Monthly Archives: Jul 2016

What a difference a day makes

It’s a slightly ironic title when you consider the actual words of the song.

What a diff’rence a day made / Twenty-four little hours / Brought the sun and the flowers / Where there used to be rain

What has actually happened in the last 24 hours is that the rain has replaced the sun and the flowers.

We have a small group of children and parents visiting to bake, hunt for treasure hidden by teddy bears and play with the chickens. They managed a Treasure Hunt and some outdoor sports before the weather turned bad, so we can certainly call it a draw as far as the weather is concerned.

After that it was indoor sports and chickens.

That’s not for me, of course. I’m performing my normal indoor sport of Washing Up. Funny how that happens. When I deliver a baking session I wash up after myself. When Julia delivers a baking session I wash up after her. Interesting division of labour; I’m thinking of checking back on our wedding service to see what it has to say on the subject.

At the moment everyone has returned from the barn and they are colouring in salt dough shapes of teddy bears – one to take home and one to leave for our bread shed. There is a prize of sweets for the best one. I believe the plan is to have a large number of joint winners, as it would be a bit rough not to get any sweets.

Meanwhile, Number Two son looks more like he’s been in a fight than a dental surgery.

Years ago, whilst playing for the Wakefield Trinity U15 Scholarship team, he was set upon by two Featherstone Rovers props and ended up looking like he’d been in a car crash. To add insult to injury he was one of the two selected for sin-binning after a 26 man brawl developed (his team mates not being the sort of people to stand by like choirboys whilst violence was being applied to one of their own). I’m not saying that the beating or the sin-binning was undeserved, as his (defamatory) remarks about the mother of one of the props had, in fairness, been intended to get under the skin of his opposite number: I mention it merely to compare injuries.

Two props, aided by a couple of second rows, left him hurting and with eyes swollen to slits so that he was unable to see properly.

Without any slander as to the virtue of the dentist’s mother he was left sore, swollen and barely able to speak.

Makes you wonder what would have happened if he’d upset the dentist.

As a trivial aside – can anyone link Wakefield Trinity to Dr Who?

 

 

 

What we did on our holidays

You can tell it’s holiday time because the roads are clear, the travelling is easier and there are groups of teachers wandering about dressed as ramblers.

So what did we do on our holiday?

Well, we started by looking at the new bantams and chicks to ensure they were OK.

Sadly there was a dead lamb in the barn. It had been found last night by a group of ramblers, having stuck its head through the sheep netting and then threaded it back through an adjacent square. You couldn’t do it if you tried. In the subsequent panic it strangled itself.

No you couldn’t make it up if you tried. The Farmer had been forced to cut the fence to remove it. That was how tight it had managed to wedge itself in.

Now, I don’t like losing animals at the best of times, and I certainly don’t like losing them to accidents, but this was so random that it is hard to see what we could have done differently.

My first job was to check the incubator and then to look up what a flashing “P” meant. Twenty minutes later I established it was a warning that it had lost power at some point. To be more precise, it had lost power when I unplugged it and moved it. So that was 20 minutes well spent.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

It stands for “Power”

Once everyone had arrived we had a good handling session with the new bantams and altered the housing arrangements for the chicks.

We collected eggs, fed the chickens, did a census of the (heat stress has seen a few of the old ladies off recently) and harvested cabbages. We planted Brussels Sprouts (or nobby greens as they are known in Nottingham), made lavender decorations, twisted corn dollies, showed two groups of visitors around (I keep hoping one of them will be an eccentric and generous millionaire). Julia brought what I thought was a small and tender beetroot in from the garden (I say tender but I have no intention of ever eating beetroot). It turned out to be a radish the size of a golf ball and I suspect it will be both woody and fiery to eat.

We also added more photos to the individual pages and did quite a bit of butterfly counting. (You may already have noticed that.)

And we brought the sun-dried peppers out of the polytunnel.

I think that’s all.

Now all we need to do is get the shopping list ready for tomorrow, get set up for yoga, prepare the kitchen.

Number Two son had a broken tooth extracted this afternoon. I wouldn’t normally bring domestic trivia to the blog, but I had to after asking him what time his appointment was.

Yes, it was two-thirty (tooth hurty – the classic joke time!). I tried not to laugh when he told  me.

It’s going to be a bundle of laughs tonight, me trying to suppress my mirth, Julia being motherly and him drinking his evening meal through a straw.

Butterfly Count (2)

From 1.10 to 1.25 forgot to make a note of the time for the last one. It was slightly windier, about 8kph (5 mph) from the south. Temperature had climbed to 23 from 20, though the sky was slightly overcast. I really must remember to be more scientific.

Three Red Admirals.

Three Large White.

Five Small White.

Four Small Tortoiseshell.

Three Peacocks.

No Comma this time, though Vicki did catch a Green Veined White and a tatty Meadow Brown in the polytunnel (both released back into the open air unharmed). I didn’t actually see them whilst watching so better luck next time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Green-veined White

It was harder to take photos this time as they stayed deeper in the shrubs to keep out of the wind, because the wind was shaking the ones that perched where I could actually get a shot and because I was using Camera 2 (the batteries ran out in the new one). Camera 2 is OK, but having leant it to the group to take pictures of the bantams this morning I started off in Magic Scene mode with Beauty Setting. It’s not the most responsive setting for butterfly photography.

We have a lot of whites in the polytunnels, and they are quite good for capturing other species for us. We had a lot of Speckled Woods and Silver Y moths in there last year. We’ve also had Small Copper, Hummingbird Hawk Moth and Small Skipper in the tunnels. In fact the only Small Skipper we’ve recorded here was in the small tunnel.

This morning we disturbed a large moth with markings like a butterfly when we walked in to the office. It paused for a moment after fluttering, folded itself into a moth and then took off and disappeared before I could get the camera. A search of the internet suggests an Orange Underwing (but it’s the wrong time of year) or a Garden Tiger (but it was much plainer, and brown, when it folded its wings). It’s very frustrating.

However, I did see a Mint Moth, after saying I couldn’t find one at the moment. That’s where Camera 2 came into its own. It seems to focus better at smaller distances. The moth started on mint but I took the picture while it was on marjoram. I’m glad to see it, but a bit worried as by this time of year  can sometimes see six or eight of them at a time.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mint Moth on marjoram

 

 

 

Butterfly Count

Just been doing a butterfly count.

Six Red Admirals, the most we’ve ever counted here at one time. Four on the blue buddleia and two on the red one.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Red Admiral

Five Large Whites. Could probably have made it more if I’d looked in the polytunnel, as there are often six or eight there, but you are supposed to stay in one spot for the count.

Two Small Whites. They seem to prefer the periwinkle to the buddleia.

Two Small Tortoiseshells. It’s not been a great year for them. We did see a lot on the lavender before the count started but they have gone. Traditionally this has been our commonest butterfly (despite population dips elsewhere) but not this year.

One Peacock. Sometimes rivals the Tortoiseshells for numbers but not this year so far.

One Comma. The first of the year. It just goes to show the benefit of taking time to look.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Comma

It’s not a bad selection, but it’s a strange year for our two commonest butterflies. At least we have a surge in Red Admirals.

Meanwhile there are no Mint Moths about at the moment, despite seeing several early on in the season and there were no Gatekeepers/Meadow Browns flying during the count.

I will try again in the same place this afternoon and see if it makes a difference.

 

New pictures on Individual Pages

I’ve just put some new pictures up on the individual pages, if you want to see what people are up to. As you can see from the featured image, which shows us at lunch yesterday, life isn’t exactly hectic at the moment.

Julia fell over last night when we were tidying up and bruised her hip. I call it her hip, from a sense of delicacy. Wherever the bruise is sited, it is causing considerable discomfort when she sits, and a lesson in why it is bad to carry hard objects in your back pockets.

When I suggested that the blog needed a photograph of the bruise for documentary purposes she was most uncooperative.

I really think she doesn’t take my social media work seriously.

It’s been a reasonable day for birds, with a wren hiding somewhere round the compost bin and scolding me constantly as I was working with the poultry. I’ve also seen the brightest goldfinch I’ve ever seen, so I’m wondering if it has just completed its moult.

Apart from that the big event of the day has been the constant laughing call of a green woodpecker coming from the trees between us and the road. As usual in summer I can’t see it because of all the leaves, but I’ve been able to hear it for several hours. The call is supposed to be a sign of rain.

As the sky is grey and there is a damp feel to the air I’m sure the bird is right. I do hope so, because some of the vegetables are looking distinctly done in by the constant hot, dry weather.

Of course, it won’t suit the farmers…

Confession

You may remember me telling you about the rescue of 11 guinea fowl keets a few months back.

They were scruffy-looking things in various shades of grey., we found them where the guinea fowl roost and they were hatched from small white eggs. Bound to be guinea fowl keets weren’t they?

Only one person disagreed, and suggested they were actually chicks.

Well, as time progressed they started to look a little more like chicks, but it didn’t really register as I was convinced they were keets, and because I really wanted more guinea fowl.

A couple of them started growing feathers on their legs, a trait of one of our farmyard cockerels.

“Well,” I thought, “it looks like we have a mixed batch of chicks and keets.”

It took another few weeks, and a move to an outdoor coop, before I had a good look at them in good light.

They are all chicks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The chicks that used to be keets

I’m embarrassed. I remember handling chicks before my sister was born – so I was 2 or 3 years old. In those days my dad worked for Thornbers Hatchery. I really should have known…

The mother, we think, is the black Polish bantam pullet that escaped last year and has continued living in the yard. One of the fathers is the black cockerel with feathers on its legs. He might be the father of all of them, but let’s face it, chickens aren’t too fussy about that sort of thing. When you look at the research, neither are most birds. If this is the case, she’s working hard, and she’s going against the trend as Polish are well known for being poor sitters.

Meanwhile, we’ve just been given a selection of bantams, including Pekins,  Minorcas and some alleged Barnevelders. All six weeks plus and all looking bright and healthy.

Though, as we’ve seen, my ID skills aren’t great. They could be ducks for all I know…

 

 

 

 

The Incubator Diaries (Part 2)

As you may have seen in the earlier post today, we have had seven chicks hatched by a broody hen without the use of artificial heating or humidity, and with definitely no input from electronics or from me. Nature is indeed a wondrous thing.

However, back at the incubator, where science meets eggs, it was time to weigh the eggs.

The theory is that an egg should lose 13% of its weight during incubation due to evaporation. According to the manual that comes with the incubator this occurs in a straight line, though I’m dubious about that. Nature, as they say, abhors a vacuum. In my experience it doesn’t care for straight lines either. We will see.

According to the weighing I did today the eggs have lost around 3% of their weight. The Polish eggs have lost 3.3%, the green eggs have lost 2.9% and the two brown eggs I shoved in to fill the space have lost 3.8%. They are larger than the rest and come from older birds so it may be that the shells are more porous. Taking the totals for the three lots of eggs it comes out at 3.33%.

According to my calculation 13% overall loss works out as 0.6% per day. The eggs have now been in the incubator for 5 days so 5 x 0.6% is 3%.

Looks like we’re about right.

Bearing in mind that I’m weighing small numbers of eggs on a kitchen scale I’m happy with this level of accuracy.

Looks like things may be going right!

It all ended well

Another Monday, and just when you think you are immune to surprises we walked into several.

Number One, a note asking me to clean up the desk and trays.

After biting back several terse and witty retorts I have cleared the desk and trays by putting every bit of paperwork that isn’t mine and filing it in a bin bag.  It’s a lot tidier now, I’ve done as I have been asked, and I’ve now made it someone else’s problem.

Number Two, a continuation of the tidying theme. I walked into the kitchen and found all my ingredients had been tidied away. Again, I thought we’d moved beyond this obsessive tidying behaviour. It isn’t cleaning, it’s just a compulsion to move things. So, as I got ready for the visitors I had to re-stack the shelves so that my ingredients were all to hand, just as they had been on Saturday night.

And finally, Three. Vicki was walking past the chicken coop in the barn (the one where we’d previously found the keets) when she heard cheeping. This time it seems to seven chicks. Seems like someone else decided to lay eggs on the top again. During the rescue mission two of the chicks fell to the floor and were promptly set upon by the chickens who live there. Fortunately they weren’t injured and all seven are now under a heat lamp.

Yes, it’s been a day of unexpected happenings…

After all that the visit from the Guides, the pizza, the Butterfly Count and the climate measuring all proceeded according to plan.

The Incubator Diaries (Part 1)

I’ve been fighting off involvement with the livestock since we arrived on the farm. After years of working weekends and bank holidays, and being called out on emergencies I left farming about 20 years ago and didn’t want to be dragged back in.

However, I’m doing a bit more as time goes on, and recently bought an incubator (as I may have mentioned last week).  The idea is that we will be able to do more with visiting kids if we have young chicks and a bit of science to offer. At the moment I’m a little lost. Compared to the industrial machines I used to work with a plastic box holding 20 eggs doesn’t seem much of a challenge. For one thing, I keep wondering where all the other eggs are and for another I’m apprehensive about what happens if the attempt is a disaster.

All I have going round in my head is a list of things that can go wrong (dirty eggs, infertile eggs, poor egg storage, too much humidity, too little humidity at the end, dead in shell, mushy chicks, unabsorbed yolk sacs…). How will I ever hold my head up again if I make a mess of it.

Yesterday I noticed that the humidity had been falling since I switched on – stabilising at 36% when it was set at 40%. Of course, when I went through everything I found I’d pressed the wrong button and set the humidity level at 20%. I set it at 45% and the pump immediately started working, with humidity shooting up to 56%. It’s stabilised at 45% overnight so all is good for now.

This is our new machine. It has automatic turning and humidifying as there are times we will be away for days at a time and automation is more reliable than the farm staff.

It currently has eggs from the Polish Bantams and the ones that lay the blue/green eggs. I’m not even sure which they are, we just kept the coloured eggs and are hoping for the best. They must have some Araucana blood in them but the previous poultry keeper was a bit of cross-breeding freak. Well, he was when it came to poultry; I can’t really comment on his personal life.

Watch this space, as they say.

Trousers, rats and vole-au-vents

Yesterday comprised mainly of paperwork, a meeting and fighting my way through traffic. The latter was caused by having to pick up some alterations Julia was having done. We’re going to a wedding reception on Saturday night and she wanted her new trousers to fit. I’m have new trousers too, but I have lower personal standards in matters of appearance so mine will be going on straight out of the bag.

I haven’t actually bought new trousers for the reception, it’s just that time of year. Two pairs of black, two pairs of dark green and I’m set for weddings, funerals, interviews, casual wear and anything else the world may throw at me in the next 12 months. Last year’s trousers now become working garments and don’t ask me about the year before because I’m hard on trousers and after two years you can almost sense them sighing with relief as they split, tear or simply wear through.

Being a modern couple, Julia’s niece and husband got married abroad and are holding the reception in Nottingham because that’s where they live. Suits me. In the old days we’d have had to trek down to Suffolk, where the bride’s parents live, and I’d have felt duty-bound to complain all the way down.

I suppose that isn’t a bad trade off – an hour in traffic set off against a trip to Suffolk and back.

While I was parked behind a building waiting for Julia I was treated to the sight of a young rat cavorting in an overgrown margin. It seemed full of the joys of spring and looked very well fed, but you would do if you have access to an endless supply of discarded take-away food.

I used to shout at rats and throw things at them, but they don’t understand me and I always miss. I now take a more laid back approach and merely think bad things about them. I don’t like them but I’m not going to raise my blood pressure over them when it achieves nothing.

I have an inventive solution to the rat problem, which I wrote about a year ago but was never able to find a reason to use it. I have a reason now. It also addresses another modern problem.

They say you’re never more than six feet away from a rat (or two metres for my younger readers) and estimates vary from one rat per person to two rats per person, according to something I was reading recently.

These rats are free range and at six foot the food miles are not great.

Ah, the “food miles” bit rather gives it away. Think about it, rats are seen as a legitimate foodstuff in some parts of the world and they are certainly more traditional than tofu and micro-veg.

Free range local food. If you applied that label to chicken people would pay a premium for it.

I was almost saddened to see that both figures are probably wrong, with only one rat to share between six of us and a distance of 50 metres. However, it’s still a practical proposition, and with the new super rat there will be more meat to go around. Incidentally, that last link also says there will be three times as many rats as people, which is a good example of why it’s a bad idea to believe anything you read on the net.

If you don’t fancy a rat, how about starting with something smaller and cuter – the vole-au-vent. A cute rodent garnished with something tasty in a puff pastry shell. I’m wondering if I could send out a press release and get anyone to believe that. Or to see if I could get Heston Blumenthal interested in the recipe.