Wednesday 8 May 2013

New Feed, New Fence, New Freedom!

Our chickens went on strike! Egg laying sputtered to a halt and stopped altogether. We have been messing around with ones twos and threes a day (from 4 'layers') earlier in the year and then 'lost' Betty to a broodying session and now to being an excellent Mum to the 8 chicks, so that we were down to one or two a day. We had a couple of generous donations of a dozen each time from Mentor Anne who is getting glutted out from her 30-odd birds so we've been OK but we were always suspicious that one hen was not pulling her weight at all. We have a slight problem that we cannot tell the Lovely Girls apart so we weren't sure this wasn't two hens laying every other day, but we have one girl spending so much time with William that she is always copping his amorous advances and her feathers are quite worn out across her 'saddle'. This one never seems to be 'missing' (as in off to lay her egg).

Last week this low production took a turn for the worse and one hen started laying very thin-shelled or shell-less eggs which were getting broken in the nest boxes and going to waste. Some days we had no eggs at all. We referred the case to 'Doctor Anne' who asked us all sorts of questions and homed in on diet. I have been feeding the local feed merchant's "standard" grade layers pellets but lately have found that their 25 kg sacks contain a lot of pellets broken down to dust size, so that the feed looks like it might be the sweepings from the end of a production run. At Anne's suggestion we have started the hens on Pedigree Foods' Organic Layers Ration. We have also discontinued the 'mixed poultry corn' which contains maize (and might, these days, be the GMO version of maize) and are going with local feed-wheat. It may take a few days for this new nutrition to work through but today (almost certainly by chance) was a 2-good-egg day. We will tell you how we get on. We are also going to fit the birds' legs with coloured leg-rings so that we can identify the non-layer and, if she doesn't watch it and these baby chicks come up to laying age, she may find herself in the stock pot.

The biggest project recently is our fencing of the 1.5 acre East Field with sheep-proof (and therefore mini-horse proof) fencing. This has been done by our fencing guy Paul M with me helping him as labourer. If you are interested in the detail, sheep fence is high-tensile square mesh about 3 feet high with smaller holes at the bottom (to stop baby lambs) with a strand of high tensile barbed wire at the top. It is all strained to bass-guitar twanginess using a thing called a 'monkey strainer', so it has massive 10" 'strainer' posts at each corner and for the gate posts and narrower (4 inch?) posts in between about every 3-4 yards. The strainer posts can be braced and buttressed with extra diagonal posts. The whole field is, as I said, 1.5 acres or about 127 yards by 44 yards, i.e. about 340 yards total fence which will set you back about €1050 installed. It's one of the bigger investments in the small holdering game, but good fencing should last you 10-20 years.

We started the task last Thursday afternoon, had a quick couple of hours on Friday morning before Paul had to go off and attend a wedding, missed Monday for Bank Holiday, and then got properly stuck in on Tuesday and today (in the rain). We'd done by about 4 pm. Paul joined us for tea and scones and then I had to show him a couple of bits Vendor Anna needs on her bit of land and then he was gone. He's a lovely bloke and great fun to work with, being full of local stories and anecdotes. We would happily use him again and I would recommend him to anyone round here who needs fencing done.

 We are delighted and feel like we have "got our field back". Since last year it has just had the beef fence (3 strands of barbed) between us and the field to stop Mike-the-Cows's cows from straying onto our lawns and garden and was open to the north. It felt like we didn't own it and shouldn't go there. Now we can come and go through the new gate opening by our Utility Room and the fences around the 'outside' stop animals coming and going across our boundaries.

At 5 o'clock then, we were ready to unleash the horses. We had two at that stage, Bob and Cody, who had been tethered on the lunge-reins since Sunday 5th and we had been moving them on to new grass each day. Now we could lead them into the field and take off the head collars and let them run free. And RUN they did, all overcome with excitement at the new space, grass and freedom, not seen since November last year. They took off at a full gallop, racing in great arcs up and down the field full of the joys, like a couple of mad youngsters (they are actually about ten years old). I walked round the field showing Liz the fencing (I know! I know how to show a lady a good time!) as they raced away and back past us again and again. It was lovely to see.

After a while they calmed down and set to eating. I texted Carolyn to say the field was now ready and soon, Charlotte showed up with the other horse, Romeo (he of the cart pulling). We let him go into the field and the others were so delighted to have him back that they went racing around again. It is a brilliant funny sight to see three Thelwell style ponies galloping about as a group as fast as their little legs will carry them.

Happy Horses (and happy roses and rhubarb!).

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