Don’t worry, things aren’t as dire as the title of this post makes out. I just thought that my worries in life have changed somewhat since becoming a smallholder and it might be interesting to others…. although I will let you be the judge of that!
We have been watching our sow, Barbara, very carefully as, soon, we hope to start breeding from her. She has an absolutely lovely temperament and luckily it seems to be very easy to spot when she is on heat. She gave us a real scare a few days ago when we went to feed her and couldn’t find her. We found her sleeping behind some brambles, but we couldn’t get her to her feet, she wasn’t interested in food and was shivering. We worked out what had happened in the end; as she has lots of shade in her run and it only being March, we did not think it was crucial to give her a mud wallow. As it was very sunny, I sprayed her ears with sunscreen and I thought she would be ok but I didn’t anticipate that she would sunbathe all day and burn her stomach. She then must have been too hot to bother going to bed, so she slept outside and the temperature dropped very low at night, so she probably had a bit of a chill in the morning. Thankfully, another warm day and, this time, a lovely mud wallow saw her right as rain again (even if her tummy is still a little pink) and she was chowing down on her food like normal by the evening. Phew!
Incubating fertilised eggs has not been as straightforward as the first time round. We desperately want to keep Australorp chickens and after lots of searching for breeders, we finally managed to buy half a dozen hatching Australorp eggs. We were super excited after 21 days in the incubator waiting to see our new chicks, but sadly nothing hatched and it turned out the eggs were not fertile. Luckily the lady who sold us the eggs was nice enough to send a second batch and she threw in a couple of extra eggs of some Maran/Australorp crosses. Everything was going swimingly until disaster struck and a fuse tripped just after we checked up on the incubator for the night, so it was switched off over night and must have got quite cold. Now we doubt we will have any chicks after over 6 weeks of trying, but we’ve left the eggs in the incubator just in case….. doubtful and very sad. Third time lucky?
The saddest thing that has happened is that farmer who owns the field on the other side of our stream decided to clear some trees from his side of the bank. We were a little worried when we saw diggers and dumper trucks so we went to have a look. The contractor assured us all he would do was remove trees from the other side and a couple that had fallen across the stream and he got the farmer to come round and reassure us. The noise of the machinery went on for 2 weeks, 7 days a week starting at 7 in the morning every day, even on Sundays. When we saw what the farmer had done we were totally distraught. Far from just removing a few trees, the farmer had removed all the trees from his side, excavated the banks, straightened the stream and basically turned it into a ditch. He had uncovered horrible concrete that he laid previously and even cut the trees on our side of the stream that were in any way leaning over the stream. When we confronted him he said this had to be done to prevent “bank erosion”. Surely tree roots are the natural way to prevent bank erosion. The worst part is that we used to have otters in this stream and there is little hope they will return with the current state of it.
Our chickens have caused us some anxiety too. Allowing them to free range entirely is very romantic and it is lovely watching the chickens investigating the woodpile, the hedges and wandering down the drive, but the downsides are a front door step covered in chicken poo, endlessly searching for their eggs and the seed from the bird table being gobbled up by the cockerel. All this was worth bearing as they didn’t seem to have any interest in the kitchen garden, but then, just as our first asparagus heads started to peep through, the chickens moved in and ate every single one and washed their gourmet main course down with a rhubarb dessert! So the chickens have now had their wings clipped and are confined to the orchard. We are keeping them behind electric fence part of the time as we are worried that they are more vulnerable to foxes up behind the house.
Other worries on the animal front are that our geese have not yet laid a single egg and our cow is very rambunctious, head-butting, kicking and acting mule-like when you try and lead her out to the field.
Of course, our life is not all worries and dramas! These are mostly fairly minor worries with easy solutions but I thought they helped demonstrate how different our priorities have become since living in the city. It being spring and having had some unseasonally warm weather, things are buzzing and happy at Penybanc. The bees are busy and now have a honey super on their hive ready for filling, the birds are singing loudly and are building their nests, the daffodils have been and now the tulips are out in force, we have a new polytunnel which we’re about to fill with yummy things, yesterday we went on a vegetable sowing mission from dawn until dusk and we were fuelled by our own sausages and bacon. Happy Days!