Tuesday 7 November 2017

A Million Hens but No Eggs?

This very late cousin of "The Bishop" dahlia sneaks a few
flowers out before the first frost.
As I put out the 'Sold Out' sign on the egg Honesty Box again, I rue the bad timing that had me starting those sales just as, it seemed to me, the egg production dried up. I go round each morning and collect 2 or 3 duck eggs from the ever-reliable Khaki Campbells and then, at the moment, pick up the very sporadic 1-3 hen eggs through the day from the various hidey holes.

An unidentified fungus from the front lawn. 
We are knee deep in young chickens at present. We must have around 30 chickens total but regular readers will know that 26 of these are still deciding whether to shout cock-a-doodle-doo or to lay an egg. The old guard are currently on go-slow, presumably due to the weather.

Egg production stats.
It is not, in fact, as bad as it seems. Way back when we first came over, I used to haunt various Internet discussion groups on the subject of keeping chickens (Fowl.IE was one) and someone on there suggested we all keep score on our egg laying. I have done so ever since. I can see from these data that the current situation is by no means unprecedented and the current year is probably the best yet.

These things go in peaks and troughs. The total eggs produced in 2015 was 1639, 2016 was only 926 and this year we have 1563 so far and every chance of topping 2015's total by Dec 31st. Last year the hens laid fewer than 100 eggs per month from May right round to October even before half were wiped out by our fox attack in November. This year no months have seen hen eggs below 100 and we had 199 in May and 200 in August. Do not despair you poultry-watchers.

The late 'Oveja', bought-in ewe lamb.
Obviously we hope for a smart pick-up around Christmas as these new birds come of age and we are also upping the ante soon with our addition of 2 female Guinea Fowl. Also today, we have decided to increase the number of ducks so we have contacted friends Sue and Rob to arrange to bring them over half a dozen eggs to put in their incubator. These will be Khaki Campbell again though we may, at some point, look at a few more meaty birds - Muscovies for example.

Talking of 'meat' I noted in the previous post that our bought-in ewe lamb, 'Oveja' had come up ready, so we had booked her in for her final journey on Monday. I still hate these days - they feel like such a betrayal - but we have now done them enough that I am more confident that all the feared things that might go wrong, no longer scare me so much - Will we be able to catch the lambs? Will the trailer break? Will the car break down? Will the butcher reject them? Will the paperwork be OK? Will we be able to kiss them goodbye?

First 'fruits' - the offal, which you collect on D+1. Left to right
 here, kidneys still in their (suet) jackets, liver, heart and lungs.
The carcass hangs a week and will be collected next Monday.
We are now almost casual about it. I was determined this time not to drive Liz the usual amount of crazy with my pacing, worrying and drumming my fingers on the table. We shared a leisured tea/coffee, ran the sheep across to the race, separated and loaded our required 'cargo' (just Oveja), drove to Castlerea, unloaded and processed paperwork, swapped instructions with the butcher-guys and adjourned to nearby Benny's Deli for a croissant-based breakfast. Pride in a job well done.

We even 'got away with' that risk of having to drop your one sheep into the lonely empty 'lairage' pen where she would 'baa' piteously at you as you drove away - the pen had 6 ewe lambs already in it, so Oveja sprinted in there to be with her new 'friends'. Safety in numbers... for a while anyway. Today I picked up the offal but I did not see Joe, the slaughterman. I had asked him to check for me whether the lass was pregnant. When ewe lambs are run with their brothers past 5-6 months this can often happen and in our case it might give us an early indication that Oveja's brother 'Pedro' who we plan to keep as our breeding ram, is able for this job. Not very "nice", but one of those hard facts of life.

Village Calendar 2018
Meanwhile, Liz has created the next year's Village Calendar again based upon pictures from the 2016/7 "Lisacul 365" project, our photographic portrait of the 18 townlands as a 'Year in the Life'. Liz decided this time to mainly choose 'nature' pictures, so they are, I am proud to say, mainly mine. The calendar is a lovely thing and, this year, they are selling at only €5 (it was €10 last year) and going like hot cakes. Liz is looking at a 2nd print-run as the supply dwindles. If you want one (or more - they would be great stocking fillers) go to the village website - LisaculInfo.ie .

Hard to beat a good 'Cosyglo' fire. 
Liz's other main project at the moment, the Village Play, is also progressing. The group have been reading through various plays proposed by the 'boss' (Tom C) but have only had print-outs of olde-font play-scripts in PDF format to work with, so Liz has started typing these into her laptop so that they have a live version they can mess with as desired. The first (Her Step Husband by Larry Johnson) was over 30,000 words so it took her a while. To no avail, as it turned out - the players have now settled on 'Anyone Could Rob a Bank' by Tom Coffey (1960) and all the actors have now been cast, so Liz is going to have to get the laptop out again and fiddle another 20,000+ words into it. Ah well. Life is never easy for an Assistant Producer.

While we are on creative writing, I have just completed another week (my 3rd) as curator of the @SmallHolderIRL Twitter account, the 'voice of Irish small holders', if you like. I seem to go down OK on there and it suits my style of chattering and wittering. My Dad would have used the words "Happy" and "Garrulous", I expect, but hey, it works for me. I always get good feedback and also I get asked back to do it again so it can't all be bad.

This is not my picture, but may well have been 'my' buzzard.
Pic is by Michael Bell, who goes on Twitter as @learnnature
and was taken in Ballyleague (Co Roscommon). 
Finally I am in between, currently, the various wild-life recording events to which I contribute, on the (Irish) National Bio-Diversity database. The bumblebee survey finishes at the end of October and we don't start the big bird-watch till the end of November. What I do in the meantime is input any sightings I see of anything note-worthy including roadkill. Exciting, then, to see my first buzzard since I've been here. I am not even sure it was a buzzard (though I thought so) - it was soaring in the blue sky with its wings held in a rather high 'V', so more like a harrier but it was against the sun, so I could only see the black silhouette. It was nice later that day to get a post by Liz re-sharing a pic taken by a guy (Michael Bell, who Tweets under the name @LearnNature ) who had photo'd 2 buzzards soaring over Ballyleague. That town is a good 50 minutes drive east from here, right over by the River Shannon, but I'd seen my buzzard at 10 am and he was making good speed over the ground, so it might just have been the same bird.

....And that is enough for now. Good Luck.

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