A silver lining
A pretty young hen gets a bad break in life.
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 email@example.com, and if you wish to include images, please send high resolution jpegs.