The Haunui Wool Story

Some of you have been aware that in recent months I’ve been stocking a fantastic range of natural coloured wool tops called Haunui New Zealand Halfbred. So far only the Haunui Longwool range has been available here in the UK via Wingham Woolwork in Yorkshire and I dyed and sold some of this last year when I first set up BarberBlackSheep. But I really wanted to work with the finer micron count strain of New Zealand Halfbred that John and Fiona Gardner have selectively bred for many years on their sheep station in the foothills of South Island, NZ.

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Haunui New Zealand Halfbred met so many of the criteria I was looking for when searching for a good all-round wool to stock and after a lengthy sampling and selection process and with a good deal of helpful advice and support from the Gardner family I placed an order earlier this spring and my first Haunui parcel left beautiful New Zealand entrusted in the capable hands of Ian the mailman…

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…and a couple of weeks later landed in the similarly beautiful daffodil be-decked Mid Wales via the friendly paws of Mark our local postman (who finds it terribly amusing that he has to regularly deliver wool to someone called BarberBlackSheep…)

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So in recent weeks I’ve been selling a selected range of 8 shades of this beautiful wool prepared as combed tops.

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The fibre itself and the way it’s combed mean it’s a butter smooth spinning experience and can be spun in different ways and for a variety of yarns and garments. I’ve had really favourable feedback from the first customers to use these tops; it’s lovely to hear that other people are Haunui fans as well as myself.

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I’ve also been using it hand blended with dyed merino in a range of Haunui/Merino batts in a variety of repeatable colour ways. Check the shop for current stock.

I’m always looking at new ways to combine colour so expect more to follow!

Haunui New Zealand Halfbred is not just a wonderful wool to spin and knit with. A major reason I wanted to use it is because it is grown with tremendous care by the Gardner family.

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They take immense pains to produce the highest quality wool, not just for hand spinners around the world but also with their other flock of coloured Merinos, they supply superb quality wool to the high end fashion industry in Europe.

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Their exacting standards and attention to detail have allowed them to maintain a position at the forefront of the textile industry and yet still retain a really hands-on, individual approach to their livestock and also to their customers. It’s been an absolute joy to work with their wool as well as deal with them personally and I feel it’s a privilege to be able to bring the fibre from their family-run farm to spinners here in the UK and Europe more readily and to use it in my own work.

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Sometimes I get asked how to pronounce Haunui – I’m not a New Zealander of course but I believe the correct way to pronounce it is Haw-noo-ee. Give it a try!

I’m always fascinated by the stories behind crafts, especially where textiles and animals are concerned, so I have an especial interest in learning about other fibre producers and their animals. I thought others might be interested too so with that in mind I asked Fiona if I could interview her about her sheep and business which she kindly agreed to and the latest edition of the British spinning journal YarnMaker Magazine published by Dorothy Lumb includes the first part of this interview.

It’s now available from the directly from the Editor (see the linked website for details) or from the stockists listed. You can buy single editions from any of the stockists or subscribe annually from the YM website – one way of ensuring a regular spinning-related treat (and guaranteeing Part 2 of the Haunui Wool Story!)

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2016 edited to update info:

Both Part 1 and Part 2 of the Haunui Wool Story are now published. Contact Yarnmaker in the link above for back issues to read these articles.

And home again.

Since I was away I’ve been very busy putting together different things for my fibre shop (amongst other things, the Shipwreck Build a Batt Box and Tea Garden collection I posted about recently). But I’ve also been doing things around the farm and home and attempting to get on top of the weeds and general jobs!

If I stop and think too much about all that needs to be done I start to panic – at this time of year you never really manage to get ahead of yourself (well I don’t anyway!) so you have to prioritise and work out ways of combining things to make the best use of time and energy. But I’m all too aware that I’m on damage limitation standards mostly; the garden’s heavy clay soil is productive but the runaway growth from the sun’s warmth and the soft rain and long daylight hours means the thuggish elements have the upper hand and cultivated plants are no match for pernicious weeds.

I had a real “down” moment a few weeks back; nothing I had sown seemed to be germinating, several batches were required of some things that I normally have no trouble growing. Perhaps it’s old seed, perhaps the new compost we’re using isn’t as good, perhaps the weather was tipping things away from my favour. Or perhaps I’ve lost that “green-finger” that comes from concentrating your attention on what you’re doing – perhaps after all I’m trying to squeeze too much in…

Happily some plants seem to grow no matter how little TLC they get. Potatoes and tomatoes will self seed where they fall or have been left and the ones you plant do just as well even if you forget about them. So although it’s been dry the Cara and Charlotte spuds I planted around Easter are coming up nicely. And I’ve decided to bring permaculture into play and solve two issues with one problem and mulch with the clippings from lawn mowing to keep the chickweed down that compete with the potato plants!

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It feels as though I might have gone a little overboard planting tomatoes this year… Somehow I have to find enough room under glass/plastic to fit the full grown plants in!

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Although two successive batches of French Beans have come to nothing and I am going to admit defeat on my favourite bean this year, these runner beans shot away and are now safely planted up in one long wigwam of canes.

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and the courgette plants are also now in their final positions – the slugs and the high winds are making them look rather pathetic just now but I’m hoping with the “sheep tea” washings from soaking fleeces for spinning they will start to root and romp away.

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My super long sweet pea tunnel last year took a huge amount of time just to pick and the winter storms have battered it beyond redemption but I have just a few sweet pea plants I grew this year on a far more modest scale – far too late, they should have been planted out by now so this is a job for this week to find a corner to squeeze them in with a wigwam to grow up.

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I struggled with two sowings of both my much-loved coriander and also leeks – third time lucky and so as with other plants, ridiculously late. Normally by now I’ve been eating coriander for weeks and it’s bolting uncontrollably. Not at the seedling stage… :0(

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At least there are now plenty of leeks but they’ll be like spring onions come autumn/winter if I don’t get them grown on fast now!

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Happily, the alpine strawberries I grew from seed last year seem content in their bed and are flowering nicely. I hope to get a good amount of berries this year, I love them for breakfast – going out to pick them first thing whilst the dew is on the grass and put them straight in my breakfast bowl. Nom.

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And the larger strawberry runners I took are also growing albeit still young because, yes, again, I was late with planting these out too!

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Some things just grow. No matter what. Thankfully the scented shrubs round about can be relied on at this time of year just to do their thing so evenings in the yard and patio are very sweet just now with not just the heady honeysuckle scent but also the lilacs

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and the first roses like this Gertrude Jekyll in such a fabulous shade of pink.

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I adore scented plants; my dream would be to plant up a garden full of scented shrubs and flowers. Not sure which life that will be in, it’s probably not this one though! ;0)

The grass grows like wildfire too. When it comes to lawns and rough ground this spells hard work for mowing large areas and strimming where you can’t mow. Sometimes this feels like a waste of time and resources but it has to be done – at least I’m using the clippings to mulch the weeds now! And it does look so much better once it’s had a “haircut”. However I can tell the grass is growing in the pastures too; the sheep spend so much of their time resting in the sun, snoozing peacefully and cudding.

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When the grass is short and nutrition low in late winter they spend a lot of time nibbling hungrily to get the most from the grazing. I know when they’re stretched out lazily on the ground like Alfie in the picture below that they are happy with full tummies and all is well in their sheepy world.

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They all need shearing soon. I winter shear my sheep so as to obtain the best wool for handspinning. But the wool grows again and at this time of year it “rises” – the natural pause when the growth stops and in primitive breeds, the sheep sheds its fleece and is when most flocks of sheep in the UK get shorn (albeit not for handspinning but for welfare reasons). This means that my Gotland’s look like they have stuffing coming out of them just now as the stubs of old fleece I left behind has felted into clumps and then peels off as the new years’ growth pushes through. When enough of it has risen I will shear them clean of the waste wool to leave the body clear for the new fleece to grow.

I’m not sure when I’ll find time to do it, luckily it’s not as critical as the first shearing is for me; they aren’t as uncomfortably hot as they would be in full fleece so they don’t overheat like most sheep do at this time of year and the good wool has been taken so I don’t worry about this fluffy felted waste left behind (more weed mulching material!!) But it does need doing and so somehow this is a few days work that I have to shoehorn in somewhere.

I’m playing catch up at the moment however. I took advantage of the lovely weekend to wash and dye the last of the fleeces I sheared earlier in the year and get on top of other jobs. On Friday our local fish and chip shop reopened after a year or so of being shut. I don’t normally like fried things; I admit to having a sweet tooth and I love food generally but greasy deep-fried stuff does not appeal so fish and chips is a rare occurrence for me – I much prefer “clean” tasting foods.. But after a very long day and being on my own for a while as mum was away I decided to check out the new management as a special treat for working hard. It’s 4 miles away so you have to really want chip-shop chips to make the effort! I was a little dismayed at the queue snaking out of the chippy door and down the street but I knew they were offering free chips all day so it was reasonable enough that so many people would be happy to see it reopen and want to try it out. More worryingly the line didn’t seem to be moving but having driven there I thought I may as well join in. Sometime later a friend queueing inside turned round and saw me through the window, waved and then text me to say she’d been waiting for 45 minutes already…

At that point I should probably have walked away but I’d already been there a bit, surely they’d speed up soon etc etc and by the time I’d waited half an hour, driven back home, found something to eat… It would be a waste of the time I’d already spent being 28th in the line. Or so the reasoning went.

Just over an hour later I finally left with a rumblingly empty stomach clutching my small warm paper parcel of mini fish and chips and headed back home. They were nice. But probably not worth waiting an hour for!

So yesterday evening I hunted for a duck breast I knew I’d bought and put in the freezer as a treat for sometime when I was eating on my own. It’s not something I ever have (I like our friendly ducks far too much to go round munching them!) and I wasn’t sure how I was going to cook it. I prefer a light touch when cooking meats; I am a fan or “rare” and “pink”. So I opted for pan-searing it with shreds of ginger, spring onion, sesame, lemon and a splash of tamari and our own honey.

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I had noticed whilst cutting the grass that the Swiss Chard I had left in over the winter was bolting – the new seedlings are doing well but not ready to pick but the old leaves were growing sky high but still tender. I also found a rogue coriander plant in the polytunnel path so I went and gathered some of each and served my tangy duck breast on some noodles with wilted chard and sautéed cherry tomatoes.

I found it strangely comforting that despite my “fail” on the veg plot this year that there are still things out there to eat despite my best (worst) endeavours and that they are tasty, nutritious… and conveniently close to hand. I noted how long it took me to cook this meal from scratch – 18 minutes. Which when I think of the time I spent queueing for my fry up and driving there and home it was no contest really. In future I think I’ll save fish and chips as a treat for eating beside the sea with the wind in my hair and salty spray whipping my cheeks. There it belongs and seems right; with buckets and spades, ice creams and stripy windbreaks and the ceaseless crying of gulls.

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This though; from the garden – this is my kind of fast food!

Meanderings…

Summer is really picking her feet up now. Time just whizzes past and things grow when you turn your back for a second. May is just a memory and as my mother reminded me to my dismay a few days ago it’s not long now till Midsummer… and the longest day. I hastily Ssssshhhd!! out the next bit about it being “downhill to winter” after that!!

When I was last at the coast a few weeks ago I saw many things I hadn’t seen before. I’m really loving these first experiences of seeing a place I love and know so well in its different guises throughout the year. I don’t think I could ever tire of Wales in any season; there is beauty in everything and every season. Even if it’s just the timely lesson that all things pass and if you wait a few minutes some other weather will come along!

I took photos of various coastal plants that I didn’t know what they were because I’d not been at the coast in spring before. I meant to look them up when I got home but I was delighted to discover pictures of two of them in Colours of Shetlanda truly gorgeous collection of knitting patterns (and so much more) by Kate Davies which I bought as a download the other day. I had treated myself to a print copy of her other book “Yokes” for my Christmas-Present-from-me-to-me last December but hadn’t yet acquired “Colours”… I really love Kate Davies’ patterns which combine elegance and femininity with a quirky touch – each pattern being thoughtfully anchored in it’s inspiration. I’ve only knit a few of the small items like her wonderful colourwork hats but I’ve greedily stashed away various sweater patterns I’ve bought over the past few years and hope to have a major sweater knitting session in the very near future now that I’ve finally managed to shrink my person back to a size that I’m happier knitting handspun sweaters for! ;0)

I think anyone could enjoy reading these books regardless of whether they’re a knitter or not, there is so much else of interest in each one, from the beautiful styling and photography to the fascinating essays included throughout. So although I’ve still got the treat of knitting my way through the patterns to look forward to, I was prompted by the pictures in the book to look up the names of the flowers I saw and I’m happy to know now that this photo I took is of a Sea Campion:

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and that these exquisite little flowers which I spent some time kneeling on the spongy turf photographing but seemed to me to carpet the headlands like a million blue stars are Spring Squill.

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There were also carpets of Sea Pinks or Thrift everywhere.

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Those I had seen before on many visits but it made me realise all the other things in life that I take for granted because I see them every day but when you’ve never seen them before, even the very ordinary can become the extra-ordinary. The most humble or common thing takes on an exotic flavour and it’s so wonderful to really see things again – with the freshness of a child’s eyes as it were. Seeing for the very first time… It’s like a precious gift.

I’m well used to seeing Bluebells here in the woods, hedgerows and glades around my home – I love them. I was pleased and surprised to see how many were growing around the cottage as well, they’ve come back in the past year or so since some brambles got cut back and they flower for such a short window of time I wouldn’t have known they were there if I hadn’t visited at the right time. They were everywhere on the headlands, dotted amongst other plantsand undergrowth.

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Something that I remember well from childhood holidays was the way that Wallflowers take to the hot dry environment and naturalise themselves along the dry stone walls. I was glad to see them out – they smell so wonderful even if they don’t have the delicacy of the native wildflowers on the headlands.

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I was able to get closer to the Oystercatchers I missed last time around. I know these are very common birds but again – to me they weren’t. I stalked this chap for a while…he was a bit suspicious of me!

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and then half an hour later rounded upon a whole bunch of Oystercatchers on the shore and although they seem to be quite coy about being watched by humans, these ones were so busy dabbling around at the water’s edge and the wind and waves were making enough noise to cover my approach so I was able to quickly lie down on the bank and spent a happy half hour on my tummy watching them going about their business, feeding…

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mooching…

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skimming the waves…

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or hanging out with a Ringed Plover.

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They look so comical and ungainly waddling along the beach with their big orange bills but in flight they take on such a beautiful form, tapering to the V of their tails and the markings set off so well by the wing beats. Just awesome.

This little Stonechat was also not very happy about my presence on the coastal path although he stood his ground for considerably longer and “chatted” at me from the top of “his” hedge before finally taking off in a huff.

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It makes me wonder what I will find next time I go – so different from the Wales of my home. Different again from the land that lies between us too – this time I came back through Snowdonia rather than my usual trip skirting the northern and eastern edges of the country which is less picturesque but an awful lot quicker.

Hugging the flanks of Snowdon and sweeping gently down the Llanberis Pass it feels like you are driving through a timeless landscape of Giants and Heroes; or as though somehow you’ve been transported to Middle Earth. It’s quite unnerving for me; not only do I dislike precipices and sheer drops which give me a nervy swing in my stomach, it’s also quite spine tingling just seeing the majestic scenery round and about so I spend the whole time feeling quite keyed up and on edge – literally. You could almost believe that a dragon would crawl out from behind the massive boulders.

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Next time I shall make sure someone else is driving so I can really appreciate the landscape!

Fowl Play

It’s a good thing the sun has come back and giving everything a summery boost of energy (well maybe not in the case of the weeds and lawn perhaps) because there’s so much going on right now it feels like my feet don’t touch the ground from dawn till dusk!

However I do like being occupied and having many diverse jobs to do around the home and farm stops me from working 100% on just making stuff and leading to creative fatigue – something I know that can happen quite quickly to me when I don’t get outside in the fresh air as well. I find doing mundane routine jobs leaves my brain free to mull over new ideas and iron out the kinks in existing ones or edit things I want to write about before sitting down to type or create…

Sometimes it’s all too easy to get distracted however and these little cuties who’ve taken up residence in my spare bedroom haven’t been helping on that score over the past week or so!

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You might remember Tommy the Partridge Pekin cockerel who’s made the odd appearance on this blog? Well I’m sad to say that 2 weeks ago he went to sleep and didn’t wake up – not a bad way to go if you’re an elderly chicken – and whilst literally falling off your perch has slightly macabre comic overtones, the sad truth is that we miss Tommy IV very very much. He was a sweet chicken both to us and to his adored Henrietta (who probably didn’t appreciate what a lucky girl she was as much as she should). He would look after Henrietta most assiduously, making sure she had all the best bits of food and ALL of the mealworms we treat them with and generally fussing most anxiously about her general welfare in a most un-chicken-like way.

They spent an awful lot of their time free ranging just outside my front door where it’s a sun trap and being near to human company they were relatively safe from the foxes and polecats that plague our poultry and have caused us to lose so many over the years. Tommy and Henrietta were the sole survivors of the once numerous Pekin bantams we’ve hatched and raised over the past few years. We once had so many that we had to give away or sell quite a few. We had a lot of Lavender Pekins especially and a clutch of these got split up, two going back to the granddaughter of our friend who first gave us Pekins and the remaining six becoming the nucleus of the now almost-celebrity-status chickens of the excellent blog over at HilltopCloud run by my friend Katie.

Our own bantam numbers dwindled thanks to smash and grab raids by polecats until we worked out that they were lifting the lids of the nest boxes and swiping sleeping bantams off the nests so I screwed down the lids and sure enough the next night was woken by a terrific racket of Something trying to claw its way fruitlessly into the little bantam house and shooting out into the dark in my dressing gown I caught sight of a fleeing polecat in the beam of my torch. Inspecting the deep gouges in the wood left by the claws and teeth of the thief, I realised why gentle little sleeping bantams were so defenceless…

We have lots of foxes that get dumped around here too – a dirty not-so-secret legacy of the fox hunting ban that town foxes get trapped and brought out to the countryside to be released because presumably the reasoning goes that out here we don’t mind our poultry and lambs being slaughtered by hungry and bewildered foxes who have no restaurant bins to scavenge from or places to hide. Rural foxes generally don’t get seen, they hunt nocturnally and have their dens and family groups. Urban foxes cruelly dumped in the countryside don’t have those advantages, aren’t generally scared of humans and not only wander around in daylight searching for something to eat but also come close to humans and usually stand their ground if disturbed whilst sleeping in outhouses as though they were domestic animals, albeit not very friendly ones. Small non-flying gentle chickens and ducks ranging loose around the yards are like manna to such would-be predators and in recent years we’ve lost more poultry than you’d believe despite them being shut in early at nights and in winter and early spring when small prey is scarce making the hungry foxes even more desperate especially vixens feeding cubs, we have to keep the birds housed up inside in barns to prevent losing everything although last winter it came close; by December we were left with just Tommy and Henrietta and two older laying chickens in the main hen house so I bought three laying hens for my mother for Christmas and she bought a further three pullets a few weeks later. All are now penned in large runs we had to go to the expense of building. It’s sad not to let them free range but chickens are not cheap and it’s desperately sad to hear frantic clucking fading across the field and know that a dying chicken is being carted away for lunch and that even if you run as fast as you can, all you’ll find when you get there is a trail of feathers blowing across the grass…

So whilst I was glad that Tommy lived out his full life in peace and contentment, we were now down to just one Pekin bantam. I adore these birds, they are by far the sweetest and most amusing chickens we’ve ever had in 25 years of poultry keeping. Henrietta was looking lost too so a search online found someone wanting to rehome an 8 month old Partridge Pekin cock who from the photo looked to be a very fine bird indeed.

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Mum went to pick him up 10 days ago with her best friend and they were both entranced by the place he had been raised – it was a hobby flock but on a sweeping scale and she enthusiastically told me about the immaculate pens and houses, the gorgeous birds and other animals there and particularly the Lemon Pekin bantams the lady was breeding which isn’t a colour we’ve ever owned. When she got home with the new Tommy (the Fifth) after a very long round trip she realised she’d missed a trick – we currently have an incubator on loan from a friend and she wished she’d also bought some hatching eggs from the Lemon Pekins. Luckily her friend who lives nearer was more than happy to go back with her husband last week to pick up some hatching eggs for us and the lady also had the 3 day old chicks for sale so Mum arranged to buy those as well.

Henrietta initially wasn’t that impressed with Tommy V. She was so used to being an old man’s darling and his courteous ways, she was deeply suspicious of her new eager Toy Boy who is also very gentle and kind but hasn’t quite learned all the endearing habits a spoiled girl like Henrietta appreciates. So initially she kind of let everyone know she wanted her space thank very muchly…

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Which meant that Tommy Junior spent quite a bit of time feeling like a lemon…

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But now they’re getting on a lot better… although every now and then Henrietta still goes off to have a little “me time”. The ducks get on quite well with them too so all is happy in what’s known as the Pool Paddock at the moment.

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The ducks are very old now and we’ve not hatched out any more new ones – I love our Saxony ducks so I will probably hatch some more some day – we had nine ducks last year but thanks to random daylight fox raids over winter we’re down to only five!

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So back to the younger members of the family; the 3 chicks are growing well. The Lavender chick is definitely a cockerel, the Black Pekin chick is a hen and jury is still out on the Partridge chick – I thought initially it was a cockerel but not so sure now, we will find out once it has all it’s adult feathers! They’re less Orville-like at the moment and have got to the slightly gawky stage where they’re part fluff/part feather and they are deeply suspicious of my movements around the room which they can see through the plastic of their brooder box.

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I like watching them; like all babies they play hard and then suddenly get overcome by sleepiness and it always makes me giggle when they’re pecking around and then suddenly sink down onto the shavings as their eyes close sleepily and then beak-dive forwards zonked out flat from their chickly games. Last week when they were still very small they liked to cram into their food bowl all together. I had to take a picture through the plastic because I knew if I lifted the lid to take it they would jump up so it’s a bit blurry but still sweet!

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And the eggs in the incubator are doing well. We candled them last night to see if they were fertile and so far all 12 eggs are growing chicks inside of them so hopefully we’ll have some more babies in a couple of weeks.

Goodness knows what Henrietta and Tommy will make of that!!

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