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kayleigh and the new chickens... : Latest blogs from @SoilAssociation

kayleigh and the new chickens...

Emma Heseltine - 26 February 2012

Anne is about a week overdue. This morning its extremely windy and throwing it down, so of course this is when the calf is born. Im doing some cleaning of ice boxes for meat when one of the boys from the Gilford centre comes running up to tell me to come quick. I head to the little paddock and Susan has got Anne and the calf in the little shed. The calf cant be more than a couple of hours old and it looks a bit wobbly and obviously hasn’t suckled. This is bad news, colostrum is vitally important in the first few hours of life as it gives energy and precious antibodies to the newborn. They are better off in the shed but the calf is shivering and making no attempt to feed, Anne seems more interested in her own dinner than her calf. We decide to intervene and get some colostrum we have frozen for just such an occasion. It’s from the dairy farm Slack House that is part of our Co-op, we warm it up and get a bottle ready. The best stuff for the calf is from its own mum but at a push any is better than none and we still may be able to milk some from mum for the calf. We get Anne out of the shed and try giving the calf a drink from the bottle, its sat in the hay rack looking pretty sorry for itself and it takes Susan a few attempts to get the teat in its mouth. Eventually with me cradling its head and giving its throat a rub some starts to go down. It’s a miraculous thing to see if you’ve never witnessed this, the calf visibly perks up, it realises that this is exactly what it needs and it wants more. Susan nips outside to get another carton and the calf gets wobbly to its feet and starts mouthing my knee and trying to suck at the top of my wellie, its got the idea and is trying to find the source! Its time to get Anne back in so she can do her job. Before long the calf is homing in on the source of delicious dinner and after a few misses hits the jackpot. There is hope for it yet.

Its time to pick up the new pullets. Of sad little flock of 10 is about to get an influx of new blood. We head out to the farm that has them and load them up into boxes to be brought back in the car. I can’t help laughing at the soft clucking from the five boxes on the back seat and in the boot. It’s not a long journey and we learn a new chicken fact on our drive back. We are listening to some classical music on the radio and a wave of ‘happy chicken’ noises come from the back seat. Apparently chickens like radio 3, who knew? It’s heading toward dusk when we get back and the hens are getting sleepy. This makes giving them leg rings and introducing them to our existing girls much quieter than expected. I imagine there will be chaos in the morning though.

The new chickens have been causing trouble all week. They stayed in the hut for a couple of days but have now started to venture out. Trouble is they are not certain where home is so usually at dusk are just standing about somewhere inappropriate, the sheep pens for example. As you may know its almost impossible to herd chickens so you have to catch them and pick them up two at a time and put them back in the hen house. This takes ages and causes a lot of clucking from the chickens. I’m away on holiday next week, I hope when I come back they will have learnt where home is.

Emma completed a degree in Creative Imaging at Huddersfield University before working for a photography studio as an editor. Taking a break from the office world she worked in outdoor education for several years, climbing, abseiling, shooting, trampolining and even life-guarding with children of all ages. When Emma found out about the apprenticeship scheme with the Soil Association it seemed the perfect chance to do something worthwhile and fulfilling. After much searching and badgering farms in the North of England she found a position with Hadrian Organics and started in July 2011. So far it is living up to her expectations, every day is a new challenge and every day is different.

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