The ducks have discovered the rolled barley

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THE snow has returned. But at least the freeze hasn’t, although it is cold.

We still have our traveller neighbours with us. I feel very sorry for their ponies as they get no extra fodder and have grazed off nearly all the grass on the roadsides in our vicinity. Now they have to cope with snow as well.

There has been a marked decline in the pheasants and partridges in the fields near the traveller caravans. John has some feeders up for the partridges. He has no intention of shooting the partridges -just enjoys seeing the coveys.

There are the “Frenchies”, red legged partridge chicks he bought in the summer and released into a couple of our plantations, and our own native grey partridges. Or were.

We did see a lot of them, but over the last few weeks they have gradually disappeared and none are now coming to the feeders.

Wonder if it the traveller cats changing their diet from mice and rats to a bit of game?

The drop in temperatures has also stopped my hens laying. I was delighted to see eggs in the nest boxes for a few days after several barren weeks. But mine are obviously fair weather hens; they are sulking and have ceased production.

For most of this winter the poultry have enjoyed fox proof accommodation. Or so we thought. But the other night Mr Reynard managed to dine on three of my pullets.

Most of the hens roost in the hen house. This is situated in the orchard.

The guinea fowl (my original flock) roost in the plum and apple trees and I had noticed that these pullets were copying their sleep time habits.

Although their wings were clipped, they were still able to access the lower branches and from thence the higher ones by a sort of cross between a hop and scrabble up the tree.

Some of the fruit tree branches hang outside the fence however. And these three must have chosen a vulnerable roost. A pile of feathers foretold their end.

For this reason John does not think it is a fox predating his partridge. Whoever takes them, are far tidier hunters.

Fox numbers are definitely on the rise. One neighbour shot seventeen in his fields last year. As his hen house is near ours we benefit from his vigilance.

The only ducks we have left are the five I hatched from eggs bought visiting the Castle of Mey during our holiday in Scotland.

Since the demise of the Aylesburys (they are safe in the freezer) my royal ducks have had the run of the paddock and farmyard.

We still do not know what breed they are as they resemble a cross between a silver appleyard and a penguin. Since they discovered the rolled barley in the meal shed there is no stopping their raids.

Could be a bad career move. From looking rather lean and fit, they are now all sleekly plump.

I advise a diet if they want to see the spring.