This blog is mainly a rambling kind of diary of the transition from smallholderwannabe to smallholder.

Friday, April 09, 2010

I'm now halfway through the eagerly awaited holiday. I must have blinked and missed a couple of days somewhere. How did we manage to get to the end of the first week already? Days at work never go this fast... There must be lots of truth in the old saying about time flying when you are enjoying yourself.

On Wednesday, we went to Henley poultry auction. It is quite scary. At least I find it so. My husband thinks it all good fun. There were dozens of cockerels all trying to outdo each other in their crowing. There were loads of people, many of them talking. And then there was the auctioneer doing the typical incomprehensible auctioneer-speak. It is really difficult to make out what he says especially with all that noise in the background. Having misheard him last time, I was very careful this time! There were several lots that we were interested in :
  • three lots of a foster mum with a dozen or so chicks. These were so cute and went for silly money. You have no idea if you will manage to raise all the chicks or even how many of them are male and how many are female....
  • several lots of purebred or crossbred traditional breeds - these also went for silly money. Most sold for about the same as buying a vaccinated point-of-lay hybrid. Without knowing something about their history, I'd be loath to spend that sort of money.
  • several lots of young growers (males intended to end up in the oven)

After about 2 hours, we had got through about 100 lots and the growers were still 50 lots further down the row of cages. We just could not bear to wait about another hour or so. There were some little brown hybrids so I bid on those and came home with 7 of them. I paid £10 less per bird than I did for my current layers. I think they are only 6-8 weeks old so they won't come into lay until the end of the summer. Or earlier if they are older than I think. The mixed crew that I have as layers at the moment are not very prolific. I've had them a year now and I expected more eggs during the first year than they have laid. This coming winter, the number of eggs laid will go down and although there will be an extra flurry of eggs next spring, they will lay a steady trickle for a couple of years and that will steadily tail off. I had an empty henhouse and we jiggled the runs around so the new ones have an entirely separate area to themselves. You can't mix established flocks and new ones unless you have oodles of space for them to completely free range because the older ones will peck the new ones dreadfully. Henpecked is reality and can be vicious. Also, the new ones are sort of in quarantine so that if they are infected with something that is not immediately obvious, they cannot pass that on to the others. My husband needs to build an extension to the new ones' run this holiday because they need a bit more space for when they are a little bigger. I had been asking for their run to have an add-on bit so that it could be added on to provide extra space or not depending on circumstances so this is now a priority.

I have lost one of my old Warrens this week so there are now just two of them. They both look like very old ladies and are also a bit lost on their own because they have a very big run. We have cleared the little jungly area at the very end of the garden and moved the two old bantams up there and created a new run for them out of an old enormous pallette/packing crate thing that we were given. It is now covered in chicken wire and does the job fine. It is rather bigger than it sounds and probably would not win any chicken run beauty contests - but it is perfectly serviceable.

So that makes 2 warrens, 2 bantams, 7 in the Motley Crew who are my laying hens (comprising 3 Warrens, 2 Bluebelles, 1 Red Star or maybe she is a Coral and 1 Black Sussex - all different colour and laying different colour eggs, hence "motley") and 7 newbies - 18 hens. I am going to have a bit of a problem when I lose another Warren or bantam - difficult decisions to make there.

Yesterday, we had a lovely day full of hard work but still full of pleasure. My son and his wife are not really experienced gardeners but their house is the fortunate one on the curved row of the terrace and they have the extra garden space. They invited us and my daughter and her husband and my granddaughter round for a "garden party". We turned up in the morning and cleared jungle, had homemade vegetable soup and bread for lunch, hacked more jungle and hedge down and bagged it up and sent my son-in-law to the tip twice with his van full. We stopped at teatime and had baked potatoes and chilli together and talked and had fun for the evening. We left enough bagged up to fill the van for another trip to the tip today - and there is plenty more where that came from :)

Of course, we took turns to play with the baby. Some friends called in to help for an hour and were set to filling sacks as well. We had 3 of those big square builders sand sacks and vast quantities of green sacks. Our council shreds it and composts it all so it is not going to landfill. It is amazing how big their garden is now as the jungle is pretty much gone. There is a hedge on two sides of the garden - laurel at the end which is actually next door's hedge but is (was!) pushing 20 feet high and privet along one side which is only 12-15 foot high. My son is hoping to have a veg patch and some fruit bushes - both to have really fresh fruit and veg with virtually no food miles and to cut the costs.

Some friends of ours rang me up and they came round and joined us for the evening meal and it was great to see them too. They live some distance away and we haven't seen them for several years but they were down this way and asked if they could come and visit after they were finished what they were doing during the day. It was great to see them. They got married one week before us and my husband was best man for them.

It is a lovely sunny day today and I've put an extra load of washing in the machine and I can hear it beeping to say it has finished. I still wash all the small stuff by hand as I've been doing regularly for 15 months now but larger things go in the washer. My weak wrists are not up to wringing larger items as they get really sore. So I do what I can. I reckon I save at least 2 loads in the machine each month and every little helps. Less electricity used and less hot water heated so less gas used too :) And that is better for the planet AND for the smallholderwannabe coffers, so that can't be bad.


  • At 10:39 AM, Blogger Frugal Life UK said…

    my word! you've almost got a farm there! makes my veggie patch look feeble xxxx

  • At 1:00 AM, Blogger GreenFlag said…

    Hi Jo
    I am following your blog.

    It sounds like we have a lot in common. I live v near Henley and am a teacher too.

    We have kept chickens in the past - 4 but don't have any at the moment because we are selling our house. We will get chickens again when we move to our next house.

    Enjoy the sunshine this weekend

  • At 1:01 AM, Blogger GreenFlag said…


    Would you like to follow my blog?

  • At 6:15 AM, Blogger Jo said…

    Hi GreenFlag
    I'll be over soon to read your blog. We're off to meet some of the family this afternoon who are going to help us put up put up a new (to us) shed on the allotment. The old one is no longer functioning... too much rotten wood.

    Hi Frugal Life
    I think my family agrees with you about the number of animals we have. Especially when they end up feeding them if we are away :) Hens don't actually take a lot of looking after and the eggs just are fantastic. You know how much better a tomato tastes when you pick it and eat it straightaway. Well, home produced eggs have incredibly more flavour when they are really fresh - not like shop eggs which are much older when they get to you.


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