New arrivals

After having been a bit down spirited yesterday, I had a pleasant surprise when I went into the lower meadow this afternoon. I had intended to cut back some briers but instead met the Muscovy duck, who had been sitting, taking her brood out for their first walk.

I walked her and the drake, an Aylesbury, back up to the duck house and got them settled in. As you’ll see from the video they are already having their first disagreements about parenting. This is a respectable hatch, for her, of 8 ducklings. They will soon be able to meet the other ducklings (mixed breeds) that I hatched in the incubator recently.

Life always feels a bit brighter when there are new arrivals on the smallholding.

Beginnings and endings

Only a short post today as we have been quite busy. February has not yet finished but the ewes have decided that Spring is upon us and it is time to start lambing. About 3 weeks earlier than usual and choosing, as is often the way with sheep, a cold day with snow showers as the most opportune day to bring new life into the world.

Here they are just minutes after delivery, still in the pink early sunshine and with the iodine stains on their navels. The two brothers look healthy but I am worried that this ewe had twins. We had hoped, by avoiding flushing, we might avoid getting twins. Singletons are easier births and put less strain on our limited pasture. In any event the two boys and their mum look healthy.

This week has also been busy as we dispatched the ducks. We kept one, even though we know she will probably be infertile, to remind us of how pretty the ‘muscberries‘ were. As an easily prepared supper we found this recipe ideal for the end of a day spent outside in the cold.

  • 4 duck legs
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine (stuff left over from a party because nobody really liked it)
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • 1 punnet mushrooms sliced
  • 2 onions chopped
  • water and cornflour

Place all the ingredients in a casserole dish. Add the red wine and enough water to cover the ingredients. Cook in the Rayburn at a low temperature for at least 2 1/2 hours. Towards the end use cornflour to thicken the gravy to your preferred consistency. Serve with mashed potatoes and boiled cabbage. This is a simple meal with plain earthy flavours but a comforting way to end the day.

An ill wind ..

Only a short note today as we continue to be battered by the storms. Storm Dennis has not shown himself any milder than Storm Ciara who blew through last week. Though Dennis’s winds might be a little weaker he has brought a great deal more flooding in his wake. Although his wind speeds might be slightly less, his effect, on top of a week of heavy rain and sodden ground and pre-existing damage following Ciara, is proving to be fairly widespread.

When I go outside, when there is a lull in the noise of the wind or the rain, all I can hear is the whine of chainsaws. I don’t have to walk more than a few hundred yards to see the telltale sawdust of where someone has cut and tidied a fallen tree to keep the roads open.The fallen trees have brought many fences down, hence sheep, liberated from their fields, are often our company as we walk around the circuit.

I thought possibly Storm Dennis had put paid to the old adage “It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good“, surely, I thought, there is no-one who has benefited from this. This must indeed be an ill wind. But then I remembered the ducks. The wind damage had caused a break in the banks of the stream above the duck house. This coupled with the high volume of water had lead to the formation of a pool across the path into the duck yard. This appeared to the ducks like a purpose built en suite, they didn’t even have to walk down to the river to perform their ablutions. Though my wet feet made me curse the damage they, on the other hand, were perfectly happy with the new arrangement, “it’s an ill wind etc etc ..

Playing God

Playing God

We are rather apprehensively awaiting the villagers coming to the farm tonight. They are probably gathering their pitchforks and readying their torches to be lit as soon as darkness falls. They said it can’t be done and, more importantly, shouldn’t be done. But I fear that they have heard that we have been responsible for affronting the natural order, for playing God, and for creating a monster. (Well eleven monsters actually).

Due to a number of factors, but mainly the predation by foxes and the goshawk, we were left in an unusual situation with our ducks. We had one Aylsbury drake and three Muscovey hens. The drake was militantly amorous with the girls but we were of the opinion that their frequent, and violent, couplings would be fruitless.

Most domesticated ducks, the Aylesbury, Indian Runner, Pekin, or Rouen for example, are descended from the mallard (Anas Platyrhynchos) and these ducks can interbreed and create hybrids quite easily. The Muscovey (Cairina Moschata), on the other hand, is descended from a different root and thus interbreeding is much less frequent. So infrequent that our neighbours, experienced poultry keepers, were certain they would not mate successfully. However, our Aylesbury drake disagreed and has managed. Now two Muscovey hens have hatched out 10 ducklings. We are sure that the Aylsbury is the father as no other drakes, wild or domestic, have been available. It is likely that these mules will be infertile and it is difficult to determine what they will look like when mature (all ducklings look much the same).

Hopefully the cuteness of these little fellows will placate the villagers when they arrive and we, and our monsters(*), will be left in peace. On a slightly less cheerful note their cuteness matters less to me than their taste, but I better not let the angry mob hear that.

Dad, Mum and Offspring
Out for a stroll

(*) For obvious reasons we have decided to call these creatures Muscburys. This is much nicer than the official name of Mullard.

Rape and pillage

Rape and pillage

There have been distressing times on the

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farm this week. A veritable fortnight of acts of rape and pillage, in which the major culprits have been the ducks.

If your look very carefully at the photograph on the right there are two things to be discerned. One you can see and one you can not. If you look carefully you will see that there is not a single surviving leaf on any of the runner beans. Not a solitary leaf survives, and the culprit? If you continue to look carefully your can see a fat, well fed Muscovey duck wearing a smug grin. She has just gone steadily up the row, truss by truss, and assiduously plucked every leaf for her lunch.

However, it is difficult to be angry with her as her plundering occurred because she is a refugee. She is fleeing the duck yard and trying to find safer pastures. The duck yard at the moment

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has fallen under the control of a belligerent and vicious rapist and the females are fleeing his attention. As your will see in the photograph on the left the females have been left almost bald at the back of their necks. This is due to the drake pulling on their neck feathers when he mates with them and pulling them out.

Ducks mating, like most fowl, is never gentle and romantic but rather brutal and violent. I have heard of drakes killing their mates, as they cause then to drown, while they mate with them in the water. Unfortunately I, and the fox, must take my share of the blame for these recent problems.

The fox has taken a number of our ducks and now the drake only has a meager four wives. He really feels this is inadequate. Thus his lusty attentions are only quartered between four ducks rather than decimated between ten as before. I have the incubator running as we speak to try and address this aspect of the problem.

The other part of the problem was my fault. Much as I like Muscovey ducks I wanted a change. The meat on Muscoveys is a good substitute for red meat and it is very low in fat. However, Muscoveys, with their knobbly wattles faces, are not going to win any beauty contests. I fancied changing to something more traditionally duck-like and, if I am honest, prettier.

In my shallowness I went for Aylsbury ducks.

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These looked sweet, they looked like kindly cartoon ducks. These were the kind of ducks I recall from reading story books to my children when they were small. Just look at him, on the right, I thinkl you will agree that he looks as if butter would not melt in his mouth. But this is the villain of the piece; he is the lusty, belligerent, abusive partner to my refugee girls. His cute appearance belies his fierce cunning and his domineering behaviour.

I now have a difficult dilemma : Do I procede with the ugly but healthy Muscoveys or change over to the cute but tasty Aylsburys? If I do the latter will they ask prove to be as difficult as my first? The balance of what hatches next week will help me make the decision.