Saturday 9 April 2016

Taking Stock

New species for 2016 - these Khaki Campbell ducklings
At this time of year we seem to accumulate livestock at a breathless rate with new species and baby animals turning up every week. I need to stop, take a moment and do a mental stock check on what we have here. I thought the readers might also like to know, so this post is a bit of an annotated list of the animals and birds we have as of 9th April 2016. In order of appearance, then, here goes.

Careful swimming lessons for the not-very-waterproof ducklings
Poultry - where it all began back in 2012 with our 5 "Lovely Girls", the Sussex Ponte hens. Only one of these ladies is still with us and we are trying to 'evolve' by natural wastage into a mainly Buff Orpington flock. The current chicken list is....

2 Buff Orpington Roosters (The Lieutenant and the Captain)
5 Buff Orpington hens including one of our own breeding last year (Remember "hen and one"?)
1 Sussex Ponte hen
1 Cuckoo Marans hen
2 Hubbard hens (0ne red, one white)
2 "Mini Buff" hybrid hens
That's 11 hens by my reckoning.

Eyes down - 8 sheep line up at the trough.
Other Poultry include

1 gander (George)
4 geese (technically 2 wives of George and 2 daughters but he's not too particular!)
3 Guinea Fowl including our original hen (Min) and 2 possible suitors (Apollo and Belvedere)
4 newly hatched Buff Orp chicks (pure bred we hope but time will tell)
6 newly hatched ducklings
1 pair of turkeys (Tom and Barbara)

That is 33 birds, total.

Newly built duckling and chick brooder box. A sheet of
house insulation, some old election posters and a rabbit hutch
roof. Load of gaffer tape and Bob's your uncle.
Mammals dept.

3 ewes (Lily, Polly and Myfanwy)
5 lambs (3 ewe lambs, 2 ram lambs). One of these, Rosie Probert is a 'keeper' and will become our replacement ewe as old Polly (9) heads for retirement*.
2 new pigs - 10 weeks old at present. "Oxford Sandy and Black" breed (OSBs) named Somerville and Ross
Guest goat (Nanny Óg) and her week old son Henry Óg (our newest animal).
3 dogs (Deefer, Towser and Poppea)
2 cats (Big fluffy 'Blue' and young lanky pretender, Soldier.

Home made 'hedgerow' wine used up the freezer bags of fruit.
...and then there are the honey bees of course - how could we forget? One colony at present living in a (British) National hive as 'brood and a half'. Probably about 10,000 to 15,000 bees at this time of year but till we get through the cold/damp/wet/late spring we are not counting any "chickens". We got our fingers burned in 2015 with total loss of our previous bees in spring just when we thought we were out of the woods. This, we are told, is when bees die - they do OK in winter when they are pretty dormant (they do not technically hibernate), but run out of food when they start to get active and start flying as temperatures come up above the tens and the crucial 14ºC.

The log mountain almost 'complete'. 
I have been trying, and struggling a bit, to 'wean' the pigs off the mixed, soaked, mollasses'd grain that came with them and onto which they had been weaned from Mum's milk. The breeder gave me a sack of this mix to help the piglets settle in here and instructions to slowly transition them over to my commercial 'nuts' with days on 75%/25%, then 50/50, then 25/75 etc. The pigs were not keen and were not co-operating. They refused my ration and left me with bowls with all Darren's mix gleaned out of them. They seem to eat way less than previous pigs and, to my amazement and alarm, were also refusing all fruit and veg "treats" - apples, carrots etc. I'd find the wedges of apple lying withered and dried up in the left overs.

My kind of Birthday Present!
The moist mix from Darren was starting to go off - it warmed up and smelled decidely "perfumed", then started to go mouldy, so we had to force the issue. Luckily the pigs have now had a change of heart. My pig nuts are now 'OK' apparently and the apple wedges and carrot bits are also vanishing from the food bowls. We may be on the run home to well fed pigs.

The sweet little ducklings need to be taught to swim. Well, not true, exactly - they need to be shown water so that they will swim and get wet, to make sure they then learn the preening behaviour which will let them spread their own natural water-proofing oils all over their feathers. Ducklings hatched in nature are straight way rummaging around in Mum's feathers and pick up the preen-gland oils from her. They hit the water already proofed and float like corks. Their own preen glands take a couple or three weeks to develop, so ducklings hatched in an incubator have a problem. If they get into water, they just waterlog and sink very quickly, as well as getting very cold from the water-skin contact. The breeder/brooder must introduce them to shallow, warm-ish water in a safe way for the first weeks to stimulate the preening behaviour which will coat their duckling-fluff with the oil. Liz is having great fun doing this in our Sitting Room using a cat litter tray (with flat rocks as 'beaches') and a big, water-absorbing rug.

There ends my stock take. In the words of all 'Thank You' speech givers everywhere, I hope I have not forgotten anybody. If I have I will have to sneak back into this post with my tail between my legs and add any forgotten birds or beasts under cover of darkness.

Newest animal, Henry Óg a week old.
*I had always believed that ewes were only good for about ten years of lambing, probably because I know that from my Fallow Deer studies, but I have since heard from an internet smallholder that they know of a ewe who was still going strong aged nineteen and 40 lambs later. This 'retirement' may be some time coming but it will give Rosie a nice few seasons to learn the ropes from her auntie

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