Friday 7 July 2017

Connie, Big Red, Beebs and Stumpy makes 19

Beeblebrox with her 7 chicks
We are suddenly tripping over baby chicks everywhere. Awash, we are. Readers of recent blog posts will already know about our first two broodies, the white Sussex, 'Connie' who is now confidently marching around with her three and Big Red who has four. Big Red has taken to hanging about the yard with hers waiting to pounce on either Liz or I hoping for the next hand out of my hard-boiled egg mixture. She does not need to be doing that for too long - the babies only get egg in their commercial crumb for the first week.

When the 'Parma' ham runs out, boil up
the bones for bacon and bean soup. 
Next up we were expecting our chicken-with-a-gammy-foot, 'Stumpy' who was sitting on five eggs in the proper official nest boxes in the main coop. She was coming up to Day 21 today (7th). Before she could get there, though, Connie wandered off with hers one evening intent on bedding down in the mint patch on our kitchen garden. "Oh no you don't", we said, "Mr Fox will get you!"

Not very common... a DUCK double yolker. 
We went to rescue her (and chicks) into a kitten basket and found to our surprise that she had nestled in alongside our black Araucana-cross hen, Beeblebrox. But what was SHE doing there?

Empress and Pride at 4 months
Beebs, incidentally, is named for the two-headed man character in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Being part Araucana she has that weird feathery top-knot on her head, looking like a 2nd head, hence the name. Anyway, what she was doing was demonstrating to us very neatly and shamingly that we are not the close, detailed protectors of our flock that we probably should be.

She was sitting on about a dozen eggs and may have been broody out there for days. I had been shutting "all" the birds up each night without spotting that she was absent. No roll call. Just a quick visual check of lots of full perches and rafters. Ooops. But then, we now have a bird sitting on 12 eggs who is "out there" vulnerable to foxes etc. Do we try to move her plus the nest indoors? Do we try to build a fox-proof cage around her? Either would have been OK but may have caused her to get upset and desert the nest. We have moved nests before and the chicken just frets to get back out to where the eggs WERE. It is heartbreaking.

Empress nailing a chunk of yellow melon. 2 for €2 in SuperValu
at present. We can afford that!
Rather recklessly (irresponsibly?) we decided to risk her out there. It is a quiet little corner surrounded by a thicket of mint, tight against the wall of the Tígín deep inside the kitchen garden where I can not imagine a randomly patrolling fox would bother to go. We worried about this decision long and hard. We then stressed about this each night and especially on Wednesday when we were both woken at 03:00 by a vixen screaming very close - possibly in the lane out front. When it started raining we propped 2 long sheets of corrugated over her like a lean-to.

Well, long story short, we have, so far, got away with it. 2 days ago Liz was taking the air out in the kitchen garden when she heard loud cheeping from the mint patch. We had a hatch, only TEN days after we found the nest. The quick-witted among you will spot that this means she had been 'missing' at night and broody for 11 days before we knew anything about it. Embarrassing. She now had 7 little balls of fluff shadowing her about. There was, briefly, an 8th. I found one egg part-open with a struggling wet baby still part inside, but later this poor mite was stiff, cold and still wet. There had actually been 15 eggs and only one proved to be infertile, so Rooster Gandalf is obviously doing a good job even if we aren't!

Then yesterday, right on schedule, our 4th and final broody, 'Stumpy' nailed it with loud cheeping coming from under her skirts. What I always do for these new mums is try them on a bit of chick feed. They lean down to peck it and make that bass-y "Food kids!" clucking and if there are any mobile babies under there, these will generally pop their heads out and start learning to peck. I could see Stumpy was sitting on at least 3.

Back on that digger yesterday. This is that mini-mountain of
good topsoil we needed to barrow away to the new raised beds.
Today she came off the nest, job done and I was delighted to see she had hatched all five eggs. 100%. Go Stumpy! So we have 3+4+7+5=19 babies at the moment, more babies than we had birds a month or so ago!

Focaccia loaf, first knock-back
What else is new? I have been back out to Sligo at the diggering. The pressure is on. 'We' need to move that pile of topsoil to make way for the '804' gravel sub-base which will then need laying and 'whacking' in time for the 3 concrete lorries to arrive, scheduled Saturday week to pour those shed-bases. It's all go over there.

Sourdough loaf.
I have been messing around in the absence of Lizzie (she's down in Laois minding Auntie Mary) with some more sour dough stuff. My 5th attempt at a standard loaf came out quite well - no scorching, no excess flour on top, no 'scars' where I had let the dough stick to the tea-towel.

For relaxation I broke out the 'self sufficiency' book on bread we have (James and Dick Strawbridge) and had a go at their 'focaccia' recipe with sea salt and rosemary. I added 35 g of my sourdough starter to the dried yeast in the recipe and got a really good rise out of it.

Final prove, then bake to a golden brown and brush lightly
with olive oil for a gloss finish. 
You stick a mini-forest of rosemary sprigs into the top of this for aroma and aesthetic reasons. It was a thing of beauty. I will post a pic in the next blog. Was delicious too with a rather 'fusion food' Lancashire Hotpot main course.

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