Saturday, 15 October 2011

So we're one chicken less ......

Sadly, one of our ex-batt chickens died last week. In the past she'd had a few episodes of feeling ill, standing around and looking miserable for a day or two before recovering and getting back to her usual self. But this time was different. I don't know what it was exactly that killed her but she had escaped from our front garden while free ranging and I found her a little way down the road surrounded by poisonous laurel berries. I can't be sure if she'd eaten some or if she had some other underlying condition.

But the upshot is that I'm left with 4 chickens spread across 2 coops so my plan is to buy one bigger plastic coop, to combat the horrible red mite problem in the ex-batts coop, and merge both flocks into one. I'm rather apprehensive as Crispy, the thoroughbred chicken, is something of a bruiser and jealously guards her position as alpha hen. The ex-ex-batt was the alpha in the other coop and if ever they saw each other there would be blood. Literally.

The remaining ex-batts seem a bit lost without their leader, egg production has slowed dramatically although this could be co-incidence with the colder weather and shorter days but I think they'll be happier once they're under the thumb again. And Crispy is already twirling her moustache in anticipation.

Friday, 7 October 2011

A wizened husk can be a beautiful thing.

I have to admit I was relieved when the hot weather broke. There was something downright spooky about winter sun of that temperature, even the quality of the light wasn't right. I was resentful about digging the suncream out again (parents required to slather wriggly offspring in Factor 50 as thick as marj will know where I'm coming from) my hayfever kicked off again and the sloes were shriveled like raisins by the time we got around to picking them.

On the plus side though, it's been utterly fabulous for the walnut crop. Normally when they fall they're still wearing their fat, wet green jackets which stain the hands mercilessly and can be difficult to pick off. Then they need to be dried out in order to remove the bitter 'wet walnut' taste and to preserve them. This year though, they're falling in a remarkably dessicated state. The green covering is dry and brittle which means it rubs off easily and cleanly, even better, the nuts are sun dried to perfection. The few I broke open have just the right crisp texture and that funny membrane that divides the two halves of the nut (can't remember the correct name) snaps cleanly in two which is a sign they've dried correctly.

It's hugely labour saving, walnuts are normally a bit of a pain to dry out and we end up with sacks of them all round the house, spread out in front of the radiators to try and speed the process up. This time it's just taken an hour or so to rub the skins off and that's it. As a result we're being ruthlessly efficient, going out early in the morning after every windy night to fill another bag. Knowing the pigs will be eating the excess assauges my guilt twinges. I wonder how a diet of windfall apples and walnuts will affect the taste of our pork?

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

When foraging and pig keeping collide.

I do apologise if this sounds like a smug-fest, it's not what I intend, but sometimes I'm amazed at how lucky I am.

This morning I packed Willow off to school with a bag full of home grown patty pan and crooked neck squash for the harvest festival (I think she would have preferred a packet of Jaffa cakes but there you go) then I stopped by the pigs to feed them and scritch their ears (they recognise me now and come galloping over, grunting excitedly when they see me) and finally, back at home, I fed our chickens and collected the warm eggs.

It all feels a very long way from my urban background and a concrete planter full of nasturtiums.

I'm also discovering that foraging goes hand in glove with pig keeping. We've still got a sack full of walnuts from last year so Adam has been dispatched to collect a new bag full (the nuts have begun to fall but there are more to come I think, fingers crossed for gales at the weekend) and the old ones will be used to supplement the hard pig food over the winter and hopefully save us a bit of money. In the mean time I'm now adding acorns and beech nuts to my foraging wish list.

They're also getting left over veg from the veg growing arm of Diss Community Farm, but in the manner of wayward toddlers, they're not massively keen on the Cavolo Nero and are holding out for fermenting apples instead. The Livestock project overall is running well, the feeding rota is going smoothly. It's working out that most of us have about 2 feeds during the week and are taking 2 weekends each over the next few months so the time commitment isn't too heavy, a very civilised way to keep pigs!

I've ordered my sausage making kit from Amazon so it's just a matter of waiting now - come on piggies, eat up!