Starting from scratch…

Its been almost a month since the chickens (Now named Sybil, Martha, Agnes and Delores, thanks to Twitter poll) arrived on the farm. I thought it’d be a good idea to  share some of the reasons why we got them, and (as a complete ‘chicken keeping novice’)  share some of my tips if you are thinking of getting any. Sure, I’ve learned about chicken husbandry, and know how to care for more complicated bird injuries, but I’ve never kept them before.


Before getting your birds, its a good idea to ask yourself why you want to keep hens ? Do you want a regular supply of eggs? Or will they just be companions?

Personally, my reasons for wanting some hens were as follows;

  • 1. We live on a farm, we should have chickens, right? In fact, we should have a few of each farm species, a sort of Noah’s ark for farm animals. Except pigs. I’m not so keen on piggies! P.S Do Not Tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill that this was my reason. This is just between us, right?

2. With my somewhat rose tinted ‘ This- will -make – childhood great ‘ spectacles on I had a hazy vision of the mini farmers helping to take care of the chickens, learning all sorts of life lessons and skills in the process

3.We didn’t need ‘fancy chickens’. Plain hybrids would do fine. No need for a trip to a poultry breeder for us. I wanted to do some good.  Rehoming ex commercial chickens would definitely fulfil this. We were warned that they may not give a reliable egg supply, but so far they have been fairly consistent!

4. I needed assistance in my valiant organic, pesticide free war on the blasted slugs – they ate my Lupins, now it’s serious.

I felt I had time and resources to give these birds a chance to lead lives in a free range environment. If you are wondering if you have enough time too, you’ll be pleased to hear they don’t take up much, especially if you plan on letting them free range. You still need to be prepared to collect eggs, check your birds daily , clean out the nest boxes and feed and water them. In theory you also have to get up early  let them out first thing , and make sure the pop hole is shut at night. But technology is a wonderful thing and an automatic doorkeeper can do that bit for you.  All in all it takes about 20 minutes for me to do the routine tasks daily. Much more worthwhile than watching reruns of Teen Mom OG.

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The other great thing about chicken keeping is you don’t necessarily need acres of garden. Just remember that chickens will potentially turn a manicured lawn into a series of dustbaths and scratch bowls . They’ll also snack on bedding plants, so if your garden is very sacred, using a moveable run or large enclosure may be wise.


We have sited our coop on concrete, which ironically is the shell of the old chicken house. This is a great spot as it means the house is out of direct sunlight and sheltered against rain and wind. The concrete will make it easier to clean up after the birds too. Initially I kept them in the coop and small run for 2 days, before letting them into a bigger pen made of fencing pallets. Now they have the whole shed base to explore, including the log pile which acts as great enrichment for them.


Once you’ve done your research and have decided on breed and how many  you can house, its time to get shopping! I definitely recommend getting your chicken supplies before you get your birds . Being a lover of lists, I found it useful to make a checklist of things that we needed for the first few days. This included

  • Coop – When it comes to choosing a house, the amount of info online can be quite overwhelming. There are even instructions on how to build one from scratch , but unless you are very keen on DIY, I’d stick to ready made! Factors I considered when deciding on what to buy included – ease of access for cleaning, run space and security.
  • Food containers and drinkers – something that is easy to clean, durable and safe.
  • Container for grit – this can be shop bought or homemade.
  • Bedding for nest box
  • Feed bin- save your pennies and get a dustbin with a lockable lid!
  • Diatomaceous earth – handy stuff – for red mite control, also useful for lice.
  • Basic health kit – this includes wormer (I use Flubenvet) , nail clippers, corn starch for stemming bleeds, dressings and tape and lubricant (in case of vent prolapse).

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Feeding chickens is easy. Once upon a time, chickens got tit bits left from the family table. Nowadays, kitchen scraps are a definite no-no. DEFRA, aka ‘they who must be obeyed’, make the rules relating to keeping poultry. They have placed a “complete ban on using kitchen waste from non-vegan households and from catering waste containing products of animal origin”. This goes for all farm animal species, even those kept as ‘pets’ . To be honest, there is absolutely no need to feed anything other than a commercial chicken food. These diets contain the correct levels of protein, minerals and calcium to keep your birds  in good condition. At the minute, our girls are getting a choice of both layers pellets and mash .This is because Sybil and Agnes have wonky beaks, possibly due to being de-beaked. Sybil especially seemed to be struggling to eat pellets and was quite thin when she arrived. She much prefers mash! I let the birds choose when and how much they want to eat, allowing them free access to it. Clean, cool drinking water is also essential. An average sized chicken in lay will need to drink approximately 200ml per day, which will increase in hot weather.

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One of my biggest concerns before getting the girls was whether they were going to attract vermin. ”Where there’s chickens, there’s rats’ is a common saying. Hopefully, taking  simple precautions like keeping the food store rodent proof and cleaning up after the chickens regularly will  help to prevent major rodent issues, along with George who is a remarkably good hunter.

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So far the chickens  have been a lot of fun to look after, and have settled in really well. So well, in fact, that i’m planning a coop expansion…just don’t tell Mr Farm Upon The Hill, ok?!

If you keep chickens, what would your top tips be for newbies?

Coming home to roost

“I believe that all children should be surrounded by books and animals.”
― Gerald Durrell

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Once upon a time, when a different generation lived here in the farmhouse, the farm upon the hill would have been one that ‘old MacDonald’ would have been proud to live on. Pigs, ducks, turkeys, sheep, cart horses and chickens were kept alongside the cows. Not only did the animals feed the family, they filled the larder, worked the land and paid the bills.  Nowadays, raising cows for dairy or beef production is the mainstay of the farm.

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My hope is to restore some of the diversity of the old farming system, whilst still managing to leave plenty of room for the ‘real farming’ to carry on.  The goats are still here, although due to my wonky turns milking them has taken a back seat. Recently we have added a chicken coop to the farm. It stands on the remains of the old chicken shed, alongside my greenhouse and the log pile. The birds came from a commercial flock, via Fresh Start For Hens.   It seemed like an awfully long time between being approved as rehomers and the chickens arriving.

The night before the chickens arrived we watched a short video which showed the flock being checked to make sure they were fit and healthy for the journey to their new homes. The clip explained that  due to the avian flu restrictions, the chickens had spent more time indoors than the farmer would have liked. The flock did look a little bedraggled, but nevertheless were bright and alert, with one even laying an egg on camera!

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The flock then journeyed across the country to various collection points. All we had to do was make sure their coop was ready and turn up to fetch them on time. Ironically our ‘collection point’ was a terraced house in a nearby village, and it was a bit surreal to see 20 or so chickens calmly milling about in the concrete back yard. We chose the four that would be coming to stay with us, gently transferred them to the chicken crate ( an ‘ancient relic’. No farmer chucks out anything that might come in handy one day. Just as well!) which was appreciated by the volunteer re-homer for not being a cardboard box or ‘new fangled crate’ . Five minutes later and the chickens were home, fed, watered and left to settle in in peace. In fact they were so remarkably settled that we had 3 eggs within the first 24 hours of them arriving on the farm!

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Since then they have grown stronger and brighter. The different ‘personalities’ are becoming more obvious – the bossy one, the quiet one, the inquisitive one, the troublemaker. New feathers are emerging and we have had a consistent supply of fresh and tasty eggs.  The supply of eggs was never the most important factor for me in rehoming these chickens. In fact, Fresh start for hens makes it quite clear that eggs from ex commercial chickens are a bonus. Commercial chickens are generally sent to slaughter at 72 weeks of age. I knew we could offer them a chance for a longer happier life. On top of us being able to offer them a home, they are able to give us something in return.

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Both mini farmers have taken an active interest in caring for the new arrivals. C enjoys checking for eggs and shepherding the birds back into the coop after a day of free ranging. JoJo likes feeding them, painstakingly distributing feed evenly between all four chickens! The chickens seem to respond to the children too running towards rather than away from them – I think it is a height thing…well that and the treat foods they sneak them!img_8044Animals have been my passion for as long as I can remember, although I haven’t always been surrounded by them. As a child I grew up in a world far removed from green fields, hedgerows and cow herds. For almost 10 years we lived in a red brick terraced house in West London, with giant ‘winged birds’ flying overhead, on their flight path to Heathrow. We played out on the streets, in parks or in our tiny garden that would fit into this farm a thousand times over. Summer holidays were different – we visited Ireland and its 40 shades of green. We stayed in a whitewashed cottage on a dairy farm, with views down over the Slieve Mish mountains. We were allowed to help milk the cows, got up at the crack of dawn to watch calves being born, built dens behind the tractor shed and climbed amongst the straw bales. These hazy memories of childhood have shaped the way I want my children to grow up, with a love and understanding of both city and country life.

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My children are luckier than I was in so far as they are surrounded by animals, and we have the space, time and knowledge to enable this. I am an enabler! I don’t want to force my passion for life other than human onto anyone, least of all my children. Feeling forced or pushed to do something is a definite reason for turning your back on it. Instead I want to provide them with opportunities and experiences that will help them grow. If they share my passion fantastic, if not they will hopefully still learn valuable lessons by looking after the animals here on the farm. They will learn kindness, compassion, responsibility, pride, respect, how to be gentle and to do no harm. They will learn where their food comes from, about animal husbandry and behaviour, evolution , ecosystems and their place in the landscape that surrounds them. These four chickens are not just the sum total of the eggs they produce, they are so much more.

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A long awaited arrival

It seems both a life time and no time at all since I wrote about the beginnings of ‘Project Goat milk’. The dream has finally become a reality this month with the arrival of the goat kids.

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For those of you who like numbers, the average gestation length of a goat is 150 days (might come in handy at a pub quiz, you never know). Counting forward from the date of mating gave us estimated due dates of the 17th and 18th of April for Amy and Bernadette respectively.

Thinking myself extra super organised and well prepared I booked some holiday off work covering these dates. Unfortunately, best laid plans never seem to work out. I should also know by now (2 human babies, assistance at many non human births) that due dates are merely a guide to be acknowledged and subsequently ignored.

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The first kids arrived on the evening of the 13th of April- I think it should have been a Friday. I had just spent several hours in A&E with Farmer F . For once it wasn’t him causing the problem, it was me. To cut a long story short I had had a couple of ‘funny turns’ and then taken her off to the land of A&E. After much poking, prodding and a series of tests that seemed to come straight from the ministry of silly walks handbook, I was discharged with a box of Aspirin and a diagnosis of ‘Query TIA’. Fortunately my ‘turns’ have since been demoted to the level of Migraine with Aura without headache (go figure) , or Temporal lobe epilepsy. I’m still a work in progress- the doctors haven’t quite worked out what to do with me yet.

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Anyway, back to the goats. After several hours in hospital on Thursday, we returned home tired and hungry. F went to check on the goats whilst I got something to eat. He quickly reappeared ‘Er, you might want to go and check the goats’. He might have well pointed at me, messiah-esque, and said ‘Lazurus, rise’ I was out of the kitchen like a rat up a drain pipe.

img_5178Amy had popped. Two gorgeous, gangly kids. One spotty, speckled coated nanny and one buckskin coated billy. These became Priya and Leonard . I was in love. Slightly disappointed at not being at the birth but relieved everything had gone well. Amy had two healthy kids who were up on their feet and feeding. Goat kids are a lot different to lambs- long, gangly legs remind me of foals, yet they are far more sure footed. Floppy oversized ears, the kind of ears you hope they grow into.

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Friday came and went, no more of my ‘episodes’ and no more kids. Saturday I went down to the goats first thing – Bernie didn’t get up to greet me. Here we go, I thought, she’s in labour. I left them be and came back an hour later. Still nothing. Bernadette was up but not acting like her usual self. Normally she is feisty, now she seemed subdued, although putting up a good show of being ‘normal’.  I got F to hold her whilst I checked her over. My suspicions were confirmed, she was almost fully dilated but her pelvic canal (the bit that the kid comes through) was empty. Time for me to retreat again. Another hour or so passed before i came to check on her. I peered through the window, hoping to see some little ones, but Bernie was lying quietly on her own. Time was ticking on- the risk of infection to both Bernie and her babies was increasing as the hours passed, and I was anxious in case the kids were in any difficulty. I gave her an injection of oxytocin to help her labour progress, and sat down in Amy’s pen to observe from a distance. Within minutes Bernie was up on her feet and contracting well. After 30 minutes of this, there was still no kid. Time to take a closer look. A gentle examination and i found the bag of fluid surrounding a kid, and ruptured the membranes. Inside were two big feet and a head and I relaxed a little. The kid was alive, moving and in the right position. Baby goats are born as if they are about to dive into a pool- front legs stretched out, nose and head next, slightly tucked in chin. Of course there are other ways to be born, but this is the easiest, textbook and straightforward.  A bit of gentle persuasion and soon Bernie had birthed her first kid, a very big buckskin boy (now known as Howard) .

img_5275The second kid was presenting awkwardly- his head was bent slightly back so he was almost looking over his shoulders. I helped to position him better and Bernie birthed him quickly. This was Rajesh, another beautifully marked boy. Bernadette started to clean and nuzzle him immediately. My work done, I stayed long enough to shake out a clean bed of straw before letting the little family get to know each other in peace.  img_5220

 

 

Project Milking Goat

This week we celebrated two momentous occasions on the farm – the first being Cs birthday and the second being the departure of the goats to stud! C was exceptionally gracious about sharing her ‘special day’- no, who am I kidding,sharing isn’t a strong point in our house at the minute, with a resident ‘threenager’ and a baby learning to say ‘no’. Whilst C spent her morning helping King Thistle and Holly escape from a marauding T Rex I managed to disappear for an hour or so to load the goats.

The night before I had carefully checked Amy and Bernadette over to make sure they were fit to travel.  A last minute ‘mani-pedi’ hoof trim to ensure their feet were perfect before the off and I left them munching on their hay nets, oblivious to what lay ahead of them.

Fortunately they loaded very easily. I had anticipated all sorts of shenanigans, but no, they were exceptionally polite. Almost too polite…

The journey to the stud farm passed uneventfully. Sam (short for Sambucca) was waiting to greet us, legs jauntily angled as he posed over his stable door.

The girls were impeccably behaved whilst we unloaded them and sorted out the obligatory trees worth of paperwork. They settled into their stable without so much as a backwards glance at me, stuffing their faces with hay as if they’d never been fed before.  Slightly miffed at their lack of clinginess to me (but yet pleased that they had become such confident creatures) I made my excuses and left, fingers and toes crossed for a successful ‘holiday’ stay. Good news came within 48 hours of their arrival; the stud owner assuring me we shall hopefully have our first goat kids in April 2017. We shall get them scanned to check that they are carrying babies, and so we can make sure we feed them appropriately.

People keep asking why on earth we are wanting to start milking the goats. The reasons behind this are quite simple.  C had been suffering from eczema and tummy aches. Many trips to paediatricians and GPs had led to repeat medication and the same old dietary advice (more water, more fruit) . The treatment we were getting was coming up short, and C’s behaviour was starting to nose dive. Noise phobias, introversion and tantrums started to fill our days. When it came to the point that I was starting to avoid certain everyday activities because of the behaviour they might trigger from C I knew it was time to seek help elsewhere.

A friend of ours who is a behaviour therapist listened to my fears and the symptoms C was experiencing. She suggested trying to switching her milk from Cows milk to goats milk. She felt there may be an underlying Cows milk protein intolerance which was triggering the health problems and now leading on to the behavioural changes. Slightly sceptical but at the same time at the end of my tether with the NHS and ‘traditional’ thinking I headed straight to the dairy aisle and bought a bottle, just to try.  Within 24 hours, her eczema had disappeared. Her behaviour improved and her tummy troubles have settled. Miraculous!

Since we have made the swap I have properly looked into goats milk as an alternative source of dairy, to discover exactly why it doesn’t cause the same problems as cows milk.

One of the main reasons seems to be the proteins within it. Cows milk proteins, especially Alpha S1 Casein, are the substances most likely to cause problems in people. Goats milk contains much less of this protein, meaning people have a greater tolerance of it.  However, if you are allergic to cows milk protein (rather than just intolerant) you’ll probably have the same reaction to goats milk

Goats milk also has smaller fat globules than those found in cows milk, although the actual fat content in both forms of milk is almost identical. Smaller particles are easier to digest, making goats milk easier for our gut to deal with.

It also contains less Lactose than cows milk, obviously a win for those that are Lactose intolerant.

Finally, goats milk  doesn’t cause us to produce mucous, unlike cows milk. Anecdotal evidence suggests that persistently runny noses can dry up almost instantly after swapping to goats milk.

Unfortunately goats milk doesn’t come cheap. A quick  calculation led me to think that raising our own goats to provide milk for the house would be much more economical (as well as fun and rewarding) than relying on shop bought produce. It would also give the girls another opportunity to experience ‘farm to fork’ with their food, and help with raising a different species. Of course, the initial outlay is quite a lot, with purchase, transport and stud fees, but hopefully it will start to even out soon!

 

 

This house….

This house is old and crumbling. Every time I turn my back something else seems to be broken,cracked or falling apart. Today I noticed the skirting board in the living room has started to pull away from the wall , exposing the bare stone behind it. In the corner behind the television I notice a chunk of board has disappeared ,leaving a pile of amber dust in its place. Dry rot is creeping insidiously around the downstairs rooms. It has chewed its way through several of the parquet flooring blocks in the other downstairs room. I sigh,turn around and gently close the sitting room door behind me. Today has been a long day and I can’t face dealing with any more ‘problems’ today. After all, the living room has only been redecorated three years ago. When we lifted the carpet we found old fertiliser bags from the 1950s acting as underlay!

The story of our farmhouse will be familiar to many farming families. Contrary to the belief that seems to be held that all farmers live in mansions, quite a lot live in run down,dated farm accommodation. In recent times the financial struggle faced by many of us has lead to a tightening of farm purse strings. Indoor renovations come at the bottom of a very,very,VERY long ‘to do’ list. A lot of the properties are hundreds of years old. They are often quite large as previous generations have added extensions in a piecemeal fashion over the decades.

Our farmhouse is ancient.A dwelling has stood here, balanced on compacted earth with little or no foundations, for over 300 years. It probably started out quite simply, a two up two down flat fronted dwelling. over the years extensions were made, walls moved and bits added. When restoration work was carried out on the modern day kitchen, no fewer than 7 joins were found tacking on to the original 4 roomed structure.
It has had almost constant occupation, with 6 generations of one family having lived and died under its beams. As far as we know it has only been uninhabited for a period of 20 years, when Fs grandparents moved out. Before F moved in restoration work was carried out which kept a few key rooms functional, and the rest of the house remained locked up in a time warp.

Over the past few years we have started the Sisyphean task of making all of the house safe and comfortable to live in. We have so far managed to create a living room and a dining room downstairs, and have central heating in most of the house!Central heating has only just been put into the upstairs bedrooms, and two rooms are still awaiting this ‘mod con’. It is a frustrating task though, as with every one job we complete another two urgent repairs become apparent!

I have to keep reminding myself how much history is contained within these four walls and how privileged we are to live amongst it.In essence it is a living museum, housing 3 centuries worth of farming history.I suppose an estate agent would have a field day listing all the ‘original features’ that add to the ‘character’ of the property. I know many people dream of living in a farmhouse (I know I did once upon a time), but dreams don’t always meet up to reality. Hopefully one day we will get on top of the long ‘to do’ list and drag the house into the 21st century! Until then, let me show you some of the most remarkable features.

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The kitchen is a lasting part of the original dwelling. There is a recess on one corner were the hearth once stood, with a giant oak beam the only reminder of the vast chimney that once stood above it. It now contains an ikea kallax (a staple of all ‘modern’ homes with children under 5) and a play corner. The hooks that my children now hang their coats and bags on were originally added in the 1930’s. They were installed for the 3 little evacuees sent far from their city home and into the middle of working farm life.Their arrival created an instant family for the newly married farmer and his wife!

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Above the heads of the evacuees home made puddings would have dangled from strings balanced on iron hooks.These hooks are another ‘original’ feature leftover from the days of the open hearth. These hooks are still useful today- I use them to suspend muslins when making jams and preserves!

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In the hall stands a handsome coffer- dark wood with brass handles. It takes up an awful lot of room and, I’ll let you into a secret, I think it’s really quite ugly. But oh,if it could talk. It dates from the 18th century and has quite a story associated with it. It belonged to an elderly widow woman who found herself homeless, being the only personal possesion she had been able to keep.The man farming here at the time ,f’s great great great grandfather, took her in rather than see her carted off to the poorhouse. She lived the rest of her days on the farmyard in one of the barns.  You can still see the spot from her candles on the stones of the barn.

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Another living piece of history now serves as a step linking the patio and the garden. In a previous life it formed a part of a slop trough that stood in the passage between the old kitchen and the dairy. All edible waste went into it, where it was heated to turn it into pig swill.

If I listed all the special parts of the house I would be here for weeks , having no doubt written thousands of words and bored you all to tears!

Sometimes when I am alone in one of the older parts of the house I do like to sit and wonder how many souls have walked over the floorboards, or forgot to duck and smacked their heads off the oak beam over the fire. Countless babies have been born here, and no doubt  many people have drawn there last breath here too. This is a side of farming that seems to be forgotten- the generational legacy, things that have remained unchanged over time. Farmers are guardians of so much more than land and beast. After all not many people can say at least 7 generations of their family have lived in one house.

Goatlings

October is on the horizon, the leaves are turning to orange, gold and red. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the goatlings arrived.

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Bernie through her gap in the hedge

Goats were not my first choice of new addition to the farm. We have been looking into animals that could help turnover some ‘scrubland’ and make it more suitable for the creation of a micro wildflower meadow. Initially I had thought about getting some pigs .  I ummed and ahhed, read up on housing requirements ,worked out where they could root, and decided pigs probably weren’t right for us at the moment. All of the planning had sparked a desire to expand the number of species we kept here on the farm. A chance discussion with a friend lead to us discovering that C was probably intolerant to cows milk (ironically).We started on a trial of swapping to goats milk to see if it would improve things for her. Within 24 hours of making the change, C was a much happier child. Coincidence or not, the journey towards our own small herd of milking goats had begun.

Don’t get me wrong, this decision was not made lightly, and it certainly wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘lets- go-and-buy-a-goat’ whim. Research was done, books were read, websites consulted. It soon became apparent that having one goat was not an option. They are social creatures, and should be kept together in pairs. I also found out that different breeds produce different amounts of milk. Some will give you enough to fill your milk jug whereas others will give  enough to fill buckets! Toggenburgs seemed like the ideal breed for us. Friendly, amiable goats with an average potential milk production.

Within a few days of starting my hunt I’d found a pair that seemed to fit the bill.  A farmer upcountry was selling his herd of dairy goat , amongst which were two 18 month old goatlings. He was very patient with our various questions and queries, and we decided a trip to see them was in order (with trailer in tow, ‘just in case!’) .

The journey to fetch them went smoothly , although it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Eventually we met the farmer, and after a few extra questions, a quick ‘pre purchase’ examination and the obligatory paperwork we became the owners of our very own herd of dairy goats. As is often the way the return trip was much quicker, and we pulled back onto our yard before night fall. With out any bother we unloaded the goats and settled them in to their new quarters, leaving them in peace to tuck in to their tea.

Despite not having been handled for over 6 months, Amy and Bernadette have settled into life on the farm without any problems. In fact, if Monty Roberts were to see the three of us out and about he would probably agree we have already ‘joined up’. On walks around the fields, we travel in unison. I speed up, they speed up. I stop, they stop.

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join up

When they are grazing they form two points of an invisible triangle whilst I act as  the third. I no longer bother with lead ropes when on our sojourns, as I have learned how far they will go from me.

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Amy does ‘tricks’ for food. Bernie does not.

Ash and sycamore are favoured browse, bramble leaves are an ‘if we must’ snack. Apples are snaffled, and cereal mix is rationed as they would gorge on it if left to their own devices.

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If they could, they most definitely would. And then they’d regret it.

My favourite part of getting to know a new animal is watching their individual personalities unfurl. These two are like chalk and cheese. Amy is gregarious, happy to bask in human company and follows me around like a faithful Labrador. Bernie is fiercely independent. She’ll go, but only when she wants to. The other morning we walked the boundaries of the croft, a  large field above the farmhouse. Bernie found a gap in the hedge, and picked her way to it, snatching mouthfuls of browse as she went. I called her away, and she followed me as I continued the walk. We crossed through into the adjacent field, and Bernie shot off ahead of me, and bounded back through that gap. She knew exactly where it was, and she wanted to cross through it. No amount of cajoling or coaxing could get her back through. In the end I gave up, and started to walk into the middle of the field. Fortunately amy followed, and reluctantly bernied hopped back through the hedge, and joined our train.

Having said that, I do have my uses.As far as Bernie is concerned they are limited to  scratching anywhere she can’t reach and providing food that she can’t reach.

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One of my uses

The eventual goal is to get the girls to milk, which will require them to have kids. I have started looking for a suitable Billy to, erm, ‘enhance’ the herd, and I can’t wait for the pitter patter of yet more tiny hooves. It will mark an exciting new chapter in the farms future. Fresh, pasteurised goats milk anyone?! Not to mention cheese…and soap!!

ANIMALTALES

Day 23 – Mr Phes.

Down behind the cow shed, in amongst the tall grass and gorse bushes lives a pheasant and his mate. I have affectionately (and imaginatively) named them Mr and Mrs Phes.

Mr Phes is a loud and gaudy specimen. I have to admit, with a bright red wattle, bottle green head feathers and a white ‘collar’ he does look very fine. He struts and shouts across the fields, ‘chuck chucking’ and squawking as he patrols his territory. Mrs Phes is a much shyer creature, her subtle gold and brown plumage affording her excellent camouflage as she slinks amongst the grass.

 

Pheasants are quite common in the fields and woodland around us, and they are often to be found running along the country lanes, usually into the path of oncoming vehicles. I thought pheasants were a rather recent introduction to the UK, but it turns out that they came over with the Romans. Its ‘original’ homeland is 2000 miles away, in eastern Asia. Over the centuries they have spread across farmland and woodland habitats, becoming a ‘quintessential’ member of countryside fauna. Pheasants are also farmed for shoots, with necessary management practices playing a role in shaping the landscape.

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The RSPB illustrations for male and female pheasant.

 

Despite all his showiness my Mr Phes is rather camera shy. If I dare to get too close with my camera he explodes into the air in a flurry of feathers, madly beating his wings and clucking angrily until he can reach the safety of a hedge. Tonight, however, would be different. I had a cunning plan.

I decided to take a wander down to the cow shed in the evening, just as dusk was settling over the farm. I had planned on making a ‘surprise visit’ to Mr Phes, via the ‘back entrance’ to his abode. However, the large flock of wild pigeons that roost in one of the barns had other ideas. As soon as they saw me coming they rose into the air as one , and flew laps over the yard. They passed so close I could hear the whirring of their wing beats.

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The heifers in the shed were pleased to see me, and bounded over to the fence in an expectant fashion. Human means food. Once they realised I had nothing on me except my camera they went back to snoozing and mooching about in the straw.

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I sidled round the end of the shed, and paused, camera at the ready. Sure enough I could here a ‘chuck chuck chuck’ call  coming from the vegetation. Mr Phes had noticed me, and was trying to make a run for it. In pheasant terms, ‘making a run for it’ appears to mean ‘ walk as slowly as possible and pretend that everything is perfectly normal’.

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I followed Mr Phes at a respectful distance, as he retreated behind a trailer. He led me straight to his mate, who promptly shot into the undergrowth and disappeared from view. Mr Phes then continued his slow walk into the ‘Meadow’ field, where he stood crowing and beating his wings in a display of masculinity.  I decided to leave him to it. The dark was encroaching and the temperature was dropping, so I headed back into the farmhouse.