Posts Tagged ‘keeping chickens’

The birds, the birds… and foxy

Thursday, January 30th, 2014

The birds 1 First up the chooks. Well, we are really pleased that at least one of the new hens we bought back in September is now laying. Not the biggest of eggs but small and perfectly formed. The remaining hens (now called the old hens) are trying to make amends for their past poor performance and recently we’ve had 3 eggs a day from them.

hens

They’re a little miffed at the mo. The new hens have been taken from their original patch and put in a new one, full of luscious green grass. The old ones are left to dig around in the dirt having eaten every blade and scratched up every root.

The birds 2 January is always a good month for bird watching from our living room windows. It’s not uncommon to see 15 different kinds of birds at one time, mostly the various finches on and under the feeder, but also warblers, pipits and wrens. For some reason the tits have turned their beaks up at the fat balls we put out but the great tits are happy with the seed.

hoopoe

A first for us here at Casa Azul was a short-toed tree creeper doing it’s thing around the olive trunks. And we were really surprised to see a hoopoe preening itself in the plum trees, they’re summer visitors and shouldn’t be here until April.

fox

Foxy We treated ourselves recently to a wildlife camera, one of those that takes photos and videos when something walks past. I’d chosen what I thought was a good spot, opposite some kind of underground nest, but nothing. So after a few weeks chose a different spot where it looked like animals had passed. Success! One night the shot of a passing tail and then a short film of a curious fox. Just keep away from the chooks, foxy!

 

And then there were three…

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

We bought our chickens almost two years ago for a couple of euros each. We decided that three would be enough but got four because we were sure that they wouldn’t all make it. Since then four healthy chickens have given us 1750 eggs and, of course, we’ve become a little attached to our galinhas (as did my Dad!). We’ve also got used to their clucking after they’ve laid an egg and turned a deaf ear to their complaining from the bramble bushes when it’s been too hot. But yesterday afternoon one of them was making a right racket – not usual at all. She was in the connecting field to the one where their house is and calmed down a bit when I came out; I didn’t worry too much that I could only see three. But when she carried on squawking after I left we decided something was up. Richard went into the field and sadly, under the brambles, he found a headless chicken. No wonder there was so much noise, she hadn’t wanted to pass her sister to get back home. We now noticed the feathers everywhere and I hoped she’d been attacked quickly.

This morning the remaining three were rather reticent to leave their caged run let alone go into the next door field, something they usually do first thing. What to do? We decided that the third field, empty now except for a house and run because the ‘roasties’ had all been dispatched, would be the perfect option. It doesn’t connect to the exterior stone wall, it’s a little nearer the house, and the olive tree gives good shade. So that was all cleaned and re-strawed and the hens found themselves a new home.

So what was it? Not a fox, it would have killed all four and there would’ve been more carnage. Richard reckons an Egyptian mongoose (we’ve seen them here) or some kind of weasel. No doubt it’ll be back for a second helping of hen head but right now they’re locked away (with much complaining) and will be earlier in the day now until, I hope, the enemy gives up. RIP Pecky!

Here comes the summer!

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Walking into the courtyard the heat hits you and there’s no relief to be found under our shelter – it’s reading 35C in the shade. The hens have disappeared deep into the brambles (you can just hear the occasional moaning cluck), the roasties are inside their hut with their beaks permanently resting in their drinking water (which has been put inside for the mo) and the dogs are not even bothering me for a run; they have collapsed on the tiled floor, legs akimbo and slightly snoring. Our bees like drinking from the pond’s edge (careful where you stand while looking for the frog!) and there are now bricks in the dogs’ outside bowl as mice and shrew keep drowning in it overnight. The wild birds are also grateful for the pond and start their morning with a splash.

And the pigs? Well, they love their mid-afternoon bathing session:

Meanwhile the raspberries are giving us a bumper harvest, a perfect afternoon for making ice cream!

Blooming

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

End of May, beginning of June is the most colourful time of year at Casa Azul. The flowers are having a last hurrah before the heat of the summer kills everything. Strangely enough roses are really popular round these parts and everyone seems to have at least one in their garden. We are no different and they look great at the moment.

We have also been cultivating some wonderful bright yellow flowers – I believe they are called dandelions. Here they are in all their glory before they were strimmed to death.

The long hot summer is great for lavender though and we have plenty of it. We had a bit of a worry with piggy number one recently – she had a nasty abscess on her neck. When it burst it was even worse. I’ll spare you the details. I had to rub in some cream and attempt to keep it relatively clean which wasn’t the easiest of things to do but it seems to have healed remarkably quickly. Apparently they are quite common but I don’t fancy nursing the pigs through any more.

On the roastie front, the last lot have met their maker and we’ve already had the first for supper. Needless to say it was really delicious. I look forward to the rest of them. We don’t hang about though. No sooner had one lot been dispatched than we got another lot. They’ll be ready in a couple of months.

November newsround

Saturday, November 19th, 2011

A mild, if not rather wet, autumn so far. Everything’s getter greener and taller, a bit like spring really without the flowers. Some evenings there has been a beautiful light and pink or yellowy grey clouds depending if it’s going to be sunny or rainy the next day. Richard’s away in the Isle of Man so I’m here defending the fort, or rather the farm, alone. Meanwhile, here’s a round up of casa azul news.

Veg etc
I have to admit to being a rather fairweather gardener, although I don’t mind digging in the frost on a cold but sunny day I really don’t like working in the wet – who does? So I’ve only just pulled up and cleared the last of the tom beds, this included removing the nasturtiums which we’re growing well but I’ve now got masses of enormous nasturtium buds which will be turned into poor man’s capers. The asparagus have turned a beautiful bronzey yellow, these are soon to be cut back and mulched along with the raspberries.

In the polytunnel there are lots of wild flowers coming up (from seed collected throughout the year) plus yet more edibles – mainly brassicas. These will go in soon, and tomorrow more onions are being planted and, at long last, I’ve got the garlic.

I’ve also got plenty of rocket growing, this has just never worked in the heat so it’s fingers crossed for a winter attempt. Lettuce seems to thrive in the cold, and isn’t affected by the frost, so I’m hoping rocket will too.

Elsewhere in the garden mushrooms are supplementing our diet. I don’t know if you read the account of Nicholas Evans and his mushroom fiasco in the guardian but it makes fascinating and sobering reading.

The ones on the left have opened and are now huge, tempting grub but am definitely sticking to the field mushrooms.

I don’t know if it was beginner’s luck but last year the sprouts grew without any bother, I hardly did anything with them. This year, alas, they’ve been plagued with grey aphids and some of the heads didn’t open properly, and a few of the stalks are massive with enormous leaves but few sprouts. I also spotted the other day that one of the stalks was completely inundated with caterpillars – how come I never saw them before? I counted at least 30 chomping caterpillars, and the one on the left was found the french tarragon.

So what to do with a box of bugs? The hens love snails and giant slugs so decided it would be an early Christmas present…

The chickens
The hens aren’t quite up to their full laying capacity, 2 or 3 a day but that’s fine. They’re slightly sulking now because our plan to keep them off the growing grass, well weeds, is working well and their plot (which looks like something from the WW1)  is surrounded by green. Once the roasties are dispatched the hens will go over there, and their mud bath of a plot can have a chance to regrow.

Along with the fact they they realise that the grass is greener on the other side one of them is moulting and looks very funny without a tail.

So I was hoping that my gift of grubs would cheer them up. I tossed the caterpillars on the ground, the hens came dashing forward and then stopped in their tracks and squawked loudly. They eyed the crawling mass with trepidation and then, with beaks in the air, walked off. They weren’t interested at all! I covered the caterpillars with corn but the hens simply ate the corn and left the caterpillars. As these were all now gallivanting off in different directions I ended up having to stand on them all. So much for good intentions. At least the lettuce and purple sprouting broccoli leaves keeps them happy.

Meanwhile the roasties have been let out and are enjoying the grass and opportunity to stretch their wings. They are the biggest, fattest birds I have ever seen and Richard’s number one task on returning is to sharpen the knife. I swear when they walk the earth trembles.

The wild boar
One of the nice things about being in the countryside of course is that we are surrounded by nature. In this part of Portugal that includes the javali – wild boar. Up until recently I have enjoyed the fact that they come to the neighbours’ fields but now the beggars have trotted into our garden. Before Richard left we were given loads of prickly pears and agaves to plant in our garden and I wasn’t best pleased to see that most of these had either been knocked over, dug up (some dragged into bushes), and, it seems, eaten. After the second visit I’ve had to block the entrances to our garden with cut down olive branches, a temporary measure. Richard’s number two task on returning is to get the saw and hammer out.

Before and after replanting, can you see the teeth marks?!

So that’s it for now. The bees are still buzzing, I think they were disappointed that the nasturtiums were cut down. And, of course, I’m not really alone. The hairy one continues to prove she’s Portuguese, having eaten many of the olives she delights in munching walnuts and looks longingly at the roasting chestnuts on the fire. Which reminds me, time to get the wood burning stove going and have a glass of something. Cheers!

It ain’t half hot, mum!

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

It’s 31 in the shade. The wind turbines are at a standstill, helicopters on the look out for fires drone overhead and this morning’s start on the olive harvest has come to a stop. The grass, what there is of it, has blanched white and turned to dust; the red soil is rock hard.

Meanwhile the roasties are never too far away from their water. They are surprisingly perky in the morning, battering down the hatch in the morning to dive into the food. But come the heat of the afternoon they collapse in a white, feathered heap. The hens are suffering too and are on strike: we’ve hardly had any eggs recently. I’ve been giving them a ‘shower’ these last few days (from the watering can!) but still they’re not laying .

Meanwhile Gordy Gordo is still getting plenty of exercise. We went to a river beach the other day though for her to have a swim – and there wasn’t enough water! Which means that still, every evening, we have to water the veg patch, fruit shrubs and trees. The irrigation system that Richard set up is wonderful but the shrubs and trees we do by hand.

The plants in the veg patch seem to be surviving despite the heat though and we continue to get tomatoes, courgettes and peppers. We’re also eating sprouts, leeks and chard. The seedling cabbage, cauliflower and calabrese are holding up, the turnips and swede are going strong as are the peas and broad beans (flowering!) but the carrots and parsnips sown in September are just not showing – nothing at all.  I’m pleased that the soil in the beds is good, the manure / compost regularly applied has meant that it retains moisture well and is a far cry for the stuff we started with two years ago. So here’s to cooler climes ahead and a bumper winter harvest.

Roastie part 2

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

We learnt many lessons from having ‘roasties’ earlier in the year. One was the fact the coop and run were unsheltered and they were not into hiding amongst the bushes like the hens. So we waited until October for cooler days; but the weather forecast says temps aren’t going much below 30 over the next 10 days…

We also wanted to get month old chickens like last time but our man at Ansião market had completely sold out when we arrived yesterday. His wife suggested we came to their house later in the afternoon and get some from them directly, which we did. They had loads of little chicks running around but all two weeks old. We decided to get five anyway as we like the place and the chicks always seem well cared for. The warm temperatures at night also mean that we don’t need to worry about them getting chilly. So they’re settling in at the mo, little things now but we know there’s a beastie inside each one, they already have fat legs!

The birds, the birds

Sunday, July 3rd, 2011

While we were looking up at the collared dove nest in the old olive tree right by the house there was a tremendous twittering and fluttering. Along the electricity wire 5 baby barn swallows wobbled, wings flapping to keep them from falling. We’re sure they had just fledged. The parents seem to take it in turns either to feed or stay with them as they struggled on the tightrope. They certainly weren’t afraid of us, but perhaps they were too scared to look down…

Meanwhile the collared dove chicks have slowly left home. They first started to sit on the branch next to their nest and then, a few days later, moved to a lower branch on the same olive tree; I’ve yet to see them fly. The nest can be seen from the upstairs window although we never saw it being built.

Amazingly, they are not shy either and yesterday, while working on the veg patch, there were two pairs of eyes on me. I’d like to think they were giving me encouragement but can’t help feeling they were eyeing up future suppers.

As for the roasties… well, they have a new name: the lollies, because that’s all they do all day long. Loll, loll, loll. I realise now that we haven’t really made too many right decisions about keeping them. First of all, the patch of land they are on was chosen in the early spring. One hot day, after the new fence for them was put up, it was obvious there wasn’t enough shade. Once the house and run was installed Richard made a shelter for them which is great but it can still get very hot, nothing beats the shade of a tree. We also made some decisions based on the ‘egg chickens’. One was that they are hardly in their house, they’re always out and about pecking and scratching and in fact have been since they were brave enough to leave the run. The ‘roast chickens’ on the other hand aren’t that fussed about looking for food. On hot days they stay in the house which gets dirty very quickly. The ‘egg chickens’ perched straight away, these are not keen. I’m sure because they don’t want to make the effort to jump up, they’re so lazy. The run door is propped open but they prefer lolling in the run, and that gets dirty too. This morning some were pecking at the grass – but they were sitting down still! They’ll come out and sit on the logs but that’s about it. Some of them sit right by the feeder so that, with the minimum of effort, they can just lean forward and have more food! So in fact the house and run is a little small for 8 ever growing chickens. And their water needs filling every day… I suppose they’re bred to be lolly birds so that they get as fat as possible and that is certainly happening. They seem content enough eating and lolling all day but I think the ‘egg chickens’ are a touch scornful of their slothy neighbours.

Loll, loll, loll LOL :)

Roastie

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Double meaning for this post. Jackie mentioned in the last one that June was rather unseasonable. Well next week the forecast is for it to go to 37 degrees (that’s in the shade). And also although it’s not been too hot, it has still been very dry, meaning that quite suddenly everything has taken on a golden hue. Or if you are less romantic, everything is drying up and going brown. We don’t have much water here so we let the grass die. Many of the flowers and blossoms have come and gone but we still have the roses and the lavender which look great and provide much needed colour.

roses and lavender

The other roastie of the title is ‘the roasties’ – the chicks we bought just over a week ago. Well, they are certainly meant for the table because they are eating like trojans and putting on plenty of meat. Only a few weeks to go till chop time! As it is heating up they even have a little shade – what luxury!

But they are not the only birds around. Remember I mentioned the collared doves? Well I found their nest – it’s at the top of an old olive tree. A bit difficult to observe (and to photograph) but we have seen two chicks. Also the parents have become quite tame and despite my dishevelled appearance will even accept a few crumbs from my outstretched arm.

Of course the harvesting is now in full flow. Not least the plums. the yellow ones and the red ones have come at the same time this year so we are frantically using them up before they all fall and go off. I have made a number of plum crumbles and Jackie has been busy bottling plum cordial.

Of course we are still getting 4 eggs from our hens every day regular as clockwork and are managing to barter them for our neighbour’s meat pies now!

And we are still managing to get out and about a bit so here is a pic of my two girls and the beautiful Portuguese countryside.

Até logo!

Isso é verão, não é?

Monday, June 13th, 2011

It’s been a strange start to the summer. April and May were lovely (if you didn’t worry about the lack of rainfall) and saw us eating outside most evenings. Now, with the first of the summer months, the wind is cool, the clouds grey and it’s been showery – nothing substantial though and the grass yellows every day.

It’s a good time for the veg patch. The courgettes, surprise surprise, won the race for which veg we would be eating first from this year’s sowing, followed by the colourful chard. We’re either eating the produce or knowing we’ll be eating it very soon.

The extra four beds (there are now 13 of various sizes) have made a difference, both in terms of having more veg but also in the extra time looking after it all. We won’t be adding any more for the time being, what with the soft fruit and fruit trees as well there’s a lot to do if nothing is to be wasted. So at the mo we are eating our potatoes (the bed replaced with 44 leeks), onions, garlic, two kinds of French beans (the dwarf purple ones are recommended – always aphid free and prolific), broad beans, calabrese, cauliflower, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, chard, a few parsnips and turnips here and there, lettuce, raspberries and rhubarb. We’ve had one cucumber too.

The peas haven’t done very well, as last year; I really must remember to sow those and the broad beans in the autumn. We have also started to eat the tomatoes – hurrah! We’re growing more of these this year, and different varieties too.

The organic cherries are the first up – not surprising. What is surprising though is that these are not the ones in the polytunnel. The sunny spring has meant the ones outdoors have done very well and grown better than those under plastic. (It’s the aubergines and peppers which are appreciating the polytunnel more, both are flowering.) One of the new kinds we’re trying this year is the Roma kind – San Marzano. I’m really hoping to be able to freeze these for sauces throughout the year.

Yesterday I picked a mixture of veg for something I’m going to make, can you guess what?

My parents came last month and as always we try to make the most of my father’s woodworking skills. Last year he made a wooden support for the grapes in the courtyard and these are now doing very well so we hope to have a better harvest this year. As Richard said this time he was put to work making a new chicken run – I hope he didn’t think he was here on holiday! They bought with them a buddleia and this is now flowering, and it has attracted a very interesting butterfly (or is it something else?). Update: it’s a Broad-bordered Bee Hawk-Moth Hemaris fuciformis apparently. How nice!

So waiting in the wings are the sweetcorn, winter squash and melon, fennel, aubergine and peppers, perhaps some peas plus all the wonderful plums.

Here’s another pic of the veg I picked, all chopped and ready for the next stage… You’ll have to wait for the next update if you can’t guess.

Finally, away from the fruit’n'veg, we have bought 8 new chickens. Like last time they are about a month old, there are 4 white and 4 brown ones. To put us in the right frame of mind we differentiate them from the ‘egg chickens’ by calling them the ‘roast chickens’ – no room for sentimentality! Today they ventured out of their hut and into the run. We bought them, as the previous ones, from the market in Ansião. The man said the white ones would be ready in 3 – 4 weeks and the brown ones a couple more weeks after that! I suspect we’ll let these live a little longer, and get a little fatter. We also need to pluck up enough courage for D Day!