Saturday, 28 February 2009

Chicken update

Our six new hens are doing very well indeed. They have settled in quite happily to their new life and have realised that, like Nick Park's Chicken Run chickens, there's more to life than just laying a daily egg.

They came from a free range egg unit near Tregaron that had been producing eggs for Tesco and needed to clear out 3,500 or so of these hens to make way for a fresh batch. The farmer had to get rid of them or, on February 23rd, they had an appointment with a slaughterman at a chicken sandwich paste factory.

So homes were needed for 3,500 redundant layers. A tall order you might think, but this is where the local Freecycle network and Brian's colleague Neris came into the equation.

The farmer had been offered 7p for each bird from the sandwich paste factory. Instead he offered them at £1 each on Freecycle.

Neris heard about the birds' plight and decided to get involved. She works with Brian at police HQ and was in the position of being able to publicise the chickens' plight to every single police employee throughout Dyfed and Powys. She has friends working for both Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire county councils too and they passed on the details of the hens to their colleagues. Neris was a determined woman; she made sure everyone knew about the birds; she even arranged collection for some.

Although the farmer was selling the hens at £1 each, he gave many away; we wanted and paid for four, we got six. He did that over and over again. I should imagine that anyone who went there for a bird or two got a few more than they bargained for. So he must have made about 50p per bird overall instead of the 7p he would have got from the chicken paste manufacturer.

It is now the end of February. All 3,500 chickens missed their appointment to be transformed into pots of chicken sandwich paste. In the end the farmer was left with 80 birds which he has kept on as layers to scratch about in a spare field and lay the occasional egg for farm gate sales. I think he was probably a little overwhelmed at the way the whole thing snowballed. He never expected to get rid of 3,500 unwanted birds, let alone have so many of them make new homes with members of the local police force!

But it all starts again. At the end of March he is to restock with another 3,500 point of lay pullets at a cost £7 each to lay eggs for Tesco and in 72 weeks time those birds will be old has-beens too.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Half term? Blink and you'll miss it!

Half term has simply galloped past on furious hooves.

We did so many things it felt like a month, not a week. We began with a trip to our favourite beach at Newport which, according to the Observer last year is "the new Rock". (No it isn't! Stay away!) The beach was beautiful and virtually empty, as usual. We climbed all over its lovely rocky bits and then warmed up with hot chocolate and homemade chocolate chip cookies in the car park.

Mother-in-law joined us on Wednesday so her visit was preceded by a little cleaning and hurried building of the new spare room bed.

Thursday saw us wandering round the lovely shops in Narberth and on Friday we celebrated Brian's birthday with fish and chips at Something's Cooking in Letterston, which serves the best fish and chips in the world.

Saturday found us hiking to the top of Foel Eryr, one of the Preseli hills. I'd love to say it's the tallest, but I'm not sure! It's 1,500 feet (468m) and the wind was fairly bracing at the top. There's an impressive Bronze Age burial mound near the summit and an observation point on the very top which helpfully points out things you can see on clear days, including the Wicklow Hills over in Ireland (but not on Saturday). In the picture I'm pointing towards ChrisH's house to the north.

We hurtled back down again. It's a lovely path, dry underfoot even at this time of year, with smooth grass peppered with tiny hoof prints. Going up is easy and is a fairly steady climb interrupted by big cushiony steps in the peaty ground. Coming back down again is enormous fun as you can run and jump off all the steps if you are either H7 or R5 - or me trying to keep up with the pair of them.

Sunday saw us as part of about 300 Brownies at Folly Farm to celebrate Thinking Day. H7 was joined by her friend and fellow Brownie G7. Myself, Brian, MIL, R5 and a large picnic went along for good measure. It was cold, but sunny, which did not deter the three smallest demanding ice creams while the adults huddled around big cups of cappuccino.

On the way home we saw a hedgehog walking across the road. That might not be such a major event for some, but we have lived in this part of Pembrokeshire for 24 years now and that's the first one I have seen here. It did the modern hedgehog thing and walked briskly across the road instead of rolling up into a prickly ball. For a week that also saw Darwin's 200th birthday being marked, it seemed appropriate.

Monday, 16 February 2009

The new birds

We have needed new chickens for a while, since the old ones actually died of old age, rather than being swiped by a member of the local fox population. So when we heard that a (relatively) local egg farm was clearing out a batch of layers, we said we'd have four.

At £1 each they were a total bargain, even more so when they turned out to be on a buy two get one free promotion. So we got a couple more than we bargained for. No problem.

Now these are "free range" birds which have spent the past 72 weeks laying "free range" eggs for Tesco. So what does "free range" actually mean? Well, according to Neris who collected the hens from the farm, it means these ladies lived in a barn and during the summer they had access to the outdoors. They didn't actually have to go out, of course, and judging by the behaviour of these six girls, they've never actually set foot out of doors to do any "free ranging".

After 72 weeks of laying eggs for Tesco to sell as "free range" they are made redundant because their production dips and the shells of the eggs they do lay become too soft. They then had a date with the slaughterman on February 23rd.

They are a rather sweet bunch, actually. They remind me of the hens in Nick Park's Chicken Run. They sit on the perch, eat from the feeder, lay a daily egg, discuss the weather and do their knitting.

There's very much a "them and us" situation between them and the incumbent trio of bantams, but they are dealing with the situation at the moment by completely ignoring each other. The bantams get up at the crack of dawn and head straight outside. The new hens, having no idea of what "outside" actually is, stay happily inside, chatting amongst themselves. Our only laying bantam pops in during the day, battles her way through the feathery underskirts of her new roomies and lays her pretty white egg before heading straight back outside again.

I did find one of the new girls outside yesterday. She was perched all a-flap on the door, swinging madly to and fro and looking horrified. I think, for now, she and her five colleagues are actually safest inside doing their own thing. Outdoors can wait.

*UPDATE: They're out! We removed the bullying bantams to a seperate abode and the new girls felt brave enough to go outside. As I write this they are having a lovely time, chortling, clucking and scratching in a most pleasantly happy way.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Snow on snow...

I took these pictures on Thursday when we woke up to yet more snow but with sunshine and turquoise skies. We've had more snow since, but today it's raining as well, making the snow totally slippery and turning the black runs on the toboggan slopes into death runs! Thursday was still and beautiful and calm. The roads were clear so we could get about again. It was snow at its finest.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

The Cottager's Reply

I heard this song on Radio 2 today and it really resonated with me. It's a song by Chris Wood based on a poem he wrote about second homes.

It begins (with some lovely folksy guitar accompaniment):

Five hundred thousand English pounds
for this old house and a piece of ground.
You and your wife you've always planned
to settle down in Cotswold land.
Well you best come in and you best sit down
it's such a long drive from London town.
Would you like some tea now while I tell
the reasons why I will not sell.
This stone-built house that you called "nice"
was gained at far too high a price
for me to gladly sign away
what others toiled for night and day...

I urge you to visit Chris Wood on MySpace and listen to the rest. There are some lovely lines (London town's four hours for me; in your f...f...f...four by f...f...f...four you'll do it in three...) and it really sums up the frustration and sadness of people watching their homes being swallowed up by well-heeled second home owners from the big smoke.

It illustrates too the heritage of a house and its land and the fact that the toil and suffering of those who lived there before is infused into the stone that the cottage is built from. It's an education, really, for second homeowners, should they wish to listen.

I suppose I really liked it because although I'm from rural Worcestershire and now live in Wales (in a stone cottage), my ancestry is Cotswold. My great grandfather is buried in the churchyard at Winchcombe and I feel a strong pull to that area.

I have this fantasy (and it's a bit of a family joke now, especially as to get a similar 22 acre smallholding to this one would cost £1.4 million) that one day I'll be rich enough to afford "to settle down in Cotswold land" but, having heard this song, I'm feeling guilty about that now!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Snowed in

We have our blanket of snow today and it is lovely. It is beautiful, crisp and deep, nearly up to the tops of my wellies and way above those of the girls. School is closed and Brian can't get to work so we have the only thing to do is to put on hats, gloves, fleeces and waterproofs and get out into the 'white stuff' for some wintry fun.

Mido loved it, zooming around on the virgin snow in wide, sweeping curves, grabbing mouthfuls of it and tossing it into the air.

I tested out the toboggan first. Most of our fields slope, but this one is the first we tried. The better one is in the distance over the hedge. That field is flat at the top and then really steep before levelling off a little. The perfect tobogganing field, but the snow was too deep and we did a lot of snow ploughing at first. The dog is chasing me enthusiastically. His idea of tobogganing is to chase you to the bottom and give you the kiss of life. Most unwelcome!

This is Bullseye, our sensitive little rescue pony. He had just made a pony 'snow angel' and was terrified of the way the snow creaked when his hooves squashed it.

Our green lane took on a whole new wintry hue.

On our way back to the house for a much-needed hot chocolate and caramel digestives and to empty all the snow out from our wellies.