Monday 13 July 2015

Husband Material

Our latest newcomers, a couple of 4 month old Guinea Fowl
Somewhere in the filing system we have a DVD of an excellent Irish wildlife series, "The Secret Life of the Shannon". Filmed and presented by wildlife camera-man Colin Stafford-Johnson this has some lovely footage of natural history (mainly birds) along the full length of the River Shannon but also includes a variety of pieces to camera, some in the dark in his tent where he comments on what he is seeing and hearing. In one of these, he is hearing the distinctive "crake-crake" call of the corncrake repeated over and over through the night.

A possible husband for 'Min'?
These birds are so rare now in Ireland that one bird calling for a mate is very unlikely to be within sound range of any other birds so that they show up, call through the night, fail to mate and then give up. Colin Stafford Johnson sounds almost heart broken as he says that the (male) bird calls and calls. "He doesn't know there are no females around". We have had our own little version of this tragedy with our Guinea Fowl. You may recall that we originally bought a mating pair (Henry and Min, named after the Goon Show characters) and they did. indeed mate and lay a clutch of 16 eggs in a hedge opposite but then the cock bird was killed by a vehicle in the lane.

4 month old Guineas are an almost perfect size match to
5 week old turkeys. These 4 are 2 and 2. 
Min gave up on the nest (though we rescued the eggs and hatched 13 in the incubator) and came back to join the chicken flock, where she looked like she'd made good friends with our Marans hen, 'Squark', she of the mink attack survival. But she was not happy and obviously missed her man so she has ever since set up our answer to the lonely corn-crake call, the much used and repetitive "buck wheat, buck wheat" shout of a Guinea Hen. She finds herself a nice echo-ey spot; the corner of a wall or the concrete alongside a building and buck-wheats away for literally hours. In the end it tells on your mind and you feel guilty at leaving her "all alone". We tried to sell her and we tried to give her away but it seems nobody wants a love-lorn Guinea hen.

This week we decided to try to find her a new mate. The one thing people learn first about Guinea Fowl is that they are VERY DIFFICULT to sex and pretty much the only way to tell them apart is to wait for the female to start the 'buck-wheat, buck-wheat' thing. The male has no distinctive call, he just "doesn't do" buck-wheat. Step forward our new friends Sue and Rob, who have a huge incubator and a gazillion baby birds of all types. They could spare us an unsexed 4 month old Guinea and, in fact, why don't we take two to improve our chances of one being a cock bird. We could "always eat" the other bird if it was not required.

"I'm getting quite good at this!" says Liz as she turns out another
beautifully plucked pair of Hubbard carcasses
Off we went with car and kitten-basket to collect these two and the problem of where to house them was solved too - by happy coincidence, 4 month old Guineas are almost a perfect size match to 5 week old turkeys. We were able to drop the new Guineas into the turkey run with turkeys #1 and #2 and they quickly got used to each other with no fighting for supremacy or arguing over food rations. They are there in the yard where they can see all the rest of the birds (including prospective wife, 'Min') come and go and say 'Hello' and can get used to our skyline and farm noises, as well as Liz and I. They will get that for a few days before we think about letting them out free range. Min came and had a nose but if she could tell that either were male and a prospective mate, then she "never said a mumbling word" to us. Que Sera.

Always mount your bonnet-mascot so as to avoid interfering
 with the driver's view of the road. Barbara tries out the new car
as a perch.
A couple of days prior to collecting these Guineas, we had actually let the turkeys out of the run and they were doing OK but it quickly became apparent that new cat Soldier saw them as fair game for a hunt/kill and we had to fend off a number of his stalking pounces. Belly to ground he was creeping forward like an African big-cat and when fended off he'd just sneak round to another angle and try again. This may be a problem. For that day, we were happy that it started raining and we had to round up turkeys and secure them back in the (cat proof) run.

Lamb shanks on the menu - not a great deal left for the dogs but
they do enjoy a good lamb bone. 
Meanwhile, we have been chugging through our Hubbard 'harvest' and today 'processed' our biggest cock-bird, who turned out to be 3.1 kg in oven-ready format. 3 more birds to do to finish the job for this year. Liz has been quite enjoying it and is very pleased with her improving skill. She turns out lovely clean neat carcasses. Also in 'meat' we are working our way through the last cuts and bits of the 2014 lambs, the 'Ramones'. We love a good lamb-shank, the meat cooked really slowly till it is falling off the bones and the flavours all meld in with the onions, sweet potatoes, garlic and other veg. Good eating.

No comments: