Chris's Weblog – City Chickens

Breeding Miniature White Silkie Chickens 2018

I have decided to have a go at breeding Miniature Silkies and on Thursday I shall be travelling to Lincoln to collect my first family group of one cockerel and three hens. I have had experience of hatching with an incubator before but I have never kept a cockerel. I have always bought in fertile hatching eggs. I am acutely aware of the problems involved both with having a cockerel and having baby chicks who turn out to be boys. I am under no illusions and realise that although the law of averages says the hatch should be 50/50 this isn’t always the case. To add to this, although Silkies are renowned for being good mothers, I once had a silkie who ate twelve hatching eggs that I had bought from Scotland and put under her to hatch as she was broody. However, nothing ventured, nothing gained. I don’t have to allow live chicks. I could sell fertile eggs or eat them.

The Silkie is a breed of chicken named for its soft, fluffy plumage. The breed has several unusual qualities including black skin and bones, blue earlobes and five toes on each foot, whereas most chickens only have four. They are often exhibited in poultry shows and come in many colors. The Silkie comes in Large Fowl, Bantam and Miniature. After careful consideration I have decided to concentrate on pure white miniature. I have sourced some good blood lines so hope to produce some good stock.

In addition to their distinctive physical characteristics Silkies are known for their calm, friendly temperament. they are among the most docile of poultry. The hens are also exceptionally broody and care for their young well. Although they are not prolific layers themselves, laying about three eggs each week, they are often used to hatch eggs from other breeds due to their broody nature. Silkie chickens are very easy to keep as pets. They are ideal to be around children which was another reason that I chose them as the grand children love the chickens.

There is no doubt that the Silkie is a very old breed, probably of Chinese origin. It is believed by some that the Silkie dates back as far as the Chinese Han Dynasty in 206BC. The Silkie made its way westward either by  the Silk Road or by the maritime routes, maybe both. 

Their feathers lack barbicels, the hooks that hold the feathers together, which gives them their fluffy appearance. The fact that the feathers do not hold together means a Silkie cannot fly. It also means that the feathering is not waterproof so they need to keep dry.  Underneath all that fluff, the Silkie has black skin and bones. Sadly, this makes them a food delicacy in parts of the Far East. The meat is used in Chinese medicine too as it has twice as much carnitine as other chicken meat. Carnitine has anti-aging properties apparently.

Adam’s Birthday Today – Miss Him

“If you want your life to be a magnificent story, then begin by realising that you are the author and everyday you have the opportunity to write a new page” — Mark Houlahan

Today would have been Adam’s birthday. Had he lived he would have been 44 today. My heart is heavy and my mind still trying to make sense of what has happened. He has been gone from our lives for over two years. His life, though too short, was after all, a magnificent story. He has left us all with amazing memories for which I am grateful. He was a very positive person so I try always to think, what would Adam do, when I am faced with a decision to make. Love you forever my lovely boy.

 

 

Roast Marinated Topside of Beef

After Christmas I picked up a bargain joint of beef from Lidl and it has been sitting in the freezer until now. It’s Sean’s birthday on Monday and I thought they may just visit on Sunday so I have put the beef to marinate ready to cook a roast.

A marinade is a mixture of acid, oil, herb and spice. It’s designed to impart flavor and tenderise meat. There is an endless list of combinations that can be the difference between dry meat and a succulent meat.

The acid – Vinegar, acidic fruit juices like lemon or wine are the acidic components in the marinade that tenderise meats. They also play an important part in imparting flavor. An example of a high acid wine is Champagne or a zesty white wine. Use low acid marinades when marinating overnight. Go with a low acid wine. Too much time on acid can turn the meat from tender to mushy.

The fat – Apart from extra virgin olive oil and butter, there many other kinds of oils to consider such as sesame oil, peanut oil, grapeseed oil, etc. Each type of oil has a different flavor and smoke point which is something you’ll want to consider.

Herbs – The herbs and aromatic vegetables will impart the floral, vegetal, earthy and even fruity characteristics into your meat. Zest is the shaved skin of an orange, lemon or lime and an excellent way to add flavours.

The spice – Spices add heat and aromas and enhance flavours. Salt and pepper will always be your base but there are many other choices to throw into the mix. Many components in spices such as capsaicin in pepper and  vanilla are more soluble in fat or alcohol than in water. Since meat is up to 75% water using oil and alcohol in your marinades helps to better dissolve the spices and integrate them into the meat.

  • Acid – 1 cup wine
  • Fat – ½ cup oil
  • Herbs – 1 tablespoon
  • Spice – 2 tablespoons of salt

Your acid plus your oil should be enough to immerse the meat easily in a sealed container. It depends on how big the meat is but you want the final result to equal about 1 cup with half as much oil as acid. If you are planning on adding vinegar, lemon juice or Worcestershire sauce as well, you will only need ¼ of a cup. With something more pungent like Dijon mustard or overly-sweet like honey, then only 2 tablespoons are required. Whisk the acid, oil, dry herbs and spices in a  glass bowl until well integrated and the salt is fully dissolved. Gently add the fresh herbs last. If you need to increase volume to completely submerge your meat add it in the wine. Leave to marinate from 2 hours to overnight depending on the size of the meat.

When ready to roast allow the meat to approach room temperature. Whatever your method of preparation, the meat should now be thoroughly tenderised and well-flavored. I melt a little beef dripping in my meat dish and then add a chopped onion, celery, parsnips and carrot into the tin placing the beef on top. Spread mustard over the meat, I use the cheap Sainsbury’s basic for this job, then cover the whole tin with foil sealing the edges. Cook for and hour per kilogram. Today my joint is 2.5kg so I am cooking at 180 for 90 minutes before getting it out and basting before replacing in the oven to brown.

I shall serve with green vegetables, roast potatoes, boiled potatoes and mash.  The gravy is amazing made with the juices from the meat dish.

 

Look Up Stretch Up – 2018

I am a great believer in the benefits of Hatha Yoga and having had to have a break from it during the time I was looking after Adam I was eager to get started again. However, it was a good twelve months after he passed away before I felt strong enough to go back to my class. I knew it would take time to get back to fitness, especially at my age, but was determined to try. Now my teacher and the rest of my class mates are, to be polite, quite mature ladies. After a few weeks of puffing and panting and trying to get back to a semblance of fitness my teacher became ill. She had been battling cancer in my absence and had a relapse. At 80 years old she is still a strong woman but classes have been suspended for the foreseeable future. I am on my own. I know what I have to do but haven’t been doing it. On top of this my winter belly is stopping me from touching my toes and cutting my toenails. Drastic action is required. Advice from those who know is to practice little and often and to have a sequence or a plan in mind before you start. Quiet time, space and comfortable clothes are essential. I found the header image online so I hope the lady doesn’t mind.

Kalms – Herbal Medicine for PTSD and Insomnnia

Life, for the majority of us, is littered with tragedies and mine is no exception. Like most I have tried to count my blessings and carry on. However I have been persuaded  to get some help in the form of Kalms. Update – One month on and I have to say that the Kalms have definitely helped me to get some undisturbed sleep. I only take one at bedtime and as if by magic the flashbacks seem to be much less and some nights not there at all.
  • Kalms is a traditional herbal medicinal product used for the  relief of symptoms of stress, mild anxiety,  irritability and sleep disturbances.
  • Kalms Lavender One-A-Day Capsules is a traditional herbal medicine used for the temporary relief of  mild anxiety, stress and nervousness.
  • Kalms Night and Kalms  One-a-Night are traditional herbal medicinal products used for the temporary relief of sleep disturbances.
All contain Valerian Root, Gentian and Hops.

Valerian

Valerian is a perennial flowering plant, with heads of sweetly scented pink or white flowers that bloom in the summer. Its flower extracts were used as a perfume in the 16th century. Valerian has soothing, calming properties which counteracts anxiety and has been used traditionally to promote sleep. Valerian, also known as Valeriana officinalis, is a flowering plant native to Europe and Asia. The root of the plant has long been used in herbal medicine for a variety of conditions such as sleeping difficulties, digestive complaints, anxiety and headaches.

Gentian

Gentian, one of the bitter herbs, has been used by herbalists for over two thousand years to help stimulate liver function. It was named as a tribute to Gentius, an Illyrian king who was believed to have discovered that the herb had healing properties. Gentian root herb comes from the yellow gentian plant, Gentiana lutea. This European native produces wrinkled, light to dark brown roots commonly used to make health supplements.

Hop

The hop first attracted attention as a medicinal herb in early Egypt.  It was later used in Europe to treat liver disease and general digestive complaints. Hops have a long history of use in folk medicine where they have been used to treat a variety of complaints. For example, hops are thought to have a sedative action and have been traditionally used in hop pillows for the relief of insomnia. Also, hops have been used as herbal antibiotics and were incorporated into wound salves and anti-inflammatory compresses. Hops also have a long-standing reputation for their ability to affect women’s hormonal balance, being used in hop baths to treat menstrual disturbances. The list continues, with hops being reputed to alleviate migraines, earache, bed-wetting, leprosy, travel sickness, digestive problems, kidney stones and coughing. With so many cures ascribed to one plant, it is easy to see how many viewed them as old wives tales. However, over the last few years there has been a major change in attitudes. New technologies have been developed which allow the rapid and relatively inexpensive testing of chemicals both synthetic and natural as cures for chronic diseases. As a result, pharmaceutical researchers have taken an increased interest in herbal remedies in their hunt for new medicines.

Saucepan Boiled Fruit Cake

This recipe used to be a family favourite when the kids were all young. It’s a soft, moist fruit cake that can easily be adapted to become a celebration cake with the addition of treacle, alcohol, cherries etc. Another plus is that it does keep well if wrapped in foil or cling film.  I have the inclination to give it a go again.

Ingredients:

  • 12oz of dried fruit
  • 4oz margarine or butter
  • 1/4 pint of water
  • 4oz caster, granulated or brown sugar
  • 8oz self raising flour
  • tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp mixed spice if you like it

Method:

Add the water, sugar, fruit and fat to a saucepan and bring to the boil stirring to keep from sticking. As soon as the mixture reaches boiling point turn down to a simmer and cook for about 20 minutes. At this point the mixture will be evenly mixed and the fruit plump and juicy. Remove from the heat and leave to cool. Stir occasionally to stop skin forming on top or cover with cling film or greaseproof paper. When cool gradually add the beaten eggs, flour and baking powder, folding in and making sure the ingredients are evenly distributed. Bake in the centre of the oven for about an hour and a half. It does help to line the cake tin with greaseproof paper or as I do, wipe the tin round with margarine and shake flour so that the inside is coated evenly. At this point you could sprinkle with granulated sugar, decorate with almond slices or put a few candied peel slices on top. This cake also takes well to decorating with icing. All in all, a good all round stand by. My sort of cake.

Stardust


The subject of Adam’s ashes has reared it’s head again and I am no nearer to deciding what to do about it. Up until today the blue box containing all that remains of my beautiful boy has been sitting in the living room underneath his photograph. However, I am aware that I am not the only person with an interest in what becomes of them. He has three children and their two respective mothers, two brothers and a father, all of whom have genuine rights when it comes to making a decision about this difficult problem. I am his mother, This was his home, Where he is now is virtually the same place where he was set down when I brought him home from the maternity ward in a little blue carry cot. I don’t think I am ready to let him go yet. I still haven’t come to terms with the way he died  and I think that that is the crux of the problem.

Stardust

Fourteen billion years ago the whole thing was begun.
Time itself came into being, the clock began to run.
And in the crucible of space, all there is, was born.
The building blocks of all we know from some galactic storm.
Collapsing stars formed elements, the elements combined
To form the substance of it all, the earth, the trees, mankind!
So look into the midnight sky, creation on parade. . .
For what you see in starlight is the stuff from which we’re made.
For we are in the universe, The universe in us.
The two are indivisible. A thing most beauteous.
So hear the song of nature. The song that all things sing.
For we are truly stardust, everyone and everything.

By John Marsh © May 2015

 

My Family And Other Animals

“Like a gentle, enthusiastic and understanding Noah, she has steered her vessel full of strange progeny through the stormy seas of life with great skill, always faced with the possibility of mutiny, always surrounded by the dangerous shoals of overdraft and extravagance, never being sure that her navigation would be approved by the crew, but certain that she would be blamed for anything that went wrong. That she survived the voyage is a miracle, but survive it she did, and, moreover, with her reason more or less intact. As my brother rightly points out, we can be proud of the way we have brought her up; she is a credit to us.”

A quote from My Family And Other Animals by Gerald Durrell.

Kind words written by a son about his mother. I would like to think that my children could think of me in this way. It does seem to illustrate the rewarding journey that I have travelled to date with my wonderfully unique children. Never a dull moment during the ups and downs, adventures, heartaches and proud moments that have been my life up to now. Also, just like the Durrells, we have had a menagerie of various animals along the way. I was introduced to these stories when I was studying English Literature for GCE but feel I have appreciated them more since growing up and having my own family.

I hope that I have been able to be what I always dreamed of being when I was a girl. A good mother. Even when I was quite young I wanted children. I used to gather the children from our small post war street of prefabs and ‘mother’ them. I led small rag tag groups, which included my own little sister, five years younger than me, on various adventures amazingly surviving canals, disused coal mines, railway lines and bridges and water filled marlholes all of which were the norm around where we lived. We were happy with a milk bottle of water and jam sandwiches prepared by me which we would have half way through our adventure usually sat in a grass lined dip over the bank when I would teach them about wild flowers and other such gems. When I was twelve I was presented with a little brother and was able to practice with a real baby. I can remember running home from senior school to be with him.  I was twenty three, however, before I had the first of my own three lovely boys and that was the start of my life as a Mother. My raison d’etre.

 

Eglu – 13 years on.

The Eglu was the start of a big adventure for me as I ended up with fifty chickens, all bantams, and fifteen ducks, calls and runners. This adventure came to a crashing halt when my son was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. I don’t regret a single minute spent caring for Adam and In fact feel very privileged to have spent that time with him and honoured to have been able to help him through, what was for him, a horrendous time. My new chicken venture is to help me through my grief after losing him in February 2016. Life will never be the same for us without him. However, he left me with three wonderful grandchildren, and they are a lasting legacy for which I am truly grateful. They love the chickens and the Eglu is really safe for them to use.

Today I received a refurbishment kit for the Eglu from Omlet. My Eglu was number seventeen off the production line when Omlet, the company, was born. It was delivered by their own chicken bedecked van and assembled in the garden in August 2004. It came with three large fowl, Araucana, which are blue egg layers. The students who designed and produced the chicken house have come a long way since then. I have bought plastic replacements for the originally wooden perching bars, a new green shade and an all weather transparent full cover for the bad weather to come. Other than that, thirteen years later, it is as good as new.

Well, I am a little disappointed as the replacement perches didn’t fit. They looked lovely too. Strong and easy to clean but just not the right size. However the Eglu is back together and looking safe and warm with the two new covers. The five new chickens look happy. They are all small breeds so have plenty of room and I feel confident that they will be warm and dry this winter.