We are reaching that point in the year where the tiredness sets in, the Summer holidays are just too far away and the weight of all that has happened in the year becomes great. All of our plans are coming into action on the farm and in the guesthouse, and we are all feeling stretched.
Yet Spring has sprung and the beauty of new life is all around us. The trees and plants are turning greener by the day, the fragrance of flowers is all around and more roses than we’ve ever seen here. We have tried to make time to walk more often in the forest, the protectively towering trees and gentle streams have such a calming effect and makes it all feel worth it. Nature can be beautiful, but also brutal. For those that follow our Facebook page, you would have seen that we experienced some of these harsher lessons in the last few weeks.
Firstly, the loss of 5 of our goslings, and one hen resulting in a single abandoned chick as well as a massive hail storm.
We came home one evening to discover one gosling missing. The next morning we found another dead. They had all managed to get out of the nursery and roam around the garden. We expanded their nursery and brought it closer to the house, suspecting predators. Early the next morning we heard a persistent and unusual honk from the parents to discover one little gosling flailing about in the wet grass. We brought him in, warmed him by the fire and tried to get him to eat and drink but to no avail. Within a couple hours, he too had passed away. The vets recommended a food supplement and antibiotics in case there was an infection. We were resistant to antibiotics but wanted to give these little guys the best shot. The other 9 seemed to be absolutely fine and continued happily for the next three weeks.
Last week, the geese again got out and were wandering around the garden. Two goslings short when they came in in the early evening, we began to search for the missing babies. We found a little girl that had passed away and another little boy flailing about in the same manner – his legs appeared to be too weak to hold his weight and one side of the body lame. Sadly, within a couple of hours he was gone. Much scratching of our heads and research ensued until Andre remembered that last year, the grown-up geese had shown similar symptoms after having being in a certain spot in the garden in their mobile pen. Luckily they had all recovered but we wondered if it had been something they were eating. Turns out, there are many plants in a standard garden that are poisonous to many animals, including geese! Two of these being Azalea and Rhododendron which are both plentiful at Bramleigh! The geese have now been moved and secured in their own grazing camp, filled with grasses only – primarily kikuyu which they love. Hopefully this is the problem now solved.
Our second Mommy Goose who is due to hatch in the next week to ten days (geese have an incubation of 30 – 34 days) has been moved into this camp too so that her babies don’t have the same risk of escaping into the garden.
The chickens have been doing a fabulous job of making compost for us. Years worth of leaf litter was dumped into their mobile pen, along with several bags of fresh manure from our neighbour’s farm. The manure contains the right bacteria to break down the organic matter. The chickens aid this process through their foraging and scratching that turns the compost continually. In return, they have had a feast of other bugs and insects that have made the most of the opportunity too. The chickens laid beautifully and bountifully during this time! They stayed in the composting area longer than usual to complete this process and this put them at risk. After a certain amount of time, they become accustomed to their surroundings, boredom sets in and they seek thrills beyond the mobile pen. Predators also become aware of their presence. This resulted in the loss of one hen to a bird of prey and our Mommy Hen, Elli. Our Mommy Hen who was sitting on eggs in her own little house within the mobile pen dutifully hatched one beautiful little chick. The mother hen has to be kept away from the other hens and the rooster or they will attack the baby. Sadly, one evening when we went to lock up the chickens, the Mommy Hen had been pulled off of her nest by possibly a mongoose. Only 3 days old, the little chick was left in the nest. At that age, the chicks need to be kept at 35C and get cold incredibly quickly. When we found the baby, it was sprawled out and we were sure it was too late. As we held her and apologised to her, she wriggled! Only because we both saw it at the same time did we believe it to be true! So we hurried her inside and warmed her up in our hands and jackets. It took about 20 minutes before she began to move and chirp! A makeshift brooder was set up in our bathtub where she was safe – a heat lamp provided her the warmth she needed, a mirror made her think she had a friend, and Elliot donated some of his teddy bears for company. In the first few days we spent a lot of time with her close to our bodies as it kept her calm. Slowly though we began to take her outside. We sit with her for a few minutes every day in the chicken run so she can get used to being around the other hens. She is a brave little thing but still feels safer with us. Hopefully as she gets older, she will be able to rejoin the flock. For now, she has to remain under her heat lamp until at least 4 weeks of age where her feathers will develop. Needless to say, the chickens have been moved to another spot and the composted area is rich and fertile!
Our Market Garden
We had our first veg orders this month which was super exciting! Many lessons have been learnt about harvesting, washing and the need for cold room storage to provide consistency. We were hoping to get through the first season before needing a cold room but it may not be possible. To provide a consistent supply, we need to be able to harvest and store a certain amount of veg.
Our next beds are ready to planted this weekend with spinach and spring onions.
We suffered a huge hail storm earlier this week. Again, a lesson from nature! Hail stones larger than golf balls pummeled many of our veggies but miraculously, the damage was not as bad as we were expecting. Our workshop roof now looks like cheese but at least the veggies are ok;)
Always a benefit to be seen though as we are sure the nitrogen fixing properties of the hail will help future plants. We may be heading into a hail cycle – when we first moved to the Midlands, there were several severe hail storms. We know there is a snow cycle with a big snow every 3-4 years so perhaps there is a hail cycle too?
A very exciting development – in the process of thinking and researching how we can regenerate our land, we discovered a world-renowned expert, Ian Mitchell-Innes living right on our doorstep! Ian is coming to Bramleigh to present on holistic management, mob grazing, working with nature building soil fertility, livestock nutrition and health. The one day workshop will take place on 1 December as part of our “Putting carbon back in its place” series. RSVP and queries can be submitted here: https://goo.gl/forms/V1zVA0EgpyD0NTSF3
The guesthouse has had a busy month with long weekends and school holidays. We also were able to dedicate some time to painting and giving the rooms some TLC. Our family suite kitchen is in the process of a freshen up and we finally got round to setting up the library. We have also been offering a harvest table on weekends where guests can buy freshly baked sourdough bread and farm fresh produce!
All round, another busy month full of lessons! There is so much learning in the doing. Many hours continue to be dedicated to streamlining the processes in place and planning for the next season at the same time. Some days it just feels like we put out fires all day long but having a plan and vision is so helpful and necessary! Many lessons learnt from time with nature can be applied in so many areas of our lives. Check out a video posted on our Facebook page earlier this week about spending time in nature to rest and reset your brain! A reminder to make time for these things…hmmmmm…..