Wednesday 28 March 2012

Alpha males slog it out

Asterix the Gaul...full of testosterone after the fight
I came home this evening to find the two alpha male cockerels , the Ixworth and the Bresse Gauloise slogging it out, toe to toe through the electric netting, oblivious of the 3000 volts.

There was blood and feathers everywhere as they pecked each others heads and raked with spurs. Neither was going to submit. Normally one backs down and struts away trying to keep his dignity intact. These two are too well matched. They would have fought to the death if the fence hadn't been there between them.

This can only be resolved by removing one of them who will have to be guest of honour at Sunday lunch.

Which is the most valuable? The Ixworth, Norfolk Boy  was hatched in 2010 so he'll soon be past it but he is very well bred. The BG is also well bred, hatched in 2011 and a suitable mate for the imported German pullets in the rearing pen. Which one is to be "Coq au Vin"?

I did do some running repairs with iodine spray and you can see from the picture that Asterix's companion looks concerned.

These birds are so well brought up they are not at all aggressive with people. \asterix did chase a jogger yesterday but he was only attention seeking or looking for food. Earlier in the week he saw off a black Labrador but was just protecting his hens.

I think the Ixworth will end up in the pot.

Sunday 25 March 2012

Good flying weather

No wind and lots of sun today so the bees were flying and it was a good opportunity to have a look inside each of the hives to see how they were doing after this long wet winter. The bees were carrying pollen into the hives and this is a good sign, it means there are some live larvae to feed. Pollen is their protein source. Some of the pollen on the bee leg baskets was a rusty orange colour so probably gorse and some bright yellow hazel pollen. I went through each hive but couldn't find a Queen, I'm not very good at this. I'll have to rely on the pollen foraging and the few eggs laid as evidence that there is a lying Queen in each colony.

Old fish boxes make excellent hive stands
 I gave each hive about 1.5kg of sugar candy a month ago to ensure they had enough food. Today it was almost all gone so I had to top up with more of the same. Our weather is about as poor as it gets for bees, long wet winters, cold wet springs and uncertain summer weather. Last year I got about 10lbs of honey but it was the best and worth the effort; a light amber colour with delicate and mixed flavours......only one jar left!

The last drop of Kilchoan flower honey 2011

One advantage we do have over other beekeepers is that we don't have the varroa mite here in West Lochaber. Anyone considering keeping bees should start with locally sourced bees which are varroa free. We don't want bees brought in from elsewhere in Scotland or the UK with their varroa parasites.

Saturday 17 March 2012

The Golden Egg

I was given two freshly laid goose eggs today so how to cook them? The Romans thought that a goose egg eaten on the day it was laid was the, "golden egg" so better not waste it. They are big...three times the weight of a hen's egg. Oeufs brouilles with mushrooms looks good, French scrambled eggs cooked very slowly in a bain marie.

Hen egg 67g Goose egg 183g
No wild a handful of the supermarket variety, no parsley in the poly-tunnel so will use tarragon and some chives. I am cheating of course, the recipe is in , The Country Cooking of France by Anne Willan. It involves cooking the egg (two  would be far too much) very slowly over a low heat while constantly stirring, for about 20 mins. Then stir in the sauteed mushrooms, season  and serve with good bread.
Improvised bain marie

If small farmers are going to feed the world then we need to supply a local, market of discriminating customers who really enjoy food like these goose eggs and don't mind paying a small premium for quality. Can't resist a bit of propaganda from time to time.

The finished product minus the cream, that would have been too much.

The goose poster hangs in my porch / egg packing station. I bought it on Ebay and its by a British artist living in France, you can buy it too. Hope I'm not infringing his copyright. It was too good an opportunity not to use it.

Fourteen Emden goose eggs in the big incubator all appeared to be fertile last night when I candled them so the village will be over run by giant white geese this summer.

Wednesday 14 March 2012

Spring chicken

 The hens are enjoying their Spring time activity, destroying the daffodils. The cockerels that arrived last week were well brought up by Ben who hatched them, they eat out of my hand and they are quite happy to be picked up. It helps to bribe them with raisins!

Sunday 11 March 2012

Crofters seeds and breeds.

Strathpeffer hosted an international conference arranged by the Scottish Crofters Federation this weekend ( 9th - 11th march ) "A Celebration of Crofters Seed and Breeds". One hundred and fifty delegates from 16 countries participated. This was the latest in a series of annual meetings first held in Poitiers, France in 2005. Why?....well the genetic diversity of crofters and farmers animals and crops is being degraded and endangered in a number of ways.

French delegate and shepherd from Provence, Jean Louis, a representative of the French Confederation Paysanne, told the Conference how centralised, government controlled sheep breeding for high production has compromised the immunity of his Lacaune breed of sheep. Delegates from Latvia told reported that a farmer who has specialised in producing and selling old and heritage varieties of crops and vegetables is being prosecuted for contravening EU legislation whereby only varieties which appear on the EU register of seeds can be traded.  The implication is that the EU in conjunction with multinational corporations is trying to take total control of the genetics of farm crops.
Jean Louis - Provencal Shepherd

For the last twenty years Mary and Tommy Isbister, Crofters from Shetland have been conserving local breeds. Shetland ducks which were on the verge of extinction when they started. Now on their croft at Burland on the island of Tronda they have a true breeding flock of these glossy black ducks with white bibs that lay a good number of medium sized white eggs from April to September. The Isbisters have also been active in saving the Shetland goose, the Shetland hen and the the Shetland cow.

We don't just have rare breeds of animals in the crofting counties. We have a number of primitive "landraces" of cereals; Bere barley, Small oat, Hebridean rye and Shetland kale. The Scottish Government is keen to preserve these landraces so if you know anyone who grows Bere barley, small oat, rye, kale and turnips from their own saved seed, the Scottish Landrace Protection Scheme would like to know about it.

These  "heritage" breeds of animals and landrace crops are important because they contain a large amount of genetic variation while modern selectively bred animals and plants have a narrower genetic makeup which could make them suddenly susceptible to diseases,  pests.  or changes in the environment, they also need large amounts of pesticides and fungicides. The green revolution and the industrialisation of agriculture have resulted in farmers growing fewer varieties of crops with a high degree of genetic uniformity within each variety. In the UK there are now only two officially recommended varieties of Spring wheat for farmers to grow. In the past farmers planted large numbers of different , locally adapted  varieties with  wide genetic variation.

 We may need the genes of old native breeds at sometime in the future. I have only listed a few of the examples discussed.  The campaign  to" liberate diversity" from uniformity, legislation and commercial control continues.
Purebred Shetland ducks from original colour drawing by Sanna Isbister 1993
Small farmers, including Crofters also need conserving. You may not realise it when you are in a supermarket but 70 per cent of the global population are fed by the efforts of smallholder  farmers. These are the people who can conserve rare crops and stock in situ,while supplying high quality food to local consumers.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Bleu, blanc et rouge

When France played England at Twickenham in the 90s, French fans would release Bresse Gauloise cockerels in the French national colours on to the pitch (bleu, blanc et rouge). It must have been a tough journey across the Channel under someone's overcoat or in a sports bag just to be thrown on to a rugby field. Three new BG cockerels arrived last week from Suffolk in great comfort, with food, water and rest stops. They were bred here but my neighbour's grandson Ben took home 12 hatching eggs at the end of his holiday and hatched four cockerels and four pullets. The cockerels will be mated with the pullets hatched last month. Two of the three are magnificent but number three may well end up as Coq au Vin, we'll see.

The legs are the blue bit

In the meantime the four french hens and their cockerel are turning out four eggs a day that are selling well on Ebay.

Parents of the three teenagers above
There are now five cockerels and two cocks out in the hay park who start crowing competition around 4.30am., but as my nearest neighbours are 200m away I'm the only person losing sleep and not for long.

I believe it is almost impossible to breed hens now in the English countryside because of complaints about cocks crowing. The new ones are pretty aggressive but calm down as soon as I pick them up. Ben made a good job of taming them.