Not One Single Egg
A Country Diary 74
13 March 2008
ALL IS NOT well with the chickens. First two of them lay down and died. We think they might have suffered from the cold. Then, after four or five days, they simply stopped laying. That’s right: thirteen hens and not one single egg. It’s the same every day. We lock them in, we let them out, we feed them our scraps and leftovers, sometimes carefully mixed up with hot water for a treat. We change their water, we renew their straw bedding. They still look scrawny, too, half featherless, more like mini velociraptors than chickens. Well, I have even adjusted their roosting system, having discovered that they seem most comfortable on an old gate, rather than the bough of elder I put in the hen house. But still no eggs. We have had to undergo the humiliation of buying eggs, and there we were last week, smugly discussing what to do with the inevitable surplus. Our hope is that they are adjusting to their new free way of life, and while they moult and adapt themselves for some reason the egg production has stopped. But how much longer will we have to wait? The pony is a menace, too: just now we found her in the hen house eating all the corn. We enticed her out with some horse nuts, but then there was a dreadful squawking. I looked down and saw that a hen had been flattened under the pony’s back hoof. I thought it must be dead but when the pony proceeded its stately progress, it ran off, apparently undamaged.
THE DOG AND THE bunny have arrived. The dog is called Poppy and is a winning little character, quiet, playful and cute. She sleeps in a big crate in the kitchen. The cats have been noticeably absent since her arrival. We experimented with putting the new white bunny, Blossom, in the crate with the puppy. For a while it worked and the two animals cuddled up together. But later the puppy started chasing the bunny, so bunny has been moved to the henhouse, where she has the choice of living in her hutch, which we borrowed from our bieghbour, or just leaping around on the floor. When Delilah comes home from school, the bunny comes into the kitchen for a few hours. So I suppose that’s not such a bad life for a bunny.
WHAT WITH ALL the windy weather and my fondness for sleep, fireside lurking and beer-drinking, not much has got done in the vegetable garden. I managed to sow the broad beans although there is no sign of germination after nearly two weeks. I also planted a load of garlic. I dug up all the remaining parsnips and leeks to make way for the new sowings. Progress was retarded somewhat by Henry, who found my cardboard box containing the new seeds, and ripped up the packets and sprinkled half of them all over the sitting room floor. I don’t know if you’ve ever had to pick up one hundred parsnip seeds from a carpet one by one, but it is not an easy job, so as usual I am cursing the lad.
WE ARE STILL eating bacon from the pigs, and very good it is too. The meat from the animals has kept us going for four months already. The chorizos though are a total disaster: absolutely inedible. I blame the fishy smell of the casings when we made them. I thought it might fade away but instead it seems to have intensified. So that’s 25 chorizos, all lovingly made, hanging up in the barn, which we will have to dispose of in some way. But how? We’ve been reading Dick King-Smith’s book All Pigs Are Beautiful. He is a great writer, he wrote Babe. Clearly he kept pigs himself. I must recommend it on our new pig-based website, www.thislittlepiggiestayedathome.org. I started this after our experiences with the authorities and our killing of pigs at home. The hope is that we will build a resource of pig poetry, pig art, pig literature and pig law, as well as a treasure trove of recipes. My pig-breeding mentor, John Mitchinson, is going to help with this task.
WE’VE HAD WOOD problems. I ordered a huge load from the local Christian retreat centre, but it was not really seasoned, and so is very hard to burn. So either I am watching sap-filled logs smoulder in the wood-burner, blowing on them to try and force them into flames, while the house freezes, or we drive down to the nursery and buy a few of those orange nets of seasoned logs. That somehow feels like cheating, though. It’s true that I’ve cut down a couple of ash branches from the hedgerows and made them into logs. That was very satisfying. What would be best though would be to have one’s own well-managed supply of wood, as they did in the old days, coppicing and all the rest of it. Our neighbour drives round with her van and a chain saw, picking up fallen trunks and sawing them up at home. I did resolve to do something similar, but somehow I never seem to get round to it.