Friday 30 December 2016

Nest boxes and roosting bars

building nest boxes Dec 16 (3)

Another 2 eggs laid by the hens today so we built some nest boxes which were installed in the henhouse. We also installed a large roosting bar made from one of the branches from the large pile waiting to be made into firewood. Note how Spotless is supervising the work in the photo above!

nest boxes Dec 16 (2)

roosting bar Dec 16

Thursday 29 December 2016

Privet on the menu

goats eating privet Dec 16 1

The only greenery available to feed to the goats at the moment are ivy, bamboo, brambles and privet. All are available on the Whinnies site where are livestock allotment is. We've been feeding the goats mainly bamboo recently (and apples) but this week we've turned our attention to one of the hedges on the site which contains a good quantity of privet. As I tend to look after that hedge, I had deliberately allowed the privet to grow rather than be trimmed. I now have a modest feed crop for the goats. They love privet and thrive on it.

Hazel catkins

hazel catkins Dec 16

We had a walk in the local woodland on Christmas Day and I discovered the hazel trees were covered in catkins. Hopefully there will be a good hazel nut crop next year. I have to confess we fowled up this autumn regarding hazel. The nuts are an important crop. They are full of protein and oils and are an important part of our diet. Or they would have been if we had gone out to gather them. Sadly we didn't. We must avoid that mistake in 2017.

Laying eggs again

eggs Dec 16 2

In October, our hens stopped laying. This was the first time we were without fresh eggs and I was concerned that we were doing something wrong. In the summer when the egg numbers rapidly declined, we changed their diet, ensuring there was more protein in it. This led to an improvement in egg numbers but this proved to be temporary.

My conclusion was that the hen houses were to blame. We had 5 small hen houses but they are difficult to clean. They often become infested with red mites which the hens hate. I decided that we needed to replace the small hen houses with a large one which will allow me inside to clean it and which was better suited for the numbers of birds we have.

And then the solution presented itself earlier this month when the temporary restrictions by DEFRA on keeping poultry separate from wild birds were imposed. We have confined ours to the smaller goat house and the fruitcage. The goat house has proved to be ideal for the hens to the extent that we are now starting to get eggs laid again! Okay, not lots of eggs but two days ago, one eggs was laid and yesterday, we had two. None today and I'm not going to count my eggs before they are laid (sorry!) but I'm hoping more of the hens will start laying again.

Fish soup - the video

This video was filmed a couple of days ago - how to make fish soup using the fish leftovers from a previous meal.


goats and firewood Dec 16 1

Our supply of firewood keeps on growing as we gradually chop the branches gathered during the summer from which the goats ate the leaves. A large pile of branches is still waiting but as you can see, the chopped wood pile (we have more piles than is shown above!) is large and attracting the goats. They eat the bark but also manage to scatter the wood all over the place. The wood needs to dry for 2 years. We are starting to run out of storage space. The sooner we get our fossil-fuel-powered gas heating system at home replaced with a wood-fired system, the better.

Wednesday 28 December 2016


molehills in duck run Dec 16 2

Recently we had an unwelcome visitor to the duck run: a fox had got in and took off with 2 ducks. We have had more visitors since though thankfully they weren't foxes. They were moles which left behind 2 huge molehills. The ducks quickly adopted them as perches!

Fish soup

fish soup Dec 16 (1)

The leftover tails, skins and heads from the two trout we had for Christmas dinner were not going to be wasted. We had some similar fish waste in the freezer as well. All of it was boiled up to make fish stock and this was then used to make fish soup. We cheated a little bit. We added mussels, anchovies and prawns we bought in a supermarket. Not entirely self-sufficient but a good soup nevertheless.

fish soup Dec 16 (2)

Redcurrant vodka

red currant vodka Dec 16 (1)

As a Christmas treat, I bottled up one of the jars of redcurrant vodka I made in the summer. Time fora tipple!

red currant vodka Dec 16 (2)

Christmas Dinner

baked trout Dec 16 (1)

This was our Christmas dinner. Not the traditional turkey. 2 baked trout instead. We have quite a few in the freezer so this was a good excuse to use them up.

baked trout Dec 16 (2)

Mini scotch eggs

pigeon sausage meat scotch eggs Dec 16 1

The quails have stopped laying and we have stopped milking Pinkie. Nevertheless, we still have a glut of quail eggs and ricotta goats cheese. So, time to make some mini scotch eggs. The coating of ricotta also included bread crumbs and onion. I also made 4 mini scotch eggs for the meat eaters - the coating was made of pigeon sausage meat. I was rather pleased with the results though we still have a quail egg and ricotta cheese glut to use up. And we are getting a bit fed up with scotch eggs with every meal going.

pigeon sausage meat scotch eggs Dec 16 3

ricotta cheese scotch eggs Dec 16 (3)

ricotta cheese scotch eggs Dec 16 (2)

Sunday 18 December 2016

Duck in a bath

duck in bath Dec 16 (2)

Our magpie drake was looking traumatised after the recent fox attack. He was covered in mud but had made no effort to clean himself. This afternoon we decided to take him home to clean him up in the bath. He rather enjoyed the cold shower. I took him back to the allotment leaving David to spend ages cleaning up the bathroom!

duck in bath Dec 16 (1)

duck in bath Dec 16 (4)

Renovating the pond

cleaning the pond Dec 16 3

We had been planning to clean out and renovate the duck pond but the fox attack on Saturday morning brought forward the plans. We spent 4 hours today draining the pond, clearing out the mud, refilling it with water, dismantling the duck shelter and replacing it with one of the small henhouses, and resetting the net over the run. It was an exceptionally muddy day but job was complete by about 2pm.

cleaning the pond Dec 16 4

Lost to the foxes

muddy ducks Dec 16 (1)

Some bad news to report. I got to the allotment yesterday morning and was a bit surprised by what I saw in the duck run. The ducks were covered in mud. When I did a head count, 2 were missing. A fox had managed to find its way in through a hole in the netting. The ducks had taken to the water to protect themselves. The pond was in need of a clean as it was very muddy. Sadly, we lost one of our Aylesburies and one of the khaki campbells.

Wednesday 14 December 2016

Quail egg salad with black pudding

quail egg salad and blackpudding Dec 16 2

We are aiming to use up our remaining quail eggs by the end of the year. So we are still having lots of quail egg salads. We weren't entirely self-sufficient with the last one. We bought some locally made black pudding from the Simply Local shop in Sunniside recently when they had a Christmas food fayre. They went well with the quail eggs. Next year I am hoping to have a go at making my own black pudding.

Tuesday 13 December 2016

The far side

digging allotment Dec 16 3

On the Whinnies in Sunniside we have a second allotment which is on the far side of the site to our main patch. We have rented it for over 2 years but not yet used it. The allotment itself has not been used for decades but we are now starting to bring it into use. The allotment will be used for growing fruit. All the soft fruit on the main allotment is being moved to the far side. The reason for the move is that the main allotment is to be used almost exclusively for livestock. The soft fruit bushes have been losing out to the goats in the past year, no matter what we do to keep them off the plants.

One of the biggest jobs to do on the far side is to cut back the hawthorn hedge. It is about 5 metres high and I made a start in October and early November when there were still leaves on the branches which could be fed to the goats. This work has now been put on hold until the spring when the leaves are growing again.

digging allotment Dec 16 2

Monday 12 December 2016

Pigeon burgers

pigeon burgers Dec 16 1

On Saturday I used some of the pigeon sausage meat I made recently into burgers for lunch. Good taste but I need to investigate ways of getting the sausage meat to bind together better.

pigeon burgers Dec 16 3

Roosting bars

roosting bars Dec 16 3

It's looking likely that the goat house, which we are temporarily using as part of a chicken run, will become the permanent henhouse. We were planning to build a new henhouse to replace the 5 small ones we have but it seems the solution to our chicken accommodation problem was staring us in the face. The former goathouse still needs some work on it to make it more than just a temporary structure. Nest boxes and a proper door will need to be added. We have, however, made some roosting bars from branches waiting to be chopped into firewood. The chickens took to them straightaway.

poultry in henhouse Dec 16

Friday 9 December 2016

Confined to barracks

chicken run Dec 16 2

On Wednesday, DEFRA issued an order that all poultry have to be caged and separated from wild birds for 30 days due to an outbreak of avian flu on the Continent. While it is easy to issue the order, carrying it out is a nightmare. Nevertheless, we've done it. We have confined out chickens to the fruitcage and the spare goathouse. We've netted the area between the 2. The ducks are confined to the duck run. We have another 28 days of this to go.

chicken run Dec 16 1

duck run Dec 16 3

More game

game Dec 16 (2)

Two ducks and two pheasants were left for me recently on the gate of the allotment by a friend. I will pay for them with jars of preserve. The birds still need to be plucked and gutted and will probably end up in the freezer, though I am toying with the idea of making potted meats.

A few unexpected, late leaves

Autumn leaves for goats Dec 16 (3)

Some work was being done on the Whinnies Garden recently to remove a feral hazel tree. And it still have leaves on it. So I was allowed to take the branches for the goats. A good feed enjoyed by all four of them.

Autumn leaves for goats Dec 16 (1)

Pigeon sausages - a wartime recipe

We can learn so much from history about how to avoid food waste. Wood pigeons are regarded as pests and during the 2nd World War in the UK, farmers were strongly encouraged to cull them as they would otherwise eat large parts of the grain crop. The birds have a modest amount of meat on their breasts and this was not wasted. In this video I show you how to make pigeon sausages using a wartime recipe. The pigeons were given to us (in large quantities) in a swap with a friend who goes shooting. This is the first time I've used pigeon meat to make sausages and I was rather pleased with the outcome.

pigeon sausage meat Dec 16 (1)

pigeon sausage meat Dec 16 (2)

Another quail egg salad

quail egg salad Dec 16

We are still using up the quail eggs laid in the early autumn. Time for another salad.

Monday 5 December 2016

New goat paddock

goat paddock Dec 16 (2)

The decision to keep Spotless, the billy, means we had to build a separate paddock to hold him when the nannies are in heat. We don't want him to mate with his mother or sister. Pinkie is to be mated with a pedigree Golden Guernsey. So we have created a small paddock for him using some spare harris frames. The goathouse is an unused henhouse. So far, none of the nannies have been in heat and the goats can go in and out of the paddock as they please. Pinkie has taken rather a shine to the new mini-goathouse. She sleeps in there through the night rather than in the main goathouse.

The job of getting Spotless a mate is still waiting to be done.

goat paddock Dec 16 (1)

goat paddock Dec 16 (3)

Restocking with apples

apples Dec 16 (2)

On Friday I paid a visit to the old orchard in Whickham. Lots of apples were lying on the ground. I collected 5 sackfuls and there are still loads left there. The goats are having a bit of a feast!

apples Dec 16 (1)