Monday, 22 April 2013

One swallow doesn’t make a summer

There is an old saying that one swallow does not make a summer. It’s true of course, but two swallows do make a breeding pair and the swallows that return to my farm every year have arrived this week!
Their nest, which is in a low roofed pig unit, is still there from last year so there’s not much for them to do in terms of preparing for this year’s brood.  They are fastidious little birds however and I’m sure that they will want to add a few new mud balls and some fresh feathers before they start the new family.
The wind is a bit too strong for flying today and the tiny birds have been buffeted about like corks on the ocean. So, they have decided to spend most of today just sitting on the fence beside the building that they nest in, enjoying the sun.
I’m always so inspired, humbled and honoured by their visit. These tiny little creatures have flown so many thousands of miles, through the night, over oceans, back to my little farm and the nest on the low beam in the building where I store my wheelbarrows.
Last year's brood
They managed to raise a good number of chicks last year and their only threat came from the cats, Polly and Toby. Fortunately though, these tough little birds hadn’t gone through all this hard work and adventure to have their offspring eaten by a couple of overfed moggies. They instigated an effective dive-bombing campaign on the cats! They were brilliantly effective and the cats soon got the message.
I am hoping that the cats will remember their lesson from last year, but I’m sure that the swallow family will give them an effective reminder this year, just to make sure!

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Underneath the hedges

It is good to finally see Spring settling in and activity in the hedgerows at last. The pheasants are pairing off and are now looking for the choicest nesting areas in the hedge. They are always a pleasure to watch.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Guest post: Thorleif’s guide to breeding the best (part 1)

Of the thousands of chicken-keepers here in the UK, their interests are so varied. Some people like to show poultry. Some people just enjoy breeding different breeds, ornamental fowl, utility or rare breeds. But the vast majority of poultry-keepers keep their chickens as pets with the added benefit of the fresh eggs! The huge majority keep commercial breeds and ex-battery hens.

Many people think of these hybrid chickens as the end product. They live, lay eggs, and die. But it need not be so, as many people have found out. You can, and should breed from them. To breed from your hybrid garden chickens you will obviously need a cockerel. So what cockerel should you look for? Find a young boyo that is not too big, because then he could hurt your hens while doing the business.

My first choice was a Rhode Island Red from a family that laid plenty of eggs. One of the reasons for this is that most hybrid hens have a massive part of Rhode Island in them already, so the offspring can be quite pretty little Rhode Island Red lookalikes. It is also one of the few breeds that are being bred for utility.

Chances are that you will be able to find a cock from a strain that lays well. This is something that is being passed on, generation after generation, by selecting and weeding out hens that are not performing well enough. Your hybrid hens are bred just for laying, so that side is sorted. To make sure the next generation lays as well as their mothers, it is therefore necessary to find a cockerel that comes from a strain of good layers. Simple as that!

Take the guesswork out of the breeding, use a cockerel from a traditional utility-breed, not too large, and you will produce more garden-hens that can lay eggs for you. You can then breed again from second and third generations, and then start from the beginning again with more hybrid hens. Just remember, strain/family is more important than breed when it comes to laying.

When it comes to finding a suitable cockerel, don’t be afraid of using a bantam of one of the more traditional breeds. They are often a more suitable size for hybrid hens and the bantams often lay better than their larger counterparts.

In my next blog, I will give some simple tips on how to breed from pure breeds. After that I will try to give a few useful hints for breeding the rarer breeds, and how to keep on improving the breeds.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

One born every minute

Well, this has been a week of highs and lows, with both Lucy and Pippin lambing early and within minutes of each other. Pippin really struggled with it all and had a difficult labour. An under-developed lamb who died shortly after birth only added to my feelings of disappointment, and to her distress.

Fortunately I had little time to dwell on Pippin’s lambing losses before I was distracted by Elvis escaping from his bonding pen and Lucy giving birth to twins! The twins are a perfect pair of lovely big Ryelands, a ewe and a ram. Lucy, like Lilly, is a great mum and is doing a brilliant job with them despite Lilly’s attempts to interfere.

Got anything to eat in here?
The sun was out again this morning and I let the ladies and their babies play out in the orchard. Elvis and Buddy investigated the chicken coops, much to the distress of the large croads who had clearly no idea what they were.  As you might expect, it wasn’t long before they had escaped and their mum had broken through the temporary fencing to join them. We returned them to the paddock and collected up any available pieces of board and breeze-blocks and set about lamb-proofing any potential escape routes.

Pippin is looking no worse for her ordeal and our daily cuddles and cookie session has resumed. In fact she was well enough to find her way into the chicken coops and eat the layers pellets, much to the dismay of the growers! I was relying on her to keep Elvis in check, but I fear that she is not such a positive influence!

Meeting Rufus - and ignoring him!
Elvis is clearly a lamb who knows his own mind and doesn’t seem to worry too much about doing what he’s told or what Lilly wants him to do. Buddy is a little more obliging, but easily led by Elvis. This morning I found them both chasing Buffy round the chicken coops.  Teddy enjoys climbing on things, especially his mum, who doesn’t seem to mind, and Tuppence is always on the lookout for a cuddle and doesn’t mind who she gets it from.

The chicks that I incubated (known as the chig-lees) are now fully feathered and they are getting the hang of independent living. They are now no longer the babies, with Poppy’s hatching of a couple of large fowl chicks. They met Rufus for the first time today!

The large birds Joseph, Angel and Gloria, are on the last day of their breeding confinement and have provided me with sufficient eggs to post to a fellow Croad Breeder in Europe. Spring has finally arrived – and it’s busy!

Monday, 1 April 2013

Spring lambs!

It's been a busy weekend! There's new life bursting out all over. 
I'll start with the lambs - Teddy and Tuppence, Buddy and Elvis!

You lot coming out to play?
Buddy and Elvis taking a nap
Chilly out here!
The big, wide world
I think I've got the wrong legs on
The chickens made me a lovely hole to sleep in
Please see if my lamb is in there
Grass? Don't think I like it!
Quite like this sun stuff though
These hen holes are brilliant
More lambs? You are having a laugh!!!!

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