Porcine adventures

Gloucestershire Old Spots
Gloucestershire Old Spots

A diversion from my usual poultry theme this week, as James and I have decided that, instead of putting it off until next year as we were planning to for various reasons such as the need to finish renovating our house (the spare room is still ceiling-less and the walls are unplastered!), we will take the piggy plunge and acquire a pair of weaners in the next couple of months. It was when James spoke to his friend Roger who breeds Gloucestershire Old Spots and heard his sow had a litter at the weekend that we couldn’t resist the temptation any longer. When we return from our holiday to Italy in mid-September, the piglets will be around eight to ten weeks, old enough to leave their mum and join us and the hens. And rather than needing to carry out the time-consuming work of putting up boundaries, we’ve discovered that all we need to do is buy some mobile electric fencing and an ark. Not only this, but if we move their pen around the rather wildly overgrown land at the bottom of the garden, they will clear it of nettles and other strongly rooted unwanted plants, meaning that we can eventually re-seed these areas for grass and create new runs for the chickens. Everyone’s a winner!

Gloucestershire Old Spots
Note the leaping piglet at the back!

Poultry win prizes

For many henkeepers across Essex, last Saturday’s Tendring Hundred Show was the highlight of the year. The Poultry Tent teemed with fine fowl as fanciers from across the county vied for a wide spectrum of certificates, rosettes and gleaming cups. 20130719-070911.jpg Beautifully preened birds were showcased around the marquee in cages like covetable accessories in a boutique – though many lacked any signs telling visitors what kind they were, which was a missed opportunity in my opinion. Despite this oversight, I and fellow viewers could barely resist the temptation to buy a copy of the breeders’ directory so we can order a variety of colourful/bizarre/cute/glamorous- looking chickens in the future. 20130719-072646.jpg There were prizes for the best eggs for particular types, including duck, geese, standard chicken and bantam, both shelled and unshelled. 20130719-072847.jpg

20130719-073002.jpg In terms of prettiness, I think the Sebright breed won first prize for me – its lacy feathers are stunning in both chocolate and black.

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20130719-073326.jpg Perhaps one day, we’ll start breeding poultry and be in for a cup or two ourselves. In the meantime, it’s a treat to head along to the annual show and admire other people’s hen-breeding handiwork.

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Henhouses with the eggs factor

It’s been an exciting week for hens and their homes! The opening day of RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show saw the launch of the Celebrity Henhouses auction, a joint project between the gardening charity and Country Living. We commissioned six celebrities to makeover a coop, kindly supplied by Dorset-based company Flyte so Fancy (flytesofancy.co.uk), and unveiled their fabulous creations on Monday. The sale of each will raise funds for the Addington Fund and The RHS Capaign for School Gardening. Philippa Forrester (below) and Deborah Meaden obliged photographers by posing with their splendid designs and Buff Orpington cockerel Bernard, who enjoyed almost as much stardom as his famous handlers. The Celebrity Henhouses are all on eBay and on display again at RHS Flower Show Tatton Park (24-28 July), the last day of which marks the end if the auction! To view all the designs, click To view all the designs and links to eBay, click here .

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Throughout the week at Hampton, Suzie Baldwin of Golden Golden Valley Poultry Poultry and CL’s henkeeping columnist, and her assorted flock of chicken breeds have been there to create a buzz around the display of coops, and include the aforementioned celebrity cockerel Bernard (below left) and Fizz the Polish Frizzle (below right). So if you’re not able to justify a new designer house, but fancy some new birds, check out the wonderful selection at her Surrey farm!

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Space invaders

Just as the animals enjoy drinking from each other’s dishes – as reported previously, the dogs help themselves to water in the hen run and the Araucanas and Beau the Bengal love nothing better than taking refreshment from the dog bowl – lately, they’ve also started to explore each other’s living quarters! And in the case of the terrible twins, AKA Mabel and Audrey, it is our house that they’re interested in. The girls free-range when we’re around and they could wander off anywhere in the garden, but more often than not these days we find them hanging out with the dogs in the porch, leaving a fair number of droppings behind them. They can be there for hours, chirruping away, Mabel occasionally squawking at nothing in particular, as only she can. We don’t really understand quite why this part of the house holds so much appeal for them. If we leave the stable door open, we sometimes discover them getting acquainted with the utility room. What if they then got into the kitchen, through the hallway and managed to climb the stairs…? It would perhaps be more welcome and charming behaviour if there wasn’t the mess to avoid stepping in and clearing up. Does anyone else have chickens who are determined to invade your home?

20130705-072801.jpg There’s a much more transparent motive for Megan, our greediest Labrador, to be showing interest in the henhouse. Earlier this week we went down to the run and spent somehow time watching the flock pecking and scratching about. While we were distracted by stroking the friendly new pullets (who have settled in a treat), the sneaky but clever canine took her chance and made her way into the undercover pen, stealth-like, squeezed herself through the pop-hole of the coop, stuck her sizeable head into the nesting box and helped herself to an egg. We only discovered her deed when James noticed her mouth was slightly ajar and she had guilt written all over her chocolatey face. Admiring her determination and skill, we let her keep her prize! We’re collected the rest of the day’s clutch and then allowed her to attempt the same feat again – but this time the straw-lined bays were empty and, armed with a camera, we caught her in the act! Busted.

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