Tuesday, 24 March 2015

The Five Freedoms....one too many?

Nugget likes a good dig - is she "expressing normal behaviour"?
The "Five Freedoms"; these are what high-welfare livestock management are supposed to be all about. My first small-holding 'bible', the Haynes "Smallholding Manual" by Liz Shankland phrases it quite well. "Being a responsible owner means granting your animals the Five Freedoms (she says) - a list of basic rights originally drawn up by the Farm Animal Welfare Council in the UK but now internationally accepted"

A Sussex Ponte goes broody hidden away behind the trailer
tail board. Normal behaviour?
The Five Freedoms are as follows:-

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
  5. Freedom from fear and distress
Nobody would argue with any of them (well nobody I'd respect), they are all good, laudable aims and we should all work them as a bare minimum.

A Sussex and a 'Mini-buff' queue up to lay
an egg between the 'Royal Potti' chemical loo,
 the tools and an old galv bucket in the tool shed.
My header comment comes from the fact that in this 'mad house' it is the fourth which sometimes has me smiling. You know that old pub-bar sign "You don't have to be mad to work here, but it helps". My lot would have you cracking up with their "normal behaviour". Pigs, I am OK with. Like most animals they are actually social so you can only buy them now in pairs (at least) not singly and you let them romp around together, play together, bed down in a heap in the straw next to one another and so on. Rabbits too, are sociable in the wild, so you should not really have a hutch with just the one and we have tried to keep pairs, Ginny and Padfoot were in one corner, and the giants, Goldie and her daughter Nugget were kept as companions.

At last the purple sprouting broccoli is ready to start cropping.
Ask anyone what 'normal behaviour' is for rabbits and they would likely either go down the 'bawdy' route or mention digging burrows. Padfoot (now sadly no longer with us) started a lovely burrow within the run where the beehive is and we could see that it was not going to be an escape route under the wire (it was angled inwards) so we have let them carry on and they had a nice little bolt hole down there where they could escape the weather (and maybe the fox) and into which you often see Ginny dragging mouthfuls of the new hay which I bed down their hutch with. Every now and then she seems to dig a bit more soil out and produces a scree of fine soil crumbs at the entrance.

Eggs of all colours. Even the 8-9 year old Marans is back in lay
(bottom right) and her chum Min the Hin (Guinea Fowl) is adding
her contribution (bottom left).
Our younger giant rabbit, Nugget, is another digger but these ladies are in the move-able runs on the grass, so there is a risk of escapes. The urge to dig seems to take her whenever we move the run to near a tree or a fence post, as if it might be an urge to dig a burrow into between tree roots as in all the best Beatrix Potter stories. This actually suits us at the moment because she digs till her nose hits the post and then stops having failed to escape, and the bit of 'lawn' she is excavating is due to be turned soon into a garden bed, so we don't even mind the holes. 

Polly is due any day now. 
However, these two ladies are getting a new run this year, slotted in between our yard wall and the sheep fence. This piece of ground is very lumpy-bumpy having had some of the rubbish soil and grass from the yard hoyed over the wall into it by the mini digger when the yard was being cleared. It should provide an interesting environment for the bunnies and plenty of places for Nugget to harmlessly burrow. Plenty of grass to eat too. I will need to build them a 'bedroom' where they can go hide or get out of the weather. More on that when it is happening. As to the 'bawdy' side of bunny behaviour, we have stopped breeding rabbits now, at least for the moment but Charlotte down the road may have designs on borrowing the giants for such nefarious purposes. Ginny is way too old now to be bred with, she must be 7-8 years old now. 

One of our original "Lovely Girls", a Sussex Ponte.
Meanwhile the chooks have decided that normal behaviour for them is to completely ignore my neat, clean, straw-bedded, purpose built nest boxes in the bespoke coop in the nice safe concrete out-building. Oh No. They are all going to wander around and find all manner of other places to lay eggs and, in one case now, to go broody. We have eggs appearing in the tool shed (Tígín) slotted down between our old chemical toilet and some pick axes, or balanced on a paint pot nearby. One is laying in the 'baby Buffs' house, two are dropping them in a nice shaped dent in the straw inside the pig ark (that will have to stop when the pigs arrive, or the eggs and probably chickens too will find themselves eaten by the porkers). Then a few days back Liz went hunting for a tool in my wheelie-box which is wedged into the goose end of the barn behind the old trailer tail-board and spotted a pile of rather old dirty eggs and, a few inches away, one of the Sussex Ponte hens gone broody sitting on just 2 eggs. We slid 4 more under her and booked her dates on the calendar. She is a first timer despite her age, so no real harm done if she fails. If she hatches any it will be a strange combination of Sussex Ponte x Buff Orp in that clutch.

Frog spawn at 5 days old.
In the pond, the three masses of frog spawn look, to us, to be doing very well. The tiny black 'commas' are bigger each day and can now clearly be seen to have taken on the head-body-tail shape. They wriggle gently in their jelly sacs. That seems to be it for frogs this year and the adults have dispersed again as far as I can tell. We never see them except at night when I occasionally catch one out with the head torch but they are always legging it for the cracks between the stones of the 'beach' and are quickly out of sight. 


Renovation in Galicia said...

Do the hens normally use the nest boxes, how long since they stopped?

Matt Care said...

One or two of them use the proper boxes but the majority (at least 6) are now only using the out-sites - the sheds, pig ark etc. This is not so much that they "stopped" - they all went off lay in December and the ones coming back on this spring have used these various locations since they came back on.