Happy one-year anniversary, dear friends! It’s amazing that there have been small updates from us for that long, and that you have stuck by us. Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My are not at all surprised, they tell me. We had a chat about this, under their favorite Rowan tree, yesterday. The weather is hot and clammy, with not a wisp of a breeze, so lounging in shady places is the thing to do. My job was to chase the flies away from their eyes. Our dear sheep think that everyone wants to hear from them; just because they are so kind and maybe they are right.
Monty sends his love to all and everyone. He started tooting at 3 am this morning and has not had a break since. His friends, the hens have left for the forest. Feeding Monty an additional breakfast does not inspire him to take a break. He just carries on, mouth full and sounding dangerously close to choking. When he was younger this trick worked, but now he is too busy and probably too grown up for distractions. He still sounds a bit tone deaf but don't we all, early in the morning?!
We had a walk down the field, the famous five and I, this morning. It was just after five am, still a bit misty and wonderfully magical and we decided that the moment was right for some names. The name giving ceremony resulted in Emma, Trisha, Katie, Jill and Jane. It seemed appropriate to give such endearing hens names by all my favorite "feel good" authors. My dear husband agreed and as he was half asleep when I informed him of this fine event, I will tell him again in the evening.
Emma is still much smaller than her friend's but fast as lightning. Trisha is so big and sturdy that I thought she was a cockerel for weeks and weeks. She now told me to stop obsessing, as it was not doing her feminine side any favors. Jill and Jane are light brown and as beautiful as hens can be. Dimi, our dear friend that went to heaven much too young, had the same colouring.
The chicks have started popping over to the house with the others. They move like small doves, delicately flying here and there and being very brave. They are now named Matti and Maja and the names seem to fit them. Maja is wild but slightly more sensible about things than Matti, who just moves about full pelt and believes he is the size of a horse. He is actually the size of a small toy. A very small one... Charming birds, though.
Lina, Pippi, Henrika, Darya and Lotta also want to wish everyone a happy first year of blogging. They like the fact that they get their portraits painted on regular bases - and very nicely so, they want to add. They are right of course, this blog would not be the same without Dasha’s art work. We are always looking forward to the next, beautiful painting and we know how lucky we are to get them.
I feel blessed, being able to keep animals this way. It's an indulgence, in a way, to keep farm-yard animals as pets. I know we should be producing meat for the table and concentrate on getting cost efficient eggs from the hens. Instead we keep our sheep for life and spoil our hens rotten. Never has an egg cost so much and hopefully the taste makes up for it. The eggs are a byproduct of having lovely birds around the place.
The only animal that has put in his working hours during the years is Mr. Chip. He is now our retired personal trainer but for ten years he kept us fit and brisk on our feet. We will now slowly go to pot and he will tell us to start bicycling or something... We still walk together but as I have told you before, the speed is not breathtaking but the charm of walking with him is still there. He is feeling his age in this warm weather and takes it easy. He comes alive in the evenings when everyone else is starting to fade. So between early bird Monty and nocturnal Mr. Chip we get very little sleep at the moment.
I repeat myself but we do have a lovely bunch of animals that we hope can bring some joy to others, too. The funny thing about keeping animals is that you never sit down thinking about how well you are doing. Animal husbandry always keeps you on your toes, worrying about all that can go wrong. I guess humbleness comes into it, at an early stage.
We had a short walk, the sheep and I, last night - it was just a plod around the place when the weather had cooled down a bit. Returning home I found raspberries so I picked some for the hens and myself. Our dear sheep stood grazing nearby and I had some time to ponder on the fact that this probably was one of those perfect moments in life. Then there was an almighty crash with hens complaining loudly, in their beds. My, the sheep, had become bored and gone home, stumbling over a stable brush. Right behind her three more sheep stumbled over the same said brush and everyone was awake in the house. There is never a dull moment with animals.
Lotta gave us one of her beautiful, almost blue eggs, today. Seven-week-old chicks tend to stand around asking when their mother is done, so she must have the calmest nerves in the village. Now it's only Pippi left. Hopefully her egg will hatch soon and we can see more of Pippi, again. We do wish she could be outside, enjoying the summer days with the rest of us. Little Eric, Pippi's first born sends his love. He is enjoying life and being rather spoilt in the process. He is not so little any more but as beautiful as ever, I hear.
It's the end of July and it feels that this summer moves along too quickly! The first year, writing this blog seems to have flown by, too. I guess it's a good sign and it’s just to go with that feeling.
So happy first birthday everyone and lets hope for many more. Love from all of us to all of you and now I sound like Jiminy Cricket in the Christmas special and that's all wrong.... Take care and we'll be back next week. Mr. Chip hopes you will eat some cake to celebrate this. He informed us that we should, at least..
Lotta's two chicks are now six weeks old and very nice they are too. Lotta is doing a good job, bringing them up all on her own. Their father is around but he is not a shining example of an active father figure. At the most he can claim some fame by the fact that he talks to his offspring. These are not long chats about football and sports cars but thoughts about worms, sheep and beetles. The food issue is close to Monty's heart and our sheep pop into the conversations because you have to warn small bundles about sixteen hoofs coming their way.
Monty means well but he hasn't got a clue how to behave around his family. He dances around Lotta until she nips him and sends him on his way. He could probably collect some food with the young ones but as they are so quick off the mark themselves, Monty's helping hand is not needed. So he talks for a while and bobs about until Lina the hen informs him that it is time to go. The rest of the day you can find Lina, Darya, Henrika and Monty doing a bit of exploring and compost turning. They have also started popping over to our front step for refreshments. Sunflower seeds, the odd biscuit, and a sip from Mr. Chip's water bowl are what they need to keep them going. This is a good thing, as we then know where they are. They have always done this as a spur of the moment thing but now it seems to be a regular feature. I think it's their way of taking a break from all the young hens and motherly tempers that flies around the henhouse. They also crave company, so when they hear us doing something fun they turn up.
With Lotta tending to her pride and joy and Pippi laying on her egg and stone, the egg production has diminished noticeably. I planned to use up some old milk on Sunday, so an oven pancake was the answer. As it was a fine day with lots of things to do, the hens made it indoors late in the afternoon. By five thirty pm we got two eggs and the pancake making could begin. It's a charming way to live and the eggs are nice and fresh.
The two toddlers took up mountain climbing today. They found the big stones lining our wide, deep ditch that leads water past the stable, to be a perfect playground for them. They jumped and climbed all over these boulders, managing not to fall into any of the small caves, along the way. It looked wild and their mother stood calmly by, nibbling on some nettles. I had to leave as my heart was in my mouth and I wanted to make them stop what they were doing. Had I stepped in, the result would have been two startled chicks falling into a deep hole amongst the stones. So I went home and had some strong coffee instead. The chicks seems to be living on ants, at the moment...
Once our famous five start producing eggs, we might get 9-10 eggs a day if everyone feels inspired. That is a scary thought, if ever there was one! I like hens and their sense of humour but I'm not so keen on many eggs a day. They are beautiful, though...both the hens and the eggs...
The little chicks are, unfortunately, not afraid of cars. They tend to step out into the road to get a closer look at the passing car. This is not the smartest thing to do when you're small, sweet and difficult to spot. We have had words about this but they forget the conversation as soon as they see the next car coming. Luckily our road is not exactly busy but it's still not safe for small bundles. By the by, our chicks look a bit funny at the moment as all the exercise they get has given them chest muscles. They look like tiny body builders who forgot to change their routine at the gym. Their mother looks like she could do with a break.
Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My find all this summer activity slightly tiring. "The sun is hot, milling hens everywhere, and not enough bread for them" they tell me. The fact of the matter is that we feed them lots of treats and they have nice, shady places to rest in. It's just that they have to be where the action is and that way they get tired. We let them in to the stable in the early evenings just so they can enjoy some nice, quiet time on their own, before all the hens arrive back indoors, for the night. Our four dear sheep are feeling their legs as well. They eat all day, ending up looking like Shetland ponies and that can't be good for their joints. They will have to slim down a smidgen, in the autumn. At least they eat a lot of berries at the moment and that is good for older sheep, I'm sure. We love our, sometimes very loud sheep and autumn will be here soon enough with cooler winds and rainy days. Then they will want the sun to warming their lovely faces, again.
They also love our little bundles of joy so that's why they follow them around so much. It's just a shame that chicks speed around the place like wind-up toys and our sheep are not so keen on this exercise regime. But off they go, looking out for their little friends, because they are such kind animals. I have not had the heart to tell them that it might all start again, if Pippi has a little chick too. Then our four sheep might have to check in to a spa for a rest. We will probably all want to do that, once darling-Pippi gets going, ordering us around. Animals are lovely, though... And I can't see the charm in spas...
The snail is one of the slowest moving creatures on earth. They can see but they can't hear. Their ribbon like tongues, called a radula, has thousands of microscopic teeth with which they rip their food into tiny pieces. Very handy and now we know why they don't greet us back in the mornings. They do not hear our cheery "Hellos!"...
The teenage hens, our five wild ones, are growing up. They are not getting any more lady-like, just bigger. The famous five still live a life of carefree meandering, berry picking and short flying sessions. We chose names for them when they arrived but it turned out that their personalities did not fit in with our choices. Only little Emma has a name, the others have to wait a tad longer. Dimi-two sounded too oriental and the other names were just wrong for our gang. So they move about in a nameless state of happiness.
It's fun to see how easy life is for a young hen that still does not lay eggs. The cockerel takes no interest in her and the older hens ignore all younger ones. They just get to play, eat and live the Life of Riley. It all changes when they mature in to egg laying members of society. All of a sudden they need to have timetables in their heads and fight their way to the best egg-laying nest. As all five hens will have their own time of day for this, they won't head off for long forest walks anymore. Hopefully they will get a working system going, so that most of the day will free up for fun stuff. At least all our hens can do what they want and be free to roam.
How Monty will cope with five young hens, five older ladies and then our two toddlers are still a mystery. Time will tell and we don't know if the toddlers are boys or girls. All we know is that at the moment there are thirteen beaks in our hen house and that is quite a bundle of tempers in one house. Pippi, Eric's mother, is broody but we are hoping that feeling will pass. Pippi is a demanding hen when mothering so hopefully she'll remember that and skip the idea. But if she chooses to build a nest we will not stop her. We will mark her eggs, though, as we were taught, to avoid six hundred and fifty eggs ending up under her. (Small exaggeration....). We are constantly learning new things all the time, which is great.
Two days after writing this Pippi settled in and is now working hard on a second bundle of joy. She screams long and hard if we as much as enter the henhouse, so there is no need to worry about her. Pippi knows how to do things, although her volume button is faulty. She left the nest for a while today and to my great relief I only found one egg in her nest. And the stone one...
The famous five has started hanging out with Monty and the older hens but only in the mornings. This is still an improvement as such. The whole gang takes a stroll around the lawns in the mornings. "On the lookout for bears and foxes", they tell me. Then our teenage hens get bored and half run, half fly into the forest. In the afternoon they might meet up with the older gang again, when they take part in the turning of the compost. This is such a popular event that even the - now five weeks old - toddlers join in. Lotta digs and the small ones copy and they all end up looking like heaps of soil. Yesterday I heard loud, slightly alarmed baby beeps so I ran to check but it was just that they had found a huge worm. After the initial chock they continued to scoff the lot. They are not suffering from lack of protein, at least...
The famous five learned early on that I come baring food. They come running when they see me, beeping and honking like old cars. Why they have such deep voices is beyond me but they all do the car sound. It is most peculiar but very sweet. Bilberries are their passion at the moment and from the mess in the stable each morning I think every single hen is out there picking berries.
It's interesting to see how all the young hens that have come to live with us have had the same pattern of growing up. First they stay around the stable, then they play in the outside cage where the climbing sticks and the playhouse is. Then they move to the little cluster of young spruces that makes a lovely tree hut. There they eat every poor ant that pops in and spy on passers by. After that, it's the forest, fields and then away to the compost. By then they are old enough to start their long treks around the place and we don't see them for dust. Only tiny chicks with a mother can break this pattern and jump straight to compost world. It's like a game of Monopoly for hens.
We have seen foxes early in the mornings and late at night so I let the hens out as late as at 7 am. This is not a popular decision amongst the hens but we have to at least to try and keep them safe. This gives the toddler chicks’ time to eat a proper breakfast and they are growing in size. Of course the worms help... The evening is easier as Monty goes to bed at 7pm - bless him.
Mr. Chip seems to be a happy-chappy, not really remembering his operation. His stitches are to melt away any day now and after ten days of showering his tail is the cleanest one in town. He actually started enjoying it all and will probably start a morning regime of shower, most days. We really hope not...
It's been a lovely week, here with the animals. Nothing to write home about but no sad story either so we count our blessings. It's all you can do really, the way the world is going. How to bring back Goodness into the world, at large, is the question. It's all so sad.
The common toad can live up to 40 years, if not crossing the road or meeting up with other predators. I met a toad the other evening and they are not fast, crawling over the road, but we got there in the end. It was an absolutely beautiful toad and did not pee during our walk. The toad urinates if stressed, so as to loose weight and gain speed. I took that as a compliment and we parted as friends.
Some weeks fly by, leaving you wondering about what you really achieved and was it any good!? Some weeks seems to be made out of clay and you just get heavier as you trudge through it all. Then there are the weeks that make you wish you lived in town. That particular week is coming to an end today, as it's Sunday.
Mr. Chip had an operation on Wednesday. It all started with a tiny lump under his tail. A few days ago the lump plopped out and turned into a biggish growth, a red and angry looking thing that needed to be removed. So we did just that.
Our vet made the most petite looking row of stitches so our happy dog does not seem to have noticed them at all. As Mr. Chip has his own set of medicines on the go, we now try to keep the operating scar clean by showering, applying disinfectant liquid and a honey based cream. This is to avoid antibiotics that then would mess up our dear dogs Cushing syndrome. So far so good and our kind dog takes it all in his stride. We also have painkillers for him but he does not seem to need them. I gave half a pill on the second night, as terriers don't show pain very well, but I did not see a difference in him. He sleeps well and eats like a horse, all good signs after an operation.
Mandy the sheep is limping again. We believe that it's a muscle in her shoulder that gets sore when she gets up too quickly. She did that yesterday. I will try a new round of painkillers for her if it's not better today. She eats like a horse too and is really enjoying the bilberry season. The berries are now ready for picking and are being enjoyed by sheep, hens and me. Mr. Chip too...
On Friday evening my dear husband spotted an elk on a field quite far away from our house. As I'm a bit of a fan of elks I rushed to get the binoculars, to have a closer look. My heart sank when I spotted it, though. It was a smallish elk and it seemed to drag its back legs, having a very bent lower back. Almost falling down, it disappeared into the crop of the field and all I could see was a head being thrown this way and that. So we called our friend the Hunter.
This is never easy for me as I'm a great believer in live and let live but even I could see that aspirin was not going to cut it, this time. I thought a car had hit the poor elk, but it turned out to be a deformation from birth that the animal was suffering from. My dear husband went to take a closer look and we could confirm that the elk needed help to get to heaven, sooner rather than later. Help arrived and the shot rang loud and horrible clear through the summers evening. Then you could see four men walking in formation, checking that there was no small calf hiding in the field. It all looked a lot like a dark, gruesome Swedish detective series and once again I was grateful for the help of the hunters. (No baby was found...).
It's never an uplifting experience, having to put an animal down but unfortunately in some cases it's the only humane thing to do. This was handled in a dignified manner and quickly.
The next morning, after a night’s sleep dreaming of radiation and suffering (me) we woke up to find a swallow hovering in our bedroom. They are like tiny helicopters. My dear husband woke up and exclaimed, "It never ends! " and I knew nature was taking its toll on him, too. He then proceeded to lead the bird out by slowly walking towards the front door, arms raised above his head, looking like a slightly bewildered preacher. It worked and we had less wildlife joining us for the first coffee of the day.
This morning when I let the animals out from the stable, two enormous birds of pray swooped in on us. They turned when they saw me but really!! You would think I make these things up, the way this week is going...
My dear husband did not think this blog would be a very cheerful text to read. He is right, as he sometimes is, but it's about living in the country. It's not always happy sheep and sweet peas; it's life as it is. We just have to hope it gets better and find solace in the fact that we did what we could to help. We can also be happy that a friend of ours thought Mr. Chip looked positively youngish. What more can you wish for?! Well... A less emotional next week, perhaps....
On a more positive note, the hare population in our village is thriving. We have the European hare and the Mountain hare, also called the Blue hare. This is because its thick undercoat apparently has a bluish colouring. It also copes better with the winter cold, as it has shorter ears and therefore loses less body heat. Clever! The European hare is bigger and has a vision range of almost 360 degrees, always handy for spotting predators from above and on the ground. It's hearing is not bad, either....
These are still the animals our hens seem to be wary of. Happy, jumping vegetarians... "You never know..." our hen's tell us. They are right, of course, you never do.
Lotta’s chicks are now a week old. Today the small fluffy balls are sporting the tiniest tail possible. But it's a tail, they tell me. They already have wings so it looks like someone glued feathers on to a dust ball. Their legs are a rubbery sort of bright yellow and they have minuscule claws. It's all so small but perfect that it looks unnatural, in a way. Little Eric was tiny as well but as he was black, fluffy and green legged he seemed stronger, somehow. Eric had his fathers build anyway, so he grew faster than lightning into a magnificent youth.
The chicks go under working names as I learned my mistake and we have to wait and see. One of them is a day older and almost certainly a boy. He will be called Matti, a Finnish version of Matt.
The little ones will not go hungry. The baby-chick food comes in 25 kg bags, so there is enough for a few days. Someone thought long and hard of that little earner.... We live in hope that our neighbour's hens will get some small ones, as we can keep them in food, too. Our teenage hens looked on the sack of dry food with scorn, telling me that they are too old for that stuff. Monty will help out, though. He's a walking compost, bless him.
On day three of the glory of motherhood I asked Lotta if she had plans to pop out into the sunny yard for a while. I have never seen a hen move so fast. Chicks running behind, calling for her to wait up but Lotta was on a mission. I had to help the fluff balls over the stable threshold and then they found their mother, bathing in the sand, dust flying everywhere. Three weeks of more or less indoor life had made her long for a sand bath and fresh, dusty air, apparently. I had my work cut out, keeping our lovely sheep away. They so love a little chick or two... They smell nice, apparently and they sound so funny. Molly got too close one day and Lotta lost her nerves and attacked her. Poor Molly panicked, and started hopping madly almost stepping on one chick. You would hop, though, with a mad hen pecking at your face. Luckily I was there so I could pick up our tiny friends and carry them to safety. All Molly wanted to do was to say "Hello"....,
Otherwise Lotta's approach to motherhood is more laid back than Pippi's was, last year. Lotta bobs about, telling me how hard it would be, if she did not have a cleaner, a cook and a handyman around the place. Her nanny is important too but at least her chick's can manage the threshold on their own, now. I have not had the heart to tell our long suffering mother that she only has me and dear husband sorting out all that needs doing.
(Her handyman is a bit tired at the moment. He works nights, most days and takes part in a summer theater production. Dear husband has the role of a charming collector of women and does it very well. This plus everyday life has given him a slightly rugged look... His mantra seems to be " We'll rest in July...")
At least Lotta lets us help out. Last year Pippi behaved like a manic woodpecker, if you went too close to her little Eric. It's a wonder he turned out so nicely with her stressing about the place.
Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My has chosen to ignore Lotta’s threatening behavior and have started their own nanny service for the little bundles. Yet again they squint away, following the little ones around the place. I find it helpful as they keep other birds away. The magpies are curious and we do have birds of pray around our yard, from time to time.
This was the first night that everyone slept soundly in their own beds, in the stable. We closed the door on the little family for the first week, shutting the rest of the hens out of the hen house. It did not go down well with poor, tired Monty, who loves his own bed. Still, you never know how the rest of the gang will react to new members of the family so it’s better not to take it too lightly on the safety issue. This morning Monty had a spring in his step and Lotta and her chicks were the first ones at the door, ready for a new day of adventures. Fingers crossed...
I wrote this little text while my table snored peacefully, dreaming of bears, hares and whatnots. Mr. Chip knows that today is Midsummer's Eve, a day for celebrating and strawberry, cream cake. In order to have energy for all the eating, you have to sleep in and get energised. He is the sweetest dog and cute as a button, when he sleeps. Mr. Chip looks like a toy dog - loved and hugged to the point of scruffiness. He is very dear to us but we know he's winding down... It's a funny old life, new beginnings and slow farewells. You just have to hope the goodbyes take a long, long time and to enjoy what you have. And not to mind that the old dog in you bed do smell a bit.
That was the month of June gone, time flies in the summer..... Happy midsummer to you all!
The grass snake is back. It needs a place warm enough to hatch the eggs in (21-28 degrees) and therefore loves a good manure heap. I had high hopes of seeing this lovely snake again after many years of absence and last week I saw them. They can have up to 40 little ones... Lovely!
A blog about a small holding in Southern Finland. Each original story is accompanied by a stunning watercolour illustration or resplendent photographs.