Marsh Daisy Incubation

Spring is here, and it’s never complete without an incubator purring away in a corner of the house. Today we started cooking 28 Marsh Daisy eggs – children of Mikey (the 2015 rare breed winner at the Staffordshire County Show) and the ladies we hatched two years ago, from Sharon who runs the Marsh Daisy club.

We have a hatching from last year from the same coupling, who are all at Rob’s a couple of field’s away and are due to be served by Rupert, their uncle. Hopefully Mikey will be good for another year and we’ll be able to run him with his grand-daughters from this year’s hatching, creating a closed flock system. Fingers crossed fate plays along with the plans.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the incubation room, Larry, Curly and Mo are keen to see what all the fuss is about 🙂

Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!

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New Duck House!

2015 new duck house

“Ooh – roomy!”

With Dotty and Lilly firmly entrenched, their new duck house finally arrived from Green Frog Designs. We’ve used one for the geese for a few years now, and know it’s a cracking bit of kit, so we’ve bought another. The expense of plastic will work out over the years through lack of maintenance needed and longevity of the material. It will probably outlast us!

Here’s Dotty checking it out for approval, before we’d even added the ramp! They’re both mixing with the boys quite well now, but we’re still going to keep them seperate during the night as the boys will become quite nasty next spring, and it won’t be fair on the girls. They’re managing two eggs a day, which is wonderful – apparently Khaki Campbells will lay around 300 eggs a year each, which is fantastic! To that end we’ve started them on layers pellets – the same we give the hens, as we know it doesn’t contain Coccidiostats – something water fowl can’t cope with. They also get some mixed corn in a bowl overnight, along with sand to help them digest their food. They also get a small bowl of mixed grit and shells, although the layers pellets should, in theory, have enough calcium in it for their egg shell production. It just feels good to give them something more natural to do with their time, foraging for stones and shells rather than giving it in pellet form.

The plan is to move them, once settled, into the veggie patch so they can get to work on those pesky pearl slugs! Yay!

2015 larry carried

Carry me, slave.

And just for the sake of it – here’s another photo of Larry relaxing!

Unwanted Callers at the Back Door

2015 larry silhouetted

Balancing on one leg is no mean feat (oops – I did it again!) for a tubby call duck!

See what I did there? Callers…call ducks?

I never said the jokes would be good! Still – what a lovely thing to wake to – three call ducks bobbling around your feet as you drink your tea on the back door step. This is what comes of allowing them to mingle with the new pretty lady ducks. The lady ducks have snubbed them – probably too short for them, heightest! Mind you, Larry, Curly and Moe were more interested in the ladies’ big trough full of water, and end up sat in it all day, bobbing around like crazy kitsch fishing floats. Mingling the two sets means opening up the gate between the paddocks at the back of the house, which also means that the paddock with weld mesh fencing that keeps the mini minions in place is no longer serving its purpose, as the mini minions are in the sheep netted paddock which leads on to the garden. Sheep netting is no obstacle for a call duck, and they head straight for the back door. I suspect they’re really looking for Suz, who tends to have pockets laden with various  goodies that would disappoint you as a child, but please you as a bird – meal worms and corn being the main choices! Our children tend to pass on the travel sweets when handed around…

Khaki Campbell Ducks – Two New Merrybowerites!

Larissa, a friend of ours, whose tribe of guineapigs like our hay, sent one of those emails. It was a link to an advert, asking for a home for two Khaki Campbell ducks – Doris and Lilly. I made the mistake of sending the email on to Suz, who decided we could give them a home. I happened to be in the area on the Sunday, so in I popped with Jay, to meet them.

Their mum, Claire, introduced us to two of the most adorable ducks I’ve seen – so tame, and happy to be picked up, stroked, and plopped back down again – their beaks a perpetual smile! We were plied with tea and home-made cakes (which we forgot to pick up from the kitchen!!) and after a farewell to the ducks from their family, we brought them back to Merrybower.

2015 Doris & LillyWe’re not entirely sure where their permanent  home will be – apparently they live quite happily with chickens, but I know the mess they can make of drinking water, so we’ll have a think, but we’ll find a place for them to call their own 🙂

2015 Doris & Lilly

If you look really carefully at the photograph you can see three Call Duck boys in the background, their heads kept popping up at the sight of their pretty new neighbours – I see trouble ahead!

Apparently Khaki Campbell ducks can lay around 300 eggs a year, although I imagine this would be down to the particular strain. Having said that, we were given two presents this morning in the shape of eggs, so we must have been accepted!