Meekle’s Blog – An Insight into Downsizing

Things are looking up
December 4, 2009, 1:30 pm
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Well, there was frost on the car this morning so i had best admit to it finally becoming winter!

We are currently holding around 120 chickens of various breeds, mainly Pekins with their fluffy feet and a good proportion of large fowl such as Cream Leg Bar that lay sky blue eggs.

We are experimenting over the next few months with some hybrid crosses using the CLB hens to produce an olive egg laying hen. This should mean that come Easter, we will be able to provide boxed eggs that are white, blue, green, cream, brown and chocolate-brown. They all taste the same but they will look like easter in a box!

we are also intending to perfect the meat crosses with the chickens. We have the stock now to formulate a good meat cross. we intend to cross a Dorking hen (rated at about 6lb when grown) to a Cornish Game cockerel (rated again at around 6lb). not only will this give us a large framed bird, the Cornish game should impart its wide stance which will increase the area of breast meat, but also the genes of the game and dorking when combined produce the “double-breasted” effect, which means that they will lay down even more muscle.

Our turkey enterprise seems to be going well, we have 20 turkeys of which we will be keeping 2 trios back for breeding, so we will have 14 going off to slaughter around the 18th December. Most are already spoken for but we may have one or two left. if interested contact us. Price for a heritage turkey (either slate or bronze) at around 15lb in weight oven ready is approx £60.

they have been outdoor reared and fed highest quality barley, oats, corn, wheat  and maize alongside the normal growing ration so they should have a good marbling of fat through the muscle which will make them mouth-watering when cooked.

as it is the winter season, game is high on the list of foods with rabbit curry being enjoyed – even by the kids, and a glut of pheasant and wild duck filling the fridge and freezers at the moment.

we like pheasant roasted with some lemons, and the duck is fantastic in a kiwi and lime sauce. Wild duck is very rich and the lime cuts the flavour beautifully. If you want the recipe you only have to ask…….

Bacon is in the curing tub for christmas, along with the gammon and the sausages are maturing nicely. we have approx 8 metres of salami cured and air drying and we are looking into having a go at making biltong. all good things to make the dark winter nights enjoyable.

We are currently loving curling up in front of our new addition – a log burning stove – burning carbon neutral wood – be it logged timber or scrap wood like pallets. the log burner has the bonus effect of not only heating the room but we can place a kettle on it to boil water or cook a stew or risotto on the top at no additional expense in the energy being used. It has a slight smoke leak around one of the door seals, but it’s hardly noticeable, but does give a smokey smell to the house. If burning proper logs this smell can actually be quite nice, its more a pleasant background smell rather than a thick fog you can’t see through!

Anyways, i must away to deal with the rest of the world and its problems, will write soon!

PS – did you manage to read our article last month in Homefarmer magazine? we wrote a fantastic article on choosing your first chickens, it was given three page spread too! We have written another article on carp rearing in your garden and await a publication date for that. Should be in the february issue which will be out early January

September 4, 2009, 7:24 am
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Its a dirty word! over the last day or two we have lost a couple of chicks in the grower pen. They show no signs of any disease, but when i open up the runs in the morning there is one dead on the floor.

We found one early in the evening last night, and it is still alive, but showing signs of a twisted neck and paralysis in the legs. I have been onto the following website, ( went through the symptoms and came up woth the diagnosis of botulism.

Checking through symptoms, it would appear that they have botulism. This is a disease caused primarily by eating stale food containing the bacteria or from transference of disease from a carrier such as rodents and flies.

As we are coming into the autumn, the amount of rodents here has increased if teh dead bodies left by the cats is anything to go by, and since the farmer moved his cows into the field adjacent to us, the amount of flies here has increased exponentially.

We have also had a deluge of rain over the last couple of weeks, making the runs into a mud bath so the chance of spoiled food has increased. Therefore we are progressing along the lines of botulism and will treat accordingly. Treatment of the drinking water with epsom salts helps and a good clean down of the runs is in order. The new grower run is 80% complete and will be completed this weekend so we can start to move the chicks into a bigger cleaner run to break the cycle.

I have placed up plenty of “red top” fly traps to remove the fly loading and the cats are on patrol! hopefully we can nip this in the bud, but since last week i have lost 4 growers – 1xcream legbar, 2xsilkie and a pekin bantam. Apart from the tragic loss of their lives, on a commercial basis that’s £60 value of birds gone up in smoke!

speaking of which, if you find yourself in a similar situation, please do not be tempted to bury the birds. Rats and mice will only dig up the carcass and carry the infection.  Please remove the bodies to the waste bin if it is being collected that day or alternatively (and preferably) incinerate the carcasses.

General Update
September 3, 2009, 11:07 pm
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Well folks it seems ages since i have been o here posting away. it has been very very hectic here. our current stock list stands at 120+ chickens and around 20 turkeys, mainly all Slates but a few bronze chucked in for good measure!

We have a new addition too, a small ferret called Phoebe. She is a good worker by all accounts, however she is only 8 weeks old so we wont stress her out with work just yet! The idea behind her is really a pet, but she can work by going under the Bird sheds occasionally and clearing out any rats that might be hiding under there. coming up to winter so rats and mice are on the lookout for a secure, warm place to hole up with a good supply of food – this will be where the feed shed is then or even the chicken houses themselves.

Hatching is running down now, with the shortened days the viability of the eggs as fertile decreases so we cant guarantee much in the way of hatches, however we have bought in some new eggs to hatch, some light Sussex and some cream legbar. It is intended that the light sussex get put with our new indian game cockerel in the summer to produce good fleshed birds with a wide breast (inherited from the Indian game) which should make good eaters! as laying hens, Indian game are very poor as they lay around 1 per week, so using the cock to bring in the genes is more reliable.

We have purchased more incubators, this time both Brinsea make (which we feel are the best make) and both automatic. we have had a few hatch now with leg conditions and we wondered if it was to do with sub standard turning or the eggs, so we have employed a self turner now which should rule that one out.

Our last hatches should be on the 19th and the 25th September. We will need to carry them through the winter in the warm, so might clear out teh conservatory to harden them off a bit!

having said that, if we had a good barn we could hatch all through the winter as the birds would then be ready fir the spring season. we could then get the jump on the other birds and be ready at POL in sporing. But we need to be mindful of what it costs to put heat into the birds over the winter against what we make back on them otherwise it wont be worth the effort!

regarding veg, our cauliflowers were wiped out due to the wet, they just rotted off, our cabbages got nailed by hundreds of caterpillars and the kale went the same way! the beans have been good and we are praying that there will be enough sunlight left to ripen off the last of the tomatoes otherwise its yet another batch of green tom chutney to be made.

the bees have started to close down the hive for the winter. they started by kicking out the drones, and now the flying is getting less. I have inspected the hive and there is just about enough honey to see them through the winter, so i have placed a syrup feeder into the hive (via a spare super) so that there is a back up supply of food should they need it.

well, i suppose its time to start building up the log store for the winter, you aint ready for winter here if you have less than three sides of the house surrounded by logs!

June 23, 2009, 6:12 am
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As with most habit forming drugs, we have fenced off more space in the garden for chickens! We put the main birds up at the field, but the newly reared chicks and some breeding stock we like to keep close to home so we can keep an eye on them.

Our early May hatchings of Dorking and Millefleur Barbu D’Uccle are now fully feathered and outside, the 6 bronze turkey chicks are growing fast, to the point that they have to duck to get through the doorway to their house now! A new house might well be in order.

We are having a rationalisation of accommodation here as we have lots of housing for the birtds, but it is a bit ramshackle, so now we will gradually phase in some proper housing. As one pen becomes vacant we will replace it with a new pen built from planed timber and not rough sawn etc etc.

The turkey chicks indoors are growing quickly, they are about a week old now yet are the same size as the three week old Pekin chicks already, soon they will be large enough to go outside! Once they are fully feathered they will be outside.

I need to start thinking of getting more laying birds! i have 12 layers but some are getting older and dont lay as well as the new birds. I have regular orders for around 4 dozen eggs per week, plus what we need for our own consumption. This means i need to reliably have a minimum of 60 eggs per week, which means around 8 eggs per day. some days we only get 6 eggs.

Matters are made worse when one of the Cochin hens decided to go broody. so i think in the next week or so i need to invest in some more ex-battery hens as they will be on-line in around 4 weeks to start laying strongly again.

Speaking of broody, my Partridge Pekin hen has gone broody and sat on a clutch of eggs. This is good as i could do with some more chicks of that colour. Its a pain as she has tucked herself up into a really inaccessible part of the run that makes it hard for me to reach her! well, give it two more weeks and they will be running around and i can move her top a better run.

The joys of chickens eh?

All arrived
June 17, 2009, 6:48 pm
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The final turkey chick has arrived. It was very weak and had to be helped in the last moments. It had broken through the shell and pulled back some membrane, but it wasn’t progressing very well and was getting weak. Couple this with the fact that it kept cutting itself on the shell edges, its egg shell was stained red and the inside was filling up.

The executive decision to assist the hatch was made as we felt that it was going to bleed to death if we left it where it was, or we could pull it out and risk losing it.

It is out now, and bleeding from the umbilical chord has been stemmed. It is now laying in the incubator drying out and getting its strength back. Once it has found its feet, we will put it in with the  rest and let it take its chances.  If it makes it past 5 days we are onto a winner.

5 days seems to be the magic number as this is when you know that the chick has used up all the energy from its yolk sack and for it to be maintaining its life it must be getting food from elsewhere – i.e the pot of chick crumb that is left out.

Once they are feeding you can generally assume that you are home and dry. all you have to watch out for is to make sure that they don’t try and drown in the water drinker – which is why i use the special chick drinkers that limit the chicks ability to get more than its beak into the water.

New Turkeys
June 17, 2009, 6:47 am
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well to date 5 slate turkeys have hatched, one died in its shell and there is a final one just pipping. This one is late as it was put into the incubator 2 days after the others, so we will let it off for its tardiness!

They are now all running around the brooder, getting up to mischief!


They are all Slate Grey turkeys, not sure why one appears to be black speckled? Do Turkeys get their milk delivered by randy Milkmen? 🙂

Good Day
June 14, 2009, 8:08 pm
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Nature provides antidotes for its own harsh realities. Just when we think we have hit rock bottom with sadness over the loss of Beauty our Cochin hen, we hear squeaks of delight as we discover that out rare breed turkey eggs are hatching!

Just peeping to see what the world is all about

Just peeping to see what the world is all about

This picture was taken at around 3:30pm today. The chick did have some membrane stuck to its head, which made hard work for it to hatch. So my good lady very very carefully took a pair of nail scissors and snipped the offending piece of membrane, taking great care not to snip through any reddened areas or fine red lines, which would have indicated a still active supply of blood to the chick. These veins dry up as part of the hatch and when fully dried (and therefore disconnected) the chick is fully ready and detaches from the shell.

wahey - nearly there!

wahey - nearly there!

This picture was taken around about 2 hours later, when the chick had worked its way out of the shell, but it was still attached to the membrane inside so back into the incubator it goes until its fully ready

I'm free of that Ovarian Bastille

I'm free of that Ovarian Bastille

The chick has fully hatched now and detached itself from the egg membrane. we have popped it back into the incubator to dry itself off, and then when its fully dry and walking about, we will place it into the brooder where it will be maintained at 37 degrees Celsius for the first week, dropping down to normal room temp by around 5-6 weeks, when it should be fully feathered and then can go out into a growing pen to stretch its legs and run around!

Sad day
June 14, 2009, 7:57 pm
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Unfortunately the Cochin with the sour crop didn’t make it through the night. We separated her so she didn’t get picked on by the others, and gave her some water, but she just wouldn’t drink. I even gave her a syringe of water orally, slowly dribbled in so she didn’t choke, but that didn’t help.

With hind sight, i feel that given the size of the crop distention, she must have been like this for around a week, and therefore had probably lost a lot of condition. I should have checked her more thoroughly on my daily stock checks, but i must have missed the signs.

I now check every bird for a large crop (at times when the shouldn’t have one) and check to see if it is hard or soft or can be drained. Well, i now have a lonely Black Cochin cockerel. He has a few ladies to be with, albeit hybrid layers or a partridge Cochin hen, but when we get back from holiday, i need to see about getting some black hens in for him.

Sour Crop
June 13, 2009, 6:47 am
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Last night as I put the hens to bed i noticed that one of them had a very large crop. When i scooped her up, the crop was huge and distended, and feltlike it was full of fluid. So a quick read through the text books came up with the diagnosis of Sour Crop.

Apparently sour crop can be caused by the bird over gorging on green food and getting it trapped in the crop. The crop then fills with fluid which festers. The cure? well apparently the best idea is to get the fluid out. So here i am – panicking about open crop surgery. Well panic not, as you dont need to do that! A very simple technique it to tunr the bird upside down and drain the bird out. Basically you are making it throw up!

grab the bird by the back legs to hold it securely, and with your other hand direct the head downwards, try and get the neck as straight as you can. The bird naturally wants to keep ts head level so you may find you have a battle of wills at this point.

Auction results
June 12, 2009, 8:05 pm
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Well we were very good at the auction – only bought a couple of birds for my mother (a gold laced wyandotte hen and a barnevelder hen) and 6 bronze turkey poults. We also bought a cracking broody coop which will come in handy. all in all a cheap night out all things considered.

We nearly bought a Lavender Pekin pair, stunning cockerel, but when we looked closer, he was twitching. Looked closer still and he was crawling with lice. infact, when we looked closer still at all th eother birds entered by this one particular breeder they all had signs of lice.

so, the first thing we did when we got home was check over the new birds and sure as eggs is eggs, the new birds had lice. So a quick dose up of lice powder and they were let in with the others. I also treated the hens for scaly mite on the legs as the wyandotte showed signs of it. It was at this point i realised that the pair had both had wings clipped but they were very badly done. All the feathers had been cut even the trailing edge primaries that allow the wing to keep its shape. Not impressed – however, its not irrepairable as they will moult out in the next few months.