Mar 112014
 
pullet for sale at fifesmallholder

Silkie, Leghorn, Legbar, Maran, and hybrid laying chickens for sale at fifesmallholder

Hatching time has started again and in a few weeks our chicks will be ready to start to lay eggs.  This is called ‘point of lay’  and these birds are called pullets.  They are all female.  Chickens start to lay eggs about 17 weeks old, and have moved from eating chick crumbs to pellets and wheat.

white silkie chic

We have several cockerels of different breeds so have hatched:

cockerel    hybrid laying hens (medium brown eggs) hardy and reliable layer

 Hybrid chickens rarely go broody, and will lay reliably throughout the year.  Pure bred chickens are more likely to only lay between April to September.  A hybrid born late summer should lay throughout its first winter with or without light in the hen shed.

leghorn poultry  pure bred leghorn (large white eggs) a good reliable layer 

Unlike other pure breeds leghorns lay well throughout the year but will require light in the hen shed in winter.  For a large fowl breed they are not too big despite the size of their eggs, and are therefore cheaper to feed than some of the larger breeds.  Good value for money.

 white silkie henpure bred silkies (small cream eggs) a good pet unreliable layer

If you do not have much room, a small hen shed, or do not want much damage in your garden then these are a good choice.  Although they only lay through the breeding season (April to September) they make up for this in character.  A docile chicken, that is lovely to look at and most are good with children.  We have a beardie cockerel so our chicks have extra character.

We now have pure bred cream crested legbars (large blue eggs) seasonal layer

These chickens produce lovely blue eggs and can be used to cross with any other hen and will produce a variation of blue or green eggs.  These chickens are auto-sexing and this works even on the cross chickens saving you the expense of rearing cockerels when these are unwanted.

We now have two unrelated maran cockerels and hope to start breeding pure marans over the summer of 2014 – these lay dark brown eggs.

We are also open to swapping cockerels to improve the gene pool – if you have a young healthy man who you would like to swap with one of ours then please contact us to discuss.   

Why buy new chickens?

bearded silkie chicken

Hens that start laying eggs in the autumn should lay all winter in the first year and will tide you over if your other hens stop as the daylight reduces in the winter months.  We move our hens into their winter housing which has a light to help encourage our girls to lay in the winter.  The light is not on all the time, only for a few hours each day, but it is enough to give our girls a rest and keep producing a few eggs.

free range white female silkie hen

How do you introduce new chickens to your old chickens?

It is always advisable to quarantine your new stock (in case of disease) and make sure that they have been treated for worms and mites before introducing them to your flock.  This is best done at night, however there will be some disorder until the hens sort out the pecking order.  To reduce the stress and bullying make sure that there is more than one feeding and drinking station so that new chickens are able to access food.

For sale

If you like what you see please get in touch.  Check out my poultry page.

Oct 282012
 
autumn sunrise at fife smallholder

Photographic opportunities are endless on our smallholding

  

mother and baby

Stepping Out

 I recently invested in a new digital camera and have renewed my love of photography, this website is full of pictures of  views from the smallholding, and the flora and fauna within the smallholding.  It gives another perspective on life, as well as chronicling events and the seasons.  Check out our Gallery page on the website or our flickr web page for more pics.

pink rose

My photographs are just as widely sought online as the web pages, and there are plenty of people out there who use this medium to promote themselves,  their website, and earn an income.  Other people develop a business using their photographic skills like a Wwoofer who stayed with us this summer.  Her work is good (and includes some pics of my labradors) here is a shameless plug for her website.

gundog

Useful Links

 October 28, 2012  employment, fungi, income, photography, post archive Tagged with: , , ,
Jul 232012
 
22july12 076

Roses have a special place in my heart, and are a big part of my garden here at fifesmallholder.  However they have to smell as good as they look, and as well as garden roses I also have several wild roses in my woodland.  Nice open blooms that attract bees and pollinators.  I also enjoy taking pictures of them and want to share some with you:

 

woodland rose

cottage garden

 

rose and bud

 

roses on the smallholding

 

 

cottage garden flower

 

 

flower with raindrops

 

pink rose

 July 23, 2012  Flowers, garden, photography, post archive Tagged with: , , ,
Mar 062012
 
scented spring flower

Pollen and nectar rich plants in the spring garden

Although I always have something in flower in my garden throughout the year, it is springtime when I get the most excited.  I have a lot of spring bulbs and my perennial flowers and shrubs are a good source of nectar and pollen to any bumble bees or honey bees that venture out in warm sunny days.

nectar or pollen spring flower for insects

An example of plants that flower during this time that are beneficial to insects and pollinators are:

  • gorse
  • mahonia
  • snowdrops
  • willow 
  • crocus (especially yellow)
  • pulmonaria

A range of some of these plants can be purchased from our shop.

lungwort

Check out my Plants For Bees post or click here for a link to some simple guidelines to encourage the sustainable build-up of pollinating insects – what to plant and when.

  • Annuals: Garden annuals are useful for both pollen and nectar. 
  • Perennials: These plants are a real boon to any insect reliant on nectar or pollen, as they provide a food source year after year, and require little input from gardeners once they are established.
  • Bulbs: The early pollen and nectar from bulbs is vital to bees each Spring. Some are found wild, whilst others are cultivated.
  • Trees: Fruit and nut trees are much loved by bees.
  • Shrubs: A number of ordinary garden shrubs are useful to bees for both nectar and pollen.
  • Weeds: What man might consider a weed, is a bee’s bread and butter, so think before you make your garden too tidy.
  • Vegetables: The flowers of a number of vegetables are attractive to bees, though normally these are harvested before the plant reaches the flowering stage. If just a few plants at the end of a row could be left to set seed, this would be beneficial to bees, and could save the gardener money on next year’s seed.
Dec 282011
 

Importance of short tailed or field voles to conserving predators and raptors

In the winter when the rough grass has stopped growing and weeds have died down in our wood, the runs or motorways of the short tailed or field vole become more prominent.  This little creature plays a very big part in the ecosystem that exists within our smallholding, because it is the main source of food for the Kestrels and Tawny Owls found at Fife Smallholder.  Both these birds have nationally been in decline, and their presence here is a good example of the part that smallholdings can play in conserving wildlife in the countryside.

What does a short tailed or field vole look like?

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Description

Body length 10 – 12 cm. Grey-brown above, cream-grey below. The tail is less than 40% of body length, the tail is also much shorter than that of a bank vole. Ears are almost completely covered by fur, whereas those of bank vole are more prominent. The eyes are relatively smaller than those of a bank vole.

 Reproduction

Between March and December, the short-tailed field vole may have as many as four to five litters containing 4-6 young. The young females are ready to mate  at 6 weeks.

Where do short tailed field voles live?

They are found generally in moist grassy habitats, such as woodland, marsh, or river banks.  Here we find them in the rough grass in our wood and wild areas.

Although they dig burrows, they usually build nests above ground and build intricate runways through grasses.  Sometimes, voles will use the burrows of moles to get around.  Many vole families will share the runway systems.

English: Patterns of vole runs Tracks left in ...

Voles feed on a variety of herbaceous plants and grasses. Voles feed on above and below ground plant parts such as foliage, seeds, stems, roots and bulbs. As food becomes scarce in autumn and early winter, voles may seek the tasty cambium of small tree roots, crowns and trunks.

Short tailed field voles can damage trees

 Trees chewed by short tailed field voles are stunted, spindly and have very little foliage. Leaves can even show signs of reddening and other water-stress symptoms.  Damaged trees can look like they have been whittled near the trunk. The chew marks made by a vole can be recognized by: the pattern, location, and the size of the bite marks. Voles feed close to the ground, if not below ground.
For trees, there are protective barriers available. These tree guards can be purchased or homemade. Guards are often made out of plastic.  Make sure that the height of the guard is at least 12 inches and also plant the base of the guard deep enough that voles cannot burrow beneath them, 6-10 inches is enough. Check these guards regularly because you may have just made a cosy vole home!

Who eats field voles?

Kestrels and Tawny Owls eat the voles that are found in our wood and rough grassland on the smallholding.  As an important food source for owls and some other predators, their population peaks and troughs in a four-year cycle.  As they travel, field voles leave a trail of scent to warn off other voles. Hunting birds of prey, such as kestrels (identified by its characteristic hovering and perch hunting techniques) look out for the UV light that radiates from the trails.

Relationship between voles and Tawny Owls

Deutsch: Ein Waldkauz (Strix aluco). English: ...

Tawny Owls prey primarily on short tail voles, field mice and shrews. They will hunt at day and at night but usually at first and last light. They will hunt in and around wooded areas and in fields. Tawny Owl numbers have dropped dramatically over the last 80 or so years. As the Tawny Owl (like most birds of Prey) are very high up on the food chain,  any human changes that destruct and fragment the habitats and environments of animals at the bottom, invariably affects things at the top.

Reasons for the decline of the tawny owl

  •  Hedgerow destruction and replacement with maintenance free fencing. Great for Modern Farming but bad for mice and voles
  •  Increase in stocking density of Sheep and greater silage production. Lots of food for Cows and Sheep but means that the grass is too short for voles to run around in.

Relationship between field voles and Kestrels

Kestrel populations have declined over the last 25 years, but has remained stable over the last few years.  Population fluctuations generally tend to parallel that of its main prey species (the short-tailed vole) which has been affected by farming intensification and the lost of rough grassland.  The Kestrel has also suffered from increased competition from other raptors that have recovered from the low population levels in the second half of the 20th century.
The short tailed field vole is the preferred diet of Kestrels and breeding performance is closely tied in to the three-year cycles of this small mammal. In peak vole years Kestrel territory occupation is high, clutch sizes large and brood survival high. When the vole numbers bottom out after the peak the Kestrel occupation and productivity also falls.

The effect of snow on voles and predators

Snow can be good for voles as it protects their runs from the Owls and Kestrels, and voles can benefit from a fall of snow because it provides an insulating blanket over their territory.  Voles can eat roots below ground, and can therefore continue to find food.

Predators such as Tawny Owls and Kestrels find it much harder to catch voles after a snow fall and this weather can put great stress on these birds.

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