Monday, June 8, 2009

……and don’t forget the apple for the pig!

It’s 6.30a.m. I crawl out of bed to chop up a lettuce, a cabbage, several tomatoes and half a loaf of bread; untangle a carrot from the bundle making sure to include the tops and don’t forget the apple for the pig. This is the start of my daily routine to feed the 20 ducks, 43 chickens, eight geese, seven quail, two guinea fowl, two turkeys, a peacock, a rabbit and a pig, that make up our current menagerie. How did we get into this state of affairs you may wonder? Well that’s a long story. It started when my husband and I decided that as we couldn’t afford to retire in the UK we would move to Spain and live “The Good Life”. Yes, it was time for Tom and Barbara to move over and make room for Jan and Rob.

We bought a 20,000 square meter parcela with a finca near Sedella, with the intention of farming the olives and almonds already present, planting a couple of hundred avocados and an orchard and growing our own veg. in a kitchen garden. Oh yes, and having 3 or 4 chickens to provide us with eggs. I rather like chickens and had the romantic notion of one of those designer igloos housing contented chickens clucking their way around the place. However that was not to be an end to it.

Our neighbour, a kindly Yorkshireman, was having trouble buying land in these parts at a price he could afford so asked if he could rent some of ours to house his animals while he sorted out something more permanent. This included most of those listed above. Being a great proponent of the barter system I agreed but not at a fee but to have him supply us with eggs, teach me how to prune olive trees and give me some hatchlings of my own. At first this worked well, he build a corral and housing which I could eventually take over when he left, the olives thrived under his guidance and I had 14 baby chickens and 12 baby ducks in a cage on the dining table to hand rear our neighbour having hatched them in his incubator.

All went well, the baby chickens were adorable balls of yellow fluff and the ducks were so cute with their little webbed feet. Now at the moment we live in a mobile home awaiting the licence to reform our finca. Although the little chickens are quite dainty creatures ducks on the other hand need a lot of water to be able to swallow food so you can imagine what the state of their waste products are like when they “splat” it in such a confined space. I goes up the curtains, on the floor and on the only table we have to eat off. Never mind I say, let’s build a shed out the back to put them in.

The shed is built, the birds are happy with their extra space and the eggs start coming in from our neighbour and all is well. However, the eggs keep on coming, far more than we can eat in a week. Never mind I say, I’ll sell some to help buy the dry feed of corn and wheat. By and by I end up supplying a small hotel, a shop, my friends and daughter and few regular customers in the village with eggs. I also had a request for more goose eggs as the Spanish people in Competa couldn’t get enough of them. I mentioned to my kindly Yorkshire neighbour, jokingly, that we needed more geese. No sooner said than he had bought me four baby geese to raise. Never mind I said, I’ll build a pen to put them in with a parasol to shade them from the sun and a net on top to protect them for bird of prey.

All is well, again, until our neighbour had to help out a sick mate. Never mind, I said, I’ll look after the animals.

Since then our neighbour has bought and is doing up a place with land near Ronda and has no time to look after animals. So we have bought all his ducks, chickens and geese to add to our own stock. We will re-home the quail, the rabbit and the pig, the turkeys and guinea fowl will go in the freezer and the peacock will move to Ronda.

We have built another corral and luxury hen house with external egg collection facilities (no more crawling in s**t to collect eggs). This gives us room to extend the pond in the original corral for the water birds. We also intend to replace the duck and goose houses with something more comfortable for them and easier to clean for us.

In the meantime I go to the farming shop to buy organic corn and wheat fortnightly, I clean out the chicken, duck and quail houses, the small pond, the pig-pen and the rabbit hutch weekly. I treat the birds with organic, natural parasite compounds and spray them with natural flea and mite powder monthly and I feed all the animals twice daily.

Never mind the work, I say. I still enjoy the contended clucking of all the chickens, the cheerful quacking of the ducks and I’m met at the gate every morning by the excited squarking of the geese as they come running wings outstretched to find out what I’ve brought them in the carrier bag.

So every morning at 6 a.m. you’ll find me in my small caravan kitchen chopping lettuce, cabbage, tomatoes and bread and untangling a carrot from the bunch. Oh and don’t forget the apple for the pig.

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