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.

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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.

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Sweet tubs make great water bowls for my rabbits

Water bowls made from sweet tubs

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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?

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“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.

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Betsy saved me from a Rat!

Betsy Saved Me from a Rat!

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Well it wasn’t exactly life-threatening – but she saved me being really scared by a rat.  As usual she came with me to let the ducks out and she followed me into the rabbit shed – where she pounced on a rat and quickly killed it.  It was probably half dead from poison or she would never have caught it – she is getting on a bit!  But it was dead very quickly and I didn’t have to kill it.  Horrible things.  Always makes me think of the poem:

Rats, they fought the dogs and killed the cats and bit the babies in the cradles, and ate the cheeses out of the vats and licked the soup from the cooks’ own ladles…

Shropshire might not be as bad as Hamelin, but we don’t have a Pied Piper to lure the rats away and, in the past, I have had problems with rats eating tiny baby rabbits.  Finding half eaten babies in the morning is not one of my fonder memories!   After persevering with rat traps for ages, we finally had to resort to rat poison – you can buy packets of liquorice smelling poison that you don’t have to open but just place in the boxes.  The council used to come out but they don’t any more – although you can still get advice from your local council.  They provided us with safe rat poison boxes which are placed along the rat runs.  I keep an eye open for any rat droppings which act as a reminder to put poison down again.  It doesn’t matter how careful you are with never leaving food lying around, rats always find a way – and they cause so much damage eating holes in everything too.

Looking up the spelling of Hamelin, I found the poem – I didn’t know that Robert Browning wrote it and it has a different ending to the fairy tale I knew.  It’s one of the poems on this website if you want to read it for yourself.

New Zealand White Rabbits 3 weeks old

Eny’s latest litter are just 3 weeks old

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They will be ready for new homes by the end of October – there are 9 babies. They all survived which isn’t always the case with NZ Whites. They can be very sensitive to their surroundings, they don’t like changes, different people, strange noises – some breeders have a radio on all day so the rabbits get used to different sounds. I leave the shed door open all the while so the rabbits can see what’s going on outside and get used to different noises – so my rabbits are used to different things and the babies are too.

I’ve had problems with new does, sometimes it’s because they are new mums with their first litters and they really don’t seem to know what to do!  I have had stillborn and abandoned litters, and often the babies manage to get out of the nest box somehow so every morning and night I check properly that there are none getting cold away from the nest.

Many people have solved the problem with crossing NZ Whites with Californian rabbits.  They are also white but with black tips to their ears – they are a large breed but generally not quite as big as NZ Whites.  They are however far less sensitive and traumatised, they seem altogether a much hardier breed and if you are breeding meat rabbits would be an ideal solution.