As I sit down to write this next Bastleblog, six weeks since we left Edinburgh, Alexa has just informed me that the word 'cockpit', as in aeroplane, comes from the enclosed space that was used for cock fighting. Such is the wealth of information we are learning from our monthly subscription to Smallholder Magazine. We now get to put some of their tips into practice and they have lots of tips. Our ten hens and one titchy Light Sussex cockerel arrived on New Year's Eve and now seem to be free ranging quite happily.
We have a mix of Speckeldys, Buff Orpingtons, Rhode Rocks, Columbian Blacktails and Light Sussex. The Light Sussex girls are the largest and most aggressive and also the pure breeds. The others are all hybrids. They are all laying birds and already we are getting about four eggs a day although we're not exactly sure which birds are laying. And one of them insists of laying in a corner of the ground rather than in the nesting boxes. There's always one! They are still pullets at only 18 weeks or so old and the eggs are much smaller than the extra large ones we are now used to in the shops these days. But they are lovely and rich and it feels very wholesome having a food supply on tap.
Batsleblog subscriber, Emily, raised some eggstremely interesting questions from the last blog. I shall try and answer them as comprehensively as possible with all the knowledge of a complete novice.
Q: Were the eggs laid on the journey actual eggs with chicks inside?
A: No, you may be relieved to hear. No beaks or feathers. Just a regular egg with white and yolk and a very soft shell as it was probably laid about twelve hours before they should have been laid.
Q: And when you say 'proper eggs' are you therefore talking about ones you can eat?
A: Yes indeed. And very tasty too.
Q: And....how will you know which is which with a Light Sussex cock wandering around? A: Three of the four eggs we are getting each day are fertilised. After a quick google search I have learnt that the indicator for this is a wee white bullseye in the yolk. Given the behaviour of our weedy cockerel I suspect this is not his doing but that of the majestic cockerel of the breeder. Apparently once fertilised, hens can lay fertilised eggs for up to three weeks after that. Some believe a fertilised egg is more nutritious and certainly that will have been the way most eggs were eaten in the past with a regular flock of hens and cockerel.
Without incubation there will not be any beaks, bones or feathers. However, I'm sure you won't be surprised to hear there are parts of the world where eating fertilised eggs, complete with developing chicks, is common place. I believe fertilised duck eggs, incubated from 14 to 20 days make up a regular portion of the Filipino diet as well as other countries.
In the Philippines it is called balut, in Vietnam it is known as 'hot vit lon' as the eggs are boiled before eating. The duck egg would typically hatch between 26 and 28 days so the chick inside is pretty well developed by the time it is consumed. I think we'll leave those off the menu for now.
Whilst the hens have been great to watch - almost meditative - we've been working hard in lots of other areas. Fires have been burning for over five days, such is the quantity of old and rotten wood.
The polytunnel has been getting some refurbishment, trees and hedges cut back and orchard pruning continues. Bird feeding isn't just limited to the hens. There's the collared doves, pheasants, tits, finches and wrens. I even saw a Goldcrest out the utility room window in a briar rose hedge which I thought were generally limited to pine forests. And then there is the resident barn owl that we see from time to time.
He has his own roosting box but insists on spending his time in a timber barn and makes an awful mess with pellets and poo. Although to be fair to the owl, his right of passage is in his name. Which reminds me of the Edward Lear rhyme.
There was an Old Man with a beard, Who said, "It is just as I feared! Two Owls and a Hen, four Larks and a Wren, Have all built their nests in my beard.
All we need are the larks. For now the hen house needs mucked out - i'm told our ten hens will produce approximately half a ton of litter a year! - along with the other endless jobs. So less larking around with this blog and more grafting.
Until next time I shall leave you once again with a small gallery of sunrises and scenery. Thanks for reading.