The grass is always greener…………….after rain.

Everything is so green and lush and vibrant here now. I am loving it! The recent rain has sent everything into overdrive. Grass in the fields and all my vegetable plants are growing fast! Trees are in full leaf now. Better late than never! There is rich dappled shade to sit under on sunny days. I love that contrast of light and dark.  It is wonderful!

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The grazing, that I rent further up the lane, really needed the boost and the paddocks that I am resting til later in the year are looking lush and healthy at last.

I shall strip graze the paddocks using electric tape to allow the ponies to access a little fresh land each week. Shetlands and other native ponies do not need too much rich grazing. In fact it can be dangerous for them to be allowed too much spring grass, as they tend to be more prone to laminitis….(and mine are right piggies and will scoff and scoff til they bloat!) Both of mine came to me as previous sufferers of ‘lami’ and one has Metabolic Cushings Disease, so I have to be extra vigilant.

By dividing the paddocks off into weekly strips, not only is it a better use of land but it also means the grass gets grazed down evenly and tends to grow better as a result. I can control how much they eat and watch them for signs of weight gain and loss etc. I simply move the posts forward once a week ( with the tape still attached but the energiser turned off) and I ensure they have access to water.

I  have just purchase two secondhand Aquaroll 40 litre water containers, large cylindrical containers that you can roll out to where you need the water..so no heavy buckets to lug across fields. I only need to do this in the middle paddocks luckily,  as both end ones have water containers set under a gutter systems that run off the roof of each shelter and they are self filling every time we have rain. So I rarely need to top those up.

Because two of the paddock areas have large field shelters in them, if we are forecast severe weather the ponies are simply put into those ones and in Winter when the grass is sparse and low in nutrients, the paddocks are only divided in half. That way the ponies always have access to warm stabling  with thick bedding and one paddock is rested completely for 6 months, ready for spring. When it all starts growing again and needs dividing up into smaller areas I simply bring out the electric fencing again..

Seeing as the weather has warmed up now, we are heading towards June after all!…..and the ground has dried out here at Riverside, I have moved my hens back outside onto a new piece of ground. Electric poultry netting gives you so much freedom to rotate your animals grazing areas. I use it for my goats, geese and hens here…and I use electric tape for the pony paddock dividers, the main fencing is post and rail with electric  wire on the inside. It is a great system for those with a small amount of land. Flexible, secure and easy to move.

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One hen (A Pied Sussex named Blackberry) is still in the winter coop, as she has just hatched a clutch of eggs, so she is enjoying some time alone to rear her babies. She will be re-introduced to the flock once the babies are a bit bigger. I am hoping for at least two hens  out of her chicks, ( Sod’s Law will mean they all turn out to be cockerels no doubt haha). We could do with a couple more egg layers here, so fingers crossed.

One chick appears to be a very pretty subtle blue/ grey colour! They are mixed breeds, as the cockerel I ran with the hens this time is a  multicoloured frizzle cross, so we get surprise colouration/ feathering/ shapes and sizes and we like it that way. Hybrid vigour and a hotchpotch of colours!

The wild moorhen that settled here has hatched all her eggs. I haven’t done a proper head count (They are tiny and they move so fast and in all honesty I don’t want to disturb them too much) but it seems I may have got it wrong thinking she had lost some of her eggs before hatch day, as I am sure I have seen at least 5 chicks! They are in the water already..darting about between the reeds and calling for their mum when she strays too far.

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Holly-Hot-Pants my broody goose is still sitting tight on her nest inside the shed, ( no idea how many eggs she has!) with Teasel-Tussle the gander guarding her. I am the only one that can get  anywhere near close enough to feed them, change their water and tidy the shed.. albeit tentatively! I haven’t disturbed the back of the shed where her nest is. I will clean it properly once she is up and about with her babies.

Daisy-Do-Gooder, the other female goose I have here, is being ignored by them both. She seems to be piggy in the middle and appears to be no use to either of them. Poor Daisy! But she remains devoted to Teasel, bless her,  despite being given the cold shoulder and she refuses to be  parted from them even if given the choice.

Marigold my VERY pregnant goat doesn’t have long to go now. Her official due date is in the first week of June..but she is looking HUGE!..and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she popped early. I am hoping for twins or a single kid.Triplets would be a lot for her to cope with, she is a first kidder and I prefer to let the kids feed naturally on their mothers rather than be bottle fed. So two would be more than enough. Hoping for females of course!

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This shared milking system I have used here has worked well with Tansy and her twin kids.  I am still milking every morning and am getting around 1.5 litres a day from her. Not bad  from just one milking session. I am making lots of cheese and yoghurt and kefir and using it in my tea and coffee etc. Even people who tell me they dislike goat’s milk have taken it in tea and coffee when visiting me here and have remarked at how lovely it is.. No goaty tang at all!

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Although despite all this lovely raw milk I have here I am still buying in some organic cows milk, just to culture the kefir grains that I sell online and to experiment with more cheese recipes. Not sure if I’d be allowed to use my raw milk for kefir sales..so I am playing it safe with shop bought stuff for my customers.

I will be doing two milkings a day once the kids are fully weaned, which going by their progress won’t be long, as Tansy is letting them feed less and less and they are happily eating concentrates, plenty of good hay and are grazing/ browsing well outside and they drink plenty of water. Time flies!

My little incubator is still going. I set some duck eggs into it straight after hatching the quail. I just adjusted the humidity for duck eggs ( quail eggs need far lower humidity).

I was hoping for the best really, as these were eggs gifted to me from a neighbour of my parents. She gave them to me to feed to my dogs, as they were past their best and a bit too old for humans to eat.

I risked it and tried my luck with the incubator, having nothing much to lose. I popped them in to see if any were fertile and on day two, disaster!!… we lost power ..So I thought they’d be  well and truly done for. If any were going to be viable then chilling them on day two was probably not the best way to get any to develop! However, miraculously 5 have survived and have continually candled fertile! Amazing! So we shall see what we get from our pot luck, chilled and re-heated, rather old dog food duck eggs.

If we get any at all it will be remarkable!

Sadly during that power outage we lost three quail chicks, as it happened in the middle of the night when we were sleeping and their heat lamp went off. I awoke at 3 am noticing we had no light/power so rushed out to check. I was too late to save them all sadly, as one had died under the huddle of chicks trying to keep warm, but we quickly set the brooder cage in front of the woodstove and got a good fire going and set tea-lights all around it to keep the temperature up til we sorted the power problem out. A day later we were left with 17 healthy chicks from 20 and so not all was lost, but things like this really do get you down.

It was such a shame. My daughter was so upset. She had got up with me at 3 am , helped me move the brooder cage in front of the stove and she had tried everything to revive the tiny floppy cold chick..but her efforts were in vain.

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On a brighter note the veg garden here at Riverside is doing well. No major hitches (yet) this season . I have not grown as many plants that need heat or protection this year, after struggling with some tender plants last season.

I have also given up with growing sweetcorn, after losing three sowings of expensive organic seed last year, to hungry mice! I hope they enjoyed it as much I would have if it had grown and developed cobs haha

I am desperately short of  growing space here ( If I had my way the lawn would go completely! Not sure my landlord would be so keen though) and so the space for things like sweetcorn etc which needs to be grown in blocks for successful pollination, can be used for other things that I know I can grow easily and successfully. I love my leafy greens, garlic, leeks, soft fruit, herbs and salads, so am using the space that I do have for those kind of things…and cramming edibles into every available space. I am also still planting trees on the river bank…Lots of trees.

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I am trying to get more hardy, heavy cropping and perennial edibles in the garden. Dotting them in amongst the flower borders. I am planting out soft fruit  bushes under trees (grown from cuttings)  and then low growing herbs grown from seed and other fruiting  plants like strawberries under and in front of those. Areas between trees have been sown with a wildflower meadow mix…and I am not mowing that area til after it has set seed.

On the subject of mowing, I now mow all my grass with a small push mower. It is leaving a bit more length to the lawn and the other plants that grow in the lawn don’t get decapitated, which is great for bees, as flowers like clover etc are left in place… and is so quiet and easy to use, even on a big plot like this. I am so glad I gave away my two petrol mowers!

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With the weather in the UK ( and worldwide) so unpredictable now and temperatures so slow to warm up each year, I guess growing hardy edible perennials/ annuals is the way forward, if I want to have plenty to eat. Unless you have space for massive polytunnels!

I don’t have a polytunnel yet, in fact I only have a tiny lean to greenhouse here atm (which is a bit too sheltered/shaded), so space for protected crops is severely limited! I aim to fill the garden with stuff I can grow well in our weather and I aim to do all this on a mega tight budget..so plants are mostly grown from seed/ cuttings. Patience is required, with quite some time passing before some plants are mature. So it is a work in progress and maybe something I will never see reach fruition  But half the joy is discovering that something does really well on your plot, especially where other things have failed and in watching them grow steadily, even if you never see the end result.

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Keeping fingers firmly crossed that my tenancy here goes on for a few more years yet. I do so love it here! But with private rental properties you just never know…….

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Quail. Wonder birds!

I have been breeding Coturnix quail for a little while now and i seem to have stumbled upon a strain that are particularly productive egg layers. In fact they started laying at just 6 weeks old and have barely stopped since.

So far, in just over a year, the females have only taken three weeks off from laying eggs consistently, (during their moult and the worst of the Winter weather) and they are all now back in lay again and producing more eggs than ever.

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I have also noticed that now they are on their second season of laying,  their eggs are so much bigger.

Today I collected two days worth of eggs ( as I forgot to collect them yesterday) and in all I gathered 52 eggs! Impressive.

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I have an incubator full of quail eggs too.  So fingers crossed more chicks soon.

I shall be buying in a new male or two this season to bring in fresh blood to this line.

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I occasionally have fertile quail eggs for sale, so get in touch if you are interested in buying any.

Quail are flighty birds. Easily flustered and panicked. They require small mesh wire on their run and will not roost or put themselves to bed like hens do. They are also adept at escaping and will fly away if they manage to get out of their house and run.

A good way to keep them is in an aviary, preferably with double doors, an inner and outer one …but they can be kept in a coop.

You just have to be very aware of their ability to escape, especially when entering the run to feed and water them or when cleaning out their housing.

I put all mine in a large rabbit cage whilst I clean out their run. It is time consuming, catching them and transferring them all, one by one, but far easier than chasing a flying quail around my garden with a net!  I should know, I have done both! 🙂