Friday 25 May 2018

Six Chix

4 more chicks hatch among the duck eggs.
I left you with a bit of a spoiler in the last post. We had just saved the life of the first chick from the broody hen whom we had named "Cat Basket Lady" having found the little mite hypothermic and revived her with the warmth cradled in my hands. She had been returned to Mum and went on to survive the night. We had sat back happy with our one chick. Elizabeth even made the conciliatory comment that she had "always wanted to find out whether that cliché about being 'as fussy as a hen with one chick' really worked". However, the story did not end there - there was plenty more drama to come and a plot twist or two.

Feeding the new babies indoors before reintroducing them to
On that first day, Mum decided to come off the nest, which is usually a sign that she is done, has hatched all the good eggs and now has to rear those babies and leave the duff eggs behind. Ready or not, those eggs get chilled and die. When you clear the nest they usually prove to be infertile, or part-developed and dead-in-shell, so you find out that she is a good Mum and knows what she is about. This lass, though, is a first time broody, so she came off the nest with her one (we thought) then went back on, and off and on and so on. We just had to wait and watch.

Mid morning, the hen came off properly, fed the one, and went for a sit down elsewhere, so I knew I could clear the nest but wait, another hen had nipped in to lay today's egg, so at least the abandoned eggs would be kept warm. Meanwhile a fully dry, mobile black chick appeared with Mum. It must have been with her all along, but staying hidden under her skirts, perhaps carried between Mum's wing and body. Then there were 2. Eventually, the laying hen finished her task and hopped off the nest, so I was able to clear the old nest. Another surprise was in store.

Mum with 4 of the babies.
When I looked into the nest I could see a fully hatched but still wet baby chick in there and at least 2 more eggs 'pipping' (starting to break open with the baby pecking inside). I decided to gather up all 8 eggs and bring them into the incubator where there was just enough space between the nearly 'cooked' duck eggs. By evening, 2 more had hatched and overnight another bird emerged.

Mum with all 6
We were fairly confident we could introduce these to Mum, giving her a total of 6. Hens do not, in our experience, reject 'foreign' babies in these early days. You would normally sneak them in when it gets dark at roosting time so that Mum would wake up and just take on board that there were a few more mouths at breakfast.

Upside of being woken early by the dogs. This lovely 05:30
sunrise over the East Field.
We went with a slightly earlier (braver?) method. We fed them all indoors that afternoon and found them all to be very quick learners, all happily copying our chop-stick 'pecking' mime at the food. So we went out to the Mum+2, put a plate of food in front of her and our 4 'foreigners' beside her. Like magic, the 4 merged with the 2 and Mum accepted them all seamlessly. We now have a hen-and-six wandering round the yard in the sunshine, and she is mothering them like a pro. Happy days.

Short back and sides? Anything for the weekend, Madam?
On Wednesday, we were back at the sheep shearing, this time, over at Sue and Rob's where Rob was actually in the UK (Mum's 90th!). I knew that if I took my Help-X volunteer, Laura, along we'd be able to give her some real work, not just standing watching the "experts" (ha!) at play. That was exactly what she got - she was as exhausted as the rest of us. There were 4 ewes to shear, those same 4 to be given liver-fluke meds and 6 lambs to ear-tag.

First up was the tagging. I showed Laura how to do the first one but after that I was the only one nimble enough to catch them. I was grabbing them, holding them up for Laura, and she was banging in the ear tags. One for the CV - "I have ear tagged 5 lambs". The shearing went well, too. Laura wound up as chief 'holder', hanging onto the collar and lead that kept each sheep fairly still, whispering 'sweet nothings' into their ears to keep them calm, while I sheared.

I am delighted with this ewe - my 'personal best' ever shearing
I was delighted with one ewe in particular, a 2nd-time sheared Suffolk cross Galway. For some reason her fleece was beautifully clean right down through and she was a big calm lady who stood for the cut as good as gold. The sides came off almost in one piece each and I never needed the trimming 'scissors' (Jakoti hand shears) or nicked her by mistake, even once. I'm calling it a 'personal best'. By comparison the other ewes just got 'normal' treatment and I should confess I made one bleed a little (oops).

Sue introduced a bit of mischief into the job by spotting one of the girls with so many squirts of the blue anti-septic spray, she looked like a Dalmatian. Anyone passing their place is going to think I have cut the ewe to ribbons. Sue has told me since, that it was foot-rot spray she was using, so it all washed off or faded in the night, to save my blushes.

Can we go back out now?
What else have we been at? Actually some good honest, Help-X partnered 'garden' tidying. We have cleared through some big nettle patches up what we call the 'Primrose Path', the 'Keet Run' and into the East Field. Sitting here by the Dining Room window I can actually see through into the sheep. Before we did the job, the new nettles almost reached up to the lowest branches of the hawthorn bushes.

Dressed to kill. Laura and the brush cutter
Today we broke out the brush-cutter and did battle with the tall weeds (docks, goat-willow(!), rushes and creeping buttercup) in the area briefly known as my veg' patch. Friends of the Blog will know that I literally "lost the plot" 2 years ago, and then brush cut part of the wilderness and covered it with black plastic last year. This year I am re-attacking the paths and the beds that did not get sheeted over. One of these days I may even plant something in there.

Somewhere out in that wilderness....
The only other 'landmark' worthy of note is that today was the day for the vote on the all-important Constitutional Referendum on the '8th Amendment'; that thorny abortion issue. These referendum votes are only allowed for Irish citizens, so I had to sit this one out, but Elizabeth, of course, went down to tick the box.

Laura joins the ranks of #PigWimmin 
We now have to try to get a night's sleep with only the data from an exit poll at 11:30 pm, as the real count does not start till 09:00 tomorrow morning. The Woman of the House will be glued to that news feed; of that you can be sure. By the time I next write we will all know the result.

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