New Term, New Friends.

I hope everyone has enjoyed their summer break! I think by the lack of posts you can tell we have been taking some time off too!

It’s only fitting then that we start with some very special news!

We were overwhelmed by one of our children, Mason, who first attended The Ark with Fieldhead Carr Primary school and then went on to join our holiday clubs over the summer.

Mason had been secretly fund raising for The Ark by setting himself some difficult personal challenges and by overcoming these he has managed to raise an incredible £200!!

This means so much to us as we are self funding, so for one of our children to do this for us is just amazing and we are ever so grateful!

We thought that it would be only fair that Mason had a say in what we spent the money on, and after chatting we agreed to buy some goats to add to our family!

So it is with great pleasure, I introduce our 3 new nanny goats, Doris, Cynthia, and Alberta.

In a future post, we’ll talk a little bit more about their breed and our plan for them here at The Ark.

But for now, a great big Thank You to Mason!

All cooped up

Our quails are growing well and are a nice size now. They almost have all their adult face feathers and will be ready to go outside shortly. We’ve been slowly weaning them off their heat lamps over the last week or so.

Zoe is almost at the age where she should be laying eggs, so we’re keeping our eye out for our first home grown quail egg.

We do have a few chicken eggs in the incubator that are due for hatching any day now too, so we do need to get the quails outside and make room in our brooder for the new arrivals.

We’ve been scribbling down plans for the new quail pen our students are going to help build.

Quails don’t need a lot of space, they naturally live in the brush and undergrowth so they like a nice shady spot and things to hide under. When quails get startled they tend to jump straight up in the air, if the pen is too high, the force they hit the roof with can cause some serious injuries. So we’re going to keep it fairly low to prevent this from happening.

Unlike chickens they can’t free range out on the paddocks. They don’t have that instinct to come back to the coop on a night. So we need to make sure it’s a nice safe and comfortable space where they can live all year round.

We lost our first flock of chickens to a hungry fox last year, since then we have had a small electric fence surrounding their pen that we turn on at night. It seems to do a good job of keeping the predators out, but it also means our sheep can’t get in to graze and keep the area tidy.

We do usually rotate the pen so the chickens have fresh grass to scratch in on a morning before we let them out. But with us having a few broody hens lately we’ve not wanted to disturb them. This has meant the grass has become fairly wild, and today’s job was to move the pen and let the sheep at the juicy grass. The ground under the pen will also have time to recover now too.

Hopefully next week we will have some new baby chicks to show. Until then, take care!

All sheep’s and sizes

New uniform day! We’re both quite excited about this. We’ve been open again to schools and home education classes since the lockdown rules were eased so we thought it was about time we included some branding.

Which side of the sheep has the most wool?

The outside

After shearing our two wethers, we’ve now moved onto our Suffolk x Herdwick ewes with their darker fleeces. They’re a lot smaller and easier to handle than the texel cross boys. Still hard work shearing by hand.

The grow out pen for the quails is now complete too. They will stay in here until they’re ready to be moved outside and away from the heat lamp. Their colourings are just starting to show through now, so we will be able to sex them and split them into groups so the boys don’t start fighting.

Zoe enjoying her new pen

We have got an excess of quails in here though. We really only want a small breeding stock of 6 or so females and a male. The current total is 24! So if anyone would like to take a few off our hands for a lovely source of home grown eggs, or for a sustainable source of meat, we’d be more than happy to help.

Shear joy!

Better late than never. We started shearing our boys today, Barry seemed pretty happy to be getting his coat off for the summer.

Larry on the other hand isn’t always so cooperative. He’s always one of the fussy ones even when getting his hooves trimmed.

We don’t know how to process wool yet, so we’re giving this away free to anyone who might be able to make use of it. If you know anyone who can clean and spin wool and might like to give a demonstration please get in touch!

Stop hoofing around

The plan at the end of last week was to get our sheep sheared, but we’re still waiting on our delivery of new shears.

In the meantime it was farrier day so all the horses, aside from moody Maggie, got their hooves trimmed.

The quails have also quickly outgrown the brooder we use for our chickens, so work has started on a new brooder for those.

We plan to build a small pen for them to live outside as well once they’ve grown their feathers out, but until then they still need the heat lamp on a night when the temperature drops.

It would be rude not to finish such a lovely day with a barbecue and a hack around the local bridleways.

Let’s hatch a plan!

Blue Araucana and Chocolate Maran eggs

Now the incubator is free again, it’s time to try and bring some more diversity to our chicken flock. We wanted to try and hatch some chickens that lay a variety of different egg colours. The breeds we have already are also not prolific layers, they like to have the odd day off so it will be nice to have a few more hens laying too.

In the incubator, due 21/06

Our first two chicks from the broody hens are also starting to test out their little wings.

Before the momma hens let them part company they try to teach them everything they need to know to survive. Part of this means teaching them how to perch to stay safe on a night. It seems like they’ve picked the picnic tables to start practicing on. Hopefully soon they will be sleeping with the rest of the flock up in the coop.

You may have seen one of our older chickens looking like she’s about to jump in the kitchen and bake some cakes.

Nice outfit Doris

Cockerels always seem to have a favourite hen, this unfortunately can cause damage to their back and feathers. Earlier in the year one of our bigger cockerels injured her, badly slicing through the skin on her side. We really didn’t think she was going to make it through the rest of the day, but thankfully she made a full recovery. Feathers take a while to grow back so to protect her from the sun and from further injury she’s now sporting a beautiful chicken saddle courtesy of Breck Top Farm.

That’s all for now, but sheep shearing time is upon us and we’re hoping to get the boys sheared by the end of the week. Stay tuned!

Quailed it!

After the poor performance of our first hatch. We’ve had better luck this time and now got a few friends for Zoe (our first white quail). 23 in fact! She’s taken on the mothering role like a star, showing them how to feed and drink.

During the first week or so we have to provide water in a shallow dish with pebbles. The chicks are so small and unsteady on their feet, without the pebbles it becomes quite easy for them to fall in and not make it back out.

Quails reach maturity and start laying their eggs in as little as 6 to 8 weeks. Unlike chickens that can take up to 6 months.

The fast growing nature of these birds and the fact they don’t require a great deal of space makes them an ideal alternative to chickens, and a great way to start producing some of your own food.

Eggciting Times!

Where does the time go? April definitely seems like one of the busiest months of the year for us.

It seems so long ago since we were first getting the spring bunting out and baking for the arrival of the lambs and chicks.

A quick little bug hotel project underway by one of our students

When you have plenty of nesting boxes but all the hens decide they want to try and sit in the same one to lay their eggs.

We werent very successful with the first batch of quail eggs we tried to incubate, but we are trying again and currently have the incubator full with nearly 40 eggs.

As well as incubating our own eggs. We had a couple of our Barnevelders go broody. Most people try and stop their hens from doing this as they stop laying eggs during this time. So no poached eggs on toast for us for breakfast. But we decided to just let them sit and see if they would hatch their own. Something we didn’t know at this point is that broodiness is also contagious, and soon we had most of the flock trying to sit on their eggs.

3 Weeks later and we have 4 baby chicks. We were going to take a hands off approach with these little ones, letting nature and the mother hen figure things out. Unfortunately we lost a couple over the first night, we dont know why they didnt survive, but the remaining two are now going strong.

It has been interesting comparing the natural born chicks to our own incubated chickens. The mum takes them out of the coop after the first couple of days to start finding food and water, and showing them how to drink. Even in the pouring rain they dart about finding shelter under mum when they need it. With the incubated chicks, we keep them sheltered under a heat lamp for around 6 weeks before slowly introducing them to the flock, where there are inevitably arguments to figure out the new pecking order. With natural born chicks they seem like they are already fully integrated and the rest of the flock looks out for them.

Thats all for now folks. Hopefully we’ll have some updates on the quails shortly and our sunflower growing competition!

Hay There!

As the grass gets greener and the shoots get longer, hopefully this will be the last hay delivery of the year. Im sure the boys will be disappointed as they love raiding the hay store before we can get it all stowed away. We have one breeding ram, (pictured right), and two wethers (castrated males) which were orphans we raised by bottle. Other than just causing complete mayhem, the wethers keep our ram company while the girls are kept separate in their own flock.

Spring into action!

Well it has been a while since our last update. It seems like the cold winter months are finally withering away, and that beautiful spring sun has well and truly arrived. The grass is starting to turn green again, no more frozen water pipes, the sheep have a spring in their step and the horses are enjoying having their rugs off through the day. They love being able to roll and around and have a good old scratch in the mud! But that also means there is a lot of grooming to keep on top of! Our little helpers have been great in lending a hand.

The longer days also mean the chickens have ramped up their egg production. Opening the nest boxes to find three girls all trying to sit on each other in the same nest box is an amusing sight. Its not just people who have their favourite spot on the sofa it seems!