As anyone with chickens will know, the ‘egg song’ is pretty unmistakable – it’s how a hen often announces the delivery of an egg. It’s something that we haven’t heard since Sept/October time as they went into moult and their non-productive period so I was rather excited yesterday afternoon when I heard that familiar noise.
Sure enough, on closer inspection, there was our first egg of 2018 – hurrah! It’s always a momentous time of the year for us, hopefully, signalling better/warmer weather to come – although looking at the forecast for this weekend with the return of ‘The Beast From The East’, it may still be a way off.
One thing we’re really looking forward to, is getting some new hens now that our ‘new’ run and coop is finally finished (it only took a year) so as soon as we’ve had the last of the snow, we’ll make the final adjustments for the initial segregation and be ready to go. I’m not looking forward to that awful vicious introduction period but it will be great to have a larger flock again.
Just to work out what breeds now – we love the blue eggs we get from our Cream Legbars, maybe some dark brown ones this time, or green…
On Wednesday afternoon we were hit with the Met Office red alert and it didn’t disappoint – after white-out conditions all afternoon we were soon cut off and officially snowed in. We’re used to getting plenty of the white stuff being at about 1000ft but this is the worst it’s been since moving here almost 5 years ago.
Whilst it’s knee-deep in the garden, the drifts are shoulder high in places and the wind has sculpted the most beautiful waves – it’s a completely different landscape. Sandy had to dig out the back garden so that the dogs could get out and we could get down to the hens – they’re still refusing to come out of their coop so we’re having to keep refreshing their frozen water and feed. The birds have been flocking to the garden for seed and fat balls to help sustain them during this bitterly cold period.
Today is Saturday, and after three days snowed in we’re starting to get cabin fever – thankfully a neighbour threw a little gathering last night which helped. Another neighbour has been kindly running up and down our road with his manitou clearing the worst of the snow but most of us are still unable to get out without some further digging – some will need a lot more than that however! Thank goodness we had a gas delivery at the start of the week and are always well stocked up, my only concern was losing power, like we used to regularly up until very recently when they did dome work on our system – that wouldn’t have been much fun!
Looking at social media and the news it’s been fascinating watching how volatile our food system is with city centre stores running out of milk and bread and panic buying across the whole country. We don’t have our own cow but our local milkman, although unable to reach us, was still able to deliver along the A702, another neighbour went down to collect it and distribute it around the village. We can make our own bread, and our freezer and cupboards are well stocked with produce from the garden, local farms and other suppliers as well of course from other sources like supermarkets. It makes me even more convinced that shorter supply chains and producing and preserving as much food as possible, as well as being a thoroughly enjoyable pastime, is also the way forward for us.
The snow and Siberian weather is forecast to continue for some time yet and it’s going to take a while to get back to normal but we don’t mind sitting tight and enjoying what nature is throwing at us and the incredible community spirit that these situations always brings out.
Just as we were starting to get excited about the brief whiff of Spring we had, the snow returned – whilst it looks beautiful here when the white stuff comes down, it does rather dampen the enthusiasm a little.
Our new heated propagator has arrived – after much deliberation, I finally decided on one with six smaller trays as it seemed the best value for the most space (it was £40 from Thompson & Morgan), along with a load of seeds that I’ve optimistically ordered – our season is so short here that growing from seed is a risky business so hopefully the propagator should help things along.
I’m especially excited about some of the tomato seeds we’ve got – Indigo Cherry Drops, a dark purply colour that will go nicely with a mixture of other yellows and reds in a variety of sizes. We also bought some companion plants to help control pests – marigolds, calendula and cosmos – time will tell if this works but at east things will look pretty as well. It’s all about biodiversity this year…
The Avian Flu restrictions that were in place have now been lifted in Scotland, a low-risk zone, meaning that as long as extra biosecurity measures have been taken (removing bird feeders etc) that our birds are allowed back outside. I was very excited although with fresh snow on the ground they had to be coaxed with mealworms initially. Now we just need them to start laying again – another effect of them being cooped up for 3 months.
Yesterday we had an update on the Avian Flu restrictions – good news and bad, the Prevention Zone covering Scotland will now be extended until the end of April, however, as it’s deemed a low-risk zone we will be allowed to let our hens out on the 28th February as long as we have enhanced biosecurity to minimise the risk of infection from wild birds.
It doesn’t state what these enhanced biosecurity measures are so it looks like that’s up to us, so, as we’re interpreting this – as long as we’ve done the little things that we can, like remove bird feeders from the garden, we should be set to give the girls back their freedom.
It seems like an awfully long time since the restrictions first came in at the start of December – can’t wait to see them back out foraging round the garden and hopefully they’ll laying eggs again!
Since getting Ivy and Etta who both seem to have a penchant for self-seasoning themselves in the herb garden, the other girls have also suddenly taken an interest and we no longer have a herb garden at all – totally decimated!
Think I’ll need to re-plant everything and then stick spikes/bamboo around the edge to stop them getting into it the little monkeys. The right-hand side of the rockery is also in need of some attention after they tore everything up to make a dust bath there as well.
At least they’re all ‘playing nicely’ now – the flock integration was pretty wretched to watch – who knew hens could be so vicious!
In other news, after a (very) brief visit from Spring we’re back to Winter – snow and freezing temperatures mean that our conservatory is still full of plants from our recent garden centre excursions that it’s still too cold to plant out.
Meet the latest additions to our Pentland Garden – Ivy and Etta.
They are Maran chickens, Ivy is a Copper Blue Maran and Etta is a Copper Black with lovely iridescent feathers. They lay a dark brown coloured egg and they’d even thoughtfully laid one for us en-route. (We thought it’d be a nice complement to the blue eggs we get from our Cream Legbars, Betty, Marge & Rose).
Still being newbie backyard chicken-keepers we had a lot to learn very quickly when we discovered they were being delivered a few days earlier than expected. A mad dash saw a neighbour kindly bring us over an old dog box and run as we tried to cobble together a separate area for them from random materials lying around and about.
There was certainly a lot of noise from all of the girls to start with – there’s also been a lot of squaring up and pecking through the fence, hopefully it won’t last too long and they get used to each other quickly. Marans are a more docile breed so I’m assuming our girls, who are quite territorial, will stay top of the pecking order but we’ll see.
We had one escapee moment (I’ve now ordered a big fishing net for future chicken catching shenanigans) as well as raising the divider even higher. Have a feeling these two will be just as entertaining but in very different ways and who knows these ones might even be a bit more cuddly – would love a proper chicken cuddle (like in this cutest video below).
Keen & willing, if slightly clueless, gardeners – life in & around our Scottish Pentlands garden