Cheese and Quackers

This weekend, a friend of ours from London came to stay. It was nice for us to have some company again (we don’t get many visitors out in the sticks) and to be in a position to offer a little bit of a countryside retreat to one of our long standing friends/drinking companion’s.

We picked him up from the train station and on our way home, we had to pull over to rescue an escaped lamb. Without thinking, mid-conversation, my other half stopped the car, engine still running, got out, grabbed the lamb and dropped it on the other side of the gate, much to the relief of its bleating mother on the other side. It was a brilliant moment when he got back in the car and said “Now, where was I?” Perfectly normal thing to happen round here!

We got home and after a tour of the house and surroundings, we drank a bit (a lot) of wine and chatted till the early hours. So I wasn’t surprised when I woke up the next morning with a bit of a fuzzy head. I would’ve loved a lie in, but it’s not possible when you’ve got two dogs jumping on your head and a cockerel telling you it’s time to get up. Very loudly. So I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed, put my coat on over my pyjamas, pulled on my wellies and began the animals chores. 

We’ve recently put up a fence to keep the ducks and chickens enclosed, so they are able to safely free range without escaping our garden and getting into any mischief. We haven’t quite finished the chicken wire on the gate though, so there’s a wooden pallet there temporarily to prevent them getting out. In order to get in the garden, I have to move the pallet in order to open the gate, so I can easily carry through the replenished food and water containers.

The day before, we had bought three new chickens; A Devon Blue, a Splash Maran and a Chestnut Ranger. Three very good looking girls. When they arrived, our resident cockerel Rocky was so pleased, he was singing and dancing for them. Quite a sight to behold! I’d never seen him so excited. Within about ten minutes he’d already mated one. Chickens don’t really hang about, it is Spring after all and what better way to welcome his new arrivals than showing them a bit of ‘love’.

Anyhow, with my fuzzy head, I fed and watered the birds, but I was so distracted with our new additions and Rocky’s continued mating dance, that I didn’t notice the ducks sneak past me and out of the gate I’d accidentally left open. Whoops. Once I realised what had happened I began a frantic search up and down the lanes, in our next door neighbour’s garden (where they were the last time they’d escaped) and they were nowhere to be found. Shit. I’d only gone and lost the ducks.

So like any considerate girlfriend, I went and woke up my other half and demand he come and help me find them. Not the best way to wake someone up in case you’re wondering. Particularly when you’ve been drinking wine the night before. We also enlisted the help of my friend, who had heard the commotion and whether he liked it or not, I think felt obliged to help. So we all went off in different directions and despite having checked in our neighbour’s garden about three times beforehand, we eventually found them there. The relief I felt made me a little emotional and also a bit sick. Whether that was the worry of losing my ducks or the excessive wine from the night before, who knows (probably a combination of both), but I was glad it was over. As were my partner and friend, who were both now wondering what the hell just happened, 7am is way too early for duck drama.

After we’d recovered from the ducks’ escapades, we spent the day mooching about Tiverton and visited the Deli Shack at the Pannier Market. It sells lots of foodie treats, including artisan cheese and salami. We bought a heroic selection of both, whilst the knowledgeable owner, explained each cheese to us, giving us a sample of everything we wished to try. I was in heaven. 

I love cheese. Mainly to eat, but I also went on a cheese making course a few years ago, and I had lots of fun learning how to make it. In a half day course we covered how to make Halloumi, Mascarpone and Mozzarella. I would still love to learn more and have my heart set on buying a cheese press to try my hand at making cheddar and gouda. It’s on my very long list of ‘things to do’, like bake my own bread, make my own wine and grow my own veg. I’ll get round to it at some point.

Anyhow, the owner recommended we visit a local wine shop which had speciality wines that would compliment the cheeses we’d just bought. Seeing as the fresh air had cleared our hangovers, we thought it would be rude not to stock up on more wine for the coming evening. For dinner, we had an epic feast of cheese, salami and wine and in the process I learnt a lot more about the subject that I had previously. I also discovered my new favourite cheese is now Goddess No.5, a handmade cheese using milk from Guernsey cows. I encourage you to give it a go if you like your cheese, you won’t regret it.

It turned out to be a successful, educational, if eventful weekend. Our new chickens seem to be settling in and it’s been a good few hours since the last duck drama. May it long continue.

Lastly, a quick update on the incubation process of the chicken eggs I’m hatching. It’s been 7 days since they’ve been in the incubator and after 5 days I candled the eggs to check for fertility. You do this by shining a bright light at the egg in a dark room, and this enables the contents of the egg to become visible. If there’s nothing to see other than the yolk or a black or red spot/ring, then the egg is likely infertile or the embryo died, what is referred to as ‘early death’. I am happy to say that all 7 eggs had red blood vessels developing, meaning they are all fertile and actively growing! 

This is great news and means that 7 little lives are growing and developing everyday. The incubator I have is a Brinsea Mini Advanced, which tries to replicate as closely as possible the natural incubation process that a hen would carry out. Including automatically turning the eggs at regular intervals (to ensure the heat she provides is evenly spread around the whole egg) and even a cooling period once a day, where a hen would naturally get off the nest to eat and drink. All very clever! Can’t wait to see the finished result. Two weeks to go!

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