Monty arrived to our henhouse this summer, a young, shy but extremely beautiful cockerel. Being a teenager amongst a group of old ladies can't have been a treat, but thankfully we had Dimi and Darya here from his childhood home. From day one, they formed a team that took on the world. Their world seemed to be a old apple tree and four sheep, but they made the most of it.
Monty was and still is, very frightened of our older hens. He can come shooting around a corner with speed, tooting that they are after him. At first I used to shoot the opposite way, thinking the fox was after him but now I know. One of the hens had looked at him! Just by staring, the hens can make dear Monty disappear into the woods. Dimi and Darya are helping him become a little bit braver but it is a slow uphill walk. Maybe one day...
So Monty got fed from his own food bowl right from the beginning. And it had to be behind my back so that I could keep the scary hens away from him, while he ate. It was either that or little Monty would have stayed just that, very little.
Now he has grown in size and can hang out with everyone, but one look and he is off. He has started to sound like a grown up cockerel too. At first he sounded like Tarzan, then we had a time of sounding like he was trapped under a sheep but now the teenage voice is starting to carry him far and wide. We had a worrying time when he experimented with a morning call from the high apple tree. The problem was that Monty gave his all and forgot to hold on. So first there was the sound of the ape boy and then an almighty thump when our brave cockerel fell down from the tree. This continued for some time, until Dimi and Darya stepped in and showed him our huge garden chair John had built. Monty got less bruises after that and my headache got better. The sheep were happy too as they could have their morning rest, without cockerels dropping from the sky.
Because we gave Monty extra time and love, he has now become the nicest of birds. He always greets you when you turn up and he loves a small chat and a nibble of corn, first thing in the morning. He is growing up fast but he still wants to sleep in his own bed, next to the sheep far away from the old ladies. And he wants Dimi and Darya close by, just in case. Moving to a new home can be stressful but a few friends around and some really kind sheep helps a lot.
Monty also loves to ride around on a broad sheep, standing tall and feel the wind in his feathers. Hanging on to a sheep is also easier so we can all breath normally. I do think of windmills when he rides past, though..
Text by Nina
Next blog post 27th September.
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You should enjoy this little interlude of traveling thoughts as I will soon be back with stories about our family pets.
I was told yesterday about how the Durrell foundation were struggling with saving the tortoise, as tattooing a number on their legs didn't stop the illegal trade at all. Only by carving a number on the tortoise shell could they stop people buying them. As it takes about forever for a tortoise to reach maturity, you would think people could leave them alone. I know this problem has been around for a long time but thought it was good to tell anyway. Choose a dog or a cat as a pet, basically.
The macaques, a little black monkey, is struggling to survive in the wild because they are being eaten as party food. What makes it even more horrid is that of course the biggest animals are killed, leaving the younger ones in a state as leaders, parents disappear from the flock. When asked how this could be stopped to an extent the animal keeper answered; " By going to schools and tell children about it. Can you imagine parents continuing to serve a dinner no child will eat? ". Quite brilliant, when you think about it.
On a happier note, I met Mr Brown, Jersey conservation trusts last Echo Parakeet. His two friends had died of old age and he was not getting younger himself. But as there was no longer any need to keep Echo Parakeets in captivity Mr Brown was not getting a new friend. And as he kept being bullied by other birds he now spent his last years in a nice, big aviary built just for him and his visitors. It only took about 40 years to save that particular spices.
These are all naturally simplified versions of big problems and sad stories but good to think about, now and again. By choosing our travel destinations, what we buy and how much we want to care, we can make a difference. And it's also good to remember that it's not all misery and sadness. A lot is being done to save those who need help, both animals and humans. It just seems to take a long time... But it did feel good to visit a gang of really dedicated people doing what they do well. This particular animal sanctuary is also one big beautiful garden, woodland park and kitchen garden all blending in to one. And the Chilean flamingoes looked like they were wearing pink Crocs.
At Stoneback farm our sheep will soon need an optician as all the squinting can't be good for their eyes. Four large, ball like animals following one little chick looks absolutely wonderful. Pippi the hen has given up and is letting them tag along. I wish I could have brought Mr Brown over with me, as he would have fitted in just fine, with this lot.
Text by Nina
As I already told you, Waldemar the cockerel died a tragic death a few weeks ago. Sad times that got sadder by the fact that Pippi, our very adventurous hen disappeared a few days later. I had a mini meltdown and the hens and little Monty were put in the outdoor cage. They did not protest at all, so I thought they might feel safer in there for the moment.
A few days later they informed me loudly that enough was enough, and off they went, like birds should do. All was well until five days ago, when Lina the most gentle and kind hen we ever saw, went missing. I flew out to Jersey the next day but had high hopes that Lina would turn up before I left. No such luck, unfortunately and sadness hit us again. Lina has all her life been one for outings on her own, so when she didn't return, I thought a fox had got her too.
We have forest all around the fields and the house so foxes, pine martins, eagle, and hawks - to name but a few predators - visit out place. Waldemar dead and two hens missing, meant someone had found a snack bar, we thought.
So imagine my happy surprise when John called me in Jersey a couple of days later to tell me Lina had flown in to the henhouse just in time for breakfast. I woke up quickly that morning and told total strangers about her return. Such a happy morning... When a slightly bewildered husband called me in the afternoon to tell me a skinny Pippi had turned up, my day was complete. How a little hen has survived for two weeks in the forest is anyone's guess, but a wonderful conundrum. Mindy, our white sheep that loves our hens more than food must now be the happiest sheep around. I could not wait to get home and see them, myself. But, in the meantime I was at the Jersey Durrell wildlife park meeting a lot of endangered spices and learning a lot. And they did not have hens there, so there is hope for our lot, too... Here's hoping and knock wood.
Pst.... I hope we all know that we should stop using products that contain Palm oil as the orangutans are running out of places to live in. Their homes are being destroyed for Palm oil plantations. This just as a reminder, that we can help a little if we try, thank you.
Pippi the hen left for the woods the following day. Two days later she returned with a stressed look on her little face. I was already at home so I got to see her return with the tiniest chick I had ever seen. This little, fluffy, black bundle with huge feet. So now we know... The little one is called Elisabeth and is very regal. If she turns out to be a little cockerel, then he will be little Eric.
All the other hens now also like to have babies, they inform us loudly so Monty has taken to hang out in the woods with Dimi and Darya. I, on the other hand, am busy feeding little Betty with cottage cheese and bilberries while Pippi is watching me closely. "You never know!" Seems to be her motto in life, now that she became a mother.
Text by Nina
I made a little trip this summer. John did a brilliant job looking after the animals on his own and I could not wait to go home and help out. That's the way I travel. I get home sick at the airport going out. On the other hand, after my little trip, I'm now convinced that we should have donkeys and a Jersey cow, or two. Both the sweetest animals and they would fit right in with our lot. Animals with a mind of their own seem to find us... But I do not want peacocks; thank you and meerkats would not like the cold.
Meerkats likes me, though. It was quite embarrassing when a whole team of them started following me around their pen at Durrell’s, the wildlife park, on the island of Jersey. They must have thought I was related. A small boy who had been screaming his head off to get them closer burst in to tears. I kindly asked him to be a little quieter and he might stand a chance to actually meet them. I thought his granddad would hug me, as he had been saying the same thing. Funny how some family's thinks everything must be so loud an action filled. Even visiting animals...
The hotel where I was staying had the most charming staff. One morning I was up a bit earlier than breakfast and found some of the waiters busy out in the garden. They were feeding sparrows, finches and blackbirds (I think) with bird breakfast. There were also water bowls and happy dispositions on both parts. It turned out this was done every morning and it made me really happy. It goes to show that nice people really have a need to help others. The bickering about right or wrong did not disturb me, or the birds. The debate was about the fact that what would happen to the birds when the staff went on holiday. I suggested a big bird feeder so then we started talking about rats instead. They could find the feeder, but none of us knew if there were any rats around. All in all, a very clever discussion. But it was before morning coffee and the point was that they cared.
So now I am really looking forward to going home tomorrow to see our animals. Mr Chip will have claimed my bed and the sheep will be miffed that I have not fed them constantly. As for our chickens, who knows how their mind works but at least they are all alive. (more about that later...). So if you want to do an interesting outing you should go to visit Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust. And some Jersey cows.
Do visit The Durrell foundations web site www.durrell.org and join, they do an amazing job saving what can be saved and they have very good cakes at their zoo cafe.
Text by Nina
I have been asked why I write these little stories about our animals. At the end of the day it's about some sheep and a few chickens. And a dog, Mr. Chip is pointing out.
The truth is, it's about a lot more than that.
The world is not a happy place, at the moment. People are suffering, nature is struggling and life is not always good. Reading the morning paper certainly doesn't put a smile on your face. Writing about our little farm is, I think, to write about the type of kindness that only animals can give.
Unconditional love - and all that. Although I think you get back what you put in. A dog loves us for who we are, but do we always deserve that? You hear people proudly say that their dog can be at home alone for hours on end and how cats can basically take care of themselves. Birds in small cages and snakes being kept in flats.....
Personally I believe that keeping animals means 100 percent of dedication. I love our slightly strange chickens and I find our new rooster, Monty, to be a charming little fellow. Four sheep that talk to you when you meet, makes the day so much brighter.
Mr. Chip is part of the family and he is never left alone. He is a dog that needs to know where his team is, at all times, so leaving him behind would not do. He knows that and that makes him a calm dog. He can trust us and we know he is kindness on legs.
Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My are also a lot happier for all the hours our family put in, to make them feel at home. We could have kept them in their field all summer and they would have been fine with that. They would not, however had become such personalities, as they are today. From a flock of sheep they turned into a boss, a sweetheart, a cool lady and an athlete. It took a lot of love and affection and it seems it was the right thing to do. We should look after animals with the respect they deserve. We should also provide a habitat where they can live life as they are meant to do. Dogs in handbags is not right, whatever people think. Sheep in town would not do either....
So writing about what our little gang gets up to puts me in a happy frame of mind and I hope whoever reads about them can see the funny side of it all. Or the sad part, that unfortunate comes with the territory. And having lovely pictures made of our friends makes it much more fun. I also hope everyone who has ever met our lot feels that it's nice to hear how they are doing. They certainly like to tell us about it.
Text by Nina
We have six grown up hens at the moment. Pippi, Lotta, Ida, Lina, Henrika and Sabine. Four names come from Astrid Lindgren's books (the author of the Pippi Longstocking books). We also have two chicks that arrived in the spring. They grew so quickly and now fly short, wobbly distances. They got their names from the lovely artist who is illustrating my little ramblings. Darya and Dimi. Darya was the brave one and Dimi was the one trying to keep up. After a few weeks Dimi took over and has not looked back, since.
Waldemar, the rooster, was still with us when they arrived and was extremely frightened of them. After a week or so he started to see the funny side of the two, small feathery bundles and found them a little peculiar instead. Probably because they sounded like diminutive budges and danced around, wherever they went. Walle was used to screeching hens that mostly stomp around him and behaved more like crows.
Dimi woke up one morning with the notion, that by hanging out with Waldemar, she would automatically be part of the cool gang. Poor Walle did not know what to do. Wherever he went, this diminutive chick kept following him. In the end he had the idea of feeding her, so he picked up a beetle and flicked it at a very surprised Dimi who was a trooper. She turned the, still alive, beetle this way and that and tried to guess which part she was supposed to eat. In the end she gave Waldemar a stern look and walked away. The beetle walked the other way and Walle just stood there, feeling free from clingy small birds. He was a kind soul and always nice to the little once.
We got an outside cage for the hens when they arrived. Domestic birds have to be locked up in the springtime, as long as it takes for the migrating wild birds to get back to Finland. It has something to do with the bird influenza scare we had years ago. It was an expensive cage and it is about as ugly as it gets. The original purpose of the thing is for dogs to exercise in, so it is also big - and extremely empty. Our hens can't use it, they say. Being a hen living with us means that they have to patrol the grounds, keep magpies in check and hang out with their friends, the sheep. So they cannot stay in one place for very long. Some days they go for long walks in the forest and all you can hear is loud chicken chatting. Other days are spent in brooks and that means very cold birds in the evening (and that leads to a messy lot to clean up the next morning. Bird tummies go funny, if cold.) I like to share these things...
But the best bit of being a hen in Stoneback farm seems to be that they can spend hours on our step talking to Mr Chip, decorating our mat and eating sunflower and sesame seeds to their hearts content. A bowl of water and some sunshine and we have a group of very happy hens. But they do lay eggs. Light green and palest brown ones that have such a thick shell that it makes baking a challenge for mind and eye coordination. And the yolk is yellow like the sun... Our happy, athletic hens creates small, lovely eggs that make even pancakes yellow. (It's all the grass they eat that gives the healthy colour and that's why we should stop keeping birds in cages, full stop). Some days we get six eggs but we never know where the eggs are, and that's all part of the fun. Yesterday one egg was found in the sheep loose-box, one in the hay and four eggs lay on the stable sofa, where the chicks have been sleeping. We have an Easter egg hunt every day... I think it's because our hens are an old Finnish breed, dating back to the Bronze Age. They probably have a strong set of wild bird genes still in the mix. That might be why they are so active, strong willed and peculiar at times. And why they have green feet and orange coloured claws. Very Dino chic.... That also inspires them to create an egg laying adventure, so our 15 nice egg laying coops stay empty. One was used every night, though. Waldemar slept in that one, because he did not like the draft from the air vent, bless him.
Today I arrived home from work and six hens, our new friend Monty and a happy dog greeted me outside our house. I don't think there can be a sweeter way to be greeted home, apart from an additional sheep, or four. But they were busy guarding our two chicks amongst the nettles and had no time for meets and greets.
Text by Nina
I have never had the pleasure of looking after sheep until these four ladies arrived. Goats yes, but never woolly creatures on spindly legs. So our first meeting was a revelation, in so many ways. I learned from day one that you cannot get a sheep to do what you want, you can however figure out a way to get there by doing it their way. Asking kindly might get you a surprised look but you won't get anything done. By figuring out what a sheep likes to eat, you will get a rapport and things will start to happen. Not always as you planned it, mind you, but at least something can be done.
It's hard to understand sheep at times. They are nervy but yet stubborn as donkeys. When Molly plunks herself in the middle of the stable door a small truck could not move her. At other times she can fly off in full pelt down the field because she met a seagull.
When Mindy, Mandy, Molly and My arrived they were extremely wary of us and probably very homesick. They had been inside an electric fence and that's understandable if you live in a village that has a busy main road. As we live in the middle of a bit past nowhere no such fence is needed. It took us two whole months to show the sheep-gang that it's fine to jump over a low fence, get some goodies, jump back in to the paddock and get more bread. Molly was the first sheep to understand that it's okay to go out and explore as long as you come back when someone calls your name. Once Molly felt comfortable leaving the yard, the rest of the gang followed her lead. Soon we did not see them for dust but they always came over to check on us at some point during the day. They behaved like Robin Hood and his merry men; you never knew where they would pop up.
Now the nice fenced in field stands empty and the grass is cut by machine. Robin and the merry ones are busy going where no sheep have gone before, sometimes followed by hens who already know where they going. It looks wild to say the least but they return home in the evenings. Our four ladies sleep indoors. And they like a lot of hay before turning in for the night. So after 5pm you can hear them calling for some service, thank you! And as I am well trained, I jump to the call.
I now know that goats are wonderful and full of mischief where as sheep are wonderful, full stop. And the landscape takes on a look of the Finnish archipelago, where nothing grows very tall or bushy. Four sheep eat a lot in one day and so they should.
Text by Nina
Waldemar the rooster was born two years ago in the neighboring village, at our friend's place.
He lived a happy childhood there until he started to challenge his father, Waldemar The Second. And so he moved to us and I think at times that we got him for our sins.... Or as payback for something we've forgotten... That thought only pops up when Walle has been extra silly, though. We do love him to bits, loud as he is.
He seems to have finally settled down to his new life here with us, at Stoneback farm. It took him a year to calm down as he is a bit stressed at times.
Waldemar grew up surrounded by horses, but found sheep extremely scary. In the beginning he almost fainted when the sheep got too close and sniffed. Sheep have a lovely habit of sniffing, when they meet friends and Walle was not pleased. He has a "danger!" warning sound and we still hear it a lot. Life is dangerous, according to our dear rooster.
He loves good food and life in general, when all his hens are following him around in his world. Unfortunately, that's not always the case as he has a team of feminist hens living with him. They do not follow him all the time and they fly of on adventures without him. So he jogs... He is much bigger than his hens and his claim to fame is that he has chased away foxes for them. He cannot count very well and has no idea how to keep his flock together but he is lovely and very kind. What more can one ask of him?
Waldemar lost his wife to cancer in the autumn and after a few days of sadness he realised that his world is full of women and has not looked back since. He even likes his friend's the sheep now, but still finds them a bit too big. They are very handy for cover though, when a bird of prey flies nearby.
We get offers from people who want to buy him, as he is a very impressive looking bird, but we decline. He was a gift and he is here to stay, loud as he is... It would be ungrateful to relocate him again and our village would become so quiet and peaceful.
Two weeks after writing this Waldemar met a bird of pray and is now no longer with us. John found him in a ditch and from the look of our dear friend he did not suffer for very long. I am so glad that this very morning Walle had his favorite breakfast and the sun was out all day for him. We now have eight scared little chickens that will miss him. We also have four sheep that will get to sleep a bit longer in the mornings... And I will have to get used to mornings without Walle jogging around and warning us about everything.
Waldemar died with his boots on, as my sister put it. He kept his hens safe and ended up in heaven. So now everyone there gets earlier mornings and a friendly nod. We will miss him dearly.
We will also get the long lectures about risking lives by letting the hens and rooster walk along being happy. The fact is; things happen, sometimes sad things... I still think it's more important to have a good life and to hope for the best, than to spend years in a small cage free from risk taking and adventures. But we will miss him....
Text by Nina
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A blog about a small holding in Southern Finland. Each original story is accompanied by a stunning watercolour illustration or resplendent photographs.