seem to trust us as much as the chickens, and stay well clear of us. However, we’re trying to tempt them with food, as we will need to get close to them at some stage. We’ve had fun and games with getting them to go into their house at night. The first night was a bit traumatic for all parties, but we managed to corner them and get them in. They seem to have now learnt where home is and will put themselves to bed, but much later than the chickens, waiting until dark to go in. And unlike the chickens, which individually go to bed, the ducks have to do everything together. So it takes all them to decide to go into the house before any of them will go in. Similarly, in the mornings, they don’t come out one by one, but all come out at once, waddling down the ramp, tails wagging! I think we’re going to have some fun with this lot.

Modified version of the Summer Polaroid Pics template