Monday, 27 February 2012

Timing is Everything

Parsnips. Some for lunch - roasted - and some for soup - curried

I spent my Sunday morning digging up the last of our overwintered (read forgotten about) parsnips, treating one case of foot rot (sheep) and one case of seedy toe (horse), and helping Mike catch up pheasant hens for transport to a game farmer near London. Yesterday, I felt very envious of people who spend a civilised Sunday morning reading the paper over a kitchen table spread with coffee and croissants.

I'm holding Matilda, who's growing like a weed and keeping up with the other lambs now

We had a spring weather Sunday, which made the work easier, and a team of six to spread the work load. We had about 400 hens to catch, crate, and load on a trailer for their trip to London -

Talking through the Game Plan

To make our task easier, we built smaller 'catching' pens inside that large holding pen. A panel leaned against a corner to make a small A-frame works fine. Then we quietly walked the birds into it. Jasper the catcher demonstrates:

Yes, that's pretty quietly walked in, for a pheasant

Jasper hands the birds out to me, 5 at a time, to put in a crate. Each crate holds 15 hens. And they don't go in without a fight. Just look at Jasper's arms -

The wounds get so bad that the landlady at Jasper's local pub asked him discreetly if he was self-harming. No, it's purely bird-related trauma he assured her.

Once all the hens were crated, we loaded the crates onto a flatbed and put a tarp over the lot -

That's our Land Rover doing the towing. Their own Land Rover suffered a broken drive shaft just 200 yards short of the catching pen. We lent them ours, to get people and birds home safely.

Did I mention that we have to repeat the whole process over again next Sunday? With a repaired drive shaft, of course.

After a break for coffee and home-made cinnamon rolls (a very small thanks to the volunteer helpers), I intended to send our remaining two Buff Orpington cockerels to Ice Camp (a favourite euphemism for the freezer, borrowed from Kate at Living the Frugal Life blog). We were just divvying up the dregs from the coffee pot, minutes away from the Cone of Silence (this term courtesy of Tamar at Starving Off the Land blog). Then the dogs started howling and chickens were sounding the alarm. A neighbour's newly adopted greyhound got loose and was after Patches, our main Buff Orpington cockerel -


Although it looks bad, I'm glad to report that Patches escaped with his life. But not with his tail -

Poor Patches! (And his newly patchy bottom)

Our neighbours are great guys and responsible dog owners. It was a genuine accident. Patches made it through the night, so it looks good for his continued role as Top Cockerel of the flock. But, just in case, we've had to keep his two replacements. They got a stay of execution, at least until spring. Five minutes later, and we might have had a chick-less summer. Time is indeed everything.


Teresa said...

My you are a hard working bunch of people. I've been reading your blog for over a year and have been amazed at all you do. I love your blog.

Janice Bendixen said...

Poor Jasper. How sweet of his landlady though, to be so discreet. And I will happily steal your borrowed Ice Camp term as we live out of our freezers, but ours are filled with moose meat, salmon and caribou sausage. Greetings from Alaska!

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

mmmm..parsnips are so much better spring dug. We catch our poultry in the dark which is less stressfull- but it looks like you have a great game plan. Ice camp! I will definitely have to use that one- have heard of the cone of silence before... Glad ol' Patches made it through the attack- although he probably feels pretty
emasculated without his plumage. I could use some of those fancy crates...they are hard to come by around here. Pheasants are the flightiest of poultry aren't they?


Jennifer Montero said...

Teresa - Thanks for the comment and kind words. I assure you, when we do rest, we make up for it!

Janice - I'd happily live out of your freezer too! Moose meat and caribou sausages?! If there was an ENVY button on this blog, I would be clicking it. Welcome from AK (I'm counting down the days til the Iditarod...)

HKS - Those crates are very useful, and de rigeur in pheasant circles. Mike crossbreeds a particular strain of pheasant and they're extra jumpy. Am thinking of wearing eye protection when I catch up, after looking at Jasper's (and my own) arms. Our chickens we catch and move in the dark - you're right, it's so much less stressful for them.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Whatever you do, don't tell Patches how undignified he looks without his tail.

And does Jasper forgo gloves because catching pheasants bare-handed is the only manly-man way to do it?

Jasper. Dude. Gloves!

Jennifer Montero said...

Tamar - I know, if Patches was a cartoon, it looks like someone started erasing him and forgot to draw him a new tail.

I suggested gloves too, but all the men grumbled under their breath and shook their heads. I think you've hit on the REAL reason: the bragging rights when baring their scars to other guys.

Yvette said...

Oh, poor Patches. On behalf of greyhound owners everywhere, I apologize. A few years ago, one of my greys was snoozing in the back yard and, while I watched from the kitchen, he woke up, jumped 5 feet in the air, and caught a fully grown Moluccan cockatoo who was passing by. He ripped out all of her tail feathers with one bite. He seemed to be simply trying to catch her, rather than murder her, but I'm not sure which of us screamed the loudest...the bird or I. I had to hoist a large dog crate into one of my trees and rehabilitate the poor cockatoo for a few months until she was well enough to fly away, finally.

I plan to have chickens one day. I anticipate quite a bit of "these chickens are members of our pack" training in my future. Self-control is much harder when they're both new and escaped! Glad you caught him in time!

Jennifer Montero said...

Yvette - No need to apologise, I don't blame the dog. Lucy the greyhound was a re-home from Ireland where it coursed (hunted) for a living. The owners are working hard to reform its character. It's lovely-natured otherwise.

Greyhounds appear to have a thing for tails then! Your commitment to rehabilitate the cockatoo is admirable; you'll be a great chicken owner (easier - less hoisting of crates in trees with chickens ;-)

Kate said...

Great stories and great pictures. I love the shadowy evidence of the raised pinky whilst snapping pictures. You've been drinking tea in England long enough, and poshly, evidently.

BTW, we put sent sausage made from old laying hens to ice camp recently. I mention it here because it seems unlikely that I'm going to get my blogging mojo in gear anytime soon. Who knows whether it'll ever become a post of its own, but boy, were they tasty!

megan said...

and this is a timely post! I could use your chicken skills and advice: my three not-at-all tame birds are being re-homed this week. This winter has been so warm that rats have tunneled in to my coop, under the foot-under-ground fencing. The girls have stopped laying, so I really just needed a good reason to get rid of them, and I can't slaughter here in town. If I try to go in through the coop to get them, they will fly out over my head as they have done in the past. So - I'm imagining trapping the birds under a big sheet in the run, then somehow stuffing them into a transport cage. Does that sound, um, as logical as bird wrangling in a small space can be?
And, if you have suggestions for rat poisons, I will take them. The suggestions, I mean.

megan said...

and I should mention - if I try to do it at night to lessen the stress, it means going in to the small coop and I'm concerned they'll still freak out and fly off over my head. Right? Ugh. I'm not a fan of chickens, actually. At least not this particular jumpy breed.

Janice Bendixen said...

Jen, I can make your Alaska envy worse: I grew up in Nome. And do you know what we'd always do during the end of the Iditarod? Why, go to Hawaii of course! There's not much sense in living on the edge of nowhere, only to be left with no parking spaces at the grocery store for two weeks straight. But I'm rooting for our Inupiaq Hero John Baker! Just glad I can do it from the comfort and quiet of my homestead.

While eating food that I've also harvested myself. Except I don't have to touch any of it until it's expired and still. Ain't no marks on me! I wish you weren't so afar. We Natives love to share. Or trade. I've never eaten mutton. Curious...

Jennifer Montero said...

Kate I may have bird poop in my hair, but I have class in my little pinky. You're an eagle-eyed observer! Those chicken sausages do sound delicious.

Jennifer Montero said...

Any which way you can get them caught is good enough, Megan. If you put them in dark afterwards if helps lessen their stress.

I have done just what you described: tried to catch them at night and spooked them, with some escaping and being impossible to re-catch in the open, in the dark. We don't keep the highly-strung breeds anymore either. Sadly they're always the prettiest.

DOn't give up on chickens just yet; try a brown hybrid layer, or a Sussex or Orpington.

Jennifer Montero said...

Janice - That has officially made my envy worse. I am up for a hoggett trade (between lamb and mutton) anytime. Have looked at the Iditarod line-up but have no home team to root for. I love seeing the kids of past legends are now entering on their own. I might have to cheer on a Redington...