Hangin’ and chillin’

Posted in Pigs with tags , , , , , on February 11, 2013 by headlesschickenblogger


Well we did it – bit the bullet and sent the pigs off to the abattoir this morning. It took us a while to get all the pieces in place – make sure neither were on heat, find time to talk to the butcher to tell him what cuts we were after, buy a freezer to stash all the meat in and so on. We also had to explain to the children why we couldn’t let the pigs die of old age. Which after a few tears, they accepted. Our helpful English neighbour could see I was pretty wobbly about the whole thing so he kindly offered to take them to the abattoir himself at the crack of dawn this morning before we (and the pigs) were awake. This meant loading them into a trailer last night. They went in like lambs (or pigs) to the slaughter, happily following the buckets full of their last supper (organic eggs and walnuts and leftovers from the poshest restaurant in town) and we clanged the tailgate shut behind them.

Then of course the trailer and HeadChicken’s new (well not that new) Mitsubishi got completely stuck in the mud so we had to ask Kind Neighbour to pull out the trailer (and the Mitsubishi) with his Landrover, which he did with great glee and not a few disparaging remarks about the provenance and quality of said  Mitsubishi. I feared that the pigs would be stressed by all the engine revving, exhaust fumes and slipping around in the mud, but no – my last sight was of them happily munching on the loose walnuts rolling around in the back of the trailer. Gourmands to the bitter end.

The Kind Neighbour’s comment, when asked how the abattoir run went, was “They’re doing well – just hangin’ and chillin’….”, with a sympathetic smile.

Of course I miss them, especially when I realise that I now have to put the children’s leftovers in the bin, instead of the pig bucket. But thankfully the children have moved on already. I caught the eldest drooling over this, which I had left stuck to the fridge for going through the various cuts with the butcher:


And with all the current panic about supermarket meat of unknown provenance, it will be really nice to know, when we finally pluck up the courage to tuck into our first “Bubble and Squeak” roast, that these were our animals, raised on our farm, with good food, fresh air, and space to roam.

I also have to say that I was really quite happy not to don overalls, wellies, hat and coat and trudge through the mud and pouring rain with two heavy pans of bran mash this morning before taking the children to school, as is my usual routine.

So now I have a bit more time on my hands, how about some lambs?

The muck-out workout

Posted in Horses on January 20, 2013 by headlesschickenblogger

Two culprits

I’d left mucking out the horse and donkey’s stables for a teeny bit too long – with all the bad weather it’s been a question of survival on the farm, and jobs like these have fallen to the bottom of the list. But as Elliot and Jerry have been hanging out pretty much full time in their stable waiting for me to appear with the next round of tasty titbits, the stables were smelling pretty ripe by this morning and something had to be done. Too bad that it had snowed again in the night and there was a bitter north wind to boot.

Luckily it’s warm and snug in the stables with a large horse and well rugged-up donkey generating a good old fug and helpfully breathing warmth down the back of my neck. So I set to with pitchfork, wheelbarrow and spade and was soon stripping off layers of clothes as I wheeled barrow after barrow load of steaming manure down the snowy slope to the muckpile, ducking under the fence, tipping over the barrow, ducking under the fence again, pushing large, curious horse out of way so I could get to the stable, and pulling small, obstinate donkey out of way as he would keep standing on the very pile of straw I needed to get out.

After a bit Elliot and Jerry got bored of watching me work and wandered off to the far end of the field to see if the snow had left any hay showing –  which it had – so they got down to the serious business of noshing. I, meanwhile, feeling rather smug with the good progress I had made, was putting the finishing touches to the stables – spreading out a nice fresh pile of warm dry straw – when I heard the cry of the “Mummeeeee!!!!” bird. Now, this is how the kids start most sentences, and sometimes punctuate them liberally with it as well, so I often don’t take too much notice. But the cries grew increasingly insistent. I decided I should maybe find out what was going on – just as well because there were Jerry and Elliot, free as the wind and galloping for the distant woods*, Elliot (horse) looking magnificent and Jerry (donkey) looking a little less magnificent as he kept tripping over the strap of his hand-me-down horse blanket. So my exercise regime went into overdrive as I seized ropes, buckets, oats, children and Head Chicken and ran after them. However I soon discovered that trying to catch a horse and donkey by pursuing them only makes you hot and sweaty and them more rebellious. Luckily Head Chicken is a dab hand at these things. Turns out the best thing to do with an escaped horse and donkey is to stand still and wave buckets around. After they had finished prancing around like rebellious teenagers for a bit, they soon realise they were HUNGRY and came like lambs.

Now I’m heading for a hot bath to ease my aching muscles. May as well cash in those gym season passes, ladies – if you want a real work out, take up farming in the Headless Chicken style!

Is it just me, or does a large part of farming involve chasing escaped creatures across the countryside? OK, no need to answer that!

*Mental note: always check fencing after wind and snow….

Edna the Comeback Chicken

Posted in Chicken farming stuff with tags on January 16, 2013 by headlesschickenblogger

Today we woke to find that the weather forecasters had got it right and it had snowed in the night.


The footprints belong to Edna, the farmyard hen. I’ve been meaning to blog about her for some time because she is a most unusual chicken. Having about 3000 chickens on the farm it is a rare privilege to get to know one personally. Edna turned up one day having been hauled out of one of the chicken runs with an apparently broken neck. Her head was hanging limply to one side, and although she was standing up, she looked more dead than alive. We decided that dispatching her humanely and quickly was the only kind thing to do.

Head chicken explained the plan to the children and went off to get the special tool for humanely dispatching chickens. He was just about to do the deed, when Chicken Little piped up “No, don’t, she’s going to be fine, I just know it.” There was nothing we could do to dissuade her, and many tears and hysterics ensued until Head Chicken agreed to put away the dispatching tool. Edna was then given a little water, which she drank, and began to perk up almost immediately.

This happened about 3 months ago. Since then Edna (all our chickens are called Edna – it’s easier that way) has ruled the courtyard. The only legacy of her apparently broken neck is a slightly wonky way of looking at you and a rolling walk like a sailor who’s had too much rum. She insists on sleeping every night on the front doorstep – so I have provided her with a box to keep her cosy. If anyone leaves the front door open she heads inside in a purposeful way.Image

She knows no fear, and sees off the farm cats at feeding time with a swift peck and is a real “stickybeak” as they say in Australia – if anything is going on you can be sure she will appear, sooner or later, to supervise. So that’s Edna.

And the pigs, I hear you ask? Well I seem to have got the upper hand with Bubble for the time being – a combination of better fencing, larger meals and extra straw in her shelter has kept her inside her fence now for several days. But with this severe weather I expect she, like Edna, will be attempting to creep in to curl up by the woodburning stove when no-one’s looking…

Animal Farm

Posted in Pigs with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by headlesschickenblogger

The tables have turned. For the last 24 hours we have been virtually trapped inside the house, while our overly amorous pig Bubble has free rein of the farm. The infamous Houdini pig with the beautiful ears – subject of previous posts – is up to her old tricks, only by now she has 100 kilos and a very powerful bite to back her up. It seems that she is on heat and there are wild boar in the area, and there is no way she is going to stay in her enclosure. She and her sister Squeak had been fairly securely confined by a double strand of wire electrified by a battery, but apparently a 9 volt shock is no deterrent to a pig with other things on her mind. We’ve persuaded her back in with bucket after bucket of food – which she eats very gratefully while we push her massive backside through the fence – then infuriatingly hops out again. We even resorted to luring her into a shed hoping to pen her inside, but as it lacks a door (she destroyed it a few months ago during an over-enthusiastic back-scratching session) she had no trouble jumping the 3-foot high pallet we had wedged across the doorway – remarkably daintily for a lady of her size.

Luckily her more demure and infinitely more refined sister wouldn’t dream of behaving in such a crass manner and simply watches despairingly as her wild and dotty sibling trots around accosting anyone who happens to pass by. If she didn’t pack such a painful bite (I speak from experience) it would

Look out - here she comes!

be quite nice to have a pig hanging around. She is like an o

vergrown and very enthusiastic dog and when she is not trailing after the long-suffering farm worker ‘helping’ him feed th

e chi

ckens a

nd repair fences, she spends most of the time in the courtyard upturning


uckets and digging up my freshly planted pansies to see what juicy morsels she might find underneath. She then pauses for long periods to think, or to gaze through the window at what we’re up to inside – I swear she’s working out how to open the front door.

Clearly this can’t go on – shutting up the chickens in the evening involves negotiating a love-starved pig in the dark; my daughter’s friend, arriving innocently in the courtyard this afternoon, opened the car door to find an inquisitive and very bristly snout thrust into her face. Her screams were quite impressive.

I’m afraid there may only be one solution …bacon, anyone?

The whole hog

Posted in Pigs, Wildlife with tags , , , on December 16, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

Our pigs – the infamous sisters Bubble and Squeak of a previous blog – have fattened up nicely and are a good size to be eaten…plump rumps

….but I find at the last minute that I just can’t ‘go the whole hog’ and send them to the butcher. Call me a townie if you like, but although I was determined that I would be tough and had made all the plans to have them tattooed, and to book them in with the abattoir and the butcher, and had even lined up some potential customers for part of the meat, a conversation with a neighbour has put paid to all that. This neighbour has kept pigs for a few years now for family consumption, and is obviously quite hardened to the whole thing. I was picking her brains about how to cure hams and so on, when she mentioned how she pops the pigs’ ears into the oven and roasts them whole for dog food.

Now I’m afraid that did it for me, because our pigs have the most spectacularly beautiful ears, and the thought of roasting them and giving them to the dog is just too much. I know that there is a saying that you can eat every part of the pig except the ‘oink’, but at ears I draw the line. You can keep your silk purses, sows’ ears are pure gold:

Squeak's ears

 Nevertheless… because we do really want to have a ham this Christmas, we have ordered one from an organic pig farmer who lives nearby. His pigs are the happiest pigs around (Bubble and Squeak were born there): they roam in packs – or whatever the collective noun for pigs is (anyone?) – made up of family groups, and they have woods, a huge pond and hectares of land at their disposal. They often escape, just for the fun of it, but soon come back because, well, why wouldn’t they!

Anyway, although we have ordered a ham, which I pick up tomorrow, we plan to cure it ourselves in time for Christmas. In this I am a complete novice, so I hav

ripe junipere gone running to the fount of all knowledge in these matters – Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall and his magnificent Meat Book. His recipe involves juniper berries, and so our task today was to take ourselves into our woods, where they grow in abundance. Picking them can be a prickly, painful task. Luckily someone with small nimble fingers was on hand to help..

picking juniper berries

So it looks as though Bubble and Squeak will live to enjoy their first Christmas on the right side of the oven door. And they can continue to do a grand job of disposing of all our broken eggs and the children’s leftovers. Our plan is to breed from them in the spring instead – and by then I will have got used to the idea of eating our own pigs. Or will I?


Inglorious Mud

Posted in Chicken farming stuff, Wildlife with tags , , , on December 4, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

Many of you  have been clamouring for more blog posts (OK, well one of you did!). I am painfully aware that there has been not so much as a peep from HeadlessChicken for several days. There are two good reasons – here’s one of them:

smashed up mitsubishi

This is what happens when two vehicles meet on a bend on a single track lane. Too bad that one of them was our very trusty Mitsubishi, driven by our very trusty farmhand*, without which and whom the farm pretty much comes to a standstill, especially when the weather is wet.** Which brings me to my second good reason – mud:


While for most of the summer the ground at HeadlessChicken Ranch resembles the Sahel in a drought year, it’s a completely different story now that winter is here. All the chicken houses are in the middle of fields with no permanent access roads. This is so they can be moved regularly (see my last post). Great for the chickens, but it makes it rather tricky to bring in the stacks of trays laden with eggs every day. So while being environmentally aware people we technically abhor 4-wheel drives, in fact we are now finding that running a chicken farm of this size without one is a challenge to say the least. So now, most evenings when HeadlessChicken would normally be happily installed at her computer, blogging carelessly with a cup of tea and some chocolate to hand, she is instead to be found trudging the slippery kilometre of sodden fields that link the 5 chicken houses, in the dark and driving rain, to put all the chickens to bed for the night. Fingers crossed that normal service will be resumed soon…in the meantime I am tempted to hitch Jerry the donkey up to a cart and use him to do the rounds…much more ecological than a 4-wheel drive, though he may need a little more coaxing in the wet.

The wet weather does have one upside – it is great for these little critters, who creep out of hiding on nights like these. Being slow moving these Fire Salamanders often get squashed by passing 4-wheel drives, but as we don’t have one they are quite safe (for the time being anyway!)salamander

*Who is out of action for at least 2 weeks with damage to his spine. Very unfortunate.

**Ironically enough, the other vehicle was a delivery van bringing my repaired computer…

Moving house

Posted in Chicken farming stuff with tags , , , , , , , , on November 24, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

What did HeadlessChicken get up to this weekend I hear you cry?! Did she relax by a roaring log fire idly thumbing through the weekend papers, or perhaps take a gentle post-prandial stroll through the woods? Umm, no. Our slightly mad task this Saturday was to move a large chicken house 27 metres to the south. Before it rained.

Let me explain…being an organic farm we have a fiendishly clever system for keeping our free range hens healthy without having to treat them with all sorts of nasty chemicals. As well as changing their pastures every 3 weeks, we also actually move the entire building (all 27 metres of it) after each load of chickens. This means that any pests that have built up in the flock get left behind and die out, while the building gets moved to a lovely fresh spot and the new load of chickens get a great start to life. Since the weather forecast was threatening a large amount of rain (wrongly, it turns out), we had to move this particular building quickly or the ground would be too muddy. The buildings are brilliantly designed to be moved by a tractor, which simply hooks it up to its tow bar and pulls it with a cable. And a bit like the Egyptian pyramid builders, we gave it a helping hand with some handy round logs placed all along the side.

OK so there was (quite) a bit of fiddling around to keep wedging the logs back in, as each time the building rolled the logs would disappear under it – next time we’ll use longer logs. And quite a bit of swearing from Head Chicken when the tractor did some impressive wheel spins and went absolutely nowhere, but in the end we did it, and here’s the proof:

This is the first move to allow us to clean it thoroughly ready for its new occupants. Then the building will be moved again to its final resting place (for the next year anyway), in an even more dramatic operation, right to the other side of the farm and to the top of a hill! Watch this space…

Going cheep…

Posted in Chicken farming stuff, Uncategorized with tags , on November 14, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

How many day-old chicks can you get into the back of a Mitsubishi four-wheel drive? Anyone?

Well one thousand fit easily, with room for plenty more.  And no-one got squashed – though the peeping was quite impressive. At this time of year the lorry delivering the chicks can’t make it across the muddy field to the chicken houses, so we have to transfer the boxes containing the chicks to the back of the 4-wheel drive and drive them there ourselves.

The children love to help unload them – of course – but with temperatures rapidly falling below freezing outside the building we had to be quick. The children were assigned to cuddle a few victims (erm, chicks) while we unceremoniously tipped box after box of yellow fluff onto the deep, fragrant sawdust and let the tangle of wings, feet and down sort themselves out.


They had only hatched that morning (some have eggshells still sticking to them) but it is amazing how quickly they work out where to get water and food. And they grow so fast. Two days later and their adult wing feathers are beginning to appear already.Image

But like all babies, sometimes it all gets too much and they simply fall asleep.


Why do they have bare necks I hear you ask? Well for the answer to that, you’ll have to visit here. But they are a common free range breed in France for chickens destined to be eaten, which I am very much afraid to say, will be the destiny of these little guys. But not after having had a lovely time on our grassy pastures, free to do their chickeny thing under the Dordogne skies.  And anyway, when they’re ready to eat they’re really not at all cute. But that is the subject of a future post.

Extra virgins*

Posted in Uncategorized on November 12, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

Well, we did it. After three days of scrambling around the hillsides, climbing trees while brandishing yellow combs – and all suffering bad cases of “olive picker neck” from craning up into the canopy in search of that last elusive olive – by mid-afternoon today

we had enough olives to go to the local pressing mill to get them cold pressed and bottled as extra virgin olive oil. We had a grand total of 8 crates, which got tipped into one large crate at the mill then weighed.

The moment of truth – between the 4 of us we had picked a respectable 170 kilos of olives.

We then got to watch the whole fascinating process, from de-leafing to bottling:





Our car is now weighed down with extra virgins clinking merrily in the boot, ready for the 17 hour drive back to France tomorrow.


*That got your attention, didn’t it!

Busman’s holiday

Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2012 by headlesschickenblogger

What does a Headless chicken farmer do for holidays? Go farming of course. You may have been wondering why you hadn’t heard a peep from deepest Dordogne and here’s why – Headless and Head Chicken are picking olives in Italy for a friend who’s just starting up an organic olive farm. Actually, she’s restoring an old and neglected olive farm so before we can actually pick the olives we have to first hack our way through the undergrowth to find the trees. It’s all terribly satisfying, especially if you don’t actually have to make a living from it. Once you’ve discovered a tree – along with several lost Amazonian tribes and some mammals that are probably new to science – the idea is to clear away all the vegetation from under the canopy so you can spread out nets to catch the olives. This sounds easy, but as the olive trees seem to have been planted on near vertical slopes, the nets play a merely cursory role, simply slowing the velocity of the rolling olives just long enough for them to be snapped up by one of the ever hungry dogs waiting in the wings.

Once the nets are spread you ‘comb’ the branches with these implements – not unlike children’s beach tools.

And so Headless Chicken has been whiling away many pleasant hours literally combing the Abruzzo hillsides with yellow plastic combs. Not until the last olive has been combed from the tree do you move on to the next. So far we have filled only two 20 kilo crates – a poor harvest but due to the exceptionally bad winter earlier this year. If we can get 100 kilos we can take them to the mill to be cold pressed, so watch this space!

Glamping en France

Le confort et l'atypisme

Subversive Suburbanite

pursuing life and faith in outer London

a french garden

Reflections on nature in a garden in France

North/South Food: Looking for the Perfect Eat

Eating across the North/South divide

High Meadow Farm CSA

Certified organic by MOSA ~ We are a community supported, sustainable family farm


Still trying to make sense of motherhood

Wood and Field

Living with Nature in the Blue Ridge

Town Mouse

From the edge of Zone 1 to the middle of nowhere...

Kape Country

My Search For The Simple Life


Scratching a living on an organic chicken farm in South-West France

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