500 Year Vision

Take pleasure from walking lightly on this Earth

Animal adventures

November16

When I awoke this morning I was in a rush to get outside, I quickly ran to the bathroom and noticed that there were pretty swirls of ice on the inside of the outer window, and not so happy looking pepper plants stuck to it. It had gone down to minus six last night, but this week the days have been sunny with bright blue skies, and though the ground does not thaw in the shade, everyone seems okay with it, well, apart from the plants.  We need a change of strategy for them as I’d like to keep at least a few of the perennials – peppers, aubergines and one tomato, alive over the winter – just to see what happens with them. Poor things.
I was in a hurry because I had put the ducks in their house for the first time. Now the lake is frozen, there is nowhere for them to go to escape from predators. Dijon goat and the sheep are likewise now kept inside overnight. During the summer, once they were big enough, they chose where to sleep, but now I need the sheep to help keep other animals warm. They’re going to be fine with their two inch coats of merino wool. Dijon goat has fluffed up considerably over the last month, and although Mike keeps reminding me that she’s a hardy mountain animal, I can’t quite believe that she’d be happy outside when it can get to minus twenty five. And what if they got lost in deep snow? – they are white, after all.  And will there be enough hay? – seeing as they were so determined to eat it all as soon as we cut it.  So many worries for our first winter with the sheeple (our solution to pluralising one goat and two sheep).

For my birthday Mike bought me an incubator, and of several dozen eggs, we managed to hatch a few.  We will have no problems with egg fertilisation next year.  So, alongside some beautiful random specimens hatched from eggs from the farmer’s market in Prague, we have four Aruacana and a La Fleche (devil chicken) female.  All the hope wrapped up in those packages of eggs from the UK – and we’ve actually got one bird from hundreds of pounds of investment in pure-bred eggs and equipment.  The reason we’d had to buy eggs in was that we wanted some interesting varieties, and we didn’t have a male to fertilise the eggs.

We also believed that our Universal Brown Chickens – ex-stock from a factory farm – would not go broody. This proved not to be the case and we put some pure-bred eggs under her. She is now a busy mother to three – a male Legbar and two Lavender Araucana. One of these is runty and about a third of the size of the other birds.  It’s about time that I let them out free-ranging – while the mum is still interested enough to protect them… but what if they’re immediately eaten?

The Countess of Chester is developing saddle feathers. This is not good as it means that she is a boy.  We were confident that we had mainly hens because nobody started to crow at six weeks, we fanned their tail feathers – which proved they were girls, and there has been no fighting meaning they were female. Now we know why our new flock has not started laying. Of the eleven chickens who hatched and survived (RIP Splady the runty Vorwerk who disappeared in mysterious circumstances – the same day as a beheaded duck, and poor Dundonald), we are now certain that eight of them are boys.  It just goes to show that so much of what you read on the net is excellent fertiliser when dug into the ground.

We did not provide artificial light, so nobody is laying right now. We didn’t buy eggs for a long time because factory farming of animals is such a monstrous, shameful thing. I did some research and, apparently, the local term for free range is ‘hens kept on hay’.  The price of these eggs is something close to three times the price of eggs from caged birds – I’m hoping this indicates that the birds have better living conditions, rather than the ‘wild west’ nature of business in these parts. Life without eggs is such a drag, and to think I was under the impression that we’d have excess to sell before the year was out.

At least next year the eggs we have will be fertilised.

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