Compassion in World Farming

Friday, 25 September 2009

More visitors!

Just a mini post as I had to share the news that today we had Bibbity & Boo to visit! Can you imagine how happy I was?! That means that the only one we haven't seen since leaving home is Ibbity who was the first to go. I hope he / she is OK out there in the big wide world.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Not quite so ready to leave behind the comforts of home!


After a day of frustrations at work & also feeling a little blue after telling my work colleagues about the last of the ducklings leaving home, I came home to find some Wardens from the Wildlife Trust stood looking out across the Reserve which is opposite our little field. I wound down my car window & asked them if there were any Mallards down on the reservoir & to my delight they told me that there is indeed a small group of young Mallards down there! So I went on to tell them the tale of the rescued Mallard ducklings. They were charmed by the story & agreed it was quite possible that it was 'my' youngsters that were on the water! Then they asked me if I would be interested in becoming a volunteer for the Reserve & getting involved in the whole project. Naturally I almost literally jumped up & down at the chance! So I was already buzzing with excitement when I pulled onto our drive & was met by middle son asking me if I had noticed that one of the Mallards was back in the field! I rushed up to see if it was true & sure enough, there, as large as life, was little Bobbity sat with Daisy & Seymour the Aylesbury ducks (no doubt having enjoyed some of their food) taking a little nap! Can you believe it?! She had been gone since Sunday. I experienced such a rush of emotion - I'm sure that in that moment I could have actually lifted off the ground! Here's a couple of pictures of her(?) strolling around as if she'd never been away:

Now I'm not kidding myself for one moment that she had returned to see me, but it does give me immense satisfaction to know that we created an environment pleasant enough for her to want to return to.

I galloped back up to the Trust people & introduced myself a little more formally & told them of the development & in return they chatted to me about how the Reserve was developing & attracting new wildlife. As well as the Mallards there are two Swans, Herons & a white Egret to be seen down on the water. Barn Owl numbers have picked up quite considerably due to an increase in the small mammal population now that the land isn't being farmed. Buzzards are quite a common sight here, but they have also spotted a Kite & told me how the fork in the Kite's tail is the way to tell them apart. They have witnessed the local Sparrowhawk terrorising the sparrows along the hedgerow & I told them how it had taken all of the Blue Tit chicks from my neighbour's garden last year. It will be a such a pleasure to be able to help in whatever way I can & of course it will have the added bonus of being able to see the Mallards regularly, if indeed they are our rescued ducklings on the water. I felt as if angels had truly smiled down on me.

That's not the end of my happy news for today! I candled the eggs in my incubator for the second time & each one has a developing chick inside! You can clearly see the dark mass of the chick & the blood vessels that are feeding it. I could make out the head & body & they reacted to the light being shone onto them. I'm sure I could actually make out the feathers on one or two, but maybe I'm being too fanciful. Being a novice at this, & after determining that each egg was fertile when I candled at day 7, it is a relief that I have managed to maintain the correct conditions in the incubator. So, without wishing to count our chickens before they hatch, it looks like we must get a move on with sorting out that brooder area this weekend as it appears our family is going to be growing yet again!

To top things off the farmer whose barn conversion we live in called by to ask if I would like some hay free of charge as one of his bales had burst & was of no use to him. Also, lovely Mary, my neighbour, let me use her long hosepipe to water the parched grass in our little field as hers reaches & ours doesn't. Hopefully this will encourage it to sprout greenery in time to provide the geese with enough grazing to see them through the Winter months.

So today has been one of many blessings. I have been moved to the core & feel full to the brim with joy & gratitude. Bobbity had flown away again by the time the light started to fade this evening, but this one visit will leave me with a warm feeling inside for many days to come & who knows it may even become a more regular occurrence. I'll keep you posted...

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

My babies have all left home!

Why is it that nights seem to draw in a whole lot faster than they draw out? Already there don't seem to be enough daylight hours in the day. It's a rush to shop, get home from work & the school run, feed all the family, feed the animals, walk the dogs, sort washing out, etc., etc. I'm sure you all know the feeling! It's not that I've taken on too much I tell hubby when he dares to quietly suggest that may be the case, it's just that the luxury of time to take things leisurely is rapidly disappearing. There's not the same time to sit out on the grass with the hens & ducks; not the time to spend idly chatting & laughing with Mary over the fence; not the time to spend tending to the garden. It's the outdoor pleasures that are disappearing & it does make me a little sad.

But then the forgotten pleasures of the season return. Like more family time together. More time for home baking, pickling & preserving. Cosy evenings in with lots of lit candles. Time spent cuddled up with the dogs on the sofa. Comfy, favourite jumpers & toasty slippers pulled out of the wardrobe. And, dare I say it, the beginnings of Christmas preparations. So lots of pleasures to dissipate those post Summer blues.

To catch up on our news then, eldest son has returned to Uni for Year 2. I think he was looking forward to it - refreshed after a long, restful Summer break. Of course, I miss him terribly when he's not here. This year he is sharing a student house with some friends so it's another new experience for him, after the relatively sheltered environment of Halls in his first year. I packed him off with extra kitchen utensils, some basic provisions, a few cookery lessons & a recipe book in the hope that his diet will be a little more varied than the pizza & generic chicken grills he survived on last year! It won't be long until he's home again for the holidays & I'm just going to look forward to that & send lots of positive thoughts his way rather than sad ones.

We went to middle son's school yesterday evening to watch him receive an IT Award for being best at this subject at GCSE level. A very proud moment! It was a great evening in which the achievements of many of the kids at the school were celebrated & not just academic achievement but sporting & effort awards too. Middle son now has his name engraved on a trophy to celebrate the dedication he has shown to his studies.

The rest of the rescued Mallard ducklings have also now left 'home'. Just when I thought the remaining three just weren't showing any desire to fly away, two disappeared overnight on Sunday. On Monday morning, one had returned & seemed happy to be reunited with the one who had remained. However, yesterday evening neither of them were to be found & it would seem that it had just returned to tell it's siblings of all the wonders of the big wide world. It is just so heart warming that they have grown up to be confident enough to seek out lives as the wild ducks Nature intended them to be. But the protective, almost maternal feelings I have towards them make it difficult for me to no longer be a part of that life. Now I'm unable to care for them on a daily basis & make sure they are safe & sound they will face dangers & challenges that I won't be there to protect them against. I will wonder each day where they are & how they are doing. I whisper up a prayer that angels will always fly with them & keep them safe for me. I know hubby worries about the attachment I feel towards all of the animals in my care & it most certainly leads to anguish & tears at times. But the incredible joys, wonders & pleasures of the rich experiences it brings far, far outweigh the sad times. To have held the lives of those tiny ducklings in my hand, to watch them flourish & grow, to be able to enjoy a special bond with them & to finally watch them fly above my head on strong wings has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. One I will always treasure & give thanks for.

Of course, there's the excitement of the new arrivals to look forward to as the incubator whirs away keeping those precious hen eggs at the correct temperature & humidity. When I candled the eggs at day 7 to my surprise & delight every single one had a clearly defined embryo growing inside! It was just amazing to be able to take this peek inside the egg & witness the miracle of life that was going on inside. I'm going to candle the eggs once more tomorrow to check that all the embryos have continued to develop as they should. Then after that it will be time to leave well alone, other than to continue turning the eggs until the magic day 18. This is the approximate day at which the chicks will start to 'pip' & begin their struggle into the world. By my calculations 1st October should be my hatching date so this weekend hubby & I are going to prepare the brooding area. This needs to be a draught proof place over which we can hang a heat lamp to keep the chicks warm. I am going to cut some strips of material up & tie them together to suspend in the brooder to make a kind of surrogate Mother Hen they can nestle underneath. I have a special feeder & a drinker all ready to go. It's all very exciting & a bit nerve wracking with it being my first hatching! I hope all goes well.
So at the time of the Autumn equinox it's a time of farewells & a time to look forward to new beginnings.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Completely cluckers!

Well where to begin? Such a lot seems to have been going on here! Middle son, after achieving really excellent GCSE results, has begun 6th Form & middle son has returned to school to begin his GCSE course. Eldest son is gradually moving stuff into his student house ready for his second year at University. So after the long, relaxed Summer holidays we are back into the routine of early mornings & shortening evenings. Despite gloriously sunny days, there is a definite Autumnal chill in the air come late evening. The leaves are turning, fruit is ripening & the grass has been shimmering with the first hint of ground frost. We have enjoyed some stunning sunsets & heard the first evocative sounds of geese overhead on their migrating journeys - my favourite sound of the Season. We have also heard pheasants' alarm calls & gunshots - my least favourite sound of the Season!

Our ducks and geese are sporting freshly grown feathers & the hens are ready to begin their annual moult. Jess, the ex-battery hen who was bullied by the rest, is a happy girl now, fully excepted by her fellow ex-batts & enjoying free ranging with the rest of the flock with gusto. Bibbity, Bobbity & Boo, our remaining rescued Mallards, are regularly stretching their wings & have taken a few very short flights around our little field. Boo, the smallest, got herself stranded the wrong side of the fence & needed guiding back into the field. She(?) doesn't have the same kind of flight ability as her two sisters(?) as her flight feathers haven't completely grown in yet so she had managed to get herself out but then couldn't get enough lift to fly back over! Her larger sisters greeted her with relief when she rejoined them! We haven't seen Ibbity so we are hoping that he(?) is enjoying an independent & gloriously free life as a wild duck.

It has been suggested to my on more than one occasion that if I enjoy my hens then I really ought to have a go with bantam chickens. Apparently, they can be even more friendly than their bigger counterparts & an absolute joy to keep. We did love our little bantam rooster Rodney who for several years heroically 'serviced' our standard sized girls! So I have some very exciting news! Sitting in a shady corner of our living room, quietly whirring away, is an incubator with 18 bantam chicken eggs inside. My very wonderful hubby bought me a whole incubating / hatching kit for my birthday & so here begins my very first hatching experience!

I have 6 Chamois Poland Frizzle, 6 Porcelain D'Uccle & 6 Blue Silkie eggs 'cooking' away at 37.5o'C with water in a little tray which is keeping the incubator at around 55% humidity. It is completely amazing to me that it will only take 19-21 days for the embryos which are hopefully growing inside the eggs to develop into fluffy chicks! Today is Day 2 of my incubation period & according to the chart in my 'Guide to Hatching & Rearing' the chick embryos have the beginnings of a digestive canal, spinal column, nervous system, head, eyes, heart & ears. Tomorrow their hearts will begin to beat!! How wondrous & miraculous is that?! My own heart flutters as I watch over the eggs & hope that they are fertilised & developing. At seven days I will be able to 'candle' the eggs (direct a beam of light into the egg) to see if I can see the tell tale spider-like shape of an embryo with blood vessels radiating outwards. How happy I will be if even a small ratio of these eggs make it!

My intention is to keep my bantams completely separate from the other hens in a secure area of our back garden. We have missed seeing feathered friends scratching about outside our kitchen window! Of, course, I have no idea how many of the eggs will hatch & how many will turn out to be cockerels, so this is a big adventure into the unknown. I will keep you posted!

Back to cockerels, it has become apparent now that in fact none of the eight young cross breed chickens we were given are cockerels. The hens have displayed some rather odd behaviour since Rodney passed away. Top of the pecking order, Chicken Tikka, who is most definitely a SHE, has been treading the other hens in the absence of a male!! I know some people find the sound of a cock crowing a noisy irritation but to me it is one of the most stirring, life affirming sounds of the countryside. Fortunately, my neighbours also seem to enjoy the sound! So I had in my mind that it would be wonderful to find a new cockerel for the girls. As well as blogging, I regularly 'Twitter' with a small circle of like-minded chicken loving individuals & it just seemed like fate that one of my most favourite fellow 'Twitterers' asked 'Twitterland' if anyone could give a loving home to some of his hatchlings that had turned out to be cockerels. Unfortunately, he is unable to keep cockerels at his home although he would dearly love to. You can read the truly heart warming tales of his chicken adventures (amongst other musings & rants!) in his blog by following this link So about the first week of December we are driving up to Yorkshire to collect two Copper Blue Maran cockerels & possibly one Welsummer cockerel too if he has not found a home by then. I am so looking forward to both collecting our boys & also meeting my Twitter pal! In the mean time, I know they couldn't be getting a better start in life :-D.

Above one of the Copper Blue cockerels & below, left of photo, the Welsummer cockerel

My last bit of news is that after a long wait our bedroom window has finally been knocked out & replaced by French Windows - yippee! It has made such a difference to the room already. The light just pours in when you open the curtains. Eventually we will be able to step out into a little arbor. In my imaginings I have romantic pictures of hens wandering in to join us, wild birds singing on the door step & bunny rabbits hopping around our feet. But in reality I'm sure it will be more a case of shouting at the dogs for bringing in muddy paw prints & hubby for muddy boot prints!

I am going to hang a crystal in the windows to bring rainbows into the room. Whatever horrible, scary things are happening in the wide world out there, my own little universe is a very peaceful, content & fulfilled place right now & I feel very lucky to have this little sanctuary away from the madness. I hope each & every one of you has a special place too, whether it be a favourite seat in which to read a book, or a garden to nurture or a favourite walk with the dog. We all need to be able to take time out & breathe in life, before time starts rushing us on again!

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Age is a funny thing

Well yesterday I was 41! How did that happen? I don't feel 41 on the inside, but I am ageing on the outside. One day I decided that dying my hair & smothering myself in various creams really was quite silly. Why exactly was I trying to cheat Nature and for whose benefit? We females in particular have been indoctrinated in to believing we are somehow inferior if we dare to let Father Time give us 'fine lines' & grey roots! So out went the hair dye, out went the fancy creams & lotions! Now I'm strictly a gentle soap & water & simple moisturiser kinda girl - & has my life fallen apart because of it? Of course not, except to say that I feel more comfortable in my own skin now. And I'm polluting the Planet a little less with chemicals. Do the people I care about think any less of me? Is my marriage suddenly in peril? Do people avoid me in the street now? No of course not! My life continues just as happily as it always has. Funny that!

Youngest son & my mum also have birthdays this week so we all got together at Mum & Dad's last Sunday. Family time is always treasured time! After Mum's yummy dinner, followed by even yummier steamed syrup sponge (heaven!) we got onto the subject of my recent chutney & jam experiments & Dad went & found my gran's copy of Mrs Beeton's cook book. When I opened it a recipe, on yellowing paper & carefully hand written in black ink, fell out. It was for 'A Scripture Christmas Cake Taken from The Bible'. It had no ingredients or method instructions just a list of Bible references. So youngest son & I, both with woefully little Bible knowledge, had a go at unravelling the code. It was good fun so here it is if you have a Bible & fancy a little challenge:

4 1/2 cups .........1st Kings............IV chapter ......22nd verse

1/2 lb....................Judges................V chapter.........25th verse

2 cups....................Jeremiah............VI chapter.........20th verse

2 cups....................Nahum...............III chapter.........12th verse

2 cups..................1st Samuel...........XXX chapter......12th verse

2 cups....................Numbers..............XVII chapter......8th verse

2 teaspoonfuls......1st Samuel..........XIV chapter.......25th verse

To taste..................2nd Chronicles...IX. chapter........9th verse

6...............................Jeremiah.............XVII chapter........11th verse

1 1/2 cups.............Judges..................IV chapter..........19th verse

2 teaspoonfuls.......Amos......................IV chapter..........5th verse

1 pinch....................Leviticus..............II chapter.............13th verse


Bake for 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Hint - leaven = Baking Powder)

It all becomes clear - honest! Mum & Dad are going to spend Xmas with us this year, so I'm going to give the recipe a whirl.

Ibbity growing up

To update you on the story of our little rescued Mallard ducklings, Ibbity , the biggest & most developed of the four, had been taking small flights out of our little field but still seemed to be sticking around. However, three days have passed now with no sign of him(?), so it would appear that he has fully embraced his freedom & gone off to live wild just as Nature intended him to. We are lucky in that a good few acres of land across the lane & opposite our little field belongs to a Wildlife Trust & has a reservoir on it, so I am thinking he is possibly over there & not so far away. The Reserve is not open to the public so we cannot go down to see if we can spot him. However, lovely hubby has ordered some good binoculars so we can do a bit of 'twitching' & see if we can see any Mallards down on the water. So although I do miss him I feel happy in my heart that he has had a good start in life after a disastrous beginning. I hope angels will always fly with him & keep him safe.

Ibbity's new home?

His sisters(?) are flourishing & are starting to excercise their wings regularly, so I am making the most of whatever wonderful, precious time we may have left with them.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

I have a practical side too!

My recent blogs seem to have been charged with emotion so I thought I'd show my practical side this time around by posting some pictures of my recent experiments in the kitchen. When I lived at home our kitchen was always filled with the most delicious smells at this time of year as Mum & Dad used to make all kinds of chutneys, jams, jellies & syrups. Dad passed on some of his recipes to me & last year I dabbled a bit by making a passable Green Tomato Chutney. Of course, Dad had to go one better & show the young pretender just how it's done by turning one of my home grown pumpkins into scrummy Pumpkin Chutney! This year my lovely neighbour has been sharing her homegrown veg with me, after mine was shredded by the various ducklings & recuperating hens that passed through my garden. However, several HUGE courgette/marrows later we were overflowing with her kind offerings & I was in need a way to make use of our courgette mountain! Luckily, via Twitter, I came across a lovely lady with a new blog Herne Gardens who posted a recipe for Courgette Chutney. Hurrah! It took an awful long time to cook (I finally potted it up at 2am after starting at 4pm!!) but it was worth the wait:

Bolstered by this success I rifled through Dad's recipes & found one for Blackberry Jam. On Sunday youngest son & I gathered blackberries from the lane & after some seriously sticky moments when I was trying to gauge the setting point without the aid of a jam thermometer, several pots of varying sizes were full to the brim with sweet blackberry goodness:

Now the results weren't perfect & I'm certainly no Domestic Goddess, but it really is worth having a go yourself if you haven't already. You'll find the Blackberry Jam recipe down the side of my blog under September's Favourite Recipe of the Month. If you do go hedgerow picking please do remember to leave plenty behind for the birds, mammals & insects that rely on Nature's bounty at this time of year.

Are you impressed with my jars of homemade booty? A jar of jam is a jar of jam - right? Thought so.....

I am absolutely thrilled to say that Ibbity, one of the rescued Mallard ducklings, is now flying very well but has chosen to stay with us for the time being. He flies across & around our little field & delighted me by skimming the top of my head when he landed the other day! It is truly magnificent to see him now in his full flight feathers & incredibly humbling that what is still in essence a wild creature is choosing to remain in our human company. I have a happy feeling that he(?) & his 3 sisters(?) will now stay with us for the Autumn / Winter, but may be fly off come Spring time. Watching them develop has bought the most incredible joy & I will forever treasure this experience.

Ooohhh! Now that feels better :-D