Lost little piggy

Yesterday afternoon when we went out to feed the pigs I counted them all up.  All seemed fine, until I got to Gaffer’s little brood.  I counted several times, but only got to six.  We then walked all around her pen, and I checked the straw as well, but couldn’t find the seventh.  No idea where it’s got to.

It was still gone this morning, so I suspect it’s not coming back.  Maybe a fox got it?  Poor little piggy.


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…

Damned Fox

Yesterday was a very bad day.  It was early evening and I was feeding the animals.  Having just fed the pigs, and noted that we had another pair of lambs, I was heading back to the poultry orchard to feed the chickens and ducks, when I saw something odd by the fence.  I realised it was a dead chicken.  And then I realised there were several more.

I ran in, but it was obviously far too late.   They’d scattered and run, but been taken down one by one, all over the orchard.  we did once surprise a fox in the orchard half way through such a spree, so I did look around carefully.  No fox.  The ducks were fine, probably they’d retreated to the pong, and two hens survived.  Just two of twenty-one.  All the rest were lying pathetically, drenched by the rain.  Cold and unmoving.  One had clearly provided a meal, but all the rest were just as they’d been the instant they’d died.  It’s likely that the fox – for that is the only reasonable culprit – was planning to come back later to take the chickens somewhere where it could store them.

I collected up the cold corpses ready for disposal, and put the two remaining hens into the ark, and closed up their run.  It’s likely to provide them with decent shelter.

From the looks of things our electric fencing has been shorted somewhere on it’s length again, and the fox took the opportunity, during the day and probably not long after lunch.  We’re going to review the fencing situation before we get any more, and the two we have are going to be somewhat restricted in the meantime as well.

Very upsetting.

Ex-Bat MIA

The chickens move around a lot, which makes counting them rather tricky.  However, I think there are only eighteen of the ex-bats left.  I’ve counted several times and not counted the nineteenth.  I’ve scoured round the orchard area, but not yet found the body.  This could mean a number of things:

  1. The body is under a particularly big tuft of grass.
  2. She flew off.  Possibly south, after all it’s been rather chilly.
  3. She’s hiding from me – unlikely given how excited they get about food.
  4. A fox got her – unlikely as all the others are still there.
  5. I can’t count – possible given how much they move about.  Really, they jitter all over the place, climb over each other and all sorts.

I hope she hasn’t really gone missing.

Also, the ex-bats are still not laying.  Not a single egg in two weeks from them.  The others are laying quite happily, between two and four a day.  I guess I can’t complain as I wouldn’t know what to do with any excess eggs.  Still, it’s the principle of the thing!

Electric Fence Review

I noticed the other day that the pigs were no longer showing the electric fence the respect it is due.  I suspected that somewhere along the line I had a short, or two, or more…

Walking round and checking every part of the fence takes about half an hour or so, and really needs to be done in the middle of the day when the animals aren’t expecting to be fed, otherwise I tend to be mobbed as I go around.  And Muga might decide to ram me in upset at my failure to provide food.  Yesterday I took the opportunity to walk around just after lunch time.

There was a bit of grass touching the line in a few places, but this clearly wasn’t the problem, and it was some while before I found the real issue.  One of the pigs’ water drinkers was touching the wire.  This is the worst type of short as it’s metal on metal, so the whole charge is diverted and earthed.  Also when it is touching properly there isn’t any sparking, which is what usually guides me to shorts.  I moved the drinker and propped up the pipe leading into it, leaving the wire nice and clear, and continued on my way.

The next potential short I found was around where Muga has been trying to knock the fencing down, he’d managed to move the posts enough that the wire was resting against one of the wooden posts.  It wasn’t sparking, but I figured that it was still likely to be shorting.  At this point my common sense went for a wander and I decided to move the wire out of the way.  With my hand.  The electric shock didn’t hurt so much as completely freak me out.  After some swearing and general imprecations I decided not to do that again.  Clearly with it touching the wooden post it wasn’t losing much charge.

I found two more points where it was touching the wood, but no more with metal.  I’ll need to fix the wooden touches at some point to make sure it has top zip, but all in all it’s back to a good power.  This was admirably demonstrated this morning when the two young pigs both touched the wire, and jumped back with a squeal, while I was trying to pour out their food for them.  Hopefully it will continue to keep them in, and foxes out of the poultry orchard.

Algy and Verdigris – What are our Alpacas for?

We have two intact male Alpacas, Algenon (or Algy) and Verdigris.  We bought them originally as fox protection, though their usefullness in this is debatable given the chickens we’ve lost.  Some might ask why we bought two males and not a female to breed them – and that’s because the females are much more expensive than the males.

Alpacas in this country are kept either for breeding or their fleece, so we’re already out on the first.  We shear ours once a year, an experience the alpacas hate.  This results in two bin bags of really lovely fleece.  Two years ago I sold them by the bin bag on eBay, and made less than half the cost of the shearing.  Last year the fleece just disappeared for reasons I can’t remember.  This year I decided to sell the fleece in chunks a la the other eBay sellers, as this seemed likely to generate more profit.  I had 5 of one and 7 of the other, and managed to sell just one lot of 300g of fleece in the first listing.  I sold nothing in the second listing, and decided on one last listing, dropping the price a bit.  Another two weeks went by with nothing, and then yesterday someone decided to buy three lots!  Much excitement.  I’m still on track to make less than half the cost of the shearing though…

So the question is, what are they for?  They don’t like to be stroked – alpacas are not touchy feely animals by nature, in fact Verdigris has never even eaten out of my hand, though Algy occasionally does.  They are pretty as you can see below, but aestheti I think we’re probably going to look at selling them at some point, hopefully before the winter.

Either way I moved them into the field with the goats and the main sheep flock today, as the grass is starting to get a little longer and I’m trying to balance the sward length – not something we’ve worried too much about before as we hadn’t split the fields up!



Pure aggression

Our animals in general show one of two behaviours.  The first is that they spot we have food and mob us, the sheep will cluster round, sometimes rearing up to get into the food bucket, the pigs will run towards us and the chickens gather at our feet, not all at once mind as we keep them in separate areas.  The second is when they realise that we don’t have food, then they become curious/cautious which involves them creeping forward to check again that we don’t have food, and then running away when they realise we don’t.

The only exception are the geese.  They have just one mode – pure aggression.  There are three of them, two ganders and a goose, which is almost certainly a poor combination, and we’ve had them since they were eggs.  We have left them nameless, in part because at some point we may turn them into dinner!

We used to keep them with the chickens and ducks in the poultry orchard where they were quite happy, but then we realised that they were killing the chickens.  We had a set of bantams and we kept finding them dead, with all their back feathers ripped out and a bloody area left.  My original theory was that it was the crows as we seemed to be being mobbed by many murders of crows and I read that they do attack smaller birds.  As a result we put up some mesh across the whole orchard area at around head height, and a set of cds to hang about and scare off the crows.  It did reduce the number of crows in that area, but sadly didn’t stop the deaths.

Then I saw the geese having a go at one of the chickens, pecking at it’s back.  I decided it must be the geese.  So we set up a partition of the poultry orchard made from the mesh with the ducks and geese on one side with the pond, and the chickens, of which there were only two left, on the other.  This seemed to work for a while, and we obtained some more chickens.  Only a week later I went in to feed the chickens and initially couldn’t find them, until I started finding corpses.  Of twelve chickens only one was left alive, cowering in one corner of the chicken run.  The partition was partially down, and I jumped to the conclusion that it was the geese.  I was in the process of giving them a piece of my mind – lecturing them at some length and telling them that they were going to only last till Christmas when suddenly a fox shot across the orchard.  I chased it, though I have no idea what I would have done, and it leapt up the fence and climbed over between some of the mesh and then ran off.  I duly apologised to the geese, and set about fixing up the fencing around hte orcahrd.  It was alreayd six foot high, but I added two levels of electric fence, and tightened up the mesh all around.  We also repaired the partition.

Once again we went to get some more chickens though this teim they weren’t bantams and we only got five.  We watched carefully to see what would happen.  All seemed ok, we just needed to repair the parition now and again, until we realised that one of the ducks was starting to look ragged.  After watching the two ganders corner the poor duck and have a go at it we decided enough was enough.  Saving the duck, and spraying it’s back with anti-biotic, we ejected the geese from the poultry area.

They now live in what will eventually be our garden.  They have two troughs of water which they use to wash themselves and drink.  It does mean that we walk past them all the time, and they often come as far as the front gate.  They make a real racket when people come to visit, which is rather useful, and the dogs are definitely scared of them.

The two ganders are the source of almost all the noise, the goose says almost nothing.  She’s also a lot more considered than the ganders, she’ll waddle over to see if I have food, whereas the ganders will hiss a honk.  They’ll move aggressively forwards, hissing and with their heads lowered whenever someone is walking away or past them.  When I walk towards them they back away quickly, only to turn around to chase as soon as my back is turned – and they’ll even nip the back of my knees if I dont keep an eye on them.  The most annoying thing they do is hiss and nip when I feed them.  I used to let them eat of my hand, but when one of the ganders actually nipped my arm, and then dipped down to eat again from my hands, I decided that I’d stop doing that!  Now I just put their feed on the ground and back away.

Still, they provide some entertainment and some security, so they’re not in immediate danger of being turned into dinner!

Here’s the three of them in typical fashion, the ganders are to the right of the picture both hissing like crazy, the goose more thoughtfully on the left:

And a close up of the lead gander:


Ducklings growing up

We have a small flock (sord, or safe apparently is a better collective noun according to wikipedia) of ducks, which are probably Cayugas.  I say probably as I bought the original eggs a couple of years ago on eBay based on the picture, but with no details of the breed.  Two hatched and survived and they had three more last year.  They seem a happy little paddling on the pond and we were quite happy with them.

Earlier this year we seem to have lost some of them as we only saw two or three at any one time.  We feared that Mr Fox had been at work, but then occasionally we’d see a fourth so we deduced something else was going on.  The area the ducks living in has a pond and some fruit trees, and about a quarter of it is a nettle bed of some ferocity.  It appeared that they were living under the nettles, and perhaps nesting.

Towards the end of July I was out feeding the ducks when I heard a lot of cheaping, and suddenly spied a whole raft of little ducklings on the pond.  I counted fourteen of them!  I fed the ducks as normal and the mummy duck had her fill of food, but the ducklings stayed back.  Each day I’d check and feed them and they seemed to be ok until two days later when I noticed a couple of small duckling bodies next to the pond.  They were dead but it wasnt obvious what had odne for them.  Sadly over the next two days they all died.  Our vet said that at some times of the year it could be caused by a lack of insects, but given how many were about it seemed unlikely.

As well as losing the ducklings we still only had four ducks.  About a week later the remaining mummy duck appeared, trailed by threee ducklings.  Thinking about what the vet had said we got some chick feed in (which is basically just ground up chicken pellets with a higher cost…) and made sure to put loads out for them.  The ducklings seemed to do well for the next few days, and then one of htem went missing.  I couldnt find it and was worried that the others would follow it, but they were made of sterner stuff.

Nearly two months later and they’re starting to lose their down feathers:

Their adult feathers have a lovely green/blue sheen to them.  Nice to see them growing up!