Friday, 9 July 2010

Thumbs, lambs, AWOL quail, and chicken tales

Poor Peggy.

Peggy is our local butcher, and my sometimes butchery mentor. She raises all the sheep and pigs that she butchers and sells them from her small farm shop. Peggy was preparing half a pig for us and she fell foul of her cleaver. Well, the top of her thumb did anyway. She should be laid up but she's soldiering on in spite of the pain and doctor's orders. In her opinion, her customers' orders are more important.

I heard the story from her husband Steve when I arrived to pick up our pig. As I'm always looking for an excuse to avoid the pheasant pens in this heat, I offered to give Peggy a hand (!) as unskilled laborer in the butchery room. I was surprised, but glad, that Peggy called and accepted the help.

On Wednesday I spent 4 hours helping her process lamb carcases to fill orders, and we were just finishing each one as the customers came to collect them, one after the other. My work earned us huge beef joint for Sunday lunch, though I was happy to do it just to help. It certainly gave me more experience, and I know how much we appreciated help when Mike was first out of hospital.

It feels nice just to be nice sometimes.

We've had some unexpected house guests -

Unexpected but quite welcome.

It's a pair of swallows. I never even noticed them building a mud nest over the front door. (I know, my powers of observation are astounding.) We're only using the back door now, so we won't disturb them. She appears to be sitting on eggs. I hope we'll see three or four frowning fledglings peering over the top soon.

I noticed we were one quail short this morning when I fed their pen. I disturbed a small rat which darted out from a hole it had dug, probably to get to the quail's food. This hole was not only rat-sized but quail-sized too, at least for the smallest of the three birds. In the afternoon, I heard the lost quail calling and Pip helped me to find him. He had crossed the road and was hanging out with the sheep. He's back with his own kind now.

Barbara is still being a great mom -

She has five chicks now. The two that went to our neighbor's to placate their broody hen were rejected. Simon brought them back a couple of days later and I just stuffed them under Barbara. She didn't bat an eye. Silkies are the most dependable and adaptable broody I've ever known. I suspect if you crammed a newborn puppy under her ass, she'd give it a go.

'Stuffed' and 'crammed' are technical terms by the way.

I can see Barbara from my kitchen window and I watched her while I was baking a cake. She's been pulling the feathers out from her chest and between her legs. You can see the result in her run, which I only moved this morning. We're having a heat wave and I wondered if it was to regulate temperature for the chicks - i.e. less feathers equals less heat equals cooler chicks. Does anyone else know what this behavior is about? She certainly doesn't seem stressed.

As if we didn't already have enough chickens, I'm off to a poultry auction tomorrow morning, There is a pair of Barbu D'Uccles listed in the catalogue which I'd like to bring home.  I'm using the money I've earned selling eggs to bid on the breeding pair, which gives me a limit. And seems apropos. Eggs for chickens. The Barbu D'Uccle eggs in the incubator are infertile so it's auction or bust, at least for this year.


Poppy Cottage said...

Hey, we call it waxing or shaving the bikini line!! Give the lady some privacy!!

Good luck at the sale.


Paula said...

Good luck on your auction! I'm glad to hear that you got your missing quail back. I wonder if Barbara (I love that name for a hen, by the way- I'm thinking Barbara Eden because she's so pretty) is just trying to cool herself off?

Pretty cool to get some more experience at butchering. I would guess that doing the same thing over and over would make it get easier to do- that's how I learn, anyway.

How are you going to smoke that joint? I mean roast that joint? I saw one trussed up (well, it was a fourteen-pound roast for 22 people) and spit-roasted over a barbecue on TV the other day- it was done in two hours and was beeyootiful once it rested 30 minutes and the host sliced into it. Enjoy yours!

megan said...

one of my ancona chickens has pulled out her neck feathers since she was a pullet. I thought it was the other girls picking on her, but she does it to herself... so I named her Mod, short for body modification.

Panhandle Jane said...

We have swallows come back to nest in a rather unusual place every year. They are there this year again. They usually raise two broods before giving up the nest for the season. Link is to the picture.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

If we were closer.....I have puppies we could experiment with your Barbara. LOL A very entertaining read for Sunday morning coffee. Thanks a bunch!

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - I suppose it is swimsuit season.

No luck with the birds. The entry was changed to pekins on the day. Interesting auction though.

Paula - The butchering is indeed a muscle memory thing, and I get quicker and better the more I practice. We called off roasting the beef today as the weather has been so hot. Salads all round.

Megan - Mod is a great name! Chickens are such individuals that they deserve a name that suits. I've heard of parrots pulling their own feathers but not chickens. It would be interesting to know it is a heritable trait / behavior.

Jennifer Montero said...

Jane - I've never seen a nest in a windchime before! The chicks will be born with good sea legs. Thanks for the link. And the reminder that swallows keep the skeeter population down.

Karen - Congratulations on your new arrivals. I will be looking for adorable puppy pictures on your blog. Can't get enough frolicking gun dog puppy pictures!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

The further exploits of Barbara the Weather Chicken! She's always a favorite in our house.

Our chicken plan was to completely reflock -- consign the current hens to the stewpot and get a new supply of chicks -- because we've heard that it can be difficult to introduce new birds to an existing flock. But seeing Barbara's pictures makes me wonder if we couldn't get one of our Orpingtons to raise chicks. Do you think it would be easier to integrate them into the current flock of one of said flock had raised them? I love the idea of taking advantage of a broody hen.

kevin F. said...

I was so happy to have a few extra minutes today to catch up on the Jen and Mike show. It is a busy time of year for those on the water as well as in the fields.
I can't help but crack a big smile every time I read about or see a picture of Barbara the weather chicken. Thanks for having the additional energy to write about your adventures so that the rest of us toilers can sit, relax, and have the chance for a good read.
Kevin F.

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - I'm sure you could get your Orpingtons to raise chicks. It is definitely the lazy person's chick rearing option of choice.

When Queenie displays those hyper-broody behaviors, leave some dummy eggs there for her to sit on and a week or so later, pop some day old chicks under her.

You will need to keep her separate from the others, or at least blocked in, so she nor her chicks can get out. When they're grown they will be completely integrated.

It's not hard to introduce full grown hens, though there will be a day or two of establishing a new pecking order. Pick a new bird that is around the same size, and put the newbies in a wire cage for a few days so the old girls can see them and get used to them.

Then one night when everyone's gone to roost, put the newbies in the house with the old girls. When they wake up together in the morning, it seems to make any pecking order adjustments a bit easier. We have never had problems introducing new stock.

Chicks are fun and you can eat any roosters. If you introduce adult birds, at least you can buy the birds already sexed.

How exactly are you going to convince Kevin to eat Blondie?

Jennifer Montero said...

Kevin - Isn't there a saying about 'give a man a fish he east for a day, teach a man to fish and you won't see him for weeks'? Long days make for full freezers at least.

Glad you found time to tune into our show, which seems to turn into a comedy more often than not!