Friday, 14 October 2016

The Ripple Effect

In six years of chicken keeping, umpteen minutes of my life have been lost to chicken watching. The free range chicken is a busy bird; scratching, pecking, running, bathing in sun or dust or a big hole in the lawn, jumping, preening, stretching leg or wing or both, digging, eating, chasing, tugging (usually a frog between two chickens), eyeing up then snatching a sandwich. At some point in the day an egg may be laid, usually early morning and unseen in the safety of the nest box. Occasionally late morning and unseen in the safety of the sage bush, reed bed or atop a bank of rosebay willowherb. Just once in the afternoon in the middle of the yard watched by me.

Given this assortment of behaviours, spotting something out of the ordinary in any one chicken is not always easy, but once spotted a change in behaviour is more often than not an indicator that all is not well. Sulking, squatting, separation from flock for too long give me pause for thought. Failing to come in for corn at tea time rings alarm bells.

When Seren totally ignored the tea time clapping and calling. standing unresponsive by the house, I suspected sickness. A trail of corn got her waddling around the corner. A gentle coaxing with the hand got me a sharp peck. That in itself was a worry as the usual reaction to a coaxing hand is annoyed flapping, squawking and running off. A second gentle coaxing got a second, and harder, peck. Still Seren refused to move. Then things went really weird. Her tail went down. It kept going down. Her whole rear end went down. The front end went up. More up. More down. Until Seren was the world's first vertical chicken. Her whole body was in line with her legs. It looked awkward. She looked so tightly held in I half expected her to explode, go pop like a feathered balloon. David and I could only watch, part horrified, part fascinated. As she reached tipping point, I no longer expected an explosion, just a keeling over backwards, stiff as a board. Then out popped an egg and off she went right as rain, in search of corn as though nothing untoward whatsoever had just occurred. I stared at the spot where she'd been and where an egg now sat, glistening wetly. Rousing myself from my stunned trance, I reached down tentatively. I expected the squidgy wobble of the soft-shelled egg, but my fingers met a proper shell. I lifted it up for inspection. It wasn't an especially large egg. The only sign that it's arrival in the world might have been slightly out of the ordinary was a rippling in the shell, which is hardly surprising given the angle of departure.

Thursday, 18 August 2016


An amazing thing happened today. It has probably happened here many times in the last five years but I have never witnessed it. The difference of five minutes forwards or backwards and I would not have witnessed it at all.

It was a hot, humid day. In anticipation of the forecast rain storm due to arrive tonight, I headed out to the cut flower patch to collect a bunch of sweet peas and calendula for the kitchen, and cut some helichrysum (also known as straw flowers or everlasting flowers) to dry, fully expecting to wake up tomorrow to a battered patch and forlorn flowers. As usual, on arrival at the plot, I got distracted, and a five minute task became a 30 minute potter. Everything changed in that time. The temperature dropped. The sky darkened. The wind picked up. You could feel the storm in the air. My trug full of flowers, I left the plot. Like losing the plot but without the anger issues.

Part way across the field I realised I had company. A lot of company. I was standing in a bee superhighway. Bees to my left, my right, below me, above me, and if I didn't get out of the way soon there was going to be a collision. I crouched down. A steady stream of my honey bees, some flying high, some flying low, some zipping along at high speed, others taking a more waivering path, but all flying very definitely along the same route, from the same direction in the neighbouring field, to the same destination in our field, namely the apiary. It was as though a bell had rung, calling all workers home, urgently, no shilly-shallying along the way, do not pass Go, do not collect any pollen on the way. Even ducked down I was at risk of getting a face full of bees, so I lay on my back, watching them fly over me, hundreds of them. They knew a storm was coming and bees hate rain. I could see the full pollen bags on some, predominately a whitish colour. Perhaps my girls had found themselves a patch of late summer heather and had been working it en masse in the afternoon sunshine, all available foragers called up, all leave cancelled.

Gradually the numbers died down. The stream became a trickle. Bucking the trend a lone bee headed back in the other direction. What was she thinking? Sent out to find missing workers? Determined to hit her daily foraging target whatever the weather? Did she make it home?

David returned from feeding the pigs to see me lying in the middle of the field, and assumed I had fallen over, as though that is a regular occurrence, as if I am prone to random tumbles. I explained the reason for my position, so he joined me and together we watched the last of the field workers head home as the first rain drops began to fall.

Monday, 15 August 2016

Ancestral Head Cheese

The head was in the freezer for 10 months, each half wedged down the side. When you're in search of the solace only a bowl of ice cream can provide, you do not want to see a rigor mortis smile or frozen eye-lashes on closed eyes that will never open. Alongside the head was a bag of trotters. They're not there any more. They are in the fridge. They are neither head nor trotters any more. They are brawn. In North America it is called head cheese. Why would anyone do that? Call it head cheese I mean, not make brawn.

Before I go any further it is only fair to warn you that if you scroll down you are at risk of encountering gruesome pictures of grizzly detail of the transformation of raw pig head to tasty brawn. These are pictures that at the very least will make you curl up your upper lip and say "yeurgh", and at worse have you waking in a cold sweat from nightmares of being chased by a fleshless disembodied pig head. Just saying.

Step one. Remove your defrosted pig head from the fridge. At this point I offered David an out. There's no shame in admitting this is a step too far in nose to tail eating. But no, he would see this through.

Step two. Cut off the ears and clean out the wax. Ha ha ha ha! And yes, he did, and yes, the ears were waxy. I found the hole where ear met head disturbingly intriguing, insisting on pointing it out several times. The ears have subsequently been roasted and eaten as a crispy snack by Teri. The dog. She loves the pigs. We don't think she knew it was a pig ear. 


Step three. Soak your pig head in brine for 24 hours, after shaving it to remove hairs. Ha ha ha ha! It gets funnier and funnier. There was no way David was going to work up a nice foam and give the pig a shave. And besides, you can't shave off an eye lash. Can you? I gave him my tweezers. He didn't pluck for long before announcing we would not be using the skin in the brawn. I wasn't prepared to be the plucker so who was I to argue.


Step four. Boil your brined pig head with herbs and spices for 4 hours. Phew, we could now hide the head under greenery and vegetables. Uh oh, we're gonna need a bigger pot! Push the trotter under the water. Up pops the trotter. Push the trotter under the water. Trotter bobs back up. Push the trotter under the water. Hi there, me again! 


Step five. Pick the meat off the head. No, no, no, no .... it's still smiling at me. Though the smile is now so much more gruesome than it was before it was boiled. I waivered at step 5. "But I thought it would be nice to do it together", said David. Keep the magic alive, pick over a boiled pig head together. I conceded. He did the head. I did the trotters. Keep the magic alive, compromise. I screwed up my face a lot. I winced when the canine popped out the jaw bone. I peered across the table and said "is that the brain or the eyeball?". Curiosity started to over come squeamishness. A pig's teeth are fascinating, a rugged mountain range of toothy crags, perfect for grinding stones and chewing on wooden pig ark panels. 


Step six. Mix the meat with herbs and spoonfuls of the gelatinous stock and pack into a press. At last, the fruits of our labours began to look like real food instead of a terrible farming accident. Our family heirloom butcher's press, which had spent five years gathering dust and general detritus in the corner of our utility room, was now shiny and clean, ready for its moment of brawn glory, having lain unused since David's grandfather's butchers shop in Portsmouth closed its doors.



Step seven. Two days later, realise you forgot to line the press with cling-film, cross your fingers, hold your breath, ease the brawn out of the press. Hey presto, a thing of beauty, a feast, a labour of love, a meaty delight, a brawn David's grandfather would have been proud to have made.

Saturday, 6 August 2016

Someone else's horse

I can't deny that summer has been conspicuously absent since the great heatwave of 19 July. And I have to confess that writing, be it book, blog or just about anything else, has been difficult of late. Sometimes the words just won't come. But today summer came back and a little bit of my mojo came with it.

The internet is a joy and a devil. The joy is knowledge at your finger tips (we call the laptop "the big answer box" for a very good reason and it's a vital tool when you live with and love someone for whom every other sentence is a question). The joy is a window on the world of far away friends. The joy is meeting new like-minded friends whose paths you might not otherwise have crossed. The devil is the myriad dark ways in which people are led astray. For me, the devil takes the form of brilliant blogs, inspiring smallholders, boundless creativity, people doing more, doing it better, being who I think I might want to be. Viewed through the lens of this skewed insight into the lives of others, the grass is always greener on the other side, not just more green but more lush, more nutritious, more grassy, more more. I know that way madness lies. I know that I perpetuate this madness with every digitally remastered Tweet and every filtered Instagram photo that I post. Yet it still halts my pen, causes my fingers to pause then refrain from typing. A wiser person than I (or is it "than me", I agonise over grammar for fear of causing upset and disdain), a person who happens to be one of those new like-minded social media made flesh friends, once said:

It’s not possible to do everything, it isn’t even easy to try to do most (things).
But always, doing something is better than doing nothing.
Trying is better than not trying.

He said this to another wiser person whose blog about "scrunched up insides" struck a chord, resonated, put into words the niggling feeling bugging me as another day passed without a word written. So .... *deep breath* .... inspired by Jen, I am getting back on my own particular horse. Who knows where that nag will take me!

Today I went for a wander. This was no aimless wander. This wander had a purpose. The purpose was to remind myself that the grass is green on my side too. In this dark and twisty world I have much to be thankful for and today I say to no one in particular "thank you".



Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Where there's a willow...

Geese. Water buffalo. Fishing lake. Dexter cattle. Houseboat. Grazing.

In no particular order, all of the above have, at one time or other over the last six years, been suggested as potential "uses" of our acres of wet grassland.

Buffalo and cattle need fencing. Geese need a house and fencing. A lake needs digging and dredging. A houseboat needs a lake, which needs digging and dredging. Grazing needs drainage, which is just digging and dredging in lines rather than one big hole. Ultimately every one of them has the potential to damage the existing eco-system of the grassland. Scrap that, every one of them WILL damage the existing eco-system of the grassland. A damaged eco-system is not good for wildlife, specifically not good for the wildlife that barn owls like to hunt and eat. So ultimately every one of them has the potential to drive away our resident barn owls. And we wouldn't want that!

The upshot of six years of deliberation, procrastination and letting the grassland do its own thing, is that we have decided to let the grassland do its own thing. The difference is that from now on it is going to be a managed do its own thing. To date, doing its own thing appears to have consisted largely of growing willow. So in my untrained and uninformed mind a managed do its own thing would essentially entail managing willow. As luck would have it, Denmark Farm, the conservation centre down the road near Lampeter, had a free willow management course coming up, so I signed David up and sent him off with pen, paper and a packed lunch.

He came back with pretty pictures of pretty things made from willow (leaving me with the need to have a giant woven willow ball in my life). He also came back knowing how to coppice willow. Most important of all, he came back knowing that the willow he had just learned to coppice is completely different to the type of willow growing in our grassland. When is a willow not a willow? When it's the other willow. All was not lost however, for on the course was a man who knew about both willows and, to David's great excitement (we don't get out much these days), this man not only knew what willow we would need for burning in our biomass boiler, he also knew how we could grow it in our grassland. All of which explains why a few weeks later a corner of our grassland looked like this...

Okay, so I realise that black mulch sheeting is no better for the eco-system than a herd of water buffalo, BUT it's only temporary. It also looks a lot bigger in the picture than it is in real life (said the actress to the bishop). When David announced we would be planting 200 willow trees I tried to sound more positive than I felt. The memory of the after effects of using a mattock to dig one hole for one tree lingers still, and it isn't a happy one. Fortunately, when you're talking willow whips, there's a much simpler method. Push them in! BUT in the early weeks and months, the whips don't like competition from weeds and their ilk. Hence the sheet mulch.

David ordered the sheeting before he ordered the willow whips. No surprise then that the sheeting arrived before the willow whips. It was also no surprise that once the sheeting arrived, David just HAD to get it laid down IMMEDIATELY. No waiting for help. No checking the forecast, No checking willow whip estimated delivery date. You have to admire the enthusiasm that led him singly handedly to strim a 400 square metre area of the grassland and then roll out, lay and peg down sheeting of the same dimensions. Such a shame then that the following few days were so very, very windy. Windy enough, in fact, for the sheeting not only to rip out most of those pegs but to then toss aside the breeze blocks and tree trunks hastily put in their place. I envisaged this going one of two ways - either we would wake in total darkness with the front of the house shrouded in black mulch sheeting or the last we would see of it would be a swirling black cloud disappearing over the top of the valley like the giant cloak of a departing, cackling witch. Fortunately, David's diligence shuttling to and fro with wheelbarrow loads of rocks kept it grounded, if a little billowy round the edges. The willow whips which would anchor it properly were delivered a few days later and we were able to plant them straight-away. Well, I say straight-away, but actually there was a short pause between arrival and planting, allowing David to pose as a prone contemplative wizard....

Once that was out of his system and I had stopped giggling, we lugged the bundles of whips down to the grassland (a simple enough sounding task, but fraught with difficulty when I get the heavy end and get the giggles again while traversing tricky terrain). Safely at the location we revealed the whips...

.... and shoved them through slits in the sheeting....

.... all 200 of them ...

.... and then found the planting instructions at the bottom of the packaging. Hey ho, they're not dead yet though, so fingers crossed (and assuming that the willow man knew what he was talking about and wasn't just spinning a yarn, or perhaps weaving a willowy tale) in four year's time we'll be coppicing a year's worth of fuel.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Ask (suggest) and it shall be done (sometimes)

There's neither rhyme nor reason as to why an idea to do something pops into the head on any given day. There's no logic as to why that something has taken six years to pop into the head when it is something that could just have easily been done six years ago as last week. For example, Hen Ffermdy cottage has had bare stone walls for six years, nothing has changed in that period, and as of last weekend it still had the same bare stone walls. At any time I could have looked at those walls and said to myself, "that looks a little bare, I wonder if there's a plant that could be trained to grow up that wall". But I didn't. Until last week. Perhaps the idea has always been there, but buried at the bottom of my useful thoughts pile, lost until now in the jumble of less than useful thoughts, distractions and general nonsense which swirl around my head on a daily basis. Grasping the thought whilst it was still bobbing along the surface of that swirl, I went out and bought a clematis and a very big pot.

I returned home feeling pleased with myself. "That's going to need a trellis", said David. "Did you buy one?" Faced with a return trip to the garden centre and making another purchase, I felt less pleased with myself. "Can't you make one?", I replied after a short pause. Feeling pleased with myself once again, I trotted off to potter in the polytunnel. I knew the seed had been planted, not in raised beds, but in David's mind, and all I had to do was wait for it to germinate. As plant germination rates vary, so do project germination rates, except project rates can be anything from days through to months and occasionally years, though in that case it is usually safe to conclude that the seed rotted away for lack of t.l.c. and the project will never see the light of day. The seed for the trellis project was one of those extremely rare instantaneous germinations. Within the hour David was scouting the land for suitable tree whips. A short time later, still in the polytunnel, I could hear tap, tap, tap, woof, woof, whine. Tap, tap, tap, woof, woof, whine. Yes, David was hammering, Teri was helping.

Strolling back to the house with an armful of rhubarb for tea, I spied David by the woodshed. I went to investigate. "I've done it!", he declared. Sure enough, he had. Pleased as punch, he held his creation aloft. A trellis. Not just a trellis, a fan trellis. A rustic fan trellis made of ash whips. More befitting of Banceithin than anything I could have bought for silly money from B&Q.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

Stony Faced

It was near as damn it exactly 7 years ago yesterday that we created the raised beds that became our veg plot. It was 7 years ago last month that we created the trenches that became the poly-tunnel. Come December, it will be 7 years ago that we created the five rows and ten holes that became the soft fruit patch. All of these were bare soil reclaimed from a grassy, weedy field unloved and unfarmed for a good long while. All of these required hours of hard labour, digging, raking, sieving. How then could I possibly have forgotten just how stony, and I mean really seriously stones galore stony, our land is!

Once upon a time we had a wild flower garden. It lasted one summer. One glorious flower filled colourful summer. Then the chickens started free ranging. And the grasses and the docks and the nettles moved back in. All that remains is a small patch of comfrey and a border of rose bay willowherb, and the latter only there by accident, the seeds parachuted in from elsewhere like emergency reinforcements as the seed heads of the front line flowers fell victim to scratching greedy chickens.

There have been other experiments with wild flowers over the years. The seeds scattered around the new pond produced a one off bonanza poppy display not seen again until last year, some 4 years later, when a smaller but equally impressive display flowered 6 feet away from the original flowering site and INSIDE the poly-tunnel. Meanwhile, the annual pond display now consists almost entirely of red and white campion. Beautiful and bee-friendly as they are, neither were in the flower mix we sowed.

Undeterred by our track record, spurred on by the plight of our forage hungry bees, we've begun another wild flower project, optimistically trying to learn from past mistakes. David did the hard graft of removing the turf, leaving me with the delight of returning home from a day at work to find a corner of the fruit patch transformed into a flower bed with a curve so shapely I felt the need to wolf whistle.

All I had to do was follow planting instructions to "dig over the bed to the depth of the tines of your fork and create a fine tilth". If my fork had been half the size it actually is, everything would have been fine and dandy. As it was, my first attempt to sink the fork tine deep was met with a stony thud halfway. Move the fork a little to the left, try again. Thunk. Move the fork a little to the right and behind. Thud. It was at this point that all those hours, 7 long years ago, of digging, raking and sieving came back to me. As I said at the start, how could I have forgotten!

Two hours, a setting sun and four piles of stones later, my flower bed had a sort of definitely not fine but fine enough for me tilth, my hand had a blister and my back muscles were in need of a soothing Epsom salts bath.

The sun continued to shine that week, warming the top layer of soil to a seed cosy temperature, so we broadcast sowed the seed mix. Seeds are fascinating little bundles of botanical magic waiting to explode into floral fireworks. The closer you look, the greater the detail there is to see in their differing shapes, textures and colours, and yet none of that detail can be extraneous as Mother Nature is not generally frivolous for frivolity's sake. My seed mix included fairy paint brushes (or hairy legged micro squids), teeny tiny eggs, fossilized spiky baby slugs and beetle body husks.

The packets promise that this unpromising looking medley will one day be cornflowers, borage, buckwheat, calendula, phacelia, corn poppy, hyssop and crimson clover. I yearn for that day.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Odd Job, Bodge Job

Dry days have been hard to come by of late, so when Mother Nature deigns to hold off on the wet stuff for a succession of days, it's foolish not to take advantage of the opportunity to tick a few outdoor jobs off the list. Not every job can be a big job, but completing a selection of little jobs in and amongst some general pottering can be just as satisfying.

David's odd jobs tend to involve hammers, nails, a drill and assorted cuts of wood.

First, he built a chicken shelter. Having moved the chicken house away from rattus rattus and having increased the flock from four to eight, there was no longer sufficient space under the house to accommodate all the girls on rainy, sleety, haily, windy days. When free ranging they have access to a myriad of shelters; picnic benches, bushes, vehicles, trailer, wood shed, boiler room (if SOMEONE leaves the door open), but options are limited when they are confined to their run. If you've seen David's pig ark and sheep shed constructions, you'll instantly recognise the inspiration behind the chicken shelter design. David works to a very flexible design, easily scaled up or, in this case, down, depending on your sheltering needs. I'm calling the new chicken shelter the Bunker. Being low to the ground it calls to mind entrances to underground hurricane and air raid shelters.

The Bunker has inspired me to name the last of our new flock yet to be named. Dorothy. Hurricane, twister, over the rainbow, you see where I'm going .....

Back to David's handiwork. Some further rummagings in his wood stocks later, and the rotten boards of the raised veg beds were fixed. More hammering and drilling and the new compost bins rose up from the ground as if by magic. Give him tools and a pile of pallets and he's an odd job genius!

My odd jobs tend to involve paint brushes and procrastination. Whilst David hammered and constructed, all I managed to do was think about getting up a ladder to re-paint the top floor window surround (it was stripped of its expensive face lift by a particularly aggressive, perfectly angled hail storm), decide it was too cold to go that high up, and instead paint the pallets of the de-constructed and re-constructed chessboard ....

Oh yes, and I also painted the outline of some utensils. As you do. Don't ask. Just another crazy idea born of too much time trawling the internet on rainy days.

However, not every job that day was successful. Nest box checking and moving proved surprising tricky for the simplest job on the list.


The robin box just would not budge from its nailed in position too high up the tree. Hammer failed, screwdriver failed. Just one more pull was a pull too far. As I watched David fall backwards off the ladder, hammer still in hand, the world slowed down, giving me sufficient time to register the fact that he was falling, consider the outcome should he hit the ground, wonder if I should intervene to try to break his fall, and ultimately do nothing but watch gravity do what it does. Fortunately, things were moving faster in David's world, and so was his brain. As his feet left the ladder he had the good sense to inject a little impetus and so turn his fall into a leap, landing unsteadily but safely, hammer still in hand. We decided that was sufficient drama for one day and went inside for tea and cake.  The robin box remains in its position too high up the tree.

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Bee-ing Moved

The bees have moved, or rather the bees' house has moved. Houses. Three hives, one new apiary. They haven't moved far, just 15 feet or so up the field from the hedgeline. We sited our first hive along the field edge back in 2010, and in the intervening six years the hedge has done what hedges do, grown. As the trees grew, so did the length of the shadows they cast, and as the shadows grew the window of time within which the sun could shine on the hives got shorter and shorter, until in winter, when every scrap of sunshine is precious, there might be just a sliver falling across the roof.

With the flock now occasional grazing in the field, there was the added incentive of needing a barrier between the sheep and the hives that is more secure than a few hurdles. It's doubtful the sheep would ever be stung, a more likely outcome being defensive bees dying tangled in a woolly tomb or an entire colony finding itself upended into the grass. In my experience, a fat fleecy sheep isn't always aware of her own dimensions, and that awareness drops off considerably when said sheep is in deep in ruminative contemplation. The new apiary is enclosed by sturdy fencing, with just enough distance between hive and fence to ensure that no matter how far a greedy sheep stretches her neck in search of the greenest, sweetest blades of grass (you know who you are, Babette!), her nose won't (or shouldn't) reach the bees' front door.

The general rule is to move a hive a distance of 3 feet and under or 3 miles and over. A flying bee, absent on a foraging mission while her home is moved, will still find her front door if the shift is within 3 feet. Move it further than that and a bee on the wing, and even a bee leaving after the move, may return to the old spot logged in her navigation system as being home and not be able to find where her front door now is, with lost bees eventually giving up the search, clustering where the door should have been, ultimately dying. If the move is over 3 miles, whilst any still on the wing at the time the hive entrance is closed will be lost (minimised by closing up at the end of the foraging day), those still inside somehow know to reset their inner satnav on first leaving the hive at the new location and learn how to recognise their new environment instead. As we were moving our hives within that 3 feet to 3 miles danger zone, I decided to make that move during winter, at a time when the bees are foraging rarely and have not been flying at all for 2-3 weeks. With their hedgeline position having become so shaded and damp, I didn't want to wait any longer than necessary, but while we waited, and waited, and waited, for winter to arrive we prepared the new hive sites. Digging a level square out of a sloping field is an exercise in frustration, for what the spirit level says is a level patch of mud is strangely no longer level when a paving slab is placed onto the same patch of mud. Dig out a bit more mud here, add a little bit more mud there, wedge some stones in that corner, jump up and down in the other corner.

Whether you're moving a hive by hand across a short stretch of field or by car for miles, the risk of slipping, tripping and dropping is the same, and thus the precautions taken are the same. It's all about strapping and balance, keeping the hive level at all times, minimising disturbance so as not to break up the cluster. All of which is made trickier when your field is a hummocky mole hill minefield, one of the carriers has a dodgy back and the other is inexplicably prone to inappropriate fits of the giggles when moving heavy awkward objects.

As Dave prepares the strap for the move, Steve slinks off to avoid helping

The last hive in its new muddy but level location
All three hives are now in the new apiary. A couple of bees flew out and went back in. Then everything went quiet. Too quiet for my liking. Tap, tap, tap on the side, buzz, buzz, buzz comes back. But that buzz is getting fainter. It's late February now and the colonies will soon be gearing up for spring when, hopefully, the queen will start to lay again. After a wet, mild winter, there's no knowing what spring might have in store for us and the bees. Barbecues in March? Snow in April? Please, please, please let one of my colonies make it through.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Second Chances

Myfanwy has had more second chances than an unproductive ewe with an attitude problem could ever hope to get if she lived on a real farm, run by a real farmer trying to make a real living out of the real farm. She's had the attitude from day one. Always the one refusing to enter the pen. Always the one when penned who jumps over the hurdles and escapes the pen. It's because of Myfanwy that we had a permanent high fenced pen built. Better that than have her break a leg, and in her time she has come too close to that for comfort.

Being unproductive came later. She had her first lamb, Ceredig, when she was a 2 year old. Ceredig was born without a problem and Myfanwy was a good mum. The following year she returned from tupping empty. That was the point at which many would have sold her as a cull ewe, destined to become a twirling elephant leg kebab. Not us. That was the point at which she got her first second chance. The following year, aged 4, she aborted the foetus nine weeks prior to lambing. A bloody tail. No great trauma. Outwardly no ill effects or change in behaviour. Myfanwy just carried on as normal, including the attitude. That was definitely when everyone else would have sold her as a cull ewe. That was what we decided to do. She escaped at the first sign of truck and trailer coming across the field to collect her. Weeks passed before she would once again go anywhere near the pen. And so we all just carried on as normal. That was her second second chance.

Knowing that Myfanwy could still get pregnant, I convinced myself that the abortion was the dog's fault, that Teri had somehow spooked Myfanwy with her erratic, lunatic dashing around the pig pens. So she got a third second chance. At nine weeks prior to lambing, almost to the day of the previous year she aborted the foetus. Again, no trauma, no sickness, just business as usual for Myfanwy. The second abortion made me immensely sad, for there could be no more second chances for Myfanwy. The continuous wet weather from November, through December, on in to January, and now February, has been proof, if proof were still needed, that we have insufficient grazing to support a larger flock. Keeping Myfanwy as a pet (with attitude) and companion ewe for lambs separated from ewes is not an option. Even if we could keep her, culling would be the end game as letting an old ewe with teeth incapable of cutting and chewing slowly starve to death is very much not an option.

It was market day in Tregaron last Friday. On a good day, a large ewe like Myfanwy could fetch up to £80 from one of the large kebab hunting companies that trawl around local markets in search of suitable meat. She didn't fetch anything like that. Not a penny. She wasn't there.

I thought about the money we could make from her. I thought about how I'd felt when we took Rhos and Lulu to market last year. I remembered that those feelings weren't good, not good at all. I couldn't reconcile myself to what would happen to Myfanwy after I walked away from the market, what did happen to Rhos and Lulu. This wasn't why we became smallholders. This isn't why we keep animals.

So it's now Sunday morning. Very early tomorrow morning Myfanwy will be going with two of our lambs to Tregaron abattoir. We will take her. We will see her walk in. She will be killed and butchered to our requirements by a butcher whose name we know and who we can talk to face to face about our animals, who will give his opinion on the quality of our animals, who knows what we do and why we do it. We will collect the meat. We will learn all there is know about how to cook mutton. We will enjoy mutton bacon for breakfast. We will make amazing curries for dinner. That is how it should be. That is why we became smallholders.

All we have to do now is get her in the pen.........

Myfanwy in the shed on the day of the birth in 2013 of Ceredig, her one and only lamb

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Four Out, Eight In

Someone out there has got my chickens. Got them for a bargain too, just £1.50 per bird. It was Bwbach's fault. In the seven days between the hardening of my heart that led to booking them in for market day and the day The Chicken Man came to collect them, Bwbach decided to moult again. For the first few days you could track her progress around the yard and gardens by the drifts of fluffy bum feathers, like isolated patches of stubborn snow after the thaw. One morning, looking out the window down at the chicken run, I thought they'd been another death by fox, but no, just the debris from of another Bwbach grooming session, mainly tail feathers this time.

On the eve of market day, she had a part spiky, part bald, back end. Unfortunately for Glas, Tanwen and Gwen, not every prospective chicken buyer knows a moult when he/she sees one. A partially feathered chicken loses something of its eye appeal, and brings down the price of her cage mates. Last time our girls fetched just £1 per bird, so I guess a rise of 50p each over two years is better than a poke in the eye with the pointy end of a feather. My minimum wage salary only went up by 39p per hour in the same period.

So they're out there, somewhere, living in someone else's hen house, laying poo but not eggs in someone else's nest boxes.

Meanwhile, in my hen house there are eight pale faced pullets. As yet unnamed. We need to get to know each other a little better before I start allocating names. They're not at the most attractive stage of life right now, facially looking more reptile than fowl, no combs, no wattles, just blinking eyes in a scaly face. Like skinny feathered baby dinosaurs.


The door opened at first light. By 8 a.m. all my baby dinosaurs were still in the house. No surprise there. They have never been outdoors before. Instinct hasn't yet kicked in. A tray of food (actually, a long sectioned canape serving dish retrieved from the back of the cupboard - anything high sided is tipped over in a trice by those clutchy, clumsy claws that Mother Nature gave chickens for feet) placed in side the door of the house soon breaks up the fearful huddle, they jostle for feeding space, greedily peck, peck, pecking at the layers' pellets. A cunningly laid trail of pellets from the canape dish, over the threshold, and along the ground to the main feeder eventually caught the eye of chicken number one. Out she came, wing stretch, feather shake, and in the time it took her to do a tentative lap of the house, chicken number one became Dora. The Explorer. It was meant to be.


An hour later. Dora and four baby dinosaurs are under the hen house. Three baby dinosaurs are yet to leave the house. I hope they're not dead.


Another hour later. Dora and six baby dinosaurs are discovering the great outdoors, spooking themselves every time a gust of wind ruffles and parts the bottom feathers. One baby dinosaur is still in the house. She's the last to venture out and needs some "gentle" encouragement. Chicken number eight became Diwetha. The last. In Welsh.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016


Follow my blog with Bloglovin

Feed the birds. Feed the chickens. Sure as night follows day, as a shock on the scales follows Christmas, you're feeding the rats. Fattus rattus rattus. Naughtius greedius digus hole under houseus rattus.

Nibbled corners of the hen house floor gave them away, revealed last week during poopy chicken litter clear out. Could have been mice. Mice with big teeth. Drop in production from one egg a day from four chickens to none egg a day from four chickens suggested that the finger of blame pointed squarely in the direction of rattus rattus. Sure enough, having hefted the house to one side, there, hidden under the ramp, was the offending rat hole, at least 4 inches in diameter. Glancing up towards the fence, I saw another hole directly opposite the first, leading under the fox proofing chicken wire. The little s*ds. The entrances to both holes are now filled with stones and the main exit blocked with a breeze block. There'll be no rolling away the stone by rattus rattus!


Of course, it is only a matter of time until rattus rattus realises that the egg buffet bar has moved just six feet to the right.

The chickens figured it out. I had visions of finding them clustered on the breeze block where their ramp had been, but I should have given them more credit as by bedtime they were forming the usual orderly queue in the correct, new, location ready for a good night's sleep, free from rowdy rattus rattus interuptions.