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.

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.

chickens · Life in the Countryside · The field

Moving the chickens

So after we had the hedges and the grass all cut back recently we decided to move the chickens out of the orchard and into the field. There were a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly the grass in the orchard needs some time to recover from the girls pecking at it and creating dust baths so we’re going to reseed it and give it a bit of tlc. Secondly, it was a right pain trying to mow around the chicken pen as there wasn’t really enough space to move the electric fence easily so you had to mow a bit, then move it, then mow a bit then move it etc. If they are in the field then we can just mow half the field, move them permanently and then mow the rest. Thirdly, we were actually missing having the orchard as a place to spend time in. We really liked the orchard and had a couple of barbecues there last summer and wanted to get back to it being more of a social area to spend time in as a family. So our plan was simple, move their Eglu and then remove the fence and herd them into the field. We figured that the chickens would follow their home as it moved. By gosh we were wrong. So first we moved the Eglu, the chickens were mildly interested in what we were doing but mainly focused on pecking at the area where the Eglu had once stood. C and I tried to bribe them to come out of the gate in their fence using meal worms. No luck. So we started taking down the fence, again they showed a mild interest in what we were doing but then just decided to explore the rest of the orchard. 


So my father in law began to mow the orchard to even up the grass where the fence had been removed. Admittedly they did move away from the mower, but only a little bit and still stayed determinedly in the orchard. By now they were getting a bit more confident and were exploring the full reach of the orchard, but still stopping short when it came to moving towards the field. Now we had kept Jessie inside whilst we did this as we thought she’d be a bit of a hindrance (I did want to keep C away too as she was equally a hindrance but you can’t really lock a toddler in a cage) but we then thought we could use her to help encourage the chickens into the field. She has only seen the chickens from behind the electric fence before and so we figured she would relish the idea of chasing them. If only we could manage to get her to chase them in the right direction. The result…she had a mild interest in the chickens but was more interested in exploring the orchard. We tried leaving them in the hope they would go by themselves but we were worried about them not managing to get home before it got dark and we know there are foxes about (hence the electric fence). Eventually we used all of our resources (me, my husband, my father in law, the dog and some netting) to try to trap one or two at a time so we could then carry them to the field. I don’t have any photos of this because I didn’t have a free hand to take photos! We managed to get five up there but Dorothy (remember her, the elusive let’s hide our eggs chicken) decided to hide in the hedge between the orchard and the field (which she couldn’t get through because of the fence). We ended up leaving her and coming back a couple of times and we eventually managed to pick her up and get her there but it was hard work. This is their new home in the field.


They seem to have settled in quite nicely. Once they’ve been there for a couple of weeks then we’ll give them the chance to free range even further into the field. 

Vegetable growing

Potato types: a review

So all of our Spring planted potatoes have now been harvested and we have sampled some of each variety so I thought it would be a good time to look back at the varieties we grew and see which ones we would grow again and which ones we wouldn’t. 


As a reminder for everyone our six varieties were: Red Duke of York, Charlotte, Maris Peer, Maris Piper, Purple Majesty and King Edward. The Purple Majesty were an individual pack of seed potatoes and the other five varieties were all together as a beginners potato growing pack. They were all planted in lazy beds in the field and ended up all being planted at the same time but were harvested at slightly different stages. Let’s look at each one in turn.

Red Duke of York:

These were my favourites I think. Our only first earlies they went in a little late and we left them in for about 11 or 12 weeks in the end and they were amazing. This variety produces red skinned potatoes that actually grew to an incredible size. We found they made great baked potatoes and also did well as roasties or mash. In fact there wasn’t anything we did with them that we didn’t enjoy. They also seemed to have been one of the varieties which were less damaged by slugs or other pests. These are a definite must for next year. 


Charlotte

These are second earlies and a very well known supermarket variety of new potatoes. These turned out pretty well as well, a good job as we have these as our Autumn planted (or Christmas) potatoes. They were a good size for Charlotte’s and had beautiful yellow flesh. There was some damage by pests but not too much thankfully. I think we will probably do these next summer as well. 


Maris Peer

Now these were one of our least successful varieties. Lots were attacked by slugs and we lost a significant amount of our crop to them. They have a more white flesh and just in general didn’t look as appetising as the others. The taste was okay but nothing special. These are not going to be repeated next year.


Maris Piper

Again this is a well known variety so I was expecting great things. This was another crop which was hit pretty bad by the slugs and other pests. The taste wasn’t bad, but nothing special and a bit disappointing for such a well known variety. I think we probably won’t be doing these again next year and will try something different.


Purple Majesty

Now J had really wanted to grow these as he had once had them served boiled at a posh restaurant and wanted repeat the experience at home. They turned out very well and gave us a good yield. However, some people were a bit put off by the colour. C wouldn’t try them and we served them a couple of times for Sunday Roast (in combination with other varieties) when we had guests over and a couple of people weren’t keen on sampling them. They were also remarkably difficult when it came to spotting any defects until they were peeled so they weren’t going to be great to store. So probably not a one for next year. 


King Edward

Again another well known potato variety and what should have been a reliable maincrop potato. However, we had quite low yields (although this may have been that they needed earthing up more) and they ended up being nibbled on by some kind of rodent (my money is on a vole). And actually taste-wise they weren’t as good as other varieties, we were very disappointed in the roasties we made with them. So probably not ones to repeat next year.


So we would grow the Charlottes, the Red Duke of York and would recommend the Purple Majesty but probably won’t grow ourselves next year. The Maris Peer, Maris Piper and King Edwards don’t have a place in our growing schedule for next year. Some interesting points to note here are that apparently it is a bad year in general for potatoes (according to smallholders we know) so we might have had less slug damage and better yields if the weather had been different. And we probably should have earthed up a bit more but actually the lazy beds weren’t as easy to keep weed free as we might have hoped. 

Next job on the agenda – work out what different varieties to try next year! Any recommendations? 

Caravan/travel · Life in the Countryside

Let’s go buy a caravan

So next Spring we are going to do some massive renovation work on our house. And when I say massive I really do mean massive. We have to do a single story extension, move the staircase and remodel upstairs, install a new roof, install a central heating system, new windows and doors, rip up and replace all floors (not just flooring actual floors) and walls. So obviously we can’t really live in the house whilst this is going on. So we are going to hvae to move out. We did lots of thinking about where to live for this time. One option was to rent a flat for six months but that would probably cost a fair amount in terms of removal costs, rent, council tax and bills on both properties so we dismissed it as we’ve both always felt rent was dead money. Another was move in with J’s dad who lives just down the road which would be free but after consideration we decided that we would all end up killing each other and that actually it would be best to manage a big renovation project from on site. So we looked at getting a second hand static caravan in the field to live in which seems to be fairly common for large renovation projects. However, we hit a snag as static vans are 12 foot wide and the gap between our garage and the neighbours hedge is about 10 feet. So it wouldn’t fit up the drive into the field. The only way to get one into the field then would be to have a crane lift it over the hedge. Which would cost seriously mental money so we dismissed it. So our only solution really was to get a large touring caravan which we could drive into the field. A major advantage of this is that we can also use it for holidays in the future so extending it’s useage beyond the build. We made this decision quite some time ago hence why we had an area prepped for it in the field (I’ll give more details on that another time).

So anyway, we had thought for ages about when to buy our van. We won’t need it until next March/April time but didn’t want to wait until just before then in case we couldn’t find the van we were after (as we were planning to buy second hand). As I had never stayed or even been in a touring caravan before (J’s family had one when he was younger), J said it was essential for me to look at a good few to be convinced that I would be happy to live in one and to holiday in them. For some reason my husband seems to think I’m quite fussy, I don’t know what gave him that impression. So early summer we had gone to a few caravan shops (pretty sure they’re not actually called shops as it just doesn’t sound right) and I had made sure that I went into all different types and sizes of caravans. It was a really useful exercise as I was immediately able to determine what were must haves and what were no way in hell will I live in thats. So my must haves were a decent sized bathroom. Not only do I have a toddler but neither J nor I are exactly small so we needed a big enough space to move about in. Ideally I also wanted the bathroom to be at the back of the caravan out of the way. Even though there are only three of us (and are planning on staying a trio) we wanted a good sized van, big enough so that if C ever wanted to bring a friend on holiday then she could do so we were looking at probably a five or six berth van. As we are planning on living there we need some kind of central heating system and a decent sized kitchen. 

Now the sleeping arrangements in caravans tend to have a few distinct options. You can have a fixed double bed at the back, or you can have either fixed twin or bunk beds at the back. Then most vans also have the option to convert the front sofas into either another double bed or twin beds. Some also have a small table somewhere at the back that can convert into another bed. We wanted to avoid as much as possible having to convert a bed every day when we’re living there so after lots of looking in different vans we have gone for a set up where there are bunk beds at the back and a small table which converts into another single bed (which we will probably keep converted at all times when living there). There is also a decent sized bathroom at the back. That whole back section can be closed off its a curtain/door thing which will be useful when we put C to bed early. We’re also getting a large awning which we can have as extra outside living space. I’ll post some pictures of the inside etc when we collect it this weekend as we’re planning to spend a night in it on Saturday to see how Charlie settles into sleeping in it (and because J is ridiculously excited about us squeezing in some weekends away in it before the weather gets too cold. For now I’m just trying desperately to think what kind of essentials I need to get to in, what are the kitchen essentials for a caravan? How many games and toys do I need? I’ve never been massive on camping so I don’t really have a clue what kind of things to get for it? I’ll try and write a post on Sunday to let you know how our first night went!

The field

The sheep are gone…

…but they will be back. The farmer came today to take them to be sheared and for the lambs to be wormed etc. Some of them, but not all of them, will be back in a couple of weeks for a while longer. As they are growing bigger the field isn’t going to be enough grass for all of them, hence the reduced number. It will be interesting to see how quickly the grass springs back up in their absence. But for today here are some photos of the sheepdog doing a good job of rounding up the girls into the sheep trailer. 

The field

Wind, rain and escaping sheep

So, the weather has been rubbish for the first week of June. We’ve had torrential rain, hail and heavy winds. There have been some glimpses of sun but not enough for my liking. Whilst the rain has been great for the garden the wind has unfortunately caused some damage. We’ve had the ornamental quince tree which is up against the coal shed come away slightly to hang into the drive. We will need to remove this tree anyway as it is where we will hopefully have bifolding doors so that’s just another job to add to the to do list. However, the wind has given us a bigger problem. A fallen tree branch. In the field. On our wonderful new fence. 


Now how did we discover this? Well on coming back from our evening chicken check we stopped to chat to our neighbour at the end of the drive who mentioned that some of our sheep had escaped earlier today into his field but that he thought they had gone back now. Cue my racing to the field to count the sheep. Right at the back of the field I came across a sheep who was behind our fence and between our field and the farmers field at the back. 

Unfortunately this has not been the first instance of sheep escaping this week.  My husband and I erected a barrier of sorts to cover the where the tree had pressed down on the fence.


However, the barrier has proven pretty useless as we’ve had to chase sheep back in twice since then. Including this evening. In the rain. Not fun. We’ve now tried using twine to tie up the barbed wire and the fence together to prevent gaps but as we’re not entirely sure how they’ve escaped it’s been pretty hard to be sure we’ve got the problem solved. Fingers crossed our temporary patch job works as I don’t fancy chasing sheep around a field every evening!

The field

Stuck lamb

To be honest I think the pictures say it all today, when walking to the field J and I encountered a lamb with her head stuck trying to sneak into the fenced off area we have in the corner of the field. We headed towards her but she managed to wiggle herself free and run off before we got there. Thankfully not before I’d managed to snap a couple of pictures!

Professionals · The field

The field

So I’ve probably already mentioned the field, it’s where we put our lazy beds, but I thought I’d divulge a little bit more about it. Having a field sounds very impressive and like quite an exciting thing to own but when you think about it what would you do with a field. The obvious answer would be to rent it out to someone to use, where we live there are always people looking for someone to keep their horses. But for some strange (read stupid) reason we just don’t want to. Last August when we just moved in I discovered that the hedges that border the field were heaving with blackberries and C and I spent many an hour wandering round and picking them and I don’t want to not do this. 

J and I have bandied about ideas for what to do with the field for some time and I don’t think we’ve settled on a long term plan yet but we have a short term solution at least. The grass on the field needs to be kept down and it seems ridiculous to either pay someone to mow it weekly or for J to spend every Saturday mowing it. So we’re having sheep on it. They aren’t our sheep as we know even less about sheep than chickens and we just don’t have the time to commit to learning how to look after them. Whatever we were going to do, the field needed a bit of prep work doing to it as it had been left unattended for a while. Cue calling in the professionals to help us out.

So in January J organised for an old school friend of his to do some big outdoor works for us. So in the coldest couple of weeks of the year we had the hedges circumventing the field cut right back and then post and rail fencing put round it so it kept any animals we had where they should be. We’ve also had a corner of the field fenced off separately (where the lazy beds are and where the caravan will go eventually, but more on that later), new secure metal gates put in and a couple of mounds of earth removed. There was an old pig shed in the field which had to be knocked down and a diseased ash tree which had to come down before it ended up collapsing on our new fencing. It was a massive load of work but they did an amazing job, I would highly recommend them. So the field is now sheep ready. I’ve put some pictures of the work in process below to give an idea of the scale of the work. 

The field

Lambs

I figured you might like an update on what it’s been like having sheep in the field. Well, it has been fine. We’ve had to make sure that the water is topped up which has been a daily thing whilst the weather has been nice but as we would have had to head up to the field to water the potatoes (which show no sign of growth by the way) it isn’t too much of a chore. And as a bonus we get to see how excitable young lambs are. I’ve noticed that there is a little gang of about four or five that hang out together. They tear around the field together and try to explore the fire (which is still going after a week but is well fenced off) and the mound of rubble that we haven’t disposed of yet.

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They also keep trying to climb up the tree in the corner of the field and climb over their poor mothers. Occasionally they get a little too eager and a call from a mother soon gets them back in line. Some of the others are still staying closer to their mums and only rarely joining in the others fun.

IMG_1654

Now I’ve learnt some very interesting things from the sheep man. Firstly that we can expect their tails to fall off as they have been banded (known as docking). The reason behind this is to keep them a bit cleaner down the bum end and make it easier to detect potential problems. When they arrived a number of the lambs  had obvious bands around their tails, hence the sheep man explained what it was all about. So we have been warned we may see a tail drop off. And we apparently also need to watch for their balls to drop off. Yes that’s right. We need to watch out for stray testicles in the field. Apparently the male lambs have also had their balls banded to castrate them. The reasons behind this are to prevent them getting a bit too randy with their siblings. Hopefully we won’t actually get to see that as I don’t fancy trying to explain that one to C.