Archive for the ‘Keeping chickens’ Category

Orpington blues

Tuesday, May 23rd, 2017

It’s rare that we start a post with a heavy heart but here goes… I have been wanting to get some different breeds of hens for some time now. The standard brown ones are fine but they don’t lay for very long and they’re… well, standard brown. When we bought the chicken plucker a few weeks back the guy there told us of someone who breeds Orpingtons; one look at some photos and I was hooked. And not only do they look nice but they are also dual-purpose birds so suitable for eating too ie the male chicks aren’t going to be killed straight away as they don’t lay eggs.

Anyway, arriving at the place the first thing we realised was this was a private home not a commercial business. There wasn’t a chicken to be seen. The guy soon turned up in a large truck, he’s actually a builder by trade. He took us through and round the back and it’s clear he has a large, well-organised operation going on. There are various pens of breeding trios and seeing the birds for the first time we understood what they mean by ‘heavy-breeders’ – they are enormous. We were shown inside a room where the chicks are.  They are under a heat lamp. “You have a heat lamp?” Er no… He can’t tell which are males or females so that’s a no go. Another pen has older chicks, still under a heat lamp and still un-sexed. Thinking it was a wasted journey he took us round the back, past some very inquisitive goats, to some paddocks with small white marquees in. On opening one of the doors an assortment of hens flew out which he said were about 2 and a half to 3 months or so. I had really wanted the golden lace winged ones (as pictured above) but he only had one. So in the end we took that, a brown ‘chocolate’ one, a black one and a striking black lace winged one.

Just as we were leaving, hens all boxed up, he said that in fact these hens were all under a lamp too, there was a table in the middle and the lamp hung from under it. We were astonished, we have never used a lamp. And later we thought it was odd that he hadn’t let them out until we were there, it was well gone 3 and a hot day…

We took them home, popped them in their new coop and stood back. First days and first impressions were not so favourable. They seemed very dull and lacked interest in anything. Ah well, they looked nice. It soon became apparent that they were listless rather than docile. They ignored any of the ‘grown-up’ food preferring a mash of baby food and water. Despite the warm weather we worried they had not acclimatised to their new habitat but research confirmed that chickens do not need any type of heat lamp after 3 – 6 weeks, depending on the breed. Basically, once they have feathers they’re fine. These hens were all at least 10 weeks old!

One by one the hens were obviously not well and taken into a special box in the barn, a borrowed heat lamp installed. Only the black one, with her huge beady eyes, seemed fine. She took to perching immediately and was always the first one out in the morning, the others stayed sulking inside. The three died. We have gone through various emotions, animal welfare is very important to us, the very reason we want to have and look after our own is so they can have the best lives possible. We don’t know what happened really but we think that the change of environment was too much for them and they hadn’t built up any defences. They weighed nothing.

The remaining hen doesn’t want to be called Billy-no-mates so tomorrow we are going to buy her three friends. I hope they all get on. Orpingtons are known to be gentle and can be picked on by other hens, fingers and feathers crossed for her.

Not to end the post feeling down-hearted I must say that the garden is looking lovely in the May sunshine, it is alive with flowers and birds. The white lillies, already in the garden when we bought it, are just splendid next to the red bottle brush:

The rose, clematis and blue nigellas also look nice:

Along with the nightingales, robins, blackbirds, black caps and great tits the frogs add their voice, we must have at least 50 in the big pond right now:

And we have finally finished – hurrah! the painting of the blue around the courtyard:

So we are appreciative that we can eat all our meals outside in such nice surroundings, we are now looking forward to enjoying our own eggs once again.

 

Busy bees

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

It’s been one of our busiest months, not just in the garden or veg patch but around the house too.  I’m sure we thought that, once we had been in the house for seven years, we wouldn’t have much to do. But with the new wall this has meant painting, re-organising the rooms, moving stuff from one place to another (my old office is now Richard’s ‘man cave’), putting up shelves, painting, putting up new lighting, buying a new sofa and, yes, painting. I still need a desk of some sort for the main computer. I’m perched on a stool under the stairs at the mo.

The courtyard too has had a face lift. We had painted the lower part of the walls a solid blue which faded, so we did it again and that faded. Last year we went to a paint shop and asked for advice: this meant us buying special fixative first which is applied to a cleaned wall. And then expensive exterior paint, two coats. So yet more cleaning and painting. Urrgh. I have to say I don’t want to see another paint brush again for a long time. Alas all the walls, I am reluctant to say, need their second coat and I have lost enthusiasm. Anyway, it all looks a lot nicer and pics are to follow.

Meanwhile April has not been behaving itself. The nightingales are here, the colourful orchids and wild flowers are appearing but the showers, or any real rain, have yet to come. It’s been very dry. Dry and hot. The lack of rain has meant watering the garden and veg patch (we haven’t had the wood burning stove on all month). Despite the drought we are drowning in peas and broad beans and have just had the last of the asparagus and beetroot. The veg patch has seen far too many bugs already, especially aphids. There are ladybirds (didn’t see a single one last year) but these are too few and too late. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the slugs and snails have kept away; they love the wet weather (and our many frogs have very beady eyes). Strong winds and ants have meant most of the broccoli and cauliflower have failed. On a more positive note three different kinds of runner beans are running up their poles, gherkins and cucumbers are showing signs of flowers, and there are courgettes in too. The sweetcorn are doing well. All the other seedlings have now been potted on and these will all be planted over the next few weeks of May; the game of putting all the plants away at night into the polytunnel and then back out again in the morning has begun.

We have a new set of ‘roasties’, this time 3 ducks, 5 white chickens and 2 brown ones. Which reminds me: the highlight of Richard’s month has been the purchase of a chicken plucker. Expensive? Yes. Worth the money? You bet. Half an hour of plucking has been reduced to a cool 10 seconds. One happy Richard.

Cooling off time for the dogs, two happy hounds:

The wall (no, not that one)

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

We say in our introduction that Casa Azul is now restored. Well, although the major restoration was done some time ago now, there are still things here and there being fiddled with. After a freezing January we were reminded yet again that the living room could be cozier. It’s definitely a summer house, lovely and cool during those blistering temperatures. We’re fairly hardy, have to be I suppose with the dogs trooping in and out leaving all the doors open, (and we firmly believe in putting on an extra jumper if it’s chilly) but there is often a draught when the fire’s blazing caused by the spiral staircase and its hole in the ceiling. So we have at last done something about that and now we have a new wall which divides half of the living room, effectively separating Richard’s study area and the sofa bit. It looks a bit dark now but once plastered and painted will be warm and snug. Someone hasn’t even noticed the workmen plodding in and out:

Meanwhile, it’s been a mild February. Plenty of weeding has been done in the veg patch and lots of little flowers have germinated, been transplanted and are now ready for the garden. Most of the beds are ready for busiest time of the year although I must get out and do some more mulching…

The almond tree won this year’s Who’s going to Blossom First award. There are now flowers too on the ornamental cherry, blackthorn, peach and the rosemary is alive with appreciative bees. Fingers crossed we don’t have any downpours like last year that knocked all the flowers off. The first of the orchids have also been spotted in the village.

Finally, we are more of a little farm again with the arrival of 3 ducks and 5 roasties. I was a bit anxious about the cold nights and the possibility of avian flu heading this way but both seem to be less of a concern now. I have peeked at them at night and they are all huddled together in their cardboard box.

So March is marching towards us; seeds have been bought, tools are ready and beds are waiting. Bring on the spring!

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November, nice

Wednesday, November 30th, 2016

It’s been a lovely November really. We’ve had some rain, some frost and some wind. But mostly we’ve had sunny days and quite mild nights. The wood burning stove went on for the first night on the 5th, appropriately, and always heralds the start of the chilly season and cozy evenings. But we’ve still been having lunch outside and the garden still feels a welcome place to spend some time.

autumn3

Both in the countryside and the garden the autumnal colours are on full display, this robin (we have loads here) was checking up on me one afternoon:

autumn2

Pomegranate and vines ablaze:

autumn

We’ve both been busy chopping, pruning, bonfire making, last of the jam-making, and planting. Another lot of daffodils and irises went in recently although previously planted bulbs are already peeking through. We just have three kiwis waiting to go in. It’s been great weather for pottering about in wellies. On one lovely countryside walk we managed to get the last of the medronhos (left), strawberry fruit, for some jam. I think these on the right are wild pistachios:

wild-fruit

But frosts we have had. The veg patch had a silver sheen on it one morning:

frost

I’m amazed how things survive. The broad beans had become frozen favas and only the smallest of the pea sprouts had been protected overnight, but neither have been affected by the frost.

peas-beans-frost

Meanwhile the old broccoli from the spring planting, from which I’d only cut off the main heads, are giving us a second crop (left), slightly smaller but just as good. And the September plants have the first of their heads appearing:

broccoli

So we’re eating these as well as leeks, jersualem artichokes (what the voles haven’t had), peppers (yes!), and different kinds of squash. I’m hoping the sprouts will be big enough for our Christmas dinner. The purple sprouting broccoli meanwhile is the best yet (ready in the spring) and the oranges are almost ready:

psb-oranges

The main task for me this month has been dealing with the asparagus. Why oh why don’t the books tell you it will grow into a huge hedge where no light can penetrate. I really would have put them in a different place.  First task then was to cut the plants down and clear the bed of weeds:

asparagus1

I started to remove the soil around the plants carefully, using just a small and large fork but it soon became evident that the ‘simple’ task of edging them out, despite the recent rain, would be no such thing. I scraped and levered and tugged and coaxed the plants out. Nothing. I spent another thirty minutes doing the same thing. Nada. Eventually, I got one plant out; it had taken almost an hour. This was not going to work. In the end I got the spade and hacked at the plants and their enormous, tough, penetrating roots. I broke my favourite spade 🙁

Anyway, I got three out and placed them in their new bed. If they don’t work never mind as I still have another healthy, productive bed. But what a bother.

asparagus2

The garlic is in. In the last post I talked about mulching the beds. I just couldn’t face any weeding at all, there wasn’t a great deal as the bed for the garlic had already been mulched over the year (I decided to let that bed be fallow) but there were certainly some grasses and bindweed (my nemesis) that should’ve been pulled out. But no, I simply covered it with chicken feed paper sacks, made some holes and plonked the garlic in and then covered it with the grass Richard had strimmed and fallen leaves.  I have no idea if this will be all right, time will tell but a task that normally took a few hours was less than one. Green fingers crossed.

garlic

The main task for Richard this month (apart from the strimming) has been reducing the number of our roasties and ducks. All the ducks are now dead and there remain four, increasingly nervous, roasties.

ducks-roastie

A new thing for us, inspired by our road trip to France in May, was to make confit de canard. It was surprisingly easy to make and we’re looking forward to having that with some home grown veg.

While we’re on the fowl front the hens have been slow at laying. The one which moulted over the summer is looking fine and dandy, but the other two now seemed to have mistimed their feather dropping and are looking rather sorry for themselves and one has lost its tail.  They bullied the third one horribly so it serves them right. But none of them are producing eggs so it looks like we’ll have to get replacements in the spring… are you listening chooks?

hens

So as we hunker down in front of the fire, chestnuts roasting, we hope that December will be as pleasant – well for us, less so for the roasties 🙂

Wild harvest

Friday, August 26th, 2016

The baking heat continues. We have a thermometer we keep in the shade in the garden and on 8th August it peaked at 45.6 degrees! In fact over a third of the days in August so far have registered 40 degrees or higher. Of course these are not official readings – if they were we would be the hottest place in Portugal. Anyway, searingly hot! Not surprisingly most of Portugal has been hit with devastating wild fires but fortunately for us none of them are near here. At least over the last few days the heat has relented enough for me to enter the garden to find that the blackberries are ready and looking very plump.
blackb
I guess they must have stored up much of the rain we received in May. I have to admit they are not as tasty as British blackberries nor as juicy – no stained purple fingers that were typical of blackberry picking sessions of years ago. In any case it is a welcome harvest given that the plums let us down so much. Having said that, the one plum tree we planted (and therefore the only one we water), the Stanley plum, has outdone itself. We had a few fruits last year but this year its tiny branches are straining under the weight. As I type, Jackie is collecting and bottling some of the fruit and no doubt has plans for the rest as well.

Stanley plum

Stanley plum

The heat, however, is affecting our apples as they are even tinier than usual and there are not so many on the wild trees in the area either. I’m not sure I’ll have enough for any cider this year.
We have three pear trees. There is an old one which is covered with tiny, hard fruit and no use to anyone. We have a slightly younger tree right at the back of the garden which almost dies every year but struggles on. This actually has half a dozen fruit which may turn out all right and we have a very young tree which we planted a few years ago and this one also has about half a dozen decent sized pears. OK so not exactly a bumper crop but beggars can’t be choosers.
pear from young tree

pear from young tree


pears from old tree

pears from old tree

We planted some grape vines around our pergola which are quite frankly pathetic but there is a wild vine growing along a wall. It produces very small grapes, not good for eating but the right sort for wine and last year I had enough for 12 bottles of very passable red wine. This year, it’s not looking great but fingers crossed.

grapes
We also have three large mature walnut trees and these always produce a great crop – in actual fact we still have nuts from last year waiting to be shelled, so that won’t be a problem. And I think the figs will be OK as well but we won’t be getting those for a while.

Meanwhile, the hens are also feeling the heat. As usual, they don’t lay so many eggs in summer but one of them has molted quite drastically. In our experience if one hen shows any sign of weakness or sickness, the other hens pick on it mercilessly. It’s very sad to see but fortunately our pen is big enough for the baldy one to stay out of trouble and I am pleased to report that it is slowly regrowing more feathers.
hen
We also had a strange snake event. I found a large Montpelier snake attacking a much smaller Ladder snake. They were caught in a deadly embrace for quite a few minutes until finally the Montpelier snake decided to bail out and slunk away. It was only then that I saw how large it was – it was well over a metre long, which is large for round here. The Ladder snake looked a bit dazed but also managed to slither off. I saw the Montpelier snake again the following day. This time it had eaten something as it was very lethargic and I could see its belly was distended presumably with its favoured prey, a lizard, of which there have been loads in the garden this year.
snakes
So that’s it for the wild crops (and animals), Jackie will be back next time to update on the trials and tribulations of the veg patch. Let’s hope by then we will have had some rain and cooler weather…

Glad for the garden

Friday, March 18th, 2016

snow

I take full responsibility. Having described the winter as mild in the previous post we had the most amazing snow storm at the end of last month. Not faint fluttering flakes but real big blizzardy blobs of the stuff, it was quite exciting! We hadn’t seen snow since living in Jordan, perhaps 10 years ago now. The dogs were still demanding their morning walk but by the time I had donned hat, gloves, scarf, wellies and waterproofs the sun had come out. It didn’t settle at all near us but on the hill behind our house, and further in the distance, it did – at least until the afternoon. Friends living towards the mountains had more dramatic scenery. So a fun climax to the end of winter.

Now spring is here and we walk around the garden realising there’s a million and one things to do, and so our first reaction is to sit outside and have a cup of tea and a piece of cake. But progress has been made. We bought some more ‘roasties’ and they’ve had their first taste of green grass and fresh air.

roasties

We’ve moved the hens again to a new meadow and coop, it’s amazing how much damage they do to the ground with their long sharp toenails, and we like them to have as much grass as possible. If only they ate the weeds too. We have had one mishap. One of the hens became egg bound and despite warm baths, massaging and olive oil (applied both ends) she didn’t recover. It’s the second time this has happened. One of our first lot of hens also suffered but she did get to lay and make a full recovery. So just the three layers for the moment.

Meanwhile, Richard has been strimming and attacking the bramble bushes and ivy while I’ve been pruning so the garden looks quite neat and tidy for a change. We have the beginnings of blossom on the fruit trees and the hint of buds on the irises and forsythia. All the cuttings taken last year of various shrubs seem to have survived the winter and making new growth.

The countryside too is slowly changing, many of the trees have a faint green glow as the buds begin to open. There are birds everywhere. And in the fields the orchids are returning, we now have the early purple (Orchis mascula) and sawfly orchids (Ophrys tenthredinifera) as the giant orchids begin to fade.

orchids

And the daisies! This is Jussi’s favourite time of the year: plenty of puddles still (and therefore towel rubs too), and not too hot. It’s probably best not to mention Betty and what she did when she met the little wildboar piglet…

jussi

It’s also the time of year to rummage through the seed box and decide what’s needed, but perhaps a cup of tea and a slice of cake first…

Second spring?

Thursday, October 29th, 2015

garden

It’s been a surprisingly busy month, this October. Where to start? Well, with mostly sunny days we’ve been able to do lots of gardening, walking and harvesting. So into the veg patch first and, hurrah, things are definitely looking up. The cauliflowers and broccoli which I’d said had failed have in fact done very well. After cutting off the rather pathetic broccoli heads there have been loads of side shoots which will keep coming over the weeks ahead. And the cauliflower has, after months and months, decided it will grow after all.

vegpatch

So at the moment we have those two crops, plus squash, sprouts and the last of the runner beans. We will start on the leeks now and we’re looking forward to trying the jerusalem artichokes, a first for us in the veg patch. Slightly worried about their side effects and their nickname fartichokes… The horseradish which I’d said had gone rotten has also completely come back to life so that’ll be dug up soon too.

Meanwhile the chooks have kept us busy. We moved the hens from one patch to another, where we have a spare coop, as they’d scratched up all the grass. They are still giving us 3 or so eggs a day. And we bought some more ‘roasties’. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get any more ducklings. The man in the market didn’t have any and as far as I could understand he wasn’t going to get any more because there wasn’t the demand. Hoping I’m wrong about that but if not will have to look elsewhere, the duck we had for Christmas last year was great. Instead of ducklings we got 6 white chicks which I’m not a big fan of, they grow much fatter more quickly than the brown ones (we got 8 of those) but become quite pathetic as they put on weight and struggle to walk. They seem to be enjoying the green grass in the meantime.

frangoes

We are lucky to have a quince tree in the garden, for some reason there are no others in the village. It was a good harvest for them and we have made loads of quince jelly, quince cordial, quince crumble (made with star anise this has become Richard’s fave dessert) and frozen some batches as well. The chillies too have been made into jam, oil or just dried.

quince

The springlike weather has also been great for the wild flowers. We discovered this tiny little orchid on a walk and then were delighted to find it growing near the house. The common name is autumn lady’s-tresses (Spiranthes spiralis) so that’ll have to go on our orchids page. We also have autumn crocuses in the garden too.

flowers2

The hedgerows have been fooled by the temperatures. The blackthorn, where we get our sloes from, is in flower and in the veg patch the autumn raspberries are half a metre tall when they should be dormant.

flowers

However, the big task of the month has been the olive harvest so it’s been lovely having the springlike sunshine for that. The garden seems to be full of robins who sing while we work. The dogs too always join us and are happy to supervise, although after a while slink off to the sofa or in search of walnuts.

olives2

Last year’s spring deluge meant we had no olives at all in 2014 but this year’s bumper harvest meant it was fairly easy to get enough for the year ahead. After a few days we’d collected 188kg of olives and we got 15 litres of oil for that (the going rate is 8 litres per 100kg). We could have got a lot more. Our neighbour spends weeks collecting his olives, he loves it, but we are rather lazy! He has built this amazing structure which sits on the shovel part of his tractor so that he can be raised up and reach the topmost parts of the trees, it’s a frightening sight as he’s well into his 70s! (While driving to the olive oil factory we lost count of the number of people in their olive trees brandishing loppers or saws.)

olives1

He very generously lends us his cleaning machine every year. It separates the leaves and twigs from the olives and despite making a racket does the job quickly and efficiently:

So that was October, I haven’t even mentioned all the strimming Richard’s had to do (and will need to do again soon), the baking, breadmaking etc etc. What have you done this month?

bread

Now you see it…

Monday, March 30th, 2015

When we moved into Casa Azul, one of the first things Luis our neighbour told us to do was chop all the olive trees down. They hadn’t been looked after and were quite frankly looking a bit sorry for themselves. We didn’t want to do them all in one go, so we have been slowly chopping down a few here and there. On the right of the photo below is the first one we chopped down and as can be seen, it has grown back pretty well.
olive
However, we were more reluctant to chop one of the trees right in front of the house but this week was its time.

Now you see it...

Now you see it…

...Now you don't

…Now you don’t

Over the last few weeks we have uploaded photos of the orchids as they have appeared near us. First was the Giant Orchid, then came the Early Purple. More recently a couple of Naked Man Orchids have appeared and a few Sawfly Orchids.

Naked Man Orchid

Naked Man Orchid

Sawfly Orchid

Sawfly Orchid

Jackie mentioned in the last post that we had bought some more roasties and ducklings, as they were quite a success last time, so here they are. Already fattening up nicely!

ducks

One of the joys of living here is observing the birdlife. Recent visitors were a pair of Cirl Buntings which are quite rare – at least in our garden. Although we hear the Barn Owls which live next door all year round, recently we have heard this year’s chicks and I spotted one at the window. I didn’t have the camera with me but here’s a photo I took last year.

Cirl Bunting

Cirl Bunting

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

In other bird news, a wren has decided to build its nest in a candle holder in our courtyard. Hopefully we’ll have a few tenants in the orange tree as well like last year. We haven’t picked all the oranges yet though.

light

Although we didn’t get a fantastic show for this month’s lunar eclipse, I did manage to get a decent photo thanks to the clouds.

Eclipse

Eclipse

And finally, here’s a different view of the disappearing tree.
tree1

Duck weather…

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

…but the ducks are no longer with us to enjoy it.

dead_duck1

Yes, Richard has been brandishing his sharp knife and, making the most of a sunny morning, did the deed. D-day for the ducks. One we have had already, friends from Paris popped by last weekend and we enjoyed roast duck and some of our buttercup squash. The other two are in the freezer and one will be on the table for Christmas. Richard has also dispatched two of the fat ‘roasties’, one which we had last night. Seven to go and then that’ll be it until next year. The duck experiment was definitely a success and we will get more now.

Meanwhile the rain, most days, is with us. Faithful readers may well remember that this time of the year we talk about the olive harvest. Well, if there’s one sure thing about living here it’s that there is no such thing as a sure thing. Our olive trees have no olives, nada. Either they fell off during the summer storms or, if they survived that, they rotted on their branches. Not just us of course, most of our neighbours have the same problem so the familiar sound of olive branches being bashed, the familiar sight of those large green nets on the ground and precarious ladders, and the familiar smell from the oil factories is not with us this year. We still have a little oil left over from last year but, for the first time since we arrived here 5 years ago, we’re going to have to buy some oil. Unthinkable! The vineyards roundabout have suffered the same fate so no vino for the locals to drown their sorrows either.

olive-bushes

But, talking of roundabouts, there are swings too. The rain has come with mild temperatures which has fooled, yet again, nature. The bulbs are up and the wild iris have flowered. Our buddleia is looking lovelier than it ever has, and the bottle brush is blooming. There is blossom on some of the fruit trees. There is green, green grass.

new_hens

Our new hens are no longer allowed on the patch of land where their hut is to allow the grass to grow. Richard has set up a tunnel system whereby they go into the next door field. That’s worked well. One has been moulting quite badly and lost its tail, it got very offended when we laughed at it.

chicksWe end on a slightly sad note though. This photo was taken exactly 4 years ago, our very first hens. Our new hens have no names but the first lot soon became known as Nervy, Pecky, Blind Betty and Brownie. They have all gone now, the last two this week. So the new hens are now just the hens. Long live the hens.

Coq au vin

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

How many times can a chicken be mentioned in our blog?! Well, rest assured this is the last time. Last night we had Cheeky Charlie slowly cooked in red wine with wild mushrooms from the garden and the last of our potatoes. It was one of the most delicious meals Richard’s made!

charlie_casserole