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


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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.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

New Year, Same Old Ewe

We squelched our way through the end of last year, and it's a soggy start to the new one. We have mud where we've never had mud before, including, thanks to the three amigos and Teri, in the house. We have standing water where we've never had standing water before, including, to the detriment of leeks and garlic, in the raised beds. Our best draining and only grazing fields are a sodden, sheep trodden mess. The tool shed has become a sponge. The solar panels have given up waiting and shut themselves down for the first time ever. The streams have over-flowed and receded so many times that most of the driveway stones must now be on the beach down at Aberarth.

  Yet as rain continues to fall there is much for which to be thankful. We are not sweeping water out of our home. We are not throwing out sorry looking piles of water damaged furniture and belongings. We are not waiting for receding flood waters to reveal the heartbreaking sight of drowned livestock.

  Our lambs stare at me forlornly from under their mud streaked rain soaked fleeces and our ewes have a look of resigned dissatisfaction at the unending nights spent sheltering in the hedges, but at least they're alive to be counted in the annual inventory required of us by the Animal Health Office. Completion of this paperwork every January never fails to raise a smile. We are required to count our flock and report back with recommended dates for inspection, being dates when we bring the flock down for clipping, shearing and the like. On most days of the year I need only stand at the gate and rattle a bucket to be able to head count our entire flock (unless of course some silly billy has got herself tangled in brambles again). But it seems that when it comes to DEFRA paperwork one size fits all, whether you're a smallholder with a single pet sheep or a farmer with a flock of 300. So once again I tick the boxes, dutifully submit the statistics of my flock of eight and await the visit of the man (or woman) from the Ministry.