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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My chickens

Run 1: My two oldest hens are Bluebelles and are about 5 years old. Until the end of October I could rely on collecting 3-4 eggs a week from their nestbox. They were never the most productive layers but they have kept going longer, if you see what I mean.  They are biggish hens and need a fair bit of space.  Mine are in a big run.  There were originally 7 in that little flock but the others are all gone now.  They are very pretty hens with lovely markings.

Run 2: These two Warrens (or similar) are the last two from a group of seven that I bought for £5 each from a poultry auction.  They have been the best layers that I've ever had but they stopped laying back in the summer and I will be surprised if they ever lay again.  One of them is looking very old and I don't really think she will last much longer. I'll be in trouble when there is just one left...

Run 3: These are my three comics. There is a little white bantam with a few scattered black speckles and a really lovely friendly and inquisitive nature.  There is a great big Buff Orpington that is really lovely.  These two were hatched at school in the summer term of 2011.  Little and large.  Living with them is a Warren from run 2.  She was dreadfully henpecked and I had to take her out.  I sectioned off a part of the run so that she was in with the others but she was out of reach.  Her name is Ovenready and I'm afraid that has stuck.  They pulled out all her feathers so that she only had some on the top of her head, her wingtips and the end tuft of her tail.  Once out of reach, her feathers grew back beautifully but a couple of shades lighter and with slightly different markings, which surprised me.  Very pretty.  I tried her back in with her flock but the others started featherpecking again so out she came again just as the two from school came home to live with us, so I put her in with them and those three live very happily together. They all lay quite reasonably but not hugely productive.  Ovenready looks much younger than her original flock mates and has been laying up until she starting moulting recently.  Perhaps being in with the younger ones has had an impact. These three line up at the edge of their run when they see me coming up the garden - usually in size order.  You know that sketch by the Two Ronnies with John Cleese - "I look down on him but look up to him......."  These three always remind me of that sketch when they line up in size order and bob up and down.

Run 4: These are 7 Warrens and are my main layers.  I seem to have started off with 7 hens quite often but it was not always planned - it just happened that way.  They are very productive but they don't seem to have as much character as all the other Warrens I've had over the years. I'm not sure why but it is so.  They are also always a bit scruffy looking and again I'm not sure why.

These layers are middle aged now but I'm a bit of a softie where my layers are concerned and they'll live out their natural lives as my pets.  Selling the surplus eggs laid by the younger ones helps pay for the food for the OAPs : ) - a bit like pensions in education.

I must admit that I generally like my Warrens.  I've had White Stars. Bluebelles, Silkies, Speckledy hens, Black Rocks, Cornish Game crosses and now a Buff Orpington too.  I find the Warrens nice-natured, friendly, inquisitive and catch-able when you need to.  Probably I will look for those when I am in the market for a new flock but that won't be for a while yet.  Four houses to clean and maintain is quite enough, thank you!

The houses are mainly from Forsham Cottage Arks.  Two were bought new and one was a bargain from ebay which was as good as new once it had been repaired by my husband.  The original ark is about 15 years old now but has been scrubbed and treated with bat friendly wood preservative each year and is in excellent condition.  I used to buy proper branded wood preservative (not paint but the stuff that soaks in) by Cuprinol but Wickes now do one that fits the bill and is vastly cheaper. Animal housing from Forsham Cottage Arks is quite pricey but is quality stuff and will last and last. The firm went bust a bit back but they are again producing a limited range of houses.  I have another house that my husband built and various runs that he made and a couple of converted large rabbit hutches for poorly hens or emergency/temporary housing.


My hens have gone into serious moulting mode.  Their runs and the area under their perches just look like somebody has emptied out a feather pillow there. Needless to say, the laying of eggs has dropped off equally dramatically.  They are laying less than half the quantity of eggs that we had just a couple of weeks ago.  Hens can either grow new feathers or lay eggs but not multitask although the younger hens still lay the occasional egg.  I doubt that I'll have any more eggs from the older hens before the spring now.

This has implications for my customers.  They are friends and not members of the general public so I can explain why they are getting 3 or 4 eggs instead of 6.  Last week, I just made it through to the end of the week with one egg left for us to share. Single people got one egg, couples got 4 and families got 6.  I've used those rules this week too but I'm not sure if there will be any over for us. 

My friend wanted some more hens at the same time we did, 18 months ago. So when we fetched ours, we fetched some for her at the same time to save paying carriage or petrol costs.  So our hens are "sisters".  My friend had an operation a few days ago and since she is off work and can't take her surplus eggs to her customer friends, I'm going to do us all a favour and have a few eggs from her.  This isn't exactly big business but my son is pulling my leg about mum "subcontracting". It does mean that there may be the odd egg left for us, though.  My husband complained this weekend that we do all the work and had that one egg to share but I don't want my customers to get back in the habit of buying eggs at the supermarket.  Come spring, we'll probably be overrun with eggs again although my oldest hens are unlikely to produce more than a token egg even then.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I read Frugal Queen's blog this morning in my break.   I had to smile because stir fry is one of my favourite meals.  Tesco had one of their offers on where you buy certain items and get 10p per litre off petrol.  You can use up to 5 of these vouchers in one go so up to 50p per litre off petrol.  So I went on Sunday afternoon and bought 4 "deals" of coffee for work and one "deal" of dairy produce for us and a few reduced veg including a pack of fresh egg noodles and a pack of stir fry veg.  I was really pleased because I had a £5 off if you spend £40 voucher, which was easy to do with the coffee AND they had sent me a £2 off if I spend £8 on dairy produce voucher with my Tesco vouchers last week.  We've got enough fuel in the car to last a bit longer so I won't go back to Tesco until the last minute so I can buy as much fuel as possible.

When Tesco had this offer back in the summer, we got to the petrol station running on fumes and filled the tank up with 80 litres at 50p per litre off with the vouchers.  That was the only time I have smiled at the petrol station since we got this car with its humungeous tank : )

The other smile I got on reading FQ's blog was thinking back to Christmas about 5 years ago.  "What do you want for Christmas, Mum?"  I said that there wasn't really anything I wanted and would prefer it if they got me something useful.  One of them joked "Loo rolls?"  So I said that I'd rather have loo rolls than something that I'd never use.  So guess what I got for Christmas that year...?

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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

I thought I would answer the questions set by Angela at  I always enjoy reading her blog and I loved the little Korknisse that she has made and posted about this week.  I suspect that one or two of those might make their way into Christmas stockings in our family this year.

1.What was your favourite sweet as a child?

Chocolate.  Don't remember having many sweets as a child but chocolate was my favourite.

2.Historical novel, romantic fiction, or detective story?

I love detective stories but without too much realism in the gory bits.  I've read Josephine Tey, Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Margery Allingham, Sue Grafton, Ellis Peters and loads of others.  I wasn't very keen on Ian Rankin or Ruth Rendell.

3.Where in the world is your heart ‘at home’?

I grew up in Ulster and love the mountains, the sea and the food.  However, I always love being on my husband's turf which is Dartmoor.

4.Nigella, Delia, Jamie, or HFW [or another?]

This one is hard.  I suppose Delia taught me to cook so I'll have to plump for her if I have to choose one.  I've taken little bits from lots of cooks.  Have you read any of John Harrison's books?  Or John Yeoman?

5.What is your favourite season of the year? Why?

This one is hard to answer too.  I hate being too hot or too cold so I think I'll have to choose spring with the promise of good things to come in the rest of the year.

6.What was your first car?

A little Austin 1100.  It was dark green and I was really sad when it died.  It was called Chugalug (need I explain?) and had real character.

7.Which aspect of housework do you find most difficult?

With working full time, I just find that I have insufficient energy to do the extra bits like windows or sorting out things.  I get through the basics and then run out of steam.

8.At this very minute, where are your house keys?

In my bag.  I don't often lose them - unless my husband has borrowed them because he can't find his...

9.What is your favourite ‘Christmas’ food?

I love those little chocolate covered almond cubes which Lidl sell - except they don't have them this year and I'm really disappointed.  My husband has always bought me a box.

I also love all the extra veg that we always do for Christmas dinner.  With half the family being veggie, we always go to town on the veg.  Last year we managed 18 different types.  I'm not sure we can beat that.

10.Who is your favourite cartoon character?

I loved Tom and Jerry.  I also liked watching Ivor the Engine with my son when he was little.  Don't see much of either around these days.

11.What colour is the chair you are sitting on right now?

My computer chair is a cheery cherry and it suits my back very well.  It is starting to get a little elderly and I shall miss it when it breaks.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I've been invaded.

When I checked my blogger homepage, there are 10 posts added to my list of new ones from "bambang arie at Business Populars".  These were all added 18 hours before this post of mine.

I haven't added this blog to my list and as it doesn't show on my blogroll (just in the list of new posts), I can't remove them. Must be a new kind of spam.

Anyone else had this happen?


Thursday, November 08, 2012


We got the bills today for gas and electricity.  The gas bill is about what I expected at around £30 per month for hot water and cooking and 3 hours (total) of CH.  We have showers with the very occasional treat bath at a weekend.  The cooking is as one-pot as we can make it.  In fact we do a good line in cooking once and reheating the planned leftovers in the microwave.  We only have the gas oven on a couple of times a month and always cook as much as possible in it to make the best use of the gas.

The electricity bill says we have used £98 worth of electicity each month since the last bill.  How???  The last bill was estimated and was just a very small bit behind so I just left that to be remedied this time when it was an actual reading.  So the £98 is probably nearer to £90 in fact.  We did not start using the halogen heaters until the last weekend in October so the bill is really for appliances and lighting. 

I am already turning on the halogen heater at the last possible moment when I am too cold to wait any longer and my husband has complained too much, wearing four layers inside (I have to take off one to fit my coat on to go outside...), using hot water bottles and blankets, going round the house turning the lights off after my husband, turning the computer off if it not going to be used for several hours and any other thing I can think of.  Apart from the freezers full of homegrown (by our friends) meat, I can't think what has pushed the bill up so much. 

We finished last quarter slightly in credit so we are now in debit by 2 months payments.  That does not bode well for next quarter which is the one when they decide whether to raise the monthly payment or not. Hmmmm.  At least the money can be recouped by savings made across the board, but still it is a nasty shock to the system.


Monday, November 05, 2012

It was the Boys Brigade bonfire night on Friday.  As both of the leaders' wives had produced babies in the last two months and as one of the leaders is my son, I got roped in to help.  I spent the evening with soup and sausages.  Rumour has it that there actually was a bonfire but I never saw it.  I did see millions of hot dogs and gallons of soup, though.

By the time we were done with the food, my back was killing me as I'd only had a low table to serve from. Still, they all seemed to have enjoyed themselves.  At least I was inside in the warm while they were out in the cold : )

I knew that I would be in trouble on Saturday morning because of my back and because I was so overtired.  As Tesco was on the way back from the farm where the bonfire was held, I opted to get my shopping while I was still vaguely upright in case I wasn't up to it on Saturday.  That was a good decision as I was fairly incapable on Saturday morning and because I hit some wonderful yellow stickered bargains.  It was the vegetables that were reduced.  There were lots of packets of runner beans at 3p; larger packs of stringless beans at 10p; a pack of asparagus reduced from £2 to 3p (I checked VERY carefully in case there was another of those packets hiding under something); mangetout and sugarsnap peas at 10p; 400g packs of broccoli and cauliflower florets at 5p.  There were also 2 packs of rice noodles at 3p. Yum! After such a poor harvest of veg from the allotment,  I am feeling happier about the quantity and variety of veg in the freezer now.  I foresee quite a few stirfries in our future.

I also bought six months' worth of plain, selfraising, wholemeal and bread flours as they were on offer at 3 for the price of 2 as well as six months' worth of dried fruit that were also included in this offer.  If the fruit lasts me longer than six months, then I will be very pleased as I was too tired to make a good guess at how much to buy. Along with milk for the week and a pack of two enormous pizza bases reduced to 50p, I spent just fractionally over £30. And that includes the ton of fruit and veg that I bought for my son and his family too. I was very pleased with all that : )

One of the items reduced was a toffee apple for 5p which I sent to my grandson.  Last of the bigspending grandmothers!  I reckon he got a lot of enjoyment out of my 5p. And it is a serious business eating a toffee apple.

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