Autumn in Barbara’s Back Yard

Autumn  – season of mists and mellow fruitfulness – perfectly described by John Keats

So much brighter – and warmer – today – tidied up the hen house – and found where the Spice Girls are laying their eggs.  They have settled in much faster than the last lot and have calmed down – they don’t skitter away from me in panic any more.  Still have difficulty getting them in at night – it’s almost like they are saying to me:  “Just one more bit of grass first…”  I tell them that they really will be let out again in the morning and there will be plenty more grass to eat!

Dillon crowed for the first time this week – I felt a thrill of excitement when I heard him – its ages since we had an adult cockerel.  He has quite a deep crow (the bantam cockerel we had made a really shrill noise – much to the annoyance of the boys who were sleeping in the room nearest him!)  Clearing up the garden it was so lovely to hear him crowing.  Happy hens lay happy eggs!

Lit the fire the last few nights – my new herby firelighters work really well – just need to show husband how to use them instead of those smelly petrol ones – you just put them on top of screwed up newspaper and you need some really dry kindling or a dry log on top.  Works like a dream!

My two new ‘NZW’ does must have some Californian blood in them.  Half Keri’s babies now have black noses and tails – and ear tips!  They will probably be much hardier – and make better rabbits to breed for meat – but they are definitely not pure bred NZWhites!  Wonder how Lily’s babies will turn out!  They will all make lovely house rabbits – they are really friendly and the Californians with their black noses and tails are really cute.  They are ready for new homes now – £15 each – if you are looking for a pet that doesn’t need a walk every day.

October in Barbara’s Back Yard

The New Spice Girls

The new ex-bats are bigger than the last ones and less timid.  They are settling in much quicker and seem less vulnerable, but they are not very adventurous yet – just eating their layers mash – and I think it will be a while before they have grown enough feathers back in order to perch.

The first night I put them all in the little pen (as instructed) but the next morning one of them had got out so I opened up the pen but put a board across the door to discourage them from venturing outside until they had got their bearings.

The next day, Ginger (obviously the ringleader) had circumvented my barricade and was exploring outside, she got quite stroppy when I tried to usher her back in.

Like before, my other hens are ignoring the newcomers – they don’t seem to recognise them as the same species.

I made firelighters – I pruned and cut down the herbs in the herb garden.  Sage, thyme, bay, rosemary and lavender contain oils and burn well so I tie them in bundles with other herbs – tarragon, marjoram, lemon mint and hyssop to make firelighters.  I hang them up in the barn to dry.  They are much more environmentally friendly – and cheaper – than chemical firelighters – and work just as well.   It was a beautiful day, the sun was really warm and it was lovely outside – except I kept being plagued with ladybirds landing on me – and occasionally biting too.

I picked the first pumpkins and made spicy pumpkin soup – with chilli powder, allspice, cayenne, – and fresh thyme.

Homegrown carrots, parsnips and potatoes generally suffer from some pests – like wireworm and carrot fly – so when preparing them, I don’t put the scrap bits on the compost heap – I put them in a bucket and give them to the hens to scratch through and devour all the bugs.  Same with cabbages – I give the outer leaves – complete with slugs and caterpillars to the ducks and hens to pick  through. The ducks love slugs and snails.  Every other day I check the polytunnel for snails – collecting them in a bucket and then I tip them into the ducks’ water bowl.

Weeding is much more fun when you can feed the chickweed to the hens and the shepherd’s purse and dandelions to the rabbits.  Much more satisfying.

September in Barbara’s Back Yard

September in Barbara’s Back Yard

Lily Rabbit has had her babies.  Don’t know how many yet as I don’t like to disturb her.  Relieved that she is fertile – as last time she was mated no babies appeared.

Collected some pondweed and duck weed out of the ornamental pond and gave it to the ducks.  The ducks love rooting through it – and they greedily gobble up all the duck weed off the top of the water (hence its name I guess!).

I’ve decided to call the third duck Jasmine – I often change names as their personalities develop.  So I have Desmond, Olivia (Oli) and Jasmine ducks, Dillon and Daisy the Dorkings, Doris Brown and Grace Grey.  They are fascinating to watch.  The ducks prefer the water bowl to the pond.  In the morning they come rushing out – looking to see if there’s any snails in the water bowl.

Picked all the ripe tomatoes out of the polytunnel, and most of the basil and Thai basil.  I will make tomato and basil soup for today, skin and chop the rest of the tomatoes and freeze them in tubs – some of them with chopped basil – for later use in curries and pasta dishes. The rest of the chopped basil I freeze in plastic bags, or ice cube trays (with a few drops of water) for adding to meals in the winter.  The Thai basil I am drying – laying it on a baking tray in a very cool oven until it is dry, then picking off the leaves and chopping them in the chopper attachment of my mixer.  The basil can then be stored in an airtight jar.

Was it a polecat? A fox? Or an Owl?

Last week was very sad.

as_DSC0582s

When you go out in the morning, you never know what you are going to find.  Sadly, these few bits of white fur are all that is left of Holly rabbit and her six babies – just one week old.  Something had got into her pen overnight and taken all Holly’s babies AND Holly rabbit!  I am guessing it was a polecat as it had ripped a hole in the wire at the bottom of the pen.  It might have been a fox but a fox would easily have jumped into the pen, not made a hole in the wire.  We also heard an owl in the night which is quite unusual as we live so near a main road.  Whatever, Holly has gone and so have her tiny babies.

Happily Eny rabbit and her kits are all OK – Eny is a more aggressive and protective rabbit – she gets really cross if the cats go anywhere near her and she runs at them.  So Eny has to be shut in her hutch at night now which she doesn’t like at all – and tries to hide under the hutch – I keep telling her that won’t protect her and her babies from whatever got Holly but she’s not impressed.

It was so sad, Holly was my favourite rabbit and loved being cuddled.  But there’s always something to cheer you up.  Wandering around the field looking for clues as to what happened I came across these poppies growing in the ashes of last year’s bonfire night.

as_DSC0591s

Sweet tubs make great water bowls for my rabbits

Water bowls made from sweet tubs

as_DSC0630

I am a great fan of recycling – and if you can reuse something first – even better.  This is an excellent example.  Sweet tubs – the large ones everyone gets for Christmas containing a selection of chocolates – make great water bowls for my rabbits.  They are reasonably easy to clean – and you can replace them with new ones every January!

 

 

Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

sDSC_0149s

“People are trying to eat more sustainably but my worry is that they are turning to diets such as veganism that are not necessarily as sustainable, nor as healthy as they imagine.”

I have always believed that, to be truly sustainable, crop rotation should include a fallow field grazed with animals – and the ideal diet should include some meat.  To me, it makes much more sense to use animals to manure grassland.  If you drink milk, then, on average, for every calf born there is a male calf that is killed at birth – how much more sensible would it be to raise these calves for meat?  Try and buy veal from a butcher’s shop in Britain and you will find it’s practically impossible – although you can buy rosé veal online from Shropshire based www.alternativemeats.co.uk  This is, I am told, because we believe it is cruel to raise calves for white veal – but rosé veal is from calves that are raised and killed humanely.

So I was very pleased to read this guest post on the Farmdrop website from Patrick Holden, Dairy Farmer and Founding Director of the Sustainable Food Trust which works to accelerate the transition to more sustainable food and farming systems.

He says:  “I am growing increasingly concerned about the large number of people turning to diets that may not necessarily be either healthy or sustainable.

“A healthy diet should work backwards from the most sustainable way to farm, and that ideally means eating the foods produced by mixed farms using crop rotations which include a fertility building phase, usually of grass and clover grazed by cows and sheep, but also pastured pigs and poultry.”

https://www.foodandfarmingfutures.co.uk/Library/content/Detail.aspx?ctID=ZWVhNzBlY2QtZWJjNi00YWZiLWE1MTAtNWExOTFiMjJjOWU1&rID=MTM1MjI=&sID=MQ==&bckToL=VHJ1ZQ==&qcf=&ph=VHJ1ZQ==

Some years ago, I went to a talk by Charlotte Hollins at Fordhall Organic Farm www.fordhallfarm.com  – and she was asked a question about the higher price of organic meat.   Her answer has stayed with me.  She said:  “Organic meat is better for you – and it also tastes so much better.”  She suggested that replacing some meat with vegetables at each meal, and having a vegetarian meal once a week would even out the cost, so for the same budget you could include organic meat.  So that’s what we do – I now have a selection of dried and tinned beans which I add to dishes like spaghetti bolognese  and lasagne, replacing some of the meat – and, amazingly, the family are quite happy with the result – and it’s better for us.

My crop rotation doesn’t include sheep, pigs, cows or goats but it does include hens, ducks and rabbits – and the manure they produce enriches my compost bin, replenishes my soil with nutrients, and grows wonderful pumpkins.  This year I have allocated a fallow patch for clover – which the rabbits love to eat –and I am leaving some to flower for the bees when I dig the rest in ready to plant cabbages.

s_dsc0282s

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

New Zealand White Rabbits – all Eny and Holly’s babies have new homes

IMG_0611s

I had the most wonderful day on Sunday. All 12 baby rabbits went to new homes and will become breeding rabbits.  One breeding trio (one buck and two does) will be going to Portugal with their new owner in September.  Brendon was telling me about his smallholding and how much he is looking forward to retiring there – and he will be taking Eny and Holly’s babies with him.  He said he has had to build a really strong fence to protect his livestock – the foxes are bigger there – and there are golden eagles and otters that eat rabbits and poultry.

This is the first time I have had two litters from different parents so they can be sold as breeding pairs – but I discovered it’s quite complicated working out the best way to pair them off.  It sounds simple but one breeder wanted one buck and one doe and Malcolm wanted two bucks and two does (from different litters) to increase the number of wild white rabbits that visit his Manor House garden.  He realised that my rabbits would not be used to being outside so he has built a pen for them as an interim stage to ‘going wild’.  It was so lovely to see them hopping about on the grass.  My breeding bucks and does live in pens outside most of the time but it’s too dangerous for the babies.  All sorts of things eat them – not least our cats – Lunar and Sooty – who are the same size as my bucks and eat wild rabbits for fun!

Eny and Holly are both due to have new litters next weekend.  If everything goes as well as last time, I shall be delighted.

10 wks old_DSC0613s

Eny’s babies 10 weeks old

 

eny_DSC0614s

Eny

New Zealand White Rabbits 3 weeks old

New Zealand White Rabbits – Holly’s litter at 3 weeks old

_DSC0484hollys babies

Both Holly and Eeny had litters this month – six babies each – and they are now 3 weeks old and hopping around their pens.  It will be another 3 weeks before they are weaned and Mum can have a break.  They will be ready for new homes when they are 10 weeks old – after 6th June.  Won’t be able to tell what sex they are until then.

Now they are old enough to be picked up and cuddled – they are so cute – this is the best part about breeding rabbits.

 

 

Coltsfoot – little dots of sunshine decorating the path

Coltsfoot – it’s name comes from the hoof-shaped leaves.

March_DSC0640

Every spring, as soon as the daffodils start to come out, I start to look for coltsfoot flowers – then suddenly one morning, there they are, little yellow stars, dots of sunshine, decorating the path – the stems seem quite invisible until the flowers come out.

Like Butterbur, the flowers appear before the leaves.  In fact, Pliny and many of the older botanists thought that the Coltsfoot plant grew without leaves.  Rabbits like coltsfoot leaves but they will have to wait awhile for the foliage to appear.

Coltsfoot is a well-known herbal remedy for irritating coughs and respiratory disorders and Coltsfoot tea sweetened with honey will help soothe a dry cough.

The leaves were formerly smoked to relieve coughing and are even today included in herbal tobacco.

The seeds are crowned with a tuft of silky hairs which goldfinches like for lining their nests.

_DSC0662s

Rearing New Zealand White baby rabbits is never boring!

Catalogue of catastrophies with Eny’s latest litter!

New Zealand White Rabbits

New Zealand White rabbits are beautiful, very tame and very friendly so they make excellent pets. They are good house rabbits as they are clean, usually using the same place as a toilet all the time. They also grow quite big, quite quickly which is why they are often bred as meat rabbits. Once they reach 3 months old they generally have very few health problems, BUT, until they get to ten weeks old they can be notoriously difficult to rear.

Eny had 6 babies, two of them died in the first few days – no idea why – it was just like she abandoned them. The other four were fine at 3 weeks old, then one of them mysteriously just flaked out and I found it cold as stone in the morning. And then there were three!

Next day I found one of the babies in the hen house, goodness knows how he got out but I managed to catch him and reinstall him safely with his mum. Checked everything but couldn’t figure out how he got out but added extra security just in case.

Two days later – he’s with the hens again – but this time something has attacked him and he’s looking very sorry for himself indeed, so I put him in a pen on his own, cleaned him up and covered him in Aloe Vera gel (works wonders on everything from rabbit scratches on me to hens attacked by foxes – and poorly rabbits).

The next day he looked a lot better, but the shock must have been too much because he was dead the next morning.

So now we are down to two – one of which is quite small and therefore not really suitable for breeding although she’s really sweet and would make an excellent pet. Often people who are looking for rabbits as pets want two of the same sex to keep each other company. Guess what – the other baby is a male. So I am looking for someone who would like a small NZ white doe as a pet and someone else who would like a buck as either a pet or for breeding.

Breeding NZ whites is never simple! (But never boring either!)

On a more positive note, for the first time I have kept one of my own does and one of my own bucks (different mothers and fathers) for breeding and they are just old enough now to breed.  George is beautiful, he’s a really large buck and was the only baby Cowslip had in her last litter so he had the best possible attention.  He’s just over 6 months old.   Holly, my new doe, was one of Eny’s babies.  She is now just over 5 months old.  Alhough it’s still winter, the weather last weekend was quite mild so I thought I would see how they got on together.

I never leave a doe with a buck unattended as sometimes they can fight so I always keep an eye on them – there’s always lots of things I can get on with in the rabbit shed – cleaning up, washing food bowls, stroking the rabbits (my favourite task!).  After 10 minutes of chasing each other round I put them back in their pens and tried again the next day – with no luck.

Holly really doesn’t like being kept in a cage – the other rabbits are fine but she absolutely loves being in the run outside so she gets to go out more often than the others.  In the spring she will have a hutch outside but, for the moment, she’s safe in her cage.  So I thought I might put a nest box in her cage to see if that changed her mind about mating.  (Usually you put the nest box in a week before the babies are due because otherwise rabbits tend to make a mess in them and you have to keep cleaning them out.)  Anyway, Holly loved her nest box and settled down happily in it.  Next day when I introduced her to George again, she mated straight away,  so I am hoping Holly and George will be parents for the first time in February.

Let’s hope the babies in this next litter are less problematic than Eny’s last litter.