Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Wasn't it Just Spring Last Year?!

Spring is the season that catches me out every time. Weeds go from nonexistent to knee-high. I find myself wearing only one sweater and that my feet are now sweating because I forgot to swap my insulated socks for regular ones. (Wellies are still essential, of course.) Spring rains cause the grass to grow so much I swear I can hear it creaking. Little fruit buds are swelling on the trees in the orchard, and the idea of all that chutney-making potential makes me way more excited than any normal person should get about fruit.

Garden birds are bringing their fledglings to feed at our bird feeders (I keep the feeders stocked with mealworms). On the lakes, the mallard family has six well-grown ducklings, and a pair of Canada geese has a brood of tiny goslings that dart about too fast for me to count.

Turkey hen still has her one chick -

That would be the small brown dot above and right of the turkey.

I let the pair out of their sheep trailer home every morning, and turkey takes her brood-of-one for a walk around the garden. Turkey is happy to stay out in the open ground of the orchard, but the pheasant chick is cautious by nature and keeps to the shadows - patches of weeds, clumps of grass, or the hedgerow for protection. Turkey will sit down and let the chick warm up under her, and she's very talkative.

It's certainly been a more successful fostering than I expected. So is the chick a turkant? Maybe a pturkey, where the p is silent.

We had our biggest hatch yesterday, including pheasants, partridge, and some quail - the last as a favour to our underkeeper's mother. (She who sends the homemade farmhouse cakes, rules the world.) I made a little video: it's a box of partridge chicks boxed and ready to go into warm sheds, and we're helping the last few stragglers out of their shell -

It's school vacation so the little hands belong to a local lad who's been helping us pick up eggs every day. The "payment" for helping with the hatch is a cup of tea, biscuits and some homemade cake with the last of the rhubarb from our garden. All served on the tailgate of the truck, of course.

Yesterday's hatch filled the stone shed. The shed was once a lambing barn, but it's been converted for raising pheasants. Kitty's shelter is built into the side of the stone shed, so she watches the flurry of our activity between tearing mouthfuls of grass in her pasture -

Pheasants hold little interest for Kitty. If she can't eat it or scratch her butt on it, it's not worth her attention.

It's an oppressive heat inside the sheds if you're a person, and perfect if you're a growing chick. Mike is decanting the chicks from hatching room boxes into the little rings where the precocious chicks will start feeding and drinking almost immediately -

The pheasant chicks will stay in here for a few weeks, then be let out during the day in protected runs for sun and fresh air. They can't all have turkey moms to care for them!

The partridges go into freestanding sheds, delivered and knocked together at a mad pace by some very kind Polish builders at the same time we were hatching the chicks to go in! I supplied the builders with tea and cake from our tailgate cafe to keep their energy and morale up, and they got it done-


Without a lot of the infrastructure here necessary for pheasant production, we have had to adopt a "build it and fill it" approach. We're only just keeping ahead of ourselves, but we knew we were in for a tough first year.

It's been a quieter day today, just checking on chicks and performing our daily ritual of collecting eggs. The elderflowers in the hedgerow are just right for picking, and I managed to start a batch of elderflower cordial, now currently steeping on the stovetop-

And I dug out a secret stash of sloes from my freezer to make sloe gin. It needs to be started now, in order to mature by autumn. It's a traditional eleven a.m. shoot or hunt day tipple. Gin, sloes, and sugar go together in a pot (in this case, an old jam tub) which needs to be shaken once a day for the next month to dissolve the sugar. I leave in the cupboard where the teabags are kept. With the amount of tea I brew, I'm sure to see it there and remember to give it a daily shake-

What spring jobs have snuck up on you?


Hazel said...

All of them! I always get caught out by spring too. It might be the end of May, but I feel about ready for April now...
It's been too wet this week to pick elderflowers, and only the first few are out- I'm hoping to be able to be able to pick some at the weekend if it ever stops raining. We have to have elderflower fritters too.

I'd really like some quail. Youngest daughter is very partial to the eggs, which I occasionally buy as a treat when they're reduced in the farm shop. My neighbours had nothing better to do than complain about my chickens for a while, but they now both have jobs and have finally stopped putting a glass to the fence to listen to every cluck, so I have a plan!

And a question- do the gas tanks by the sheds run the heat and the lights? Some sheds just like yours, with red gas tanks lined up outside each one, have just appeared in a field near us. The children were asking what and why; I'd guessed at poultry, but actually pheasants makes perfect sense for round here.

Seester said...

I really have to spring-clean my DVR. Wish you were here to help!

Jennifer G said...

Though I don't think I've ever commented, I love your blog and have been following it for at least a year. I love your ironic sense of humor. Too funny!
We are on the edge of a suburb near the San Francisco area. So we don't have a farm, just an unusually large parcel (2 acres) backing up to open space, in a subdivision. So we get away with a large garden area and too many chickens, but no other animals (bummer).
Because this property was new to us last fall, everything is happening too late this spring. So it's a busy summer of fence maintenance and other plannings. Our fruit and other trees should've been pruned/removed last winter during their dormancy. So now the pruning will wait and the chainsaw is in the shop. Oh well!

Christine T. said...

Do you have to worry about ticks and Lyme disease? My spring chore has been finding a tick deterrent for the dog that works. So far, an essential oil blend seems to be our best bet. I imagine the pheasants/chickens/turkey eat the ticks in and around your yard?

Jennifer Montero said...

Jen G - Glad to hear from you! And my dearest sister is in SF, and she would be very envious of your 2 acres. (I'm envious of your weather too). Pruning gets away from us all, so you're not alone.

Jennifer Montero said...

Christine - We have both. The deerstalker at our last place contracted Lyme disease some years ago and it still affects him badly now. I'm careful when I gralloch (clean and gut) deer and always wear gloves. We'd be very interested in your essential oil anti-tick recipe, if you wish to share. The chemical treatment for dogs is expensive, and only kill ticks once they're feeding on the dogs.

Jennifer Montero said...

Hazel - Quail are quieter than chickens, and more relaxing than complaining neighbours! The gas bottles by the sheds run heaters only. In the stone barn there's electric lights; there's nothing in the wooden sheds (torches/flashlights only!). I would guess if the gas bottles just appeared near you that it's game birds - we're all on the same chick rearing schedule.

Jennifer Montero said...

Me too. I bought the first season of Breaking Bad when I moved, and it's taken me 3 months to watch the pilot and one episode.

Christine T. said...

Hi Jennifer -- I use this essential oil blend from Cardigan Mountain Soaps:

Don't bother with the spray bottle. I poured it into a dropper bottle and I put a few drops between the Lily's shoulders and above her tail every morning. One thing I learned this weekend is that it washes off in water -- probably because it's diluted in water. The good news is that there's hope! According to the internet, you can use straight Rose Geranium oil to the same effect, and it won't wash off like mine. I'll keep using this until we run out, and then I'll switch to Rose Geranium oil.

I never thought this would work, but we pulled at least 4 ticks off the dog every day for a month. The day after we pulled 9 ticks off her, I started using the essential oils, and we've dropped down 3 ticks total in two weeks (two of them were this weekend on the day she went for a swim).

Lily has already been infected with Lyme Disease once, so we're trying to be careful. It's ridiculous that chemicals like Frontline only work 24 hours after the tick bites, and ticks can transmit Lyme Disease after 18 hours attached. Kind of seems like these companies are missing the point. Anyway, I'm glad to hear that you're careful too -- I was wondering if you could get Lyme Disease from animals you hunt. I guess that answers that question.

Jennifer Montero said...

Christine - Thank you for the info. I hope you don't mind me publishing your comment but I suspect other dog owners would like an alternative to Frontline as well! I will get some rose geranium oil and try that. With dogs and Lyme disease, is it a recurring condition? Did the vets use any meds to treat Lily?

Christine T. said...

I don't mind that you published my comment. It's good info. We should be shouting about Rose Geranium oil because ticks are just plain gross.

Lyme disease is a recurring condition depending on which vet you ask. Most think it's not, but there are some who think it is. As for us, we can never be 100% sure that Lily wasn't bitten by a Lyme tick for a second time because she's outdoors every day and some of the ticks are really small, so there's a good chance we miss them when we do tick searches. When we found out she had it, the vet treated her with a course of antibiotics and measured her Lyme antibodies 5 months after treatment to confirm that they were low/nonexistent.

Our strategy is to run blood tests for tick-borne diseases yearly and whenever she seems run down. They have kits now where you can test ticks for Lyme disease at home, but I don't think it's worthwhile for someone whose dog is outside all day and prone to tick bites.