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chickens

Lifestyle

Uh-Oh, The ‘Hoods’ Have Arrived

August 12, 2014

Rehoming Rescue HensAfter all this time you’d have thought we’d have learnt.

“We’ll do some research before we get any more animals”. 
“Yep, it’s much easier when we know what we’re letting ourselves in for.”

That should have been enough don’t you think? In future, we’d find out what we were about to embark upon before we increase our livestock and in particular double our chicken flock with rescue hens. But that wouldn’t be any fun….

Saddleback pigs in August

Saddleback pigs in August

When it came to our first attempts at pig rearing last year, we absolutely did our homework. We trotted off to Old Farm and spent a day learning about fencing, feeding and generally caring for pigs before our two saddlebacks arrived. Even then we continued to learn throughout the months that followed, quickly realising that nothing can fully prepare you for the first time you have to take animals off to slaughter.

Rehoming Rescue HensWith the chickens we were self-taught. We assumed hens would be straightforward, lots of folk we know have them and so far our hens have been purely for their egg laying capabilities. We’d planned to get some brooders this year for the freezer but with a fox lair close by, knew we’d have to build runs etc to contain them at night so that, at least, is still on the ‘to do’ list.

Rehoming Rescue HensThe internet has been a great resource for us over recent years and poultry books helpful but nothing can really prepare you for rearing livestock. I did chat with the woman on the end of the phone line a wee bit when I rang to enquire about the 5,000 hens she was rescuing and hoping to re-home:

“We have a small flock of hens, how well will ex-batteries integrate with them?”
“Fine, no bother at all.”
“We’ll take four then”
“Would you not have room for a few more?”
“Ok, we’ll take eight”

Some hours later….

“You’ve done whaaaat?”

This all happened several months ago. Back then we had an attractive little flock, led by a very good-looking White Sussex cockerel. Sadly, the local fox began to pick the chickens and ducks off, one by one, boldly and in midday light, until he finally reached the prize he was looking for – Bob, our magnificent rooster. We hope he choked on one of the glorious tail feathers that weren’t left strewn on the lawn in Bob’s last fight for survival.

We haven’t seen the fox since.

After the horrors of helplessly watching our flock diminish, we were left with just three little hens, two of whom were broody and sitting on fertilised eggs.The eggs hatched, four healthy little chicks were born and our flock increased back to a manageable size of seven. Happy days. Then the phone call came…

Oh-Oh, the hoods have arrived“The hens are being released, I’ll met you Thursday at the handball club”

Eeeek! Seven to fourteen hens overnight and if they all lay eggs, that’s a lot of omelettes!

I should mention at this point that although I’ve referred to the hens as ex-batteries, due to a European ruling in 2012, commercial hens these days are no longer confined to the wire cages of old, they are now kept in ‘enriched’ cages where they can at least flap their wings. In the case of our new arrivals, they’ve come from a free range environment. That said, free range commercial farming and free range hobby farming are two different things. Commercially the hens are replaced every year and from what I can gather, the year old ones simply destroyed unless rescued. That leads to my point about the ‘hoods’.

Rehoming Rescue HensAfter the hens had been here a few days I googled ‘rehoming ex batteries’. Apparently, far from the featherless, poor little things I’d conjured up in my imagination, rescue hens are very street wise. Even free range, they’ve been reared in cramped conditions, sharing space with thousands of other birds and have had to adapt, learning to fight for their small bit of territory.

During the week they’ve been here, we’ve noticed they’re very brave and wander around bits of our property the other hens never ventured to. They’re also very friendly and don’t mind being handled. They haven’t figured out what the scraps thrown out the window are yet and they sleep almost on top of one another, even though they now have space to stretch and move around. Some of the hens were quite featherless, perhaps from being picked on but they’re certainly holding their own with our existing flock. Already we can tell our feed bill will be rising considerably and although ex-batteries aren’t supposed to lay many eggs, that message doesn’t seem to have reached our new ladies and we now have more eggs produced than we can manage.

Rehoming Rescue HensOverall, the hens seem to be integrating nicely and if one of the recent chicks does turn out to be the cockerel we think he might be, his father’s very good looking son, he’ll be a very happy lad indeed surrounded by so many ladies. They may however, take a bit of persuading to be receptive to his advances as I somehow think the new girls wont be taking any nonsense, no matter how long and glorious his tail feathers might be.

And as for our homework? Well our bee suit arrived this week so we best start looking into those beekeeping courses as the honeybees I wrote about in June have not only stayed, but have bred like mad.

If you’re thinking of keeping hens, the Consumer Association have a handy guide and if you’re thinking of re-housing ex-battery or rescue hens, poultrykeeper.com have a list of common health problems you might meet.

Have you thought about rescuing hens or already done so? How did you find the experience?

Lifestyle

Our Saddleback Pigs from Oldfarm Settle In

April 30, 2013

Warning: This post is about pigs that will be reared for food. 

Free Range SaddlebacksOver the coming months I’m hoping to share a few posts of our two Saddleback pigs (who will remain nameless) that will be living their lives with us, outdoors, in a free range environment surrounded by cattle from the neighbouring farm. They will be fed GM free grain and vegetables from the garden before they reach the appropriate weight and we arrange to have them butchered.

Saddleback Pigs ArriveToday’s the day we’ve been working towards for many years. Thanks to Alfie and Margaret for delivering them, our Oldfarm pigs arrived in the back of their trailer and were ushered out into their new woodland home.

Greenside Up SaddlebacksA long time ago Mr G and I shared dreams of becoming more self-sufficient in our food. We started with the vegetable garden, followed by the hens for their eggs (still working towards hens for the table) and at last the pigs.

drinkingsaddlebacksWe started this particular adventure earlier this year by attending a Oldfarm Pig Rearing course. When we returned home we cleared undergrowth and trees, built a house, installed fresh water, were given straw by our generous neighbour, sourced feed and then added heap loads  of electric fencing. The Department vet was called in to inspect the pigs new home and once the go ahead was given in terms of our herd number, we were able to discuss delivery.

Sideview of SaddlebackWe’re a little nervous about our new boars (mostly of them escaping into the vegetable patch!) The realities of rearing animals for their meat for the first time are starting to sink in for Mr G. Our children have mixed feelings but we do feel it important that they learn that food doesn’t come out of packets and the importance of good, healthy, wholesome food.

If I began to feel too attached to our new little guys, I’ll be watching this video clip from the Compassion of World Farming about intensively farmed pigs that I hope will act as a reminder about why we’re doing this.

At the moment our Saddleback pigs are four months old and we’ll be aiming to slaughter them at around nine or ten months old complete with their teeth, tails and testicles. Factory farmed pigs can be slaughtered from four months upwards and will never have seen the light of day.

For us now, the fun and realities of rearing animals for food is just beginning… I’ll keep you posted.

Speedy Saddleback Pig

 

 

Lifestyle

Keeping Chickens – practical & entertaining additions to the menagerie

February 13, 2013
light sussex and two bluebell hens

Light Sussex and a two Bluebell Hens

We added some pretty new arrivals to our small flock of chickens this week.

A friend was looking to rehouse some of her flock which had grown to over twenty and as our own had shrunk to three and a large rooster, we were happy to oblige.

Two Bluebell Hens

Two Bluebell Hens

Collecting the chickens was easier than we’d imagined – a few handfuls of feed were scattered into a corner and we were invited to dive in and grab as many hens as we wanted. Having always had brown hybrids or Rhode Island Reds, we were therefore drawn to the colourful birds. Our youngest had mentioned she’d love a companion for our Light Sussex rooster “Bob” so we were delighted to spot one in the large flock. She was first to be deposited into the large travelling box, followed by two pretty Bluebells and a black hen (an Orpington perhaps??)

Light Sussex Rooster and a Hybrid Hen

Bob the Light Sussex and Goldie

We’ve been keeping hens for their eggs for a few years now and if anyone reading this is thinking of doing likewise I’d definitely recommend getting some advice or taking a poultry course before you do so, such as the ones Fiona from Hunterslodge offers. We had no prior knowledge of hen keeping and it’s been quite a learning experience. From scale leg to gape, broody hens, chicks and unwanted roosters, we’ve had to learn as we went along how to care for them… and it wasn’t quite as straight forward as we thought! A course at the beginning would have been very useful!

We spent an entertaining hour watching the new girls settle in. Beaks were most certainly put out of joint from our existing hens and Bob couldn’t decide whether to mind his favourite ladies or try to make out with the new ones. Almost as soon as they arrived he headed over, lifted his wing slightly and attempted his sideways shuffle dance prior to jumping them, but the new hens were having none of it. They were much more interested in settling into their new surroundings than letting a randy new beau interrupt their grass pecking! If you’ve never observed chickens scratching around you may be surprised at just how entertaining they can be.

Light Sussex Rooster

“Who’s the Daddy? I’m the Daddy!

As most male of the species are want to do, Bob decided his best course of action was not to get involved in the squabbles between the women folk as pecking orders began to establish in his growing flock. He settled for keeping the peace. Whenever feathers and claws started to fly, he quickly stepped in and broke them up, flapping and clucking and crowing as he attempted to retain some order among his seven clucky hens.

Light Sussex and a Black HenWe’ve never regretted keeping chickens. Yes it can be tricky when we want to head off for a few days or a nuisance when it’s pouring with rain and we have to throw on the wellies and lock them up for the night.  However, you really can’t beat eating a vibrant omelette knowing it’s originated from free range hens that have been fed  scraps from the kitchen window or organic and GM free pellets. Our compost heap has never been better for all the nitrogen rich droppings that are now added to it on a regular basis either. Once they’re all laying we’ll be trying an honesty table outside the front gate for the excess eggs as Margaret has done.

Now we’re happy keeping hens, this year we’re investigating the possibility of rearing pigs for the table and have learnt our lesson in terms of the livestock – we’ll be attending an Old Farm course on pig rearing prior to bring any piglets home!