Monday, 27 May 2013

Piggy progress

 Very excited as Sage appears to be in season!
Whilst Smokey (our bore) was very interested in her, I am not pinning any hopes of piglets from this cycle (yet anyway). But after our lack of success with Streaky (our original Berkshire gilt), and the difficult decision that resulted in us purchasing Sage, this is exciting news.

Pregnant looking 'Christmas ham'
On the subject of piglets, it is becoming quite obvious now that 'Christmas Ham' is in- pig. She is showing far earlier than last time, unless I have completely missed another encounter? But we believe she should be half way...

Girls new boxes

Well our 'young reds' (pair of Old English game cross Indian Game hens) and 'Lucky-Lu' (AKA Lucy) our surviving Sussex from the Christmas hatch were promoted to the big girl run over the weekend. And the two pure Indian Game pullets progressed to the adult Indian Game flock. We had hoped to make some more room in the 'chick run' as it was becoming rather crowded; only we still have a number of roosters and the young poult in there. Some of the roosters and one of the Indian game girls are 14 week old now, the rest only 12 weeks. But they're fully feathered and some of the roosters have even began to crow! But the girls still look so small to be in the big run! The girls would eventually live out with their prospective flocks anyway, where as the boys will fight without existing roosters so need to be kept separate.

Lucy & 'young red's' with RIR & goose

We had tried moving Lucy out before, but she was young and chickens can be mean. .. So she was allowed to remain in the chick run til the others were older; as I figured safety in numbers.
As we were introducing additional members to the flocks (even though it has been slowly depleting) we wanted to expand the number of nesting boxes. Chickens prefer a warm, dark and enclosed area to nest. And as we are hoping to relocate the small hut (a converted dog kennel), to the front  we wanted to provide a snug and attractive environment in the large fowl shed and the low shelter and small fowl house out the front. 
2 young IG pullets with adult IG's (& Lucy- who shouldn't be there!)
The intention is that the new girls will adopt the new nesting boxes and when their settled, we should be able to take the other hutch away. Then the older girls can adapt, rather than the new ones being bullied out.

So as I posted a few weeks back we picked up a couple of cheap, second hand bookcases. Ideal, as they were already partitioned, so all we needed to do was upgrade the existing boxes to support the new ones. And attach a piece of timber to the front to create the nest.
So our laying flock now have 12 nesting areas. These girls do share with the ducks, geese and turkeys, although only the ducks will use the nesting area if any. As the turkeys roost either on the 8 foot fencing or on the fowl house, the geese and ducks sleep outside, occasionally sheltering in the shed, but not in the nesting area. The ducks have laid in under the original boxes in the past, but they will just lay wherever they feel safe. So by adding another 4 on top, at least the ducks can claim the floor levels if they want and our girls will still have plenty of room.
All 5 girls have continued to make their way back to the 'chick run' each night to roost. This is normal, chickens are creatures of habit. So at or just after dusk each evening, I collect the young pullets and put them to bed.

Lucy and the two young reds in the big fowl house and the 2 Indian Games in their run. I had placed them in under the low shed, but found them last night in the bottom nest in the small fowl house. I guess the main thing is, that they are safe and warm; as temperatures have been dropping below 10 degrees over night. And the night before I found them beside the shed in the long grass, although they were very warm to touch when I picked them up.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Egg-citing news

This morning I was shocked to find 3 eggs!

Could this be a coincidence?
Our older bird lay only in the converted dog kennel; these were under the nesting boxes in the large chook house.
More concerning was that they were large and perfectly formed... you chooks usually throw a few smaller or misshapen eggs to begin with.

So could our visitor, that I ousted on Friday have been with us longer than we'd thought? I'd convinced myself it hadn't as neither of us had found skins or anything.
But now I'm beginning to wonder....

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Rabbit stew

Last nights haul, was tonights dinner. Prepared over a warm fire, on a cool, clear winters night.<br>

But did get us talking about rabbit as a meat.

Now my Nan told me stories of skinning rabbits as a girl and tucking into stew, but its not something I grew up eati g. So when and why did it fall out of favour?

Here in Queensland their classed as a pest; a species that was introduced, eats crops and can pass disease yo native wildlife. There's actually a massive fine if your caught with one alive.<br>
So why readily available, nutritious meat be so unacceptable today as it was in my Nan's generation?
2 - 3 rabbits (skinned and jointed)
1 large onion (diced)
1 med sweet potato (diced)
3 - 4 carrots (diced)
1/2 bunch of celery (diced)
1 oxo cube (chicken) dissolved in 2 - 3 cups water
1 bottle cider
tsp honey
Oil (olive, bran, sunflower)
2 cloves garlic (crushed)
Salt & pepper
Brown off onion and garlic in pan.
Brown off meat & place in cast iron pot
Add veg, cover with stock & cider, simmer on fire for about an hour, till all veg is soft and stock gas reduced. all

Thursday, 23 May 2013

First jar of Rosella jam

My first ever batch of Rosella jam. Well I think batch would be an exaggeration, as I had enough for exactly 1 jar... Well that enough for us, well at least to start with.
I picked the fruit from our flourishing rosella bush. Most people are surprised to find out I bought this last year from BigW. Having never tried rosella before, I only bought the one... now I wish I had bought a few.
But this was its first flower, and following fruit. Now I had read that you should pick the fruit about 3 weeks after it has flowered. To be honest, this was difficult to judge, as the bud and the fruit look very similar. But I was forced to pick them on the weekend, as the chickens had already decided that the lower fruits were ripe.
I quickly found out the best way to pick them, was to actually use a knife; as picking by hand seemed to damage the stems.
Now rosella are part of the hibiscus family, and are native to tropical environments. The fruit is the petal like area (or calyx) surrounding the green pod or seed. I began washing the fruit in cold water and then peeling away the fruit. I have since read that using a knife along the base and then forcing the seed out is also affective. Now I believe the seeds are edible, though they are supposed to be very bitter and not pleasant. Therefore I planted a few (in the hope of propagating some more shrubs) and discarded the rest (some to the pigs, others in the bin).
I later read that most people boil the seeds in water first, then strain the water to use to make their jam; as it extracts the pectin (natural setting agent in fruit) from the seeds. Oops!
I did however find one recipe believed there was enough pectin in the fruit and that the seed water was responsible for the bitter taste. So I took her advise and made our first jar. So I want to take this opportunity to thank this blogger/website- as I thought I may have wasted all of our first haul.
The recipe said equal weight of fruit to sugar and ½ a cup of water for every kilo of fruit.
I had 234 grams, so added 150ml of water and brought to boil in a stainless steel pan. Then reduced to a simmer and gradually stirred in the 234 grams of (brown) sugar- as that's all I had.  The liquid was already quite thick and gloopy looking. So simmer gently for a few more minutes, whilst I boiled the kettle to 'heat' my jar. So once I managed to set the lid back off, I poured the hot liquid straight in and sealed immediately.
Once cooled we had to try it! I had been told that most recipes combine rosella with other fruits (apples) or spices such as ginger, or that the fruit was quite 'tart' like raspberry or rhubarb. So we were quite apprehensive and not sure what to expect... It was gorgeous, very much like blackberry jam my Nan used to make!
So we're hoping to get a few more plants going, as I hoping this will become a regular staple in our household.

Apparently the fuit is also uses as a syrup and beverage, even a tea. And the leave are edible, used as a spicy spinach served with fish, steamed in a version of dahl or dried with prawns in a burmese soup... so many options!

Monday, 20 May 2013

"Why bother raising bantams?"

So, why bother to raise bantams?

If I am honest, I don't know the answer to this. We had always sworn we would not own or raise bantams, as they defeated the purpose. As a smallholder (hobby farm), our birds are ultimately raised to benefit the table- whether that is with eggs or meat, or best case scenario both. And realistically bantams are not really ideal for either; as their small stature would not make a substantial meal for one! And their eggs are significantly smaller too


Blue breasted Red OEG rooster

We don't 'show' our birds, well at least not seriously. And showing poultry is a serious and competitive business! We have dabbled, entering a few of our birds in the local show last year "for fun" and out of curiosity. But bantams are exceptionally popular with the poultry clubs and those who do show. They also make very popular pet, particularly those with younger children or less space- more suburban gardens.

So you're probably wondering why someone with a larger block, raising our poultry more as livestock than pets and with no (human) children- though to be fair our fur-babies (dogs) are not exactly poultry friendly!
Why we would collect bantams?

Again I don't know! Although our most recent acquisition, was really my fault, as I failed to query whether they were standard or bantam chickens before I sent Matt to collect them. I had intended for the hens to supplement our laying flock and we would see how the rooster settled; if he didn't he could serve another purpose... So not exactly to plan!

Many bantam owners I know love their smaller counterparts. And for some reason I am quite taken with our new additions... Guess we will see how our new trio settle in.

I think the hens look more like doves than chooks?
Silver Duckwing rooster & Red Pyle hens- OEGB's
What do you think?

OEG cross or Indian Game?

If you have ever had OEG's (Old English Game's) then it would be obvious that is what they are.  We had a 'Blue breasted, Red Old English Game' rooster in the past. And still have 2 hens; the result of him over our laying flock. One of whom we put in with Ronnie, our original Indian Game rooster when she began laying; the young roosters and pullets from this were the last chicks we hatched. So we are familiar with the shape.
OEG x Indian Game pullet- few weeks old

We had wondered whether you would be able to tell the difference between the OEG-Indian game crosses and the pure Indian Games (as we hatched a fe
Indian Game pullet- few weeks old
w at the same time). So we marked the eggs, and the chicks as they hatched- as they looked surprisingly similar... not sure why this surprised us, given they are all 'game fowl'. But as they grew, the marking was not necessary. As all the OEG crosses had the distinct OEG shape; smaller, slender and now I've seen it in a white breed (pyle) and I guess the similarity in the size also helps, but they are very much, 'dove like'.

So now to work out how and where to keep them. I am hoping if I house them separately out the front, then they can free range. I guess it's just a case of seeing how the rooster behaves. As Old English Games, especially bantams were historically bred and raised for cock fighting. Something Indian Games were intended for, however their larger size and docile nature meant this was not successful. Space also helps with all poultry tensions, generally birds are (not surprisingly) a 'flight' animal. In that, in case of danger they look to escape, as opposed to fight. Though usually at our the danger is generally the dogs, and the birds per will run and flap, as opposed to the safer option of actual 'flight'! So am hoping the 'cock fighting' label would only be a problem if he is confined with another rooster. Else I maybe seeking an alternative arrangement of him.

Saturday, 18 May 2013

2nd hand cupboard to chook house

Well my new little bantams needed their own house. So this morning I scouted the recycle centre and found this little cupboard. So set about constructing a house and run.
I am hoping they will be able to roam with the others. But until I am happy they are healthy (always quarantine any new birds). And if the rooster does mix then they have their own run... They are only small after all.
I kept the doors for the back, so I can use them for access to food, water and their roosting box.
This was just a case of cutting off a small panel, from the side I removed and nailing it back. Then used an old wardrobe draw as their box - so should make cleaning easier.
Now it still needs a proper roof, but at least their out of the shed.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Turkeys, nesting boxes and possible patter of little hooves

Happy hens are the key to happy eggs... or any eggs! And as the weather has been unseasonably cold and wet- took this picture Tuesday morning, we don't usually get mist yet.                                 
Ours are definitely on stike. We have a few older (2-5years) and a few which should be POL (point of lay), but they are yet to lay. So greens, protien and plenty of scratching room have been on offer, as always... but nothing. So we are looking at upgrading their housing.
We managed to bag a bargain at the weekend- 3 bookshelves. Now you maybe wonder what that has to do with roosting, but they have everything to do with roosting. As these bookshelves, make ideal roosting boxes for our chicken coup renovations. Our birds, whilst also needing their fencing realigned, also need their coups upgrading. Especially as I intend to remove the small dog house conversion to the front garden. We need to make the large shed as cosy and appealing as possible. So will post something about their construction soon.

Saturday we finally said goodbye to some young turkeys we had been looking after for a friend. Generally I wouldn't have minded, and until recently the more the merrier. However as they are a breeding trio, this caused some issues as our younger tom (the surviving poult we hatched earlier this year) really need to be moved outside. As he was far too big to still be in the brooder box and as he had been on his own for quite some time, I was concerned about him being lonely.

However with the others settling into their new home, I was able to move him into the small run, with the young pullets and roosters... he's not loving the company! So far he spends most of the day hiding in the roosting box. And at night, in under the housing, as the chickens kick him out. I did see him eat this morning, so that was a relief. I have to wonder how long it is before he realises how much bigger his is, and will be than they are.

In pig news, Christmas Ham has definitely not come into season over the last 6 weeks... so we think (and hope) she is back in pig! So as pigs gestation is approx 114 days (3 months,

Hoping for another healthy litter of piglets

3 weeks, 3 days- if a month was 30 days) and we estimate that she would be 6-7 weeks in, we only have 10 weeks or so to find out.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Propagating basil from cuttings

I recently read that you cab propagate basil from cuttings; simply by cutting a stem, removing the lower leaves and placing them in water in a sunny window.
So as we have 2 young plants (our abundant older ones recently went over)  I felt this was a great opportunity.
So will keep you posted on whether this works.