A sil­ver lin­ing

A pretty young hen gets a bad break in life.

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Tales Of A Country Vet -

The Mc­carthys were se­ri­ous dairy farm­ers. They were run­ning 600 cows on good land plus a runoff for their re­place­ment heifers up near the bush line. They had been do­ing it for 30 years and they must have been think­ing of re­tir­ing, but none of their fam­ily wanted to be farm­ers. This was a shame as they had built up an im­pres­sive herd of Friesian cows with sound breed­ing go­ing back sev­eral gen­er­a­tions.

It meant Beth and Bill were still do­ing a lot of the hard yards them­selves, but at Beth’s urg­ing, Bill had taken on a man­ager and the man­ager had taken on a milker. Beth and Bill filled in as re­lief milk­ers at week­ends and hol­i­days, and Bill kept his hand in with stock work and farm main­te­nance. The farm was his life, and he was strug­gling to de­velop in­ter­ests out­side of it.

Beth, on the other hand, was happy to get out of the shed rou­tine. She shifted her un­der­stand­ing of ge­net­ics and blood­lines from breed­ing and se­lect­ing a top line of Friesian cows to chooks.

She just loved them. Rhode Is­land reds, sil­ver Wyan­dottes, black and golden buff Or­p­ing­tons. Old breeds, quite rare and un­usual, and all of them very pretty. Soon, she was known as a good source of breed­ing stock or fer­tile eggs.

We would see the flock while pass­ing be­tween the house and the cowshed if the Vet got called out for rou­tine work like preg­nancy test­ing or lepto vac­ci­na­tions. There would al­ways be a colour­ful flut­ter of wings scat­ter­ing in front of the car.

Her best in­di­vid­u­als were con­fined, one rooster to two hens, in tidy lit­tle chicken runs that were shifted ev­ery cou­ple of days. The fer­tilised pure­bred eggs were worth far more than the run-of-the-mill eat­ing eggs pro­duced by the hotch potch of birds out­side.

Most of the flock free-ranged dur­ing the day, go­ing into a com­mu­nal house at night. They would hang about the shed for a while af­ter their break­fast, then wan­der out into the near­est pad­docks to scratch un­der cow pats, or dig at the com­post heap be­hind the or­chard. It was chicken heaven. Most of the time.

When Beth Mccarthy drove up to the clinic one af­ter­noon, we as­sumed she was af­ter some prod­uct for the dairy herd. But no, she came in car­ry­ing a card­board box that was mak­ing scuf­fling noises.

“It’s one of my young ones. I wanted to breed from this one later on, but now – just look at her!”

She lifted the bird out of the box. It sat calmly in her hands, but one leg was hang­ing down at right an­gles.

“That bloody Ben­nie. He came roar­ing through on his bike on the way to the shed. He was prob­a­bly late. Hens scat­tered ev­ery­where, but this one was a bit slow.” It was a sil­ver laced Wyan­dotte, a big plump chook with a bright red rose comb. Her feath­ers were an amaz­ing paint­ing of white and black, each in­di­vid­ual feather white in the cen­tre but ringed with a black mar­gin. A poul­try fancier’s dream.

The Wyan­dotte has been around as a breed since the 1870s. No-one is sure of their ori­gins, but they may have come from cross breed­ing dark Brahma and span­gled Ham­burgs. Their size and egg-lay­ing

abil­i­ties have kept them pop­u­lar as a dual pur­pose breed for life­style farm­ers.

A quick look showed the lower leg was frac­tured, the break about 50mm be­low the el­bow. The skin was grazed but not badly dam­aged. The lower leg and foot were a bit swollen.

“Bill was go­ing to just wring its neck but it’s a good hen. Wasn’t her fault, I’ve told that boy to slow down past the sheds.”

‘That boy’ was pre­sum­ably Ben Wilkins, the milker, a keen-enough lad in his late teens. But yes… a lad, with a large trail bike that he pre­ferred on the job to the more se­date quad.

“I guess be­ing re­al­is­tic, I don’t want to spend hun­dreds on her on mi­cro surgery but I just wanted to know if there was any­thing we could do,” said Beth. “Or are they like horses?”

“Well, I wouldn’t know where to aim the ri­fle,” said the Vet. “I haven’t done it be­fore but it should be pos­si­ble to splint the leg, then we need to keep her con­fined for a few weeks. It’s worth a try.

“Well, I could con­fine her in a broody box.” “That would do.” “I might even stick some eggs in with her.”

So I held the hen while the Vet puffed some an­tibi­otic pow­der onto the grazed skin. He care­fully pulled the lower leg back into its proper align­ment, then started the splint­ing, wrap­ping the leg in a layer of soft gauze dress­ing.

“Have we got any sort of flat stick ly­ing around?”

A glance at the para­phena­lia used for dogs showed noth­ing suit­able.

“Umm, Bill took the car to town last week,” says Beth. “He is an ice cream junkie, I’m sure there will be a Topsy stick or two in the car.”

Sure enough, she came back with a cou­ple of ice cream sticks. We snapped them to fit the lower leg, then the Vet wrapped it up in gauze. Fi­nally, a firm few winds of vet wrap, a won­der­ful cure-all ban­dage that sticks to it­self and holds firm, but is eas­ily and pain­lessly re­moved.

Apart from try­ing to flap away while the leg was straight­ened, the hen sat qui­etly through­out the op­er­a­tion.

“Nice bird. Very docile and easy to han­dle.”

“Yes, I don’t go with any­thing too flighty,” said Beth.

The Vet de­posited the bird back in her box, closed the lid and handed it over.

“Bring her back in a week and we will check for in­fec­tion and see if the bone is heal­ing.”

A week later we had a lit­tle look-see. The graz­ing had scabbed over nicely, the swelling had gone down, and a bit of a lump around the break sug­gested the bone was knit­ting.

“She is try­ing to put a bit of weight on it but I still have her in the broody box,” said Beth. “I gave her half a dozen eggs, she broke a cou­ple of them clump­ing around the first day, but now she is con­tent to sit.”

A month later Beth dropped into the clinic and re­ported that her hen was do­ing well. “She now has a limp and four chicks.” “Well, that is just eg­gsel­lent,” said the Vet, but Beth was ready.

“I hope the bill won’t be too eggspen­sive!”

We were plan­ning our au­tum­nal cider mis­sion, won­der­ing how best to press our ap­ples, hav­ing tried elec­tric juicers last year. Hen­ning looked thought­ful, then made his way to the shed to cre­ate just the thing to slowly press gor­geous sweet juice from Malus do­mes­tica. A few hours later he’d made a bar­rel and frame, lined with cheese­cloth, and brought out his hy­draulic jack to do the ac­tual press­ing.

We searched high and low for a col­lect­ing tray to no avail, so Hen­ning headed back to the shed and re-emerged with a wooden col­lect­ing tray which we cov­ered with plas­tic.

Lee, Kati, Hen­ning and I picked 70kg of Royal Gala from an or­chard down the road, rows of trees droop­ing liq­uid sun­shine in a skin. At home we sorted them into boxes of the blem­ished and non-blem­ished.

“Eat ap­ples!” I com­manded and we munched crisply. The first pre­serve we made from this bulk ap­ple pur­chase was sauce, and then bot­tled ap­ples with sul­tanas and cin­na­mon.

The fol­low­ing day we got to work quar­ter­ing and de-cor­ing, smash­ing the ap­ples in a steel bucket with a cov­ered sledge ham­mer, then putting the pieces into the press to ex­tract a flow­ing river of sweet­ness.

The juice was poured into a con­tainer (we used Cam­den tablets to ster­ilise it),

the yeast was added the next day, then it was left in a warm dark place to brew.

Af­ter see­ing this recipe (at left) in New Zealand Life­style Block, we de­cided to make ap­ple cider vine­gar too. We kept the cores, added boiled, cooled wa­ter, honey and some cider vine­gar to start it, put the mix­ture into AG jars with ma­te­rial hats tied on, and left them to brew too.

In the next week or two it will bub­ble and burp, pro­cess­ing and fer­ment­ing, the happy bac­te­ria do­ing their thing, trans­form­ing it into a health tonic for hu­mans and an­i­mals.

Ap­ple trees pro­vide an­cient food from the Gods for us and bees to en­joy, a beau­ti­ful hard wood for tim­ber, craft­ing, meat and fish smok­ing, fur­ni­ture, fire­wood, and a de­li­cious fruit. They are trees worth per­se­ver­ing with, even though there is fierce com­pe­ti­tion from a myr­iad of pests and disease, and ev­ery year we wres­tle with pos­sums, aphids, wind, and weeds. We nur­ture our trees, and we’ve planted a few va­ri­eties in the last six years: Granny Smith, Fuji, Peas­good Non­such, Cox’s Or­ange Pip­pin and my favourite, Monty’s Sur­prise. We look for­ward to the day we can har­vest enough ap­ples to brew cider from our five acre piece of Taranaki par­adise. YOU’RE GO­ING to need a ‘mother’ for this. A ‘mother’ is the slimy brown stuff that forms in the bot­tom of a cider vine­gar bot­tle or it can take the form of a ‘mush­room’ float­ing on the sur­face. This is the good bac­te­ria that cause fer­men­ta­tion.

When mak­ing ap­ple cider in this way you will be­gin to no­tice that dif­fer­ent sweet­en­ers, vine­gar ‘moth­ers’ and ap­ple va­ri­eties give you dif­fer­ent flavours. method Place the cores and peels into a wide mouth con­tainer that has been ster­ilised like a big glass jar or small plas­tic bucket. Pour in the boiled, cooled wa­ter un­til it is cov­er­ing the ap­ple ma­te­rial plus a bit. Stir in the sweet­ener dis­solved in a cup of boil­ing wa­ter and the cider vine­gar with its ‘mother’. Secure a clean cloth over the con­tainer with string or a rub­ber band. Leave it in a dark place close at hand so you can keep an eye on it – it should start bub­bling af­ter 7-10 days. If none oc­curs, you may have to add half a tea­spoon of bread-mak­ing yeast to help it along. If white mold forms on the sur­face within the first month, you can do one of two things: if it both­ers you, you can skim it off gen­tly with­out dis­turb­ing the contents OR you can leave it alone. Af­ter a month, the bub­bling should have stopped and sour­ing will be­gin. Care­fully and slowly strain the liq­uid through cheese­cloth, rinse the ap­ple cores and skin, then pop them back in. Af­ter two months you should be able to tell if it’s ready by tast­ing and smelling the vine­gar. Once it’s ready, strain all the cores and peels through cheese­cloth and bot­tle your vine­gar in ster­ilised bot­tles, ready for use. We’d love to hear about your prop­erty and its an­i­mals, your projects, your life’s mo­ments. Email edi­tor@nzlifestyle­block.co.nz, and if you wish to in­clude images, please send high res­o­lu­tion jpegs.

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