chickens · Life in the Countryside

The death of a chicken

As you may remember we have six chickens who are all about 18 months old now. Once they started laying they were pretty consistent although have been less so recently. We suspect that Dorothy has been eating her eggs and we think the girls have been a bit put off laying by their home being moved about a bit and some of the workmen and machinery that we’ve had around recently. Anyway whilst we were away in Cornwall we used the services of a local lady to come and water the garden and tend to the chickens for part of the time as my father in law was away as well. She contacted us to let us know that Henry didn’t seem quite herself. Henry has always been the runt of the group really. She had a poorly leg not long after we got her which took a couple of weeks to heal and she had always seem the weakest. Well to cut a long story short, she died.

The chicken lady said it seemed like she had respiratory problems and was egg bound but whatever it was she didn’t survive. Whilst it is really sad to have lost one of our girls, it is all part of life in the countryside. In fact we’ve been lucky not to lose any of the girls before now to foxes. Chicken health care isn’t exactly available and aside from some home remedies, chickens are generally expected to either make a recovery or not. Simple as that. We have debated whether or not to replace her but have decided not to immediately. Chickens can be rather bullying to newbies and as such it’s best to introduce them to an existing group slowly and in pairs. So we’ll leave it for now as a family of five and may add to our brood in the future.

The big thing that we’ve had to do is to explain to C about Henry. She understands the idea of death but hasn’t had any direct experience of it until now. We decided to be honest about it and tell her that Henry was really poorly and the doctor couldn’t make her better. We also have a book with a story about death which explains it really nicely about a fox going to sleep forever and how his friends remember him. So when J told her he said that it was like the fox in her book. She seemed to understand and wasn’t sad but very matter of fact about life an death. Guess that’s what comes from being a country girl.

chickens · Dog · Life in the Countryside · Parenting

Snow days

It’s been pretty hard to avoid the fact that the UK has been hit by a storm of pretty mammoth proportions recently. All three of us had a snow day on Friday even though J did have to work from home. We’d had a bit of snow so far this winter so C and Jessie had experienced it a bit but this weekend it really came down hard. There is really something quite magical about the snow and the effect that it has on puppies and children. Even though it makes things so much harder it is just quite beautiful. That said I know that the storm has brought great tragedy and difficulty to many people so we are very lucky to have been able to enjoy its beauty.

This was the scene on Thursday night when I insisted that J and I don our wellies and walk out to the field just to look at its beauty. Jessie has absolutely adored the snow and would have spent all day out there had we let her. She has sniffed and dug and bounded all over. The funniest thing has been throwing snowballs and her trying to fetch them back.

On first seeing the snow C did ask “Can we open our presents now?” Which was pretty adorable and made me realise how much toddlers associate snow with Christmas rather than winter. I guess so many Christmas films show snow in them that the association is inevitable. The first thing C wanted to do was throw snowballs at daddy (which I strongly encouraged) and then build a snowman. It turns out that getting a toddler to build a snowman with a dog’s help isn’t as easy as you think but our garden is now proudly home to two snowmen (largely through the efforts of J but I did help).

C was so excited about putting the coal for the eyes, although we were lacking a carrot for a nose as I had just used the last of them for our roast dinner so we had to adapt with extra coal and an apple. I’ll be interested to see how long they last and I think C will be quite sad when they melt. I themed our Christmas Eve hamper this year on Raymond Briggs ‘The Snowman’ and when she watched the film she was really upset when the snowman melted.

I think the highlight of our snow endeavours for C was sledging. We already had a sledge in one of the sheds which J’s dad have over-excitedly bought a year ago when they said it was going to be a bit cold (no snow appeared that time). We don’t have any hills in the garden so C had to settle with being pulled around the field, which she adored.

In fact to get her back inside we had to bribe her with the promise of hot chocolate with marshmallows. She later described her favourite part of the day as being sledging. Being ‘trapped’ at home was actually quite nice in many respects. We had milk in and used the bread maker to keep ourselves stocked up with fresh bread. I baked a lovely coconut and raspberry sponge which was lovely still warm from the oven and even better the next day with custard. I had been running the freezer down in preparation for the big move so it wasn’t quite as well stocked as usual. However, we were still able to rustle up some lovely meals; roast dinner, egg and chips, beef bourguignon and new potatoes, Boursin topped ciabatta pizza and of course porridge or eggs and toast for breakfast. It has really reinforced to me the importance of having a well stocked freezer as a family. When we have the work done my aim is to have a large American fridge/freezer in the kitchen and two additional freezers in the sheds. And maybe a chest freezer too if we start producing our own meat.

I’m not sure how our veggies in the raised beds will have faired with the snow. We have strawberries and asparagus in there as permanent additions and our leeks which we planted back in October half term still in a bed too. I guess we’ll just have to wait for the big thaw to see how they have coped.

The fire has proved invaluable in this weather. Some of our water pipes did freeze inside the house due to lack of heat but once we put all our electric radiators on they thawed by Friday morning. We’ve actually been quite toasty.

The chickens have struggled in the weather and we have done what we can do for them but until it thaws properly it will be a bit touch and go for them. Their eglu is insulated and designed to withstand snow so they are fine in there but they really didn’t like coming out of it so we moved their water and food temporarily into their coop and are just going to have to wait it out and see how they do. We’ve still had at least three eggs everyday so they can’t be doing that badly but I’m prepared for the fact that we may lose a couple. Fingers crossed though.

Life in the Countryside

A Month off blogging

So at the beginning of October it was both my and my daughter’s birthday. Then we were away for the weekend and life just got in the way for five minutes. I knew I hadn’t blogged for a couple of weeks although I’d started to write a couple of posts but never finished them so I decided instead of trying to catch up that I would have a month off blogging. I did post the odd picture on instagram but I stayed away from my blog. And do you know what? It did me the world of good. Let me explain what I mean. I started my blog back in April for two reasons. Firstly I wanted to have somewhere to record the work we were doing in our cottage as I had been taking loads of photos but not really actually doing anything with them apart from just keeping them on my phone. My second reason was as a way to share with friends and family who don’t live nearby what we were up to. I found I was becoming a bit of a bore with updates every time I saw or spoke to people. I’ve really enjoyed writing on my blog but it had sometimes got to the point that I was feeling every time we did something I had to immediately write up about it. Which is a bit silly really as the blog was supposed to be enjoyable and not a burden. So instead I’m going to try and write once or twice a week and not try and talk about everything we do. But first, here’s a quick summary of what we’ve been up to this past month.

Birthdays

Both C and I had our birthdays, she was three and I was 32 (again, I decided that I liked the age 32 so have decided to stay there for a while). C was so much more aware this year about her birthday and was ridiculously excited in the build up to it. Her actual birthday was on a Tuesday and she had her party the Saturday before which actually worked really well as it meant we could spread out the present opening. And boy she really got excited about presents this year. And I have to confess that I did too as she’s reached the age of Playmobil and Sylvanian families and Disney princesses, all the toys that I remember fondly from my childhood. As her party was a pottery painting party I did a multi-coloured layer cake covered in pink icing. I’ve started writing a post about it but for now here’s a sneak preview.


Sheds

We are now the proud owners of three sheds which fit nicely onto our concrete slab next to the garage. Currently they are fairly empty but the plan is that when we do our big house rennovation next year we will use them to store our house contents in. Though they may not be to everyone’s taste as they are plastic, they suit us perfectly as they need no maintenance at all.


The caravan

So we’ve spent our first weekend away in the caravan and I have to say we have, thankfully, made the right choice. It was lovely to have all our stuff already packed in it, with food in the fridge and cupboards ready for the weekend. Although I played no part in the actual hooking up of the van once we arrived at the campsite (that was all J’s role) it was a relatively quick process and it really felt like a home from home. I’m not naive enough to think that it’ll be a breeze living in it, but I think it will be manageable with the added bonus of having a take along holiday home when the house work is done. 


The animals

We have the sheep back in the field and they are living in relative harmony with the chickens (although I think that’s mainly down to the electric fence). We do have one of the chickens currently not laying but as it’s one of the ‘normal coloured’ egg layers then we don’t know which one it is and we don’t really know what to do about it. They all seem fairly healthy so we’re just letting them get on with things as normal and are hoping that it resolves itself in time. Jessie is getting on fairly well with the other animals. That it she doesn’t try to chase them too much although she has been very curious about the sheep. She’s going through a phase of wanting to chew everything as she’s losing her baby teeth (we haven’t found any yet but I think she’s eating them) and is a right old scamp when it comes to helping in the garden – she loves racing around the recreation area and jumping in the raised beds. 


Holiday

We have just come back from a week away in Rhodes, our first time going away in October half term, and it was just what we needed. We stayed at an all inclusive resort on the south of the island in a lovely suite with a private pool and were blessed with weather that was very warm but not too hot and we all had a relaxing time. I’ll do a write up soon about our trip and suggestions for anyone thinking about visiting Rhodes but for now here are some sneaky pictures.


There are lots of other things that have happened over the last month which I’ve probably forgotten, but for now that’s it. The cottage garden trio are still here and still surviving life in the countryside slowly working on creating our dream family home.

Life in the Countryside

What a difference a year makes…part one

It is now just over a year since we moved into the cottage and so I thought it would be a good time to reflect on what we’ve managed to achieve in a year. Both J and I have moments when we just want to walk away from the cottage as there is so much to do and it can feel stifling at times. Sometimes it seems as though what we have to do is unsumountable and that we will never get to the end of it so I thought it would be quite cathartic to have a look back at how far we’ve already come to help gear us up for the next phase of our work. I had originally planned this as one post but having started to write it there were just way too many pictures for one post so I’m going to spread it across three or four weeks. So this week we have the orchard.

The orchard before:


The orchard after:

When we first moved in the trees in the orchard were looking a bit sorry for themselves and the fruit trees hadn’t been picked properly for years so weren’t fruiting that well. The big pile of rubbish next to the garage was the furniture that we cleared from the house, totally filled with woodworm or infested with mice. That went on the fire. 


When we came to empty the solar (the building behind the pile of rubbish in the first picture above) it had a wasps nest inside and the floor collapsed so it had to come down too and onto the fire it went. The horse chestnut tree (centre of the second picture above) was diseased so has been removed and the stump is now a climbing frame for the chickens.


 Where the pile of rubbish was now stands a concrete slab large enough to fit three sheds (due to arrive in the next few weeks) and there is a gravel drive leading up to it (excuse the chicken in the middle of the drive).

 The massive composting pile of garden waste (picture three at the top) had to be removed and we had another fire or two. That took a long long time.



Now the far corner of the orchard is where I’m planning on building C a cafe/shop thing out of old pallets as its a nice shaded area. The rest of that cleared space is mainly occupied by the chickens, you can see the behind the fence of the photo below where I have a nice space for C’s cafe.


I mentioned earlier that the trees in the orchard needed some serious pruning. J has taken charge of this even though he really has very little knowledge on the subject. The two apple trees in the orchard had  a number of lower branches pruned back although I confess that was mainly to make it easier to get the mower round as the branches hung very low but it was also quite overcrowded. The plum tree also had a bit of a prune too. This has given us much better quality fruit yields this year. 



J has built two pens to store leaves and create leaf mound. 


The pampas grass that was in the middle of the orchard has had to be hacked back a bit after the chickens starting using it as an alternative nest. That still needs some work doing to it.



There is obviously still a bit to go in the orchard. The trees will get another good prune soon and hopefully will keep improving as the years go by. The pampas grass needs either cutting back and tidying up or digging up. There are a number of damson trees which have grown up in the centre of the pampas which need removing as there are too many crowded into a small space. I need to create a nice shaded play area for C in the corner and build her a cafe/shop. We have another couple of trees to plant in the orchard, another plum and another apple, in line with the existing apple trees. The sheds have to be bought and assembled on the concrete slab and the edging to the driveway needs to be finished. That’s probably about it for the orchard for now although that may change in time. Not bad work for year 1 in the cottage. Next week I’ll have a look at the recreation area which is the area I’m probably most proud of. Be sure to follow us to make sure you don’t miss it. 

Dog · Fruit growing · Life in the Countryside · Recipes

House sitting for the Cottage Garden Trio

So this week we have been away on holiday in Ruda (watch out for a future post about my week and recommendations for things to do in North Devon) with some of our extended family and whilst we were away my mum had kindly volunteered to stay at ours and keep an eye on things. I asked her for a midweek update that I could share about what’s been going on at the cottage so far and what she’s found the biggest challenges and successes which I’ve included below. It sounds like she’s been having a good time (I hope) and she’s used to having a dog and doing bits of preserving so she’s well placed to keep an eye on things. 

Ok………so here I am, left in charge of chickens and a ten week old puppy. The chickens are a doddle and have reliably given me six eggs a day. The puppy, lively at times but manageable and great fun (her rash has cleared up nicely but I’m still finishing her course of antibiotics). The problems are actually with the inanimate objects around here…..namely fruit and veg! Apples and plums just keep needing to be harvested and used as I hate waste, but before I did anything major with them ( apart from eat them or give bags of them to J’s Dad ) I thought that I would do an easy job with with some beetroot that Laura harvested before she abandoned me……sorry, went on holiday.


There are many different options out there when it comes to pickling beetroot but sometimes the simplest can be the best. I’ve used some Kilner jars which were pre-washed and sterilised. Simply cook the washed beetroot in salted water for about forty minutes until they are soft when pierced with a knife. Then drain and leave them until they are cool enough to handle. Try and find some plastic gloves so that you can peel them without your hands looking like you have just committed murder (disposable gloves like the kind that dentists and doctors are ideal), then slice them, pack them into warm sterilised jars and cover with pickling or white wine vinegar and seal (a clear coloured vinegar is best to allow the colour of the beetroot to shine through). It needs to mature for about a  month……can’t wait! Next job plum and apple chutney.

Life in the Countryside

Saving money

So here at cottagegardentrio, we tend to do lots of things which save us money but it occurred to me the other day that we have no real way of measuring this. Yes our food shops might be smaller sometimes or our electricity bill slightly lower, but I have no real way of seeing how much of an impact what we do has. I know some gardeners will often weigh all of their produce and try to price up what it would cost in the supermarket, but I don’t feel like I have the time for this really in amongst everything else I want to do (I tried this and spent ages looking for exciting potato types at Waitrose before giving up). So instead I’ve decided on a different approach. Every time I make or use something which I would have otherwise spent money on, I’m going to transfer £1 from our current account into a specially created savings account. Whilst some of the things we do (like drying our washing on the line instead of the tumble dryer) won’t have saved us £1, some other things we do would have saved us infinitely more (how on earth do you put a value on 12 jars of organic, high fruit, plum and rum jam?) So a set value of £1 makes it much easier to manage. I don’t know how long I’ll manage to keep it up, or if the end of summer is really the time to be starting this when most things have already been harvested, but I really fancy trying it for a spell to see. 

So far my list of things I think we do include:

  • Collecting eggs from the girls
  • Growing vegetables in the raised beds
  • Collecting fruit from the trees and hedges
  • Making jams and chutneys
  • Baking cakes instead of buying them
  • Sewing and knitting some clothes/gifts/household items
  • Using a washing line instead of a tumble dryer
  • Eat in/have friends over instead of going out (we do still eat out way too much, but we keep making efforts to reduce this)
  • Shopping around online for bargains (I’m including this as it’s amazing how much you can save sometimes)

I’m sure there may be more but that’s all I can think of now. My big struggle is whether to put money in when I harvest goods, or when I use them? And do I put money in for when we collect eggs everyday? I’m going to put any money saved towards our trip away for our five year anniversary next year (as yet unplanned though we’ve had lots of ideas). Does anyone else do anything similar to keep track of money saved? Any better ways to do it? How much money have people actually found making small changes can save?

chickens

Deep cleaning the chicken coop


Deep cleaning the chicken coop should be done every week or two. Deep cleaning is more than just emptying the tray underneath, it should involve totally cleaning the inside and the outside as required. Now one of the reasons we had chosen the Eglu coop was because it was supposed to be very easy to clean. Well we’ve put it to the test and I can say I totally agree. The first thing you need to do is to remove the tray under the bars and empty it into the compost. This is normally done every few days.

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Then this needs to be jet washed down and left to dry before replacing it. The nesting bars can also be removed and sprayed down and dried too. A quick wipe of the inside and outside and you’re done. The laying box tends to get wiped down and straw replaced when we collect eggs. All in all it took less than 10 minutes excludimg drying time. Not that hard at all really. Just make sure that you close the door when the nestings bars aren’t there so you don’t have any falling chickens.

chickens · Life in the Countryside

A day off

Today I had a bonus day off work and as C was already booked into childcare until 2, I took the day as a day to myself. I knew that if I spent any part of the day at home then I would end up doing chores. Not that that would be a bad thing, but as a bonus day off is a rare occurrence it seemed a shame to spend it doing the same things I do everyday. So today I had booked myself a massage and a facial first thing which was heavenly. Then, as I was nearby, I went to a fabric shop for a good old browse and a sneaky purchase of fabric for some outside cushions. Although I did feel a little guilty about not spending today with C or spending time making progress on the garden or cottage, having some ‘me time’ has done me the world of good and I now feel ready to tackle the busy few weeks at work and at home.

This afternoon C and I chilled at home, putting out fresh water for the sheep and chickens and ensuring the pots, raised beds and lazy beds are well watered. There looks to be the start of beetroot peeping through in one bed along with the turnips (which will require thining this weekend) but no sign of life in any of the others yet. And still no sign of life in the lazy beds, I will be very disappointed if we don’t get any potatoes after all that hard work. C and I did manage to discover a clue in the great egg mystery however. We found Boss in the nesting area just getting up from laying us a lovely egg. So maybe we only have one laying girl at the moment. Not that that’s a bad thing, but it does beg the question as to why Belle hasn’t started yet as she looks very ready to lay. I’ll make sure she’s fed some special treats this weekend to hopefully encourage her to join in the laying club.

This weekend is a bank holiday again, the joys of having a late Easter. Saturday J is busy for most of the day so, weather dependent, C and I might go for a swim and do some cooking. Sunday we’re seeing friends and then no doubt Monday will be spent doing some work on the garden.

chickens

Who’s egg is this?

So we are now getting a steady flow of one egg a day. We know that the eggs we’ve had don’t come from Anna, Elsa or Dorothy as they produce different coloured eggs. And we also know that Henry is a few weeks younger than the rest so is highly unlikely to be laying yet. Chickens tend to start laying from about 22 weeks and apparently there are some signs that a chicken is nearing point of lay. You can try feeling the width between their hip bones as it will widen when she is brewing an egg. That’s all well and good but it requires catching a chicken and having her not struggle whilst you feel her bum. Not happening! Also when her plumage (the red bit on her head) becomes more prominent and colours from pink to red.

So that leaves Belle and Boss. We know our first two eggs came from Boss as she was sitting in the nesting area not long before we found them.  But then we’ve had an egg everyday for the past four days. Now they could both be from Boss, or Belle could have started laying and one or both could be from her. The big question is how can we tell? The first egg we had was smaller which fits with what we’ve been told that first eggs tend to be small. But there seemed to be a difference in how the latest eggs look compared to the first two, they seemed less speckled. So does that mean that this is just Boss’s eggs developing as she settles into laying? Or does it mean that these latest ones are from Belle instead? And if so that means Boss hasn’t laid since Saturday. I’m not sure that it really matters but it would be nice to know if we have two girls laying or one, mainly as I stopped buying eggs when we bought the girls (we used to go through at least a dozen a week) and our girls still haven’t got up to that combined level yet. I would put up a picture of the eggs for comparison but we’ve eaten them already (they were delicious and tasted unbelievably fresh). A friend of mine said that her neighbour used to give her eggs labelled with which chicken had laid it, I mean how on earth do you know that? Especially if your chickens all tend to lay quite similar looking eggs.

chickens

Our first egg

We have our first egg! Boss had been in the nesting area of the coop earlier and this afternoon when our friends were visiting we went to check and there was our first egg! It was quite small but apparently the first one usually is, it often doesn’t have a yolk in either but we have yet to see that. It looks very lonely on our egg rack but hopefully they’ll be more to join it soon.

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