Snow pretty …

The River Don (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

For the second time in 3 weeks we were snowed in.

The first time, we were snowed in for 5 days. The snow came on Tuesday, blocking us in from Wednesday until Sunday.

On the Friday, we did make it to the end of our (private) lane and we caught a bus into the nearest town to do some shopping, as the main roads were fairly clear.

We would have walked to the main road, but the farmer saw us and ran us up there in his van, which has snow tyres on. We caught a bus back but walked to the house from the road.

The poet started a new job in January and for the first 6 months his *company* car is a hire car. When the snow came the first time, he had a Ford Galaxy, a people carrier – or the *bus*, as he called it. And it was terrible in the snow.

Icicles on the River Don (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

On the Sunday, after being stranded since the previous Wednesday, he dug the bus out and then made his way carefully down our drive to leave the bus on the farm.

He thought he’d have more chance of getting out the next day.

He did get out the next day, but coming home again he got stuck. Fortunately, the farmer, his friend and the farmer’s son were on hand to help give him a push.

Mid-week the week before last, we had another very isolated snow dump. At around 4am or 5am, we had around 3 inches (7½cm) in just one hour.

He was able to make it out and off the farm, as he was parked at the bottom again. But getting to work was a struggle. As soon as he got to the motorway, though, the snow was gone.

Viaduct over the River Don (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Later that week, on the Friday, the poet picked up his new hire company car … and this time it’s a Jaguar 4×4. Top of the range. (He won’t be allowed to keep this one for very long!)

It took him a week or so to get used to where everything was. But by last weekend, he’d sussed it.

On Saturday, we had another snow dump. Another very deep one. This time we were in fact able to get out because he has this very posh, top of the range 4-wheel drive.

We didn’t go far, though, as more snow was forecast … and after we got back, more snow did indeed come.

Yesterday morning, the poet decided to take a few pictures to show how there are worse places to be stranded.

We live very close to the River Don. It’s only a short stroll across one of the farmer’s fields.

Our house is the yellow one slightly up the hill. The farmhouse is just below ours. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

The river actually comes much closer to us, but we’d have to cut through the farm to get to it.

The main farm field is like a pond at the moment. It means the farmer hasn’t been able to let his cows out yet this year.

There’s a drain in there somewhere, and they usually leave a slab over the top of it so they can find it and open it to let more water out.

It’s just not doing the job at the moment and, in fact, most of the farm is muddy or full of puddles.

Yesterday morning, I didn’t let the chickens out of their coop because they’re a bit stupid and don’t realise it could give them hypothermia. (They stand out in the rain too until they’re absolutely drenched.)

The snow was so bad, though, that it had drifted inside the coop. I opened the chicken house but put food in the coop, then closed the gate to keep the peacocks, the guinea fowl and the ducks out.

Another view of the farm. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

I did give them some food too, but if they get inside the coop, they bully the chickens out and then the chickens have to go and find somewhere else to shelter.

We’ve not taken the dog out either while it’s been snowy. He has lots of fun in the garden already, but to take him on a several-mile walk when he’s already quite close to the ground is, in our opinion, a little cruel. And he would have disappeared in some of our snowdrifts.

So long as we have food and milk and plenty of pet and chicken food, we don’t mind the snow at all.

Yes, the poet has to get to work, but if he doesn’t have any appointments or if the meetings can be postponed, it really isn’t an issue.

When we were snowed in for 5 days, he even had a Skype meeting with several of his colleagues.

We weren’t able to go out and do our letter “C” for the Alphabet Adventurers at the weekend, but perhaps we can do it this coming weekend. We’re in Birmingham on Sunday, though, so it will have to be Saturday.

The Beast from the East is supposed to be back in time for Easter, when we’re planning on having a week’s “stay-cation”. We hope to do some more work for the Alphabet Adventurers while we’re off, but if he still has the Jag, we’ll probably be okay.

I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Our house and the farm from the edge of the River Don. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)



Life on the farm – back to it …

Beetroot ready for pickling.

The last time I posted about life on the farm, it was August and it hadn’t stopped raining for a long time. We’d not been able to do much, and we hadn’t even managed to get out a lot either. When it finally stopped raining, things finally changed.

First of all we had 4 peachicks hatch. Three were lost, but one has survived and is getting quite big. We called him/her Parker because we called the mother Lady Penelope.

About 3 weeks after those chicks hatched, another 3 peachicks arrived with one of the other peahens – we don’t know if it was Tenille or Claire – and we called those Huey, Dewey and Louie … and so far they’ve all survived too.

Many of the sheep have gone to market now, but the farmer bought a new ram and this morning they’ve been selecting the “girls” to take to him on Bonfire Night, apparently. We still have 2 of the 3 cades (orphans) we had, plus 2 more have been added. They’re all still in with the new ram.

Two families of ducks have been very successful, with each hatching around 10 ducklings. And 6 of the 8 goslings have also survived. There are now 2 gangs of geese strutting around the farmyard.

Over the summer, 2 of our chickens got very broody. Baldy kept it to the chicken coop, but Pauline disappeared, for days on end at times. Both felt much better after around 3 weeks.

What’s known as a “lash egg” appeared in one of the nest boxes in the summer. We thought it was just an egg without a shell, but it’s actually quite serious and, while it can be impossible to tell which chicken has laid it, death usually follows within about 3 days.

ALL of our original 6 chickens are still with us, but one of the farm chickens died of an apparent heart attack in my arms one night. She was in our garden very late at night and quite a long time after dark, which is very, very unusual. Chickens usually take themselves to bed around an hour before darkness.

To protect her from the fox, I took her up to join our chickens in the coop, but she died before we got her there. At first we thought she’d died of fright, and she may have done. But she’s the only chicken to die after the lash egg was laid …

That left just one more chicken on the farm, their Madge, who liked to roost up in the rafters of the small barn. Towards the end of the summer, she started to hang around with our chickens at the end of the day and she gradually insinuated herself into the coop over a period of around 5 days.

At first she’d perch up on the pole that the seed hopper was suspended from, right up in the apex of the chicken house. Now she just makes sure she’s the first in the house at night and she hogs the “best” nest box. I did tell our chickens to be polite to their new house guest, and they did pick on her a bit at first. Now, however, they just let her get on with it … and we have 7 chickens.

Once the rain had stopped we went back to our old lane to pick blackberries, and we came back with over 11lb. There then followed a frenzy of making jam, making blackberry crumbles, freezing portions of blackberries for future use.

Not long afterwards, our plums were ready, and something similar followed. Then, in September, it was our apples’ turn. With all of them I stewed and froze several portions for future use but I froze the blackberries and plums intact. The plums turned out to be a bit “green”-tasting, so while I wouldn’t normally stew those with sugar, when they come out of the freezer I think that’s what I’ll be doing before using them.

We ended up with 9 jars of blackberry jam, 9 jars of plum jam and 4 jars of apple jelly. Yesterday, the last of the outside tomatoes were harvested and 2 large jars of green tomato chutney were made, using the very last cooking apple.

The garden has been producing plenty of food for us. We’ve pickled beetroot and cucumber, we had fresh potatoes throughout the last 2 months of the summer, we’ve had peas, cauliflower, carrots and broccoli, and we’ve had cherry and regular tomatoes and very fat cucumbers.

Hardly anything was discarded with even the chickens eating things like the beetroot tops.

There have been a few failures. We weren’t very successful with onions, swedes, turnips, Brussels sprouts, peppers or lettuce. But now the garden has been put to bed for the winter the planning fun starts for next year. For a man who claims to hate gardening, the poet has done pretty well for himself – AND he enjoyed it. Apparently.

For a few weeks at the end of the summer/start of the autumn, the chickens weren’t laying very much. But they’ve started again and we’ve already had 2 jars of pickled eggs. I’ve started to bake again, and over the past 2 weeks I’ve been using up store cupboard ingredients close to their use-by date.

Aside from fruit crumbles, I made my first Eve’s pudding last week, along with a dozen cherry buns, and this week I started to make cookies again, using the chocolate drops that are close to their use-by date, and I made another dozen cherry buns – to get rid of the cherries that were on date.

I’ve not even started on Christmas cakes yet, but those are yet to come, once I’ve exhausted the supplies in the baking cupboard.

Clovelly, Devon. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

In September we had a week’s camping holiday in North Devon, so watch out for a blog about that in the coming days. Oh yes, and the poet has been building a new website for his photography. You can have a sneak preview here, but do be aware that he is still building it.

And I think that’s it, for now …


Life on the farm: spring madness almost over

On the farm
The lambing madness seems to be over now. Around 50 sheep have had lambs and there are only a couple left in the nursery field. The rest have been moved back to various places on the farm, leaving the nursery field for the orphans.

So far there are only two orphan lambs (they lost one of them), and those are currently in the orchard, in the farm garden or in the paddock at the end of our back garden. When the grass in the nursery field has recovered, or when the last of the flock-sheep go, I think the orphans will be moved to the nursery field.

Cows in the main field.

The young cows were let out a couple of weeks ago and are getting used to being outside.

In the garden
The poet has been very busy in the garden, working hard. He’s turned over three beds in the back garden and trimmed many of the shrubs.

Working hard in the garden.

I honestly don’t know where this is coming from. He’s loving learning new skills and creating new life from scratch. But he never really has been one for gardening.

Trimming shrubs.

He built three raised beds and two planters, and is now working on chicken-wire-covered frames to put over the beds to keep the chickens off the seedlings.

Raised beds, one with chicken frame under construction

Two weeks ago he went around repotting all of the fruit trees and bushes. The apple tree, the grape vine and the blackcurrant bush all look really well. The gooseberry bush looks a little dead, but there are green shoots starting to show now.

Apple tree and grape vine (both past presents from my parents).

This coming bank holiday weekend, we’re hoping the beds will be ready for some outdoor seed-sowing. We have vegetables to sow in the potager and some flowers for the back garden.

Parsley, basil and chives, for the kitchen windowsill.

The seeds I sowed at Easter are starting to show, but the seeds that the poet sowed two weeks before that are doing really well. The cucumbers and cherry tomatoes are doing particularly well, as are the marigolds. And things like the onions and the calabrese are starting to show now too.

Only the basil was doing well for the herbs for the kitchen windowsill, but now the chives and the parsley are catching up.

Chitted potatoes.

Last week I chitted some potatoes. Those are currently on the kitchen windowsill, but we’re hoping they can go out next weekend.

We’re calling our little plot “Ian’s Farm”. He really is loving it and he’s doing the bulk of the work – I’m mainly directing!

“Ian’s Farm”

He’s also been busy in the stable, making racks from which to hang his growing collection of tools.

A place for everything, and everything in its place …

The chickens are happy as pigs in muck. Pink is looking a bit scruffy, but the rest of them have really nice feathers now. We’re still getting between five and six eggs per day, so we’re still eating a boiled egg a day.

Can you see Pink’s pink bottom?

Aggie the Agoraphobic has taken to wandering off with farm chicken Madge and yesterday one of the children had to fetch her back to us! Poorly Pauline has made a full recovery and is getting more confident by the day.

Lara Croft: “Take *my* picture, *I’m* gorgeous!”

The Tour de Yorkshire
Another bank holiday weekend on the horizon. We have the Tour de Yorkshire cycling past the end of our drive this year. Three years ago we drove to Holmfirth to see the Tour de France. This year we have a grandstand view without going anywhere.

Let’s hope the weather holds out for them. And for us!

Life on the farm: Good Friday 2017 (***cute lamb alert***)

On the farm
They’ve been lambing on the farm this past week, painting numbers on the sides of the sheep as they give birth, and painting the same numbers on any lambs born to that sheep.

The main field is now bereft of sheep. They’re all in the maternity barn, in the nursery field, or they’ve been moved back to the fields where they usually live.

Picture: Ian Wordsworth

Instead, the young cows have now been let out into the main field. Oh, what a lovely sight to see these youngsters running and skipping across the grass as they were given their first outing from the barns. They’ve been to have a look at us and we may get pictures over the coming days.

Back to the lambs, the nursery field is at the top of our front garden, so we’ve been able to watch as another pair of lambs and their mother are added to the flock before being moved along.

Picture: Ian Wordsworth

The mothers are very curious, but one did chase after me when I surprised her while I wheeled the wheelie-bin down the drive on Wednesday evening. It made a very loud rumbling noise.

Her baby, just the one, was curled up in a ball and I think she was frightened I was going to hurt it.

Picture: Ian Wordsworth

Another of the mothers, “Number 28”, is less frightened. This one has managed to clamber up the dry-stone wall into our front garden, where she investigated one of the (so far) empty raised beds in our potager.

I think Number 28 and her lamb have been moved now, as we’ve not seen her for a couple of days.

Picture: Diane Wordsworth

In the garden
The brand-new greenhouse has started to earn its keep. The marigolds are doing really well and, now, so are the cucumbers.

Cucumber seedlings alongside brassicas. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

The seeds sown on 2 April are still appearing, but some are still a little slow – the onions, for example, and the brassicas. I think all of these have a longer germination time, but the first brassica, a calabrese broccoli, has already reared its tiny head.

A calabrese broccoli showing its tiny head. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

We bought some herb pots for the kitchen windowsill to plant up. So far the basil is doing the best, with the chives just showing this week. The parsley is taking a little while longer, though …

Herb pots for the kitchen windowsill. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

Last week’s 20 strawberry plants have taken nicely in their HUGE hanging baskets. (He was a little disappointed that I didn’t share a picture of his very well-made greenhouse staging, so the picture below gives some idea of how that looks.)

Twenty strawberry plants in four MASSIVE hanging baskets. (Plus hand-made staging.) (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

The chickens, bless them, continue to thrive. And they continue to show their appreciation by laying eggs. We’re definitely up to 5 or 6 eggs a day now, and they’re starting to come to their names as well.

The poet had to put some chicken wire around the garden gate to stop the dog from escaping. For a while, it also kept the chickens out, and that meant a cleaner floor.

Agatha (Aggie the Agoraphobic). (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

However, Baldy and Blondie are both regular visitors to the garden now that they’ve worked out how to hop around the edge, or even over the top with a garden tub strategically placed to break their landing. The other girls will follow if they think they’re missing something, aka food.

Our beautiful Blondie, the biggest and fattest of the lot. (Picture: Diane Wordsworth)

Happy Easter!
We have the long weekend off for Easter, without any pre-planned visits or trips or anything. We are, however, expecting a delivery of compost today for the raised beds, and we hope to be doing more work in the garden if the weather is nice. There may also be fishing and walking.

Have a great weekend!

Life on the farm: April 2017

One of the orphan lambs.

On the farm
They say that when the first lamb arrives, it’s the first day of spring. So our first day of spring was actually just over a month ago, on 4 March.

Their granddaughter #2 has 3 brown sheep (I *will* find out the breed). She’s only 13 or 14, but already she owns these sheep. Late last year, these brown sheep were taken to meet a male, and each one of them delivered this spring.

The first one, on 4 March, had a white lamb and a black lamb. Over the following week or so, the other 2 brown sheep also had lambs. In the end, between them, there were 3 black lambs and 2 white lambs, and while one of the mothers seemed to be rejecting one of the black lambs, it was just a temporary blip and he did manage to get enough nourishment from the other mothers in the meantime.

Granddaughter #1 has a horse. But on the same weekend the first lamb arrived, she bought 3 cade (“kay-dee”) or orphan lambs from a neighbouring farm. These were kept in the barn for a few weeks, but are now out in the orchard at the side of our garden.

(GD#1 removed her horse’s blanket during the week and took her for a canter around the main field (on the other side of the orchard). The blanket’s back on again now, so maybe the temperature has dropped again.)

Sheep no. 2 keeping her own lamb close.

The farmer has another, bigger flock, of around 200 sheep when they’re all present and correct.

These sheep didn’t start to have lambs until after 1 April, but the whole family have turned out and are keeping watch. Any that look like they might be having difficulty are taken into the barn and looked after. Those that manage quite well by themselves are checked over.

The sheep and lambs are all numbered (we think they may have seen this tip on the BBC’s Countryfile), then those that need to be kept close are moved to the nursery field (at the front of our house) while the others go back in the main field.

Elsewhere on the farm, the cows are still indoors, but I think they’ll be let out soon enough.

(left to right) Baldy, Pink and Aggie (Blondie’s in the background) investigating the new greenhouse

The farmer has bought some beautiful black calves, and he has some calves of his own too. However, some of the cows (about 4) have ringworm, so they’re being treated for that and kept away from the others.

In Baggins Bottom
On the home patch, the poet has been busy assembling a new greenhouse. This arrived during a storm in mid-March and he had to abandon the project for a few days until the winds died down.

Once the greenhouse was finished and stable, he then set about building some greenhouse staging out of wood. He’s not a carpenter but he does enjoy creating things, and he did exactly what I asked him to.

The new greenhouse next to the year-old shed.

The two-tier staging wraps around 2 sides of the greenhouse in an L-shape. The remaining side will be for 2 grow-bags – one for 3 tomatoes and one for 2 cucumbers.

Of course, the chickens now think that this is another place for them to shelter – they won’t think that when the hot weather arrives.

Seed-sowing started on 2 April: cauliflower, calabrese broccoli, cherry tomatoes, cordon tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, onions, Brussels sprouts and marigolds. The marigolds are companion planting for the cherry tomatoes, which will be going into tubs and baskets.

Marigold seedlings.

Yesterday, 5 of the marigolds sprouted, and today there are 5 more. The poet isn’t a gardener either (“I hate gardening”), yet he’s so proud of these tiny little things – again, it’s the creating something from nothing part.

We have 20 strawberry plants coming, 10 each of 2 varieties. Those will be going into hanging baskets when they arrive.

We have a tractor that the poet used to cut the grass with at the last house, but we don’t have that big a lawn here. The old electric mower he used to own conked out at the end of last year, and last week we had to go and buy a new lawn mower so he could give the grass its first cut.


The chickens are doing well. They’ve been with us for 4 months now, and we still have the half-a-dozen we started with. They’re laying 4 – 5 eggs per day between them, and we’re giving dozens away.

I was well-chuffed when we had 6 eggs one day last week, but when we had 7 … (SEVEN!) I was a tad surprised, as we still only have 6 chickens.

We’re trying to get creative with recipes that include eggs. If work settles down, I’ll have time to do some baking. I want to get some big jars so I can pickle some, and we’re each having a hard-boiled egg every weekday with our lunch, I’m having it in a salad while the poet is eating it like an apple.

With the warmer weather and the longer days, the poet hopes to do more fishing soon, starting this afternoon when he gets home from work if the weather is nice enough.

Hopefully, me and the dog will have chance to get out and about and share more news and pictures over the coming weeks. I’ll be swapping the mobile phone for my camera.

My fat year: up & down

It’s been a while, but I have still been watching my weight and, to be honest, it’s been very up and down.

I can’t believe that you can put 3lb on one day and then lose two of them the next. This past week alone I did exactly this.

Yes, yes I know we’re not supposed to weigh ourselves every day and, because of the fluctuations last week, I did stop bothering. But Monday is weigh-day and I had to do it this morning.

Fortunately, I do have a weight-loss of 2lb from last week. Unfortunately, I’m still 1¼lb heavier than I have been at my lightest on this current diet.

At the weekend, even the poet reported a few pounds weight-gain, so he’s cutting down again now. It’s funny how complacency can set in so easily.

We’ve not been walking for a long time and I think that’s having a lot to do with it – for both of us. As well as the extra food we’re clearly eating at the moment, of course. Instead, either the weather has kept us indoors or, as soon as the weather has improved, we’ve been working in the garden.

At the weekend we had to buy a new lawn-mower and the poet did the first cut yesterday. It was hard work, but not as hard as it was with the old push-along lawn-mower. (He can’t use the tractor here, but he’s keeping hold of that for when it comes in handy again …)

Two weeks ago, in gale-force winds, he built a new greenhouse. Last weekend, he built wooden staging. And during the week, after work, he painted the staging with wood-preservative. Yesterday, we were finally able to spend a relaxing couple of hours sowing seeds.

His band doesn’t have as many gigs this year as of late. He wanted to cut back and so they’re only doing one gig a month (two a month when one is a charity gig and one is a paid gig). We hoped this would free us up to do more things but, as ever, it’s been very, very busy and we’ve been visiting or entertaining over our birthday season, in the midst of which comes Mother’s Day too.

This coming weekend we have the usual Birmingham/Doncaster visits, but perhaps we can squeeze in a walk on our way from Brum to Donny.

Saying that, I did achieve my Slimming World silver activity award on 23 March, and I’ve started my gold award today. The chickens, the little bit of gardening I have managed, and just shopping all contribute to this challenge. The gold award lasts for eight weeks, though, while the bronze and silver were both for four weeks each.

The warmer days make eating salads much easier, so hopefully there will be something more positive to report soon.

How’s your slimming going?

Life on the farm

Crisp, frosty morning on the farm.

We made a very conscious lifestyle decision to live in the countryside. In May 2016, we chose to rent a house on a farm in the bottom of a little-known valley.

The house wasn’t available for sale, it belongs to the farm, and the farm wasn’t for sale either. So we rent it, and this means there’s a lot we can’t do to the house or the surroundings, although if we want to do anything or if something needs doing, it is generally done.

The free range farm is a very busy, very hardworking family business, overseen by the patriarch/matriarch farmer and his wife. They have three grown-up kids who all have families of their own, but who still come and work the farm around their day jobs.

There’s just us and them, here in this valley.

Livestock on the farm includes cows and sheep but no pigs. The cows are indoors at the moment, the sheep are allowed to roam – and it’s almost lambing time. Domestic fowl on the farm consists of three geese, two chickens, five guinea fowl and four pea fowl plus a number of mallards and moorhens that live on the river …

… yes, we have a river too. The fast moving upper River Don. The river has wild brown trout and, in season, fly fishermen fish it.

In the surrounding woodland, we also have pheasants and owls. On the river there are also kingfishers. And in our gardens we have woodpeckers, four of the finches, four of the tits, dunnocks, wrens, blackbirds, robins, magpies, wood pigeons and collared doves.

Oh yes, and we have badgers and foxes too …

Life on the farm
Because so much is always going on here, I’ve decided to add a new regular blog feature, life on the farm. I hope readers enjoy reading about it as much as we enjoy living here.

In December we made another conscious decision. We decided to rescue half-a-dozen caged hens who were coming to the end of their commercial viability.

We bought a chicken coop and on 3 December, Lara Croft, Aggie the Agorophobic, Poorly Pauline (“Poorline”), Pink, Blondie and Baldy came to live with us, joining the two farm hens, who we call Madge and Black Betty. Baldy was pretty much “oven-ready” and Blondie wasn’t far behind her. But now both birds have grown brand new feathers and look lovely and fluffy.

The chicken coop went into the front garden, in between the stable and the shed. And then, when disaster struck, and avian flu arrived, we had to buy an additional chicken run.

Avian flu
We’re both confused and disappointed with this whole avian flu business. Disappointed because we’ve received no formal notification from either Defra or the charity we rescued the chickens through. Confused because the Defra legislation says that where there are protection zones birdkeepers should – at the very least – keep their domestic fowl food and water separate from wild birds and – at the very best – keep all the birds on lockdown indoors. Yet the charity and, in fact, the BBC’s Countryfile yesterday say ALL birds need to be on FULL lockdown.

When one of our birds was poorly (can you guess which one?), I asked our local chicken farmer about the lockdown. They have 200 chickens and they’re all classified as free range. And she said that they’d received no formal notification from Defra either and had also only found out by word of mouth. But not only will they lose their free range classification if the birds have to be kept indoors for too long, but they also have to muck out the chickens and their chicken barns aren’t fully covered in. So how can they keep their birds separate from wild birds?

There’s a much bigger chicken farm up on the hill too, with something like 2,000 free range chickens. They don’t seem to have anywhere fully enclosed either.

Our resident farmers also haven’t received anything from Defra, yet we are all, apparently, liable for a £5,000 fine AND up to three months imprisonment. And in the eyes of the law, ignorance is no defence.

So not only have we ALL not received any formal notification of the virus, we’re also seeing conflicting advice on what to do and how to cope with it.

If bird flu comes to our valley, then our birds are going to get it, regardless of whether or not they’re kept separate. And if our birds get it, then others will too.

(EDIT: I have now spoken with Defra and they say the whole of the UK is classed as a “prevention zone”, and we come within that. Some places are classed as a “protection zone” while others are classed as a “surveillance zone”. However, so long as we are doing our best to keep wild birds away from the chickens’ food and water, and so long as we have nowhere indoors to keep them – which we don’t – then we are “complying”. But if a walker happens to report our chickens to Defra, Defra are obliged to send us a letter but are content that we are complying.)

When our Pauline got ill (she wasn’t called Pauline until then), we were quite worried. She just sat out in the rain, all her feathers ruffled up, head down in neck, not eating or drinking. We brought her into the garden, where some of the other chickens followed and then pecked at her. I had a chat with our local bird farmer, and she said Pauline might have had an egg burst inside her, and that this was usually fatal. So that cheered us up no end.

However, a quick Google search gave us a few things to try, and one of these was to massage her crop – the big, fat pouch on her front where chickens store food to be digested later. It was possible she had a compacted crop.

The poet did this first, and she made lots of smelly, “farty” noises. Sometimes it smelt of bird food, sometimes it smelt of bird poo. But it got better as the day progressed.

The following morning she was right as rain, and now she’s taken over from Aggie as being the first into the bird house at night and the last out in the morning.

Septic tank
Because we’re in the bottom of a valley, we’re not connected to the main sewage grid. Last week the kitchen drain (the *only* drain from the house) started to slow down its emptying.

A course of bricks around the drain was letting waste out anyway, so the big job planned for the weekend was to check to see if the drain was blocked and to re-lay the bricks …

… and there went the best laid plans, and all that.

The drain was actually solid. And when the poet checked one of the inspection hatches, that was solid too. Ooh eck.

When we moved in we were told that the septic tank usually doesn’t need emptying. It’s so big, and only serves one household (us – the farm has its own), that it’s all soaked down through the filtering system before it needs physically emptying.

But we had to find out how to empty the septic tank, and in an emergency too. And the only way I could find anyone interested was when I said it risked flowing into the River Don …

In the meantime, the poet went down to the farm to see if they had a contract with anyone for emptying the tanks – and their son and one of their daughters were there and immediately said, “Don’t do that, we have rods in the barn. We’ll come and see if we can rod it all first.”

But when we finally accessed the septic tank, it was completely empty. It was the drains that were blocked.

And that is how, on a dull, misty, damp Sunday morning we ended up rodding compacted *foul* waste. Waste that had clearly been building up since last May …

I’ll pause a moment while that sinks in …


It took them a couple of hours, one set of rods and our jet washer (thank you, Dad!) to finally clear the blockage and get our waste flowing freely again. And then the poet had to chop out and re-lay that brickwork around the drain. Until the mix went off, I couldn’t use the dishwasher, the kitchen sink or the washing machine.

Overnight we had a hard frost, so the poet was convinced his brickwork would need doing again anyway … but when I tried both the dishwasher and the washing machine (separately, so as not to overload it), everything stayed contained within the drain without washing anything away.

It does, however, still need another course of bricks, as the outflow from the kitchen sink bounces right over the top of the bricks.

Because of the hard frost this morning, the poet had to warm his car up and drive away carefully down the icy lane (we really ought to get a grit bin installed). And he left the gate open again at the end of the drive.


By the time I got up again (I always get up with him, and then get up again to let the chickens out of their coop and into their run), there was a lost sheep in the garden trying to get back to the rest of her flock behind the fence in the woods and at the bottom of the drive.

So I had to get dressed straight away and then shepherd her back to her flock.

Ee, tis a reyt life here on t’farm.


Hmm, it’s nice and cosy in here … (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

Last Saturday we drove half-an-hour to Letwell, just on the other side of Rotherham, to collect 6 new additions to the family.

The British Hen Welfare Trust rescues around 50,000 hens a year and around 300 of them were coming to South Yorkshire. These are caged hens coming to the end of their commercial viability who would otherwise be heading for slaughter.

We’d already decided we wanted some chickens, and if we could rescue any, all the better. So we researched it and we bought a small hen house (houses up to 12 chickens).

We live on a free-range farm that has had chickens previously, so we knew that so long as we keep them safe from foxes, they’d hopefully enjoy a long and happy life with us.

The house was sited in a sheltered part of the front garden, with the stable to one side, a hill behind, a big tree overhead and a shed on the other side (soon to include a greenhouse). We’re gated in and there is fencing all around, mostly to contain the dog.

There are only 2 chickens left on the main farm at the moment, thanks to the fox. But there are 5 guinea fowl, 4 peacocks, 3 geese, 2 horses, a few hundred sheep and some cows.

Living in the countryside immediately around us are pheasants, badgers, woodpeckers, mallards, owls, kingfishers.

Diane tries to encourage them out with a handful of grub … (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

We have a fast-running section of the River Don where the poet goes fly-fishing. And ramblers regularly use the public footpaths that cut through the land. It really is idyllic.

And so we thought the chickens would settle in nicely and enjoy their new surroundings.

We found an animal feed specialist just down the road where we can not only get our chicken supplies from, but the garden bird food is considerably cheaper too. So we have chicken food, chicken grit, straw, sawdust, a feeder, a water hopper. The extra we’re spending on the chicken supplies, we’re more than saving on the garden bird food.

On the first day, Saturday, we just got the girls home and settled them into the hen house, where we left them overnight. Monkey Dust had a gig on the evening, so we just had to make sure the house was secure in case a fox wandered by while we were out.

They were still all present and correct (and safe!) when we got home. 🙂

Egg no 6 on day no 1 … (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

On Sunday morning, still in his dressing gown, the poet went out to see them. They’d laid 5 eggs, which we were very happy about. We didn’t really get them for the eggs, we got them to rescue them. But the occasional egg is a nice thank-you gift from them.

When I got up, we went out and we let them out for the first time. They were nervous and cautious and not at all sure what to do. So we encouraged them outside in the sunshine. And that was when I found the sixth egg.

The peacocks, the guinea fowl and “Madge”, one of the farm chickens, came up to have a look at what was going on, and to scrounge the bit of food we scattered on the ground. At first they tried to bully the new arrivals, and we decided not to put food outside again until the new chickens have properly settled in.

By day 2, by the way, the biggest of our chickens was giving as much as she got with the other birds and making sure they all knew which was her territory. They still try to bully them, but if I come out or if our “big” chicken sees them, they start to back off again.

We didn’t leave them out for very long on Sunday as it was new to them and we also want them to get used to going into the house at night.

When we go camping in the summer at weekends, we will have a fox-proof enclosure up – that’s next Easter’s bank holiday weekend project. But for as long as we’re home and can shut them in at night, that’s not really a priority.

Hmm … it *does* look sunny out there … (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

As the week progressed, laying went down to just 2 eggs a day, with a possible third being eaten by them for the shell. Today, for the first time since last Sunday, we had 3 eggs. And tomorrow they get their first clean-out.

They’re all settling in very well, exploring their new surroundings, establishing a pecking order. And by yesterday (Friday), they were running to me every time they saw me, pecking at my wellies, and mostly going into their house at night by themselves.

Just now when I went out to see them, at noon, one of them pecked at the empty water dish and then glared at me. Then she waited while I went to clean and re-fill the water hopper, having a massive drink when I put it back. Naughty Diane!

One bird in particular is straight out of the coop as soon as we open it, with another 2 following soon after. Two more tend to take their time and one of them definitely prefers to stay indoors. We’re calling that one Aggie the Agoraphobic.

We also have one that is very, very bald, and while I call her Baldy when I’m talking about her, to her face, or when she can hear, she’s Gail. We also have a Lara Croft – she’s the adventurous one.

We hope their feathers will grow again and that their plumage improves, and we will continue to be grateful for every egg they leave for us. I hope you enjoyed the pictures – perhaps as we take more, we’ll all see an improvement. They’re already looking chubbier.

… nearly … (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)

If you are able to rescue any chickens, the BHWT have collections all over the country.

Our chickens came from a farm in Chesterfield, and the re-homing centre we collected them from rescued around 250 chickens that day, and over 2,500 chickens in the time they’ve been volunteering.

You have to register first and then, if there isn’t a waiting list, you could be collecting your first chickens within days. We bought our hen house from Egg Shell Online, but you can do an online search or the BHWT will point you in the right direction. They’re not the only re-homing charity in the country, either. So do your research and find the right fit for you.

We made a donation of £5 per bird, but this is completely down to the discretion of the re-homer(s). Other charities ask for a donation of just £1 per bird, but again, I think it really is up to you.

Yay! Chicken no 1 meets one of the guinea fowl. (Picture: Ian Wordsworth)