The year did not start too well for our hens. Actually December wasn’t that great either. We’re now down to 14. In December one of the younger ones developed what I can only describe as a sneeze. Although she was still eating, every so often she would stand still, and sneeze. Not a little feminine “‘choo!” sneeze, but a full-bodied “CHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARGH!”
Later that day there was a bit of a commotion in the hen-pen so I went over to have a look. Sneezy hen was now on her back, with her wings going flap-flap-flap-flap. As I reached her, she expired.
An autopsy revealed nothing unusual, so she went into the freezer.
Then this month we lost one of our four originals. She’d been looking a bit off-colour for a day or so, so we separated her from the others. Unfortunately we found her dead the next morning. This one received a ceremonious burial, as we thought it was probably safer not to eat it.
We intend getting another four hens in February, as we’ve had the oldest for nearly three years now. And we may soon be getting a cockerel; one of LSS’s pupils has offered us one. Although if it starts waking us up at 4 a.m. it will end up in the pot.
On New Year’s Day we went to visit neighbour J to have the customary “Galette des Rois” – a cake with a little ceramic object hidden in it. The person who gets the object is King or Queen for the day, and has to wear a silly paper hat. The only way to eat this cake, is carefully – because dentists are generally closed on New Year’s Day. We took advantage of the visit to take Mrs Bunny along to visit Neighbour J’s Mister Bunny, thus starting the next batch of rabbit stews and bunny-skin slippers. Speaking of which, I have found a template for making moccasins, so I’ll be constructing some before too long. I may even post a photo!
We think there’s a garden dormouse living in the ceiling. In the evenings there’s a “scratch-scratch-scratch” as it nibbles on its nuts. Cat is most annoyed – she can hear it, but can’t catch it. I’ve ordered a live trap, and will see if we have success with that. We’ve tried mousetraps without success – they appear to be too small. Rat-traps simply have their bait removed without being tripped; which is why we think it’s a dormouse. I considered making my own live trap from a length of pvc pipe, but in the end decided to just buy one. When I was at University, a friend and I earned a bit of money during the holidays by surveying the small mammal population of a local forest reserve, and we used live traps for this. If I remember correctly, the bait was a mixture of oats, peanut butter, and candle-wax. I’m not going to go to all the effort to make that sort of bait for our dormouse; a piece of bread smeared with peanut butter should do the trick.
On the 6th January our neighbour (the one with the gîte) had planned on emptying his pond. I went along at various times during the day to see how it was progressing. His intention was to see what sort of fish he had, and how many. Several helpers dragged a long net through the nearly-empty reservoir, and another person in full pond-wading gear scooped the fish into large plastic buckets. It turned out he had gudgeon, some perch, and a few carp. The pike which he had previously introduced had simply disappeared; maybe they were eaten by herons. Interestingly we found that there were quite a few freshwater mussels in his pond, each around 15cm in length.
The captured fish were transferred into holding tanks ready for reintroduction to the pond once it had been refilled with sufficient water from his borehole.
As for us, we don’t think we’re making sufficient use of our own pond as far as a food source is concerned. Gudgeon are all right to eat, although there is a lot of effort involved in cleaning sufficient quantities for a fry-up. Neither of us are particularly keen on eating carp – there are too many small bones even if one gets rid of the initial muddy taste. So we’re considering introducing some brown trout and/or large-mouth bass. Tilapia would have been great, but they would not survive our winters.
The toilet walls are still not finished, as I’ve been busy with various other tasks and repairs. But the bathroom is now at least fully enclosed, and we’ve splashed out on the luxury of an electrically-heated towel rail. Although it’s sold as a bathroom heater, it is primarily to dry the towels, because up until now we’ve been hanging them in the kitchen. Where they certainly get dry, but also tend to acquire the smell of whatever cooking happens to take place.
Although we have the shower and shower glass, it has not been installed yet. I still need to do the tiling. Another sticking point is that I will have to construct a support bar for the shower glass. The custom size of the shower (1m x 1.2m) means that commercially available support bars – even if you are fortunate enough to find one – are simply not long enough. Fortunately the Aged FIL’s stock of welding rods includes some for stainless steel welding, so I may try that if I can find some suitable tubing.
Even though the bathroom is not fully complete, I’ve already obtained most of the materials for the next project; a 320 Watt solar panel installation. These panels will not be placed on the house roof, but rather on a frame behind the workshop. That way, we don’t need planning permission, and they’ll be easier to keep clean. The idea is that they will power the borehole pump and the 12-volt thermal store installation. However, LSS has banned me from proceeding with the solar panel installation until the toilet walls have been finished. Fair enough, I suppose.
Another thing I have been considering is a way of heating the toilet cubicle. My original plan for the toilet and bathroom was to use central heating radiators, which would get their hot water from the thermal store. I had installed a radiator in the bedroom as a test. However, although this radiator does get warm and at least removes the chill from the air (which is fine for the bedroom – you don’t want the room too hot), we’ve found that the thermal store water is not really hot enough to be able to heat the room. We thus obtained a separate gas heater for the bathroom. But as for the toilet, I’m going to try something different. I’ll be installing a ceramic light socket on one wall, and fitting a 100-watt infrared bulb – the sort that is normally used to keep poultry chicks warm. I’ll report back on how it works. As for the rest of the barn, this will be a large open-plan area. And I intend building a thermal mass rocket stove to take care of that.
We’ve had some success with the Moley infestation I described in my last post. We had a mole near the reedbed, and another in the front courtyard. Both of these were successfully caught, but within 24 hours their vacant tunnels were inhabited by two new moles. One of these was also successfully caught, but unfortunately we then had a severe frost. I say unfortunately because although Moley Number Four triggered the trap, the frozen ground prevented the trap from fully closing. We are now unable to open the polytunnel door because of the frozen molehills surrounding it. I’m sure it’s doing it on purpose.
We’ve also had our first snowfall of the year. It didn’t last for too long though. Mind you, one can see where the insulation has been installed in the roof of the house. The snow has melted on the uninsulated part of the barn, but the rest of the roof is still white.
I haven’t mentioned the Aged FIL for a while. Well, there’s not much to report. He still spends the majority of his time in bed, looking at the ceiling. LSS did manage to arrange for an optometrist to do a house call, with the result that the Aged FIL will be getting new spectacles. At least his ceiling will be a bit more in focus. As for me, I’ve made a start on sorting out his workshop. Generally on Sundays, LSS takes him his weekly shopping, and I accompany her with a large galvanized bucket. Whilst she’s putting the food away, I fill this bucket by the simple expedient of sweeping everything on his workbench into it. I then bring it back to my own workshop where I sort it out.
“Ah, a Facom spanner. Keep that.”
“Ooh, a possibly useful tool….. except for the fact that it’s broken. Scrap metal.”
This man never threw anything away. And I mean anything. I found packets and packets of used incandescent lightbulbs. All with burnt-out filaments. Mind you, I have found some useful things; some waterproof military metal first-aid boxes. Plus a couple of metal ammo boxes.
His workbench is now nearly clear. Now I can access all the stuff on the floor underneath. Then there are the cupboards. Then the various piles of junk in the corners….. I can see this is going to take a while.