Thursday 24 March 2016

Ancona bantams efficient layers of novelty eggs

Easter tomorrow, the start of the tourist season and the demand for fresh free range eggs takes off, it's difficult to meet the demand.

This year I have a new product for farm gate sales, Ancona bantam eggs. These little birds are already laying well, six of them laid five 50 g eggs yesterday.

As most of our visitors bring children these eggs could have some novelty value. They are two thirds of the weight of a standard large egg ( 63 g +) so the price has to be two thirds, £1.00 for six.

There isn't much meat on them, they weigh just over 500 g only a fifth of the weight of the La Bresse hens who also lay 220 + eggs a year. So the bantams are much more efficient egg producers and will be cheaper to keep in winter outside of the laying season.

They are decorative, although they look black their feathers are very dark iridescent green tipped with white spangles. Anyone wanting to keep a fewer layers in a small garden or backyard should consider these. Just remember that when a recipe calls for two large eggs you will need three of these.

Wednesday 23 March 2016

Predator in the kitchen..... practising "still" hunting indoors.

I have cleaned the floor since this was taken
Although cats are born with a hunter / killer instinct, hunting, killing and eating prey is usually learned from the mother. At first she brings home dead prey and eats it in front of the kittens. Next she brings back prey that aren't quite dead until the kittens are skilled at catching and killing to eat. So why does my cat bring mice and voles into the house and leave them lying about for me? I stood on another one this morning in my bare feet. Is she trying to teach me to hunt mice?

Yesterday I noticed she was lying very still on the kitchen table staring at the kitchen stove ( it's unhygienic I know) for most of the morning. Then there was a movement down on the floor, a field mouse crept out from beside the stove, Mimi pricked up her ears, tensed then leapt down to the floor and the two sat staring at each other. Was she practising still hunting lurking out of sight ready to ambush the prey?

I assume that she got tired of practising and finished him off sometime during the night then put the corpse where her incompetent human hunter would easily find and eat it in the morning.

Dude crofting pt. 3..........."Croft training" beats "Cross training"

Photo by; Big Al
The ten tonnes of firewood that arrived last month in 3 metre lengths now needs to be cut into logs and split. Luckily Big Al and Chris, you might remember them? the "Dude crofters" from Emburra were up this week looking for exercise and a chance to help the aged.

Chris has an amazing work rate, he's as fast as a tractor mounted splitter, uses less fuel, there's no maintenance and no noise. He split about four tonnes in six hours. If he trained seriously he could enter the Austrian national log splitting contest.  It's Austria's answer to One Man and His Dog, a bit more exciting than watching a log fire burn on Norwegian TV.

We estimate that Chris burned 600 calories an hour (3,600 in total) or one and a half times the daily energy requirement for an adult male. He must be quite a lot stronger especially in the biceps department and aerobically fitter without having to wear Lycra or pay for gym membership, it beats "cross training".

P.S. I should acknowledge Big Al's contribution to the title, he suggested it.

Saturday 19 March 2016

Scottish Government Gobbledygook Generator a total success

"Blue sky thinking" more gobbledygook?
Government computer projects usually come to a sticky and expensive end but not this one, It's The Scottish Rural Payments and Inspection Gobbledygook Generator" (SGRPIGG) operated by Trolls in the basement of Saughton House. It has done it's job, we are too confused and demoralised to complain about the late payment brought on by a cock up with a different computer on another floor.

The program generates letters to Crofters about the non-payment , late payment or actual payment of subsidies,  letters that are totally unintelligible and therefore meaningless. We have all had a letter this week ( four sides of A4) telling us, I think, that our "less favoured areas" payment will be made before the end of March. and that it will be less than last year. That much I understand, perhaps.

Four paragraphs of gobbledygook follow then eight paragraphs of terms and conditions also largely unintelligible to a native English speaker. We are then invited to accept or reject the money and terms despite not having a clue what they are talking about. We seem to have decided collectively to do nothing and just take the money.

This is my only post without an appropriate  image, if I show you the letter I might be contravening the Official Secrets Act and its difficult to get a picture of government thinking.

There's life in the old ewe yet.

Feioty and fit
Alasdair is sentimental about his old ewes that may have seen up to seven of eight sets of lambs and he is loathe to send them off to market. We have had one of these running with the hoggs outside all winter. She is lame, not with foot rot she's arthritic.

Yesterday when he went up to feed them the old ewe was missing so of course he went to look for her and found her with twin lambs. They were small but lively despite her not having had the nutrition she should have had.

Now you can put this down to my poor management but I prefer to think that its because Nan's tup is very athletic. He can clear a stock fence from a standing start. As for the ewe there's obviously life in her yet. Perhaps she should be kept another year but we'll see how the lambs do first.

Friday 18 March 2016

Now for something completely different!....... a short rant about lavatories and politicians.

It is a one and a half hour drive from Kilchoan to Corran Ferry if you are leaving the peninsula. Then, if you just miss the boat you often have a 30 minute wait, two hours  in total to get to the other side.

 In the past there has been a public lavatory at the Ardgour ferry terminal maintained by the proprietors of the Inn at Ardgour.

When I drove to Ft. William last week I walked over to the toilet to find this notice in the window.

I have lived and worked in a number of countries; the civilised ones in Europe, N. America and Africa provide citizens with clean well managed public lavatories. In countries governed by despotic, Stalinist dictators; Russia and Uzbekistan for example the citizens are held in contempt by their governments and public lavatories are either non-existent or unbelievably filthy.

If the UK is the fifth largest economy in the world why can't we afford public lavatories? Do our politicians at local, national and UK level hold us in contempt?

Tuesday 8 March 2016

When are the lambs due?...... ancient wisdom or baloney?

 We know when they are due.... five months after mating and five days back. The tup went in on 5 th November and we should see the first lamb on 1st April.

Essential kit for ancient shepherds
But how did shepherds know this before there were calendars? Knowing when the lambs were due would be a useful management tool even to a neolithic herder he could  stay in his cave drinking home brew and napping flints until just before they started.

Perhaps the most intelligent herder cut notches on a stick for each day between mating and parturition then in the next year he could just tick off the days. This sounds the most plausible but I looked it up on the internet.

This is what I found:..... ancient shepherds would:

 " Note the position of the bright star Deneb on the horizon at dawn on the day the sheep were mated. They could then expect the lambs when the star Vega occupied the same position at sunset."

It seems rather complicated and requires an intimate knowledge of the galaxy, which they may or may not have had, after all they had plenty of time on their hands. I suspect however that they would rather be inside the cave by the fire drinking  and watching the Flintstones than outside on a cold, wet November evening looking at stars.

I have checked this out on my Phillips "Planisphere" , Deneb is in the Western horizon in November and Vega is in the East in April, perhaps some astronomer out there can enlighten me. In the meantime I'll stay with notches on my stick.

Ardnamurchan wood ........ a renewable heat initiative ( without any help from the taxpayer).

Daily I'm inundated with spam asking if I want to pre-plan my funeral, re-mortgage my house, buy medication for dysfunctional body parts... hearing aids.... cruises ... vote to leave the EU. No I don't, and by the way, on Sunday I cut three or four tonnes of logs while my not quite so old friends loaded the saw bench and did some splitting ( by hand!).

Not quite so elderly but good preparation for retirement
The fruit garden, it never produced much fruit, has been converted into a hard standing area for firewood storage, cutting, splitting, stacking and loading. It will also look a lot better when I've finished the hedge planting and landscaping.

It has taken me seven or eight years to get to this point where I do not buy or burn coal, only firewood for central heating, ninety five per cent of the hot water (I have an electric shower and immersion heater for the summer months) and cooking. The cooking has been the most difficult bit, the Rayburn stove is a capricious beast, the oven temperature is often difficult to gauge and maintain and of course you have to be in attendance to do the stoking.

The last firing with logs is around 8.00 pm, this keeps the house warm until bed time and it's still warm in the morning when it takes only a couple of minutes to light and get going again.

OK sometimes this place looks like an activity centre for the elderly but wood heating keeps me active, warm while processing wood and  burning it, reduces my carbon footprint, keeps me out of trouble ( too tired) and I don't have time to pre-plan my funeral.

Tuesday 1 March 2016

First chicks of 2016 hatch.

It's the meteorological start of Spring, the Roman New Year (Before the Julian Calendar in 44 BC), St. David's Day and the first batch of chicks are hatching. Things can only get better after the wettest, windiest, nastiest winter in living memory Spring isn't far away.

Breaking out!
On average it takes 21 days for a clutch of eggs to hatch, but there is variation, some hatch on day 20 and some on day 22, there's a normal distribution of hatching dates as with all biological phenomena. Hatching starts when a small puncture appears at the fat end of an egg. the chick has been hammering away inside with its, "egg tooth" to make a tiny hole. Up to now it's air supply was contained in the air sac at the fat end, just enough for it to get to this stage.

The chick uses a lot of energy to drill the hole and needs a rest for anything up to ten or twelve hours. The it starts to chip away at the in side of the shell round its circumference until the top of the shell pops off. The chick is still covered in membranes, it  needs to struggle out of them and the shell. High humidity is essential otherwise the membranes dry up, shrink and strangle the emerging chick.

First out
Number one left it's shell behind at 10.00 pm last night, this morning there were four hatched another six or so are "pipped" ( they have made the first hole). I set 24 eggs on 8th February, on 18th I "candled" them to see how many had a developing embryo; four were clear or infertile and one cracked when I dropped it so 83 per cent were fertile.

Not all of the fertile eggs hatch, some die in the shell for a whole range of reasons and some only get half way out. So don't count your chickens........... is good advice.