Putting Eggs in one basket.jpg

Putting Eggs in one basket

By: PAUL McKAY

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Teacher, Paul McKay, left London to live a self-sufficient existence in the Monchique hills with his partner Martyn. He keeps an assortment of animals and grows a variety of crops in an eco-friendly way – all on a limited income.

Wednesday November 7

The last week has been all go, putting up and digging in some new fencing for a new flock of poultry soon to arrive. We have constructed a small enclosure for turkeys with enough space for them to plod around but still get fat.

This year has been a disaster zone as far as turkeys are concerned so we are destined to eat a combination of pork and duck for Christmas. Martyn bought some turkeys back in March, whereby the weather promptly turned bitter cold and wet and killed the whole lot off. It then seemed impossible to get anymore and our two reliable old layers were killed by the mongoose, putting pay to incubating our own.

The next three months was a cat and mouse game tracing turkey breeders with us arriving just as the last bird had been sold. So here’s hoping next year brings more success.

The other huge area we were fencing off is destined for a combination of chickens, more geese and maybe some more guinea fowl. The main purpose is to have an army of grass and weed chompers to keep our fruit terraces clean.

Hopefully the chickens will also provide a plentiful supply of eggs and the geese will do their bit to scare off any predators that dare poke their heads around the corner. The noise they make is generally loud enough to alert most of Monchique.

The weather has cooled sufficiently to make working outside quite pleasant and, on the bank holiday, the sunshine certainly brought out the crowds. In the distance, high up in Foia, some hippies were having a party and the sound of bongo drums echoed melodically through the hills.

It was so busy that three people actually walked along the track behind our house, one looking for a neighbour, the next looking for the neighbour who was looking for the neighbour and the third, Maria, taking a stroll down to her lower terraces.

Maria informed me that she is finding the walk a little tiring and it is the first time she has been down for over a month. The fact that she is 84 years old, broke her hip five years ago and the round trip using the roads is about 3km didn’t seem of much relevance to her. Here’s hoping I’m as energetic when I’m 54 let alone 84.

Sunday November 18

Eggs, our pig is now heavily pregnant and due to give birth on December 2. True to form, we have left everything to the last minute and have been charging about building her a new warm, dry brick house.

The house, almost complete, has been built on some land currently occupied by poultry (yes more!!!) alongside her current terrace. Martyn, also true to form, has cleared off back to England for two weeks leaving me with the daunting task of wooing a hippo size pig to her new home.

To make the task completely impossible, yesterday’s initial attempt has made Eggs determined to scupper the whole thing. We enjoyed a rather fraught afternoon with Eggs, Martyn and me all receiving numerous shocks of the new electric fence. Eggs finally decided she’s had enough and returned to her old terrace, steadfastly refusing to move. What a fun fortnight I’m in for.

Tuesday November 20

I received a call from the vet this morning, telling me she had some chickens for me to collect in Monchique. During a brief interlude in the torrential rain, I dashed for the car and made my way blindly to Monchique.

I picked up the three birds in an old grain sack and got back to the farm just as the lightning was bouncing off the hill opposite. The new hen house looked particularly vulnerable being built of corrugated iron. Even more worrying, when I opened up the door to introduce the hens to their new home, my neighbour’s cat, Ze, was inside, looking more startled than me.

The quest to woo Eggs to her new home is still ongoing and I have decided I need hay. Subsequently José, the hay man, has disappeared without trace. Despite my calling his home, visiting his warehouse and scanning the hills, he is nowhere to be seen. I wonder what else can go wrong.

Wednesday November 21

My friend had an unfortunate accident last weekend, while trimming a hedge. Balanced precariously on ladder, he lost his foothold, the ladder went over and he was left concussed on the path below. After coming around, he managed to struggle to the house and phone for help. He is now in Hospital do Barlavento with his arm broken in five places.

No sooner had I heard this news than I discovered my neighbour painting his house with scaffolding balanced on a pile of loose bricks – I gave him some helpful advice.

Eggs, by the way, is proving to be most difficult. She has drawn an imaginary line across our land over which she will not cross, no matter how many cooch coooch noises are made in her direction.

Friday November 23

Martyn has been out of the country for a mere six days and I have been plagued by disaster after disaster.

On day one, the hot water packed in and on day two virtually every light bulb in the house blew. By Thursday the car had joined in the revelry and began boiling and bubbling up if stationary for more than two seconds.

This was accompanied by rapid indicator flashing when I turn right and something odd happening to all the lights when I brake.

Tuesday November 27

Success! I found José the hay man and the new house looks snug and cosy.

Wednesday November 28

Even more success!! Using a cunning plan involving a trail of boiled eggs and potatoes, Eggs was lured into her new home where she discovered more potatoes hidden amongst the hay. After eating, she looked the place up and down and made her mind up within minutes. Ten minutes later she had kicked the straw around to suit her own requirements and settled down for the night.

Friday November 30

The ultimate success!!! This morning I was greeted by a contented grunting Eggs surrounded by a litter of 12 pretty piglets, all healthy and bursting with life. The heat lamp was installed by nightfall and the whole brood settled down to their first nights sleep. Oink oink.