Chickens and Churning

Chickens and Churning

Tuesday morning we awoke looking forward to a new adventure. Today we would be heading to the nearby town of Hatherleigh for their Tuesday Market, including a poultry auction. Anita and Dee needed more hens that will actually lay eggs, as the three garden hens they have and four hens they took over from their friend that became ill don’t lay any eggs at all. So it was decided, we were to be Anita’s proxy at the auction for the morning to secure some fine hens and eggs for Keasts House.

We arrived in Hatherleigh only 20 minutes after our departure and Anita took us through a lap of the poultry cages already there for viewing. She pointed out age indicators, being the cone (red flesh on top of the head) being short and the legs being thin and not cracked. She also checked their body overall, passing on a couple of lots because of bent beaks that could mean a defect.

Another tip Anita relayed was to watch for any eggs in the cage that had been pecked, because if they would do so this morning, they would likely continue, as would any that are from the same chicken house/lot overall. So several cages were passed over for that reason, as well. In the end, there was a preferred cage of two brown hens and two back up cages of three hens each, all at point of lay.

Once we had the cage numbers recorded, Anita took off for her morning of work, to return at noon to pick up us and, hopefully, the new hens. The auction started promptly at 10 AM and we stuck around for the first 3 or 4 cages to get a feel for the auction and how quickly things would move along before we might get to our first cage, #89. We ventured out into the market to view all of the goodies at the stalls lining the lot and inside of the other barns and then made our way back to the poultry barn in time for the bidding on our preferred hens.

After only two other bids, Kevin gave the auctioneer the nod and secured the hens for only  £8 each. Victory ours, we headed back out to the market for another browse before stopping into the cafe for a large cup of coffee, as the day was definitely a chilly one. After picking up some very cost effective new gloves and extra batteries for our new torch, we started our way back to the poultry barn just as Anita rang us to announce her arrival there. She handled paying for the new hens and we placed them into a pet carrier she’d brought up from the van and soon enough we were whizzing back to the smallholding.

When we arrived there, we placed the carrier into the greenhouse, opened the carrier door so that they could come out when ready and partake in the water and food left there and then closed up the greenhouse so that they had a place all their own (not pestered by the garden chickens). Anita prepared a quick lunch of beans on toast and sped back out for her afternoon of work. We made our way back to the room at the end of the garage we had painted the day previous and now caulked all of the corners and where the walls met the ceiling.

Next, we relocated all of the potted plants at the front entry into the polytunnel for the winter and went to the side field to give the geese fresh water and straw. As we walked up to the gate to head back to the house, we saw a planned visitor stop and park across the road. The visitor was dropping off crab meat, a barter that Anita and Dee had arranged for two of their geese. We were pleased to see this first WWOOFing sight of bartering on a smallholding, even though animals were involved, specifically.

Once we’d placed the delivery into the freezer in the cold store room and had a brief chat with the visitors, we brought our work day to a close and set out for our walk along the edge of Dartmoor, surely something that will be greatly missed.

We returned just as dark was beginning to set in and Anita informed us that she had relocated the new hens to one of the chicken houses in the garden for the night, although they didn’t seem too pleased to be displaced from their safe and secluded greenhouse space. We sat down about an hour later for our last evening meal with Anita and Dee, sharing fried eggs, chips, peas and tomatoes with yummy coffee flavored cake for pudding.

After our meal and tea for everyone, we set about the fun task of making butter. Anita had purchased a container of double cream several days back and brought out the butter churn she had purchased online and they’d used previously.

K poured in the cream and began to churn away, basically just bashing the cream as much as possible. In only a matter of minutes, we had butter. Next, it went into a strainer lined with cheesecloth to drain out the majority of the buttermilk before being transferred to a work surface for the next stage. Here, we used Scotch Hands to continue to press the buttermilk out until scarcely any was visible.

Finally, we added salt and placed onto a piece of waxed paper and chilled for about an hour. Whilst we waited, we watched the January and February episodes of the Tales from the Green Valley series that we had viewed a couple of nights back with Anita and Dee and were quite interested in. In these months, they handled the maintenance of the sheep, prepared basic herbal medicines, rebuilt the lavatory, did some hedge laying and also coppicing of the woodlands. Officially hooked on the program now, we ended the evening by revisiting our butter for one last, very special effect.

The final step for the butter was to form it into a nice little cake with a stamp on top using another nifty butter gadget our hosts had in stock, leaving our creation with a happy little cow made of butter molded into the top surface.

As our last evening drew to a close, we looked back on a lovey day and wound our way up the stairs to our last night of sleep and dreams of tomorrow’s new home.

Loving Simplicity