Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

The Great Escape

Monday, August 11th, 2014

Way back in mid May we bought our last crop of roasties. We got 12 of them aged 2 weeks. By mid July they were about 11 weeks old and ready for the chop. They were a bit different from our usual roasties. The big difference was that they were brown rather than white. I’m not sure of their exact breed but the white ones really put on weight fast and when I kill them at about 7 or 8 weeks they can be 3kgs after plucking and dressing. However, they are quite ugly and often can only stagger about because they are so fat. Actually not fat but their legs are just enormous. Therefore this time we decided to go for the more aesthetically appealing brown ones, still heftier than the egg laying chickens but much cleaner and seemingly fitter than the whities. They’re happy to walk and scratch about unlike the white ones who are reluctant to stand, even for a drink. I can also confirm they are just as tasty. hensx2 As per usual with this latest batch when they were ready for killing, I grabbed two per day, killed, plucked and hung them in the barn. However when it got down to the last few they seemed to know what was coming and were a little bit more difficult to catch. And now we get to the point of this story. The very last chicken, Cheeky Charlie as he has become known, savoured his freedom and life a bit more than the rest and escaped! He managed to get out of the chicken paddock and escaped into the bramble patch. However, that was not the end of it. A few hours later he thought it was safe to come out but he hadn’t reckoned on Betty who lay in wait. With a quick lunge, she had Cheeky Charlie and was soon to be seen strutting through the garden with her prize hanging limp between her jaws. Eventually Betty let go of Charlie who sprang into life and headed back to the safety of the brambles. A few feathers missing but apparently none the worse for the experience. betty But there’s more! A few days before the Cheeky Charlie incident, we were having breakfast in the garden when we heard a huge furore coming from the laying hens. I ran to their paddock to find a mongoose in the chicken run! It was then a case of the Keystone cops with me chasing the mongoose, the chickens running with feathers flying everywhere, the dogs barking and Jackie yelling on the other side of the fence. Eventually the mongoose managed to escape over the wall. As the hens were unharmed, we thought that the mongoose had only come for their eggs – this time. And that is how we leave it – Cheeky Charlie still ‘free’, Betty on the prowl and a mongoose on the lookout for any opportunity.

Javali!

Friday, June 6th, 2014

Yes, the wild boar are back, this time with some youngsters. How do we know? Because we managed to capture some of them on our wildlife camera and you can clearly see their stripes. There’s no sound but we’re sure you can add your own David Attenborough commentary and audio effects over the top. These shots are from last night so ignore the date and times. We won’t be giving up the day jobs (whatever those are) but it’s fun capturing the wild nightlife.

And Richard was really excited when, a few nights ago, he was out looking at the stars and the barn owl came and stood right next to him and was staring at him for some moments before flying off. We can hear the young screeching and rasping in the night – now that would be something to film!

Birds galore

Monday, May 19th, 2014

Our garden seems to be very popular with the birds this spring as we’ve had nests popping up all over the place.

First there was the blackbird nest where we saw two little ‘uns fledge, then the linnets in the orange tree. From here 4 fledged.

linnets

linnets

Also in the orange tree we’ve got a family of wrens, building on last year’s goldfinch nest.

Meanwhile in the nest box we have a family of blue tits. Here’s mum (or dad) bringing back a tasty grub.

blue tit

blue tit

But that’s not all. After we dispatched the roasties we noticed that there was a nest inside the roastie/pig pen. We think it is a wren nest but there’s no one home at the moment.

And finally (for now!) we have discovered another nest. This time it’s in the pergola amongst the grape vine and right above where we often have breakfast/lunch. As yet we haven’t see any comings or goings. Watch this space.

unidentified nest

unidentified nest

Good news and bad news

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The good news is that our two year old apricot and almond trees produced fruit for the first time. The bad news is that they have all fallen off while still very small. We’ve had this happen with other young fruit trees. The first year we had fruits on the lime tree they fell off, but the following year we got some more and this time they stayed on and turned out really well. So there is hope. Similarly, last year we had loads of figs on a young tree but they all fell off before they matured. This year they are coming on nicely – hang on in there!

apricots - before they fell off

apricots – before they fell off

The other fruit trees have done really well. It looks like being a bumper plum crop. We’ve got about half a dozen trees, young and old and a variety of types, so that will be good. And we’ve never had so much pear blossom so fingers crossed for them. Meanwhile, we only picked the last of the oranges last month and now the two trees in the courtyard are full of blossom and the smell is divine. Added to that, a couple of linnets have decided the big tree is a great place for a nest but more of that later.

Pear tree

Pear tree

The fruit bushes in the veggie patch are also doing well. Hopefully we will have increased crops of gooseberries, redcurrants and blackcurrants.

I mentioned the linnets – I saw 4 little blue eggs in their nest the other day and now they’ve been replaced with 4 hungry mouths. We’ve also already had two baby blackbirds fledge and leave their nest in the garden and we also have a couple of blue tits feeding their young in one of our nest boxes. There’s also been at least one hoopoe hanging around. But the most exciting sighting was a neighbour of ours. We often hear the barn owl which lives in the ruined house next door and we have caught glimpses at night, but only recently have we seen it during the day and I managed to have my camera handy.

Barn Owl

Barn Owl

We’ve been a bit slack on updates over the last month or so and in that time we bought a dozen baby roasties and I’m already killing them. At least there is now plenty of room for them in the freezer. Slowly but surely we are getting through the two pigs we reared and slaughtered in 2012.  I recently found another pork belly at the bottom of a freezer. It was from the so called thin end so wasn’t good for roasting but it was excellent for making bacon. And this is where your supermarket streaky bacon comes from. We just cover the belly in salt, leave it overnight, then drain the liquid that comes off. Reapply the salt over the next 5 days and the result is dry cured streaky bacon. Perfect.

Bacon

Bacon

Of course we still take the dogs for a walk every day and Jackie has been keener to do it these days as it’s orchid season. She wrote a post about it recently but since then she has spotted quite a few more. Maybe another orchid post soon and of course May is peak time for the wild flowers so watch this space.

About time!

Sunday, March 16th, 2014

tempAfter a fairly miserable winter, signs of spring started appearing at the end of February and now March has been glorious – in fact we’ve even had to start watering the garden! Most of the early fruit blossom has come and gone but now the plums are in full bloom and there is plum blossom confetti drifting around the garden. We’ve got quite a few peach trees but they never seem to do very much. However, the blossom comes out every year and the pink contrasts well with the white of the plums. Cherries up next.

plum tree

plum tree

peach blossom

peach blossom

Flowerwise, the daffs are still going but the irises (which grow wild around here) are now coming through as are the first of the orchids.

wild iris

wild iris

With the warm sunny weather, I’ve been making some more garden furniture. Here is an adirondack chair upcycled from an old pallet.

pallet adirondack chair

pallet adirondack chair

We’ve also got a new (temporary) addition to the family. A local animal sanctuary has had to close down so we are looking after Teddy for a month until he goes off to his new family. The main residents weren’t too happy at first but they seem to have accepted the young scamp now.

Betty and Teddy

Betty and Teddy

Jussi and Teddy

Jussi and Teddy

 

Blossom

Thursday, February 20th, 2014

Despite all the rain (which is showing signs of slackening off), things are finally looking up and spring is round the corner. As well as the daffs which have been with us for quite a while, the yellow crocuses have followed the purple ones and are now in flower.

crocus

However, the real harbingers of spring are the fruit blossoms. Like last year the apricot was first followed by the almond. We won’t have any fruit from either again this year because although we did buy another apricot for cross pollination, it is still too young as is the almond.

apricot
The plums are showing no sign of flowering, which is not necessarily a bad thing as we hope they flower when there is less chance of the rain knocking the flowers off.

Meanwhile we are back to full egg production. The old hens are still in semi retirement only laying one or two between them per day but the youngsters have filled the void. We get 3 every day, which is a little strange as there are 4 of them. Maybe one is a dud? As you can see the eggs are quite a bit smaller than the ones from the oldies.

eggs
The oldies have completely destroyed their run which looks rather devastated but we have adopted a new strategy with the youngsters. As you can see they are constrained in their run. We move this every few days so they get fresh grass and the grass where they have been gets a chance to recuperate. We also did it because they are ‘at that age’ where they want to stretch their wings and can quite easily fly/jump over the fence. It’s a bit of a faff. I wonder how long we will keep it up.

oldsters
youngsters

After a number of trips to the vet with the big hairy one, the vet reckons she has got atopy – it’s an allergic skin reaction which makes her lick her paws and is probably the cause of her often infected ears. It’s not too bad at the moment – the scratching and licking is usually just in the mornings for some reason and we are now used to cleaning her ears every day. And she is still full of life and obviously happy so we are not worried that much. The (slightly) smaller hairy one is still up to her tricks and recently she has presented us with a rabbit’s foot (for luck?) and a pig’s trotter (??!).

jj

Winter?

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Why the question mark? Well it definitely is winter, with our first frosts and temps going well below freezing. But as you can see from the thermometer in the polytunnel, crazily it has still got into the 30s during the day and we’ve had some cracking sunny days: Lunches al fresco and runarounds on the beach.

polytunnel thermometer

polytunnel thermometer

First thing in the morning, it’s a Christmas scene.

jussifrost

frostgarden

But we still have quite a few flowers. Above are chrysanthemums and below, one of many roses.

rose

The sudden sharp frost that we had yesterday meant that finally the Plane tree in the courtyard has started to lose its leaves.

tree

But the days are still sunny and warm and perfect for a runaround on the beach followed by lunch at one of our favourite beach side restaurants.

bettybeach

jussibeachMeanwhile, back at the house a project which I have wanted to get going for ages has lurched into action. By the threshing square is a pile of rubble, rather grandly termed ‘the rockery’ although all that grows there are a few hardy weeds. Well this winter I intend to get it sorted. At least I’ve made a start…

'the rockery'

‘the rockery’

stage 1 - clear out some of the rubble

stage 1 – clear out some of the rubble

Betty is supervising. In her own way.

betty

As we know this is when she is at her sweetest – when she’s asleep. When she’s awake she gets up to all sorts. One day last week during a walk, she managed to grab a wild bird. It was something like a grouse but as she refused to come anywhere near with it (hence the blurry photo taken from distance), we can only speculate. It is now buried somewhere for future retrieval no doubt!

bettybird

Crumble

Thursday, July 18th, 2013

One measly crumble! Last year we had plums, plums, plums. Yellow ones, red ones, purple ones and green ones. Mirabelles, Victorias, Greengages and Damsons. We had loads of crumbles and litres of cordial. This year I picked enough to make one plum crumble. It was still delicious though and I’m looking forward to making plenty of apple crumbles to partly make up for the plum disaster.

The summer bush fruits weren’t too bad – redcurrants, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants. And the strawberries keep coming. Meanwhile the summer veggies are now coming through – we’ve had cucumbers, plenty of courgettes (of course), and our first batch of aubergines. And the toms are not too far behind. The corn on the cobs were variable but overall not quite as bad as we thought and the later ones are looking good.

corn

In animal news, we’ve seen a few snakes recently, including this rather brazen metre long ladder snake cooling in the pond (its rear half out of shot was in the pond). We were a bit worried about our resident frog but apparently ladder snakes feed almost exclusively on rodents (thankfully sorting out our temporary mouse problem). However a week later froggie was found floating face down in the pond anyway. :-(

ladder snake

ladder snake

We’ve also had a roastie death. A few have been making unpleasant gurgling noises – they seem to have some sort of a cold and one has succumbed so far. Although there are still a few sniffles about they don’t seem too bothered by the heat and have been growing quite nicely. The hens take everything in their stride as usual and only recently have gone on summer laying schedule (ie. have the odd day off) but we did have one surprise the other day finding a monster egg.  In the UK a large egg is classified as between 63 and 73g. The small egg in this picture is 70g. The large one is 126g! It was indeed a double yoker.

eggs

eggs

In Jackie’s last post she described our courtyard which is looking really good. In the picture you can see some hollyhocks. They are over 3.5 metres tall. I don’t know much about these flowers but I think that is pretty tall for a season’s growth. The lavender is also doing well and is attracting huge numbers of bumble bees from dawn until dusk.

So now we are well into July and the garden itself has been transformed, the lush green of early June is a distant memory and now all the grass is burnt away not to be seen again until November.

garden

 

 

Pigs to pork

Friday, October 19th, 2012

The deed has finally been done. They had escaped just once too often – instead of jumping over the fence they had now started burrowing under. At 115kgs and 8 months old, they were also ready. Yes, the pigs are now pork. As I now look at the empty pig field, I feel a twinge of sadness. It was quite funny to see them scurrying around their paddock but we got them to eat and they weren’t pets. It was just as well we didn’t even get to like them that much, what with their escaping and grunting and ear-splitting squealing. That made the end much easier.

In short, they were killed one day, hung up overnight and then butchered the next. The butchering was the most traumatic as the butcher was producing cuts of meat at a hectic pace and me and Jackie were feverishly trying to label and bag various bits and put them in the freezer. We very quickly realised that Portuguese butchery is very different to British. If we hadn’t stepped in to change things, the two pigs would have been completely converted into costelletas (chops), febras (steaks), entremeadas (bellies) and entrecostos (ribs) as that is the way it’s done here. As it was, we managed to save various larger pieces which we deemed ‘roasts’, some of which will also become sausages and a leg which is now resting in brine and shall become ham. We also have a few other bits and pieces such as liver, kidneys, trotters etc.

I have to say the butcher was very surprised but happy to receive the heads and a few more unsavoury bits and pieces. Making brawn was just one step too far at this juncture.

All in all we now have two freezers, packed with 135 kgs of prime pork. Financially, it is difficult to put a price on it as we would certainly say our pork is far more valuable than the stuff we would ordinarily buy in the supermarket. But even based on supermarket prices we could say that we have broken even (not taking the pigpen construction costs into account), but this was not the point.

Looking at the sheer volume of meat from these two beast was almost enough to turn Jackie back into a vegetarian. Not quite though, as could be gauged from the satisfied smile on her face as she wiped the plate from the first of many roast dinners. Delish!

Prickly issues

Tuesday, October 2nd, 2012

I remember (almost fondly!) of the time we first arrived at Casa Azul and the weeks of bramble bashing I had to do to clear the land. Well, three years down the track I’m at it again. This time, it’s clearing the roastie run for a new intake. It’s amazing how quickly brambles can take over. I’ve not even gone right up to the wall as I want to provide a bit of shade for the little darlings.

before


after

We do have some more beneficial prickly customers though. Our neighbours gave us some prickly pears last November. We reckoned they would be good for us as they need little water. We were right as they have thrived in our arid conditions and we have been rewarded with quite a bit of fruit. Here’s a photo of one. Unfortunately the prickly pear with the most fruit was stripped clean before I got the camera out!

prickly pears

It’s not the end of the fruit though, or fruit processing. Most of our neighbours are busy taking in the grape harvest. We only have a few vines, so Jackie’s dad, who thought he was here on holiday rather than being employed as a ‘woofer’, has been taking in our meagre harvest and we have been making some grape juice. We decided that as the local wine is so good and cheap we wouldn’t bother trying to make any grape wine.

However, it’s not the last fruit to ripen. That falls to the quinces which are also now ready. And that means Jackie springs back into action to make Quince jelly. No rest for the wicked!

Can’t sign off without a mention of the pigs. They escaped again! This time one managed to lift the gate off its hinges and then headed off towards the veggie patch. Fortunately not much damage was done and after their little adventure we managed to get them back in their paddock. It was just after this that Jackie happened upon an article in the Guardian where a pig farmer was eaten by his little babies. and apparently it has happened before! At 105kgs each, I think it’s time for the chop. Watch this space.