Update – Chickens

After our disaster earlier in the year we took a while to get some new chickens.  It was just too depressing, and we decided we needed to get our fencing sorted before we did anything more.

Our two remaining brown hens were fairly reliably laying, so we rarely had to buy eggs, which was positive, but we still wanted more.

We had a man in to redo our fencing properly.  I’ll write more on fencing a few days, but suffice it to say this was the real thing.  He said he thought our fox-proof fencing was actually OK, we just needed to get our electric tightened and add an extra row just off the ground, which he did for us.  It also helped that he fixed the rest of our fencing, as we had much less which was shorting out across the full length.

So last month we decided to get some new chickens, and after looking around, and exclaiming at the price, we decided to go back to bantams.  We started with bantams, and I always felt they had lots of personality, and with their smaller eggs having more doesnt give quite the same egg overload (as I can happily eat four or five for lunch, and it’s the same as three or so normal eggs).  We got five, four hens and a cockerel.

There’s still some debate on cockerels, and I’ve read a couple of articles saying they can be dangerous.  My view is that they make the hens happier, and that all animals need to be treated with respect, if they feel threatened they can become violent.  So I’d still suggest keeping one, and just being aware of them.  Which is not to say that I’ve not heard of some fairly evil cockerels (attacking their own hens and being vile) – but if you get one of those, then there’s an obvious answer, and there are always more cockerels.  We’ve never had to pay for one…

The cockerel is a Japanese bantam, then we had three silver laced wyandottes (reminiscent of Bella Bella, who I describe in my book – see link on the left.  I promise – no more plugs.  Probably), and a brown one.  At first they were very skeptical of us, and hid in our rather large amount of nettles.  After a week or so, and having cut down half the nettles, they became friendlier, and while they’re not yet eating out of my hand, they’re not far off.

The first night we locked them in the ark so they’d know it was home.  Unfortunately it was dark and we didn’t close it properly, so they got out easily the next morning.  This means they’ve found another place to nest, somewhere in the remaining nettles, and we aren’t currently getting any eggs from them.  I’m not sure what to do about that, but I’ll figure something out in due course…

The cockerel, getting in amongst the ducks for food:

Three silver laced wynadotte hens in front of the ark they spurned:

Ducks!

We have seven Cayuga ducks, and since the fox wiped out most of the chickens, they’ve had the poultry orchard more or less to themselves.  The remaining two chickens are stuck in the house with its run until the fencing is properly sorted out.  The ducks seem fairly happy with the world, though I wish they’d help me by eating the nettles.  Still, you can’t have everything.

They’ve been laying recently, but something has been getting to the eggs.  I suspect it’s crows.  They wait for the duck to be away from her nest and then swoop and steal the eggs.  I’ve found broken eggs out in the field, as well as quite a few in the orchard.  Still, now that the nettles are really starting to get big I think they’re hiding in them, and that’s probably putting the crows off.

We might get a set of ducklings appear at some point soon…

Eggstacy!

We’ve had geese for several years, and ducks for same time period.  In all that time I’ve only ever managed to have a couple of duck eggs, and no goose eggs.  That all changed a few days ago.

First of all the ducks.  I’ve found where they are laying, and sneakily decided to leave an egg in place, so as not to dissuade them from continuing to use the spot I have harvested an egg every day or so.  The egg I’ve left is quite easy to spot, so I’m fairly certain I wont grab an old egg.

Now the geese.  I have written on occasion about their boundless aggression.  At this time of the year it’s even worse, and all because it’s laying time.  Therefore getting an egg from the goose was always going to be a challenge.  Of the three geese the ganders are the talkative ones, and the goose very rarely says much.  However, when I walked close to her while she was sitting on her eggs, she went ballistic.  Louder than the ganders combined, and it brought them flapping over with murder on their minds.

However, she’s not sitting, so they do wander a bit, and so I took the opportunity on Friday when they were about fifty feet away to go and investigate the egg.  Since I’d last looked she’d laid a couple more eggs, and I managed to grab one of those quickly.  I had to back away pretty smartish as the geese were almost on top of me, with murder in their eyes.

Still I had my prize, as well as a duck egg, and also, miracle of miracles, an egg from one of the ex-bats.  The first one from them in weeks!  So my lunch was decided.  Eggs!  Here they are in the pan:

It’s pretty obvious which is which as they correspond to the size of the birds!

The duck egg, as always, tasted like a stronger chicken egg, particularly nice.  The goose egg tasted exactly like the chicken egg, but the yolk was much thicker, as well as much much bigger!  Much eggcitement I must say.

I haven’t managed to get any other goose eggs since then, though have had a couple more duck eggs.  No more ex-bat chicken eggs, but the original four are giving me about three a day.

Coda:  The geese went mental about an hour ago.  I assumed it was someone visiting who’d become lost, but when I looked out there was no one around.  One of the geese seemed to be shouting at a crow sitting on the fence, and then I noticed the goose trying to marshal an egg, which had apparently been cracked open.  I think the crows, and probably the magpies, had repeated my trick and stolen a goose egg.  Maybe the goose will sit on them now.  Which may prevent me from getting another one!

Resting lamb

I’ve tried several times to get a better shot of the Boreray cross sitting on her mum, and yesterday did manage to get a bit closer:

I had to lean through the hedge to get the shot, and I had the geese threatening me on one side which was a little worrying.  If I’d actually entered the orchard area the lamb would have jumped off before I got close enough to take a decent shot – I know as that’s what happened last time.

Lamb watch:  No new lambs – 8 so far, 6 ewe lambs and 2 ram lambs

Ex-bat egg watch:  Nada.  Zip.  However there was a duck egg yesterday which was lovely with my dinner.

Electric Fence worries

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been having a few challenges with our electric fencing. It doesn’t always seem to be working.  I have two main methods of testing it, the first is to watch the pigs and see how close to the wire they go.  If it’s live they are very careful around it, though sometimes still get pushed onto the wire, resulting a yelp and the sight of a piggy bottom disappearing into the distance.  The other method is to use a pair of pliers to cause a short and watch the sparks.  Actually, there is a third method where I accidentally electrocute myself, but I try and avoid that.

Our electric fence has four main roles:

  1. Protect the poultry from foxes
  2. Stop the pigs getting out
  3. Stop the cows and sheep from getting into the south facing slope field, and thence potentially to the road
  4. Generally protecting the physical fences from the animals – the electric stops them challenging the fence and slowly breaking it down

Of these the first is the most critical, as an extended lapse could see us lose all our chickens, again, and maybe even the ducks.  So I generally keep an eye out for the fence operation and try and fix any shorts as soon as I spot them.

The fence didn’t seem to be operating at all and I walked round several times to try and identify the cause.  The most likely seemed to be the pigs, who’ve mounded up quite a lot of the earth against one of the fences, and that was connecting with the wire.  When it was still muddy it was particularly bad (you can see the wire going into the mud on the left hand side) :

The frost has meant it’s not quite so bad, but there still have been some lumps touching the wire.  I’m trying to feed them a little further away from the fence to stop them doing this.

However, this still didn’t fix the problem.  On another trip round I found that some of the barbed wire round the top of the poultry orchard had become caught up with the electric fence, and that was definitely shorting it out.  I fixed that, and had another look.  Everything seemed good, but I still thought the wire wasn’t working.

It wasn’t, because I’d turned it off while fixing the wire covered in the mud!  So I turned it back on, and finally it seemed to be working.  I’m still nervous about it though, so I’ve been checking it more carefully than I usually do, just to make sure I catch anything early before it turns into a major problem.

Mob of chickens

The ex-bats have all settled in well now, and run around the orchard quite happily.  Now when I go to feed the ducks and chickens instead of having just four hens around me, and the seven ducks and the cockerel hanging back five or six feet, I now have twenty-four hens mobbing me!  It’s meant that I have to step rather carefully as they get under my boots, and squawk rather loudly if I catch their feet.  Also on occasion one of the hens will ride part of the way by standing on one of my wellies as I walk forward!

It’s great to see them all so happy though, and they’re definitely starting to re-feather.  We’re barely getting an egg a day from them at the moment, but I have hopes they’ll soon be giving us a little more.  When they do I’ll test them against the eggs from the old hens to see if they’re truly free range now!

The chickens mob me:

While the ducks look on:

Taking photos

On Sunday I decided to take some photos of the animals. The weather was lovely, and with nice sunlight it seemed a perfect time to take some photos.  The animals were relatively obliging and I got a number of nice shots.

Verdigris (who unusually does not have his ears flattened), with ducks in the background:

Whiteface looking rather stately.  She wasn’t that interested in letting me get too close.  If I don’t have food then she doesn’t trust me…

The pigs started chasing me as I was taking pictures of them.  Here’s Bernard getting a little close:

I nearly fell over a couple of times, and decided when Humphrey charged at me that it was time to get out of there.  I did manage to get a nice shot of him, from the other side of the fence:

I walked out to see the Borerays, and they were quite a bit more friendly, particularly Duchess:

All in all a pleasant little wander (and bit of a scramble) among the animals.

Chickens and ducks

The chickens and ducks tend to flock around me whenever I enter their area in the expectation of receiving food.  This makes sense really because most of the time when I enter their area it is to feed them.

The challenge with the way they flock around is that they easily get under my feet.  While I’ve not stepped on the back of any of them I have stood on one of their feet on a number of occasions.  There tends to be an indignant squawk and then the offended hen – it is usually one of the hens – scampers away a few feet only to return quickly with the hope of food.

For the last couple of days a new part of the routine has been added.  It’s been particularly muddy and my wellies are usually coated past the ankles with mud within seconds of me leaving the house.  As I go round feeding the animals the ruminant feed often falls out of my hands and bits of it land on my wellies.  When they’re not wet the food then just slips off, but it’s now sticking there.  Then when I walk into the chicken and duck area the chickens dive on the ruminant mix on my wellies, and start pecking away at it, which means they’re really pecking away at my feet.  The first time it happened it was a little strange, but I’m starting to get used to it.  It just means I have to pause for a few extra seconds upon entering their area, and then walk a little more slowly to the feed bucket.

September Census

When we only had a few animals it was easy to keep track of numbers.  In the last year or so as the quantity has both increased and fluctuated – births, deaths, holidays, sales – I’ve become less attentive to absolute numbers.  Today I decided to remedy that, so I counted them all.

The official roll call as at the end of September 2011 is:

  • 2 cows (Wrath and Avarice)
  • 2 Alpacas (Verdigris and Algy)
  • 5 goats: 2 Angora (Boris and Bertie), 2 pygmy (Ishy and Moby) and 1 other (Howard)
  • 20 pigs: 1 boar (Sir Humphrey), 4 sows (Bernard, Hacker, Snowball and Hacker) and 15 others ranging from 4 week old piglets, to some near adults who are soon to go on holiday
  • 67 sheep: 12 OAPs (though technically three of them are lambs), 6 Borerays (Haan, Duchess, Leelou, Leia and the two castrated boys), 1 Soay ram (Muga), 48 others (including White Face, Mouton, Lafite, Luke, Lamby and 35 of this years lambs)
  • 3 geese
  • 7 Cayuga ducks
  • 5 chickens

For a grand total of 111 farm animals!  We once peaked at 150 animals, so really we’re doing well on our reduction plan.  By the end of the year I think this should be down to around 80, which shouldn’t be too tough over the winter.

Getting back into a regime

I thought this morning would be a normal feed and I’d be straight back into the daily cycle.  Three small incidents put me off balance a little:

Muga’s advances

One of the reasons we feed the sheep, even though it’s summer, is to distract them while we take the feed to the pigs.  This is mostly due to our Soay ram Muga.  If he feels you have food and aren’t sharing then he can charge.  He’s rammed me a couple of times and not only does it hurt, the bruising lasted a few days, but it’s also a shock as he charged from behind.  This means I keep a special eye out for him when I’m crossing.

This morning he didn’t seem interested in the food and instead kept cutting in front of me as I walked across the field, sticking his tongue out and licking his lips.  The only time I’ve seem him do this before is when he’s sizing up a likely ewe.  I did not think him getting too close to me would result in a positive outcome, so I moved into a more defensive position when he got too close – tricky with 20kg of pig feed on my shoulder.  He backed off a bit but continued to follow me all the way to the pig fence.  I usually feed the boys first and stay in the sheep field pouring the feed over the fence to avoid being pushed about by Sir Humphrey.  Today I decided to avoid any misunderstandings with Muga and climbed into Bernard’s pen, which is next to the boys, as I can handle her and the piglets without too much trouble.

Where’s Bernard?

But then I got into the pen and couldn’t see Bernard anywhere, until I looked around properly and realised she was in the passageway between the pens.  This seemed strange as the gate looked closed, and the fences were all fine.  On closer inspection the gate seems to have come open and she’d just pushed through and had a nice little time digging up the grass, the gate then swinging back into the closed position but not shutting properly.  I persuaded her back in to her pen and as I was trying to open the feed bag – which is now plastic having been an easy paper thing previously  – she poked her snout in and tried to get into the hole I’d cut with my pen knife.  A brief struggle with her and I had control again, as well as a pile of feed at my feet for her, and went about feeding the rest of the pigs with no problems.  I then returned to the barn to feed the poultry.

Where are the ducks?

Feeding the poultry involves braving the geese with a bucket of feed for the Borerarys.  I drop that down, they get their long necks in and dont bother me as I go in to the chickens – though I misjudged them this morning and one of the ganders pecked my welly violently – I then give them a handful of chicken feed and pick up the bucket for the Borerarys whom I usually feed last.  I’m usually mobbed by the ducks and chickens when I enter their area and have to walk carefully to avoid stepping on them to much squawking and quackage.

This morning the chickens were there, but no sign of the ducks.  We’d seen them last night, but nothing this morning.  I even called out to them, and on the odd occasion when they’ve not been at the gate they’ve usually come running.  But not this morning.  Perhaps they were hiding in the nettles?  There was no duck sounds at all and I was a little worried.

Fortunately when I went out ten minutes later to take the above picture of Muga, all the ducks were there and quacking away happily.  Phew!