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A lesson in poultry petting

On Saturday I, quite literally, returned to school to attend a chicken-keeping course – held at my old secondary school and taught by my old science teacher. Once I’d recovered from the nostalgia that came with the dusky smell of the old art classroom where I used to spend my lunchtimes, I sat listening intently to the golden nuggets of information shared with us by an experienced chicken-keeper and smallholder.

I’ve always fancied having chickens. The idea of having a few running round the garden is a very romantic one but, as I feared, it isn’t as easy as I initially thought.

Once you have your chicken coop (with indoor and outdoor parts, robust mesh, liftable roof and paving slab base), you have to fox proof your hen house with locks and catches, before thinking about the perches (are they wide enough for optimum egg-laying?), lining the coop with soft barley straw (normal straw is too coarse). Then you need to decide whether you want to buy chickens at point-of-lay (usually 5-6 weeks before they are mature enough to lay eggs) or whether you want to rear chicks from hatching eggs. Then there are the parasites, illnesses, and moulting season to consider…

I was a bit put off by the sheer amount to consider when thinking about keeping, what I believed to be, one of the simplest animals in the kingdom. But when I held the lovely lady that had been sitting pretty, waiting silently for us to finish the class and give her some attention, I fell in love! She was even more docile and friendly than I expected, not nearly as scrabbly as I imagined and had such soft feathers! We were assured that each chicken has their own distinctive personality and promises to provide endless entertainment.

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I think it will be a while before I can commit to getting my own brood but I will be filing my notes away carefully as I hope to put them to good use one day.

I was given a gorgeous “Illustrated guide to Chickens” for my birthday, illustrated and written by Celia Smith. It is enough to turn anyone into a wannabe hen-keeper – her paintings are quirky and full of character. It is a great book to refer to if you’re just starting out and deciding which breed to go for – it tells you all the basics on how to keep chickens plus specific details on each breed – how many eggs they lay, what size and what colour. Here are three of my favourites:

The Chamois Poland Hen

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The Sultan Hen

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The Dark Silkie Hen

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Exotic, aren’t they?

We were warned however, that generally, the more interesting the breed, the sassier their characters and they tend to fight and peck at each other a lot more while the standard, brown chickens are content, docile, easy to pick up and very good egg-layers.

 

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“There beneath the blue suburban skies…”

…sang The Beatles about Penny Lane, Liverpool – the city I’ve just arrived home from after a visit to see my cousin who is in her first term at University there. The North of England didn’t disappoint me and the bracing, ice-cold air that I’ve come to associate it with, welcomed me as I stepped out onto Liverpool Lime Street station.

We didn’t have any solid plans for the weekend which made it a very relaxing one – on Saturday another of my cousins came into the city and the three of us wandered around Liverpool’s shopping centre checking out the glittery products that have arrived in The Body Shop, trying on all manner of faux-fur accessories and gauping at the huge crowds of shoppers, high on Christmas.

I love exploring new cities with friends and family that know the area well. My cousin had pinpointed a few places that she had tried and tested and a few that she hadn’t tried and wanted to test. Leaf Tea Shop on Bold Street was one of the latter. Set in a large warehouse type building it’s a spot that’s always busy; a popular cafe by day and a bustling bar by night. We popped in on Saturday morning for a quick bite of breakfast and opted for toast – a somewhat boring choice made all the more exciting by the delicious seeded bread and homemade jam. And again, the North didn’t let us down – we paid £1.50!

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We returned in the evening for a few cocktails and, as we sipped our ‘Hedgerow’ and  ‘Elderflower Fizz’ while enjoying the live music, I spotted on the notice board that there is an entire calendar of events hosted here; from knitting club to book club to a life drawing workshop! If you are a student here, it’s worth checking it out, I am certainly wishing that I lived closer to this little hive of activity.

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Counting down to Christmas

With the all-famous Christmas advert being released last week and other retailers fast behind them, it is official – Christmas is on its way. For me, the festive season begins once I’ve taken my first sip of mulled wine. The smell of heated orange mixed with warm spices is so provocative, I think it would make me feel Christmassy even if I caught a whiff in mid-August! I spent this chilly, November weekend just gone, perusing the food market at London South-bank. Following my nose, I found a young man nursing a cauldron-like pan of warm, delicately spiced wine, decanting it into paper cups and we took a pit stop to stand by the river, a cup of mulled wine in each of our gloved hands.

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I returned home feeling very excited for the season’s festivities – Christmas tree decorating, present wrapping, Christmas cake feeding…What better way to satisfy my craving for Christmas creativity in November than to make an advent calendar? Flicking through the “Plan the Perfect Christmas” insertion that I received with my Country Living magazine earlier this week, I found this simple but gorgeous advent calendar design. I found some nice bits of paper (mostly used bits of last year’s Christmas wrapping that was too nice to throw away) some little wooden pegs (I got a whole bag for 99p on amazon), some ribbon to hang your triangular envelopes from and some sticky labels to label up the dates. I altered the design a little and instead of securing the envelopes shut with a label, I used Velcro strips so that it can be used again and again.

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This week, I arrived home from work and spent my evenings folding a few triangles each day – it’s very therapeutic! Yesterday I reached 25 triangles so strung each one up carefully on some nicely coloured raffia and filled each one with a chocolate. I placed it in a shoebox and gave it to my sister who has recently moved into a new home.

She loved it. And tonight, I’m starting advent calendar number two – after the rest of my family clapped eyes on it, these homemade advent calendars are in high demand. So, the folding continues…