Autumn in the air

We’ve had a few days of high winds and heavy rain. The river is too high to cross and the walls of the static have been flexing and creaking. One night I was woken at about 3am by a banging and rattling and the hatch the covers the generator had come loose and spend the whole rest of the night making noises.

The croft is a sea of mud once more and the nights are drawing in, there is a chill in the air and although it is only August we are thinking ahead to the winter to come.

We are bird-tastic at the moment. The eight geese are doing really well. I can just about still tell which are the original two geese by their extra fat reserves but it’s not possible to see which two might be ganders yet. In some ways it doesn’t really matter as geese give us eggs anyway, it’s just that in order to breed and increase our flock, particularly if we want to eat goose then we’d be better off breeding from our own gaggle than buying in more birds. I’m sure the gender will out one way or another in the coming weeks. I’m hopeful we may still get some goose eggs this season too as there is a real market for them and at £1 each they are precious.

The turkeys have settled in really well and are sociable animals, following Ady and I about if we are working on the croft. They have a really big range of noises and are very vocal birds, from the traditional turkey gobble noise to a whole host of other sounds – whirs and cheeps and fax-machine type noises, they sound like the cute one in the gremlin movies. We definitely have three hens (females) and four stags (males) with one undecided. Often I am utterly convinced it’s another stag, then it looks all female and I change my mind again. We have a ready made market for the turkey eggs too when they start laying with someone offering to buy all of them off us. Again we will need to consider how best to maintain a flock, whether we retain a breeding stock, keep some hens for laying and fatten only the males etc. They are nice birds to have around and seem to have no problems running with all our other birds.

The remaining duckling is doing okay, still with its mother and aside from the rest of the ducks but getting more confident in joining the group all the time. I don’t think she has taken it down to the river for a proper swim yet although it has certainly been in the ditches around the croft learning how. I think it is a drake (male) but it’s probably a wee bit early to tell just yet. We’re reliably getting three or four eggs from the other ducks which sell regularly. Again our plan long term is to keep at least one drake for breeding, keep all female ducks for eggs production and fatten any bred drakes for eating.

We are almost over run with chickens – our own three broody hens have 12 chicks between them – they seem to be doing pretty well with that number and are out in the open with plenty of cover to run to but the crows are pretty sparse just now so I am confident they should do okay with these chicks. I can already spot at least 3 or 4 cockerels in that number. The pair of hens with over 20 chicks we have from a friend in the village are thriving and have merged into our own flock, joining all the other birds at feeding times. Eventually we will return the two hens to the village and just keep all the chicks when they are old enough to not need the hens for protection. That gives us an additional 30 odd chickens, bringing our flock to about 40. Of those chicks I have already identified a good 10 cockerels though and at most we’d only want another 2. Our plan is to identify the best natured and prettiest two and pen the rest for fattening. They will have a big run to enable as much natural behaviour as possible but get fed plenty rather than free ranging and scratching around for food as the rest of the birds do. We won’t be doing any sort of speedy fattening but our plan is to rear some birds for meat and while we want our meat to be slow bred and fattened they do need to fatten and free ranging on 8 acres and beyond makes for very slow fattening indeed!

One of our current (many!) research projects is a solar powered hatchery with incubator and brooder area lit and heated by solar power. This will probably entail an insulated and rodent proofed shed, incubators and pens powered by solar panels feeding into batteries and inverters. Now we have a healthy flock of birds with fertile males of all the types so we are getting fertile eggs the best way forward is to incubate eggs to increase our flock. All female birds will have a long and happy free range life supplying us with eggs, excess males will be penned in large pens on quality food to fatten slowly for eating.

Ady is very keen to research peacocks. This is almost entirely folly on his part but as Ady is the one of us least given to folly I think he is entitled! There may well be a market for the feathers too.

I like the idea of quails for the eggs and meat too but having had a bit of experience with hatching quails back in Sussex I know they really need to be penned in an aviary which I am less keen on the idea of so that might not happen.

Things have moved on with our pigs and our buyer for two piglets has fallen through. This is a dual blessing as it happens. Firstly because we had been planning to buy in another gilt (female) to join Tom and Barbara as our breeding stock. Pigkeeping has been a real joy and pleasure for us so far. The breed we have (kune kune crossed with Gloucester Old Spot) is a tried and tested breed for the Highlands and Islands and thrives here in the climate and vegetation. They grow a thick furry coat in the colder weather to keep them warm and dry, have a lovely nature, are small enough to be easily manageable and have proved to be healthy, fertile and good parents aswell as being sociable creatures with each other, us and everyone else on the croft (human, avian and canine). We decided that to fully justify keeping Tom we needed a second female to be producing double the litters each year. A bit of research and some advice from pigkeepers means we have decided to keep one of the female piglets to breed from. It appears that breeding Tom with one of his daughters is low risk and fine for breeding for meat. This means we don’t need to buy in another gilt but the best news is that Scarlett had been really struggling with the idea of one of the wee girl pigs being sold or eaten as she has fallen in love with her. She always had an affinity with this one particular girl although she is very philosophical about the others going and knows that she has made an error in getting close to an animal destined for sausages. As ever we are learning all the time and on this occassion events have conspired to allow us to keep the girl, breed off her so we are not compromising our business plan for livestock.

The piglets are about 16 weeks now so the two boys have 10-12 weeks or so left, the other girl can go a bit longer aslong as she is kept clear of Tom if she comes into season. We have a plan for the kill and process of them when the time comes, although it will only be for our own consumption legally.

In other news we are off to the mainland tomorrow for two nights. Fitted around a visit to the dentist for the four of us we have some charity shop shopping, some supermarket food stashing and maybe a visit to a fast food joint to fit in. Bright lights, razzle dazzle, and the chance to spend two whole days not wearing wellies!

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