Archive for the ‘Backyard Poultry’ Category

Farewell, Tino…

November 16, 2016
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Tino just before she sat on the Christmas cake…

Some years ago, just before Christmas, my youngest announced that she wanted a cat, a long-haired black cat called Valentino. As we already had several cats, it seemed necessary to gently discourage this idea, but she is a young lady of great determination…

At about the same time, I became aware of a little dark shadow, flittering around the edges of the garden at dawn & dusk; a very nervous cat. If I looked directly towards it, it would whisk away behind the nearest shrub. But not very fast; the poor little soul seemed to have a heavy limp, and never jumped, and seemed to be reduced to eating scraps that we’d put out for our handful of backyard chickens. Gradually it seemed to decide that I wasn’t much of a threat, and made itself more visible, and I could see that it was very thin, with a long black matted coat. On Christmas Day it seemed unfair not to leave a saucer of chopped-up turkey giblets down beside the shed that it seemed to be living under, well away from where the chickens could get at it. I never saw the cat, but the giblets had disappeared before the washing-up was done.

From then on, I took to leaving a little saucer of food out once the birds had gone to bed at dusk or before they came out in the morning. The cat slowly gained confidence, and came out to eat as soon as I produced the goods, or even sat & waited for it, up by the pond. It was still very shy, but more & more at ease with my presence; I talked to it and it seemed to listen. We were into the early summer before I casually reached out to stroke its head one day. Mis-step! It was horrified that I would take such a liberty; hissed, spat, swiped my hand,  and wouldn’t come near me for days. But offerings of food gradually won it back over, and we were eventually allowed to stroke its head – but only its head; a hand straying anywhere else was clearly a diabolical liberty.

We had no idea whether it was male or female, but it sprayed, so we assumed it was male. And needless to say, it acquired the name Tino, being suitably black & long-haired, and did seem to answer to that, although it was always clear that its hearing was not all a feral cat’s hearing needs to be; an approach from behind would cause utter panic, to start with. The poor creature also had a great big wodge of felted fur under its chin, almost from ear to ear and down to the top of its legs, which I periodically tried to loosen, thinking it must be very uncomfortable, but the cat simply wasn’t going to allow that until I introduced a pet-comb, which was evidently much safer than a hand. I was allowed to run that down its back, and tease away at the edge of the tangled beard-mat, which eventually fell off of its own accord, and with regular food and combing the long black coat became fluffy & luxuriously soft. Though in summer sunshine, it became chocolate brown, rather than black, except the head, tail & paws.

It was just about two years before she finally set one cautious paw on the threshold of our conservatory. And one paw was all it was, until the next day, when two paws & a head came in before nerves got the better of her; by then, a brave and knowledgable neighbour had managed to pick her up briefly and get a glimpse of her rear end to establish she was actually a female, something we’d never managed to do. A week or so later, as the January cold set in, she found a nice box with a wool blanket under the table in the conservatory, and took up residence indoors. Our other cats didn’t turn a hair… it was as if she’d always been there, and maybe she had been, tucked away quietly in the margins of our garden and our lives, invisible until she needed our help, and no threat whatsoever to our motley crew of resident moggies.

More cautious steps of the paw, and she started to turn up in the kitchen at mealtimes along with the others, who seemed to accept her as one of their own from the word go; she seemed to watch and copy them to work out how to behave in such as strange environment. Then one evening, a little head poked around the door into the living room; it was several months before she’d come up onto a chair with a human occupant, but eventually she did, and discovered that we possess the odd horizontal surface when sitting down. So she would slowly advance onto a lap, paw by cautious paw, then sit bolt upright in case the owner tried to commit any liberties. It was months before she relaxed enough to lie down & curl up, and the jumping-up never came easily to her.

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Tino on the sofa, bolt upright…

We took her to the vet, who pronounced her definitely female, pretty much healthy, possibly a bit arthritic given her trouble with jumping, and probably about ten years old. She showed no sign of ever having had kittens, so may have been rounded up & spayed as a kitten, as there’s a known colony of feral cats not too far from us. I will always think that she might have been rather older than that, but she’d evidently had a hard life before coming to us, and I don’t think she had ever been someone’s pet; when she first appeared, I checked with all the local vets and charitable organisations, and no-one had reported losing a cat of her description.

She brought many moments of sheer delight into our lives; watching her adjust to domesticity was a joy. Especially her little start of surprise & delight every time she wandered past the food bowl and found something edible  in it, though she was never greedy. And the moment when she inadvertently sat on the Christmas cake will always be a treasured memory.

A couple of weeks ago, we noticed that weight seemed to be falling off her rapidly, and her lovely soft coat was becoming thin; we took her to the vet, who diagnosed kidney problems. Sadly there was nothing much anyone could do, although she wasn’t in any pain or distress. But yesterday she lost all interest in food, something we never thought we’d see. So this afternoon we took her back and held her as she went to gently off to sleep; the final kindness. She’d spent the day either dozing in my daughter’s lap in front of the fire or tottering out to the pond to drink; she was never impressed with tap water and by the pond, dozing gently or watching life go by, was where she really loved to be best, weather permitting.

So, to anyone out there who is thinking of giving a home to a feral cat – it can be done, if that’s what the cat wants and you can be patient and win their trust. And it’s very, very rewarding; our lives have been the richer for having this small, cautious, fiercely intelligent & determined little soul under our roof for the last few years. Farewell, Tino; it’s been our privilege to share our lives with you for a while…

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Tino soaking up the sunshine by the pond…

Baking, 1950s-style…

March 13, 2016

In amongst the acres of vintage knitting patterns in the last job lot, I found these:

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At first glance I thought they were from the 1970s, but no…

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1949 & 1950. Older than me! I can’t resist a vintage recipe, and when I came across this page, being a good West Country girl, I had to try the brownies…

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I have to admit to a little bit of doctoring; I don’t have any margarine, so I used butter, which of course would still have been on “ration” in 1950. I doubled up the quantities, realising that the amounts given weren’t likely to feed seven, and I used 4 eggs, as they were bantam eggs. Both sets of my grandparents kept poultry right through WWII and the 50s, as did many, if not most, rural – and some urban – households, so egg-rationing never applied to them. They received poultry feed, which was bulked out with vegetable waste & peelings, instead of shop-bought eggs, and by the end of the War, a quarter of the country’s supply of eggs were home-produced.

And energy use was an issue for our forebears too; I’m afraid I cheated & made the brownies the American way, by melting the butter & sugar together, beating in the chocolate & eggs, then mixing in the other ingredients at the last minute. Much easier on the arms than creaming the butter & sugar, but a few pence more spent on fuel…

But I’m delighted to report that they tasted exactly as I remember brownies at our parish teas, back in the early 60s; much less sugary & gooey than modern ones, but very pleasant in their own distinctively chocolatey, nutty way. I rather think they’d be wonderful warm, with rich West Country cream…

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West Country Chocolate Brownies, from Good Housekeeping’s More Cake Recipes, 1950  – with my own updates/adjustments!

3oz (85g) walnuts

2oz (60g) chocolate

3oz (85g) margarine or lard (I used butter)

2oz (60g) sugar

1 egg (or 2 bantam eggs!)

4oz (115g) flour (I used spelt, which I think is closer to the flour available in the early 1950s)

¼ tsp baking powder

¼ tsp salt

A little milk

Chop the walnuts and melt the chocolate in a basin over a pan of hot water. Cream together the fat and sugar until soft and white, then beat in the egg. Sieve in flour, baking powder and salt and mix well together. Add the nuts and the melted chocolate, and a very little milk to give a soft consistency, Spread into a greased tin and dredge the top with a little sugar. (I forgot this last step, but vouch for it being there in the 60s!) Bake in a moderate oven (350℉/180℃/Gas Mark 5) for ½ hour, or until cooked. Cut into squares while still warm, using a sharp knife, and allow to cool in the pan.

And eat with rich West Country cream…

Next one up will be the dough cake, which looks suspiciously like Lardy Cake, without lard!

 

Daft not to…

January 22, 2016

There it was, just lying in the gutter, all alone… an enormous potato! A bit scuffed, and now a bit grubby too, it must have fallen out of someone’s shopping bag. It was there when I went to the market; it was still there when I was walking home half an hour later. So I picked it up & brought it home. Whyever not?

I rinsed it, cut off the scuffed side, cut it into slim-ish slices & added it to the contents of my “Peely” bin, which made a good casserole-full altogether. This is now, after boiling up for 10 minutes, in my Wonderbag, a present from a friend who volunteers in a charity shop. She rescued it from a swift entry into the rag-bag; other volunteers thought it unlikely to sell, despite being brand new, still with labels attached. Who’d use one, nowadays? But she knew that I would… So my peelings, cores and any other edible odds & sods get cooked up, at least once a week, overnight, in my Wonderbag to make a breakfast treat for my chickens. They adore it. I’m recycling scraps we can’t – or won’t – use into eggs.

But all the way home, a little voice at the back of my head was telling me why I shouldn’t have picked the potato up.

  • You don’t know where it’s been or how it got there! Well, I can hazard a good guess.
  • There may be germs It’s going to be thoroughly cooked.
  • The real owner may come back for it! I think they already would have, if they were going to.
  • Just LEAVE IT ALONE! This is sooo embarrassing… But that would be very wasteful, and there’s no-one else about in the rain. Not to mention, it’d have blocked the drain it was on its way to washing down.

I’m still feeling slightly guilty, for no reason that my logical mind can discern. But really, it would have been daft not to…

Thereby hangs another tale. A couple of weeks ago, when I took my mother back to her own home, I’d promised her a roast chicken dinner. So I went off to her local upmarket supermarket to find a small one. The only one they had out at that time was reduced to £2 and was on its sell-by date; ah well, I thought, it’s still actually in date, and it’s going straight into the oven.

But when I got it back to the flat & opened the packaging, the smell was indescribably awful. So I ran back to the supermarket, luckily not far away, with it, and gasped out an explanation. To their everlasting credit, they instantly gave me a double refund, and in the meantime they’d put out a fresh batch of little chickens. Costing £4… so in effect, we got a fresh one for half the normal price! When I unwrapped it, I saw on the package the words, “Serves two”…

Well, it gave us a good roast dinner. Mum (89) doesn’t usually eat as much as a “normal” adult now, but somehow she managed. It also gave us three servings of Chicken Jalfrezi the next day, one each and one for her freezer, plus two good portions to be eaten cold with salad, and I brought the carcass & scraps home to boil up into a hearty soup. Some of which went back to Mum, for easy suppers. In effect, that “serves two” little bird gave seven good portions, plus plenty of soup. And yet, there’s still that little voice in my head that thinks I may have done something naughty, stretching a “Serves two” into seven-plus servings!

How much money are they making out of us, when people take that “Serves two” seriously…? Or when people leave perfectly good food to lie in gutters?

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Wonderbag – with extra insulation!

Week 2 – what I did, what I didn’t, and what’s new…

August 24, 2014

Having set myself this little challenge, how did Week 1 go?

Most of it has been used up. The marrow’s still waiting to be curried, but doesn’t appear to be in any hurry. Nor are the shallots, which are scheduled to be used up in tomorrow’s Bank Holiday supper. Two small aubergines from the tray of 6 are still waiting too, but haven’t developed any bad patches so are still good to go.

This week’s haul includes 3 more lots of tomatoes; one of 50p salad toms, for lunches, and two 50p lots of the big vine tomatoes for (yet more) soup. 4 corn-on-the-cob for £1, more celery – can you have too much? Surely not! – for 50p, 5lbs of Jersey Royal potatoes for 50p, 10 lemons & 10 limes for £2, which will make lemon & lime curd, with some home-laid eggs. I also bought a big butternut squash for £1, as last week’s has already been used. I could have bought either of two varieties of cabbage, but didn’t; I still have an uncut one from Friday. There were no carrots or parsnips on offer, but I have enough carrots & one big parsnip should keep us going all week, unless I want to do a rosti, in which case I’ll visit the greengrocers. Two punnets of small strawberries were down to £1 each and will go into jam with the blackberries I’m about to go & gather in before the stormy weather makes them rot in the hedgerows. If no-one’s eaten them already, that is! The 50p peppers will almost certainly be eaten whole & raw, like apples, by our tame vegetarian, and one of the 50p leeks has gone already.

I’ve also made a big jar of kimchi, started off a ginger beer plant, and made 3 bottles of blackberry & apple cordial. Plus I bought two full carrier bags of apples towards the end of the car boot sale on Tuesday, reduced down to 50p each, to make apple butter with this week, as our crop isn’t going to be up to much this year.  And another trader has offered me a sack of windfalls, from her mother’s garden – lovely jubbly! The more the merrier.

The downside? I’m running out of reclaimed jam jars already…

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Week 2’s haul of reduced fruit & veg…

The 50p veg challenge…

August 17, 2014

Lately I’ve taken to popping down to our local market close to closing time on Sunday, the last of the three days it’s open. The two fruit & veg stalls have a habit of offloading anything perishable that hasn’t yet sold for 50p a pot or punnet, or sometimes a mixed bag for £1, or two bowls for £1.50. Since one of The Offspring has become a vegetarian, this has been a bit of a good moneysaver…

I hasten to add that I actually buy everything I can foresee needing for the week at full price & peak freshness on Friday morning, chosen to match whatever fish & meat I’ve found best value for this week & bearing in mind any special events. It’s still a darn sight cheaper than buying it all in the supermarket. What I’ll pick up on Sunday is supplementary to this; sometimes there isn’t very much left, or what’s there isn’t something that any of us will eat, so it would be daft to rely on it. And sometimes it’s a challenge to know how to use up what I’ve found. But also, fun…

This week’s haul includes celery, which is something I use a lot, as a fresh savoury herb in cooking, rather than raw in salads. If I have an absolute glut, I’ll pop some into my dehydrator; it dries quickly & the taste is concentrated. Dried celery is a great standby for soups, as are carrots, which also found their way into my trolley. There’s spring onion, which goes well in stir-fried veg, a tray of aubergines, which a friend gave me an excellent tasty, inexpensive recipe for, and 4 large ripe mangos. They’ll be in my slow-cooker tomorrow turning into chutney, with a couple of large apples from our tree. I picked up two trays of vine-ripened tomatoes, and popped over to the butcher’s stall for some soup bones for £1. That’ll make a lovely middle-Eastern-style soup for our lunches for the week, as the bones are lamb. There was a butternut squash, much loved by our vegetarian, and a marrow; I have plans to try out curried marrow or marrow bhaji…

Not to mention garden produce – the apples are coming down fast now, the quinces are almost ready – and what I can forage from our local hedgerows and even sometimes other people’s gardens. With their permission, of course! Blackberries feature strongly in my plans for the week, mostly fresh or as jam, as does the first “run” of apple butter with windfalls, possibly also using some crab apples from the riverbank; they looked just ripe for picking when I walked my friend’s dogs earlier. The lurcher clearly thought the windfalls were just perfect for eating, too… It’s not going to be a great crop of apples this year, but what’s there has had the grace to ripen up when I actually do have the time to deal with it, for once.

Anyway, the plan is, to record here what I find each week & what I plan to do with it. Then the next week, to report back on whether I did actually stick to my plans, or whether, shame of all shames, we just have some very well-fed chickens… It’s a bit of a challenge to myself, to keep me on track & keep unnecessary expenditure down, but please feel free to join me, in the comments, with suggestions for me, or tell us what you yourself have found or grown, & what you’re going to do with it.

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Home grown Blenheim Oranges.

Just in case you were wondering…

May 11, 2014

…where I’ve got to, I’m still recycling like mad & will be posting here again shortly. But I’m also trying to blog, mostly in pictures, a year in our little urban garden. Find it at A Year of Old-Style Gardening.

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This spring’s blossom on the big old Blenheim Orange apple tree…

Catching the moment…

February 9, 2014

It’s halfway through Sunday afternoon & I’m about to drift off upstairs to my new “sewing station” & try my hand at free-motion quilting. On one of my trusty old Berninas, rather than on the beautiful new-to-me Pfaff computer-that-sews, because I don’t have a darning/free motion foot for that yet! So far today, my feet haven’t touched the ground, so I’m due some down-time, although Sunday is a day most people associate with rest. But sometimes you have to make the best of what comes your way, and catch the moment… make hay while the sun shines, sort of!

We’re just back from an invigorating walk in the sunshine down at the riverbank. As we turned for home, we could see the storm clouds piling up once again on the western horizon, but we were ready for anything it could throw at us, wearing wellies & waterproofs. First thing I did this morning on seeing the sun was to whack the washing into the machine & set it off; the clean stuff went out on the line before 10am and came back in at 2pm, dry as a bone in the stiff breeze and early Spring sunshine. Not that it’s at all warm down here! But the bulbs are up & the flower buds are forming, my chickens are laying fit to bust, the garden birds are pairing up and pottering off with twigs and straw, and although there’ll undoubtedly be some icy bits to get through yet, as well as yet more rain, it’s increasingly obvious that the year has turned once again. I’ve cooked a big roast dinner, which will reappear under various easy-cook leftover-dish guises throughout the week, and trotted round to the local market to hoover up £4.50-worth of last-minute-bargain fruit & vegetables to make soups & puddings with, or to dehydrate & use at another time if I don’t have an immediate use for them. There was even a bag of 18 limes for £1; I can feel some Lime Curd coming on, which will use up some of the egg glut, and maybe I’ll also chuck a few limes into the marmalade I’ll be making in the next couple of days with my pristine little vintage Spong marmalade cutter (£5 at the car boot yesterday, works beautifully) and the two boxes of on-their-sell-by organic Seville oranges I found at the supermarket for £1 the other day.

There is a point to all this rambling on, and it’s this: I could easily have justified having a bit of a lie-in this morning, and thought, well, I’ll do the washing tomorrow. I could equally well not have bothered with the market; we have enough F&V in to see us through the next few days. We could have stayed indoors in the warm, rather than hare off down a sodden pathway in the stiff cold breeze. BUT then I’d most likely have ended up drying the washing indoors, possibly even with electrical help, so it didn’t end up going smelly. I’d have had to pay full price for top-ups of fruit & veg later in the week, and I’d have felt very guilty on the exercise front, as well as stir-crazy. And I’d have missed a bargain sewing box full of intriguing vintage sewing, knitting & crochet patterns, not to mention the sparkle of the sunshine on the racing water and glimmering through the golden skeleton reeds. And that’s exactly what I would have done, without even thinking about it, just a few years ago; just stayed indoors, in the warm. My family will tell you I’ve always been a world-class procrastinator & day-dreamer. But somehow I seem to be learning, at this late juncture, to get up & get going

I know I’m very lucky to be able to seize the ideal moment to do some things now – like I’m carving out 5 minutes to write this – and believe me, it doesn’t always work out this way. But it certainly does feel good to think you’re on top of at least some of the tasks in your life, possibly even a little ahead of the game! And it frees me up, in my head, to go & do something now that I actually want to do…

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Let it rain!

October 13, 2012

Because my chickens now have a roof over their heads again… I spent yesterday re-roofing their run. They’ve been paddling in the mud for long enough! And what’s more, thanks to Freecycle and a very kind lady down in Poole, I have two more of them, and I’m getting beautiful multi-coloured eggs again.

When we first started keeping backyard birds, one of my great joys was collecting the deep brown, pink, blue & white eggs from our much-loved Marans, Faverolles, Araucana & Hamburgh chickens. But over the years the laying flock had dwindled down to 3, two Warren-type hybrids laying perfectly pleasant but very ordinary light-brown eggs, and one gigantic Buff Orpington laying “tinted” (pinkish) eggs when she isn’t broody. There are just two Pekins left, also laying little pinkish eggs, but one of them is raising chicks just now. 2-3 (and possibly a half) eggs a day doesn’t go far between 7 of us! I’d meant to do something about it early this summer, but missed the boat; I wanted a couple of “Chalkhill Blue” day-olds, but didn’t have a broody when they were hatching, and when I did, they’d finished hatching for the year, so she had to make do with some Freecycled eggs and now has two Polish X Frizzle chicks, one of which may not be male.

Anyway, a dear friend had to move earlier this summer & gave me her solitary surviving Marans, Mollie, who lays splendid deep-brown eggs; she was the only survivor of a dog attack. Then a couple of days ago there was an advert on Freecycle from someone desperate to rehome her flock as she’s about to have a serious operation & won’t be able to care for them. I didn’t see the advert until 6 hours after it was posted, so didn’t hold out much hope, but to my delight she contacted me the next morning & said I’d be welcome to take on a couple of them, including – a Chalkhill Blue! So that evening I hurtled down to town & collected two baffled chooks – the other one is a White Star – who now rejoice in the names Faye & Bianca. As my separate accomodation is already occupied by the broody, I had to pop them onto the roost with the others; I was expecting trouble next morning, but I didn’t get it. The new girls were a bit shy to start with, and there was a little bit of posturing, but within an hour they were all dustbathing together and by the end of the day I had two light-brown, one pinkish, one blue and one pearly white egg! And they now have a run that should keep the worst of the weather off their feathers, and a shed that’s stopped letting in water now I’ve revamped the roof. Amusingly, the inside is lined with a red vinyl poster announcing “VIP Marquee” courtesy of the Dorset Scrapstore…

Glorious technicolour eggs!

But it can rain with impunity now for other reasons too. I’ve had a couple of influxes of goodies; one from the local charity shop that sells me the craft-related things they have’t been able to move on themselves, and some interesting items from the tip, as well as some lovely 1950s curtains from the 50p house-clearance stall on the market. I’m going to be busy for days next week, sorting things into saleable & usable, washing things & Freecycling the bits I can’t use. And then there was the very successful raid on the charity shops down in the conurbation, where they evidently do still believe in 99p or £1 rails for the stuff that hasn’t sold; I picked up 9 100% cotton striped gents shirts to slice up for quilting & other fabric projects. So I’d be glad to have an excuse to spend some time indoors; I could even possibly use some of the beautiful threads that were muddled up in the “unsaleable” batch from the local charity shop (pictured below) and the wonderful vintage needles (with decent sized eyes!) that came in a box from the Tip… I may be gone for some time!

Even more technicolour threads!

Fox Attack!

March 18, 2012

I got a panicky phone call up at the shop on Friday lunchtime, “Mum! Mum! Come home! A fox has got Spice!”

Spice is an 8 year old Pekin bantam, eldest surviving bird & the brood mother of most of the rest. A couple of years ago she went menopausal, developed cockerel feathering & stopped laying, but we reckoned she doesn’t owe us a thing after 5 years of laying & brooding & she doesn’t crow, so she bimbles happily round the garden with the other 3 bantams during the day. The big girls are in the run at the back for most of the day as they’re too destructive to be out all the time in a small urban garden, but feather-footed bantams don’t/can’t dig so they can stay out. I’d be heartbroken to lose Spice; she’s a calm & friendly little bird & has done the rounds of all the local schools & playgroups over the years, with various broods of chicks.

Luckily one of my daughters was out in the garden when the fox struck, and although he had Spice in his mouth he dropped her & ran off. I shut the shop up quick, ran home & took her straight up to the vets, fearing the worst as she couldn’t seem to walk, there were feathers all over the lawn & a fair bit of blood. But the vet checked her over, announced that the wounds were quite shallow, and on hearing that she’d been “caught” before, twice, by spaniels (who of course just wanted to play with her, as spaniels do, and put her straight down to wait for the next move) he said, “She’s clearly a survivor, and I reckon she has a pretty good chance of making it…” He gave her an antibiotic shot & a steroid, and I took her home again.

To cut a long story short, today she started to show some interest in food again, and this afternoon she plodded cautiously out of the cat basket and then across the garden to sit in the sunshine beside the chicken run. Relief! We were all cheering her on. We’ve lost birds before now who have just plain died of shock after a relatively trivial injury, and one rabbit who died of fright when a buzzard flew too low over the garden; it’s amazing how some creatures are just born survivors & others aren’t. I think temperament has as much to do with it as luck; the first time we saw Spice, she was a tiny, determined & unflappable 6 week old grower plodding calmly around in a huge pen of wildly overexcited, much bigger birds who were squawking & flapping madly, falling over each other & piling into corners. Unnoticed in all the mayhem, knee-high to all the others, she was calmly hoovering up all the spilt grains whilst the others rushed around chaotically – a bird after my own heart!

Anyway, we aren’t going to take anything for granted; she goes back to the vet for a checkup tomorrow. And Mr Fox is still around; he was outside by the compost heap just after dark this evening & must be very hungry (or feeding early cubs) to come so close to people so often, so constant vigilance is the order of the day for now…

RIP Fudge the Patchwork Puss…

May 25, 2011

Yesterday I had to take Fudge, one of our 4 cats, for that Final Trip to the vets. It wasn’t a surprise, I’d known for weeks that she was terminally ill & all we could do was make sure she wasn’t in pain & was still enjoying life, within limits, until the steroids stopped working & the growths in her nose & sinuses got big enough to be painful & interefere with her enjoyment of life. Three days ago she was still sunning herself in the garden & trying to catch unwary baby birds, but then she went quieter & her nose started to bleed. Yesterday morning she’d lost all interest in food and just wanted to hide under the bed, so I knew her time was near & I didn’t want her to suffer. It’s a hard thing to do on a personal level, but the only compassionate thing you can do for an animal that’s suffering.

Her two sisters & niece don’t seem to have missed her yet but she’ll leave a power vacuum – she was the shyest of cats to humans, but the boss amongst the cats – and I suspect the chickens will miss her more; she genuinely loved them although she didn’t take any nonsense from them, and often tried to sleep in the chicken shed – not just for the mice, either, there’s no hot water bottle as good as a broody bantam!

She was only 13; I know that’s an average lifespan for a domestic moggy but I think that’s much lower than it should be as I’ve known many cats in farm/rural conditions live well into their 20s, though quite often their tails don’t last that long. I’ll always remember when she & her 9-week-old sisters came to us; they’d been in a small local animal sanctuary that was closing down, along with the next litter up from the same mother & none of them had found homes so they were all going off to be farm cats if I didn’t take them. (Not that that’s a bad life for a cat, by any means, as long as they can stay clear of the machinery) The other two, Tinkerbelle & Tabitha, assimilated into our large & noisy family quite quickly & easily, but Fudge was petrified & stayed under the dresser for 6 weeks – all efforts to coax her out were met with a blank stare of terror. Then one night I felt a warm little head snuggle under my arm and a shy silent purr, and there she slept for the next 13 years, as long as I remembered to evict her from the chickenshed at roosting time! She was very pretty as well as affectionate; a true tortoiseshell (or calico cat, if you’re American) with clear bright markings in shades of brown, ginger, cream, black & white that earned her the nickname of the Patchwork Puss, and little black freckles on her nose.

So rest in peace under the rosebush by the chickenrun, Fudge. We’ll all miss you a lot. But the garden birds & the mice can sleep easier in their nests now…