Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Chicks!

Last year, I wrote about all our disappointments with chicks and our eventual success.  This year, I'd been watching for hens to go broody.  My barred rocks started to sit and as they hatched two chicks last time, I was hopeful.

They'd been sitting for about a week when I went into my chook run and was shocked to see four tiny chicks running around.  It became quickly clear that their Mum was one of the shavers.  I hadn't even known one had been sitting, she must have had a hidden nest somewhere.  I was shocked as I'd always been told that shavers were hopeless breeders - they're too small to generate enough body heat and not sufficiently attentive to their chicks - but this girl just proved it all wrong or maybe she's the exception.

Shaver Mum with four day old chicks

The next day, though, she only had two chicks with her.  We never found out what happened to the other two.

Two weeks later, while I was looking in some of the usual odd spots for eggs, I found one of my leghorns sitting on a nest.  I hadn't noticed she'd gone and was also surprised to see her broody.  I bought two leghorn hens about four years ago and they'd never shown any sign of it previously.

The following week, I went to check on her again, in her little hidey hole and saw what looked like a dead chick half under her.  I wasn't sure and she was still sitting, glaring at me so I left it alone.

The next morning, I went out to see the chooks and she was by the gate with eight tiny freshly hatched chicks at her feet.  Eight!?!

Five out of eight chicks with Leghorn Mum

When I went back to see where she'd been sitting, all the remaining eggs were her own - they're bright white and distinctly different from the brown eggs I get from my shavers or the creamy whitish ones from all my other breeds.

The barred rocks were still sitting.

Each day when I go to feed them, I do another head count.  There are now 11 chicks.  Two bigger ones that are probably about 4 months old now - one dark (Miss 12 has named it Weka) and one white with a funky top-knot (I've named it Blondini), eight smaller white chicks with the odd black spots that are about 3 months old and one single chick from my other leghorn who is now about 2 months old.

Weka and Blondini - the two on the left

Some of the white chicks getting a bit bigger

It's interesting to note that of all eleven chicks, only one (and it's one of the smaller ones) has a visible, noticeable comb so far.

Meanwhile, my barred rocks have given up.  I have a shaver and an austrolorp playing constant swapsies between two nests (both full of eggs).  I thought I heard a new chick peeping this morning but neither hen would move enough to prove it or show it off to us.

Hubby keeps asking how we'll know whether they're hens or roosters.  I keep telling him when they either start crowing or laying - until then it's pure guesswork.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Joys of Borrowed Bulls

Just once, I would like to have no drama with a borrowed bull.  Just once I would like to have the whole process from pick up to leaving run smoothly with no incidents.


Campbell


The first bull we borrowed was Campbell.  We thought we were rather green and clueless until we met the people we were picking him up from.

Hubby had torn his calf muscle playing touch rugby the night before, he was okay to drive (and back a horse float which I can't do) but was hopeless on his feet.  We got to the place to pick him up and beat the owners there.  There isn't a house on their land, they live in town, but they arrived about 15 minutes after we did.  With all four children.  Including a baby in a front pack.  The older three children ranging up to about 7 years were terrified of all their animals and screamed a lot.

Campbell was still running in the same paddock with two cows, a steer, several sheep and llamas.  So our first mission was to separate him, which he wasn't happy about.  They had half built yards, but they certainly weren't ready for the cattle so the screaming children went into them with their mother and the baby.

Then we had to try to get him into the float.  This is a double horse float sitting in a wide open paddock.  Not even a lane to narrow it down and an unhappy bull who has just been separated from his herd.

Eventually the guy got a roll of electric fencing wire and some standards and we started to string a line across the paddock.  I understand zapping yourself on the hot wire the first time, but not every time you get within a metre of it like he did.  He also had tall standards and put the wire on the top notch, so Campbell was able to duck under it where the paddock dipped and we had to start again from scratch.  He tried to lead him with a handful of hay, but as soon as Campbell came for a mouthful, he dropped all of it so Campbell stopped where he was and ate all the hay.

This guy had no idea of how to manage cattle, how to drive him, how to string a hot wire or how to keep himself safe.  It was two parts comical to one part ... I don't quite know what word I'm looking for here, it made us feel that we weren't so bad after all, but also quite concerned for him long term.  It was like watching one of those dreadful slapstick comedies, where you spend most of your time cringing, uncomfortable and embarrassed for the main character but you can't help laughing a little at some of the pratfalls.

So there was this guy, Hubby trying to limp around slowly and me doing most of the leg work.  I restrung the hot wire, drove him from the other side and got him down towards the float.  All it took after that was a bit of hay tossed into the float and he went in nicely.  An hour and a half after we'd arrived.

We got him home and he entertained the girls for a couple of days.  Then the neighbours bulls broke through the floodgate - I wrote about it here.

When it came time for him to leave, the lady coming to pick him up delayed it for a couple of months and then he really didn't want to go on the float she brought.  It took an hour or so to get him on the float.  We had him penned, he didn't have any other space to go elsewhere, he just wouldn't quite commit to the ramp, even with hay.

Monroe


The next bull was Monroe.  Picking him up was a piece of cake.  He went beautifully onto the float, travelled nicely and seemed to have lovely manners to begin with.

Then I figure he must have done his job and gotten bored.  He managed to get himself under a deer fence into the shelter belt and then over the gate at the end to fight with the biggest of the three angus steers I had at the time - who was also the one I was grazing for a friend.

I've seen dominance fights between bulls before, having had several different herds of bulls next door with all their political maneuvering and constantly changing hierarchies.  This wasn't like that, this was to the death.  Neither bull belonged to us and I was worried about having to inform one or both owners that their animals had died in my care.  It wasn't safe to go near them, they had no awareness of anything around them except for each other.  I rang the neighbour in a panic, I had no idea what to do and there were four more steers in that paddock getting all excited and wound up by the fight.

The neighbour came over on his four wheeled farm bike, he ran around and around them making a lot of noise until they were more worried about him than each other and then we were able to drive them in separate directions.

A week later he was heading off to his next visit.  The lady picking him up arrived at about 9am on a weekday when there was just me at home.  The horse float she had hired was a single width one which made it too narrow to effectively block the lane although that came later.  First of all, she couldn't back a trailer.  Secondly, her car was too low to make it over the high verge on the edge of the road so she couldn't straighten up to go into the gate that way.

Because the float seemed light, we unhitched it and tried to push it through the gate by hand.  We couldn't get it up over the high cut verge.  We were now blocking the road too.

Luckily for us, a lovely couple were passing who clearly had a lot of experience working together with floats or trailers.  He backed up to the float hitch, she stood in the middle and with very simple signals lined him up perfectly.  He backed the float into the paddock.  Monroe wouldn't even go into the lane where the float was however.  I had to get a hot wire that wasn't connected and kind of drag net him into it.  He immediately tried to jump over the front bar and got himself stuck with his rib cage taking most of his weight on this steel bar.

Mr Lovely Passing Couple spotted this through the window and asked if we had an angle grinder to cut the bolt from the outside because if he stayed that way, he'd die.  He towed the float with bull inside up to the house and sheds and I went to get the grinder.  I couldn't find it anywhere.  There were four of us at this stage, frantically searching Hubby's shed and none of us could see it.  We were considering other options when he managed to move himself back off this bar.

At this stage, we discovered the flat tyre on the float.  Luckily, the foot pump was easily found.
10am when she left with Monroe, I thanked the Lovely Passing Couple profusely and I was ready to start hard drinking.

Kieran


It's been a while since we last got a bull.  A big part of that was not having a vehicle capable of towing a float and bull available to us anymore (my car is only rated to tow 750kg) and no yards and ramps for trucks.

A very good friend with horses (and therefore, a float and capable vehicle) was kind enough to help us.

We started with a vague communication mix-up which meant we started out several hours later than planned.  Kieran went onto the float beautifully - mind you, he also did it from a race only just wider than him.  That was the easy part.

On the drive home, he kept jumping up and looking out over the door.  The float had horizontal cross pieces on the ramp/door, that allowed him to have his front feet up and be hanging over the top.  Afraid that he might jump out and hurt himself, my friend started to go side to side sharply.  Just enough to throw him off balance so he'd want to have four feet on the floor.  She had to do this a few times.  Then as it was just shy of full dark and we were still in the middle of nowhere, we got a flat tyre on the float.  Well, it wasn't just flat, it was shredded.

My friend had only had the van for a month or two and had never needed to change a tyre on it yet, so our first mission was to figure out where the jack and tools were hidden.  Once they were found, Hubby got the wheel partially jacked up but we discovered the wheel brace for the van was the wrong size for the float wheel nuts.  My friend rang her hubby to come and rescue us with a socket set, although he was at least 45 mins away.  A lady came past and stopped, offering to call her husband to come and help, but since help was already on it's way, we said thanks but we're fine.  She must have called anyway because her husband turned up about 10 minutes later with all the gear and plenty of stories about horse float mishaps - including cattle that jump out, bounce on the road, get up and run for miles.

Once we were back on the road, it was a long, dark, hungry trip home to unload him and then back to the friend's place where our car and Miss 11 were.  I think we got a dinner of snacks sorted at about 11pm in the end.

Kieran was mostly well behaved, although he did spend a lot of time singing to the neighbour's cattle.  Some of those songs were very long and lasted most of the night.  But when we had those naughty cattle from the neighbours jumping fences to our place in the paddock next to him, he still stayed in his paddock and didn't push the issue.

When it came time for him to leave, he was going to Nelson, normally a four hour drive, but since the earthquakes changed the main road layouts, the only road available now was heavily travelled and in bad repair.  This makes the trip about twice as long.  The guy who was getting him wanted to send a truck down to pick him up.  It was only going to cost him $75.  I rang the neighbour to ask if we could use his yards and ramp.

Unfortunately, we'd just had about a month of constant rain, so the ground around his yards was very boggy, he said that he nearly got stuck there on his farm bike, but he'd help me run him to the yards and ramp about a kilometre up the road.  I had lost the number for the people who own those yards.  I tried both calling and texting the local stock agent who uses the yards often - partly for the number and partly to check if he would be using them.  He still hasn't returned either call or text (months later).  I wonder if he's afraid I was going to rip him a new one for his cattle breaking through the floodgate and eating the several hundred dollars worth of trees we'd planted. 

We tried knocking on the door but there was no one home.  I called the guy who Keiran was going to next and gave him an update.  He said he'd get back to me, when he'd talked to the truck company.

The next day, I was driving past that neighbour's house and saw someone leaving and Mr Neighbour just heading back into the house.  I stopped and spoke to him.  He was quite happy to let us use the yards and gave me his number.

The guy who was getting Kieran next rang and I told him I had permission and contact but he'd already decided to drive down with a horse float and pick him up himself, did I know of a motel or some place to stay in Amberley?

They were at our place 7am two days later and Kieran loaded up into the float nicely.

Can't wait to see what the next one brings us.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Potato Rosti

As I wrote in the Potato Cakes blog, I used half of my 'damaged' potatoes to make Rosti.

I've seen many variations on recipes for these.  Some as simple as grated potato and some containing plenty of egg and flour.  I've seen failures on cooking competition tv programmes, where the Chef Judges' comments explained that washing the grated potato removes the starch that glues them together.

This recipe also comes from my old cookbook where I've gathered recipes over that past 25 years.

I didn't have any bacon, instead I used finely chopped onion.  I also cooked them in silicon egg rings so that I could keep some size consistency.  When they'd cooled, I freeflow froze them and then put them into a bag in the freezer.

You will notice a distinct lack of measurements.  That's because they don't really matter.  Obviously, you're not going to make a rosti that's 90% bacon.

Potato Rosti


Potatoes
Smoked Bacon (diced)
salt and pepper
Oil

Boil potatoes for 10 mins.  Grate coarsely and add bacon and salt and pepper to taste.  Heat oil in frypan and cook spoonfuls of potato for 10 mins each side.

Rosti cooking in silicon egg rings

Cooked Rosti cooling before going into the freezer

Potato Cakes

The harvest has been continuing and I've been digging up potatoes.

We've been quite surprised at how many we got in the end.  Water was an issue for most of the summer, I didn't mound them up as high or as well as I'd intended to and the chooks kept getting into the garden and scratching them over.

I've been going through them, washing the dirt off, spreading them out to dry before weighing them (just for my own curiosity), grading them and putting them into storage.

I found more than I expected that I'd stabbed or split with the fork when digging them up.  I also found quite a few diseased patches.  I've just done a google search and found the disease I was seeing is called Common Scab and would not have affected the way they store.  I pulled out these damaged potatoes, initially thinking that we'd just cook them up and eat them first, but the volume was getting to be more than we'd normally eat in a week so today I went looking for things I could do with them to be able to freeze and use them later.

I split them in half and made Potato Rosti and Potato Cakes.

I don't remember where I got the recipe for Potato Cakes from, it was hand written into my old cookbook at least 20 years ago.  Below is the basic recipe, I trebled it today.  I don't recommend doing this unless you have a commercial sized mixer and commercial oven.  It took me hours to get them all cooked.
These are gluten free so they tend not to brown, but they are cooked.

Potato Cakes


225g Self-raising Flour
350g Cold mashed potato
100g butter
1 tbsp milk
salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 230°C.  Sift flour into a bowl, add butter and rub in until mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs.  Stir in seasoning, potato and milk until a firm dough is formed.  Roll out the dough on a floured board and cut into 3" rounds using a plain biscuit cutter and place on a greased baking tray.

Bake or 10-15mins until golden brown.  Serve piping hot, split in half carefully and spread generously with butter.

A Flood of Ferrets

With our first lot of chickens, we had a ferret attack.  In the space of a week, we went from having 15 hens to having 3.  We had been losing one a night and I'd seen a ferret so we went out and bought a ferret trap.

The trap is a live capture trap, with a ramp on a pivot so that once the ferret is past halfway, the ramp tilts and a pin drops down to keep it tilted that way and the ferret (or whatever else you might have caught) can't get back out.  Then depending on what you've caught, you can release it or destroy it.

On the day we bought it, Hubby came home a little after dark.  As he came into the house, he heard a lot of noise coming from the chickens, as it was dark, this was unusual.  We got a torch and went looking for the source of the racket.

The chookhouse was empty.  Not a single hen in sight.  We wandered all around the places that they sometimes spent time.  We found a few sites where there were a lot of feathers in a circle - kind of suggesting a point of impact, but no chickens were visible alive or dead.

I asked Hubby where he thought the noise had come from.  He wasn't sure but thought it had possibly come from the paddock beside the house.  We stopped and looked and listened.  I thought I could hear a wet chewing or eating sound, but I wasn't sure whether I'd heard it or it was the power of suggestion.  We had a look in that paddock and found a few hens (alive) nesting in long grass, then as I shone the torch around, eyes reflected back at me.  I didn't think they were from either of the cats we had at the time.  We got closer and saw it was a ferret.  This ferret was completely unconcerned about us, it was dragging a hen across the paddock.  Hubby went to get a weapon (a rake as it turned out) while I kept an eye on it.  By the time he came back, this ferret had almost dragged it's prey over my feet.

He hit it several times with the side of the rake.  It squeaked, bounced and kept running.  It ran into the wood shed.  We heard it chirrup and was answered by other chirrups.  We had a female with babies then.

About ten minutes later it was back, trying to drag this hen further across the paddock.  We went and got the trap, discussed and argued about how and where to set it.  In the end, we put the dead chicken in a cardboard box, cut a hole out the side for the trap to sit in it and weighted the box down.



Entrance to trap with pin dropped to keep the ramp tilted.

Other end of trap - with an occupant.

Master (then) 14 stood on guard near the trap for about an hour and a half.  He hit the ferret with the rake several times, it just kept bouncing, squeaking and running away.  It became wary of him, so he came inside after a while.

In the morning, we found a ferret in the trap.  We looked at each other and said "Now what?"  We decided we'd drown it, but weren't sure if a drowning ferret would taint the water in the water trough, so Hubby went off to get a fish crate and start filling it with water.  While he did that, Master 14 picked up the trap to have a look at the ferret and accidentally let it out.  Fortunately, he was quick enough to put the trap down on the ferret's tail and hold it there.  Um, crap.  What now?

Hubby got the log splitter and smacked the ferret on the head with the blunt end.  It took three decent blows before it stopped getting back up again.  Those buggers are near to indestructible.

This ferret had gone into a frenzy and killed at least six other hens that night before getting caught.

In the five years since then, we had seen maybe one ferret.

Then a couple of months ago, I noticed Mrs Wolowitz, my old bantam hen was missing.  There was one of those feather impact rings in her feathers in the hen house, but no sign of her.  She'd been sitting on eggs, so for her to suddenly vanish wasn't good.  Then over the next few days, I found at least one hen a day with it's throat torn out and mostly eaten.

I got a new rooster.  I'd heard crowing in one of the sheds at work.  It took some time, but we found a sneaky rooster that had managed to stay hidden with the girls for at least six months.  I named him Remington partly after Remington Steele (sneaky spy type staying undercover - yes I know Remington Steele was a Private Investigator and not a spy) and partly because he was a shaver (see what I did there?).  He fell to the ferret after about a week.  When I found him, he was little more than skin and bones.  I knew then that we had more than one - too much of him had been eaten for one ferret and there was at least one bird a day going.

I blocked up the gaps under the new chook house with bricks, fence posts and rocks leaving only a big enough space for the ferret trap.



There was a large female ferret in the trap the next day.  A large male the day after, followed by two half sized ferrets over the next two days.  I kept putting the trap back in the same spot.  About a week later, there was another one.

About a month after this patch of ferrets, I lost three hens from the tunnelhouse in one night.  Miss 11 and I were rounding up the remaining hens and taking them to the other chook run, when Miss 11 started squeaking "OMG MUM, look look it's a ferret!!" She pointed to the end of the tunnelhouse and there was a ferret, halfway through a hole in the netting, eating the organs out of one of the hens that had been killed the night before.  I chased it off but it was back again quite quickly.  When I took the next load of hens to the chook run, I brought the trap back with me and placed it so the entrance lined up with the hole in the netting.  It didn't work, the ferret was able to nudge the trap out of the way and keep eating the hen - and it did so quite casually in front of us.

I chased it off again, I could see it running towards the old pig pen (currently unoccupied).  It chirruped and was answered by other chirrups.  Great, another family affair.  I tried jamming the trap in tight so it couldn't be easily moved and carried on rounding up and taking the remaining (very spooked) hens to their new accommodation.

Before I left for the night, I noticed that the liver was still there in the chicken that had been partially eaten, so I dropped the liver into the trap and made sure the trap was firmly wedged in place.

The next morning I found the biggest ferret I've ever seen in the trap (see photo below - that's my foot not a childs).  She was huge and heavy.  I decided to put the trap back into the chook run.  I figured it was better to be protecting the living hens rather than the dead ones.

This ferret was extremely heavy in the trap.

I borrowed a cage trap from work and cut the legs off one of the dead chooks and set that trap in the tunnelhouse.  I didn't set it right and so both legs were gone without tripping the trap but there was another ferret caught in the other trap.



I've lost several turkeys to ferrets during this time as well.  I think these ferrets have to be very brave, very quick or very stupid to take on adult male turkeys - they scare the crap out of me, they're big and vicious, but I can't think of anything else that would rip the throat out of a turkey.

I've trapped and drowned 9 ferrets over the last couple of months.  This week I've lost more hens and a turkey but haven't caught any new ferrets.  I've blocked up the new gaps under the chook houses where the birds were half dragged under, there hasn't been any more deaths since I did that, but I haven't caught any more ferrets.

I have no idea why we suddenly have unprecedented numbers of ferrets, but I'm confident I've made a good dent in the local population.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Harvest Time

It seems that everything has come ready all at once.

I have plenty of apples and I've been given more by friends who have an overabundance this year.  It has been a great season for apples.

I've been given lots of black boy peaches.

I got fed up with the birds eating my not quite ripe grapes and did a big pick over the weekend.

I'm picking a kg of field mushrooms every couple of days.

The blackberries are still going strong, a month after they've usually finished.

The elderberries have just finished.

This has led to several very busy weeks, bottling, brewing, drying and baking.  Luckily, I gave up my job recently and now have time to do this.

The apples have become several Apple and Walnut Crumbles in the freezer and lots of dried apple slices.  The peels and cores have become Apple Jelly.

The black boy peaches became a fruit pie and a couple of bags of quartered peaches in the freezer.

The grapes are currently sitting in two brew barrel fermenters as 50 litres of Black Grape Wine.

The freezer is again well stocked with sliced and sauteed Field Mushrooms.

The elderberries are currently 14 litres of Elderberry Wine fermenting madly away.


Apple Jelly

I used to make great fruit jellies.  They had the right texture, they spread well and tasted wonderful.

Somewhere over the last few years, I lost that.  My jellies were either still runny, but in a hard toffee like way or they crystallised into a solid, crunchy mass.  I couldn't figure out where I'd lost my jelly making mojo.

I made some a couple of weeks ago.  It was as I was boiling the jelly with sugar that I realised where I'd been going wrong.  I wasn't boiling it hard enough.  After a few overflows where I'd ended up having to scrub burnt sugar from under the elements, I'd become afraid of having my jelly boil over.  At the same time, I realised that the pot I was currently using was too small and it was going to boil over.  I spent about 20 mins carefully snatching the pot up off the element as it was about to boil over, letting it settle back down and then doing it all again.  This got to be every 30 seconds I was having to lift it, but I did finally manage a perfect jelly again.  And I did have to scrub burnt sugar from under the element.

The thing that has left me a bit confused is I knew this.  I know the secret to a good jelly is to boil it hard and fast.  For some reason, I'd forgotten this and I still don't understand how or why.

Anyway, with the last lot of apples, I'm making some more.

Apple Jelly


Apple peels and cores.
Sugar

Put the peels and cores into a pot and cover with water.  Bring to the boil and simmer until it's all very soft.  Strain through a jelly bag overnight, do not squeeze.

Measure liquid and return to a large heavy based pan.  Bring to the boil and add sugar at a rate of 1 cup of sugar to each cup of strained juice.  Stir until dissolved and boil hard for at least 10 mins.  Test as for jam.  Pour into hot sterilised jars and put lids on.


With my last batch, I found that the pot for boiling the jelly needs to be at least four times the volume of the juice and sugar, because it will boil up that high.

Jelly just starting to boil

Jelly about to boil over
Finished jellies