Compassion in World Farming

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

We really are completely quackers!

We really have been bitten by the duck bug! Since raising the Muscovy ducklings we have fallen more & more in love with these enchanting creatures. They always seem to be happy & it's impossible to spend time with them without that cheeriness rubbing off on you & a big, soppy smile appearing on your face.

Chalk & Cheese continue to do very well up in the field with Donald, Jemima & Puddles our Khaki Campbells & Daisy & Seymour our Aylesbury ducks. They have remained very tame & will still come running if you rattle a tub of meal worms & greedily gobble them out of your hands!
Chalk & Cheese taking shelter from the scorching weather under a bench
But I think we were all missing that close contact of having baby ducklings out in the garden. We were tidying the garage when hubby, spying the half used bag of duck & goose grower pellets, completely out of the blue said that I should get some more ducklings so that the feed wouldn't go to waste. I tried not to think too much of it, but later in the day, having spent a lot of time working up in the field repairing fence posts surrounded by our lovely ducks & hens he suggested that we go to the Domestic Fowl Trust the next day to see what ducklings they had available! I was over the moon at the prospect of having little fluffy ducklings to hand rear again & Sunday just couldn't have arrived fast enough for me.
Now as we arrived at the Trust we did have a vague game plan that what we were ideally looking for were 2 Aylesbury female ducklings. The reasoning behind this was that our Khaki Campbell drake Donald had taken a real shine to Daisy the Aylesbury since her arrival & as her mate Seymour didn't seem at all perturbed we were not sure if the affection of 2 drakes would have an adverse affect on her well being! So we could take some of the heat off her as it were by upping the female:male ratio. Did we stick to this game plan? Well, not exactly! Well, not at all if truth be told! Hubby made the fatal mistake of asking if I wanted to have a look in the main sales room before asking to see if they had any ducklings available for hand rearing. As soon as we walked into the room we were greeted by the loud quacks of 2 truly beautiful crested ducks in a pen. I looked at hubby & he looked at me, & I knew we had both fallen in love with them, but I kept myself in check (only just) & after a quick look at the hens on sale for the day we carried on out to find someone we could ask about ducklings. Crested ducks are a bit special to us because we had a very eccentric crested drake Elvis not so long ago, but very sadly lost him to a fox attack. Anyway, we tracked down an assistant, a really lovely girl who I recognised had actually sold us our Muscovies & Donald, & before I could even get a word out hubby declared that to start off we would like to buy the pair of crested ducks!! Was it my birthday I wondered, or other such special occasion that had slipped my mind? No, I was pretty sure today wasn't a special day. Perhaps we were due a lunar eclipse, or maybe the heat was getting to hubby? I looked at him with my mouth open, as it is his more level headedness that we rely on really to prevent our place from being totally over populated with creatures! He just smiled & proceeded to ask the girl about ducklings & off to the duckling room we went. There was a brooder full of little ducklings even smaller than Chalk & Cheese had been that were so sweet, but hubby did manage to be stricter at this point & explain that what we really wanted was slightly older ducklings that could go straight to an outside pen to finish being reared. It was at this point that we were introduced to our new babies 'Tom' & 'Cherry', a pair of Cherry Valley ducklings.

Introducing Tom & Cherry the Cherry Valley ducklings!

I had never heard of the breed & they were quite a bit bigger than Chalk & Cheese had been when we first had them, but it was love at first sight! So they were coming home with us too! Now I'm not quite sure just how this last bit happened, it had all become a bit of a blur & I was already in duck heaven, but someone mentioned that there were also Indian Runner youngsters going up for sale that day. Hubby instantly remembered me saying something about Runners & asked me if that was the breed that I had mentioned fancying keeping at some point. I nodded furiously & he said that we may as well go the whole hog & take a couple of them too! At this stage I was starting to feel the need for someone to pinch me very hard! But before I knew it the 6 ducks were boxed up & we were heading home. They really were all ours & they really were coming home with us! On the journey home I started to just slightly worry a bit if we were doing the right thing in taking on so many in one go, but as I went through a mental check list of everything they could need (housing - tick;water - tick; feed - tick; room to free range - tick) I realised we did have the means & the capability of taking care of them & giving them a high standard of welfare. So I relaxed & just went with feeling of overwhelming excitement & thanked hubby over & over again! So here are the first pics of the new arrivals:

Tom & Cherry find their feet

Louise our West of England goose inspects the new arrivals

Introducing Harold & Rosie the Crested ducks & Indian Runners Big Chief & Little Wing!

I'll leave their stories here for now, except to say they have all settled in really nicely, have been excepted by all the other birds & we don't regret our purchases one little bit.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Happy birthday Mabel!

Today is Mabel's 2nd birthday. Mabel is our youngest dog & she's a Yorkshire Terrier / Jack Russell cross. She's a typical feisty terrier, one moment emerging from the garden with blood round her chops after devouring her latest rabbit victim (much to my disgust!), the next the sweetest, cutest little pup all curled up like butter wouldn't melt on my lap! Although she's the smallest in size of our four dogs it has to be said she has the biggest personality & to know Mabel is to love her.

Here she is as a very cute puppy:

Now isn't that just one of the sweetest things you've ever seen?! She might not be quite so cute now but she's definitely still a heart breaker!

P.S. Some more duck members of the family joined us at the weekend! But as it's Mabel's birthday this post should be devoted to her, so pictures & update will have to follow.....

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Three Counties Show

Carrying on with my news from last weekend, we finally got around to going to the Three Counties Show at Malvern on Saturday. It takes place not that far from us, but in the six years since moving down this way we have not been. I think hubby was quietly worried that I'd come away with new animals, but I reassured him that I'd been reliably informed that you couldn't buy any of the animals on show. (Oh dear!)

As soon as we got to the showground I knew it was going to be a good afternoon. The intoxicating combination of the sights & smells of the fair mingled with the sight & sounds of the animal shows brought an immediate child like rush of excitement & I practically skipped through the gates! Hubby followed dutifully on behind, but immediately cheered up when he spied a stand selling proper local cider! The first thing we came to, after passing several stalls selling everything from the latest fandangled mixing/grating wonder machine for the kitchen to exquisite hand carved garden furniture, was the sheep shearing contest. After some waiting, finally the white coated judges stood with clipboards at the ready while the shearers stood at their marks & sheep bleated frantically - and then they were off! Sheep after sheep were pulled through to the platform, sheared at lightening fast pace & before they knew it were 'naked' & dispatched through a gate with bewildered looks on their faces. The competition was obviously being fiercely contended & was a proper serious affair, but I couldn't help but be more on the sheep's side & be pleased when a shearer got a 'kicker' to struggle with.

As it appeared there were going to be several heats, then semi's, then a final we decided to wander on round & see what else we could find. There were row upon row of stalls & information desks, tents full of crafts & antiques & lots of vans selling every possible kind of refreshment from crepes to chips, from Italian coffee to beer. I had a surprisingly good coffee in a cardboard cup & after trying to resist Hubby succumbed to the temptation of that local cider.

A bit more wandering & we finally found the judging rings for the sheep, cattle & pigs. We had missed the sheep judging but were able to meander up & down rows of pens with every kind & colour of sheep you could imagine, some boasting rosettes for 1st, 2nd or 3rd place. My favourite sheep was one that looked like Dougal the dog from the Magic Roundabout.

Then a tantalising glimpse through a gathered crowd of some fine specimens of pigs being trotted around the ring by proud children, before moving on to the cattle.

I know for the people involved in the breeding & showing of the animals & the judges who preside over them it's a very serious, respected business but I couldn't help giggling a bit at the very English pomp & ceremony of it all. Bulls all clean & shiny being turned this way & that for the judges with clipboards measuring & feeling & poking & staring. No dignity in it all for the normally fearsome bull with a ring through it's nose! So on we went.
We came upon the main arena just in time for a spectacular sky diving event:

Then onwards for the animal welfare stands, including the Retired Greyhound Rehoming stand which we stopped a while at as my Mum & Dad recently adopted an ex-racer called 'Nervous Jane', a lovely girl who is now enjoying a very pampered retirement. I also spied the Droitwich Ferret Rescue stand, which was a particular draw to me as we adopted our two gorgeous hobbs Flowerpot & Nipper from them. They had a cage with a very pretty albino jill & her five 3 week old kits on display. They were just the cutest little furry munchkins imaginable! Hubby wandered off anticipating my pleas of 'can we have some more please' & enjoyed the more macho displays of wood cutting skills & birds of prey.

A quick rest of our feet & some chips to feed rumbling tums we carried on around until we found ourselves back at the pigs where the judging had finished so we were free to have a closer look. I am particularly fond of pigs & it was probably a close run contest between the squeals of the multitude of pigs & my squeals of delight as I rushed from one pen to the next in piggy heaven!

However, despite everything we'd seen & all the thrills, sights, sounds & tastes of the day hubby knew that I was a little disappointed as something was missing. We were just starting to think about heading off home when hubby saw on the sign we were studying to locate our car park a tent labelled with the magic word 'Poultry'. Hurray!! I grabbed hubby's hand & we weaved at speed through the throngs of people towards the promised tent & after a bit of head scratching & going around in circles we finally found it. Poor hubby knew he was doomed as soon as we entered the tent and were greeted with a large sign to the left with the fateful words 'Poultry Sales'. I tried to keep my excitement inside & dutifully look at all the fancy breeds in their cages, some of which were frankly just peculiar.

Then I could bear it no longer & pleaded 'can we have a look plllleeeease?' Being the wonderful hubby that he is he let me browse the birds up for sale, everything from bantams to huge cockerels, & a couple of hens caught my eye until we found them ..... a pair of Aylesbury ducks! I'm especially enthralled with ducks at the moment, having hand reared our Muscovy ducklings & hubby had to agree they were gorgeous. So there was nothing for it but to desperately attract the attention of one of the salesmen & get a SOLD sign up pronto before anyone else snapped them up. Then they were ours & I was beside myself! I hugged & kissed hubby, who then added to my excitement by then going to the on site cash machine so that we could also buy one of the hens that I fancied, a pretty 14 week old Crested Cream Legbar. Well my experience of the Three Counties Show couldn't have ended more perfectly as we headed back to the car with boxes of protesting birds!! (To the horror of hubby the lady who wrote out our receipt told me that there would be another poultry sale at the Autumn Show later in the year!)

Here are some pictures of 'Daisy' & 'Seymour', who quickly settled in with our Khaki Campbells.

Ducks are generally peace loving creatures I find & we were able to introduce them straight away without any of the difficulties you can encounter when introducing new poultry to an established flock. But we kept 'Izzy' in our back garden until all the hens had roosted for the night in the hen house & then quietly slipped her inside when it was dark enough that they couldn't really see her. This seems to be the most successful method of introduction we have tested & was recommended to us by the Domestic Fowl Trust. It is apparently based on the idea that hens have poor memories & will except the new hen as if it has always been one of them when they wake up the next morning. In practice it doesn't work quite as neatly as that, but it certainly prevents the 'new girl' being attacked.

Izzy the new arrival peers shyly out of her box

Izzy has integrated well & Daisy & Seymour have also made friends with the ducklings now they are in the field. I even think that Chalk sees Daisy as a bit of a mother figure as she was following along behind her today & copying her every more - very sweet! So the family has expanded yet again & all's well in our happy little world of creatures :-)

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Where to start...

When I first started my blog I wondered if I would have enough news to fill it regularly, but writing it has made me realise 2 things:

1. Far from being mundane, my life is full of wonderful & exciting events (not exciting by most people's standards in an adrenaline pumping way, but exciting in an Earth Mother kind of way)

2. I should make sure that I relish every single second of this wonderful life in the countryside & take more time out from chores & the every day hum drum just to sit, absorb & be thankful.

The last few days have been very eventful & I don't know whether to start at the beginning or start with what has been most important to me. I guess starting at the beginning is probably sensible otherwise I'm bound to miss something (THE DUCKLINGS HAVE LEFT HOME!). Oops it slipped out! Yes, the event that tugged my heart strings the most was on Sunday when it was time for our Muscovy ducklings, Chalk & Cheese, to leave the back garden & join the geese, ducks, chickens & goats up in our little field. I knew it was time, I knew it was the right thing to do; I knew they needed to mix with other birds & behave as ducklings really should - but it was sooo hard. They weren't going far, but I knew that it was inevitable that that very special, close bond with them would weaken. I reminded myself that was the way things should be & that I couldn't remain the focus of their world forever ,so it was a case of being brave, shoving the Kleenex in my pocket & getting on with it.

The duckling's new home

The first job was catching hold of them & carefully clipping their wings (removing the tips from the flight feathers to prevent them from flying away in the future). Then eldest son & I carried them up to the field. It must have been bewildering for them to be confronted by this comparatively huge open space & all of those rather large birds & even larger creatures on 4 legs. We popped them down on the ground & they stood, teetering on their webbed feet, trying to get their bearings & take everything in. A hen approached out of curiosity & caused immediate alarm. Both ducklings puffed their chests out & tried to hiss scarily at the strange feathered monstrosity. It was much bigger than the wild birds who had been their companions in the garden. Unfortunately, this provoked a reaction from a couple of the young chickens, which we suspect may be cockerels, who flew at them causing further alarm. So far, not so good! My heart was sinking like a stone & I wondered if it had been wise to release them at 10 weeks old. Perhaps they should be returned to the garden for a couple more weeks or so. But, of course, that was the selfish devil on my shoulder talking again! The 'cockerels(?)' soon realised the ducklings were harmless & the ducklings soon realised what lush grass was beneath their webbed feet & what a lovely space they had to run, stretch & flap about in. The goats & geese had a quick peer at the new arrivals & quickly assessed that they were puny & of no interest whatsoever. The other ducks tried to say 'hello', but the ducklings played shy & they waddled on by. So it was clear that the ducklings weren't going to come to any harm & on what was a glorious, balmy evening my babies successfully began their new, independent lives. (Yes, I did need those Kleenex!)

Chalk & Cheese suddenly look small in the field!

The ducklings soon look more relaxed

To make the evening completely perfect, wonderful hubby dug me a hole so that we could install the new 'duck pond'. We already have a pond up in the field. It's actually the fish pond that we used to have in the front garden, together with a dozen or so goldfish. When hubby decided he wanted more seating area in our front garden at exactly the same time as our neighbours were looking to stock their newly installed pond it seemed like fate. So the goldfish moved next door & the pond moved up to the field. Unfortunately when the geese plop into it they displace so much water that it makes it quite daunting for the 3 ducks to get into, so they had been giving it a miss & making do with a small tray of water. Shame! I'd been looking for a suitable 'pond' for the ducks for a while when I found what was being advertised as a cattle trough on Ebay for a very reasonable price, so I took a chance & bought it. When it arrived the invoice actually described it as a 'deep plastering & mortar mixing bath'. Cattle trough or mixing bath it proved to be just perfect! Here it is installed, with a submerged breeze block at one end to ensure the ducks can get out easily:

And here it is getting the seal of approval from the geese:

It's deep enough for the ducks to swim in, but shallow enough that the geese don't make such a splash when they get in, so the water stays put.
The ducks soon followed & then the ducklings, so with tears in my eyes I drank in the scene as they swam happily in the new pond & the other animals around them peacefully went about their business & I thought - what a perfect little corner of paradise!

I'm determined to waste many more such precious moments just gazing....

Well this has turned out to be quite a lengthy update, so I'll close here for now & leave the rest of the weekend's event for another posting.

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Happy birthday Maggie!

Today is Maggie's 6th Birthday! Maggie is our Border Terrier. We have had her from puppy & she is the most loving, beautiful dog you could ever wish to own. We have four dogs altogether & I know you shouldn't have favourites, but quietly she's mine! We just seem to have had a special bond right from the start & I absolutely love her to pieces. At home, wherever I am Maggie's sure to be! She's a very special girl & I feel lucky to have her in my life. So happy birthday Maggie, here's to lots more happy years together.

If you're a mad dog lover like me, here's a fab recipe for dog birthday cake:

To make a cake big enough for 3 or 4 dogs, you’ll need:

250g beef mince
1 grated carrot
75g Oatmeal
75g flour
30g butter
3 eggs

Fry the mince until brown, add in the grated carrot and continue to cook gently for a few minutes until softened. Meanwhile, mix together the flour and oatmeal and rub in the butter. Beat in the eggs to form a sticky paste, and then add in the mince and carrot, complete with any juice from the pan. Knead the mixture together and press it into a well-greased cake tin. Cook for 30 minutes in a moderate oven (around 180 degrees Celcius) and then turn out and allow to cool.

If you want to go completely over the top & decorate it, use low fat cream cheese, cottage cheese or plain yoghurt & sprinkle with small doggy treats or crispy bacon pieces!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Possibly the smallest hen's egg ever...

This evening middle son collected the tiniest hen's egg I have ever seen!

It was soooo cute! I've photographed it in between a 2p piece & a normal sized hen's egg so you can get an idea of just how little it was. I'm guessing it's one of our pullet's first attempts.

The pullets have all been enjoying free-ranging with the bigger hens since we released them into the flock. They were excepted into the ranks without any bother, much to my relief. They have remained extremely friendly, in fact they can be down right kamikaze at times as they run right under your feet when you're carrying heavy feed or water buckets! It was brought to our attention recently that they may not all be pullets as we'd assumed.... they weren't sexed so some may be cockerels. Which, since the sad demise of our bantam rooster, is not necessarily a problem, but I'm watching them closely trying to fathom out which are definitely hens & which may not be. Some of them do seem to be darker coloured, with a more upright gait & with longer, kind of straggly tail feathers. I have no idea how you are supposed to tell for sure, until they find a voice that is - then we'd know! They are very approximately 17 weeks or so old so maybe it should be more obvious by now if any were cockerels? I'm paying close attention as I want to make sure that if it proves necessary we have the correct ratio of hens to cockerels to preempt any fighting. I'm not 100% sure what that ratio should be, but from advice that's been given to me about 5 hens per cockerel seems to be the suggested number. If anyone could help me out with this I'd be ever so grateful.

We now have 20 chickens in total, as shortly after Rodney passed away our oldest hen Belter also died. At first I was really anxious in case something more sinister was going on here. But both had shown no sign of illness e.g. pale comb, nasal discharge, etc. & had just simply slowed down & then gone to sleep. I always use Poultry Shield once a week in 'Chateau Des Oeufs' so I was as sure as I could be that red mite was not to blame here. The rest of the flock all look vigorous thankfully, so I'm now assuming it was coincidence that they both come to the end so close together. Or perhaps she pined? Is that too fanciful a thought?

Anyway, on a more pleasurable note, I started off some Elderflower Champagne using Holly the Land Girl's recipe from Newhouse Farm.

The elder flowers infuse in a mixture of sugar, vinegar, lemon & water

I'll let you know how it turns out!

Monday, 15 June 2009

TLC & roses

Sometimes when you're under the weather what helps more than any pill is a good dose of TLC! Yesterday we visited my Mum & Dad for Sunday lunch & to collect middle son who had been staying with them for a couple of days. Eldest son was there too & my sister, her partner & my niece Joanna-Mai popped in, so it was really nice. My Mum has that special thing that only mum's possess that helps when you're unwell or hurting. Just as a magic kiss on a grazed knee always made things better when I was little, a big 'Mum hug' now still helps lots. It's that tangible mother love that envelops you in that hug that soothes & mends I think. As for my Dad, he's just amazing. He has Parkinson's Disease and although I'm sure he has his dark & depressed times with it, he never lets it show. He is always cheerful, always has a joke & is always positive & determined. He really is an inspiration! I came away feeling fully refreshed, topped up with TLC & with the news that eldest son is coming home from Uni for the Summer next weekend. Hurray!
Family were forefront in my mind as I sat out in the garden today quietly looking at the beautiful roses in my garden. Roses always remind me in particular of my Nan, who grew the rose 'Whiskey Mac' in her garden. A while back I planted a bush each in memory of my Gran & my Nan, & one's that seemed appropriate to all the female members of the family. A couple haven't survived for one reason or another, so I was thinking that I must replace them. My roses aren't perfect, because I don't like to use sprays on them, but they do hold sentimental value for me.

Oh, and a young ducklet named Chalk certainly enjoyed the dead heads. I don't know if it was the rose petals or the greenfly she was relishing!

Chalk rummages through the dead heads

Friday, 12 June 2009

Animals are such a tonic!

I've been feeling under the weather with a flare of my fibromyalgia / cfs symptoms, which fortunately is a relatively rare occurrence these days. I try to do everything I can to shut it out & reduce it's affects on my life as much as possible, but it's at times when I feel unwell that I especially appreciate having firstly my very caring family & secondly my lovely animals around me.

The dogs were very confused because normal routines went out of the window. Because my blog has been filled with duckling & hen stories you wouldn't have guessed yet that I'm a massive dog lover, or should that be a massive lover of dogs? I may be heavier than I'd like to be, but not massive yet! We have four dogs; Polo the Westie, Maggie the border terrier, Meggie the lurcher & Mabel the Jack Russell / Yorkshire Terrier cross. They are all very special & I promise I will introduce you to them soon! They all sat outside the bedroom door while I was in bed & were besides themselves with excitement when I finally emerged. They were then glued to my side in case I disappeared again, nudging at me & wanting to be as close as possible to me. I do love them so! When I feel recovered I will treat them to long walkies & lots of extra pats & cuddles to make up for being a rubbish mummy these last couple of days.
Later I spent a quiet hour out in the garden with Chalk & Cheese the ducklets. They are about 8 / 9 weeks old now & far too big to be called ducklings any more. Here are some up to date pics:



They are so grown up now that it's time to start thinking about taking them up to our little bit of field & introducing them to the hens, Khaki Campbell ducks & geese. I want to do it while they are still small enough not to be a threat to Pop, our gander, but big enough to pretty much take care of themselves & free range with the other birds. They are really quite good at foraging in the garden now (with the odd treat of mealworms, lettuce or grated carrot) & only eat a bowl of their growers pellets in the evening before bed time. In fact they have become a bit too good at free-ranging! At first the worst they did to my raised beds was squish a few onion & shallot plants. But now all that remains of my baby leeks & beetroot plants is one small dug up beetroot & bare earth! However, sat watching them in the pleasant evening sunshine was such perfect, peaceful bliss that I really didn't care one bit. Cheese was especially funny listening to & watching the wild birds in the garden whilst chilling out in the pool, his crest feathers rising & falling inquisitively. Chalk was busy preening herself. She's still more feathered than Cheese & her beak is starting to develop it's red colouring.

Another thing that put a smile on my face was receiving my first parcel from Primrose Hill Studios. I have never opened such a beautifully wrapped package before! My little covered notebook & gingham lavender heart were made by a lady who clearly puts a lot of love into her craft work. Have a peak at
And yet another big thing to be very happy about is that eldest son has passed his first year exams at Uni, with a first in Artificial Intelligence!!! I'm so excited & proud of him! Middle son has finished his GCSE's now, but he has quite a long wait for his results - fingers crossed that he's done as well as he deserves to after working hard for them.
So clearly no reason at all for feeling sorry for myself here! My life is full of so very much to feel happy about & I'm a very lucky lady. Onwards & upwards as they say.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

A solution for dealing with difficult ganders & drakes?

Louise (grey & white) with Crackle & Pop

We have 2 beautiful geese, Louise & Crackle, and a very handsome gander named Pop. Louise is a West of England goose that we reared from a day old gosling, so she is very special to us. Crackle & Pop came to us as juveniles from a farm that was being wound up & was looking for new homes for them.
Pop, as with any gander I think, can be very aggressive, especially during the breeding season. Most of the time he tolerates me & my sons, as it doesn't do to bite the hand that feeds too often! However, he does have moments when he will come after us as well. If you haven't been on the receiving end of a cross gander with his head down coming right at you it can be very intimidating. Worse still is to have a gander come up behind you & catch you off guard. A peck from that powerful beak is very painful I can tell you - I have had the bruises to prove it!
So it is always a battle of wills with me & that gander! I always make sure I win, of course, because to give him the upper hand would just be a nightmare. But this has involved holding him at arms length by the neck until he backs down, over & over again until he submits - until the next time & then the fun begins again.
HOWEVER, I read a brilliant bit of advice which seems to have worked. It was actually on a page about muscovies & how to cope with an aggressive drake, but I have tried it on Pop & I have to say it has done the job! So for anyone who is struggling with an aggressive bird here's the technique:
Grab the bird firmly by the neck with one hand, press their body down to the ground with the other hand & then ruffle up the feathers across their back. Simple! But you have to be confident in doing this. You need to be firm, but use just enough force to push the bird to the ground without hurting them. You may have to repeat the technique a couple of times, but hopefully, like me, you will find your bird will soon get the message.
I have always been very fond of Pop because he's really quite a character & does such a very good job of taking care of Louise & Crackle. It certainly hasn't hurt to have a 'guard goose' in our little field to sound the alarm if anything has been amiss. But now he & I have a much better relationship, which as geese can live to 20 or so years of age, is a good job for both of us!

Monday, 8 June 2009


'Rodney' - I'm not the only one who misses him it appears

I found a photo of my little Rodney to share with you,taken a couple of years ago. I'm sure that Belter, the hen at the top of the pecking order, is missing him. Is that a strange thing to think? She spent most of yesterday in the hen house with her back to the world. Today I was glad to see that her out & about though. I'll take her a tasty treat later, lettuce is a great favourite & sure to perk her up.

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Life's cycle

It has been a funny old week.....

Last weekend the weather was glorious. Eldest son was home from University for the weekend - yippee! The ducklings had been released into the back garden & it was time to give them their first swimming lesson. I had bought a child's paddling pool for them, not the inflatable type but the type that has quite rigid sides that are held up with the weight of the water as you fill it. It was a very exciting moment as we carried them towards the filled pool & placed them into the water. Oh dear! That was obviously not a good idea. Chalk & Cheese were both quite shocked by this mass of cold water & couldn't get out of the pool fast enough. Not what we were expecting at all! We thought that they would take to it.. well, like ducks to water. However, after a bit of reassurance the intrepid twosome decided the pool was worth a second investigation.

Chalk & Cheese give the pool a second look

First of all it was Chalk (the duckling we believe is female) who first dabbled in the water, then bravely clambered in to give this new experience another chance.

Well, it wouldn't do for a boy duckling to be out done by his sister, so it wasn't much longer before Cheese gingerly climbed in too. Perhaps he was more hesitant because he has more of his downy baby feathers left.

Chalk took a little longer to be persuaded into the water

After that there was no stopping them & they had lots of fun splashing us as we watched & laughed as the two of them had a thoroughly good time behaving just as ducks should do.

Watching our bird table it is clear that the ducklings aren't the only birds who are growing up fast. We have been treated to the sight of starling fledglings, looking bigger than their parents due to still being quite fluffy, being fed bits of suet from the table by very harassed looking adults. Gradually the parents have begun refusing to feed the fledglings & they have had to work out for themselves how best to tackle each of the different types of feeder on the table. One of the fledglings has a deformed leg. It seems to be at right angles to his body & he can't hang from the suet ball feeders like the other starlings can. Of course, my mothering instinct has kicked in & he has instantly become my favourite & I anxiously watch out for him each day. It is costing quite a lot to keep the table stocked at the moment what with hungry parents & even hungrier fledglings visiting, but we have been rewarded with quite a variety of visitors. Our regulars include green finches, chaffinches, gold finches, blue tits, great tits, robins, sparrows, dunnocks, ring necked doves, a magpie, a rather handsome wood pigeon (Sargent Major) & a lesser spotted woodpecker (Woody). Oh, & if you were wondering how the baby blue tits in our next box are getting on, they have successfully fledged, although unfortunately I didn't get to see them go. Hubby & I are sure we have seen a flash of another bird visiting the box. We are sure it isn't another blue tit, so we are trying to catch a proper glimpse of what may be a new occupant.

Family routine has been a bit upside down this week as middle son (16 yrs old) is on study leave as he is taking his GCSE exams. Eldest son (19 yrs old) has just finished his first year University exams. Youngest son (14 yrs old) is currently undertaking the Duke of Edinburgh bronze award. On a Wednesday after school he helps out with a scheme called Play Rangers to fulfil the volunteering section of the award. This is a scheme aimed at encouraging kids to take part in outdoor play, by setting up games & crafts activities in a local park. He also had a practise camp this weekend to give him a taste of what the expedition part of the award will be like. So I have been reflecting on how quickly my own 'babies' are growing up. I have to say I am a very lucky mummy & I watch with incredible pride as they each grow up into amazing individuals & with interest as they each start to grow into adults & begin to make their own decisions & find their own place in this big wide world.

The week has finished off with chilly downpours of rain & with a bit of sadness. Rodney, our lovely bantam cockerel who has diligently looked after our hens for 5 years or so, passed away peacefully yesterday. We thought he was coming to the end because, although he appeared perfectly healthy, he was spending more & more time sleeping. In the end it seems he went off to sleep for good & as his life's journey reached an end. We think he must have been seven or eight because he was 2 or 3 years old when he came to live with us, so I hope that counts as a good innings. Hubby buried him for me today so he can be forever amongst his hens.

And so the circle of life turns & as we enjoy the zest of the ducklings as they begin their life's adventure, & our pullets grow up, little Rodney's life ends. It's the way of things & we shouldn't dwell & be sad for long. We should all rejoice in each day, take time to appreciate the wonder of Nature around us & make the most of our own life journeys. For some reason the first few words of a hymn that I used to love as a child came back to me today, & although my own beliefs are far removed from my Sunday School days now, I looked up the hymn to share with you:

'Daisies are our silver,

Buttercups our gold,

This is all the treasure

we can have or hold.

Raindrops are our diamonds

and the morning dew;

While for shining sapphires

we’ve the speedwell blue.

These shall be our emeralds-

leaves so new and green;

Roses make the reddest rubies ever seen.

God, who gave these treasures

to your children small,

teach us how to love them

and grow like them all.

Make us bright as silver:

Make us good as gold;

Warm as summer roses

let our hearts unfold.

Gay as leaves in April,

Clear as drops of dew-

God, who made the speedwell,

Keep us true to you.'

Beautiful words don't you think, no matter what 'god' you believe in.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Car sticker

Youngest son & I saw a brilliant sticker on the car in front of us yesterday. It read:

'Ducks are just little people dressed in feathers'
What a lovely sentiment!

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Duckling adventures in the BIG wide world!

The ducklings are growing so fast that by last weekend it was clear that they had out grown their pen & water tray & that it was time to introduce them to the wider world.

Chalk & Cheese's moment of freedom

So the run door was opened & Chalk & Cheese were allowed the freedom of the back garden. I felt a little bit like I did when I took my boys to nursery school for the first time, as I looked anxiously on to see what they would make of this big new world. There were so many new things for them to explore. They were clearly very excited, cheeping constantly to one another & shaking their tail feathers like exuberant little puppies.

The ducklings happily explore

They busily trotted around the garden, bravely testing out every new thing they came across like intrepid explorers. Until they came across THE ALIEN MONSTER FROM ANOTHER PLANET.....

What's this strange creature mum?

At first, although it looked very weird & was completely devoid of feathers it appeared that it meant the ducklings no harm & their curiosity was about to get the better of them, then....

Help mum! It's chasing us!

... the monster charged towards them, clearly intending them to be it's next meal or some such perilous thing! It really was funny to watch! The poor ducklings ran as fast as they could back to me to take refuge from the monster. (Of course, I am happy to say that after a few more close encounters the ducklings & the tortoise now happily co-exist in the garden!)

After the danger had passed it was time to resume the exploration of the garden, including waddling across mum's raised bed & trampling her baby leek plants & beetroot. However, it was impossible to get the slightest bit cross as it was such a joy watching the pair of them enjoying themselves so much. I think ducks always look as though they are smiling & are one of Nature's happiest creatures, but that day the ducklings were positively grinning.

Feeling confident in their ability to take care of themselves & not get into too much trouble I have been able to let the ducklings out into the garden every day now, firstly supervised on every occasion, then watched from the kitchen window & now just checked regularly. They have a ramp up into their hutch so that they can get inside if it suddenly rains or if they are spooked by anything & they very dutifully climb up it into bed every evening at about 8pm, which is a bit of a relief because their claws are quite long now!

It's time to end this blog here, as I have to ferry middle son to school for his next GCSE exam, but later I will let you know how Chalk & Cheese got on with their first swimming lesson.