Tag Archives: Hatching

2019 – a Difficult year

It’s been quite a while since I posted here. A year in fact, and what a year. When I last posted, Sam was recovering from his broken foot, I was recovering from the pregnancy and the baby had started taking decent naps. I was feeling very hopeful for the new year and came up with a long list of things I’d like to achieve. Ah the joy of January resolutions.

It turned out to be quite a hard year again. We had a few good months but then physical complications of doing too much too quickly post-pregnancy came up. I need to be very careful these days as to how much I do each day or else I’m wiped out for a few days. Paracetamol, the hot tub and my trusty back heatpad have become so valuable to me. On top of that the baby proved the saying that no two are alike. My daughter was happy outside toddling around, she was very trustworthy in regards to eating anything and would listen in regards to things she shouldn’t do. My son’s a bit more of a free spirit, he doesn’t like being in the pushchair outside, but eats everything he touches and doesn’t listen to much. It made doing stuff outside quite a challenge. I tried using a sling or carrier but the lack of core strength just gave me awful pain. He’s getting a lot better now though and seeing him run around in the polytunnel or outside, shovelling soil and investigating (but not eating) plants, makes it all feel worthwhile.

Despite the difficulty I did get the duck patch cleared and set up (although strong winds have since taken the roof off). I love looking at that grassy area with its very young willow trees and remembering what a mess it was a year ago. We had our first lot of ducks and really enjoyed that. Walking them into the house each evening was lovely and they grew so quickly. We got 10 and raised them up, kept them a bit longer than we needed to but they were a good weight and they tasted delicious. We jointed 4 of them for us and kept one whole. The rest we sold to friends and family and got great feedback on them. We’d like to do the same again this year.

We made the decision not to hatch chicks in 2019 as we were struggling a bit and our flock was large enough. I perfected the use of our sin bin and broke broody after broody, but we still had 4 hens appear out of hedgerows with a total of 24 chicks between them! The cockerel chicks have now all gone into the freezer and the hens are set to join the laying flock. In addition to having more chickens than we had planned for we had our first ever encounter with redmite and it was awful. We used DE, smite, redstop and fire to try and get rid of them. I think we managed it, though I saw a couple at the last house clean. This year I think we are sending our two cockerels to the freezer to make sure we don’t get more surprise chicks. I’m a bit sad about Aramis, he is the last of our first animals, but he is 4 years old now and with 30 girls to chase around he is looking quite tired.

We did lamb in 2019 and it didn’t go as smoothly as we’d have liked. All but one ewe needed help, most were just a one leg back situation but our smallest ewe had our largest lamb who was overdue, stained waters and quite stuck. It ended up being a job for lambing ropes and a bit traumatic for her. We managed to get her mothering in the end but she went for meat in December. I couldn’t put her through another lambing and the vet said with her size it may well happen again. We also lost a lamb at birth, she just wouldn’t take a breath no matter what I did. That one was a bit traumatic for me. The vet says there’s not much I could have done differently, maybe pouring cold water over its face but there may have been something wrong with her. Then we lost one who strangled himself in a fence at a few months old. These were our first sheep losses and although people say ‘where there is livestock there will be deadstock’ it was quite hard. We have decided to not lamb this year, we’re a bit overgrazed and looking for more land. 2020 will be a take it easy year.

On the growing front we managed to build 4 of the 5 polytunnel beds and started planting in the outside beds. The weeds ran rampant though and quite a few bits didn’t get harvested. I didn’t make a single jam or chutney, I only brewed 2 batches of wine and we did a batch of apple juice. It was quite disheartening, the intention was there but we just didn’t find the time or ability or energy to do much.

On the upside I did make my first ever soup (butternut squash), I followed it with some lovely broth soups. I also finally braved my Mehu Liisa and made rhubarb cordial which went down really well.

I did however manage to get back to my monthly smallholding crafting meetings this autumn. I may not have made any pegloom rugs but I started needle felting which I really enjoy. I also picked up the knitting needles and crochet hooks, getting a few very old works in progress (WIPs) finished. I’d really like to make a felted sheepskin rug and tan my own sheepskins in 2020. Meeting with some like-minded folks really helped to inspire me to craft some more and it is so good for my soul.

We had a lot of talks in 2019 about selling up, moving to a detached house with a big garden and going on lots of holidays. Smallholding with children, very young children, has been far more challenging for us than we could have imagined. I see lots of families on instagram managing it well but we’ve found it hard. Despite the attractiveness of selling up we do see the joy smallholding brings us, the health benefits and the fact that everything changes each day with the kids (the one constant of children is that nothing is constant!). We’ve decided that we are trying to do too much on our acreage, it’d be great for ducks or geese or chickens on their own. Or pigs, plenty of space for them. The polytunnels are great for growing and you can build on the established fruit trees. The problem is when I really sit down and look at everything about smallholding I find it’s the sheep I love and there just isn’t enough land here for a breeding flock of slow growing sheep (keep until min. 14 months). We’re looking at a larger acreage to better support a similar number of sheep, something that will also justify a bit of machinery as my back and core strength just isn’t what it used to be.

Me and my bestie, Arha

Looking to 2020 we’re not lambing and not having chicks. We’re working on sorting out our grass (quite mossy and overgrazed at the moment), repairing the sheds and polytunnels that have fallen into disrepair, growing veg, raising some ducks and hopefully finally having a holiday or two to ease the stress. I’m hoping to find the time to keep posting here, I do enjoy sharing the ups and downs of smallholding with you all. Hopefully even our struggles will be useful to other people who are smallholding or thinking about it.

Dans

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The birds and the bees

Time to talk about something other than the sheep!

The geese are doing well and we are expecting our first goslings on Thursday. We had 3 eggs under April and she was sitting really well but last Thursday I could have sworn it was her rather than Abigail off the nest. The next day I was certain and Sam checked to see that there was indeed a goose on the nest. It turns out Abigail and April have swapped. I don’t know if April was getting worn out and Abigail stepped in (April wasn’t in the best condition to start but we just could not break her broodiness). Or it could be that as we are getting close to hatching day the eggs have made Abigail go a bit broody too. Either way when I looked again on Saturday April was back on and Abigail was off. On Monday evening we got a surprise, a little gosling running around outside with April, Barbara and Athos. Abigail was sitting on the nest still.

When I finally got a peek at the nest today there were 6 eggs under April. It would seem that Abigail was sitting on the nest to lay eggs. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which are the new eggs and which are the old ones with soon to hatch chicks. I think we will wait until the end of the week then try to candle to work out what is going on. We may have to take away the newer eggs to stop April from running herself into the ground sitting.

It’s the season for broodiness and Alice, one of our Brown Marsh Daisy hens. went broody 4 weeks ago. We popped 2 eggs from our Cream Legbar hens, 2 eggs from our Cuckoo Maran hens and 2 eggs from Brienne (a hybrid) under her. All fathered by Aramis of course. We candled the week before they were due and all 6 eggs were fertile and developing well – go Aramis! Friday before last we spotted 2 chicks. ¬†One from a Cream Legbar egg and the other from a Brienne egg. The next day when Alice got off the nest there were two more slightly damp chicks and 2 eggs under her, another Cream Legbar egg and a Cuckoo Maran egg had hatched. She had a poop stretched her legs and I removed the old egg shells. She went back into the nest box and sat on eggs and chicks, I figured all was fine. Unfortunately, when we went out 3 hours later it turned out she had left the remaining two eggs, they were cold. It could have been from me removing the shells but it may also have been the older chicks being 2 days old now and running about. We had a similar thing happen last year and we lost those two eggs. We bought an incubator as a back up after that.

First two chicks!

We dug the incubator out and got the two, now very cold eggs, inside. As I put the eggs in I saw that there was a large bit of shell missing from the underneath of the Brienne egg. You could see the chick’s back and there was no movement at all. I put the remaining Cuckoo Maran egg into the incubator and slowly peeled off the shell of the Brienne egg. There was a fully formed, ready to hatch (yolk sack completely absorbed) chick inside but no movement at all, even on the eye. The only thing I can think is that Alice either stepped on it as she left the nest or crushed it slightly while sitting. As it has been so hot she removed all the bedding from around the eggs and had them on the base of the broody coop. I waited patiently for the Cuckoo Maran egg to show any sign of hatch and my hopes dwindled.

Egg in the incubator

They were restored two days after we popped the chick in when I saw a small crack in the egg. It was pipping! We were away during the day and when we got back a bit more of the shell had been cracked open. We kept checking that evening but nothing. The next morning I heard a cheep and I cheeped back, it got very excited, cheeped at me and rolled the egg! We managed to actually be there for the hatching which was amazing to watch and we got a video so you can watch too. We let the chick dry off, and gave some crumb and water in the incubator. It was 3 days younger than any of the other chicks but we decided to try and have Alice raise it. We went out after dusk the day it hatched and slipped it under. Sam waited to hear any sounds of Alice rejecting it but there was nothing. We left it and crossed everything we had.

Freshly hatched

The next day we couldn’t see a chick, but we couldn’t see a body either which gave us some hope. Later that evening we finally saw the chick all fluffed up. The chicks all ran under Alice when I approached but when I spoke a little black one ran out, it had remembered my voice! It’s doing fine now, and although it’s a bit behind the others in development it’s still firmly one of the brood. As with the sheep it was another lesson in sitting on my hands and leaving nature to do its thing. If I had intervened too soon and ‘helped’ the chick hatch I could have ruptured blood vessels and caused it to bleed to death.

Alice and her babies. The incubator chick is the black one with the small dot on its head.

Just as we thought all the broodiness was coming to an end Brienne went broody. We decided this time to get some pure breed eggs to go under her. The Derbyshire Redcap is a British rare breed that is on the Priority list according to the Rare Breed Survival Trust. They are meant to be a good duel purpose breed and lay a good number of large white eggs. The only other white egg layer we have is Buffy and her eggs are on the small side. They also look very different to any of our hens. I had looked for some Derbyshire Redcap eggs when Alice went broody but I couldn’t find anyone selling them or adult birds. When I went searching for rare breed hatching eggs for Brienne I was very happy to find a listing for Derbyshire Redcap eggs, and not too far away so we didn’t have to worry about postage. We popped them in a new broody coop (needed something large enough for Brienne!) and she sat immediately and has been quite rooted. I do hope she makes a good mum. We will miss her monster eggs though!

A broody Brienne

It also turned out that the breeder had some pullets for sale. We have been running out of selling eggs quite quickly. When we first started we liked to have 4 boxes of eggs on the gate. We even got a back log a few times and took selling eggs into our own usage. Now we are struggling to keep even 1 box in stock and quite often a box is gone within half an hour of me putting it out. People had said we should advertise on the main road, and I did make a sign but we are selling out without it! It is great but I also hate disappointing people and we certainly have room for more hens. We would have liked POL hens, but finding POL rare breed hens that haven’t been vaccinated seems to be ridiculously hard. I have been searching and searching and finding very little. These pullets are only 17 weeks old so a few weeks off laying still but they should help us out. We bought 3 and haven’t given them any names yet. They are quite skittish at the moment but I am hoping they will settle down.

Our 3 Derbyshire Redcap pullets

Right the thread title promised birds and bees. Weekend before last we went to the Rutland show, as a day trip out but also to scout it out as a potential place to show our sheep in future. It was a great day out and at the end we stumbled past a ‘bee tent’. The Leicestershire and Rutland Bee Keepers Association were there and they literally had a tent full of bees. They had suits for people to put on and go and have a bee experience. We have been very keen on the idea of bees, they would be great for increasing our pollination, provide us with some honey (possibly for mead) and would do our bit to help out the bees. We even bought a bunch of second hand equipment from some smallholders who were selling up last year. We have been a bit nervous though as Sam doesn’t think he would have the balance to work with the bees and I wasn’t sure if I would have a panic attack being cooped up in a suit and surrounded by flying things.

It was the end of the day and we were all tired but I couldn’t walk past this opportunity so in I went. It was brilliant. I was very nervous to start with but I found the suit reassuring and felt surprisingly calm in with the bees. It was great getting to see a hive up close and be hands on. It wasn’t a full hive but it was a still a good experience, exactly what I needed to make me think more seriously about courses and our local bee keepers association. The only worry I have now (other than swarms) is how heavy the hives can get when full. My back is such a weak point on me that I’m worried I would have trouble lifting things. It’s still worth further investigation though, I’m over my first hurdle in the journey to beekeeping!

All suited up

Right I think that is enough waffling for today. Should be some posts on blade shearing and what we are getting up growing fruit and veg soon. If there’s anything you would particularly like to read about from the smallholding then just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to do a blog post on it.

Dans