Meekle’s Blog – An Insight into Downsizing

May 5, 2010, 5:37 pm
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Well, if you read the news – sad Day – in the blog post below, you will know about the sad loss of Ellie. What you may not be aware of is the happy news that last month we hatched some ex-battery hen eggs that had been running with “Goliath” our Maran x Brahma cockerel that we rehomed.

Well the chicks are now nearly fully feathered and I have greta pleasure in sharing the pictures of these cross bred birds – Marra-Batts we are going to call them! It is unlikely that Elli was the mother of them, but some where, deep inside i think she would approve, and i hope i am wrong, that Ellie completed the cycle, that she managed to bring a little bundle of joy into the world before she passed away.

Goliath the Maran x Brahma


Patterning on a marra batt


Sad Day
May 2, 2010, 4:10 pm
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It’s a sad day today. My old girl, Ellie, an ex-battery hen has finally passed away today. She was somewhere in the dizzy heights of 8 1/2 years old.

She started her life – presumably – at Isa Brown’s hatchery. I can tell she was Isa Brown material as she had the top part of her beak singed off, mutilated if you will, so she couldn’t peck at her cage mates. this is a practice Isa hatcheries are known for. She then was shipped to Harper Adams Agricultural College in Shropshire, where she was rotated into the laying flock there, 4 in a cage laying for all their might.

Now, in Harper’s defence, they teach all methods of egg production, from backyard through intensive, right up to free range. Harper Adams developed the battery system in 1922 to help veterans of the First World Ward to settle back into a career and also to provide valuable nourishment to the starved British Nation. Recently, they have been experimenting with ways to achieve just as good a laying rate as battery, but free range. Their free range system is second to none. I have seen it and its excellent. However, they retain a battery unit as the students that graduate will need to know how to run both systems as they wont know what their employer has until they get there.

Anyways, back to Ellie. After 9 months of being in that cramped life style, she would have started to moult. as she is putting more energy into moulting, she wouldn’t be laying as well. This is the time the old birds get rotated out and the new ones come in. Ellie was due to be rotated out. Now, this doesn’t mean that she is allowed out to free range until she gets better, oh no, she is now classed as commercial waste. A lorry turns up to collect a couple of thousand birds and then they are shipped off to become dog food or similar.

Knowing this fate, some of the students had release a few birds, Ellie being one of them. She just wandered around the unit, scrounging food off the students. If anything, she wasnt frightened of humans as she had seen them plenty of times as the students studied them. I was called out to Harper one day to look at a job. as i opened the door, Ellie wanders up looking for food. Before i could react she was in the car and on the back seat, munching down on something in the foot well, probably a half-eaten sandwich or similar.

When i returned to the car she was still there, and seeing what was going on to her pen mates, she knew it was safer for her to stay where she was. So off I drove, knowing full well what would happen to her if i returned her to the poultry unit. I settled her in at home in a large cage in the garden as she needed to get her strength back and grow a few feathers back before she could go in with the rest of the birds.

She spent the first night (and several after) staring up at the stars at night, feeling the soil between her toes and actually doing chicken things like scratching up worms. She was still extremely friendly and one of the only birds i could trust to wander around my garden unwatched as she never went far. She saw new birds arrive, and old birds depart, she moved runs several times and was used as a “friend” when we needed to isolate some birds. Over the time we had her you could guarantee that she would be the first in the queue for the worms, she was always first scratching up feed. She would come out in the snow, even if it was deeper than she was tall, it didn’t bother her. she had a real zest for life.

When she finally passed today, she had been up and down the run scratching up worms etc, she had retired back to the nest box, now unfamiliar as she hasn’t laid an egg for ages. she settled down in the nest box and passed away. This old girl, named Ellie as we were eating Paella the night we had her, had lived for some eight and a half years by our estimate. We have had her since 2003, and she would have been 9 months old when due for rotation. Many a winter we have said that it will be her last, but no, she kept surprising us.

We have some chicks hatched out a while back from a rescued cockerel and an ex-battery hen, I would like to think that her genes live on in one of those chicks. it’s very unlikely, but a thought that is pleasing.

she was one of the first hens we ever had and she will always have a special place in out hearts. Good night Ellie – sleep well.

Ellie staring at the camera

Success For Charlotte at the Whitchurch Show
April 24, 2010, 8:02 pm
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Charlotte entered the Whitchurch and Malpas Poultry Society show at Whixall today. She entered one of her Millefleur Barbu D’Uccle and a Barbu D’Anver hen.

The Millie didnt get placed, which didnt surprise us as she was up against stiff competetion (mainly as we messed up the entry form and charlotte competed in the main show not the juniors) and o be fair she wasnt fully up to speed as she was not 100% in condition.

However, the Barbu D’Anver was placed third. Again, charlotte was competing in the main show, not juniors and she still got third!

April 23, 2010, 7:14 am
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well, the good lady went to the auction on wednesday to see what she could see. she came away from the auction, only having spent about £20 with 18 Nagaranasett Turkey Eggs, 18 Lavender Leghorn Eggs, 6 Partridge Cochin eggs, 6 Blue Cochin eggs and some Dorking Eggs.

The cochins and dorkings will be unrelated to ours and therefore add genetic diversity to the breeding groups, we dont have any Leghorn here and i fancied a white egg layer to compliment our blue and dark brown egg layers. So hopefully we will be able to produce eggs that range in colour from white, cream, light tan, chocolate brown, olive, green and blue!

But the real winner, and the cause of the title of this post, are the Nagaranasett Turkey eggs. It is believed that the Nagaranasett Turkey is the ancestor of the Bronze. Conventional history of Turkeys seems to point to a mating of a Nagaranasett to a wild turkey that created the first bronze. The nagaranasett looks like the bronze, except that the bronzing in the feather of the bronze turkey is replaced by a silvering in the Nagaranasett

We will set them in the incubator, wait teh 28 days and see what hatches! we are going to fill up the incubator with spare Slate, Buff and Crollwitzer eggs that we have too. Anyone want a turkey at Christmas???

Showing Birds
April 22, 2010, 7:16 am
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Our daughter (aka the chicken whisperer) has entered her belgian bantams into the Whitchurch and Malpas Show this coming Saturday. lets keep our fingers crossed that she does well!

Barbu D'Anver Hen

This is one of her Belgian Hens she will be entering. as you can see its happy to sit on her hand so should be calm enough for the show

New Stock
April 21, 2010, 8:09 pm
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Well we went to the specialist sale at Penkridge and like fools we took our wallets!

we bought 2 trios of lavender pekins (show quality) to boost our breeding projects and we also purchased some new turkeys! we bought some Crollwitzer hens, and a breeding pair of Buff Turkeys!

Buff Turkeys in the spare turkey pen

Crollwitzer Hens

The Crollwitzers are the white hens looking bemused as the Bronze stags eye them up!

Update on the Holding!
April 10, 2010, 8:12 pm
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Well we are now into April, we have a new polytunnel and it already is teaming with lettuces, radish, carrots, onions etc. we have started off the garlic and the red/white onions off in there so they will soon be able to go out into the big wide world.

we have some apple trees and some fruit to go in and lots to be digging over and making ready for the vegetables.

on the livestock front, we are startig to build back up to our stocking levels after reducing them for the winter. Our daughter is heavily going over to Beglian Bantams, with a couple of shows planned for her “team” and we are concentrating more on the utility birds as well as the Pekin Bantams. Our turkeys are doing well, just starting to come into lay so we need to start splitting them out so we know who is laying what and who they are mating with so we can guarantee the offspring!

On the new livestock front, we have taken in some beautiful ducks from a family in Cannock who couldnt keep them any longer.

Adult Ducks

There are two pairs of ducks and they are very “active” at this time of year on the breeding front and now we have some cracking little ducklings, born just before Easter.

The new ducklings

On the mammal front, we have three ferrets now used to help work on the rats that migrate from the farm to us. The two girls are Phoebe and Fern and are just fantastic. The boy is a resuce again, half starved and pretty violent. he now is up to full weight and really quiet gentle if not slightly over zealous!

Phoebe our "jill" or female ferret

She would also love to get her teeth into anotehr recent introduction to our holding – babby rabbits!

we recently rehomed a pair of male rabbits. we knew trouble was afoot when one was giving the other “a piggy back” as my daughter described it! so now we have some baby bunnies!!

Baby Bunnie

another baby bunnie

just born

New Bird
January 31, 2010, 10:21 pm
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well, just when you think the sun has finally beaten the snow, it starts snowing again. not that i really mind.  sure it makes life fun trying to defrost the feeders and drinkers for the birds, but the air seems so clean and pure after a good hard frost.

so, just when i was considering sitting in front of the log fire, we got a call to rehome a light sussex cockerel. so, back off outside in the blizzard like snow, to complete a new covered run (8′ x 2′) before we could go and get the cockerel.

we collected him this afternoon an he went into the run well. soon took it over as his own territory, and welcomed the influx of a light sussex chick and some cream legbars, cobars, and olives. all hens so that there was no competition from other boys!

here is “Sunny” the cockerel with an Olive looking at him! he is around 12 weeks old, and the other birds with him are around 16 weeks old.

January 19, 2010, 7:42 am
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Well if you remained awake for at least 30 seconds last week, you will know that the UK had a bad dose of snow. (nothing compared to when i was a kid but there you go). It makes a Canadian friend of mine chuckle when we say that the UK was brought to a standstill by 4″ of snow!

Anyway, snow can play hell up with your chickens and livestock. They dont want to leave the house, feeding can be an issue and the water drinkers freeze up as soon as you put them out.

with regards to the drinkers, the first action should be to place them in the house with the birds if there’s room as the residual body heat of the birds shoudl keep them frost free under normal circumstances. If you cant get them in the houses, then you can try placing some glycerine solution in them. Glycerine solution is a pure liquid sugar available from chemist, cake decorators etc. IT MUST NOT BE CONFUSED WITH ANTIFREEZE which is ethylene glycol and if drunk will kill your birds!

Make up a solution of a maximum of 9 parts water to one part glycerine to protect the water down to -4 celcius. Any more glycerine and it will actually speed up the freezing process, not to mention put you birds in a diabetic coma if you really over do it!

Given the really cold weather we have had this last week, down to -14 at times, then no amount of glycerine will help that! the best management then is to place little anounts of water out, let them drink and then place some more out. At night bring the drinkers in the house, wash them out and store dry ready for filling in the morning. Try not to leave out in the cold overnight as trying to defrost a kilo of solid ice in the morning is not a good start to the morning

Snowy fields at Sunrise

We are starting the new season already now, with a half dozen porcelain sablepoot eggs in the incubator, and we have gathered together the seeds for the coming year. we reckon we have managed to get a nearly 11 month cycle of cabbage, lettuce and onions, and look forward to the rest of the produce following on. We already have the potatoes chitting on the windowsill, we have the first lot of lettuce sown in a propagator and we are going to try our luck with a patio aubergine this year called “Oephelia”. it is reputed to be the Tom Tumbler of teh aubergine world, so we will see how that pans out.

On the meat front, we managed to get in a whole lamb for butchering – havent produced our own but we will when we get enough land – and a couple of hours saw it bined, rolled, stuffed and made into a huge array of cuts for the freezer. We are hopefully getting a whole pig for the freezer at the end of the month, and we have asked for it to be split and then left as two whole sides as i want to butcher it into the cuts i want and cure a few pieces in the salt tub too.

I recently made some black pudding, but due to teh safety awareness attitude of the EU, you can now only buy in the dried blood that you need to rehydrate. I bought the kit from Weschenfelder Supplies in the UK, and made my first batch. I couldnt get hold of any back fat to dice up, so the instructions recommended using suet. well that worked but not as well as the back fat. I have now picked up a kilo of pork back fat from a traditional butchers shop and will have another go at the black puddings!

As ever, if you ever want any recipes etc from us, or advice on the birds etc, please do not hesitate to contact us. Watch out in the next couple of issues of Homefarmer Magazine as we have been writing articles again for them – lets see what they publish eh?

This Months Homefarmer Magazine – Spot On!
December 4, 2009, 9:42 pm
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This months homefarmer is excellent. plenty to read. articles on going 12v on your home electricity, and an article i think needs more exploration – 52 meals to save the world – based on great tasting food grown locally to reduce your carbon footprint.

The government want us to drive 5 miles less a week to save carbon, whats the point if we are buying cauliflowers from Peru? Thats where your carbon is people, not five miles less down the country lane, but all the imported foods. Buy your food from local stores that stock locally grown foods, or even better grow your own!