Second Day of Decent Sun

Light Sussex

Following on from yesterday’s start on getting some sort of order into the outside, today was spent mowing and strimming, to make sure the electric fence surrounding the orchard and poultry was running at full capacity.


Marsh Daisies

The Marsh Daisy parent flock are happy in their current home, but the difference keeping chickens makes to the grass height is amazing! I know they eat grass, but the their paddock hardly needed cutting, whereas the one left fallow (where their children will eventually live) is over a foot in length!

Pilgrim geese – Dwt & Barty

Barty and Dwt have settled into couple-dom better than hoped. After Barty lost his soul mate last year, it seemed as though Dwt would never replace him. But this year she seems to finally have won him over and they’ve been doing the dirty. About once every two days she’s been leaving an egg in her nest, which she decided wouldn’t be in their house, but rather sandwiched behind a pallet we’d erected as a makeshift wind-shelter for them!


pear blossom

The mild air has come just in the nick of time for the pear trees, which had been holding out to blossom. All we can hope for now is a lack of frosts over the next few weeks, and if we’re lucky in that regard we should end up with a bumper pear crop. Look at this tree, that’s an incredible amount of blossom!

2018 spring patch panorama

There’s really nothing better than sitting back at the shed and admiring the end result of hard work. Aching back and limbs feel so more worthwhile when you can take a view in like this.

Dwt Meet Barty, Barty Meet Dwt

Dwt & Barty

Today was the day that Barty’s new girlfriend arrived in a big surprise box, complete with red heart drawn on the outside and her name. Having travelled all the way from Wales from the homestead of Deborah Kieboom, she turned up with all the grace only Dwt could have, as we later came to find out.

Deborah had two geese left, her question to us was “Would you like a leggy one, or a petite one?”

Dwt takes control of the red bucket.

We asked Barty, apparently he has a preference for petite ladies, so Dwt it was!

In case you’re wondering how to pronounce her Welsh name, it’s “Dŏot” – the ‘oo’ is as you would say wood in English. It means “small and sweet”, which really does sum her up. She epitomises all that you could wish for in a Pilgrim goose – light, inquisitive and ridiculously friendly – the sort of goose that gets excited to see you and will follow you around for tidbits.

Far friendlier than Barty, she’s also had a great influence on him – since he’s been with her he’s also started to take apple from the hand and you can get the occasional stroke in if you’re lucky. She’s also highly intelligent – within three days she understood the ‘bedtime’ suggestion (it’s never a command with geese – they don’t like commands – you have to let them think it’s their idea), and would take herself off to the goose house, Barty in tow.


West of England Goslings

West of England Goslings Update

West of England GoslingsI went on one of my regular trips to our neighbour’s farm two fields away, for the usual chinwag and cud-chew over  a strong cup of tea. The “I’m just popping round to the farm for ten minutes” type of visit that Suz knows full well may be the better part of an hour or more. But today was a special day, as two of the West of England goslings being sat under a broody bantam chicken had hatched! Luckily I’d take my camera and managed to grab some images that are just too cute – proud mum and huge children!

West of England GoslingsOf course, it didn’t stop there! The new broody banty setup had increased the hatching rate to a ridiculously high level, surpassing everything Pete and Rob had experienced in the past. It’s a magnificent site, with West of England goslings at every age waddling around, like a mini, ever-so-slightly less vicious Jurassic Park.

2016 goslings west of england 3These goslings were about two weeks or so old, and have been moved to one of the heated coops outside, so they canchoose to run in the sun if the day is warm enough, or retreat to the warmth of the coop if they so choose. It also gives them a chance to mix with the main flock of geese, some of whom are no doubt their parents.

West of England GoslingsAnd then of course you have the teenagers – these are eight weeks old now and are part feathered. Like every teenager, they prefer to hang out by themselves, probably listening to awful music and muttering under their breaths about how fuddy duddy their parents are, or how annoying their younger siblings are turning out to be, and they were never that bad 😉

Update from our Neighbours

2016 rhode island red chicksI popped over to the local farm today, where Rob and Pete breed the other chickens and geese we mention on the website, and managed to grab a quick photo of the Rhode Island Red chicks, newly hatched, and the two breeding West of England geese. Rob’s also come up with an ingenious little broody shed, using their own hybrid bantam that makes a great broody mother! Less electricity, all natural, and they’re treated well. One little trick I picked up, handed down from Pete’s dad, was to line each broody box with a square of grass sod, earth and all, and place the straw over it. Apparently this helps keep the hen moist, as if it were in the wild, and the grass growing from the front give them something to nibble on!2016 west of england

Spring Time Shuffle & Update

The rains have subsided, the sun shows itself and we begin to shed the winter sleep from our eyes. Well, that’s not strictly true – a fortnight ago we started digging over the allotment – I tackled the last of the fruit tree pruning in the orchard whilst Suz dug over one of the vegetable beds and cleared the old strawberry patch which had started to deteriorate, having been in the ground for five years. Last Friday I dug over another vegetable bed and the rhubarbs whilst Suz pulled the remaining parsnips, carrots and beetroot, and weeded the artichokes, most of which have survived the mild winter! Jay got stuck into the first mow of the season, and Smiler prepared the raised bed. What a day! This was all on the only sunny day of the Easter weekend, but at least it gave us an excuse to take Saturday easy.

And then yesterday – the Sunday. The Little Orchard was looking quite sorry for itself – the occupation of the quarter acre by 20 chickens had taken its toll, the mole hills had become mole holes, the grass was quite short and it just looked grubby. I started to get the yearning to move them to cleaner ground a few weeks ago, but the time wasn’t right – but yesterday it was. It was a bit of a military exercise – Smiler and I got stuck into shifting electric fences – we’d done it before together and it was fun to get outside on a decent day.

2016 spring move pilgrim geeseWe managed to move the geese from the Big Orchard to the Hay Quarter, where they will have half that quarter acre. We are only making half as much hay this year, partly down to the fact that we have too many animals and need the ground, and also because we have other projects kicking from summer through to harvest that will soak time up. We are finally, hopefully, extending the kitchen, so we can get more than two people in it at a time, and will no longer have to chop apples up outside, press them on the dining table and transfer them to the kitchen to bottle! Which brings me to the other reason harvest time will be busy – apples! I expect a larger crop this year, and it would be good to give more attention to that side of things properly, without shoe-horning it in between hay making and vegetable growing. Again, with the kitchen being dismantled and the apple trees taking over, we have decided to grow only one third of the vegetables we normally do, as we won’t have anywhere to really prep or cook it this summer. We can, however, freeze a lot and eat much of it in salads, but next year we can begin again with renewed vigour, knowing we’ll have a kitchen table for the first time ever! As a plus point, moving the geese to the hay quarter will also give it    some much needed fertiliser – once the hay has been cut later in the year we’ll move them to the other half I imagine, or give them free roaming over the whole quarter acre.

2016 spring move light sussex bantamsWith the geese out of the Big Orchard, we moved the majority of the chickens in, as the geese hadn’t made much of a mess of the quatrer acre. We separated the chickens, the Light Sussex bantams were all put together, with William the Cock and his ladies having their own fenced off area. I suspect it was a bit of a relief for William – there were far too many ladies for him to control, and anarchy had reigned, with egg-eating having begun. We suspected the rescue Warrens had started it, as some are laying soft shells, but it had spread. So now he can control his five ladies, and they’re not competing for space with the huge hens.

2016 spring move june suzColin the Light Sussex cock was separated and placed with the four Light Sussex hens, and they have all moved down to the Chicken Paddock at the back of the house where we can keep an eye on them. They’re the potential parents of the next generation, so we’ll start collecting their eggs for incubation in two weeks, once he’s had time to do his business! We also put Jackie the possible-Light-Sussex-but-not-quite-sure rescue in with them, as the other hybrids were pecking her!

2016 spring move ducksThe ducks have all been annexed in the Banty Paddock, which has weld mesh fencing, to keep them contained! Once the vegetables in the allotment have grown to a duck-proof size, we can let them in there to clear slugs and snails, but at the moment I just don’t trust them!

2016 spring move hybridsAnd that left the remaining big hybrid hens – a motley crew if ever there was one! They are also in the Big Orchard, next to the bantams, so they’ll have some decent shade in the summer under the fruit trees.

As far as the egg-eating goes, the shuffle around seems to have helped somewhat – they’re in a new place so any egg-snaffling through boredom has been nobbled. And we’ve also trialled a roll away nest box in one of the Omlet Cubes, which seems to have worked. It was a simple affair, produced as an insert for the Chick Box. Some of the hens took to it straight away, but as one fills the double nest box of the Cube, it’s meant a queue from some ladies, or some just drop their egg down the side as they try and squeeze in. To help matters we’ve ordered two Chick Boxes, complete with the roll away nest box inserts, and we’ll place one in each of the Cubes. I think we can fit two in, but the floor space would suffer, so we’ll see how we go. I could always make a nest box holder that sits separately to the Cubes, if needed.

And that’s where we’re at! This morning we let them all out, and June came over from the farm next door to let us know they’d tried our cider and were still alive, which is a good thing, I think!


Khaki Campbell Ducks – Two New Merrybowerites!

Larissa, a friend of ours, whose tribe of guineapigs like our hay, sent one of those emails. It was a link to an advert, asking for a home for two Khaki Campbell ducks – Doris and Lilly. I made the mistake of sending the email on to Suz, who decided we could give them a home. I happened to be in the area on the Sunday, so in I popped with Jay, to meet them.

Their mum, Claire, introduced us to two of the most adorable ducks I’ve seen – so tame, and happy to be picked up, stroked, and plopped back down again – their beaks a perpetual smile! We were plied with tea and home-made cakes (which we forgot to pick up from the kitchen!!) and after a farewell to the ducks from their family, we brought them back to Merrybower.

2015 Doris & LillyWe’re not entirely sure where their permanent  home will be – apparently they live quite happily with chickens, but I know the mess they can make of drinking water, so we’ll have a think, but we’ll find a place for them to call their own 🙂

2015 Doris & Lilly

If you look really carefully at the photograph you can see three Call Duck boys in the background, their heads kept popping up at the sight of their pretty new neighbours – I see trouble ahead!

Apparently Khaki Campbell ducks can lay around 300 eggs a year, although I imagine this would be down to the particular strain. Having said that, we were given two presents this morning in the shape of eggs, so we must have been accepted!

Fool Geese Bathing

We’ve separated the two pairs of geese for the breeding season. Barty is seeming much better – his wobbles have resided and he’s his cheery self (well – as cheery as a breeding season gander can be). I couldn’t resist videoing them in their new ponds (troughs) setups – but if you have a nice new pond, why on earth would you insist on fitting into your drinking water bucket? Only a goose could answer that one…

Goose Eggs!

We had an inkling something was up in the goose quarter. With spring in the air, we’d just moved them from the grassed quarter where they’d spent winter into the large orchard quarter – once we’d ensured the trees had adequate protection from their nibbling beaks. A few days later it was noticed that a nest had been constructed – and what a nest! It was a shock to see the size compared to the usual chicken nest that we’re used to, and so very neat! Constructed from the straw in their house, we started to drop extra clean straw in throughout the week in case the culprit needed more.

Two days later an egg appeared! We snuck in to get our hands on it, only to find another buried underneath it! So the March 1st was celebrated in true style. Two weeks on we’re now getting one or two a day – Lucy was slower to sit, and also more reluctant for Barty’s amorous advances, whereas Grace was, well, Grace.

They’re around 135-145g each, apparently next year they’ll be around the 190g mark. Supposedly a larger egg will also give a larger goose, so we’ve decided to concentrate on the broody Light Sussex this year, and to allow the geese another year of freedom before children. It also gives us a massive supply of eggs, they’ve gone down well at school as lunch box hard boiled eggs, but Suz and I are yet to try one! The verdict was ‘they’re creamier than chicken eggs’.

People say, because of the creaminess, they are great for cake making – we’ll need to supply grandma with some to test the theory 😉

As a note to myself, we need to supply them with layers or growers pellets during this egg laying time, to help them replace the lost vitamins, minerals and calories they’re using whilst laying eggs – they’ll lay around 3.5 kg of egg each during the laying season! I’ve also started filling their pond up again as they prefer to get amorous on water.