Preserving tomatoes

Well it’s harvest time and with that comes preserving time. I’ve not had much experience preserving foods, freezing, turning into wine a single go at red onion chutney and hawberry sauce is the extent of my dabbling. That needs to change now that I am smallholder. We want to still be eating our home grown foods deep into winter.

We had a little go at pickling cucumbers but then I didn’t feed the plants and the harvest wasn’t great so that was 3 or 4 jars that were only set to last a couple weeks in the fridge. Not going to see us through winter there.

Then the tomato harvest came in and it was truly a glut. The first wave was about 12kg of tomatoes (two different salad types and one cherry) and Sam reckoned that would be about a quarter of it. We needed to get preserving and fast!

Our first tomato harvest
Our first tomato harvest

The cherry tomatoes went into the dehydrator and turned into a very tasty treat that I didn’t even know I liked. I think sundried tomatoes in oil put me off of the idea of dried tomatoes and I’d never been a fan of dried fruit. The smell that filled the room whilst the dehydrator was running was divine and we soon found that the end product was quite addictive.

Drying cherry tomatoes
Drying cherry tomatoes

We still had the salad tomatoes to deal with though. In hindsight most of our tomato consumption is in the form of sauces, both for cooking and condiments. With that in mind we should have gone for very fleshy tomatoes rather than about 15 salad tomato plants. We will learn for next year! We decided to still try and make passata despite our poor choice in variety. After all there was no way we could eat that quantity of tomatoes fresh and we aren’t set up to sell at the gate yet.

We had two methods to try. The first was out of the River Cottage book. Basically chop your toms in half, stick them in an oven for an hour, press through a sieve or passata maker (we didn’t even know these existed), bring to the boil and bottle. The second was from an Italian friend of mine, Cassie. Pop your toms into boiling water to split the skin then peel (a lot easier than it sounds), chuck them in a pot and cook until it’s at the thickness you want then bottle or push through sieve and bottle.

We tried both methods and, although the River Cottage was less labour intensive to start, the pushing through the sieve took a lot of time and effort and I don’t think it was very efficient. We did get a beautiful thick sauce though, maybe more paste than passata. Would be a great base for ketchup, which is another thing I am hoping to make.

The Cassie method was daunting but I actually really enjoyed skinning the tomatoes. The boiling down took forever, was on the hob for most of the day before it got to the right thickness and by that point I couldn’t be bothered with the sieve. It was bottled seeds and all but actually makes  really good base for sauces, I’ve used a couple already. Despite peeling the tomatoes and the length of time it takes to cook it actually feels like a less labour intensive method because you just leave it be for a lot of the time.

We have since harvested 3 more batches of tomatoes and the Cassie method has been the one we stuck with, until the most recent batch. We decided we like making and cooking with passata so much that we should buy a passata machine. We switched back to the River Cottage method and ran the toms through the passata machine when they came out of the oven. Thick seed free sauce that was quite quick to make. I’ll probably do a batch or two each year the Cassie method as I think having the seeds in worked really well for ratatouille, which we eat a lot at the moment thanks to our abundant courgette and aubergine plants!

Passata machine in action
Passata machine in action

So we can now add dried cherry toms and passata to our list of preservation methods conquered. I am hoping to have a go at ketchup as well, but for now I’ll be satisfied that we have coped with our first real glut!

Dans

New additions

It’s been a while since my last update*. Suffice to say I got ill and everything went a little out of control. I think it would be quite easy to mistake our polytunnel for a jungle at the moment! I need to get better at juggling illness and smallholding, maybe juggling babies and smallholding as well.

On a more positive note we have some new additions. Meet Baldrick and Barbara. They are two Embden geese, born mid May and hopefully one male and one female. I’m actually feeling pretty confident that Baldrick is a boy, his croak is harsher than Barbara’s. There’s also the grey feathers on the wing of Barbara, this is mentioned in the breed description as being  possible in females in their first year.

Baldrick and Barbara
Baldrick and Barbara

For the most part they have settled in well, although Baldrick quickly took the title of stupidest animal at Six Oaks. Within 10 minutes of being here he had gotten his head stuck in the fence somehow. Then he tripped over the goose bath, going face first into it. Within his first week he had also gotten into a fight with one of our sheep.

Our plan for these two is to send Baldrick off as a meat goose, see how we find the process and meat as a test for doing it on a larger scale. Barbara is going to join Athos’ harem and hopefully provide some nice Toulouse x Embden chicks for us to eat and sell as meat.

We had intended on keeping the two groups of geese separate for a while but in the time it took for Sam to get Baldrick to the goose area Barbara had broken out into the existing geese’s area. We just let them mingle after that. There have been a couple minor squabbles. Mainly when food is involved but for the most part they are happily co-existing, although not one group as of yet.

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Peacefully co-existing

Our first batch of chicks are doing well, well 3/4 of them are. We found little blackie (proper name Bellatrix) dead in the garden late one afternoon. Somehow the door to the coop had come open (the latch closing it isn’t very good and has since been tightened). We found Aino and 3 chicks huddled under a bush and Bellatrix dead in another part of the garden. I think it was a goose as there was one wound under the wing and blood on her legs suggesting she had walked wounded. She was also very close to the goose area. It could have been a cat or another chicken though. Catching the others was not fun, and included all of them running into the goose area, but we managed it. They’ve got a new coop and run on order to give them more space and keep them more secure. We had been thinking about bringing the chicks into the flock but after that we will wait until they are at POL (point of lay).

Aino's chicks in their new accomodation
Aino’s chicks in their new accommodation

Our last new additions are still in progress. Aurora went broody and in the quest for a truly multicoloured egg box we bought some White Leghorn eggs to go under her. We are at day 21 now and we have at least one chick hatched, possibly two. Aurora has been a different broody to Aino. For one her poos don’t smell half as bad as Aino’s, but on the downside she insists on pooping in the nest and is quite caked. We tried cutting the offending feathers off but it is all quite close to the skin. We’ll have to bath her once the chicks are hatched. She got very distressed at the trim we gave her and hatching day was around the corner so I didn’t want to spook her.

6 Whit Leghorn eggs ready for a broody
6 Whit Leghorn eggs ready for a broody

The hatch hasn’t been without issues as well. We had one infertile egg that we got rid of at day 18, not too bad out of six eggs. The biggest issue was born out of my stupidity though. Upon realising that Aurora has poop on her I decided to clean her off. Of course I wanted to stop her going back to the eggs so I blocked off the nest box before picking her up. Unfortunately I grabbed the coop door rather than the bit of cardboard I usually use. As soon as my hand moved away from it it fell and landed on two eggs. Cracked and bleeding. I was a mess. Ended up taking them inside, accepting that we had lost them and sitting down to feed Chi and take my mind off it. Sam had asked if they could still survive and I said of course not; cracked shell and bleeding – they couldn’t possibly. I googled out of interest and saw something about candle wax. Rushed to the kitchen got Sam and we got to work. They were severely cracked so a lot of wax was needed but we got them sealed up and put them under Aurora. Candled that evening and both were very much alive. Keeping everything crossed that they hatch!

Candlewax repaired eggs
Candlewax repaired eggs

That’s it for new additions for now, although we are in talks to get a ram lamb to come and service our girls, stay over winter and then fill our freezer in spring. Hopefully more on that soon!

Dans

* I actually wrote this post a month ago and it has taken me this long to get the pictures sorted out. I decided to post it as it was rather than update it. Two important updates should be mentioned though.

1) Aurora’s chicks hatched. We had 4 chicks hatch, which included one of my repaired eggs, so the method works! They are getting big now and I think we have 2 girls and 2 boys based on comb size.

Aurora and her chicks
Aurora and her chicks

2) We lost Baldrick. He went downhill rapidly, from looking a little depressed on a Saturday evening to being at death’s door on Sunday afternoon. In that time we had got him to a vet but they said there was little that could be done. He had a lot of lice which were jumping ship, he was thin and very watery diarrhoea. He had looked ok to me on Friday but I guess that shows I didn’t know what I was looking for. We have since treated the others for lice and worms and are giving extra feed to help plug any gap the grass isn’t covering. We’ll be rotating their grazing more as well. It was bad husbandry that caused us to lose Baldrick, some say that it is hard to tell with birds and most new keepers get losses this way, but we will learn from our mistake and I hope not to lose another bird to something so easily avoidable.

Wings hanging down - our first sign that something was wrong with Baldrick
Wings hanging down – our first sign that something was wrong with Baldrick

The story of the missing eggs

Well I said in the broody post that we had eggs turning up left, right and centre whilst Aino was sitting in the favourite nest box. We hoped that once she was gone things would go back to normal but we didn’t and we had hens laying away in bushes and changing the spot every few days. Our egg production went right down and I was convinced there was a pile of eggs hidden somewhere in our garden.

We finally got everyone laying in the house (or under it as one Brown Marsh Daisy insists on doing), except a Brown Marsh Daisy who we thought had a very well hidden nest. We spent days watching the chickens outside to see when there was only one BMD in sight and then go hunting. No luck at all.

The BMD who lays under the house was pretty consistent though, an egg a day. Earlier this week I noticed her under the house. I went back later but no egg. I really searched. The next day Sam found two eggs under the house. We thought I must have missed it but I suspected that both BMD were laying there and we had a thief in our midst. We popped a rubber egg under just in case, in the hopes that it put off whoever was eating them. Sure enough there were two eggs again the next day but no rubber egg. I was hoping that would be the last of it, we put a rubber egg down again but we then had a couple days of only getting one egg and the rubber one. It might be time to block the chickens off from there and hope they return to laying in the house. Although I’ve found some eggs from inside the house outside it so the thief may be going inside too.

After a week of hunting for the second BMD nest Sam finally found it, in the most overgrown part of the garden. There were 9 eggs in it. They all passed the floaty test though so we made a nice spanish omelette with some veggies from the polytunnel. Unfortunately, she hasn’t laid there again so we are back to hunting her! Ah the joys of truly free range chickens.

Any suggestion of who might be stealing our eggs, or ways we can prevent would be warmly welcomed!

Dans

Chicks!

We have chicks!

Day 21 of incubation was on Saturday, Sam and Lis heard some cheeping in the late afternoon but we didn’t think any had hatched. By the evening there was a Cream Leg Bar shell outside of the nest box but no sign of a chick.

By morning we had the CLB chick (well CLB x Lakenvelder) and two others, a black one and a yellow one. At first I thought they were from a light brown egg and a dark brown egg, but it turns out that they are both Rhode Island Red x Copper Black Maran. There was also an egg with a hole in it. I had read that intervention generally caused more harm than good so we left it be. We popped some crumb down though as we weren’t 100% certain when they hatched.

Evening everything was still the same and I was worrying for the pipped egg but kept my hands to myself. Thankfully when Sam checked in the morning there was another egg shell but he couldn’t see the chick. It turned out to be another black one (RIR X CBM), wobbly on it’s feet but alive. Four chicks out of 7 eggs seemed good to us but we still hoped for the other three. I was keen to get a CBM or a CBM x Cuckoo Maran.

We had a mini panic that afternoon as I went to check on them and a chick was outside the  coop. It squeezed it’s way back in when I arrived, but not a good situation. Aino was now sitting outside the nest box with the chicks under her but no eggs so we thought we’d give them a chance by shutting her into the nest box. I had heard tapping from one of the remaining eggs and it would keep the chicks safe until I was able to block off the gaps in the coop.

By Tuesday the chicks were all doing well and we’d put cardboard around the edge to keep them in. Aino was adamant that she didn’t want to sit on the eggs. They had been pushed to one corner of the nest box and she was in the other with the chicks. We took the eggs out and brought them inside with a hot water bottle on top of the fish tank. I could still hear the light tapping.

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Being a good mama and keeping her chicks warm

Wednesday evening we candled. I saw what looked like feathers but no movement in one egg, and just a dark shadow in two eggs. We gave up on them. I cracked the first one in the sink and it opened with a loud bang and an awful smell. Have had to light some incense in the kitchen to mask it. Another infertile egg, no development at all. The second egg really broke my heart though. I was expecting the same again but I saw black feathers. Then I saw movement. I opened it up and the yolk sack was still very large and hadn’t been absorbed. For some reason this chick was days behind the others. It’s possible it had been one of the eggs on the edge and the lack of constant temperature messed up the development. I held it until it stopped moving, there was nothing more I could do for it. The third egg I was certain would go pop as two of them had just had a shadow when we candled. I saw feathers again. This chick was huge though, taking up the full space of the egg. It still had some yolk sack not absorbed though and it was dead. I guess it was a day or so off hatching when Aino gave up.

The two rejected Maran eggs
Maybe these two under developed chicks were from these eggs?

A very sad evening, and no doubt my first of many where we lose an animal. If anyone has suggestions of things I could have done to help these chicks I’d be very interested. We’ll be buying an incubator before we put eggs under any other broodies.

Tomorrow I will go and watch our surviving chicks, try to come up with B names for them and maybe take a video for you all. We have our first new lives and our first deaths in the same week, life has a balance and this is a good reminder of that.

Dans

Oh PS I finally learnt how to get a subscribe button on here, so you can sign up to get notifications of our updates. That’ll help you keep up-to-date with our antics now I am keeping up-to-date with posting them!

One last chick pic!
One last chick pic!

Shopping smallholder style!

We went shopping – smallholder style. A member of our local smallholding group is leaving the smallholding life and offered up a bunch of their stuff to the group members to buy.

A couple of our purchases were to do with future interests. We know we’d like to get into keeping bees, although I’m slightly worried as to how I will react with a bunch of bees flying around me but we should find that out when we go on a bee keeping course. The equipment was at a really good price should get us pretty much set up to go so we went for it. We also want to keep goats for milk in future, but we’d like to see if we like and will use the milk first so a cheese making kit (soft and hard) seemed like a good buy.

On the practical side we bought a scaffold tower as some of our fruit trees are high and it will help us do repair work on sheds, the house and polytunnels. The most useful of all is that we have now bought a trailer! Once we get a tow bar on the car and collect the trailer it will come in handy not just for transporting animals but collecting muck, moving things around the land and crazy spending sprees like this! As it was, somehow Sam defied the laws of physics to fit it all (except the trailer) into the car plus me, Chi and a pushchair!

Our car, aka a TARDIS
Our car, aka a TARDIS

Dans

Feeling broody

No, no, don’t panic, it’s not me!

One of our Brown Marsh Daisies, Aino, has gone broody. It started nearly 3 weeks ago when we couldn’t collect eggs from one of the nest boxes for two days in a row as there was a hen on it. It dawned on me that it might not be bad luck (3 Brown Marsh Daisies and that nest box was everyone’s favourite). I tried to move her off and was thoroughly pecked for my efforts. Had to pick up the nest box and tip it to get her out – definitely gone broody.

Aino is the hen in the middle
Aino is the hen in the middle

We briefly thought about trying to break her of the broody feeling but I was hoping to buy some more hens this summer and hatching our own gets rid of the risk of bringing in disease so we thought we’d give it a go. We were wanting to increase the diversity of the eggs we were producing (currently 2 blue layers, 3 cream layers and 1 darker cream layer), so we went for some Cuckoo Maran eggs. I couldn’t find any locally so we braved ebay. It wasn’t the best of experiences. Egg arrival day came and went with no eggs. I emailed to be told the eggs hadn’t been laid yet, there were only 4 Maran eggs, not the 6 I’d paid for. The lady assumed I was incubating and figured it would be ok. I explained I had a broody and she was very apologetic, she agreed to ship the 4 Maran eggs along with some others she had. She also ended up refunding so not too bad in the end.

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Our current range of eggs

We also bought a little rabbit hutch for the broody so we could get her out of hen house and the popular nest box, we had eggs turning up left right and centre. We put the broody coop inside our big shed as it has a solid floor and we can shut it up each night in case of predators. Aino was moved into the broody coop two days before the eggs were due to arrive just to be sure she was serious about sitting. She did not want to budge!

Our broody coop
Our broody coop

We let the eggs sit for about 8 hours when they arrived. They turned out to a mix of Black Copper Maran, Cuckoo Maran x Black Copper Maran, Rhode Island Red x Black Copper Maran and Cream Leg Bar x Lakenveldar. Not really what I had wanted but I had read the advert wrong the night I ordered and the other eggs were to make up the numbers. Some of them were really large though, so if we can get a hen laying large eggs that should help, and we might end up with some interesting coloured eggs, assuming we don’t hatch all cockerels!

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The new eggs!

She accepted the eggs straight away although she kept having two Maran eggs peeking out from under her, sometimes feeling cold. We left them as they didn’t seem to be kicked out, and of course they were 2 of the 4 Maran eggs.

The two rejected Maran eggs
The two rejected Maran eggs

We bought a candler and then realised that we probably shouldn’t have started with Maran eggs as dark brown eggs are hard to see through! We couldn’t really tell with them but we saw veins with the others and a growing dark area when we candled at day 15 so fingers crossed.

Warm eggs whilst Aino takes a break
Warm eggs whilst Aino takes a break

At day 15 when we were candling I noticed a Maran egg had some cracks so we took it away and had a look, rotten. At day 17 I noticed another Maran egg the same, rotten again. I am hoping that these were the two eggs that had been peeking out. We did number the eggs when they went under Aino, but the pencil wore off. I’m guessing these two eggs just weren’t fertile. The other two Marans seem to be ok, so fingers crossed they hatch ok and are female. The eggs are due to hatch on Saturday so watch this space, hopefully all will go well and we will be having to come up with some B names from fandom!

Dans

A wooly adventure

I’ve not been very good at keeping this up to date have I? I’m currently putting that down to a toddling terror with a love of laptops and a questionably understanding of the word no (I’m pretty sure she understands but ignores). A new rule that Mummy can have her laptop at breakfast might help.

So what’s been going on at Six Oaks? I’ll update you on the sheepy front this time.

The sheep have been shorn and ended up looking more like deer than sheep. It was a real adventure getting them in for that. We had to get them out of the field they had been in and then through the next area with long grass and willow trees, down a 12 foot wide strip of good grass between the leylandi and the polytunnels (aka Polytunnel Way) and into the open polytunnel. To start with they didn’t want to go past the gate of their existing field and a drop of the bucket on the other side  meant they got a fair amount of the food without getting them very far. But we got them in and the gate closed behind them. Success!

Except it wasn’t, we got as far as Polytunnel Way and then refused to go further. I guess it was narrower and they could see that the end of it was blocked off. The bolted off in a series of kicks and jumps and found the willow which was then far more interesting than the coarse mix Sam was shaking. We gave up on the carrot approach and went for the stick. There’s a hedge going through this area and with an unsuspecting volunteer (Kay) we tried walking them down the gap between it and the fence to get them into Polytunnel Way. We soon found out that the hedge wasn’t as thick as we thought when they started jumping through it!

We gave up, stuck some hurdles up a little way into Polytunnel Way so that we didn’t have sheep wandering all over the place and put their water there. We had dinner and thought about shearing the sheep ourselves (shearer due first thing in the morning).

Of course when we went out to lock up for the night the sheep were happily in Polytunnel Way munching on the grass. We opened the hurdles and tried with the bucket again. It worked and we got them penned up just before it got dark. Of course both our phones were dead at that point so no victorious photo. The only bucket we had with us at that time was the chicken corn though as we were quite surprised to find that they seemed to like that even more than the coarse mix!

All penned up and ready for shearing
All penned up and ready for shearing

The shearer came and went with little event. We had the sheep penned up in the open polytunnel with the ends of the polytunnel blocked off just in case. Turns out that was a good idea as one sheep got loose at one point and was running around the tunnel.

Our new deer!
Our new deer!

The fleeces were so tiny! It didn’t help that a couple of them were really shedding so had the fleece coming away in pieces and half gone anyway. I may need to get them done earlier next year or learn how to roo them. My plans to make a couple of rugs from them went out the window when I saw the size so instead I have sourced some white fleece and I will do some peg loom rugs with brown and white wool. Hopefully more on that soon.

We then had a go at treating the sheep with clik to prevent fly strike. A lot of people say to do it a few weeks after shearing but our vet advised same day and I trust her, plus we were still mentally scarred from having tried to get them in that once! We managed ok, and it was only the sheep that got sprayed so pretty good going for newbies I think!

They are in their new area now, eating the grass down to a manageable height, taking shelter under the willows and looking very much like deer. The field they had been in is looking lush and green but I want to rest a while before they go back there. I also want to split it into three areas.

Sam with the sheep in the new area (well 12ft strip)
Sam with the sheep in the new area (well Polytunnel Way)

Not much else to report on the sheepy front. We did have our first wound to deal with a while back when I went out and saw one of the sheep had a bald patch. Turned out that 28 had an abscess on her head, but thankfully after a squeeze from the vet and a long acting antibiotic injection that healed up without event.

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28’s abscess

Now to start thinking about tups and how many we keep over the winter. We’ve got use of a neighbour’s half acre field now and the grass is looking really good so thinking about keeping all the girls and maybe selling some with lambs at foot next spring, but I know the grass will slow over winter and I may come to regret that. Lots to think about!

Dans

Chicken update

We’ve been having a few cockerel issues lately. Aramis (as he is now known) has started charging at us during corn feeding times and giving our legs one good peck with his beak. We thought it was hunger as sometimes the pellets would run out during the day but he continued to do it even on days we kept on top of the pellets and even after all the corn had been given out and his girls were still pecking happily away at the ground. Sam ran after him the last time he did it and so far so good but he gets one more chance. If he does it again he is in the pot.

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Aramis – our cockerel

To be honest he may end up in the pot anyway. He’s a lovely looking boy and he does well showing the girls food and keeping them safe (he gets them all on red alert when one of our cats walks by). On the downside though we have to keep the eggs in the fridge and he has a favourite hen who is getting her back feathers damaged by his affections. We’ve had to resort to buying a saddle for the poor girl. On top of that he is another mouth to feed, and a big one at that! Just need to get myself booked onto a course to learn how to humanely dispatch chickens or have someone show me. Whatever happens I want his end to be quick and utterly unexpected for him.

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Our ‘First Lady’ showing off her saddle

We’ve also been having nest box issues with the chickens. We bought two nest boxes to attach to the side of the chicken house but we put them a little bit too high up I think. Nevertheless we did get a couple of eggs in them but then it rained and the boxes leaked. The tongue and groove joints weren’t done very well. We ended up putting an Ikea storage box in there on it’s side which has actually worked really well. We had 5 birds using it though which is too many (one of the Brown Marsh Daisies has made a nest underneath the house). We felted the roof of the box now though and the Norfolk Grey is happily using so I am hoping the others will follow.

On a good day we are getting 4 eggs that are suitable for selling (we only sell them if they are over 50g, not too dirty and not ridged at all). Two of the Brown Marsh Daisies are still laying very small eggs and the Norfolk Grey has a really ridged egg every 2 or three days. Not the best layers I guess. The Cream Leg Bars are doing a great job though, we sometimes even get large eggs from them and the blue shell is a draw for some of our buyers.

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Eggs!

We’re doing quite well selling eggs to family and friends and are now looking at getting some more chickens, laying some eggs that differ in colour to the ones we already have. We need to re-paint the hen house first though and get another nest box in (probably another Ikea box as it is working well). I’m thinking that we will wait until July for more chickens as that’s when the next round of worming is needed and buying then will mean that 1) the new girls get a quarantine treatment, 2) everyone is kept inside to allow them to sort themselves out so they will eat all the pellets and get a good dose of the wormer.

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Happy chickens

Dans

 

Geesey update

A lot has happened since the last update, but this post will focus on the geese.

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From front to back, Abigail, Athos and April

We’ve had a bit of a switch around with names, aiming to have animals named according to their year of birth. All of our animals so far were born in 2015 so they will have A names. Jules and May have been renamed Athos (Musketeers) and Abigail (Hannibal). April (TMNT) has kept her name.

New fence posts going in
New fence posts going in

After a few escape attempts we fenced off a new area for the geese. They now have 0.2 acres to roam. I was worried that they would switch and start laying in the new area but luckily they seem to have imprinted on the ‘orchard’. We are now thinking about digging a pond for them in the boggiest area. We’re hoping that will improve drainage all round.

A wobbly fence in the making
A wobbly fence in the making

The geese have had even more fencing as we gave up on the windbreak fabric we put up in the last post. Abigail went under it too many times, it was starting to break free from the staples holding it up and then Athos went over the top to attack our helper Lis. So 1M stock fencing went up, just need to get a gate in there which will make getting to them a lot easier.

We had a couple run ins with Athos getting a bit more protective but he seems to have calmed a bit since we started walking with a stick and using a dustbin lid to aid in egg collection.

The girls are laying really well. We’re now on 35 eggs from April and 36 from Abigail. The highest egg estimate I saw was 40 so I am hoping that they exceed that as I was expecting them to lay until at least the end of May. Omelette had been our go to goose egg meal but after tasting a fried goose egg I am sold. Still need to have a go at a soft boiled one though!

Lots of goose eggs
Lots of goose eggs

I’m reconsidering the hatching goslings idea. It’s quite likely that Athos, Abigail and April are all related and we’ve no idea if their parents were related or not. However I am still interested in having some goslings. Athos and Abigail are very much bonded which leaves April all on her own a lot of the time. If we got a couple of goslings we could kill one in the winter and keep one as another layer/companion for April. Another girl would also be useful as April is now sporting a bald patch from some rather eager affections from Athos.

Three's a crowd
Three’s a crowd

If we could get the geese to actually lay in the shed we’d be able to sell the eggs. Currently they get quite muddy. Unfortunately they seem to be very fixed in the idea of sharing a nest in a spot that gets wet when we get a lot of rain. If anyone has any tips to get them into the shed that would be awesome.

The last bit of news on the goose front is a mouse problem. They have started getting in to the layers pellets bucket and have been trying to get into the water/corn bucket and drowning. We’ve started taking the pellets away at night but there’s still some droppings so time to find another feeding system I guess.

Dans

We’re still here

Well it has been a long time since I last checked in with you but there’s been good reason. For valentines day my true love bought me a website! I’m not very good with websites, and an 8 month old makes everything take 3 times as long but we are up and running at www.sixoaks.co.uk so you can read all about us over there!

Don’t worry I haven’t just been sitting on the laptop, we’ve been very busy outside too. First we had a wonderful weekend with some friends we hadn’t seen in a long time. In true smallholder style we put our guests to work and planted those fruit trees in our new ‘orchard’ and netted it off ready for the goose move.

Netting to keep the geese in
Netting to keep the geese in

We took a day trip up to Sheffield to check out our potential new sheep. Leaving the chickens and the geese for a day was a little nerve wracking but it was worth it to check the sheep out and see someone else’s set up. The more smallholdings we see the more ideas it gives us and the more confidence it gives me. No-one’s smallholding has the perfect conditions for everything.

Some of these girls will form our new flock
Some of these girls will form our new flock

We then had the regular helpers, Lis and Kay, over to set up protection around the new trees, move the geese into the ‘orchard’ (that was fun!) and clear the last of the chicken wire from the sheep field ready for their arrival. Somehow we managed to take no pictures at all that weekend.

Next up was the actual arrival of our six sheep and the vet visit (vaccination, worming and faecal sampling), which all went surprisingly smoothly. They are a bit timid and skinny, but they should get used to us and fatten up on the grass. We now have the task of working out who will stay and who will go for meat.

We have sheepsies!
We have sheepsies!

That weekend also saw the building of the goose shed (finally!). They have straw in there and some grit and layers pellets but they are spending most of their time outside, still laying outside and I haven’t tried shutting them in yet. Getting the shed up with the geese still in the area with my step-dad and nephew was a bit daunting but they kept their distance in the end.

Goose house in the making
Goose house in the making

The most recent developments have been the turning out of the sheep (which included one very short escape run by one of the sheep), the introduction of rubber eggs to try and get the hens to lay in the nest boxes and getting some more veggies planted.

Nomming on the grass
Nomming on the grass

Our next projects are fencing off a new area for the geese as they are running short of grass, building a rain shelter for the sheep and looking into drainage options. It’s been raining all day today and we really are starting to look like we have several ponds :-/ We should now have all our livestock for this year, except for a tup and maybe a wether this autumn. Oh and maybe some more hens (still plenty of space in the hen house) and some goslings if I let April sit hmmmm…..

Dans

A journey into smallholding