Death of a Chicken
You wouldn’t believe how attached you can become to a chicken. We’ve had four of the little blighters since March this year and they really have become family pets. The kids love ’em. We love ’em. And of course, we love the eggs they produce.
It all started at dusk one Tuesday evening when we noticed that instead of scratching and pecking the ground, Fern was just stood still, resting on one leg. Upon inspection, she looked fine: her comb was dark red and upright and her eyes seemed bright, so we put it down to the fact that it was nearly their roosting time and she was tired after a hard day’s pecking.
The following day, we let them out as per normal and watched Fern. Again, she was more or less motionless: not her usual productive pecking-and-gathering self at all. I had a dental appointment, so Mark opted to take her to the vet. The vet also acknowledged that her comb and bright eyes indicated that she was healthy, however, he gave her a shot in her breast and gave us some antibiotics to put in her water.
Mark made a nest for her next to his desk and he played nursemaid to her whilst I was at work. By the time I returned home at 4pm, she really was no better. She hadn’t eaten anything during the day but had taken some of the antibiotic-supplemented water. Nonetheless, I was disappointed that she didn’t look more lively.
We made the decision to keep her inside overnight and we made up a nest for her in the kitchen.
It was with some trepidation that we ventured into the kitchen the next morning. “Think positive”, I told Mark. She’s going to be fine. I was soon eating my words, however. Poor Fern had moved out of the nest and was sitting in a pool of liquid faeces and other clear liquid on the kitchen floor. She looked much, much worse than when we’d left her the previous evening.
Mark went to move her into her bed so that we could clean up the mess. As he picked her up, she squawked, vomited clear liquid and died in his arms. It was literally that quick. Poor Mark was beside himself, blaming himself for moving her. Yet we couldn’t have left her in the wet mess and I honestly believe she would have died anyway soon afterwards.
We had to know what was wrong with her so Mark returned to the vet where he performed a necropsy on her. He identified her cause of death as being Egg Yolk Peritonitis. This is basically similar to an ectopic preganancy in humans.
In a chicken suffering from Egg Yolk Peritonitis, egg yolks are deposited internally instead of within an egg, and when the hen’s body tries to reabsorb them, the peritoneum can become infected, as egg yolk is a good medium for bacteria to grow. Once the infection has become established, the infection will cause a widespread peritonitis.
With the benefit of hindsight (and reading copious internet articles), we recalled all the double-yolk eggs we’d had, as well as, more recently, a number of soft-shelled eggs – particularly the one that Fern suddenly laid when she was sat on Seb’s knee one day.
In addition, since Fern’s passing, we have consistently had three eggs from the remaining three hens, every day without fail. We have now realised that it was probably Fern who wasn’t laying consistently.
It’s been a steep learning curve but hopefully we are better armed to deal with any of the chickens becoming ill in the future. RIP Beautiful Fern. We miss you.
A while ago, in another blog, I offered these free postcards I’d designed to readers of my blog. Please click the button below to get yours.
Coquille St Jacques with a Truffle and Sauterne Sauce
I love scallops and will always take the opportunity to eat them whenever possible – especially with the roes, which for some reason, many people discard: what an absolute travesty! Coquille St Jacques is traditionally a dish of scallops in their shells, topped with cheese and grilled until brown. This is a fantastic twist on that dish with the addition of wine and truffles – although I do cheat and use my ever-faithful Cotswold Gold truffle rapeseed oil (which I’ve blogged about before) instead of actual truffles. You can also use any white wine – as long as it’s sweet!
The recipe is taken from a magazine I love, The Good Life France, which is available as a paper copy as well as online. It was devised by a Countess, no less: Countess Simonof-Arpels who has a saffron farm in the Dordogne. I wrote about saffron and her farm in a recent blog post you can find here.
It’s a stunning looking dish that is deceptively simple. You could cook it as a starter when you have friends round or as a special meal for your loved one.
3-4 large prepared scallops per person
l large wine glass of Sauterne (or any dessert wine )
6-7 dessertspoons double cream
60 g chopped truffle or a good slug of truffle oil (eg Cotswold Gold)
2 tablespoons butter (not needed if using truffle oil – see above)
Salt and black pepper (or pink peppercorns if you have them)
Wash the scallops well in cold water. Dry with a kitchen towel. Remove the roe and put to one side.
Peel and finely chop shallots. Fry with a little butter (or truffle oil – see above) until golden brown.
Add the wine and let it simmer for 1 minute then add the cream. Reduce by a third over a low heat and leave
Take a heavy bottomed frying pan, slice scallops horizontally into 2 thinner discs. Melt the butter or heat the truffle oil and sear the scallops on each side until golden brown. Add the chopped roe then take off the heat.
Add the scallops to the prepared sauce and then add the finely chopped truffle (if using). Reheat gently for 12 minutes.
Season to taste with the salt. Serve sprinkled with a grind or two of the pink peppercorns.
Serve immediately on warm plates.
Saffron: French Red Gold
Saffron is most definitely one of my favourite spices. The heady aroma as it cooks makes my mouth water.
The crimson threads are harvested from the stigma of the crocus flower. Saffron is the world’s most costly spices by weight – unsurprising as it takes it takes anything from 70,000 to 250,000 handpicked flowers to make just one pound of saffron.
Click on the link below to find out more about how it’s harvested in the French Dordogne in this article taken from The Good Life France Magazine.
Celebrity Chefs at Nantwich Show
I do love being a part of what’s happening in this corner of Cheshire that I’ve claimed as my own. It seems there’s something going on here in Nantwich nearly every week of the year but July is a particularly busy month with the International Cheese Awards, Nantwich Show and South Cheshire’s Big Day Out all happening within the space of a week. One of the big draws for the Show is the celebrity chefs who come and demonstrate.
Despite its small stature as a town, it seems Nantwich can command big names, and so it was that we hosted no fewer than four celebrity chefs at the Show on Wednesday.
The Biggest Cheese Marquee in the World
After the serious business of cheese judging and stewarding on the Tuesday, I returned the following day to work at the Nantwich Show – the largest one day agricultural show in the UK. I had been tasked with managing the Chef’s Demonstration Kitchen, sponsored by Le Gruyère.
The Demo Kitchen is housed in one of the largest marquees you’ll ever see. It’s 80,500 feet² to be precise, or nearly 7,500 metres², and this year it housed an amazing 5,685 entries for the cheese awards to make the largest cheese show in the world!
Alongside the Demo Area and the award entries were numerous trade stands offering tasting samples and selling their cheeses and other dairy products. It really is a cheese-lover’s heaven!
Despite the fantastic weather the previous day, show day dawned with torrential rain. However, the forecast promised clear skies by noon so, undeterred, I donned my sundress and sandals, knowing from experience how temperatures can rise in the cheese marquee on a hot day, despite the air conditioning.
The Celebrity Chefs
Having worked the Chef’s area area for the last couple of years, I knew that celebrity chef James Martin commands quite a following and it takes a small army to keep the (female) crowd under control! I had assembled a team to help me on the day including my son Seb and my friend Teresa plus a couple of ladies I know in Nantwich, Judy Stafford-Watson and Sarah Perris.
Aside from James Martin, three other celebrity chefs were also doing demos including Sean Wilson, aka Martin Platt from Coronation Street, who now makes cheese in Lancashire with his company The Saddleworth Cheese Co, Will Holland who runs Coast in Saundersfoot and Jonathan Harrison, mine host at The Sandpiper in Leyburn, Yorkshire.
Sean Wilson: Former Actor Turned Chef & Cheesemaker
All the chefs cooked dishes that included cheese (naturally)! My personal favourite was Sean Wilson who made the most amazing star bread. It was a recipe inspired by Great British Bake-Off finalist Luis Troyano, who has written a recipe for a sweet hazelnut star bread, published in a new book by Lakeland. Sean did his own twist on it making it savoury with a tomato jam and his own crumbly Lancashire cheese.
Sean is such a down-to-earth, natural guy who held the audience’s attention throughout his demonstration. He also shared some great tips including using a shower cap over the bowl proving the dough – what a great idea! I’m just sorry I didn’t get a picture of it! The aromas coming from the kitchen area were amazing and the finished product looked superb. Sean was happy to hand out some of his food to the audience to taste too, and afterwards was happy to remain behind to talk to his fans.
Sean Wilson’s cheese making skills were also honoured at the Cheese Awards the previous day, when he was inducted into the Internationale Guilde des Fromagers – a top honour for cheesemakers.
James Martin Pulls in the Crowds
As in previous years, James Martin’s small army of mostly female fans was much in evidence. The die-hards arrive at least a hour before he’s due on stage, hoping to get a seat right in front of the stage and, I’m assuming, within James’ eyeline. It’s astonishing to see how ruthless these ladies can be: they will stop at nothing to ensure the best seat is theirs!
James was doing two demonstrations on the day and the auditorium was filled to capacity for both events. As with the other chefs, he cooked some gorgeous cheese dishes including a delicious looking steak with a cheese sauce. My personal favourite was this lovely looking strawberry cheesecake with a spun sugar topping. It was certainly interesting watching him spinning the sugar.
What Else Was at the Show?
Unfortunately I missed Will Holland’s demo as I took the opportunity to take a break and walk round the showground with Teresa. Remember I said at the beginning of this piece that I thought I was being clever wearing a sundress and sandals? Yes, we were cool in the marquee but our feet were decidedly muddy after we’d traipsed round a very squelchy showground for an hour or so!
That aside, we had a great time taking in the show atmosphere. There’s literally something for everyone! We took in the exhibits in the produce section, from jams and chutneys to amazing cakes and cakes made by children. There were also artworks, handicrafts and floral displays.
In the main ring there were the Cheshire Hounds and the Huntsmen, as well as Cheshire Beagles. What a beautiful sight they made. Nearby were the vintage cars looking resplendent in the sunshine. And I fell in love with the baby piglets nestling in the straw!
After a stop off at one of the food stands to buy a scrumptious cheese and mushroom crèpe, it was back to work in the Demo Area again, doing our best to hide our muddy feet from the punters!
Jonathan is a somewhat lesser known chef though he has some pretty hefty credentials earned in his years of cooking. He was crowned Roux Scholar in 1993 – the Roux Scholarship being the premier competition for chefs in the UK. He trained with Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV Restaurant Monaco and now runs The Sandpiper Inn, in Leyburn, a country town in Wensleydale. Here he strives to serve the freshest and finest of local ingredients and makes everything in house, from bread to ice cream.
At the Nantwich Show, Jonathan was joined by a very young commis chef – his daughter! She worked alongside him helping him prepare the food and even wore a mic so she could add her two penneth to the proceedings!
The whole Demo Area was sponsored by Le Gruyère and I can’t end this piece without mentioning the lovely ladies who were managing it. Helen Daysh and Jen Willows were so friendly and helpful to us all day It was great to work alongside them.
At the end, they gave each of us a hefty slab of their best Gruyère, part of which I enjoyed in a dish I made last week – see the recipe here.
And so ended another fantastic Nantwich Show for another year. A huge thank you to the team: Teresa, Sarah and Judy – plus Sarah’s daughters and friends who provided reinforcements for James’ afternoon slot! I can’t wait to return next year with more cheesy tales!
If you read my blog post from earlier this week, you’ll know that I was stewarding at the International Cheese Awards in Nantwich last week. After the judging duties are over comes the big clear up, part of which involves removing cheese in “anonymous” packaging that’s been blind judged, and replacing it with the branded version.
One of the perks of stewarding is that we are able to “facilitate the removal” of the unbranded cheeses – aka bring some home to eat! I acquired a couple of Gorgonzolas and a whole host of Brie and Camembert types and I’ve been eating them in various ways since Tuesday.
Tonight I decided to pimp up some supermarket pasta with a delicious mushroom, truffle and gorgonzola sauce. The pasta I’d bought from Aldi but in all honesty, you could use any fresh or dried pasta, plain or filled.
I’m a total sucker for truffles too and I get through this Cotswold Gold truffle rapeseed oil way too quickly.
I’m sure using a Swiss cheese with what is essentially an Italian dish probably isn’t conventional, but I love the contrasting cheesy flavours. Don’t buy Gruyère specially: just use some more gorgonzola or maybe a mixture of cheddar and parmesan.
Just be warned: this dish is definitely not one for diet days!
Mushroom, Truffle and Gorgonzola Pasta
1 small onion or 1/2 a large one
sea salt and fresh coarsely ground black pepper
Cotswold Gold rapeseed oil with white truffle
150ml double cream
50g Gruyère (grated)
Pasta of your choice (I used Aldi’s Wild Porcini, Mushroom & Truffle Triangoli) to serve 2 people (approx 75-100g each dried pasta).
- Preheat the oven to 190°C / 375°F / Gas 5.
- Bring a pan of water to the boil and add the pasta. Cook according to the package’s instructions in salted water with a dash of oil to stop it sticking.
- Once cooked, drain and set aside to dry a little – you don’t want excess water to water down the sauce.
- Finely chop the onion and the garlic clove and fry in a pan with a little olive oil.
- Slice the mushrooms and add to the pan along with a glug of truffle oil.
- Fry gently till the onions are golden and the mushrooms are soft.
- Season with the sea salt and coarse ground pepper. Taste to check seasoning and to ensure you can taste the truffle. If you can’t add another glug (or two!).
- Turn do
wn the heat and add the double cream.
- Allow it to come to a simmer then add the gorgonzola, cut into small chunks (it’s difficult to grate so chunks are easier).
- Stir thoroughly on a very low heat until the cheese has completely melted and you’re left with a smooth sauce. Recheck seasoning and truffle taste.
- Add the cooked pasta to the sauce and stir gently to coat it thoroughly with the sauce.
- Tip the pasta and sauce into an ovenproof dish. Sprinkle the grated Gruyère on top.
- Pop into the oven and cook for around 20 minutes, or until the top is golden and starting to turn crispy.
I LOVE living in Nantwich. I moved here in 2001 and am really beginning to feel part of the fabric of this great town where so much happens. Not quite a true “Dabber” but certainly an honorary one! Following on from my post last week about the Nantwich Show, I was involved once again this year in both the International Cheese Awards on Tuesday, as well as show day itself on Wednesday.
It was an early start on Tuesday, arriving at Dorfold Park at 8am. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with local folk I don’t see very often, as so many people I know volunteer their services in the name of cheese!
After a chat with several people at the entrance, we checked in, took ownership of our stewarding packs and donned our white coats. Then it was off to the cafe for a cuppa prior to the stewards’ briefing.
This year, I roped in my 14 year old son, Seb, to help – his first year of stewarding. As he was a late addition, he was given the role of supporting stewards and judges in the Retail Marquee. I think by the end of Show day, he’d practically eaten his bodyweight in cheese!
The Cheese Judges
I was allocated three judges: John Axon from The Cheese Hamlet – a fabulous delicatessen located in Didsbury; Jan Deldycke from D’s Deldycke Traiteurs – owner of another gorgeous looking deli, this time from Belgium; and Marcel Klaver who is a cheese producer in the Netherlands with his business Klaverkaas.
John was the Head Judge and it was Marcel’s first time judging. He had been put with seasoned judges John and Jan to get to know the ropes.
The Judging Process
Our first class was hard goat’s cheese. I’m always amazed at how many varieties of one particular type of cheese there are: there were only 8 cheeses in the class but they were all quite different. The judges use a special tool called a “cheese iron” to burrow into the cheese without destroying it.
It’s such an interesting process watching the judges take cheese samples, sniff them, slowly taste them and then “deliberate, cogitate and digest” as Loyd Grossman used to say! I like to fully immerse myself in the process too: I think I have a reasonable palate and it’s fun assessing each cheese myself and then seeing if my comments concur with the judges’.
As a steward, my job was to note down the judges’ thoughts on each entry. Jan and Marcel tended to speak Dutch to each other so it was tricky at times gleaning their thoughts. During the judging process, stewards have to supply kitchen roll for the wiping of cheese irons and knives, slice apples to cleanse palates, clear up the mess cutting cheeses leaves behind and seal up cheese iron holes or open packets with a (supplied) roll of sellotape. It’s all go, believe me!
After sampling each of the cheeses, there were two aged truckles that stood out above the others and after a second round of tasting, gold and silver were declared.
My job then was to take the winning entry to the “top table” where the “Best in Show” is judged, ensure all notes are written up, take the notes to the Show Office and take the judges to the next class.
Soft Cheese and Speciality Cheese Classes
Our next class was over in the Soft Cheese marquee. We tasted 17 cheeses in this class, including more goat’s cheese. There really were no “stand out” entries in this class and in the end, the judges awarded a Gold and a Bronze as they felt that the gap between the best and the second was too wide to justify the second being given Silver.
Our final class was back out in the main marquee and this time we were judging 13 speciality whole cheeses from UK and non UK creameries. There were some delicious entries in this class including a gorgeous Gouda, a Sage Derby Top Hat which I thought tasted amazing – a real zingy fresh herb taste – (but the European judges thought was “very English” and even John didn’t share my opinion!) and a Morbier.
My education in cheesemaking continued when John explained that what I thought was a blue vein running through the Morbier was, in fact, ash! French cheesemakers would put a layer of evening milk in a mould and spread ash over it to protect it overnight until more milk could be added the next day. Fascinating!
Disappointingly, 3 or 4 of the French cheeses were a “no show” leading John to speculate that one of the French producers had had problems getting their entries to the show. It was a shame as I am particularly partial to French cheese.
Finally, my part in the judging was over for another year. The judges and I shook hands, swapped business cards and took some photos. Then it was off to undertake other stewarding duties including finding “missing” cheeses off the top table, ensuring all the tables were clear, and patching up cheeses with sellotape and fastening open packets.
The Award Lunch
Soon it was lunchtime. It’s quite a sight to see 1450 people sitting down for lunch in a huge marquee. The timings were impeccable and the food fabulous. We were served delicious canapés and fizz as we entered and bumped into yet more people we knew.
Seb and I chose a table and I was delighted to find my pal Sarah Faulkner from Sarah Faulkner Lettings was already sitting there with her lovely teenagers, Harriet and Dom. We were soon joined by other Nantwich friends, Halina Dzisiewska who is a weeConsultant, Kevin Murphy from Employment Law Solutions and Aimee Standring who is doing work experience with us at RedShift at the moment. Kevin took great delight in making us all giggle with his innuendos and wit … and I think he thoroughly enjoyed getting me in trouble with the catering team for trying to break the rules!
After indulging in ham, beef, salmon, quiche, numerous salads and fresh rolls and butter, we spoilt ourselves with homemade desserts. There was trifle, chocolate roulade, pavlovas and mountains of strawberries. And of course, no cheese awards lunch would be complete without a whole host of cheeses to round off the meal!
After the meal was the induction of new members into the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers (see my recent blog) followed by some speeches and then the all important awards to the cheesemakers and retailers: the outcome of all the judges’ and stewards’ hard morning’s work!
The Final Push
Eventually it was time to get back to work. The next couple of hours were spent replacing the “blind” packaged cheeses in the retail marquee with their branded counterparts.
It’s a huge job that entails offloading a pallet piled high with boxes of branded cheese, opening the boxes, finding the relevant cheese class on the tables, removing the unbranded cheeses and replacing them with branded ones.
It’s a shame that the cheese that has been sampled cannot be donated to the Foodbank or other charities but I guess because it’s been opened there would be a food safety issue. However, that certainly didn’t deter some of us who were quite happy to take home a few pieces to enjoy later!
Finally everything was done and it was time to go home and do a quick change before returning for the pre-show reception which RedShift were holding in association with South Cheshire Chamber of Commerce.
A Great Way to End the Day!
My lovely friend Teresa joined me for the evening reception back in the cheese marquee, along with over 200 other local business people. The whole place was buzzing as people enjoyed wine and cheese sponsored by one of my favourite local restaurants, Residence, run by the ever-affable Ben Rafferty.
After a long and busy day, we headed home via Simply Thai to pick up a takeaway … enjoyed with a couple of glasses of red! Then early to bed, ready for another long but enjoyable day at Nantwich Show.
International Cheese Awards
The ICA is the biggest cheese event in the world – right here on our doorstep! Next Tuesday we’re expecting over 5,500 cheeses to be exhibited in the biggest marquee to be erected in the country. I’m stewarding for the fourth year: my white coat is at the ready and my pencil sharpened ready to take down the judges’ comments.
It’s a great voluntary role that involves escorting two cheese judges as they assess their allocated group of cheeses. Oh, and did I mention that it involves tasting lots of cheese?
This video, filmed a couple of years ago, will give you an idea of what it’s like on the day. I spotted myself very briefly near the beginning when the stewards are being given the run down by Henry Elsby!
The place literally is abuzz with excitement and everyone involved works really hard to ensure the cheeses are all judged, notes taken, results given to the Chief Steward’s office and afterwards, that all the cheeses are moved back to their correct location in readiness for the following day’s Show.
Lunchtime at the ICA
Once the judging is finished, we all filter into a huge marquee for a fabulous lunch. It’s quite a sight, believe me: more than 1,200 people sitting down around dozens and dozens of tables, and everything runs with military precision.
Hats off to the wonderful catering team who do an absolutely fantastic job. The food is fabulous, beginning with fizz and canapés as we walk in then the most gorgeous cold buffet with meats, lots of different salads and crusty bread and butter.
Afterwards there is a huge choice of delicious desserts – and yes, you can have seconds! And of course, the International Cheese Awards would not be complete without a multitude of cheeses to eat, accompanied by the most divine crackers from Peter’s Yard who supply these wonderful crispbreads with a hole in the centre, served up on a bespoke board.
International Guild of Cheesemakers
One of the quirkiest aspects of the day is the sight of a crowd of people walking into the marquee wearing unusual robes, sashes and hats.
They belong to the Guilde Internationale des Fromagers and each year they induct new members into their Guild at the International Cheese Awards.
After the induction come the speeches from the Chair of Nantwich Show and other dignitaries and then the all important awards to individual cheesemakers and retailers.
See here fore a piece Cheshire Life magazine wrote about last year’s awards.
It’s Showtime in Nantwich!
The following day is Show Day when the showground is open to the public. Nantwich Show is the largest one-day agricultural show in the country, and wWhat an amazing spectacle it is! The cheese marquee’s crowd has been transformed from a sea of white coats to a rainbow of colours as the show-goers go from stand to stand, sampling the different cheeses.
Outside almost 500 exhibitors sell everything from crafts to tractors, whilst every local business from solicitors and banks to accountants and charities have stands and activities.
A visit to the RedShift Community Garden is a must: there are bands and singers playing there all day long with a free to use chill-out area where weary visitors can rest their legs for a while. This area is a hive of activity with numerous community organisations in attendance such as South Cheshire College, Guinness Housing (previously Wulvern), Crewe & Nantwich Churches Together, NHS South Cheshire CCG, Waterbabies who are offering a baby change service, Tropic with Clare Emerton, Independent Carers, Function Event Hire and The Nantwich App.
Action, Animals, Cake and Flowers!
The Main Ring is where all the action happens: see over 100 Heavy Horses, watch Jason Smyth perform breathtaking stunts on his quad bike, take a look at the vintage cars and tractors, meet the Cheshire Hounds and Beagles, marvel at the skills of the Dog Protection Services and cheer on the riders in the Pony Club Relay.
Aside from all of this is the serious business of farmers showing their prized animals. There is every breed of cattle and sheep plus poultry and pigeons, plus a dog show. And in the Countryside Pursuits area you’ll find the the Horticultural Section, the Floral Art and Honey Sections and the Home Produce and Arts & Crafts Sections. It’s always worth a wander around to see who’s Victoria Sponge has come out on top or have a chat to local honey bee producers.
Chef Stars in Attendance at Nantwich Show
Finally, a little about the stars attending the show this year. I’m lucky enough to be in charge of the Chef’s Demonstration Area this year where James Martin, Sean Wilson and Will Holland will be showing off their skills. I helped out last year and remember what a complete scrum it was when James Martin’s two shows were on … people were queuing an hour before to get ringside seats!! James’ demo is the only one that’s charged for (£5) and you can buy your tickets when you buy your show tickets.
See you at the show next week!
Childhood Chickens … and Grown Up Chickens
Growing up on a smallholding in rural Staffordshire, we had a variety of farm animals: pigs, sheep, cows, geese, dogs, the ubiquitous feral cats … and chickens.
Back then, I had no real interest in them. Dad fed them, cleaned them out and collected the eggs. The only thing my brothers and I had to do was chuck kitchen scraps into their run every now and then whilst mum was making dinner. Oh, and eat the eggs, of course.
Fast forward 35 years and we decided to have chickens of our own. My partner Mark has always wanted them and I was certainly not averse to the idea.
Choosing Our Chickens
The first step was identifying what type we wanted and locating them. We decided to take on battery rescue hens who deserved a better life.
Despite our good intentions, avian flu is still rife in some parts of the UK, particularly in Lancashire where the birds were located. We waited several months for the government to give the go ahead for poultry to be transported, but it wasn’t to be.
Itching to get on with the business of keeping chickens, we opted for some point-of-lay hens. We found them at Cheshire Chickens – a poultry farm in Knutsford.
Mark, the teenagers and I piled into the car early one Sunday morning in mid March, stopping off en route for a gorgeous breakfast at Piccolino on King Street in Knutsford.
Replete, we headed off to collect our chickens. The farmer was just loading a couple of birds into a box for another family, including a very pregnant lady. She told me she was expecting twins, despite already having four children – plus numerous hens, cats and dogs. How does she do it?!
The Rhode Rocks we named Mabel and Fern and the Warrens Doris and Ivy. According to my friend Amy, these were “names you’d hear in any good nursing home”!
Whilst there, we also bought laying pellets, apple cider vinegar and grit, plus a pellet feeder, having already bought water feeders previously.
Armed with our birds and our purchases, we carefully loaded them into the car to take them to their new home.
“Home” was a new coop, bought online by Mark weeks earlier, when we’d assumed we would be able to collect our battery rescues straightaway.
Mark was worried (to say the least) that we may have unwelcome visitors, so he had already made it as fox-proof as humanly possible. His prevention measures included security chains on the openers, spring-loaded self-closers on the doors and wire mesh fixed to the ground round the coop and run. Inside was plenty of sawdust and fresh straw: the chickens were going to love it!
We popped them inside, let the ramp down into the run and sat and waited. And waited. And waited some more. The poor things were terrified and wouldn’t come out!
After an hour of sitting around waiting for them to make an entrance, I decided to place one in the run, hoping the rest would follow. After a tentative peck around and an acknowledgement of the water feeder, she scooted back up the ramp and resolutely stayed inside with the others!
Deciding that they’d probably had enough for one day, we decided to leave them to settle in and get used to their surroundings.
The following day they seemed far more perky and they soon ventured down the ramp and into the run. Over the following days, we introduced them to the rest of the garden, allowing them to free range whenever we were at home and able to keep an eye on them.
Who Knew Chickens Were Fussy Eaters?
We also tested different kitchen scraps on them and discovered that they are possibly the fussiest chickens on the planet! They’ll wolf down sweetcorn – cobs or tinned – but refuse any type of lettuce or salad greens. They are indifferent to tomatoes and grapes. Pretty much any other scraps from the kitchen they refuse: carrot peelings, broccoli stalks, cauliflower leaves, asparagus trimmings … basically, all the things we thought we’d be able to feed to them!
On the plus side, they also eat garden pests such as slugs and snails … and our compost heap is ever-growing, with fruit and veg scraps plus the chicken manure!
Waiting for Eggs
Every morning, we ran to the coop, excitedly looking for the first egg to arrive. We pored over every available website and article online to read up about our new friends. We learned that having come to us at 21 weeks they were almost fully grown but their combs and wattles were still pale pink – a sure sign that they weren’t quite ready to lay.
Mabel’s comb was getting darker by the day and we guessed that she’d be the first to lay. Still the waiting continued. Then just before Easter, Mark had to go to work in Denmark. Lo and behold, the very next day, we collected our first egg!
My youngest and I were joining Mark in Denmark a few days later for a week’s break over Easter, so we carefully wrapped the first egg – and the one produced the next day – in bubble wrap and kitchen roll. Placing them in a box, we transported them to Denmark to surprise Mark. He was SO happy!
Soon after our first egg, the others started to lay and soon we were having four eggs each and every day!
The two Rhode Rocks lay bigger eggs than the Warrens, and Mabel, bless her, has laid quite a few double-yolk eggs.
Becoming Our Friends
As the days have grown longer, and Mark and/or I have been working from home, the chickens have been out in the garden more and more. What wonderful characters they are! Whilst not as cuddly as a dog or a cat, they are certainly very friendly and they keep us hugely entertained with their antics.
One of their favourite habits is to stand in a row outside the patio doors, pecking at the glass, as we work at the dining table inside. They are so insistent that they keep pecking until we come out and give them a treat!
They are also incredibly friendly, allowing themselves to be stroked and picked up – and even jumping on our knees when we sit outside! And don’t get me started on leaving the patio doors open, even for a few seconds – they hop in (and poo!) before you can stop them!
Next time I blog about the chickens, I’ll be talking about “5 Reasons to Have Chickens … and 5 Reasons Not To”.
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Let’s Focus on our Planet
Another day in the UK. Another terrorist incident. My post last week was about standing strong for Manchester in the wake of the horrendous bombing of the Manchester Arena. Little did I think that less than two weeks on, we’d have witnessed another attack, this time in London. It’s World Environment Day today and in an effort to focus on something positive, I am concentrating my mind on the world around us for the next few hours.
Protect Our Environment
Established in 1974 by the United Nations, World Environment Day has the aim of encouraging worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. It is the people’s day for doing something to take care of the earth, whether it be locally, nationally or globally. Do it alone or with a crowd – you choose.
Hosted by Canada, this year’s theme is “connecting people to nature”. Answer the call of the wild and get outside. Reconnect with nature and celebrate the places that matter most to you. The WED website has some great ideas on how to do this.
Ideas for Participating in WED
One idea I particularly love is the Global Album: WED is inviting people to share photos or videos of your favourite place in nature on Social Media, tagged with #WorldEnvironmentDay or #WithNature, explaining why it’s special to you.
Here’s one I’ve shared to the Global Album. It’s of one of my favourite places in the UK – a tiny little port in North Wales.
Other ideas include “Celebrate Together” – join in one of a host of events happening all over the world and help build the world’s largest nature database by exploring the amazing species in your everyday world.
I’ve put together a list of positive tracks to uplift you and inspire you – and to give you some faith in this planet of ours. Last week we were standing strong for Manchester. This week, London – we are with you.