Tuesday 9 June 2015

Some people should be allowed to keep poultry......

"Elderberry Buff" (see story)
Some days in the smallholder life you really feel like you have got 'it' nailed. The sun shines, the bees buzz (and mercifully do not swarm), seeds germinate all round the 'allotment', birds sing and all the livestock goes about its assigned tasks and stays healthy. Some days are not like that. I suppose I should say that "some people" should be allowed to keep poultry and other people should not be allowed near the group. I should quickly re-assure readers that this is not going to be a self-pitying tale of woe - we all survive in the end.

Turkey chick at Day 3
It is the poultry right now which has me feeling like such an incompetent that I wonder why anyone ever gave me licence. Regular readers may recall that life here has been beset by a few problems in the poultry department before, including in-bred geese and possible rabbits; you might think we'd learn from such 'mistakes' and not repeat them. We have also had issues with not managing to keep birds separated, so that you end up with a nest full of eggs of uncertain age and uncertain parentage. You get dodgy hatches and poor health and survival.

This year we have already had the Buff Orp that went broody in the Tígín next to the chemical toilet, got in a muddle of other chooks laying on top and successfully hatched only one chick. To be fair she is doing very well with it and it is thriving as an only child. We now have another gone broody in the woods and try as we might, we could not move her and the clutch, so we ended up bringing a secure rabbit run to her, cutting back bushes to squeeze it in and re-covering the run with the cut branches so that she is hidden. The geese, despite our best efforts of stealing all the eggs, eventually went broody. The first one, we relented and let her sit on 2 eggs, but she was then nudged aside for a couple of nights by other geese who laid into the nest and then went a little broody. We now have a team of three taking turns to sit (or sometimes 2 or all three at once). Chaos. We have a tentative date pencilled in for the first possible hatch, but after that it's anybody's guess. I really am too soft on them.

Blue and Soldier all loved up now.
Finally along came the turkeys. A "breeding pair" the lady said (just like our goose supplier told us that the three birds were "a good trio"). She even produced for Charlotte, 5 eggs to hatch and these, incubated by Sue and Rob, came really good - 4 healthy chicks from 5 eggs. We have subsequently given Sue half a dozen eggs which really came from Tom and Barbara and we wonder how those did, because the 8 we put in our borrowed incubator did not do at all well, and have us thinking that T+B may well be some aul' left over brother and sister. Three eggs hatched, three more were almost fully developed but dead in shell, one was addled and the other just looked like a 'fresh' egg. Of the three which hatched one had good legs and stood up straight away. One had badly splayed legs but we guessed it would be OK and now, 3 days later it too is up and about. The third had such a bad leg, stiff and jutting out to the rear with its foot clenched like a claw that it could only flop about on the deck trying to shuffle along with the other. We had to cull that one out. These things happen, but if Sue and Rob had similar experiences, we will be convinced that these two adults are no good as breeders and will be looking for another hen.

Taking notes from a You Tube training
So, would you give us a poultry flock number? Ah well, maybe a sheep flock number? Today we took out 'first born' ram lamb, Feste. now aged 5 months, off on his final journey to see Ignatius in town. He was possibly a bit smaller than lambs we have 'finished' in the past, but we had concerns about him getting his own Mum in the family way (she was 'got' last year before we bought her and hence the 6th Jan surprise birth of Feste). He was a sweet little chap but strangely quiet and lazy - you'd never see him frolicking around except for the occasional play head-butt fight with 'auntie' Polly. We put this down to him being the only lamb born then, so not having any playmates. He was a 2 and a half month 'adolescent' by the time the twins came along and Polly would not let him near them to start with. Ah well, he's gone now, our firstborn, ear-tag 00001(F). Tomorrow we nip down to collect the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver, and then next Monday we get the carcass cut up.

Trying to open up a 'blow' in the belly wool
So, with lovely sunny weather, I was determined to get the Mums sheared, all cocky, armed to the teeth with my new shears and full of technique from YouTube training videos on which I had even taken notes. These describe creating great swathes of baldified skin while peeling back a single sheet of fleece "blow by blow", whizz round a few legs, avoid vulnerable tendons, udder, vulva, ears and so on, while wrestling your sheep around while she sits on her bum gripped between your thighs with none of her feet on the ground. Easy peasy! Zoom down the neck and flanks from cheek to 'dock' (tail) working your way up the left side of the sheep till you hit spine, then down the other side, bingo! Sheep shrugs off the fleece like a cardigan and runs off into the feild feeling grateful and cool, and you roll the fleece into a beautiful Swiss-roll for sale to the grateful spinning fraternity. 5 minutes, tops.

Getting started, right front leg up to brisket. 
Maybe not. I struggled. It was VERY HARD. Wrestling the sheep was not as easy as it looked and we all got a bit hot in the sunshine. The shears did not seem to go through the fleece cleanly (I now think I may have not had the tension set up correctly). Also I managed to nick the top of my left index finger on almost the first 'blow' which bled very well and the sheep, even though unhurt, was quickly spotted with (my) blood so she looked like a real train crash.

Not beautiful, but patchy and cooler. 
The wool was very dense and thick (maybe a Southdown thing) and we quickly collapsed from trying to do long 'blows', to sweating through the fleece inch by inch, holding the fleece up away from the skin to avoid nicking the poor sheep's flesh. Some bits came away as decent slabs of wool, but much came away a "shoddy" (the bitty stuff which you can't sell as fleece). Also I struggled to get down deep enough - the sheep is meant to come away almost bald - in my nervousness of cutting her I left some areas a bit long and may have to return for another tidy up.

Poor Lily does not love us this evening. She lost her baby,
her winter coat and her good looks all in the same day!
Then there was a subject which was a definite problem for us but not really shown in the videos - that of 'dags', little dreadlocks of poo-encrusted wool hanging all round the bum, down the back end, underside of legs, round the udder etc, some dried and harmless (we have done dagging before with the sheep upright and dog-clipping scissors to get the worst 'klingons' off, but these were more like just soiled un-usable fleece. They added to the 'shoddy' pile (and detracted from the fleece roll) till we reckon we had more weight of shoddy than of sale-able* wool.

As to "Five minutes".... even with Liz helping and me trying to shear, we were a good hour and a bit doing the one sheep (Lily) and stopped three times for a breather and to let Lily stand up and recover a bit between 'bouts' of wrestling. We postponed Polly till tomorrow and I promised to go re-read the instructions now I would understand them a bit more having used the machine. They are not well translated into English (are they ever?) but the stuff about tension screws and listening for the change of note from rattle to hum makes a bit more sense now, so we may get on a bit better with Polly. We were exhausted (and Lily probably was too!) and adjourned to the shade for a regroup. Liz had a mountain of baking still to do for a craft open-evening tonight, and I wanted to keep an eye on the bees, while also strawing up the strawberries. That was enough chaos for one post. Lily may not be a beauty any more, but she must, at least, be cooler as the ambients in the West come up through 15 towards a very welcome but rare 18ºC. Iss prackly a HEATwave!

*not really sale-able - we were going to give it to Carolyn to play spinning with, but you get the picture.

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