Tag Archives: Chickens

Spring 2013 Update

Brrrr. Is it really spring….? The grass hasn’t started growing yet and the snow drops are still out but it is April!! We have run out of seasoned, dry wood so we have no central heating at the mo but we’re enjoying the beautiful dry sunny days, while they last.

With Jules doing a two month contract in Cardiff, we have to squeeze a LOT into the days (so I’ve included a photo of him looking all smart for a change). This, together with sleepless nights due to teething and the fact that we have upped the ante on the DIY front (having ripped our the bathroom and about to do the same to the kitchen pretty soon) means that things are pretty full-on right now – no change there!

News on the smallholding is that our Jersey cow, Dimple, is pregnant! Woo hooooo. She is due to calve in June. We have just ordered some milk churns, milking buckets, butter making equipment, etc. Hopefully our new barn will be finished soon so that we can start getting Dimple used to coming in at milking time, which will be once a day (rather than the usual twice daily) for the first year. This will give us about 40% less milk but should be more manageable with everything that we have going on. So in June we will be learning to milk by hand, which will develop some new hand and arm muscles! Next thing will be to learn to make cheese… but we will probably wait until we have a kitchen for this.

Pregnant Jersey Cow








We hatched some chicks a couple of months ago so, until about a week ago, we had them in a box in the kitchen. Now they are out free-ranging but they are still not integrated with the rest of the motley crew of chickens. We have had to try and restrict the others temporarily as we had a daily egg hunt that we just didn’t have time for. Also, they were likely to start tucking into Jules’ seedlings….

australorp young australorp chickens








Our poor gander (Jerry) – having lost his mate (Margot) back in November who we have failed to replace despite all our best efforts – has been acting very strangely. At first we kept finding him at the Brecon Buff Ganderkitchen window posturing at his reflection and now he has taken up residence during the day in one of our chicken houses (much to the consternation of the chickens). We assume this must be part of his nesting instinct, but it is very odd that he insists on getting into a house that is far too small for him and which requires some very inelegant clambering over perches to squeeze himself into.

Our sow, Barbara, has not been showing very obvious signs of being on heat, which has made things a little difficult, but we are hoping that she is currently pregnant as a result of the AI we performed. Fingers crossed! This would mean piglets in July.

Oxford Sandy and Black SowOxford Sandy & Black Sow








Other that than, Jules has been rotavating, sowing, planting, watering all the veg at every opportunity he gets. Our pond is maturing well and is currently full of frogspawn. Sometimes there are wild ducks on the pond in the morning and the little ecosystem seems to be developing well.

The birds are tweeting, we have a glut of eggs and the days are lovely and long again, so spring is definitely here but now we just need a little warmth so that everything can grow!

P.s. Thanks to those who have sponsored me so far, your support is REALLY appreciated. I am doing my sponsored walk this Saturday to raise money for our local pre-school. I am still collecting donations – click HERE to donate.

Life and Death

As usual, we have not been very good at keeping our blog up-to-date, so apologies to any Penybanc followers. This is a short update going to the very root of what we feel smallholding is all about: Life, Death and Sex (well Reproduction really, but it doesn’t sound as rock n roll….).


Starting with Life. 4 September was an auspicious day as our gilt gave birth to her first litter of eight super cute piglets, thus coming of age and becoming a sow. Barbara (the pig) has always had a lovely temperament, but we were warned by people and literature that, when in labour, she might become aggressive and that she might eat the piglets once they were born. Whether because she is an Oxford Sandy and Black (OSB) orsuckling-piglets just her particular personality, but she was a delight throughout the whole process. Barbara started showing signs that she might farrow the day before and started making a nest. We gave her rushes and straw, all of which she used. She also decided to add clods of earth and nettles, to make a rather untidy looking nest in her house. At 3a.m. I checked on her and she was still making her nest in an almost trance like state, not seeming to even notice me with my torch until I was right next to her peering into her house. By 8a.m. piglets-in-the-housethere were four piglets and we thought she must have finished as she was showing no symptoms of labour and stopped to eat breakfast. After eating she returned to her house and duly popped out another four piglets, while grunting gently and seeming very relaxed that I was in the house with her, catching and drying the piglets as they came out. Unfortunately, the runt did not survive, but the other six gilts and one boar are now strong and very inquisitive. They have already started eating solids and learnt some valuable lessons about electric fencing. There are more photos of the pigs in our GALLERY and a little video of them HERE.

On the chicken front there has been both Life and Death (which actually, thinking about it, was also the case with the piglets). We continued to pursue our ambition to keep Australorp chickens and finally managed to hatch eight chicks out of 36 eggs we incubated in total. Every single one of these had to be helped out of their shells, which is controversial in itself. We were extremely happy, though, as finally we were sure we should get at least a couple of hens. Seven of those chicks survived (one died just a couple of days after hatching) and, after several weeks in a box in the kitchen, went outside into a little run within our main chicken run in July. Sadly, one night the electric fence was not on as the battery ran down in the night and a fox (our first experience of one since being here) got in and killed six of the chicks and left one in a very sorry state. We nursed that one back to health against the odds. We knew he had recovered when he appeared

in our living room and hopped up onto the sofa! We then finally found someone who could sell us more mature Australorp pullets and so bought two. We didn’t think we could have any more bad luck but one of the Australorps, on the second night she was with us, escaped from her enclosure as well as the outer electric fence and all that remained of her in the morning was evidence that there had been a struggle in the orchard. It has all been a bit upsetting and we are in the process of upgrading our chicken housing and fencing before making any more purchases, not least because all the comings and goings of various chickens seems to have upset the pecking order.

On the Sex front, being a smallholding on such a small scale, we can’t justify keeping males of most species. So only the chickens have actual sex and the rest only ever meet a human with a straw of semen! All the action has left the chickens needing saddles to protect them when they are mounted by the cockerel and Barbara

didn’t seem to mind being inexpertly artificially inseminated by us. So next up was our little Jersey Cow, Dimple. We had an experienced technician come and artificially inseminate her with semen from Sparky the Jersey Bull  when she was bulling (which we could tell because of her loud and constant lowing). Dimple should have been bulling again yesterday, but as she wasn’t it seems that she may be pregnant. Arrrghhh! That means that in nine months time, there will be a calf and, more importantly, I will have to learn how to milk a cow and do it twice a day every day!!!

On that note, I need to sit down for a cup of tea. But before I go, here are a couple of recent photos of Melinka and Dusk for those of you who are interested. Ta ra!

Baby and Dog

Livestock Update

Our elderly pair of geese, George and Gill, are no longer with us as they were not producing any eggs (and everyone has to earn their keep if the goal is self-sufficiency). So we have now bought a pair of brecon buff geese, who are much more docile and are meant to be a hardy breed, skilled at foraging. I will put photos on the livestock page as soon as it stops raining for long enough to take my camera outside!

Dusk’s sheep dog training is coming along – she does very well in class, when the trainer and other dogs are watching, but at home she is a little too relaxed and more interested in playing fetch – but overall she is progressing really well and she will hopefully be a help rather than a hindrance in future when rounding up the animals.

We have two new light sussex pullets (young hens), who have joined our motley crew of chickens. The poor leghorn hens are looking a little overwhelmed by our australorp cockerel, so we are working on getting him some female company of his own size as soon as possible. We currently also have 20 australorp eggs in the incubator and we are desperately hoping that it will be third time lucky and that we will have chicks soon….

Most exciting of all, we had a go at artificially inseminating Barbara, our oxford sandy and black gilt (young female pig who has not had piglets) and she has not shown any sign of being on heat yet, so it is looking quite likely that she is pregnant. If all goes well, she should farrow around 9 September 2012, hurrah!

Trials and Tribulations of a Smallholder

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!