Where growing, making & good living come together

Ickle egg

Posted by on Wednesday 17 October 2012 in chickens | 0 comments

We had our first egg from the new chickens yesterday – not bad for day two!

I’ve paired it up with one of today’s lays. As you can see, it’s smaller than the eggs we normally get – a pullet egg rather than a fully grown up hen’s one – but otherwise it’s perfect. It was laid in the main section of the coop rather than a nest box – there wasn’t another one there this morning but I’ll check again shortly, in case she’s not an early layer yet.

The new trio are settling in well. There are still some pecking order disputes to settle – snap at combs and pulling on neck or bum feathers – but it doesn’t seem too vicious when I’m down there, and there is no visible evidence of blood being drawn (from the combs) or feathers pulled out. I will keep an eye on them, of course, and I’ve added extra feeding/drinking stations so there is less contention around those places.

They’re getting used to me as well as their coop mates. They’re getting more comfortable with me holding them, and stroking them, and they’ve started following the older girls’ lead of eating seeds out of my hands. (It took our original girls about a week to get brave enough to do that.)

My big goal for the moment is getting them all to go to bed inside the coop, of their own accord. The older ones slept outside for most of the summer as they have done in previous years so they’ve needed some reminding of it too but they seem to be getting the hang of it again, and leading the new girls in too. Up until now, I’ve been having to lift them off the outside perches and place them inside (if they’re already snoozy), or push them in through the pop hole before dusk if they’re more awake. With the colder nights drawing in, I’d much prefer them to do that themselves – hopefully it’ll only take a couple more days of training.

Once that’s sorted, they have to get used to the furry members of the household – they keep freezing when they see Lily-dog in the garden at the moment but she very much wants to make friends!

Do you have any chicken “settling in” tips to share? Any early egg anecdotes?

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New chickens!

Posted by on Monday 15 October 2012 in chickens | 1 comment

We finally restocked the platoon at Fort Chicken yesterday.

We’d been meaning to get some more feathered friends for a couple of months. After we lost three of our girls to a mink (we think) attack in June, we’d wanted to wait a little bit to check the new fortifications were satisfaction and then I wanted to wait until we’d get point-of-lay “spring chickens” (which would have been available from mid-August-ish onwards). Since then though, we’ve just been dithering. Anyway, we finally got ourselves together last week – only to find the farmer on holiday. Thankfully he was back at his post over the weekend though, and we drove out to pick up our new girls yesterday morning.

We get them, like all our others, from Edward Boothman in Silsden. We’ve had a few different types – hybrids and pure breeds – from him but our favourites have been the boring ISA Browns, a bog-standard little red hen (apparently) made by crossing Rhode Island Reds & Rhode Island Whites. They’ve got pretty dull plumage and they lay samey brown eggs but they’ve been consistently reliable and friendly – amusingly inquisitive but also docile enough that they don’t get their vents in a twist if I need to pick them up. For most things in life, we prefer the practical to pretty option – and they meet that criteria for us.

Another thing in their favour – once we decided to restock with them, there was no other dithering about breed or colour/markings. “Three ISA Browns, please”, we said and two minutes later, we were driving away with them in the car. For indecisive people like us, this is a huge boon! ;) Two of the new girls look quite alike but the third has considerably less white in her neck feathers, so she’s the first to get a name: “Little Redneck”. I imagine the other two will follow in the ways of our original four ISAs – named after the coloured rings on their legs (as soon as I find my ring stash!).

When we’ve got new birds in the past, we’ve done so in the late afternoon/early evening so just put them straight into the coop when they’re all – old and new – a bit sleepy. This time though, since we got them in the morning, I had to put a bit more work into introducing them. I popped the new girls into our little portable run which I placed inside the big normal run, so they could meet each other through wire first. The old girls got rather noisy so after half an hour or so of listening to their bwarking, I kicked them out into the garden and let the new ones look around the rest of the run/coop by themselves. (Picture of bwarking in action. I now know the chicken equivalent of Daily Mail-style “bloomin’ immigrants!” rants! ;) )

Eventually, a couple of hours later, I called the old ones back into the run and with some weeds and seeds to bond over, let them all meet properly. There was some pecking order disputes (more flap than anything else), some more noise and a committee meeting called for the long standing residents of Fort Chicken on one of the perches (below) but nothing too worrying so I left them to it for the rest of the afternoon, before popping them all into the coop together before sunset.

They’d all been up for a few hours before I went down this morning but everything seemed to be still fine – Little Redneck was perched out of the way, stumpy tail held a little low, but she was happy to peck around my feet with the others when I started throwing corn around. When the older ones started to get a bit grumpy again, I stroked them – to make them submissive – while reminding them that I’m the top chicken around here, bwark! I also stroked one of the misc new ones and Little Redneck too – their still new “all growed up” feathers are super, super soft!

I’m hoping we start to see some eggs from them soon – because the older ones will be due to moult/are slowing down anyway, and also because I don’t want it to get cold before they start producing. I also hope they like their new home :)

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Is it weird to keep a well-stocked larder?

Posted by on Wednesday 10 October 2012 in meta | 9 comments

Karen (hi Karen!) commented on my last post (Winter IS coming) saying her main winter prep concern now is stocking up their larder. She lives somewhere rural and they regularly get snowed in so having a well-stocked food store is critical.

I often feel a little silly keeping a packed larder here though. While estate agents might claim the woodland and numerous fields of cows close by make our area “semi-rural”, it really isn’t. There are two decent-size supermarkets within less than five minutes walking distance and while our road is rarely cleared of snow, the nearby main road is kept gritted so we can still get about (even on public transport) quite easily. And yet… Last time I was unpacking a big shop, I remarked to John how it soothes me to know the cupboard is full of beans, and tomatoes, and pasta, and whatnot. It’s not like I’m anxious all the time when it’s empty, I just feel better knowing that stuff is there.

Around this time last year I wrote a list of our store cupboard “essentials” and I think that list is still the same now, with the addition of extra tinned fish and pickled/in oil roasted peppers. Like many things on the list, those items aren’t “so we don’t die” essential but would allow us to maintain a relatively varied diet in a strange situation (which would help keep our immune systems perky) or means that we will use up the stores in our normal rotation. I don’t know how we’d be manage if the fit really hit the shan but I think we have more than enough to last through a normal-abnormal situation, if you know what I mean, be it related to the weather, illness or a financial hiccup.

But, for me here with my supermarkets and main road & mains gas, it still does feel silly to keep a pantry full of (almost entirely) shop-bought items. It feels like I’ve been reading too many of my post-apocalyptic books again, or I’m paranoid, or I’m expressing some mental unrest issue through hoarding behaviour. It felt silly admitting to John that I had, no matter how small amount, felt anxious about the more-empty-than-usual cupboard and it feels even sillier admitting it here, even though I know from the post last year that many of you keep stores too. The photo is not our larder, I wish it was – I can understand “putting up” your own, that makes sense – but buying stuff from a supermarket to store it “just in case”…? I know about crop failures and “just in time” logistics so the rational part of me knows how fragile our food chain is but still, it feels robust enough to make me feel silly for keeping a store at home.

But for all of human history up to, what? 20? 30? years ago, keeping a well-stocked pantry was the norm so it also seems silly to think it seems silly. ;) It’s very odd.

Does anyone else know what I mean or is this me being strange again? Have you had funny reactions when people find out you keep stores or do you feel a bit weird about admitting it? Should I start a “pantry-keepers anonymous” group? ;) Or, on the other hand, do you think it is actually silly to keep a stock of food at home when you live in an urban/supermarket-adjacent area? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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Winter IS coming*

Posted by on Saturday 6 October 2012 in house | 3 comments

* Why yes, I am currently reading Clash of Kings to stave off longing for the third Game of Thrones TV series ;)

Our home is lovely in summer – breakfast on the balcony in the morning sun, everywhere fresh and green, and then retreat from the heat and sunshine into the always cool office – but for us, it’s more special in winter.

I think it’s because we moved in at the end of September, when autumn was properly upon us before the super cold winter a few years ago. One of the first things we did was to have a stove fitted and that cold winter is marked in my memory by learning to split logs and chopping kindling, then curling up in front of the stove with the cats and John, it feeling like that warm room was the whole world.

I chopped my first batch of kindling for Winter 2012-3 a couple of weeks ago and it reminded me of that first winter again. Today I chopped some more, nearly filling the kindling dustbin, that’ll keep us going for a little while. I also pulled out the last of the tomato plants out of the greenhouse and rearranged a few things in there so it’s ready to house the less-hardy pots and plants from the garden (herbs, mostly) – another ‘the coming of winter’ chore. Meanwhile the chickens scratched through the leaves that have already fallen (surprisingly few at the moment) and John spent the afternoon fitting a hugely complicated curtain rail in our five-sided bay window in the living room. We haven’t had (or needed) curtains in there since we decorated in the spring but now it’s growing colder, they’re important again.

All in all, an afternoon of basic winter prep.

Have you been doing anything to get ready for winter this weekend?

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More WIPs – some wet felting

Posted by on Friday 5 October 2012 in making | 0 comments

In my effort to get back both into the habit of blogging and the habit of making fun stuff, I’ve spent the afternoon wet felting.

I felted various misc knitted things over the years but I had an urge to try my hand at felt artwork over the summer, after falling in love with Marmalade Rose‘s meadow pictures. Click on that link to Fiona’s site and gaze in wonder at the header picture, and all the other ones down the side – really gorgeous work. The mother/daughter combo rosiepink also make lovely stuff.

Anyway, armed with those fabulous pictures in my head and the leftovers from a “Moorland” inspired mixed colour pack of wool roving, I sketched them felted a small woodland scene in July. I’ve done about half a dozen other little pieces since then, but that first one was my favourite/the best. Even accounting for my limited artistic talents and felting-newbie clumsiness, they’ve all just looked … fuzzy and untextured compared to other people’s work. Then today, I realised that’s because the “embroidered” or “embellished” bit isn’t an optional add-on, it’s key! So did I spend the afternoon sewing and embellishing the old pictures? No, I felted some new ones ;)

I did flowery one (close up shot above) and then, wanting to work on something a little more specific, attempted a stylised picture of Staithes (a close-up/partial pic below – it’s supposed to be the Cowbar side, as viewed from the beach, if anyone knows the village). As with, ahem, all my other half finished things I’ve posted about this week, I’ll post proper full pictures when they’re finished – all embroidered and embellished. I think I’ll need to trial-and-error a lot of stuff on that side of things – quite glad I’ve got a few “meh” felts to practise on ;)

I still think know I have a helluva lot to learn about the felting process too actually. I think I’m still being too gentle and as with drawing/painting, there is a communication issue between what my head commands and what my hands produce. I’ve been making small pieces – about A4 size, so I can do all the wet stuff in an old turkey roasting tin – to not overface myself/waste excess materials but I think that’s half the problem – I find it hard to command the roving to do intricate stuff. Still though, I’ll press on!

Have you tried felting, either after knitting/crocheting the wool or using loose strands of roving like this? If so, any tips to share with a newbie? :)

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Posted by on Thursday 4 October 2012 in cooking | 3 comments

In an effort to get back into the habit of blogging regularly, I’m taking part in Blogtoberfest 2012 – at least one post a day on at least one of my blogs (full list of the posts).

I had to do something with all that great smelling stock, so today has been a batch soup making day.

We’ve got chicken, carrot and ginger at the front, all pureed up and ready to go, and still a bubbling away George’s Marvelous Medicine type tomato/pepper/beany soup at the back.

The former is one of my favourite winter warmer soups because of the heat of the ginger but also because the carrot keeps the soup at lava temperatures for ages (useful on particularly cold days!). I know it’s not quite winter yet and today was actually a really nice autumn day here, but the start of soup season is mentally if not physically upon us here, and what the hey, it’s just yummy ;)

The latter is a particularly special concoction because while I was picking some of the key beany ingredients I couldn’t find the can open so had to use whatever beans can in a ring-pull can… It’s packed with cumin and chilli too though, so I’m sure it’ll be fine!

Have you been soup-ing recently?

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The best smelling chicken stock I’ve ever made*

Posted by on Wednesday 3 October 2012 in cooking | 5 comments

* Well, you know, one of them. I don’t remember them all exactly but this one smells gooooooooood.

Hi again. It’s been a while since I blogged – too long – I hope you’re all well.

I’m taking part in Blogtoberfest 2012 to try to get back into the habit of blogging regularly – the idea is to blog every day, at least once a day. I’m spreading my efforts across this site, How Can I Recycle This? and my somewhat geeky only-of-interest-to-my-mum personal blog to make it easier on myself (but I’m keeping a list of all my Blogtoberfest posts to make sure I do one a day!).

ANYWAY. The chicken stock. The last chicken stock I made in my new-ish big slow cooker was a bit lacklustre so I’ve been saving the carcasses from our Swillington Farm chickens in the freezer to make a mega-stock – and this is it.

After roasting the carcasses alongside our dinner last night, they went in the slow cooker and the smell of it cooking made me drool. This morning, I separated it out and it smelled even better. It’s a bit fatty at this stage but I’ll skim it before I use it. As well as making stock, I also made some fluffy friends – Lily-dog got the chunks of carrot from the stock and she & the cats also got bits of chicken too tough for our soup :)

The bestest bit is that Swillington Farm birds are so huge that not all my carcasses would fit the pot in one go so I’ve got a second load on now – more yummy aromas! (The last bird we got from Swillington was over 3kg/6lbs 6 – each breast alone weighed 400g/14oz! Massive!)

The first lot was spiced with coriander seeds, black peppercorns, a garlic clove and some chunks of galangal. This one is second one is black peppercorns, szechuan peppercorns and galangal. I’m not exactly sure what either batch will be used for but, since it’s us, it’s likely to be something spicy/gingery/peppery so these should work either way.

What spices/flavours do you use in your chicken (or other) stock?

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