Tuesday 6 January 2015


Did you ever play that game as a child? You had to try to say things but only using the names of letters and numbers, so 'Have you any eggs' became FUNEX (Eff-you-en-ee-ecks) to which my chickens, lately would be struggling to reply anything other than "I.F.N.10.E.X (I haven't any eggs). I assume kids now have no problem with this as they seem to mangle the English language well enough with 'text-speak'  (L8R for 'later' and M8 for 'mate') and it's not that different. But enough of this Radio-4 style introduction and link.

Over a year ago I was chatting to one of the users on the poultry discussion forum I used to moderate, and she suggested recording your eggs as they were laid day by day, so that you could know your monthly and weekly production figures. It seemed like a good idea to me, so we started scratching down any eggs collected on the kitchen calendar. With the turning of the year, I've been able to add them all up and here is how we did.

There were some good spuds among the latest, very late, harvest
You can see that our best month for chickens was March (211 chicken eggs) and the year's total was 1366 eggs. These are a bit variable in size but basically 'large' and Free Range, but are not organic. In old money, 1366 eggs works out as 228 'half dozens' and these are currently in the supermarket we looked in as €3.09 for the 6, or €4 for 2 boxes. Even going with the cheaper price, this is €456 worth of eggs (€704 at the higher price!). It's a bit difficult to work out the input costs, especially as in our Mickey Mouse economics we tend to leave out labour, housing, initial cost of birds and lots of other costs you would need to include if you were doing this as a real business. We also buy the wheat, barley and layers pellets as a gross amount for the whole 'farm', and the egg-layers only get some of it, shared with the growing birds and, in Winter, the rabbits. Even so, feed cost us €294 for the year and shredded straw for bedding €40.65, so we think we 'did OK' and we are happy to continue. The girls will live to see another Spring-time.

More knitting.
Our best day, incidentally, was a 10-egg score which is not quite 100%; we had 11 hens at that time. We have yet to record a genuine 100%. We had a few days where we discovered hidden caches of eggs in the hedgerows and "scored" 16 or whatever, but we don't count those to that day - we spread them across the preceding days as best we can. The best week was 46 eggs (more like 59%) but we know that many hens only lay every other day or less frequently, so the bigger scores only appear when all the planets align for whatever reason. We know we could do much 'better' by pumping the inputs or messing with day-length and lighting but that's not what we are about.

Sparks's newest 'toy', this 8 seater, disabled-access taxi. 
The two geese managed a total of 92 eggs across the first 5 months before they both went broody. Min-the-Hin (our Guinea Fowl) scored 23 eggs on site plus the famous 16 egg clutch she laid in the hedge over the lane, which readers will know we rescued and incubated after the loss of her husband, Henry. One interesting aspect of these figures is that we have got into a strong annual rhythm now, with January 2015 already looking more like December 2014 than Jan 2014, so this winter drought is presumably something we will have to get used to. We think that perhaps the chickens in earlier winters were younger and coming into their first egg-laying season according to their age rather than the day-length. It remains to be seen how this spring goes, whether we peak in March again.

Red cabbage and sausage meat 'layer cake'.
The photo doesn't do it justice. 
On a completely different tack, one of the joys of the internet to us is the wealth of friends out there who are good cooks and who are happy to share recipes and advice with anyone who will listen. Liz was on an actual cookery discussion group the other day when someone threw in a request for suggestions of interesting ways to use up that left over sausage meat. There were plenty but one which caught Liz's eye was for a 'layer cake' of sausage meat and shredded red cabbage which you assemble like a lasagna and then bake for a couple of hours.

Clothes shopping - a rare treat!
Sausage meat and red cabbage are two ingredients we have no shortage of, so Liz decided to try it out very simply, with no extra flavours, no 'spicy', no other fruit or veg. nothing in the sausage meat but ground pork. It was nice enough like that but we both said that it would be a dish open to all manner of change and enhancement - both on the cabbage side (think spiced cabbage as for Christmas or the addition of other veg) and the meat ('posh' sausages, any kind of salsa or 'lasagna' type sauce or even different meats altogether). A world of possibilities.

Sparks Junior teaches Dad how you do Lego. 
Today saw us off on a rare adventure; clothes shopping! Other than replacement socks and knickers, we've not done a whole lot of that since being in Ireland but with a family wedding coming up (more on that soon) we have a good excuse for a bit of lavish retail therapy. Off to Roscommon Town, then and the respected 'Gentlemen's Outfitter', Donnellan & Co where we were well looked after and on to some boutiques to sort out Liz. We are very pleased with our day. On the way home a check point, and various Hi-Viz clad 'Guards' flagging us down and waving ominous 'bag and tube' equipment around. After the Christmas excesses we guessed it might be a drink-driving thing and I was looking forward to being able to spring from the car with my conscience and my blood stream completely clear, answering the Guard's "Have you had anything to drink in the last 24 hours, Sir?" with a resounding "No, Sir, I have not". Unfortunately these turned out to be Customs men and the bladder/tubes were only about checking to see if your diesel was legal, colourless. road DERV or dodgy red agricultural stuff. They quickly identified our little Fiat as being a petrol car and waved us through without even stopping. Ah well.

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