Why do farmers complain?

It is very easy for me to ask this question because I’m not one, and while living in a rural area I have a certain detachment from it. I’m not asking the question in a facetious manner either, I’m serious, I actually don’t understand.

Through the summer and autumn we’ve had a series of protests, first beef, then milk and now hill farmers. The former two were described by the media as crises and were generally portrayed as coming out of the blue and generally being the result of those pesky Russians and the EU’s overreaction to them invading another country and those mean supermarkets not buying bull beef anymore when the customers no longer wanted it. In my opinion both things were very predictable if not inevitable.

The situation in the west with hill farmers farming commonage is very different. This is a problem entirely of the farmers own making, not only is it a pointless fight but the farmers involved are also completely in the wrong.

The initial proposal was that 80% of farmers on an area of commonage had to sign up to the GLAS scheme for any farmers to get money. The IFA negotiated this down to 50% but the farmers won’t agree to that, they want each farmer to be able to enter the scheme individually. This is the most outrageous suggestion I have ever heard!

There should be no negotiation on this matter with the farmers, it should be all or nothing, 100% sign up or no one gets a penny!

These areas are commonage so one farmer not signing up and not following these new rules will have the effect that no one might as well have signed up. One farmer not signing up means that even if the others follow the rules completely the one who doesn’t completely undermines the environmental benefits they accrue. They farm the one piece of land and they should all act together or not at all.

This constant whining from farmers has to stop. A huge number of people have already stopped listening to everything said by farmer groups and this is because of the ridiculous and irrational things they complain about. So if any farmers who have read this far please thing before you go out to protest, do you really have a valid reason to protest.

As an aside one of the next reasons for complaint will be associated with the Great Glanbia Con of 2012 where greedy farmers looked at rising milk prices and went woo hoo we want in on that. Glanbia PLC on the other hand say it for what it was, a price spike, and wanted to concentrate on valued added products so they readily sold the dairy division to the farmers and took control of the real money maker the processing division. Dairy farmers are starting to realise their mistake and are bound to start picketing Glanbia but it will be a problem of their own making. Their own greed caused their problems.

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Winter Cobwebs, Frost and Fog

I was running into town on Sunday morning to get some milk for breakfast and as I got to the bottom of the lane I noticed that the fog had combined with a slight overnight frost to really show the spiders handiwork in a amazingly atmospheric way. I pulled out my phone and grabbed the best photos I could on it. I think some of them  worked out pretty well.

I’ve been doing some cooking over the past couple of weeks and have also added a new recipe to the site. It’s an American diner style recipe that I’ve tweaked a bit.

cobwebs and frost 2 cobwebs and frost 3 Winter cobwebs and frostcobwebs and frost 4

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So what’s been happening?

Over the course of the summer I’ve been very bad at keeping the blog up to date but now that winter has arrived (I’m a firm follower of the Celtic calendar so winter started on the 1st November) I should hopefully have more time to write about life here.

So what have I been up to? Well that’s a long story. As well as doing my usual job I stayed sane by escaping as often as I could to run around the Wicklow Mountains pretending to be a Viking. If you’re a fan of  the show season 3 is going to be the best so far, a few awesome set pieces and the plot is really developing now. Really looking forward to seeing it in the new year, just to see if I get a few more close ups than in season 2. The show is all about me you know!

The weaners that we bought early last summer have grown up and are now filling a freezer. Due to working 7 days a week on occasion the pigs got bigger than I would had liked, they were probably about 110kg instead of the 80kg that most pigs are killed at, especially in commercial environments. This usually leads to pigs putting on a thick layer of fat but for some reason ours didn’t, there could be a number of factors for this, the weather was really warm so they didn’t need the insulation or the fact that we don’t ad-lib feed the pigs we manually feed twice a day and try not to over feed. It could of course be genetics and absolutely nothing to do with but I’d like to think we had some hand in it. Due to the pigs being that bit older than most pigs slaughtered their taste seems to be a bit stronger and not in any sort of bad way. There is a really rich, almost sweet, taste from the pork that is absolutely amazing.

Our current selection of pigs eating some pressed apples left over from making apple juice

Our current selection of pigs eating some pressed apples left over from making apple juice

To replace those pigs we now have a Berkshire x Pietrain and an Iron Age (a cross between a Wild Boar and a Tamworth). While the last 2 pigs were really relaxed and a pleasure to keep these two have so far proven to be close to a disaster. 2 days after getting them we got a phone call from a neighbour to say someone visiting them had seen ‘two animals they didn’t think were dogs’ heading towards the main road. A bit of luring with food, some chasing and a lot of swearing later they were back in their paddock. An hour later they were back out. This scene was repeated again and again for the next two months until they finally got too big for any gaps. luckily they are clever pigs and while wanting freedom they also wanted food so they never wandered off our land again. Unlike the previous pigs we’ve kept these are also very bitey, always ready to nip anything they can while you’re trying to feed them. This is the first time I just can’t wait for them to be big enough to send to slaughter!

The chicks that we hatched earlier in the year have grown up. Of the six, we have five of one sex and one of the other, we have absolutely no idea which are male and female! We were convinced for a while it was five hens and one cock, then we changed our minds and decided one hen and five cocks, now in the last week we’ve changed our minds again and think we have five hens and one cock. It’s all getting very confusing. The hen or hens probably won’t start laying until the weather starts getting warmer next spring so we won’t know for sure until then but in my opinion the single one is beginning to look really like a cockerel.

During August we received our ordered turkey poults. We got fifteen this year after keeping ten last year, and can really appreciate how much extra food these are eating. We have eight hens and seven stags. We keep them free range, they’re in a shed and run at night and then we open that out to a paddock during the day to give them access to grass. A lot of people talk about how much grass geese eat but very few seem to realise how much other poultry eats. The turkeys spend most of the day out grazing and they are constantly rooting around for insects and grubs.

Turkeys heading over to get their beaks on some of the pressed apples

Turkeys heading over to get their beaks on some of the pressed apples

So that’s what we’ve been up to, hopefully I will manage to keep the blog up to date and post regularly because I’ve got a few plans to work on over the winter. Most of all though the cold and wet weather will give me a chance to try a few recipes I’ve been thinking about through the summer but have never gotten around to actually cooking.

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Our Own Chicks

We’ve had hens for over a year now and despite the set back of loosing four to a dog earlier in the year we still love having them around. The four that died were real specialist egg laying hybrids which never get broody and so will never give you chicks unless you get an incubator. The three that survived the attack are less hybridised, still specialists but they can and do get broody from time to time. This is especially true of our black hen, from memory a Blackrock, who has probably spent half the time we’ve had her broody! One of the reasons she avoided the dog attack is she was in seclusion trying to overcome her wish to have a family.

Anyway, over with the history lesson.

Hen sitting on eggs

Hen sitting on eggs

About 6 weeks ago black hen started to get broody again and since we’re down to three hens we decided to get some fertile eggs and see if we cold get the hen to hatch them. A couple of days later 8 eggs arrived, thanks Maire, and we put them in the nest box that the hen was sitting in. It took a little while for her to work out what was going on but soon she was sitting on the eggs looking delighted.

There's definately something going on

There’s definitely something going on

3 weeks later the first chick appeared, first there was a tiny crack and hole in the egg and you could clearly hear a soft cheeping coming from the egg, about an hour later we could see ahead peeking out from underneath mother hen! Over the next couple of days a total of 7 of the eggs hatched, sadly one of the chicks subsequently died. We couldn’t see a reason, it looked like it came out of the shell fine, but these things happen in nature. anyway we had six healthy chicks to worry about. We had already bought a bag of starter crumb in the co-op so that went into the broody coop, we have a shed for our hens and basically fenced off a corner with some timber and chicken wire to form a sheltered area that was draft free, along with a small drinker and a brick to hold the hens food out of reach of the chicks. Apparently it has been know for chicks to choke on the pelleted food fed to mature hens!

Our first view of the chicks with mammy keeping a close eye on us and them

Our first view of the chicks with mammy keeping a close eye on us and them

We still don’t know whether the chicks are male or female, sexing is difficult and I’m sort of enjoying the anticipation. Hopefully we’ll get at least some hens and we can get eggs from these, but if they’re all cocks we’ll have to try to fatten them, a difficult job on egg laying hybrids,  and we’ll be enjoying our own roast chicken or possibly cock-au-vin if we get really adventurous.

The chicks starting to get bigger and more inquisitive

The chicks starting to get bigger and more inquisitive

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A new home for the pigs?

About a month ago we finally got organised enough to think about getting Miss Pig in pig, so to speak. We haven’t decided whether to cause an immaculate conception or whether to make her Mrs Pig and let her have legitimate piglets.

In the name of preparing for this I have built a new improved pig ark. The old shelter is grand for the pigs we have now but it would be better to have a separate home for Miss Pig and family when they arrive.

The decision was now whether to buy an already built ark or build one myself. I built the current one but it’s more a box than an ark and while structurally rigid, it’s lasted a year of wear and tear after all, it was built from scrap from a shed I demolished so who knows how long it will last. After some research I discovered that a large ark can cost over €400 on donedeal and I could build one for about €250. Decision made.

The first thing I did was order 3 sheets of 4ft radius corrugated cladding. These took about 2 weeks to arrive into the suppliers yard and then it took me another 3 weeks to get around to collecting them. Good thing the ark wasn’t desperately needed! When I eventually collected the cladding I also went and bought 2 sheets of shuttering ply, that’s 3/4 inch rough looking plywood for the uninitiated. I also got 2 18ft lengths of 3×2 and another of 4×3.

First I used a length of string to draw a 4ft radius semicircle on each sheet, then I cut that out with a jigsaw, I used the off cuts to create a bracket for the ‘ridge’of the ark and reinforcement for the outer edges of the ends, this created greater surface area to fix the cladding to. I also cut a door from one end to allow access.

I then cut 2 8ft lenghts of 3×2 and fixed these to ends and then cut a 8’10.5″ length to make the ridge and 2, 9ft lengths of 4×3 for the runners along the sides of the ark. I fixed all these together with a mixture of 4x30mm screws to fix ply to ply, 5x60mm to fix 3×2 to ply, and 150mm tech-screws to fix the 3×2 to the 4×3.

The cladding was then positioned over the frame. I had a two ridge overlap between sheets and fixed the cladding with nails and washers along the 4×3 runners and screws and washers along the ridge and ends. It would probably have been perfectly safe to fix it all with nails but personally I just felt more secure knowing screws were used where the biggest danger of nails coming free would be.

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A Sunday Walk

It was a beautiful morning this morning so we decided to go for a walk around the local countryside. As we were going along I started taking some photos of the plants, not really for the blog but just because so many plants were in flower and the whole place was looking amazing. I thought I’d share so of the photos with you here.

The Railway Bridge

The Railway Bridge

 

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Ladybird out hunting

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Blackberry flower, I’ll remember you for the Autumn

 

Pink Dogrose

Wild or Dog Rose

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Honeysuckle

elderflower

Elderflowers, are you champagne or cordial?

lane

The old lane, complete with cattle, horse, dog and deer tracks

roses

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Little Red Hens R.I.P.

Life looking after animals can be hard and this week we had a pretty bad week.

On Friday evening I went out to close in the hens and found 3 of them dead. one in the hen house, one in the run and another at the back of the house, another one was missing. After searching around I found a big pile of feathers behind the jeep, I assumed the hen had been taken but she had managed to escape through the sheep wire fence and was hiding in long grass in the field. She was in a bad state with a large patch of feathers pulled out of her back, what should i do?Image

I did a ‘phone a friend‘ to get advice. Basically, what I was told was that it was better than 50-50 for her, put her somewhere warm and dry and hope for the best, I had already checked her for other injuries and couldn’t find anything except some feathers missing, but I knew she would be suffering from shock. I was inclined to end her suffering but I wanted to hope for the best. It didn’t do any good, she died the following morning.

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I was stunned. I knew it could happen but I never thought it would actually happen to our hens. I knew there was always a chance of a fox, mink or other predator would get at the flock but from what research I’ve done I reckon the act was done by a dog. I realise that that nothing is ever certain especially when you rely on online research, but from descriptions for killing methods and a number of footprints we found around the garden, I’m pretty certain what type of animal it was.

Now the big decision is what to do in the future, I’ve always wanted the hens to be completely free range but is that viable? Can I say something to the suspected dogs owner? I have no proof just suspicions. Or is it time to time to take the American option and get a gun licence to kill any suspicious animals on our land.

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