We’ve got too many chickens !

This young cock has just lost a fightThis boy got beaten up by a band of roaming youngsters that I call the red bunch and as he was walking away with his head down I started taking photographs of him and he suddenly perked up and strode along proudly as though to show me that he was non the worse for his humiliation.

The culprits were a large group of young red cockerels who are now at sexual maturity and are a pain in the whotsit – not just because they’re fighting with all the other young cocks but also they’ve started to gang up on the girls and the poor things have to walk the gauntlet before being allowed into the chicken shed to roost for the night.

That's the spirit !Anyone who has kept chickens will know what I mean – I almost feel like throwing something at them when they start their antics and the girls are becoming nervous and scatty and if this goes on any longer they’ll go off the lay, their backs will lose their feathers and some of them may be tempted to sleep outside and risk an encounter with Mr Fox.

Young cockerels almost ready for the potIt’s been a real joy all summer to see this year’s chicks grow up. A high proportion of them are bright orange with a few blacks and a couple of pure whites. All of them are in great condition, bright eyed and constantly on the move.

The garden has been brought alive by the flashing past of dozens of orange chicks running when they hear the feeder being filled up. But I counted the chickens this morning and there are fifty and an awful lot of them are young males. I’ll try to find homes for the best cockerels – normally my neighbours are interested if they need to change their stock – but sadly, it’s not worth feeding them all winter and the time has come to cull them and get them into the freezer.

 

The self-seeded lettuce is ready to eat and the no-dig seed bed is ready to plant !

Self seeded lettuce ready to pickOur neighbour Robert gave me these lettuces and told me to let some self seed and I’d have early lettuce.
The commercial winter varieties I planted just haven’t grown at all but these ones been through frost, snow, hailstones and torrential rain and they’ve come up smiling and taste wonderful!

Alongside them is some Italian Parsley which is coming on well, and there was Coriander but it’s disappeared after a morning frost on Saturday. Behind, is my replacement patch of wild strawberries which has always grown there and I use it to re-plant where I think the strawberries will grow well or just to give away to friends.

Next to that bed is another cage that Fabrice put up for me yesterday. I normally just cover newly planted seeds with wire tents to protect them from the chickens but this little area was just asking to be cordoned off so he’s driven four or five posts in and put a chicken wire round and made me a little gate.

The ground in this little spot was used for pumpkins last year and was really well mulched – once when the pumpkins were planted and again just before the winter really started. The mulch has rotted down and the resulting earth is just beautiful, dark and crumbly and totally weed free thanks to the chickens.

I can’t wait to finish off the top of the new cage and start sowing seeds in that patch of earth but after our terrible experience of foot rot which spread through our flock of sheep and goats like wildfire I’ve had a very bad back.

After a visit to a chiropractor who seems to have cracked me all back into place, I have been ordered to do nothing for a while – which is very easy at the moment because I can hardly move ! I should be very careful over the next week or so as my back heals, so I’ll have time to devote to this rather neglected blog.

Protecting the vegetable plot from free range chickens

The weather’s getting better and we’ve had quite a few sunny, warm days. It may be because we’ve had more chickens than usual this winter or because there’s been very little growth of grass and weeds around the house
but the chickens have really pecked down every single thing that they can find to eat and the vegetable garden looks like the aftermath of an atomic attack !

If I don’t do something to protect the perennial vegetables and self seeded Parsley and Coriander coming through they’ll be destroyed, so covering everything has been the priority for the past few days. I can normally just lay a few sticks across the seedlings but the chickens aren’t finding much to eat elsewhere so they’re particularly determined and a light hand just won’t work.

To protect larger plants like Rhubarb and Artichokes I normally use old fruit boxes or make bamboo criss-cross frames but last year we cut down a lot of trees suffering from Horse Chestnut Canker and so this year we’ve loads of Chestnut whips growing from the stools. I decided to use them to make lots of plant supports and for weaving around raised beds and they’re perfect for making cages for protecting the new growth and certainly more aesthetically pleasing than old wooden boxes.

Our friend and lodger, Laetitia has started her new job just a few kilometres from here at Montagnac la Crempse just next to Villamblard. She’s hoping to start learning how to make chestnut furniture and garden supports with the association “Les Enfants du Pays de Beleyme” so she got a bit of practice at the weekend and gave me a hand into the bargain.

Update two weeks later….

 

Waiting for planting to begin – the only time my earth is bare

We’re very busy at the moment building a new drive at the front of the house and planting fruit bushes and trees before spring comes.

The lambs are growing fast. We’ve a problem with the dreaded foot rot unfortunately, which is also taking up a lot of time.

Chickens feasting on the Amaranthus Gangeticus (Elephant Head Amaranthus)

This summer has been another extremely dry one – with a lot of very hot days up until a few days ago when the temperature outside was 30°C. There’s very little grass anywhere and we’ve been supplementing the sparse grazing for our sheep and goats with hay for the past few weeks. The geese are going further and further away from their normal circuit to find something to eat and we’ve been giving them extra corn to keep them in condition and build up their fat reserves for winter.

With the lack of fresh vegetation around, I suppose it’s inevitable that the chickens have started pecking food in the vegetable plot which they normally leave alone. A week ago they started eating the remaining courgettes and then pecked away the leaves until each plant has almost disappeared.

I don’t mind them eating the courgettes, everyone is fed up with them anyway and they’re hard and tasteless at this time of the year especially since it’s been so dry.

The chickens normally start to peck the veg towards the end of October when there’s very little for them to eat after a hot summer but this year they’ve started early, snipping off the lower leaves of the sweet peppers and Aubergines when they’re still plenty of fruit left on them. I’ve noticed them pecking the new growth of Globe artichokes, they’ve even started to peck out the Foxgloves and they’ve almost totally destroyed the leeks I planted a few weeks weeks ago !

Thankfully, I had a lot of Amaranthus self seed last year and this variety “Elephant head” have been really rich and beautiful this year growing alongside Cleome Spinosa which also self seeds freely. The chickens love the Amaranthus, so I’ve started pulling up a plant or two to let them eat the leaves and seed heads. They peck away furiously at each one for about two days until there’s nothing left but the stalks.

I’ll keep giving them a few plants each week to give them something to squabble over and keep them of mischief until the rain (hopefully) encourages the grass and weeds to appear – and I mustn’t forget to save a few seeds for myself for planting next year.

More raised beds and the chicken shed is completely covered in perfumed climbers

We’re making more space for food growing – there are too many flowers in the veg plot !

The perfume from the Star Jasmine around the Chicken shed is really glorious and as there’s a bit of shade, it’s a nice place to work in the heat we’ve had this week.

At the moment, the wild honeysuckle is all over the place and the Foxgloves are in full flower. There are chicks everywhere and as you walk further down under the shade of the Chestnut trees, you can hear the pigs grunting, thinking that there’s sure to be something nice to eat on it’s way. They’ve eaten well this week – all the brambles and weeds have been thrown over to them. Their favourite munch so far is Milk Thistle aka Pig Leaf! I’ve cleared this patch, made an instant fence with hemp string and Honeysuckle and planted a few more courgettes. I had a few Rose cuttings and some Cannas and I’ve popped them in here too to give a bit of colour. The earth is lovely because I mulched last year and at the top we had a huge compost heap.

The new compost heap will be further up towards the house and little by little we’ll open up this little part of the wood without too much damage to the trees and insects.

Unbelievable colours of Autumn

The colour in the garden and in the woods around our fields is a real joy to behold at the moment. The main colour is from Virginia creeper which can spread where you don’t want it but when it’s in the trees and on the gloriette and the pergolas, it’s glorious.

I planted a Red Oak near the chicken shed three years ago. It’s never done well and I thought it was because of the nitrogen rich soil. We had to cut down a nearby Acacia because it was split in a storm and since that’s gone the Oak has really recovered and has now become a beautiful young tree which we can see from the terrace.

This jungle is my potager which is still bursting with things to gather, so I’m a bit busy getting things in and stored before the frost comes. The bottom of the garden is protected by trees and a hedge and feels warmer that up at the house. The weather’s still glorious and in this photo taken a few day ago it looks like high summer.

The borage is still seeding and growing and almost each rose is producing one or two spectacular flowers.

We’ve still got green peppers and chillis to get in, peas and beans and the celery I grew in the tent frame is really lovely and there’s lots of it. We had some tonight with a rabbit Fabrice shot – the second of the season. We still have courgettes and I grew lots of parsley this year, mostly the tasty Italian kind and it’s self-seeding everywhere.

I planted pumpkins for the pigs very late in the season after the potatoes and onions and they’re producing big healthy looking pumpkins which I have to keep training to go the way I want them to otherwise they send their roots down into the paths.

This is a lovely time of the year and it is nice to just wander around looking and soaking in the atmosphere and richness and look at some of the things we’ve done. We’ve got loads of plans and projects on the go and thankfully, we’ve a lot more energy than we had last year, so it feels as though we’ll make a bit of progress again.

The wood’s chopped and under cover near the house and the more delicate plants are being moved nearer and nearer to the back of the house where it’s warm and protected. The indoor plants are back indoors and seem to appreciate the comfort. Food’s stored and the freezer is filling up again with game and we light the fire most evenings – which is really nice.

Path through the garden to the chicken house

potager, hardworkinghippy, organicThis part of the potager is ready now for summer veg. I’ve run out of space here (I keep planting pretty inedible things – I can’t help it !) so I’ve started moving the potager out a bit toward’s Peggy’s park. I might even claim her first park and we’ll make her another big one further into the woods for Autumn and she can eat the acorns and chestnuts. (Peggy’s our pig and although we’d never suggest keeping only one pig, it turned out that way when she lost her litter of piglets.)

That’s the plan. But… we’ve got so much to do at the moment that it’s difficult to do important things when so many things are urgent. Our follies are on hold, which is a shame because at this time of the year creativity for planting and deciding about where to put/make things is at it’s height.

I’ve grown a lot of things from seed, but I was very late starting to plant them. So to get early vegetables, I’ve decided to buy some plants from a friend. He grows good varieties, he’s Bio (Organic) and sells bread and a few plants in Vergt market every Friday. More details (Advertising even!) will appear on the right side of the blog when I get a minute to sort that out.

We’ve another potager down at the cabin with loads of space and running water where we grow Peggy’s food and lots of things for bottling, but I do like being able to just pop out for half an hour or so in this garden, to do a wee bit here and and a wee bit there when I’m going to get something or when I’m collecting eggs. (Usually on the way back, when I’ve got a jumperfull…!!)

Some of our chickens having a dustbath.

I’ve kept chickens ever since I’ve had enough garden to give them a good life.

They’re well worth the work because they are just so beautiful to have around, clean up the gardens and 50 or so can keep us in meat and eggs all year.

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