Tag Archives: chickens

It rained, we made pom-poms and played balloon ball

It’s rained all day, we don’t feel like using the kitchen because of the internal politics and I’m not eating biscuits.

So what do we do?

Well, we have to feed and water the chickens whatever the weather.

We also had a good moan about various things (centre left in a mess, one of the new toilets out of order, someone has thrown some of our stuff out of the kitchen).

We did a stock take of what we have left in the kitchen.

We picked the last of the chillies and the cape gooseberries

We made pom-poms. I managed 14 today. I explored a method I found on the internet – using a fork to wrap the wool round. I hope these photos explain it. It’s tricky getting it tied tight enough and fitting the scissors in, but it seems to work OK for producing small pom-poms.

A fork with longer tines may have been better (as would sharper scissors) and I’m just wondering how much wool you’d need to wrap a garden fork…

Then we played indoor balloon volleyball/tennis. It’s a game  we invented last year using a large balloon. The rules are not fixed, the umpiring is abysmal and the scoring is random, but it seems to work. So far nobody has died playing, we’ve had no tears, and we haven’t damaged the building (though as we’re under notice to quit I’m not sure I’m bothered).


Indoor Balloonball – just look at the speed of that serve!


As we told the group – only boring people get bored.


Bollywood and black skies

Today we had Bollywood dancing, chickens and black storm clouds, just to name a few things. And pom-poms. They are becoming the bane of my life. Julia says we need 20 per wreath and as everyone will want to make a wreath that’s 140 pom-poms. While Julia and some of the team were out measuring climate data (our penultimate session) I was left in charge of the pom-pom squad. I made six. The other three broke the plastic rings several times, failed to achieve pom-pomness in  a number of different ways and, finally, managed to break the only one they actually made.

Yes, they broke a pom-pom. Not the plastic ring, an actual woolly pom-pom.

That sound you can hear is my spirit breaking.

In the afternoon, with a squad of three, Julia managed four pom-poms.


Proper free range chickens

The chickens are looking good – we finally have a distinct farmyard flock – feathered in a variety of blacks (from their Minorca fathers) and with a selection of head feathering from their Polish ancestors. They are looking quite distinctive, though they could probably do with a bit of new blood in the coming year as they are all the offspring of one hen and (possibly) two cockerels.

Weather has been iffy, as you can see from the photos, though it hasn’t broken yet, there are still a few autumnal leaves about and our Albanian taxi driver brought us some lemons picked from his father’s orchard when he visited last week. They always look much nicer than shop lemons, which I suspect are selected for thick skin and travelling qualities.  The Albanian lemons always seem thinner skinned and better-flavoured.

Finally, dancing. The whole group is practising for the dance at the Christmas Party. They are full of determination and have been watching instructional videos to get more moves. You have to admire their perseverance and work ethic. Originally just two of them were going to dance, after doing some belly-dancing at a project they attend on Fridays, but it has now spread so we have five dancers.

What with dancing and our rendition of I’ve got a lovely bunch of Coconuts this is going to be a party to remember, even before we get to the song about the coat of many colours.

As you look at the dance photos hum the tune of Jai Ho.

Now try to get it out of your head.

I think my work here is done…

Entering the modern era

Yes, I’ve finally done it, after being let down twice in a week I’ve drafted the letter about non-returnable deposits.

One of them was a no-show, so we’d bought materials and planned the day, putting several hours of effort in. The second was the day before, but I was away that day and only checked my email this morning, by which time I’d spent several hours planning, bought materials and ingredients and generally psyched myself up.

So we’re now in the grasping, lecturing, materialistic modern world and have a document detailing our deposit requirements and defining “14 days”. I haven’t moaned, I’ve just pointed out that we can’t keep incurring costs and suffering late cancellations.

I’m reasonably happy with it but I’m sure that the management committee will have a go at mangling it.

Coming, as it did, the day after the lady at Brierlow Book Shop taught me how to pay contactlessly. I’m really feeling like a child of the 21st century. She says she can also pay with her phone and her watch. I still think anything other than cash is a bit suspect, but I suppose I’m one of a dying breed.

The keets are all happy, though I’m not sure what we’re feeding them on. It looks a bit floury and the mill we use to grind wheat for school visits seems to be full of pig pellets. Call me suspicious but  if there was such a thing as an Olympics for cutting corners we would be weighed down with medals and people would call on us to commentate at the Christmas Scrooge Championships and the Tightwad Derby.

I’ve got the new feeder up, though I can’t afford a big one like the bookshop has. Nor could I afford to fill it. I’ve also put the window feeder up, but so far nobody has found it. I thought that if it works it’s worth a fiver, and if it doesn’t I’ll give it a wash and give it somebody for Christmas.

The old feeders all have a new feature – an elastic band over the top. It’s not pretty but I’m hoping it might work. The plan is that even if they do get mugged by jackdaws the tops should stay on. If the jackdaws can’t get to the contents they may stop wrecking them. How many times have I said that?

One of the goats escaped, but it’s now captured and penned again. I’d have left it to get in by itself (they do when they get bored) but someone called and asked for help.

He caught me at a bad time – I was just contemplating allowing the three guinea fowl in the allotment to escape from their pen. A moment later and I may have been spotted. I’ll do it tomorrow.

The pigs seem happy too, but in the absence of foresight I suppose they would, They may be the 4th most intelligent mammal, behind men, apes and dolphins, but they have never really concerned themselves with the meaning of life.This is probably a good thing.

Given food, friends and the occasional scratch behind the ears they seem content.

Added later – can anybody tell me if the plant still standing near the pigs (the only thing they have left standing, is hemlock? The main picture isn’t as clear as it could be – do these help?

Meanwhile the cereal trial is confusing me – the plots with chemicals seem greener, and have fewer weeds, but the ones without chemicals seem just as tall and productive, though a bit paler, or even yellow round the edges. The chemicals must help by providing all the nutrients the grain needs, but I’m wondering whether they are cost effective.

The Friday post is late again

As you can see from the main photo, there’s nothing a chicken loves so much as a freshly turned flower bed.

With a lot of help from the Community Payback team we cleared a lot of the overgrown beds yesterday. This always seems to happen at this time of year – it’s too wet to go on the clay soil without damaging what’s left of the structure, then suddenly we are full of weeds.

We had six pairs of blackbirds on the allotment at one time, all enjoying fresh food sources. The Jackdaws and Pied Wagtails arrived a little later and the robin had a go too. Then the chickens arrived. They can move a lot of earth when they start scratching.

That was why we used to feed a “scratch feed” back in the days I was a poultryman keeping birds on deep litter. It was considered old-fashioned in the 70s but I learnt the business off a man who had worked in poultry before the war, so we did a lot of things the old way. We also used to get excellent results, and it’s possible that the two things are linked. There are nutritional and behavioural benefits to throwing grain on the floor (despite the presence of specialist “scratch feeds”  on the web, all you need to do is throw grain on the floor).

Anyway, back to the point – if you throw grain on the floor in a deep litter shed they will scratch the litter, which will stop it caking on top in damp weather, and will enhance the the composting effect.

I haven’t put a link to the term on the web because it turned up several pages of rubbish – there are even poultry keepers who feed “scratch” (as they call it) in feeders. Where is the “scratch” in that?

Putting grain in feeders to give the birds a choice of grain or layer ration is called choice feeding, but I think I may already have delivered more poultry-related content than most people want.

The only other thing of note for Friday was that the touch pad on my lap top has stopped working. I checked I hadn’t accidentally disabled it, and I hadn’t. Looks like I may have accidentally disabled it in another way, such as when I dropped it. Fortunately I have a wireless mouse as a back up.

End of week report

It’s been a mixed week, featuring activity and idleness in equal parts. Julia and the group provided the activity whilst I did my bit by providing a large helping of idleness. I’m tempted to refer to it as sloth, having been doing some reading about the seven deadly sins, but that just makes me smile at the thought of a sloth.

(As she reads this Julia will be rolling her eyes and repeating the favourite saying of wives all over the world. Yes, it’s true. Men never really grow up.)

Julia and the group have set seeds, planted bedding, moved sheep, assisted in lambing and done various other things. As I write this she is feeding poultry after a day of wrestling with EU forms and speaking to people about their forthcoming visits to the farm.

We also called at a Care Home yesterday and did a session on herbs. It generally went well, because the smell of herbs seems to perk people up, and we are now organising a day out on the farm for the residents. It will be interesting, as a number of them are from farming backgrounds and I’m sure we’ll get some stories out of them.

Me? I’ve typed a bit (though not enough to keep up with the blog routine) and written a grant application. After that I was left with the feeling that I’d been battered round the head with a book of management doublespeak and it has taken two days for my brain to return to normal.

Other than that I have wasted time, procrastinated and searched Wikipedia for a variety of subjects, including pre-war football and the Spanish Civil War. The first was sparked by the purchase of a biography of Herbert Chapman from a discount bookshop and I’m not sure why I started with the second. I think it was because I looked up the origins of detective fiction, which led to books set in Southwold (though I don’t recall how) and thence to George Orwell.

That’s the magic of the internet.

Note: We have just found out how the chickens escaped – the Community Payback team were asked if they could help move the chickens and misinterpreted this as “let them out”. Easy mistake to make if you live in a town and have never kept chickens I suppose.


Trials and Tribulations

Sorry for the lack of communication this week, it’s been one of those weeks. Whether I can accurately describe it as hectic, or whether I should just put it down to lack of application is one of those grey areas. There has certainly been plenty happening, but I have also spent a lot of my spare time in displacement activities.

I was going to rectify this as soon as we arrived on the farm this morning but the flock of chickens that came to look at us as we unlocked the centre indicated that all was not well.

They are supposed to be on the field by the vegetable plot. I sometimes wonder if we are a little tactless in putting them so close to the carrots and potatoes that will accompany them to whatever afterlife a chicken may have, but what they don’t know won’t worry them. The same goes for feeding apple pulp to the pigs after we have been juicing.

We’re not sure what had happened but it looks like someone has opened the doors and just let them out. One of them has a badly fitting bolt that needs leaning on to make it shut, and if it needs me to lean on it then you can be sure that no flapping chicken or gust of wind has accidentally opened it. Even if that had happened, what is the chance of the second coop opening too?

It’s either kids, the provisional wing of the Chicken Liberation Front or an egg collector with no common sense.

I hope they don’t do it again as we’re still in mourning over Nelson the white(ish) cockerel.  About a week ago I mentioned how the farmyard flock seemed to lead a charmed life regarding predators. Two days later we arrived to find a cloud of pale feathers and a distinct lack of cockerel. Looks like a fox caught him out. The main picture shows him from his good side – he was blind in the other eye, hence the name, and possibly why he didn’t see the fox in time.

Anyway, after some gentle persuasion most of them pottered back into the coops and the rest were safely locked away after some scrambling that looked like the training scene from Rocky.


It’s still not feeling very springlike. Though it’s ten degrees Centigrade outside, it’s overcast and there’s a gusting breeze from the north which makes it feel quite chilly.

This doesn’t seem to be a problem for the poultry in the yard, who are foraging actively as I type.


They don’t seem to have a bad life. They have food, water and plenty of room to roam. We don’t lose any to predators, so they must have found a safe place to roost, and they have plenty of shelter from the weather. With glossy plumage and chicks being hatched every year they seem to be in great condition.

On the downside, we rarely find their eggs, but they look so decorative we forgive them for that. We do, after all, have other poultry in runs to produce eggs.

I have to say that after my experience of poultry suggests that they don’t have an active intellectual life, but then again, with a brain the size of my fingernail, they are probably too dim to realise that. Even if they did want to read they are going to have problems without having hands.

Radio, on the other hand, is a different matter. I have known people play the radio to chickens. I’ve been told several times that poultry find it soothing. I have also seen it used where poultry sheds were near RAF bases – the theory being that they will get used to the noise and not panic when jets fly over.

One man told me that his poultry preferred classical music, but everyone else used popular music programmes (I’m tempted to mention the Light Programme but that might show my age). It’s difficult to decide what a chicken likes, as I suspect that the choice of programme was dictated by the musical tastes of the egg collectors rather than the poultry.

One day, if I am reincarnated as a scientist, I may research that question by playing Radio 1, Radio 4 and Classic FM to groups of poultry. It could be a tricky ethical area, as I’m not sure that being compelled to listen to radio 1 all day falls within the welfare codes.



Footnote: My experience of working with poultry on deep litter near RAF Wittering in the Harrier days (and they were noisy!) was that they all fluttered and fussed the first time it happened and then just used to go quiet and cluck a bit on subsequent occasions. 




I spoke too soon, and am served more lemons…

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16:18

Oh yes, it does!

Not only was I wrong in thinking I was done with paperwork for a while (or “paperwork”, I suppose, seeing it is actually on a flash drive) but the task I was given has a distinct tang of citrus about it.

New job – sort out the database. I use the term loosely. It’s nearly 500 addresses. Four hundred are in alphabetical order by forename and the other 100 have merely been written in as we obtained them. I used it last week and found that we had 48 emails returned as undeliverable.

I have removed some, corrected others and after wasting several hours I now have a list of addresses that are probably accurate. They are, however, still sorted in a most peculiar way…

On a more interesting note we have done bark rubbings, picked apples, seen the new Polish bantams (hatched from our own hatching eggs by a local school in July) and carried on the preparations for the Education Tent at Flintham Ploughing Match (though we’re monitoring rainfall in case it gets rained off).

We also have a mystery on our hands, having had three birds delivered on Saturday and only having two in the run by Monday. We’re either looking for fox with opposable thumbs, a bantam with a shovel or a Chicken Rustler. Chicken Rustling is uncommon round here, but as the other two are close to impossible I’m having to follow Conan Doyle ( “Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth.”) and put up a Wanted poster.


Julia with camera-shy Polish bantam

Quecus Community and the blustery day

It was raining at 5am, which wasn’t a good sign, and by the time I hauled myself out of bed and headed to the supermarket (sixish) we had a good sized selection of sleet.

With 32  ten-year-olds coming to the farm for a day of springtime activities this wasn’t a good omen.

That’s the penalty of double-booking yourself. With the geriatric yoga being in the centre every Thursday we try not to do much that day, but we’d accepted this one on the basis that it was spring and it was bound to be nice weather. We should have known better…

They don’t, incidentally, call it “geriatric yoga”, they call it “seated yoga”. However, it’s done by geriatrics, so I rest my case.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, the kids planted flowers around the bases of the statues, the Newark Advertiser came to take pictures and we had a thoroughly good time,


Two pupils decided to reveal they had food allergies five minutes before the start of the session, which was a bit of a downer but apart from that it all went quite well.

I’d bought eggs so we could be a bit adventurous and stick eggs on top of the pizzas but as one of the allergies was eggs I decided to give them a miss with the first group. When the second group was offered eggs only one accepted. I worry about modern children.

I know we talk of Nature Deficit Disorder but are we also breeding them to have no sense of adventure?