Friday, 30 December 2016
Another 2 eggs laid by the hens today so we built some nest boxes which were installed in the henhouse. We also installed a large roosting bar made from one of the branches from the large pile waiting to be made into firewood. Note how Spotless is supervising the work in the photo above!
Thursday, 29 December 2016
The only greenery available to feed to the goats at the moment are ivy, bamboo, brambles and privet. All are available on the Whinnies site where are livestock allotment is. We've been feeding the goats mainly bamboo recently (and apples) but this week we've turned our attention to one of the hedges on the site which contains a good quantity of privet. As I tend to look after that hedge, I had deliberately allowed the privet to grow rather than be trimmed. I now have a modest feed crop for the goats. They love privet and thrive on it.
We had a walk in the local woodland on Christmas Day and I discovered the hazel trees were covered in catkins. Hopefully there will be a good hazel nut crop next year. I have to confess we fowled up this autumn regarding hazel. The nuts are an important crop. They are full of protein and oils and are an important part of our diet. Or they would have been if we had gone out to gather them. Sadly we didn't. We must avoid that mistake in 2017.
In October, our hens stopped laying. This was the first time we were without fresh eggs and I was concerned that we were doing something wrong. In the summer when the egg numbers rapidly declined, we changed their diet, ensuring there was more protein in it. This led to an improvement in egg numbers but this proved to be temporary.
My conclusion was that the hen houses were to blame. We had 5 small hen houses but they are difficult to clean. They often become infested with red mites which the hens hate. I decided that we needed to replace the small hen houses with a large one which will allow me inside to clean it and which was better suited for the numbers of birds we have.
And then the solution presented itself earlier this month when the temporary restrictions by DEFRA on keeping poultry separate from wild birds were imposed. We have confined ours to the smaller goat house and the fruitcage. The goat house has proved to be ideal for the hens to the extent that we are now starting to get eggs laid again! Okay, not lots of eggs but two days ago, one eggs was laid and yesterday, we had two. None today and I'm not going to count my eggs before they are laid (sorry!) but I'm hoping more of the hens will start laying again.
Our supply of firewood keeps on growing as we gradually chop the branches gathered during the summer from which the goats ate the leaves. A large pile of branches is still waiting but as you can see, the chopped wood pile (we have more piles than is shown above!) is large and attracting the goats. They eat the bark but also manage to scatter the wood all over the place. The wood needs to dry for 2 years. We are starting to run out of storage space. The sooner we get our fossil-fuel-powered gas heating system at home replaced with a wood-fired system, the better.
Wednesday, 28 December 2016
Recently we had an unwelcome visitor to the duck run: a fox had got in and took off with 2 ducks. We have had more visitors since though thankfully they weren't foxes. They were moles which left behind 2 huge molehills. The ducks quickly adopted them as perches!
The leftover tails, skins and heads from the two trout we had for Christmas dinner were not going to be wasted. We had some similar fish waste in the freezer as well. All of it was boiled up to make fish stock and this was then used to make fish soup. We cheated a little bit. We added mussels, anchovies and prawns we bought in a supermarket. Not entirely self-sufficient but a good soup nevertheless.
The quails have stopped laying and we have stopped milking Pinkie. Nevertheless, we still have a glut of quail eggs and ricotta goats cheese. So, time to make some mini scotch eggs. The coating of ricotta also included bread crumbs and onion. I also made 4 mini scotch eggs for the meat eaters - the coating was made of pigeon sausage meat. I was rather pleased with the results though we still have a quail egg and ricotta cheese glut to use up. And we are getting a bit fed up with scotch eggs with every meal going.
Sunday, 18 December 2016
Our magpie drake was looking traumatised after the recent fox attack. He was covered in mud but had made no effort to clean himself. This afternoon we decided to take him home to clean him up in the bath. He rather enjoyed the cold shower. I took him back to the allotment leaving David to spend ages cleaning up the bathroom!
We had been planning to clean out and renovate the duck pond but the fox attack on Saturday morning brought forward the plans. We spent 4 hours today draining the pond, clearing out the mud, refilling it with water, dismantling the duck shelter and replacing it with one of the small henhouses, and resetting the net over the run. It was an exceptionally muddy day but job was complete by about 2pm.
Some bad news to report. I got to the allotment yesterday morning and was a bit surprised by what I saw in the duck run. The ducks were covered in mud. When I did a head count, 2 were missing. A fox had managed to find its way in through a hole in the netting. The ducks had taken to the water to protect themselves. The pond was in need of a clean as it was very muddy. Sadly, we lost one of our Aylesburies and one of the khaki campbells.
Wednesday, 14 December 2016
We are aiming to use up our remaining quail eggs by the end of the year. So we are still having lots of quail egg salads. We weren't entirely self-sufficient with the last one. We bought some locally made black pudding from the Simply Local shop in Sunniside recently when they had a Christmas food fayre. They went well with the quail eggs. Next year I am hoping to have a go at making my own black pudding.
Tuesday, 13 December 2016
On the Whinnies in Sunniside we have a second allotment which is on the far side of the site to our main patch. We have rented it for over 2 years but not yet used it. The allotment itself has not been used for decades but we are now starting to bring it into use. The allotment will be used for growing fruit. All the soft fruit on the main allotment is being moved to the far side. The reason for the move is that the main allotment is to be used almost exclusively for livestock. The soft fruit bushes have been losing out to the goats in the past year, no matter what we do to keep them off the plants.
One of the biggest jobs to do on the far side is to cut back the hawthorn hedge. It is about 5 metres high and I made a start in October and early November when there were still leaves on the branches which could be fed to the goats. This work has now been put on hold until the spring when the leaves are growing again.
Monday, 12 December 2016
It's looking likely that the goat house, which we are temporarily using as part of a chicken run, will become the permanent henhouse. We were planning to build a new henhouse to replace the 5 small ones we have but it seems the solution to our chicken accommodation problem was staring us in the face. The former goathouse still needs some work on it to make it more than just a temporary structure. Nest boxes and a proper door will need to be added. We have, however, made some roosting bars from branches waiting to be chopped into firewood. The chickens took to them straightaway.
Friday, 9 December 2016
On Wednesday, DEFRA issued an order that all poultry have to be caged and separated from wild birds for 30 days due to an outbreak of avian flu on the Continent. While it is easy to issue the order, carrying it out is a nightmare. Nevertheless, we've done it. We have confined out chickens to the fruitcage and the spare goathouse. We've netted the area between the 2. The ducks are confined to the duck run. We have another 28 days of this to go.
Two ducks and two pheasants were left for me recently on the gate of the allotment by a friend. I will pay for them with jars of preserve. The birds still need to be plucked and gutted and will probably end up in the freezer, though I am toying with the idea of making potted meats.
We can learn so much from history about how to avoid food waste. Wood pigeons are regarded as pests and during the 2nd World War in the UK, farmers were strongly encouraged to cull them as they would otherwise eat large parts of the grain crop. The birds have a modest amount of meat on their breasts and this was not wasted. In this video I show you how to make pigeon sausages using a wartime recipe. The pigeons were given to us (in large quantities) in a swap with a friend who goes shooting. This is the first time I've used pigeon meat to make sausages and I was rather pleased with the outcome.
Monday, 5 December 2016
The decision to keep Spotless, the billy, means we had to build a separate paddock to hold him when the nannies are in heat. We don't want him to mate with his mother or sister. Pinkie is to be mated with a pedigree Golden Guernsey. So we have created a small paddock for him using some spare harris frames. The goathouse is an unused henhouse. So far, none of the nannies have been in heat and the goats can go in and out of the paddock as they please. Pinkie has taken rather a shine to the new mini-goathouse. She sleeps in there through the night rather than in the main goathouse.
The job of getting Spotless a mate is still waiting to be done.
Wednesday, 30 November 2016
The Whinnies community garden - I rent my allotment from them - built today some new compost bins from old pallets. One of them is specifically for manure from my goats and hens. They will use the rotted manure on the community garden. The manure bin outside my gate will continue to be used but we can leave it to stand to let the current contents rot down. Anyone on the site is able to take rotted manure from this bin. At this time of year we have a ready supply of manure!
Above - the contents of 2 of our henhouses.
Sandra and Chris from the Whinnies Community Garden ceremonially empty the first wheelbarrow of muck into the new manure bin to celebrate its launch!
We cleaned out one of the goat sheds last week. It filled the manure bin. We won't be letting it build up in the future however. The shed in question contains the milking stand and we will be keeping that as a clean area in preparation for inspection by the Food Standards Agency. This will be needed if we are to sell our goat milk products.