Friday, 24 April 2015

Old Mother Hubbard's Class of 2015

New piggies, turkeys, the first cuckoo calling from down in the bog, swallows, eggs by the dozen, 'hins' going broody; it's all getting a definite Spring flavour round here and now, the cherry on the cake, the arrival of this year's batch of one day old baby 'Hubbard' chicks. These guys, apart from being impossibly cute at this age are a GOOD THING but readers who are a bit squeamish about the more 'awkward' side of meat production might like to skip a few paragraphs. You just carry on thinking that chicken reaches your shopping basket, created in an expanded polystyrene tray with cling film over it as if by magic.

The new chicks in the brooder. The IR lamp
substitutes for Mum's warm breast. 
This is our third year of 'growing' Hubbard chicks and they really are our favourite meat-bird for their taste and their massive rate of adding weight, which gives you a family-sized oven-ready carcass in as little as 4-5 months even in our relaxed, fully-free range system. Hubbards are a hybrid variety developed by the big commercial hatcheries and are the Republic of Ireland's 'go-to' variety for the big commercial units if they are producing 'Free Range' or 'Organic' oven ready birds for the supermarket.

As you'd expect, this means they are dealing with massive numbers - hatchery rooms good for tens or hundreds of thousands of eggs and young birds and customers turning up with articulated lorries to collect their chicks. These kind of people do not normally entertain tiny customers like us, who would want just a dozen, so Hubbards are not a big thing with the hobby, back yard and small holding type chicken-rearer. Fortunately for us, Mentor Anne and Simon, who used to be in the industry (they produced organic eggs for Supermarkets all round Connacht) still have contacts in this world and still get away with buying birds each year even though they buy on behalf of just 3 customers, themselves and 2 others (one being us).

We are delighted and very grateful each year when the call comes "Do you want some Hubbards this year - we are going up there on Wednesday?" (Thank you, A+S!) We just have to have our brooder-box ready on the day and, when we get the 'we're home' text, nip down and collect our dozen from Anne's place. Oh, and then, of course just feed them, rear them, keep them safe and then, as substitute Mum*, generally look after them for the 4-5 months. Anne and Simon have to drive all the way up to the hatchery in Co Monaghan to collect them, up near the Northern Ireland border; it was a hot sunny day and they were parched and pooped by the time they got home.

Pear blossom in the orchard.
Meanwhile all else is chugging along nicely too. The bees appear to be thriving especially in the gorgeous, blue sky warm days we have been amazed by this week. We do not want to check for that possible missing queen just yet - we are waiting at least the 9 days in which anything she had laid by April 17th (when we had the clumsiness problem) will have hatched (3 days) and been fed as a larva in an open brood-cell (6 more days) before being capped over to pupate till day 16 (worker) or 24 (drone). By Sunday (Day 9) when we might inspect, we only have to find eggs or open larvae to know that the queen survived our abuse and is still laying.

An epic batch of nice garlicky hummus (chick-pea paste)
We do not have to find the queen herself, one tiny bee in a colony of 10,000. She is very mobile, good at running for cover and keen to hide when you pull the roof off her colony and let the light in. But a healthy queen in early summer will be laying, famously, 1000-1500 eggs every day, so a quick sum will tell you that with roughly 23 standard honeycomb sized cells per square inch, she is laying a patch of new brood 43-65 square inches in size each day. I am just looking for any one of about 9 such patches in the hive. Should be able to manage that, even if we can't see Her Majesty! One factor which might delay this even more is a forecast change from the lovely sunshine to more typical rain and chilly winds; I cannot open the hive safely with the temperature below about 15ÂșC for risk of killing all those square inches of babies by hypothermia.

Free range or solid fuel burning range?
The new turkeys have settled quickly in brilliantly. We find them much more socialised (humanised?) and 'tame' than other new birds so we think they must have been handled frequently or had a lot of contact with people in their former home. On one occasion Liz was sitting out on the front terrace in the sun and the hen, Barbara was mooching all round her feet while the cock-bird (or 'stag'), 'Tom' started displaying at Liz just to make sure she knew he was not having her touch his 'wife'. He got so close her, he was nudging Liz's leg with his puffed up chest. On another occasion, I'd gone out walking the dogs and, it being a warm day, I'd left the front door open. Liz was cooking in the kitchen but came back in to find Barbara strolling round the house, quietly checking out the book cases, leather sofa, chairs and then the range (see picture). Liz let her get on with it and then shuffled her quietly outside as she saw me returning with the dogs.

Fritillaries possibly naturalising in the
grass of the front lawn under the trees.
The piggies too, have settled into our routine well and have been receiving visitors. One neighbour likes to turn up with her little girl after school and sometimes with friends of same. They have been visited and admired by Anne and Simon and even by K-Dub and Carolyn; K-Dub was also curious to see what the turkeys looked like up close because he might (only might, you understand!) buy a pair himself. The pigs happily trot up to the fence to receive gifts of sliced apple and are just now starting to let me touch them and scratch them behind the ears. They're in.

Aran knits. A world of "impossibly complex" patterns on a
sixteen row repeat cycle. Soccer helps, apparently.
Amelanchier canadensis (Snowy
mespilus or  'shadbush')
Meanwhile, indoors, Liz's knitting has taken a dramatic turn as she is trying out Aran patterns. When she was about to head off for her ten days of minding 'Daddy', this seemed like a brilliant idea and I will definitely love the product. Getting into it, though, sitting down with Dad while the TV burbled some Match of the Day soccer game that he was glued to, she realised how "impossibly complex" the patterns are, with their variety of cabling, 'basket weave' and other stuff on a 16-row repeat. She tells me she took 5 hours to get the first 'cycle' sorted and could not change her focus for risk of getting it wrong. Slowly, though, it all settled down and she found that the footie pundits warbling away in the background were very calming even though she has no more than a jot of interest in the game. She tells me that Dad would TRY to explain that this one was an important game because.... blahhh... blahh...relegation zone... away goals.... Burnley........blah blah burble burble zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

In the garden, all sorts of lovely flowering and blossoming is going on. We have fritillaries on the front lawn which we think have come from seed which ripened in the two seed-pods we saw last year. As with the crocus leaves and primroses, we are delighted that both the geese and sheep leave these alone. A nice Amelanchier we have had to protect behind sheep-defences now that the lawn is a sheep field, they would browse off all the new growth and blossom.

Blue being a tart.
*Longer term followers of this blog may recall that in 2013 we got extremely lucky with this and the chicks' arrival coincided with us needing to give back to Anne some ducklings which we had hatched under  our ace broody hen "Broody Betty" (sadly no longer with us). We were able to do a sneaky swap and BB was delighted with the transformation of her 5 waddling, water-loving charges into 8 loud-cheeping, willingly pecking and scratching, water-hating, chicks. You don't get that lucky very often.

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