A couple of days after I decided this would be the last season for the yurt camp, I went down to feed the chickens. (Philippe’s been sharing this very easy job with me this year, as he’s experimenting with growing veggies in the nearby poly tunnel. I haven’t been starving them.)

Lost in thought, I didn’t notice the lack of sound or movement in the orchard until I was at the gate and saw the first body. There’s been an attack in there before, when we lost three chickens to a pine marten. This time, every chicken had been killed. I found the hole over by the old rabbit hutch, where a very determined fox or dog had made its way through two layers of chicken wire (one layer of which may have been damaged by a strimmer a while ago) and run riot.

The goose was fine, though a bit shaken by being in there on her own – and having survived the attack.

This kind of thing does happen in smallholding – despite fencing that cost over €400 and that took weeks or more to complete (it was 2 metres high, dug into the ground 12 inches and at a right angle outwards for another 12 inches, in a trench back-filled with clay-heavy mud). That’s a lot of investment that needs paying back in eggs. Add the feed (at about €10) a week, for far too many eggs (I eat about six a week and they were producing up to eight a day), and the cost of the hens (although a few were given to us and others were born here), the accommodation and whatever, and you will see that buying organic, free-range eggs from your farmer’s market is not such a big deal.

What this means for guests is that écovallée eggs are off the menu in 2016. The goose has now gone to another home, where she will be in the company of other geese, and écovallée is (non wild) animal free for the first time since 2007. What this will also mean for guests is no more 5.00 am wake-up call from the cockerels. I was a bit worried that two of them would be a bit much for some people.

Sometimes 140 characters (including spaces) just doesn’t cut it – and this is one of those times.

We have our first guests of the year, and I promised a few weeks ago that our first wild orchids would be out while they were here. So I am very relieved to say that, this morning, I saw an Early Purple orchid just about to flower outside the poly tunnel. Dangerous things, promises.

In other news, Her Outdoors tells me that a sparrowhawk has just moved into the area. Unfortunately for me, one of our older hens has just started sitting on 11 eggs. Put the two bits of news together and you discover that I must build a hawk-proof enclosure for the new chicks in the next 27 days. (Because I really needed something else on the to-do list, what with the second guest kitchen to finish, platform to make, structure to build for the fridge-freezer I promised – ! – to this year’s guests, pallet fort to create and road to complete, how will I ever fill my time? And I promised to help Her Outdoors in the veggie patch this year…)

Four of our chickens have been in the habit of escaping the 2-metre fencing around the orchard recently. A pile of black feathers this morning tells me one of them didn’t make it through the night and there’s a very happy fox sleeping off a successful hunt. Yes, we can clip wings, but that didn’t stop the first escapee and time is rather short at the moment.

I may have mentioned the horse breaking out several weeks ago. While he was out, he scratched the backs of his legs on the mobile rabbit runs, which rearranged them enough for the boy bunnies to get in with the girl bunnies. A few days ago, eight new bunnies arrived in the night.

And finally (you can see what I mean about 140 characters not being enough for today), I came up with a new plan to sell more copies of my book. I put a new blog together here that explains the plan – and allows you to download the book absolutely free, then decide how much (or how little) you want to pay for it later. If you could let other people know about this blog, I would really appreciate it. To save you the trouble of hunting back through this paragraph for the link to the free ebook blog, here it is again.

(And here if you missed it.)

We’ve had some new arrivals this week. Nine babies in the bunny ward:

Eight chicks (with more on the way) on the other side of the orchard:

And these little pigs born off-site and safely delivered to the woods:

Note the high security fencing here, outside of which three strands of electric fence, outside of which will be stock fencing. We don’t have time to run through the woods chasing piglets this year. I would tell you more, but I don’t even have time to do that.

England’s not the only place to have had a change of government recently. Take a look at our orchard.

The odd bird is our new duck (whose name escapes me for the moment – something he’ll never do, as he’s absolutely huge).

He arrived a few weeks ago, in exchange for some sewing work, to the surprise, shock and bewilderment of the ruling cockerel. For the first few days, he sat in a corner. The cockerel strutted around, showing who was boss, and the duck didn’t debate the fact.

But slowly the balance of power shifted.

And now, perhaps because he’s bigger, or because he can hiss, the duck is first to the food. The chickens don’t fight it. They just accept it and wait until they can have their turn. An uneasy coalition has been established. The duck sleeps in the lower house at night, and some chickens lay there during the day. Power, it seems, can be shared between birds of different flocks.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the duck’s wife arrives in a few weeks.

The chickens have noticed a few changes since we moved onto the land full time. They enjoy even fresher cuisine.

Free range even more freely.

With access to ball sports.

Spend time with the dog.

Sleep in a newer, bigger, nearly finishter chicken house.

Just up from the chicken nursery.

Where five fluffy chicks (and hopefully more to follow) are now going cheep.

English-mafia Sarah phoned this morning, after being woken at five by a Light Sussex cock that’s just found his voice. For the second day running. What with a cat who’s just had kittens and a poorly child, things were getting on top of her. So we agreed to take the cock off her hands.

Looks like we won’t be buying any more chickens any time soon.

It brings tears to your eyes just thinking about it.

First there was one.
Then two.
Three for quite a few days.
And today, for the first time, four.

We may never buy eggs again.

I managed to put this together before the rain stopped.

Then put this together.

Before the eggs started (but only by a few hours).

By Sunday, we might have enough for pancakes.

Yesterday, after my second full day of strimming, I lay in a half-damp hammock and realised I was too tired to walk across the field to retrieve an empty petrol can and a bucket.

But I did.

Because I also had to feed the chickens, put them to bed, feed the pigs, tidy up some electric fencing, and walk home, to cook dinner for everyone and I’ve forgotten what else.

Today, all I had to do was take a yurt from the trailer in the car park (trailer park would be more accurate right now) to the field at the bottom, by hand (you’ll know how far this is when you come), put it together, then have a meeting with the Entire Council, (more on this, later – I’m too tired right now), and feed the animals, put them to bed, walk home and cetera.

It’s Extremely Likely I’ll be in bed before ten for the second night running – and not for the right reasons – we’re both far, far too tired for that.

I just have the energy to leave you with the Monumental News that, finally, to the surprise of chickens, pigs, horse and, to a degree ourselves (although, to be fair, I’m only adding this, as you may realise, in a half-hearted attempt at creating a sentence with more commas in than others on this blog), there is a yurt in écovallée. It’s a beautiful thing.