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Livestock

Goose Time – Fun & Games

Our goose rearing in 2012 started when we collected  9 eggs from a farm in a town nearby.  The farmer was a friendly chappy who lived on an apple farm.  He produced apple juice and shared a bottle of his own freshly pressed juice with us.  It was truly delicious.

geese1

On returning home, the large eggs fitted snugly in the incubator and all seemed well …. until we received a letter from the local electricity company a few days later … informing us they were turning the power off for most of one day while they connected up some new cables.

We had plenty of time to arrange a system of keeping the eggs warm in that period.  An old, small chest freezer – Adrian uses for keeping fermenting beer at a constant temperature – was filled with large flagons of hot water and when the time came the incubator was placed in the freezer.  We checked the temperature every half an hour or so to make sure it didn’t fluctuate too much.  So far so good …

Seven days after being in the incubator and we candled all 9 eggs.

geese2

7 look ok with one being a maybe and one being a dud.  So 7 goslings on their way – this could be fun !

Hatching day arrives – 4 pop out with no problems.  The fifth takes a little more time but is duly plonked under the heater just after hatching and  just before we nip out for coffee at friends – mistake number 1.

We return back after about and hour only to find the poor bird had died – it had got too hot under the lamp and wasn’t quite able to move away.  We should have left him in the incubator – oh well – that’s something we will remember next time.

We discovered that one chick died in the shell after about 25 days.

Egg number six had pipped but seemed to be taking ages to hatch.  We normally don’t interfere but I felt it had been taking far too long and the bird was getting weaker and weaker in the shell.  I made the decision to try to help him along – mistake number 2.

I took off too much shell and left the membrane attached – which duly shrank and hardened around the chick in the shell.  After much damping down and fingers crossed the poor little bird was free of the shell.  We left it in the incubator to dry out and after 24 hours it started to look OK.  It was put into the box with the others and slowly picked up.

We had decided to keep the geese in a large cardboard box, lined with paper and a heated lamp hung across the top.  This seemed to work fine until we noticed that two of the goslings legs were splayed apart and they couldn’t stand up properly – mistake number 3.

The paper was too slippy for the goslings and their muscles too weak to hold them up properly.  If this wasn’t fixed quickly they would never be able to walk properly.  So we improvised and made hobbles with a couple of hair bands.

geese3

It seems harsh but the soft cotton protected their tender legs and allowed them to walk and develop enough muscle strength to look after themselves.  The hobbles were removed after about 4 days and we couldn’t recognise which had been hobbled and which hadn’t.

As soon as the weather turned brighter we let them out in the garden during the day – bringing them back under the lamp of a night time.  Here’s a little video of them all enjoying the garden.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3U6kMCB_2iY&feature=results_main

The goslings were growing at a heck of a rate – except gosling number 6 who was still quite small.  With no major signs of anything really wrong we found the little gosling dead one morning.  Poor thing – oh well.

So we now have 4 healthy goslings – twice as many as last year !

geese4

One was camera shy.

geese5

Of course, drinking from your drinking bowl is so passé. All the cool kids swim in theirs!

And now …

Take a gaggle of geese. Add to small paddling pool. Stand back as the craziness unfolds!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52EZjhYpn7s&feature=plcp

It’s a wonderful experience to introduce a water bird to water for the first time. They have no idea what it is but they just know that unending joyous playtime awaits once they get past the terror of being surrounded by water.

We took this about a fortnight or so ago – no problems getting into or out of their splashpool now.  They are now starting to get their true feathers and at the moment look a little scruffy.

We have put them in the courtyard rather than leaving them to have the run of the garden – you cannot imagine the amount of mess 4 birds make!  They are enjoying the buttercups, vine and nut tree leaves in there.

Raising water birds is far more difficult than chickens but is more rewarding and fun !

 

 

 

From Hatch To Dispatch

We are very conscious that it has been a long time since we have updated our blog.   Life goes on, Adrian has had an extensive run of professional commitments outside of France and a limited opportunity to write.  Technology has moved along as well, with facebook and twitter taking care of most (but not all) of our information sharing needs.  I know plenty of people still read the blog and tune in once a while.  Here is an update focussing on a part of our French life.

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New bigger incubator this year with automatic humidity control.  Perfect for hatching goose eggs.

We  tried three goose eggs last year in our smaller incubator.  The eggs had to be turned manually every 6 hours.   One egg was not fertile and two birds died as they hatched.

They’d pipped and broken through  with their perfectly formed little beaks but then were both lost at the same time in their shells.  We were heartbroken.

 

New Incubator

HATCH

This year a new incubator, this incubator has a gentle rocking motion – you can see the eggs here at the most extreme angle of tilt.

Unfortunately, we had a little mishap during the incubation period.  The machine was accidentally unplugged for approximately 12 hours and the temperature had dropped to 18 degrees.  Once it was switched back on it was a case of fingers crossed and see what happens.

Out of 6 eggs, the two eggs which were in the middle, surrounded by the others, were the only two to hatch.

After the first signs of pipping and 34 hours work, the first gosling was almost out. His tiny little elbow looked to have done most of the work but he was flagging seriously.  So we broke a house-rule and helped him out.. couldn’t bear the notion of losing him to exhaustion when he was so close to hatching on his own.

The first gosling was tired, soggy and ok.  Number two was  going strong and the arrival of #1 sent the sibling into a frenzy,  chomping his way through his own shell.

Over the next weeks the two goslings grew from little balls of fluff to graceful birds.

10 weeks old

After 10 weeks there was a touch of grace and beauty in the geese .. but still some juvenile behaviour when prompted.  Despite their size they were still just babies, needing comforting by cuddling up to our feet and wary of strangers.

The garden was carpeted with the last of their baby-goose down.  They barely had any idea what their wings were for, all the length in the arm/wing bones had come on in the last few weeks and their experimental flapping always seemed to take them by surprise.

23 weeks old

We moved the geese off the paddock and into a shaded courtyard. They were spending their last few days finishing on corn, fruit windfalls and copious quantities of grapes from the garden.

We had hundreds of kilos of grapes at this time of year which the birds loved. Ripe, aromatic and filled with sugar they were piling on plenty of fat as a result.  Fat that will give us the worlds best roast spuds, rillets and lots of confit.

We decided that as soon as the night time temperatures dropped, the birds will start burning their fat and getting a whole new undercoat of downy feathers – both things that we have learned to avoid in goose rearing.

The day arrived. Day 163 as it happens… just 23 weeks old is no age for an animal, they were only just setting out on the road to adolescence.

DISPATCH

Goodbye Geese

Last weekend was 28 degrees and shorts and bikini weather. This weekend it was down to 12 overnight. This will signal to the birds that it’s time to fluff up for the winter so experience has taught us that it’s time to bump them off before they start to put effort into becoming super downy and burning up their own body fat.

The male (with some dark markings) had started to show some signs of thinking about being aggressive… so a sign that he was entering sexual maturity… another signal that it’s time to go.

So, down to the deed. They’re penned in to a small coral in our courtyard. No food overnight. We are deeply uncomfortable with the actual act and always take time to do it considerately and as swiftly as possible. A clean break of the neck immediately behind the head renders them insensible and then they’re bled out. It’s over very swiftly.

We can’t but help feel a huge wave of sadness though when they’re gone. Goodbyes are never easy.

Then some hard work begins… the plucking.

Almost bare !

We raise 50 birds a year for the table. Chickens and guinea fowl have been our stock in trade so far and we’re quite adept at the whole process. We can process four chickens from cluck to oven-ready in an hour. Not so with geese, they’re not only so much bigger but much harder to pluck.

We immerse them in a hot water bath at 64c for two minutes to loosen the feathers and ease plucking, but even this doesn’t always get everything out as easily as we’d like. It takes us two hours to do the two birds which have very few pin feathers and whilst downy not anywhere near as bad as the last birds we did.

Dressed out weight for each bird was 4.4Kg. Not bad when you consider that this is mostly *lawn* as an input to the equation. With added weeds, bugs, veg peelings, windfall fruit etc.

Very little wasted.

Heart goes to the cat!
Neck (and wings) into todays tom-yam thai soup.
The liver goes to paté.
The gesiers are confit’d
The body cavity fat is rendered down for the slow cooking of the confit and then preserved for the most savoury roast spuds ever.

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The garden is a lot quieter now and it seems a little empty but we are happy in the knowledge that these birds had a good healthy life and were raised in wonderful surroundings.   We will enjoy our Christmas dinner knowing we did the best for them in both their life and death !

Chucky Hilton Mews

An extension to the original Chucky Hilton ( parts one, two and three). We’d made a fundamental mistake with our first hen that went broody – we allowed her to stay in the main coop with the other hens. Only when it dawned on us that the chicks wouldn’t be too able to negotiate the patented chick-a-ramp did we decide that action was needed.

A new broody box and accompanying run!

chucky hilton mews

Making the best of what we found on a trip to the recycle centre to drop off some old scrap we ended up discovering an old solid wood chest of drawers. Too good to leave behind it came home for a little cabinetry and has been converted to a des-res for broody mothers and their new hatching chicks.

A quick lick of paint, a run created using some new wood and recycled chicken wire and a chance to use an air compressed nail gun (uber boys toy!) and the new Chucky Hilton Mews is ready to go.

Bit late in the season perhaps as we’ve already hatched 32 chicks (and one Duck!) so far this year but it’ll serve us well for the next few batches as hens are continuing to go ‘broody’

Minor panic.

Up at 5:30am this morning to let the birds out. Eleven little chicks who have hardened off outside have had the run of the back garden for a couple of weeks now so they’ve never been a worry.

Some very small week old chicks still sitting under their clucking (and pecking!) mother hen but they’re coming on strong and she acts as fearsome guardian. Funny to think that this magnificent mother hen was the very weakest of our first hatch last year and I spent days fretting that she was going to keel over at any second.

Opened up the chucky hilton for the rest of the adult birds and then back off to sleep. By the time I’d come round proper and made the morning coffee for us both… Joan had disappeared.

A few minutes later. Bad news. Four chicklets missing from the back garden. Seven of the eleven found cowering in the bushes and our neighbors cat (”TLC’) circling  menacingly. He’s a champion hunter and principal nemesis of our garden moles – he has a funny personality and is chief playmate for our kitten so we can forgive his indescretions when he breaks into the house to steal food.

But, was our forgiveness being stretched too far this time?

A frantic search for the missing birds. No sign. No feathers. No blood.

Wait for two hours to see if they reappear. Still no sign. Time to mount a proper search party.

Found them all in the end, safe and sound in the next field where they were all silently roosted up under some cover – they had the good sense to go to ground when the heat was on.

It did make me think though – ultimately we’re raising these animals for the table so their fate is sealed but our level of care and compassion for them when they’re growing up means… well, I wouldn’t want them to come to any undue harm.

TLC’s reputation is saved and by not chowing on them he’s redeemed himself, he’ll be welcome back once more.

Bird versus Machine

Well, it has been an interesting year so far, with regards to raising our own table birds.   After the fantastic success last year with our new incubator and the resulting 18/21 eggs hatching – 3 turning out to be non fertile – we were looking forward to the same outcome this year …

(more…)

A day of mythic proportions.

An unremarkable afternoons cooking soon turned into a day to remember. Remember, if you want to make an Omlette, you gotta break some eggs.

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First Time Mother

Well, it’s that time of year again when we put a load of eggs in the incubator and wait for the little cheeps of  delight 21 days later.  We had a bum start this year when the duck eggs turned out to be duds.  So after pitching these, we put in a selection of chicken eggs from both the old hens and the new girls from last year’s batches.

7 eggs = 7 chickens – enough to stock our freezer – assuming they all hatch.  But …

(more…)

Out for a duck

Meh, hatch abandoned.

No duck action in the eggs it seems, which is a real shame as I was rather looking forward to that but as the saying goes… don’t count your chickens… etc. etc.

So, a seven day delay under our belt and a fresh batch of hen eggs into the incubator.

If it walks like a duck…

… quacks like a duck… it might turn out to be a duck!

We’re getting the hatching year off to a slightly unlikely start. A trip to the Marché in town and the lady on the artisan goats cheese stand had a basket of surplus duck eggs for sale. I asked all the right questions, she gave me all the right answers. Her ducks were raised on a large paddock, ate only grass, a good mix of mamans et papas, eggs only just laid that morning etc. etc. Right. We’ll have them and within the hour they’re in the incubator.

Duck Eggs in the incubator

Duck eggs

Bit of a Squeeze, they’re all around the 90g mark and only just fit in the machine, so big that the clever auto-turning function can’t actually cope. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We should know in a week or so if they’re actually fertile or not and if so, they’ll be due to hatch in about a month.

Slow food, from hatch to dispatch in 126 days.

It’s been just a little over four months since we hatched our first clutch of chickens. Our first batch produced 4 cockerels and two hens. The hens get to stay as replacement layers for us – we keep a rolling stock of younger birds for this and in the past have bought young pullets at ‘point-of-lay’. One bird was the pick of the bunch and was given as a gift to our neighbours. He’ll get to spend his days cock-a-doodle-doo-ing, dancing and shimmying and having lots of sex. Not a bad life.

So, the day of reckoning for the remaining batch of three young cocks was upon us. Joan and I went to the paddock to collect them. They all started to cock-a-doodle-doo, so no mistaking that they were boys and each one was swiftly dispatched in the time honoured tradition. Plucking chickens is a doddle and all three were done in less than an hour… affording a brief photo opportunity! Line up boys, smile for the camera.

Three big cocks

We get amazingly deep orange eggs – unsurpassed by anything else I’ve ever tasted. The eggs are flavoursome, have a bit of body and have lovely creamy yolks. Cooking with them gives everything an amazing yellow cast. These birds, slow raised on a diet that’s mostly open pasture (more of that later!) the carcasses show a  mix of characteristics from their parents. No mistaking the big legs and tall gait of their father and a reasonably plump size. They’re not a meat breed specifically.. rather a cross of a handsome pure bred male and the assorted farmhouse layers we have about the place – all imbued with that amazing cast from a natural forage diet.

Oi! Get DOWN!

Oi! Get DOWN! Naughty kitteh gets shouted at. Again.

When they were dressed the finished oven-ready weights were 1.7kg, 1.68kg and 1.48kg. The kitten got the hearts as a treat for patiently ‘helping’ with the plucking and not actually nomming on them whilst we were working. She did have a few goes though – can hardly blame her as she could sense da flava!

In the months since we hatched these chicks I’ve given quite some thought to the lot of chickens. The average supermarket el-cheapo animal is intensively reared indoors on a fast-grow diet, never sees the light of day and meets it’s end in 43 days. We have excellent Label Rouge birds in the shops here which get to free range and are a minimum of 81 days old and make fine eating. An upmarket bird is available that’s 100 days old and if you wish to push the boat out a poulet fermier can be bought from the boucherie for about €15. What does that time buy you? A better standard of living for the bird, better meat.. more flavour… the animal is a different shape.. it’s got longer legs, less breast meatand with a darker, more intense flavour. A world apart from the pallid, plump, boneless slabs of pink breast meat sold in poly trays. It’s worth the wait.

So, back to our boys. The smaller bird is lined up for todays Sunday lunch and the other two go off into the freezer after a few days. The livers are retained for making a farce for stuffing the birds with. I’ve used minced pork shoulder, minced smoked bacon, black pepper, the livers from the birds, three softened onions, a whole branch of  sage and a respectable slug of Armagnac. Some bread crumbs to bind and it’s done. I fried off a patty like a little mini luxury burger as a cooks sample. Trés bien, chefs privilege and all that.

Necks have already made me a litre of stock which simmered for 7 hours on top of the wood stove yesterday and that just leaves the remarkable and oft overlooked Gizzard. The organ that does all of the work, turning the diet of the bird into the good stuff that we like to eat. And herein lies the key issue around food that we eat… if you take literally the phrase you are what you eat and actually think about it for a moment it really does ring true. I’ll expand.

Our chickens all free-range of course. We feed them a few handfuls of a compound poultry growers feed, a few handfuls of mixed grain and some feedcorn… but the vast majority of what they consume they have to get themselves from the garden / paddock.  They are voracious omnivores so whilst a good 80% of what they eat is grass they love nothing better than a worm, insect, bug, spider, small baby mouse, gecko or indeed… carrot peeling.  Having no teeth they require a gizzard loaded with tiny shards of gravel to munch up all the stuff they eat… and that’s what brings them their colour and flavour. Proof of the pudding is in the gizzard – so to speak.  It’d be rude of me not to dissect the fresh organ for you!

Gesiers de Volaiile

You are what you eat. It would seem grass, mostly.

So, with the chicken’s last meal chucked away, the hard plate inside the gizzard is removed and that sweet, intense dark meat can be used. I’m a huge fan of confit gesiers so I just lightly marinade the meat for 24 hours in sea salt, thyme, garlic and black pepper.

Gesiers

A Cheeky marinade for the gizzards

After a day spent soaking up that flavour they’re ready to be slowly poached in duckfat on the fire for 5/6 hrs until meltingly tender. Only the slightest tremble of the fat is required.. barely enough to ‘glop’ once in a while as they’re not cooked as such,  more taught a lesson in how to become something delicious. It’s a truism for any meat that the bits that are often considered poorer often have the very best flavour. The Gesiers will store for months if kept under the fat and makes a superb warm salad when re-warmed in a pan, chopped and tossed with a mesclun salad.

So, enough offal.. what about the real deal. Well, it was superb. Good, flavourful meat, the breast was meltingly tender, the legs with good strong flavor of real chicken. The farce a particular hit and the resultant fond made from a reduction of the cooking juices and a little vegetable water was pure heaven.

agreable supper

December 6th, Slender thighs and ample dark breasts

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