21 December 2013

RIP Luna the chicken

After almost 9 months of battling with illness, Luna died yesterday. I'm still sad.
Her egg laying system was messed up from the beginning, as soon as she came into laying age the problems started. I don't think she ever laid a proper egg, instead most of them ended up as yellow gunk in her belly, eventually building up to unbearable pressure (but stragely not poisoning her, until the end). I just couldn't watch her suffering, neither could I just put and end to it, so over the last several months she was a regular patient at the vets, trying to help her or at least make her more comfortable. 
Not that the vet knew much about chickens, but she was quite wonderful about it: she made a real effort and did her research, and so did I, and we tried the few things that seem to have worked for others: Oxytocin & calcium injections to help form & pass any eggs in the pipeline, a (hideously expensive) hormone implant that was meant to stop her laying and therefore halt the problem for a few months (unfortunately, if it worked for her at all, any effects lasted 4 weeks max, on two attemtps), as well as regular syringe draining of the gunk in her belly. I also started experiementing with homeopathy but I am unexperienced and I was running out of time with this rather complex case. (For more on this read a very concise description of the condition, and treatment here.)
The only thing helped, somewhat at least, were the drainings - she seemed to get better for a few weeks after that, having at least some fun in life, roaming the field, sun bathing and digging arund in the dust. But then she would relapse again, her belly would start blowing up again and the pressure build-up would make her misetrable... everytime she would get a little worse than before. 
Yesterday it seemed like the end of the road. RIP Luna.

12 December 2013

Donkey strop

Just when you think things are settling down nicely (finally...) there comes a new stroppy episode, to make sure I don't forget that donkeys do have their own mind.
Of course, it always is my fault. I was just going out on the big field to bring them in for the night (i.e. back to the small field where they have access to a field shelter. 
Mistake no.1: I forgot the treat bag. 
Mistake no.2: a friend (= a stranger, kind of) came with me
Mistake no.3: it was getting rather dusky already
Mistake no.4: I forgot the treat bag, despite all of the above 
So Luca decided he just would not let me catch him. And Henry would not go anywhere without Luca... And I almost got into a strop myself and let them spend the night in the field.  
Then C rescued me with the treat bag full of carrots and suddenly Luca was perfectly happy to be caught, and so we all went off happily (?) on the way home. 
This photo: Lenya Bass

30 November 2013

Donkey conundrums

Having two donkeys to care for has been (still is) a steep learning curve.

Not being a horse person, I didn't have any preconceived ideas about donkeys at all, but also no previous experience of animals that big. A donkey running up to you is quite a sight, and quite a force to consider, just by sheer moving mass!

Are they happy to see me or are they trying to push me away? Or trying to stop me from leaving he field? Are they starving? Or just demanding? Do they need needing yet more attention? Or just throwing a stomping tantrum?
Their winter coats were clipped before they came to us to prevent lice, so they came with rugs to put on in cold weather. That throws up a whole load of different questions again: When should I put their rugs/coats on? How cold is too cold? If it turns cold but wet, can I put the coat on a damp donkey? How long should or can I leave it on? Won't they get itchy under the coat? Actually, how on earth do I put on a donkey coat?
It gets worse: Just the act of mucking out the field shelter brings up another barrage of questions: How much straw to put down for them to eat? How often? How much is too much and how much is too little? How much for bedding? How much old bedding straw should be removed and replaced? Dirty straw, obviously should be removed, but how dirty is 'dirty'? And how wet is 'wet straw'? And how do you test whether it's wet? (With bare hands? I have occasionally, actually.)
And all that has not even touched the tricky issue of feeding donkeys correctly - luckily it is getting into winter now, so at least I don't have to worry about lush grass, just yet.

And then there was that afternoon the other week, when, riding on a wave of confidence, I thought I'd take them up the road for a short walk. So up the road we went - they walked like a dream. But it was only meant to be a short stroll to test the waters, so we turned back quite soon. That's when they decided they would gallop off down the lane - I had no chance but to let the ropes go. They didn't stop by the garden  gate, they didn't stop by the field gate, they didn't stop at all in fact and kept up the speed. I was running down the lane behind them, having visions of disasters... 400 yards down the road, by the next property they finally slowed down - the neighbour heard the commotion and stepped out on the road, that made them stop and consider. Phew. Though my neighbourhood reputation as a donkey owner is now ruined.
Ho-hum... Never a dull moment!

This photo: Stefanos Pavlakis

08 November 2013

Sheep training

The access route between the two fields is rather complicated - the small fiel only exits through a narrow steep gateway into the garden, the big filed has a gate into the road some 50m down the lane from our garden gate.
So I have been planning the sheep move for some time with as many daily training sessions as possible (sometimes with a clicker, sometimes just with a feed bucket):
- come to me when called (somehow I ended up with a rather silly call, that sounds a bit like 'shoooosheeeee shipship'... it works though, even across the big field)
- eat from the bucket, then from my hand (it took the first one less than a week, the last one almost 2 months to be happy to eat from my hand)
- allow handling while eating
- follow me with the bucket
- follow me to new scary places (i.e. the garden, which turns out to be lush and yummy!)
- eat from my hand in new scary places (not suprisingly, they seem to return to a 'raw' flighty state when in new surroundings)
After all that, I just opened the garden gate and the flock happily followed me down the road and intothe new field, no problem - who needs a trailer?

07 November 2013

The big field is alive!

And about time it was: donkeys & sheep now happily grazing together.

The field sat more or less unused for the past year, as the fencing had to be fixed/partly redone before I could seriously consider putting any animals in it. Now that this has been done (with the invaluable help of Jo & Brett, the lovely HelpX couple that stayed with me last month) the field can finally come alive.
Lots of lush green grass there too (while the small field looks pretty bare at this point.) Maybe not surprising then, that the donekys threw a proper tantrum yesterday when they couldn't go to the field because of bad weather!

16 October 2013

The donkeys have arrived!

And my gosh are they gorgeous!
this photo: Jo Peak

Having donkeys was on the tip of my 'critter wishlist' when we moved here. But all sorts of obstacles had to be overcome before they got here:
> earn extra money to pay for the field shelter (no less, by running a chicken training workshop!)
> attending the mandatory course in donkey care (my first attempt was cancelled due to the donkey farm being snowed in at the end of March)
> getting the field shelter in place (means spending ages researching suppliers, deciding what I needed, carrying all the parts into the road-inaccessible field, having it put together...)
> getting the Donkey Sanctuary to visit twice before my paddock was 'approved'
> then waiting 4 1/2 long months for that phone call from the Sanctuary (that call came last week!)

Yesterday they finally arrived - just 2 weeks short of the one year mark since our move here.
They will be (re)named as soon as I get an inkling for 'their' names - suggestions welcome!

14 October 2013


Oops, I forgot to check the tomato patch for a week!...
Cheeky the chicken is very interested in the bounty of over-ripe tomatoes.

13 August 2013

Happy chickens...

... enjoy roaming far and wide!

08 August 2013

Killing fields

The worker bees have started evicting the drones...

I never realised it was going to be in such huge piles of dead bodies....

06 August 2013

Gazelles? Goats? Sheep!

I'm thrilled at the arrival of 4 gorgeous, gazelle-like Soay sheep!
It all happened somewhat accidentally - the internet is a great place for coincidental discoveries. I was, really, looking for infomation on hay (making/byuing/selling) which led me to a link of a local breeder selling Soay pet lambs, which led me to read up on this unusual breed, which made me think they'd be just perfect for here, and they'd be perfect for me, too.
I never really intended keeping any sheep, as everyone else does here anyway. But this is a wild, primitive breed, not messed about with moderns stock breeding ideas, so it's hardy and able to get on with its life without human interference. Just my kind of animal, in theory. Then we went to look at them 'for real' at a farm on Anglesey, and that did the rest for me:
I have fallen in love with these sheep!

By the way, the ram is called Elton.

02 August 2013

Wonky beans fixed

Spent some time today switching the beans from a wonky, wind-blown bamboo-with-link-balls frame, to a couple of 3-cane tepees, that seem a lot more stable (at least for now). 
Why didn't I do that ages ago??

The new arrangement also means that I had to remove the netting that was (kind of) protecting the plants from invading chickens. The plants should be big enough now to be in real danger, but I fear a good scratching session could still uproot the lot, so what to do?

Maybe I had good idea: I put down a patchwork of old slate pieces - there are still lots of gaps so that should be OK for water but enough of a solid hard surfarce to deter any scratching. Or so I hope.

You can probably tell I'm a veg-patch beginner.... In London I had a few herbs pots, tomato plant and potatoes in grow sacks out on the patio, but never really got my head around doing it properly. Not that I'm doing anything properly now, despite having tried to ingest a lot of information about the subject over the winter. The long winter and my newbie status put me off sowing anything, so I ended up sticking in a hotch potch of plug plants in late May; whatever I could find locally, with no plan or system. Still, after a slow start everything seems to be doing really well now, and we are struggling with the quantities of chard, lettuce and calabrese, and that's only the start!
Coming from Greece, where the hot summers scortch everything from une onwards, I am still shocked at the ease and abundance of lush green growth in this country!

22 July 2013

Too many eggs?

With 5 hens we get at least 3 eggs per day, mostly 4 (because one hen has been ill and doesn't lay). Needless to say they are delicious, but I only realised just quite how delicious they are when going on tour again recently, spending 2 weeks being served horribly bland hotel breakfast eggs.

Back home the supply of delicious eggs thanksfully never stops so I'm always desperately looking for ways to use them all up (unfortunately I'm not a cake baker/eater).
> boiled eggs for breakfast
> poached or fied eggs for lunch
> Spanish tortilla
> a Greek pita pie (a veg/cheese/egg pie in filo pastry)
> omelettes (but not my favourite)
> Chakchouka (North African style ratatouille with baked egg)
> Bernaise sauce with steak or asparagus
> chopped egg suce with capers
> take some to the neighbours, or even better, friends in London

I know there must be many more ideas out there - I'd love to har your suggestions!

09 July 2013

Summer evenings!

Precious, glorious and never-ending (we are almost made to believe...)

28 May 2013

Beehive boggle

Did a beginners' beekeeping course last week - hurray! Fascinating stuff, and have been dreaming of bees every night since.
It is also mind-boggling stuff, especially as you need to get yourself a beehive (and other bits of equipment) before you can give a colony of bees a home. But beehive is not like beehive is not like beehive: there is a confusing number of versions and options, from the minor detail to the drastically redefined. Reading more and more and more about it all has been a major distraction and obsession for the last few days.

One thing I know: I would like to keep bees as kindly and naturally as possible. But then there is nothing natural about keeping bees in a wooden box (quote from the weekend course) - indeed. Surely though, there must be different degrees of intervention...?!

'Modern beekeeping' has changed little for over 150 years, so there is a lot of "it's always done that way" attitudes around. And those who dare to have differing opinions are often just as opinionated. Apparently, if you ask two beekeepers the same question you'll get three contradicting answers.
So how on earth is a beginner to draw their own conclusions and make their own informed decisions? Yes, you have to start somewhere and make it up while you going along, but then this brings us back to the question of the bee hive...

07 May 2013

Glorious spring day

Rain doesn't matter when you get glorious days like this - worth waiting for through a whole week of rain (which rarely happens, even during this awful last winter).
And yes, you an just about see our house in this landscape too!

05 May 2013

Flashback: Leaving London

I lived in London - in Brixton - for 15 years. Until a few years ago I would not have wanted it any other way. But then the cats came... and I realised I had enough of big city life and all its trappings. I realised I don't need to be sure that the restaurants/shops/bars/cinema/gigs are just around the corner, if I actually prefer to hang out at home with the cats or in the park with the dog. I realised it was time to leave.
What I will miss: cycling everywhere, NEVER driving a car, the colourful madness of Brixton market where you can buy fresh herbs by the bagful. Anything else? I don't think so! It really was time to leave!
It took a couple of years of musing, of debating with myself, it took the enthusiastic support of a true companion and a trip on a whim to North Wales...and everything just fell into place.

This photo: Lenya Bass

04 May 2013

On the big cushion

The cats took over the new dog bed in no time. Poor Mojo never even got a chance.

03 May 2013

Wild garlic!

Loads of it - more or less everywhere in the woods. I first noticed a massed sprouting of spade-shaped leaves in early March. As the leaves grew thicker, I also occasionally noticed a faint garlicky smell in the air. I didn't make the connection between the leaves and the smell for several weeks - I was thinking it looked rather like a carpet of lily-of-the-valley.
Then (while miles away on travels) I accidentaly read a newspaper article about seasonal wild garlic recipies - and then it suddenly struck me: we got carpets of the stuff just down the lane!
The aroma is subtly yet unmistakably one of garlic, in a fresh, delicate kind of way. Now we got to try it out in lots of ways, before the brief season is over with flowering. If you have any ideas or tried & tested favourites let me know!

Here's the best impromtu recipe so far:

4 eggs (from this morning)
a little milk
handful of freshly picked wild garlic, finely sliced
half a tin (100g) of laverbread (Welsh speciality of cooked, tinned seaweed)
sea salt & freshly ground pepper
toasted rye bread to serve
>> Mix eggs, milk & laverbread, salt & pepper, cook as scrambled eggs on gentle heat, add the wild garlic when just about cooked. Serve with toasted rye bread (or other dark, rustic bread).

02 May 2013

Queen of the garden

Even (often guarded) Psipsina is getting that spring feeling!

27 April 2013

Hotel cat

Getting a cat fix on the road: a really friendly and cuddly hotel cat in Bury St Edmunds.
(While on tour with Johann Juhola Reaktori earlier this month - it was fun, but gosh am I glad to be back home with the critters!)

18 April 2013

The girls

The newst additon to our homestead in the Welsh hills.
They arrived in early December and started laying in early February, 5 perfectly formed eggs every day, unfailingly (and occasionally a mishapen extra egg).

A perfect reason to learn how to make poached eggs (just not worth trying this with supermarket eggs!)

03 March 2013

Long time no hear...

It's been an awfully long time since I last posted, sorry folks!
Indeed an awful lot has happened since... after the cats came, then a dog came, then I left the big city, and now we all live in the middle of the loveliest countryside North Wales.
Life is weird and wonderful and full of surprises. High time to revieve this blog!