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.
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.