Seven sets of hooves

Posted by Hannes on 29 July 2010 | 6 Comments

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A few months after we moved to Angels Rest, someone asked me if we would consider a few horses on the farm purely for grazing. He had a few young fillies that needed to be kept aside as they were too young to breed with and caused interference with the colts and leading stallion. Soon we had two young mares over to see if all would go well and if they would manage on their own and probably also to test us to see if we would cope with them. Lady and Sea Biscuit were quick to adapt and soon made good friends with the dogs and the chickens. It was very different having horses on the farm and we enjoyed watching them run and graze together. A month later another three young horses came to join the two mares. Maya was one of these. She was only six months old. Alexander was not much more. Henry was a much older colt and we battled keeping him from jumping fences. He left a few months later. Sea Biscuit (Bisqui) gave birth to Merlin early summer! We never expected to see a foal so soon but fell in love with the new youngster immediately. He was most entertaining and got very tame with us. Roman and Jade joined the family six months later and stayed very close together for months after. Then Cuba came, a bright young filly with typical thoroughbred stature but yet so much Arab built. Knowing these horses didn't belong to us, we struggled not getting too attached! They were here for grazing and safe keeping only so we never interfered with their owner's decisions regarding their well-being. Some would leave us and some would stay. Lady and Bisqui left eventually. One super stunning morning their owner came over and informed us he would like us to adopt the horses on the farm on a permanent basis as he was planning on selling his stud. They were ours to keep! It was one the most glorious days of my life! We started a 'clean up' programme to detox them from worms and ticks and all the parasites that pestered them. Six months after the intense programme, the three mares went in season and for the first time we saw Alexander perform his duties like a real stallion. Maya (now the leading mare), Jade and Cuba were all mated but we were never sure if they were pregnant. Time would tell! I got a call from their previous owner asking if I would be interested in buying Bisqui. They had sold many of their best horses and knew how much we loved her. A week later she was back on the farm and as a bonus she was also pregnant! It was good having the girl back where she belonged. We called the local vet to check up on the four girls and he was happy with their condition and confirmed all four were pregnant. Our stallion Alex and the two colts, Roman and Merlin, were gelded that day to ensure no more breeding. It was a sad day for me watching the whole procedure. Not knowing what to expect made it worse than it sounded. They recovered well. It took two weeks for the wounds to drain and the swelling to drop. What an experience for all of us. Gestation in horses takes 11 months, or about 340 days counting from the last mating. With our girls It's impossible to be entirely accurate, but we have followed the signs and know the time is getting close. We check their udders regularly for size and signs of waxing (an excretion of fluid two to three days before labour begins). A day before the foal is born the mare looses appetite and just hours before birth she starts sweating. At this time she would seclude herself from the rest and choose a safe place to have her foal. Birth usually takes place in the early hours of the morning. We kept a close eye on Merlin when he was born. We didn't want to interfere too much but had to help Bisqui to let him drink. Liz managed to milk Bisqui slightly to release some of the pressure from her full udder and once Merlin discovered the nipple, Bisqui was happy to let him suckle. He grew very attached to her udder in the days that followed and they formed a very pretty picture indeed. The joy that little foal brought us will repeat itself in the months to come I'm sure. We love our horses and, as we learn, every day we improve.

Merlin and Bisqui, day 1
Merlin, week 1

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My boy, Jack

Posted by Liz on 25 July 2010 | 0 Comments

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Three years ago my two cats, Jack and Rimmer, affectionately known as ‘the boys’, came from England to become farm cats in South Africa. They settled in right away and over time have even made friends with the 4 somewhat lively dogs that share their space. I tried to look on the succession of night time gifts of mice as their way of telling me they were having fun, although unfortunately their presence did nothing to reduce the rat population in the chicken house. Perhaps they were just too big (the rats that is). Six weeks ago, at the ripe old age of 12, Jack was diagnosed with kidney failure. He had become a bag of bones, and this was a cat who regularly weighed in at 7kg. He loved his food and didn’t seem to know when to stop but now it didn’t matter how much he ate, he never put on weight. He spent hours sipping at the water bowl and then got so desperate to pee he couldn’t always make it outside. Mats and cushions were permanently on the washing line. Everything I read about kidney disease in cats described Jack – the cat is likely to have lost 70% kidney function before showing symptoms, typically weight loss occurs quickly, coat is out of condition. Kidney failure is a one way street. There is no cure and the best hope is to try to prevent his kidneys from getting any worse. I didn’t really know what to expect for his future and we all felt very sad that night. The vet prescribed ACE inhibitors to improve Jack’s kidney function and a special diet but after 6 weeks he didn’t seem any better. Perhaps I had been too optimistic to hope for improvement. Hannes suggested a second opinion and what a good idea that turned out to be. This week I loaded Jack again into his international flight basket, which doubles very nicely as a cat carrier. At the clinic he behaved impeccably throughout a whole range of examinations and tests and, it has to be said, captured the heart of everyone who saw him. It turned out he had high levels of glucose in his urine so more tests were ordered and the results would be available at the end of the day. I waited all afternoon for the phone. It was nearly 6 when the vet called to say Jack’s primary problem is diabetes. I let out a shriek that had all the dogs barking. That was fantastic news! Like humans, diabetes in cats can be treated with diet and/or insulin so Jack’s outlook had just improved enormously. I’ve started giving him twice daily insulin injections and, being a special boy, when distracted by food hardly seems to notice my fumbling around the back of his neck. He also has a special slow release diet which helps to keep his blood sugar more stable. It’s early days but already he seems more alert and I’ve started to imagine he may even be putting on weight. Time will tell... we’re going back to the vet next week to monitor his response to the insulin, but I am cautiously optimistic once more. Hannes will witness that I sometimes get frustrated with the boys when they call for food, or (as I perceive) constant attention, or run pirouettes with the dogs for no reason other than to cause chaos on the stairs. One time I even said I wished I had left them in England, wash my mouth out. But really I love them and wouldn’t be without them, and this whole episode with Jack has served to remind me how special they, and how lucky I am to share my life with them and all the other animals of Angels Rest Farm.

Jack relaxing, 2008
Jack, July 2010

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Cherry tomato jam with cinnamon, a farm favourite

Posted by Liz on 25 April 2010 | 2 Comments

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When I first heard mention of tomato jam I must say my reaction was ‘euuuuuuhhhhh???’ If this is you too then stick with it, it’s worth it... We have quite a good size veggie garden on the farm and although we’ve experimented growing various vegetables and herbs, and a raspberry cane this year, we’ve never actually planted any tomatoes. None the less, undeterred, little tomato seedlings spring from the soil each year. We’ve found them all over, in the fields, in the garden, even in the chicken pen. Some-one who has lived here obviously enjoyed cherry tomatoes. Each year as summer passes literally hundreds of tomatoes ripen every week and we have to pick them daily just to keep up. So here lay the challenge, what to do with this bumper harvest? Hannes’ grandmother provided inspiration for our first culinary voyage with cherry tomatoes which has since become a bit of a classic amongst farm guests - cherry tomato jam with cinnamon. It must run in the family because I must say nobody quite makes it like Hannes. You will need 400g ripe cherry tomatoes 250g granulated white sugar One or two sticks of cinnamon, or a few teaspoons of ground cinnamon To sterilise your jar pour boiling water over the glass and the lid. Leave them upside down to dry on a clean kitchen towel. 400g tomatoes will make enough jam to fill one medium size jar. Rinse the tomatoes, cut them in half and put them into a large pan with the sugar. If you’re using cinnamon sticks, add those too. Mix the whole lot well and leave it to marinate for an hour. Then put the pan on a high heat and bring to the boil, stirring frequently. Cook for about 10 minutes and then drain off the tomatoes. Put the syrup back on the heat. If you’re using ground cinnamon instead of sticks add 2 teaspoons now. Bring to the boil, stirring until thickened (about 10 minutes or so). Put the tomatoes back into the pan and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring often. Take the pan off the heat and pour the mixture into a glass jar, putting a piece of cinnamon stick in each jar. Make sure you don’t leave any air bubbles in the jam. Close the lid tightly and store in a cool, dark place. You can store the jam for several months, it just gets better. Or if you can’t wait you can eat it right away, it’s just as good! One great thing about this recipe is that you don’t need to skin the tomatoes, just cut them in half and chuck them in the pan. This saves a lot of time and fiddling about which if you’re anything like me is a great bonus. You can increase the amount of cinnamon or use sticks as well as ground cinnamon if you like. Try it once and then adjust the amounts according to how you like it. The jam is a rich red colour with the seeds making beautiful golden specks, and tastes delicious, somehow sweet and tangy at the same time. It’s divine on toasted cheese or with ham but we have had guests who enjoyed it so much they spread it on everything from barbeques to breakfasts... thanks Chris and Joe, you provided inspiration for this posting. Despite this jam becoming a firm favourite we have tried quite a few other ways of cooking with cherry tomatoes. Some favourites are spicy tomato chutney, cherry tomato tart and just simply baked them on a little puff pastry with a dab of pesto to make a delicious appetiser. I also tried drying them in the sun on a baking tray on the back shelf in the car with some success. Especially nice sprinkled with some herbs and they keep well in an airtight container, in the freezer or in a little olive oil. Enjoy!

Freshly picked cherry tomatoes simmering in the pot at Angels Rest Farm
Hand-picked cherry tomatoes grown at Angels Rest Farm

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Chicken business

Posted by Hannes on 25 April 2010 | 0 Comments

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Blue In the few months after our purchase, the little white cockerel grew into a giant and the colour of his legs and feet turned blue. He was instantly named Blue. The cuckoo chicks and Blue formed their own little gang and never mixed with the big girls but preferred the company of the bantams. Blue grew into one of the tamest and biggest roosters known to me. We pampered him silly and he loved it. He took ages before he actually started crowing with the other boys but when he eventually got the hang of it, he uttered extremely loud and stretched out cries. Anything that startled him would set off an alarm in him that got the whole farm in a twist! We arranged the hierarchy in the henhouse by separating George (the ruling rooster) and Silver (Max's boy) from the ladies. Blue moved in. Chaos! He was attacked by every girl in the harem. He remained on his roost most of the day and only came down to eat when the rest started to settle after dinner. It took him a while to win their favour but he got there. We had an idea of breeding with him to achieve bigger hens to produce bigger eggs. Unfortunately he never fathered a single chick in all his days. We realized our little chicks were not as little anymore and fresh stock was needed for next year's eggs. Once again we paid a visit to the chicken lady and big surprise: she had exactly what we were hoping for! We got 15 Rhode Island Red chicks of about a month old. The two little ones we had at home were about same size and age so we added them to the new ones in a secure movable pen. After a week all went well and the new babies were happy. I slept well that night dreaming of our well-stocked little family and how good and smooth all was going. All 17 chicks were gone the next morning … the only proof that they were in the pen were the few wing feathers and the gap in the mesh! We were shocked at what we found and considered all possible causes for the mass disappearance. From the size of the hole in mesh, it seemed to have been a smallish genet or mongoose. The week to follow was as bad. Borris, the bantam rooster, disappeared in broad daylight and each day we lost one or two hens. Nothing was happening after dark anymore. New Year's Eve I got home late from work in town that night and went to lock up and collect eggs as soon as I could. All was peaceful in the henhouse and all seemed safe. Almost at midnight we heard Blue calling from the hen house. I called one of the dogs, took the torch and ran down to see what had upset the birds. All was quiet as I got there but Jezz went from excitement to most alert. I pulled open the door of the hen house and words don't describe what I almost did to myself at that moment as a honey badger ran out right in front of me and escaped down towards one corner of the run. Jezz went after him but turned back when I called her. These animals are most fierce and getting a dog involved is not advisable. Inside on the floor were the last of the white grannies and loads of feathers. New Year's morning I stacked a pile of boulders down the hole the badger had dug under the back wall of the hen house. Nothing could get these out of the hole I thought and I felt happy it was secure enough to keep the badger out. Big mistake. We heard Blue screaming again late that night and with no fear ran down to see what had happened. All the birds were fine except Blue. He was stuck in a hole freshly dug on the other side of the boulders! I took him for dead but when I pulled him out he started screaming again. He set the dogs on alarm and had me in tears. I thought we had lost him but he seemed only to have some nasty bite marks on his neck. He went into a secure crate for the night and we thought it best to investigate the wounds in daylight. He was not dead the next morning but looked very sore. I cleaned his wounds with some antiseptic we got from the vet months before. He wouldn't eat but drank water when offered. I felt very sorry for him. He was terrified of anything that moved. It took him three days before he started pecking at the bread we got him. He always loved bread as a snack over the fence so I thought it might move him to try some and just get something into his crop. It worked. He slowly recovered and got his appetite back. In ten days he started chasing the hens with vigor and all was fine again. A week after the little ones disappeared, we called on the chicken lady again and she was most helpful, we picked 15 new chicks and she gave us 5 extra to encourage and support us. She warned never to get too comfortable as nature would always take its toll. One could be on guard as ever but something wild would always wangle its way in so we accepted there is always some price to pay. Back home we added three of our own hatched chicks to the new brood of babies and, although we have lost some with time, most are still going strong and on the verge of lay. We decided to build 'Blue's Roost', a new ultra-safe luxury apartment for our girls. We drew up plans, got quotes and started building. A concrete floor was essential to start off with and good solid walls the only option. Proper shuttering was also required and we decided that guttering could help supply the girls with their own fresh drinking water. It cost thousands of Rand til it was done but at the end it was worth it. It's structured with a partition to separate the flock if needed and each section has its own trap door to the outside. A splendid castle. Fort Knox. Some months after schedule, it was finished and we could move the girls in. Blue and his harem of 12 girls would move in over the weekend. On Saturday morning we found a trail of Blue's feathers leading into the woods. He and Grey, a cuckoo rooster, had been mysteriously snatched without warning. Maxine, one of Max's girls, must've been with them. We never saw them again. Blue's Roost was named in tribute, the only rooster I've ever heard of that survived a honey badger's attack. It was a sad day for all of us. We still miss him. Moving in we decided to get the new resident girls used to their new home by feeding them inside and letting them enter by themselves. They went in and out but kept returning to their temporary toolshed home to sleep. I had to move them individually and did it just after dark. It causes less commotion if they can't see what is happening. Chickens barely move at night, that is why it's the easiest thing for a nocturnal predator to catch them. They stayed closed in for a few days to home before we let them out again. The baby chicks and the bantams were closed up when the older ones were out and we alternated outdoors for the different groups. If they all came out at once, the big ones would jump the fence to get to the other's food and so cause drama with the bantam hens. The littlest ones were always the victims and if they got too close to the older hens they'd get pecked. The hens were happy once again and the eggs started rolling in. Soon the younger hens we got as babies, would move into Blue's Roost and work in the egg factory. This has brought us all the way up to today, and in all this time we have learned so much about keeping chickens that I would like to share in future postings. I guess it's nursing and nurturing them that got me to be so fond of them.


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Chicken business

Posted by Hannes on 6 April 2010 | 2 Comments

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If anybody had told me ten or twenty years ago I would find my peace one day keeping chickens at the age of 42, I would've thought they were insane and yet here I am today, entertained by over 50 free-ranging chickens! Strangely enough they have become so special to me that some people might think I am completely insane or just obsessed. I do believe there are other people out there with similar interests in keeping chickens and that's what inspired me to share thoughts and views in this blog. How it all started...

Free Range Chickens

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Plettenberg bay - Garden Route - South Africa