Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Dia de los Muertos

Yesterday I put the rest of the meat chickens in the freezer. In a fit of self-reliance, I thought I would despatch them by myself. Turns out if you're doing this in your garden instead of in a well-equipped abbattoir, it's nearly impossible to do with less than 3 people. I couldn't stun, bleed, and hang a bird quick enough to be sure it was as humane as possible. I managed one by resorting to a hand axe but the flapping covered me, the shed, and the side of the truck in blood - just in time for a group of hikers to stroll by. We each pretended we didn't see the other. How do you make polite conversation in that situation? - "Lovely day strange lady with bloodied axe, please don't kill us". Mike and Ron came to help and we finished them (the chickens, not the hikers) in under two hours. I need to set a few rat traps and re-seed the grass where the chickens were scratching. Then I can just sit back and enjoy many months of fresh home-reared chickens.

There are still 3 or 4 meat chickens running free in the garden; the ones I had accidentally fostered under hens. They were leaner than their coddled counterparts and can go on until the freezer is looking empty again. There would have been one more but Pete's terrier jumped out of the truck and nailed it. I had the game dealer pluck it and prepare it for Pete. I presented him with the chicken the next shoot morning, with a rememberance poppy stuck to it. Pete said he'll share the chicken with the terrier, and he's taking a lot of good-natured ribbing from the rest of the team about it.

Just to round out my day of death, I had an appointment to meet Peggy, a qualified butcher who lives and works from her farm in the neighboring village. She very graciously offered to help me develop my butchery skills which currently can only be described as well-meant hacking. She talked me through a lamb and a pig, and showed me her own processing set up. She raises prize-winning Saddleback and Gloucester Old Spot pigs, and Suffolk sheep which she butchers and sells straight from the farm.

I don't know if this is me being a "rural geek" but I am obsessed with fencing and farmyard layouts that are particularly efficient. Peggy's was both, and cleaner than my house. Even her pig pens were clean, I mean REALLY clean. I left feeling envious. She's invited me to back this week to observe her processing a barren ewe, and next week to process a pig. I'm not expecting to become a proficient butcher in a few lessons - it took Peggy 4 years' schooling to qualify - but I hope to pick up some tips in order to butcher my own deer, wild pig, and lamb carcases better in future.

There's a bit of chicken illness going around too. Nothing specific, but both Paula and one of the Barbu d'Uccle chicks are unwell. Paula may simply be getting old. She didn't make it to roost last night and Mike found her sitting on the front step this morning. We were lucky Mr Fox wasn't by in the night. I put her in a biscuit box by the woodburner to warm up and used a dropper to give her water and egg yolk every few hours, just to rehydrate her. If she picks up, I might try a small dose of meds. Peggy swears by homeopathy for her pigs as a preventative. I might try it on Paula.

The wild birds are hitting the peanut feeders hard, which is usually a sign that a cold snap is coming. Some of the chickens are using the greenhouse like day center, to keep out of the wet weather. It offers amenities like dustbaths, heat, shelter, and a variety of places for perching.

It's a regular poultry playground. A kaffeecluck. A Chik-Inn. Cluckingham Palace.

OK I'm done now.

At least one hen is oblivious to the change of seasons. A little bantam has been incubating a clutch of two tiny eggs for at least a week now. Maybe they will hatch. Barbara the silkie hen has been incubating one of the china 'dummy' eggs for a month. That will never hatch, but it seems to fulfil her needs at the moment so I leave her in peace.

It's a shoot day tomorrow and a big bag is expected, and so is a day of heavy rain. There will be wet dogs and wet clothes and cold keepers to sort out. The horses got a rudimentary bath today. Both managed to get their cooler sheets off and roll before I had a chance to put their blankets on them. If I can keep them marginally less filthy than normal and keep them rugged so their heavy coats don't grow, then I can start riding regularly. What would Peggy think if she saw the state of our animals! I am definitely losing the battle.


Poppy Cottage said...

No your not. You have happy dogs, hens and horses. A full freezer and pantry. Spun wool, half knitted jumper.

No lost battle there!!!

I think next year I am going to shear Lily!!

Sara said...

You're doing great! Anyone would be humbled in the shadow of someone with so much more experience. It's awesome that she's sharing her expertise. Everything is relative. If I were there "helping" you, I'd be awestruck by your knowledge. I wouldn't even know where to start if I were let loose in "Cluckingham Palace" (**shaking head at your pun**).

Kerry said...

It looks like your biscuit tin chicken is deflating from the head down. Or does that breed have no neck?

Paula said...

It is somewhat distressing to know that there is a chicken out there (and an apparently sick one at that) with your name on it.....

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - Is there a Lily jumper in your future? Spins up well with Jacob wool..

Sara - remember everytime I make a joke: this pun's for you...

Kerry - the 'no neck' position is one of the sure signs that a chicken is unwell. Combined with the tail in the 'down' position and there are problems. Pobre pollo :-(

Paula - I'm never sure how our chickens get their names. Any resemblance is in homage only. I'm not sure how to tell you this but your namesake didn't make it. She leaves two daughters (as yet unnamed) and one adopted son - Sam Fujiyama (my sister named him). Cockerels all have last names. I don't know why. It's all part of the chicken madness.

jessie said...

You are a better woman than I am; although we have a freezer full of pork and chicken, I had no hand it getting either there. I don't believe I'll ever slaughter a pig; maybe a chicken.

We have a broody bantam as well (temps in the 20s F at night these days) who I will not be giving any fertile eggs to at this time of year. A previous bantam, Genevieve, died of exposure. She insisted on brooding up in the soffit of the turkey house where we couldn't reach her. All her eggs rolled to the low part of the eave, uninsulated, and eventually she froze to death. Those bantams are stubborn!

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi Jessie -
I couldn't slaughter a pig either. Besides being beyond my expertise, it's illegal in the UK to slaughter your own livestock (technically that includes chickens but at least 1 helper is a licensed slaughterman). With pigs and lambs I'll let the abbattoir do the slaughtering, I have the whole carcase back to do the butchery myself. It saves a lot of money per carcase.

I'm sorry to hear about your little hen. We don't get the really low temps here but I will definitely keep an eye on her as the weather is starting to change. I guess that's why bantams make such good mothers - they're tenacious even at the expense of their own well-being.

Pomona said...

We have had hens that look sick all winter, and I have been pessimistic about them, but then they suddenly pick up again in spring. Poultry spice is a good pick me up, too. When dispatching, the Head Chef swears that the secret is to do it well away from the others so they can't see or hear, and just take them out one at a time. Or you can wait until dark when they are a bit sleepy and do it one at a time then - but not so nice at this time of year for you, of course!

Pomona x