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Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Thawing at time for the new generation of chickens

It has been bitter over here with temperatures regularly below -10 c and as low as -20 c. The days have not been above freezing for weeks although with strong sunshine you were easily fooled and it actually felt quite nice in full sun. But at last we are above freezing and the snow is shrinking as you watch. We have glorious sunshine and I want to get on!

My sister and BIL came back from the UK where they have been sorting their goods ready for transporting to Bulgaria. They were not too sad to be leaving the Lake District where they have lived for many years, the weather was not brilliant, the food poor and flooding threatening. They were happy to be heading to their new home. It was a bit touch and go when it was reported that Sofia airport was shrouded in thick fog but actually the plane was in good time...even early (yes, it was Easy Jet!) But it was a bit of a shock to the system to feel how cold -20 really is! They knew about the snow though as they had seen photos that the neighbour had kindly put on Facebook of their motorhome, Kevin, in his snowy duvet. Though we said that they could stay with us a couple of days, they had their taxi driver take them straight home so that they could look for the cover of their water stop-cock, lying somewhere beneath two feet of lovely powdery...and very cold...snow! They had turned the water off before leaving after watching the long range forecast and luckily it worked fine once they found it.

So next day we braved the roads to take Bracken home. We had been told the roads were clear but there is a difference between 'clear' and 'passable' I think. Most of the road to the village were white sheet ice! And it started snowing as we went. Luckily there was not much traffic and what there was came from the opposite direction, a couple of lorries which didn't slow down, a few cars and a gritter, who stopped and pulled over for us. There are some factories in one of the villages so their road was far as the factory, then it wasn't. But we made it without incident, not that we were worried about us as Dave is careful, but it is not always the case with others and at one point we did have to pull off the road as a 4x4 tailgated us on sheet ice on a single track. The snow came down in earnest as we approached the village so the pie I had made was handed over, with shopping and dog, and we came back...through bright sunshine! There was nowhere to park anyway, all the lanes having three foot high snow lining them where the snow plough had been.

Resen railway looking surprisingly clear

I did tell Dave we had time if he wanted a swim....he declined

The factory car park was cleared! A huge mound of snow!

The village

Our village main road

So we went back in to hibernation and carried on freezing for a few days, but at last it is thawing and we have warmer temperatures, up to 5 c today, feels tropical!

The chooks and ducks have coped quite well, they are lucky to still have a place to scratch about and dust bathe, though the pond re-froze good style and is only just back in action. The goats have had bits of the fallen fruit branches to nibble on and seem quite happy, not shouting and happy to see us. We are getting six or seven eggs a day, though one of the Sussex girls has stopped laying. Mr Sussex has had a touch of frost bite and the three of them were moved to what will be the nursery, which is smaller and not as cold, but they have now taken themselves 'home' and Mr S looks none the worse after the scare.

We have ordered a water feeder for the chickens so that the ducks don't muddy the dishes by trying to bathe in them. We have had several cheapies over the years so have gone for a big one this time and hope it will work for longer. And inspired by this, Dave has fashioned a feeder based on the water bottles which are accumulating in the cellar. A sink plug plastic thingy and plastic tray from a seed sprouter and we have a feeder they can't get into and the bottles can be changed regularly. Happy chooks.

There's always one who takes it's time getting the hang of a new regime

Hairy Mary and Susie, the two pullets, are looking really well now

Lucky chooks to have somewhere to play, outside but sheltered

We have had the first chicks of the year hatch. So far there are two ex-batt x Dandy chicks with hairy legs and two Light Sussex with others pipping. They have a cardboard box in the spare room, fire lit and a bedside lamp as they don't really need the big lamp up there. Bella, as usual, wants to play mother and is very excited, and we are being extra careful about the cats! Hopefully they can go outside in a couple of days when the rest have hatched and got their strength. Dave is liming the walls and ceiling to kill off any bugs...using another water bottle to hold the wash, saving the few buckets we have.
There's more on Dave than the walls!

Bella was desperate for a look...and Venka's been up too

Weeelll, it was very cold up there.....

We have seen a bit of wildlife in the garden...well, birds actually. As well as the great and blue tits and the usual woodpeckers, the jays and rooks have been coming close to the house, taking the walnuts still on the tree. We have had a few little yellow serins and the usual tree sparrows and chaffinch, but the not-so-welcome are the sparrowhawk which we see quite often and a buzzard, no doubt moving into the village after finding food hard to come by. On the way to my Sister's, we saw quite a few blackbirds....I wish we had some here, I have seen one but it was very shy, not like the ones in the UK villages.

The bird table is getting plenty of use

Wondering where the branch went




Great tit come down for a drink
Buzzard watching

I am getting fed up of comfort food. I never thought I would say it! We always look forward to stews and Yorkshire puddings, cakes and pies at the start of winter. But now I want fresh veg (all our's is still in the flattened polytunnel) salads and new potatoes. We have had a few yorkies recently both to use up eggs and to eke out potatoes till we go out again. We will be going out this week and salad is on the list, fresh veg and fruit. It goes against the grain when we have stuff still in the freezer and bottles, but a healthy indulgence is not it?
Orange and lemon drizle cake and curd, mincemeat slice for the neigbours' morning coffee

We broke into the fresh garlic and parsley goat cheese yesterday. I didn't want to keep it too long with having additions. It's quite surprising really, nice and sharp, quite strong, you can taste the garlic, and it's dry and easily sliced, slightly crumbly. Very slightly goaty as you would expect. We are looking forward to having some with a fruity salad and a friend suggested topping it with chutney and wrapping in filo pastry...or it would be great with beetroot. The cheddar style cheese has had a salty wash to get rid of any sign of mould and is forming a nice rind. The next step is to oil it to stop cracking.

So that's us. Nothing going on really.

And as we have just had a visit from the serins again, some more of them clearing up under the bird table, their sleek appearance supporting the fact that it's warmer

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

A bit of the white stuff

We were warned about the snow. But we were told between 15 and 25 centimetres. Well, they got that wrong. The first day there was 30 centimetres but it was thawing as it was snowing. Dave cleared the paths three times during the day. Next day was the same, with extra icicles from the day before, but now we have half as much again.
Dalmation in reverse? Bracken coming in

Pristine paddock

The cornel before the snow was removed

One branch of one of the plum trees

Venka and Yordan's icicles

Around the village

The steps behind the post office

Main road, day one

We have had damage in the garden. The polytunnel couldn't cope with the weight and is now a very large cloche, completely flattened. We will have to wait for the thaw to find out if we can salvage anything. Trees have also been damaged, a huge branch from the cats' favourite apricot tree has broken off and we will have to assess it later to see if we can safely keep it. So sad, it's the centre of the garden. Also the pear tree with the little summer pears which are so good bottled has lost a large branch. It's all down to the sheer weight of the snow. There may be even more casualties as the plum across the garden and the cornel by the gate a very heavy with snow. All the chain link fences are solid white.
The odd shaped thing behind the well was the polytunnel!

Broken apricot tree

In the village people are digging to find their cars as the snow drifted over them. Many people have been without electricity for a couple of days (we've been lucky) and internet is sketchy at best. We were OK the first day but now we have none. The roads have been ploughed but with more snow coming down it hasn't really helped. Still some people have to get out, especially as there were funerals planned. And of course they need to get bread, have a coffee and chat about the weather! The chap who looks after the internet cables has been round trying to dislodge snow from them. Our's came on again but went off within half an hour, then Dave saw him going up our lane so he might have dislodged something. Amazing how lost you feel without it.

There are lots of small birds coming and going and we have set up a simple feeding station, stocking it with freshly shelled walnuts, any seed that's hanging around and the final fat treat. All hung on the washing line meaning the cats get entertainment but can't get anywhere near to catch. So far I have only seen blue and great tits on it, with chaffinch picking up the pieces underneath (cats allowing, the path is cleared so they are easily seen) The sparrows are happy with chicken feed...Charlie has been seen trying to use the ducks as a shield to get close...but the ducks are noisy and it doesn't work! We have also had a few serin about which is nice, but they aren't brave enough to raid the feeding station. Photos are a bit hazy due to them being taken through the cheap double glazing which is never quite sparkling. We have also seen a few skeins of geese flying over, hundreds of birds. They pick their moments....usually when I have no camera to hand.

Cracking walnuts for birds wild and domestic

Serin, a pretty little visitor


One thing which would suffer if the electricity goes off are the eggs in the incubator, so fingers crossed it won't go off. (It did, but not for long, about an hour)

The animals thought it was great at first. Bracken is a real outdoor boy and follows Dave around for as long as he's allowed. He and Bella got a bit playful but Bella is still wary of the big lad, having had a couple of tellings off over the years and she doesn't know why. Bonnie had to bounce through the snow to go for a pee, which is exhausting for the old girl. Day one and she had to be carried up the steps to go for a walk. It gets a bit confusing as there have to be two walks because Bracken goes on a flexi-lead so is not used to walking to heel in his place, as the girls are, and things are inclined to get a bit muddled.  Poor Dave...well he does complain he has nothing to do in this weather! But the girls don't understand why they can't go with Bracken, Bracken doesn't understand why he can't go with the girls. But I value my husband and really don't need him going head over heels!

Round three of path clearing and he still has a smile on his face

Checking the paddock.....
.....and down came a branch, just where he had been standing The goat bench was nearly covered here

After the initial horror at what was happening outside, the cats eventually braved it, Spud keeping to the chicken run and dust house, Charlie using the tracks the dogs left in the snow. He has an amazing thick and soft coat, much better protected than Spud. Both cats are watching the birds of course, easy to see in the snow, but they are safe enough for now. They do, however, need to let off steam. They are still young cats and luckily they seem to have become buddies since we started the bad weather and play for hours, using the chairs, cat flaps and any feet and legs lying about as obstacles, jumping on dogs as they pass (dogs are not happy...scary kitties!) and at night charging up and down the stairs and especially Spud. up onto chest of drawers, headboard, bedside table, whatever, but usually settling on the bed eventually, leaving Bella a nervous wreck.

United in disgust! Two very different cats

With his super thick coat Charlie soon ventured out

And came in to attack my shoes. He does this sometimes with my feet in them! Ouch.

The outside animals are complaining a bit but generally they just get on with things. The duck pond is lost again so they are keeping to the chicken house with a trough of water for washing, the Sussex are happy enough inside, the chickens are scratching around in the dust barn and the goats are quite happy munching on hay and veg all day.

So with some of the country being given warnings about strong winds and other areas declaring a state of emergency due to over full rivers, we should count ourselves lucky. We have heating .....we don't have central heating so no water pump to worry about if the electricity goes off. The heating also has an oven and we can cook on top. We have plenty of candles and a full gas bottle for the burner we use for bottling in summer. We have plenty of our own preserved food and flour for bread etc. masses of eggs and milk for our needs, plenty of animal feed and bedding etc, etc. Over the top? Maybe. But who knows what will happen in the next few days, or even weeks as the temperatures are set to plummet.
Fed up ducks

Now, the one thing I might have a problem with....a stir crazy husband, already going bonkers with little to do outside, there is only so much snow he can shift and once the animals are fed. And it's only been three days since he can't go out!
Stunning icicle from the gutter

Some of these were three feet long but they had to come down after the photo as they were starting to fall and we don't want any accidents