This years spring has been like an old woman entering the cold sea, a tentative toe at a time. I’ve been told it is an El Nino year, so hence the strange lengthy cold and wet spell. Whatever the excuse, I am not bothered, I just wish it would come! The odd sunny warm day pops in, like a friendly neighbour for a cup of tea, but once drunk, disappears again and we are back to grey, damp days. And this is France! Tsk, tsk, tsk is what I have to say, pull your boot straps up Spring and get on with it! I am ready to garden.
We’re trying something new in our garden this year, building truly raised beds, using pallets. (No more bending and kneeling, and less weeds. Hopefully.) There will be more details on this in a later dedicated blog, but suffice it to say, its a slow project as I work between boughts of rain. Yup, I am a fair weather gardener and not ashamed to say it.
But what I really wanted to talk about here is how this year Mother Nature has gone mad. The garden may be delayed in its growth, but this has definitely been made up for in animals. We figure it is the colder, wetter, consequently darker days that have made the animals bored and looking for something to do. But, honestly!!!
We ended March with a cat, a pet duck, her 3 other new-ish duck friends, 3 chickens, a rooster and 3 rabbits. Do the maths, and we’re at a very nice, thank you, comfortable and manageable 12.
Spring forward to today (see what I did there?), and we are… wait for it… 30!!
In the space of 4 weeks we’ve almost trebled in quantity! Mother Nature has been active in spades inside, if not outside. We began April with Chewie, a standard size dachshund joining our flock, and besides the odd bound amongst the ducks he has fit in very nicely. A week after his arrival, Gigi, our cat, had her kittens. Her first (and only) litter. Now a cat’s litter averages 2 – 5 kittens. Not our Gigi. She managed 6. Okay, they are cute, and very welcome, but honestly girl what did you get up to when you were in heat?!?
And then we come to the ducks. This is bitter sweet. As springs means new mouths to feed, this also means foxes and birds or prey. We had a definite day where predators were about and the animals let us know it, so due care and diligence was given to checking on them regularly, and still a fox slipped through the net between 5:30 – 6:30pm and took Meeney, Minhy and Mo, our 2 young ducks. That left only Maggie, our pet duck (Maggie’s Story). Luckily she was on a nest of eggs in the duck house and was missed in the milieu.
We moved her nest up to the cottage to protect her better now that she was on her own, and a couple days later we heard ‘peep, peep’. Her eggs were hatching! She had had 2 nests before, but they had come to nothing. We suspect our then very young males, Meeney and Minhy, were too young to do the business. But third time lucky. And with the loss of the other 3 very appreciated. But like Gigi, Maggie had made up for them in spades.
When I looked into her nest box (an animal carrying case) I could see 6 heads poking up through her feathers. What a sight. A day later and they started to emerge, running about on not quite steady little legs. Maggie finally came out later that day, emerging with her brood, and we began to count…. to 14!!! And she still had 5 eggs in the nest. She had hidden a whopping 19 eggs in her little nest.
In amongst this the rabbits have been, well, behaving like rabbits. In this case, thank goodness Hobbs, the male, had been ‘done’ and their antics wouldn’t amount to much more than some fur flying. And don’t get me started on our Cockerel. A randier fellow you have never seen. He has 3 girls to look after and he takes his business seriously. Luckily, as they are getting on in years, they don’t seem overly inclined to brood, and of course we keep taking the eggs to eat.
Now before anyone screams ‘neuter’, as ‘country’ people we recognise the discussion of animal management. And we support responsible, managed reproduction, e.g. allow some, as needed, and ‘fix’ when not. And the key word there was ‘needed’. One must manage your chicken flock, taking into account number of roosters to chickens, as well as comfort in the roost and space to roam. With ducks, at least here because they are free to roam the large (enclosed) estate, we loose a few each year to predators. Cats are needed to keep rodent populations at bay, always a problem when providing grains to the feathered flock, and the reason we got Gigi in the first place. And, my goodness, she is a good mouser. Though, I will add we won’t be keeping all 6. However, in France it is almost impossible to get a kitten these days, unless one is willing to pay around €1000, so we will find homes for the remainder and they will leave us, along with probably some of the ducks, when they are old enough to go.
Addendum: Since beginning writing this post 3 of the eggs have not made it. We await the other 2 but are assuming a similar scenario. And one of the ducklings has gone missing, so there are now 13. We suspect Gigi. Mother Nature again. Or we miscounted. Either way, we’re putting in more precautions against her.