Friday, 15 January 2016

Moving !

Due to a few logistical/conflict  problems with google I am moving my blog here.....

I might even manage some regular posts......see you there :)

Sunday, 24 May 2015

More Newbies

Not entirely new stock as we picked them up five weeks ago but it seems they never got introduced, meet gloucester old spot piggy one and piggy two .  Sometimes referred to as stumpy and grumpy !

As a week old piglet stumpy lost his tail but its all healed nicely , he just looks a little odd without his curly tail. We bought them from a lovely couple we didn't know about who live practically on our doorstep , they came home with us in a dog crate but no way they would fit in it now. After our previous experience with pigs and knowing the cost of feeding them we wanted to be a bit more frugal with the feed bill so we are experimenting with mixing our own feed rather than feeding expensive pre mixed commercial feed. Of course garden waste is being used to supplement their diet too. we are also investigating food waste from companies that may be used, there are strict rules about this so we are finding this difficult.

After a lot of reading I decide on my magic mix formula,I will share it at the end of november when the boys go to the butchers , afterall its not tried and tested yet. Old spots are rare breed pigs and slow growing they get slaughtered at age 9 months as opposed to commercial pigs that can be slaughtered any time between 3 and 6 months.   Getting the balance of feed right is crucial, I have been warned that they have a tendency to 'go to fat' if overfed so am keeping a close eye on growth rates, body scoring them regularly. This scoring  process is a way of  assessing whether they are too fat too thin just right by feeling their hips this chart might help explain things better.

There doesn't seem to be a definitive pig feeding program out there and its easy to be fooled by little piggy squeals into thinking they are hungry and feed them more but overfeeding is expensive and unhealthy. We feed twice a day and the feed is measured  our system is  1lb food per day for  the age of the pig in months  our pigs are in month 3 so getting 1and half pounds each feed per pig once we get to 6 months the feed amount stays the same ie no more than 6 lbs a day.  Another good way of checking if your overfeeding is if any food is left after 20 minutes  it might shock you to learn that this program means our  pigs will eat  approx  20 x 20kg bags of feed each in their lifetime(a bag of commercial ready mixed feed here is about £8 ). 

I will keep you updated with progress and be back with that formula once its well and truly tested ! 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

New Livestock

Wednesday saw the long awaited arrival of the most expensive animals we have bought yet, they arrived in the evening  when their old owner brought them along and got them settled.  He thought it best they come once they had all gone to bed and wouldn't be so traumatised by the move.

Hubby had prepared their new home months ago, this was one seriously complicated  flat pack, and a few swear words may have been uttered during the construction phase. A nice sheltered spot on a woodland edge  far away from any other stock was chosen to put their house in as they are not known for being sociable .

We needed to make sure they had food and water ready for their arrival as its a very busy time of year for them, so  a tray of water with gravel in and a pint of liquid feed was made available. The next day they seemed to have settled and were getting out and about investigating their new environment, they seem very interested in the hedgerows.  So what are these new animals?

Bees of course....................very much hubby's project but very happy they have finally arrived, and as is usually the case we waited ages for a colony and 2 came along at once. The second have not arrived yet but are in hubbys other hive (at the old owners apiary) awaiting transportation . Can't wait for that first jar of homegrown honey.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Country Markets

I have joined my local Country Market, I am now a shareholder in this fantastic organisation and selling weekly . Country markets are what used to be known as WI markets but are now run completely separately from the WI, you have to be a shareholder to sell but the cost of a share is only 5 pence. Once you are a member you can sell anything home cooked, homegrown or hand crafted, the society pays for the rent and public and product liability insurance . All produce is labelled in country market labels (the labelling thing takes a bit of getting used to but its worth it )  everyone's produce sits side by side , like with like no one person has an advantage over other members. You get paid once a month and a small commission is deducted to cover the groups costs (ours is 10%). Country Markets aim is to encourage the public to discover the diversity and deliciousness of local British homemade baked goods, preserves, garden-grown fruit and vegetables. They also show case the skills and talents of local craftsmen and artists. Producers pride themselves on the quality of their produce and the friendliness of their Markets, many of which have become popular, lively meeting places ours has a cafe serving very nice bacon butties. 

Country Markets has been part of the Making Local Food Work Project which focused on promoting community enterprise as a solution to local food needs; its aims to reconnect consumers to the land by increasing access to fresh, healthy local food.

I have been doing well selling cakes and crafts as well as a few plants, my homemade cake stands have been popular I have made about £50 a week profit in the last 3 weeks and am happy with that for the level of time I have invested. I do stay and help run the market as it gives me an insight into the customers likes and dislikes. Our customers are mainly older ladies and gents but there's a growing number of younger ones especially now we are advertising on social media . I would love to sell more plants but a sale at the local horticultural society cleared all my stock! Next year I will do more plants as these are by far the most popular item at our market, the crafts not so well but steady. Overall I wish I had joined sooner , the group is quite well established and I have been welcomed , does anyone else belong to a local group if not why not check and see if there's one near you ?

Sunday, 26 April 2015


It’s that time of year again and the nettles are need to panic nettles are an incredibly useful plant either as a foodstuff (cooked in soup, used as spring greens, drunk as tea , as a salad leaf (young tips) or as Gnocchi). They're also habitat for the larvae of the Comma. Peacock, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell butterflies as well as the native ladybirds so try and not be too enthusiastic with the weeding. I am sure we all know they make a great compost activator too, and can be made into a liquid feed and that they are a good indicator of healthy soil. Which means we have VERY healthy soil ;) Our favourite way to use them is to consume in liquid form! Nettle beer is delightful, tasty and refreshing it tastes almost citrus like, I think it’s more like a fizzy wine than beer but whichever it is it’s a good use of all those blinking nettles. 

Nettle beer AKA Stinger Ale 

1kg nettle tops (approximately one carrier bag stuffed to bursting)
5 litres water
450g sugar
Juice of two lemons
50g cream of tartar 
Irish moss Not absolutely essential. If used, follow the instructions on the packet
A sachet of beer yeast (I use Allison’s bread yeast)

Boil the nettles with the finings for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally then strain through a colander or sieve into a sterilised plastic bucket.

Stir in the sugar until dissolved and leave to cool to room temperature, then add the lemon juice and the yeast(dissolved in a little warm water)then cover and leave for three days.

Siphon into sterilised swing-top bottles (making sure not to disturb the sediment that will have accumulated at the bottom of the bucket). The beer will continue to ferment, gradually building up a head of steam, and is ready to drink in a week or so although we have kept ours for up to a year with no problem

Friday, 3 April 2015

Adding Strings to your Bow

Yesterday my Mum and I went to a flower arranging workshop, it was a reasonable £25 including tea coffee cake and a welcome glass of fizzy stuff. The theme was of course easter but the skills we learned were transferable, Sandra was a really good teacher despite this being a relatively new venture for her she was most patient especially as we were so slow. We had a fantastic time and both made something far better than we expected. 

I have done a little flower arranging over the years but not had any training as such, the impetus for doing so now was the purchase of some very expensive Sarah Raven cut flower seeds. The plan was to creates some simple bouquets for selling on our gardening group's monthly Farmers market stall, currently we sell plants but no cut flowers. Hopefully the seeds will grow well, we are going to grow them in a raised bed in the veg plot and treat them as a crop rather than part of the garden, that way I won't feel guilty about cutting them.  We do have a large cottage style garden so hopefully we can  use that to help supplement the annual flowers with enough plant material over the summer months.  

This project is one of many we are hoping to add to our money making repertoire , I am also planning to make a range of toiletries ( handmade soaps , hand creams and salves etc) aimed at gardeners . Again I have made soap before but only for home use, if the sums add up this could be a profitable venture but I have yet to investigate the legal aspect too closely. 

My husband is about to become a first time beekeeper, this has been an expensive start up so adding value to the products he produces is key.  As well as selling honey he hopes to make candles and i should be able to use honey and beeswax in my products too. The big push to earn a small income is that he will be retiring (early ) at the beginning of next year and we will have a little less income than we do at present. we are quite frugal already but the slight shortfall has made us a little nervous so we are exploring other avenues whilst we can still afford to experiment.

So what did I make at the flower arranging class? A lovely table centrepiece containing freesias, ranunculus, chrysanthemums and several types of eucalyptus foliage. I hope you will agree it's very pretty , the quails eggs are of course from my birds and the chocolate ones provided at the workshop are of course long gone . What things do you do to create a little extra cash?

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Thinking of keeping Quail?

There are several types of quail such as Mearns, Rain, Harlequin, Californian, Button and Bobwhite but these are primarily aviary birds. The best breed for meat and eggs are Japanese or Coturnix Quail rather confusingly sometimes known colloquially as Italian or Texan quail. Confused? Don’t be quail are easy to keep, take up little room, eat little and lay lots of eggs which fetch a premium price!  The expected lifespan of a quail is 2-10 years given their quick reproductive cycle and the speed at which they mature it is unfortunate that they have historically been keenly sought after by the animal testing companies.

Quail are not hardy birds n or are they completely domesticated so require housing where they are kept contained and can shelter from the wind, an indoor and outdoor set up is ideal. this can be anything from a rabbit hutch  to (as in my case ) a purposely adapted dog kennel and run  whatever you used allow a square foot of space per bird and have available a hospital cage.

Quail are very cheap to feed; I feed mine on a 50:50 mix of finch seed and chick crumb. Commercial pellets are available but not locally and cost a lot more, quail need a higher protein ration than hens so i supplement this feed with a few mealworms a day too. Grit is needed as with hens but buy the small ‘bird’ or pigeon grit, quail also love greens and their sharp beaks make short work of them.  A sack of each feed costs about £35 and last my 25 birds a couple of months.

Eggs come thick and fast , onset of lay is at 5-6 weeks as long as they get 14  hours of light a day (this can be a mix of daylight and artificial ) and are laid at the rate of 8 a week! Usually in the evening and not in the same place or in a nest box they are just dropped and left, eggs weigh about 10g and are about a fifth of the size of a hens egg. There are no specific selling rules for eggs, but  they do count toward poultry head count for DEFRA registration.  I find it best to label as per hens eggs with name and address etc and include a 2 week use by date. I charge £2 per dozen and order special sized egg boxes come from EBay. 

Domesticated birds seem to have lost the ability to brood their eggs , none of mine have shown any inclination to become mothers and I incubate artificially.

I use a Brinsea mini incubator with a special insert for 12 quail eggs , the temperature needed  is slightly higher than for  hens at 37.5 degrees centigrade Eggs pip at day 15 and it’s all over by day 18 , quail chicks are tiny compared to hens chicks. 

Brooding is done using a simple plastic box with fireglow bulb, the box has a lid as the birds can fly within a week and escape the box, ask me how I know!  In the first few days gravel is needed in the water to prevent drowning, a layer of kitchen roll is also laid over the shavings to provide extra grip  just for the first few days to prevent leg splaying .  

Sexing is really tricky, some colours can be sexed at 3 weeks but with the others usually its best to wait their behaviour gives them away.  The birds can be weaned off heat after the first full week and join existing birds at about four , a spell in a cage in the run with older birds whilst they get to know each other is advised to keep fighting to a minimum.  Unfortunately they do fight a lot, during the breeding season I keep the males in individual pens and allow the females the run of the coop. Mating is quite traumatic (and frequent) for the females and can result in injury, if you want fertile eggs best to put the male and the females you want to breed from in a smaller pen/cage as this way the hen is less likely to injure herself.There are many colours of Japanese quail , some  normal brown ones are pictured below. The gold gene is dominant but be aware a double dose is lethal and causes a failure to hatch  .  All in all quail are lovely to keep and if you’re interested in further research I can highly recommend the book by Katie Thear.

female on the left , male on the right .