Hill Farming, Small Holding

Chicken Fiasco

We live in the Northern Hemisphere, that means, as I write, it is autumn.

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In Britain we do something very strange in autumn.  We turn back our clocks an hour, to give us more daylight in the morning and less in the evening (is that right?)  It started in the war when someone decided to put the clocks forward in the spring giving us long balmy summer evenings in which to ‘dig for Britain’ and increase agricultural production.  Ever since we have been moving the clocks back and forth and generally confusing ourselves.

Last week-end was the time designated to move the clocks back (we are all supposed to do it at the same time) —  not that  the hours of daylight are impressed — they have continued to dwindle along their inevitable celestial way, getting shorter and shorter, leaving less and less time for the farmer’s chores, and we have to cope with the disturbance in our routine wrought by the hour change — waking too early, hungry at all the wrong times,  confused animals, missed liasons, getting to the dentist at the wrong time and general discombobulation.

I blame this for the chicken incident.

Speckled hen

Last week-end we went to Rutland for a wedding and Alan (who is thus culpable) noticed a sign saying

‘Point of lay chickens for sale’

Now anyone who knows anything about chickens knows that they stop laying in winter, which in the Northern Hemisphere comes shortly after autumn.  The purchase of chickens at the point of lay in autumn is pointless — they, the chickens, will quite likely be eaten by hungry preditors during the long, dark, eggless winter months and you will never see the fruits of your investment.

Note to self — buy chickens in spring.  But sometimes one just wants to do something extraordinary.

Meet our new chickens:

Hens and ducks

Those astute amongst you will have noticed something strange about two of them.

We did not lose our powers of reason entirely in Rutland — we noticed the huge pile of eggs on a box in the corner of the strangely muddy yard — duck eggs.

‘Oh yes,’ said the lady, ‘very good layers — our ducks, and they go on laying through the winter’.

So instead of four hens, we drove home with two grey hens (a Speckled and a Bluebell) and two Khaki Campbell ducks, shut in the boot of our camper-van.

We learned something new almost immediately as strange smells emanated from the rear of the vehicle unsettling the dog — ducks, unlike chickens, do not evidently switch off automatically when placed in the dark, they can see in the dark and they can squeeze through surprisingly small holes.

When we got home we had two chickens but no obvious ducks.  After the removal of several panels, the mattress, and parts of the bed we found them, gone to ground, between the water tank and the chemical toilet (obviously not liking to pooh on the plastic sheets and newspaper that we had put down for them in the boot).

This week, while I shampoo the camper van carpet, Alan (partly culpable) has been constructing a new pen and coop for the production of the most expensive eggs known to man.

Meanwhile I have a nagging worry about the ducks — raised commercially from day old chicks in a yard with only shallow trays of water and small puddles and without the benefit of proper parenting, we may well have to teach them to swim.  Life is full of new challenges…

Just now the chicken alarm went off — clucking wildly because two buzzards were making a low reconnaissance flight over the temporary poultry pen — I, but not the dog, was out there in my pyjamas in a trice.

Where had I got to?  Getting to know ducks.  They have laid 9 eggs in just under a week and are very meticulous with their ablutions taking a good hour to do what Granny called ‘a stand-up wash’ every morning  then they flap around drying their wings.

They are very easy to herd, which is good, and although they are not supposed to, they put themselves into the coop at dusk with the chickens, even though they don’t seem to like them very much.

Once the new coop is finished we will start on the floating pontoon for the duck-house…   If they can swim!

 

 

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