The odd couple

Having spent most of this week (small)holding the fort while James went on his annual boys’ trip, this time walking from Whitstable along the coast to Dover and up to Canterbury, I feel thoroughly immersed in the company of animals. Apart from a lovely family gathering on Sunday – when my niece Rebecca and I discovered that the Araucanas had laid their first eggs of the season, and collected them warm from the coop – and one or two trips out, it was largely just me and the dogs, cat, pigs and chickens. A wonderful ‘slow’ few days when there was time to stand and stare.

photo[1]On my last afternoon off before going back to work at Country Living HQ yesterday, I took a book and garden chair down to the end of our plot to enjoy the warm afternoon sun and watch and listen to the Old Spots and hybrids truffling and pecking away respectively. When the hens are out and the pigs in their extended run there’s only a couple of lengths of corrugated iron between them. In the back of my mind, I’ve had a slight concern that if the hybrids become too close to the porcine pair they could get eaten by their voracious neighbours. So when I saw my favourite brown chicken, AKA The Hen That Never Grew Up (so called due to her relatively small size), in the pig run I did my best to move her out again – and was chased by the Old Spots myself. Despite their enormous size, they can get quite a pace on! There was no stopping The Hen That Never Grew Up,  though. Soon after my efforts, she jumped over the boundary and began cannily gleaning all the worms and other poultry treasures that the pigs were unearthing with their powerful snouts.

photoThey appeared to work in tandem – she following these remarkable Rotovators with just enough distance so as not to get snapped up when they turned round in her direction. I couldn’t help admiring this unlikely partnership – who says chickens aren’t clever?

Fairy eggs

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That’s what someone told me these miniature offerings are called when I found one in the nesting box around this time last year. I like the sweet Victorian-like notion that there are other forces at work in the henhouse. This little beauty belongs to one of our White Stars, which are hardworking, if flighty, individuals. We haven’t received as many of their snow-hued eggs as usual over the winter and I guess this tiny one is a fresh attempt for the new year. It resembles that laid by a pullet for the very first time. I’m going to include it as an extra in Chris’s order this morning and see what he makes of it – and makes with it, for that matter. The world’s smallest cooked breakfast, anyone?
 
We have a new date for the pigs’ dispatch now after visiting our farmer-cum-butcher at the weekend – they’ll be going off on 4 March, which has worked out nicely as it means my young niece and nephew will see them when they visit this Sunday. And with the incubator up and running, we’re all set to receive  the fertile Ixworth eggs that South Yeo East Farm will be sending late next week. In the meantime, James is off on his annual walking trip with his friends (this time along the Kent coast), which means I’m at home from tomorrow to Wednesday with our two Labradors Megan and Amy, German Shepherd Darcy, Bengal cat Beau and the chickens and pigs. Looking forward to spending time in their fine animal company – perhaps I can even talk Araucana Mabel into laying one of her fabulous blue eggs (she should really have started a week ago today). Anyone else’s pure breeds being a tad  tardy on the laying front?

Eggless!

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It’s not that the hens aren’t laying – on the contrary, they are prolific, with an average yield of eight eggs per day. It’s me: I forgot to collect the boxes that I usually take into Country Living HQ on a Friday. Here I am on the train to Liverpool Street minus Chris the art editor’s usual half-dozen and the others I often have for any colleagues in need of a poached, scrambled, coddled or fried start to the weekend. Chris will be bereft. Lashings of apologies all round.

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Soon, of course it will be not only eggs on offer, but hopefully bacon and sausages, too. And if I can persuade CL picture editor Jackie to bake some of her amazing sourdough loaves and bring those into the office we could do a roaring trade in ready-to-go full English breakfasts. First, though, James and I need to tag our Old Spots’ ears so they can off to the abattoir, which will be a pretty interesting task, given their size and strength (we really should have done this when they were piglets)! They are a couple of whoppers these days. The tags and applicator should arrive in the post today. I imagine the task is best tackled while the pair are distracted by eating. If any seasoned pigkeepers have advice in this (or any other topic), please let me know by commenting on this blog!

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Looks like our cat Beau is as excited as we are about the prospect of hatching out chicks in our incubator. We discovered him in this mildly threatening pose at the weekend. A timely reminder to be vigilant when they arrive.

Today marks the point at which our Araucanas and other pure breads are meant to comeback into lay – what could be lovelier that a pale-blue egg on Valentine’s Day?

Mud, mud, (not so) glorious mud!

I regularly become stuck in the run these days, just hoping that the pigs don't decide to run into me
I regularly become stuck in the run these days and just hope that the pigs don’t decide to charge into me

Even the Gloucestershire Old Spots are a little subdued in these sodden times. They didn’t sprint out for their breakfast this morning as soon as they heard me pour the pellets into their feeder the way they usually do. Instead, the porcine pair waded slowly across the run, understandably reluctant to sink any further into the quagmire that their digs had become. Of course, you can start reading all kinds of meanings into their activities once you’ve started to feel mild pangs of guilt having arranged their dispatch. I can start thinking nonsensical thoughts such as ‘Perhaps they know’ and ‘How can we do it to them?’. The fact is we wouldn’t have had them, and invested the time and money, if they weren’t destined to provide chops, sausages and bacon. They’re a really good size now and costing us a fair whack in feed, too, so the time has come for them to go. We’ve asked the farmer-cum-butcher who will be transporting them to the abattoir in his truck to take them at the end of next week. He’s assured us that he will do so as early in the day as possible, when they won’t be queuing with other livestock and the whole process will be quick and smooth. Plus, despite having arranged the dispatch of hundreds of animals, even he feels sad each time an animal goes off to slaughter. Not only did this reassure that our two would be in good hands, but made sense of our own mixed sentiments.

photo[1] copy Partly by way of distraction, we also have our hatching project to enjoy – though that suffered a small setback last weekend. We brought the incubator down from the loft to clean and rest it before the fertile eggs arrived mid-week. Thank goodness we did, because the motor for the cradle that turns the eggs each day doesn’t work anymore – despite the fact it’s only been used once! I guess four years in our loft finished it off. So James ordered a spare part he spotted online and hopes to fix it over the next couple of days. Once that is up-and-running we’ll ring Gillian at South Yeo Farm East in Devon and our eggs should be with us in a few days. A very exciting development is that Simon King Wildlife team have very kindly loaned me a Bushnell NatureView Trail camera so I can film the chicks hatching and stream it on this blog. Just need to work out how to do that and we’ll be up and running! Chicks away!