Green Wizardries, Hot Mash for Hens and Darning to Save the World, by Maxine Rogers
The Oak King is losing a hard-fought battle with the Holly King. According to Druid legend, the Oak King rules the summer half of the year and the Holly King rules the winter half of the year. It has been getting colder and dry with sharp frosts and then wet and mild with rain as the Oak King battles back. We all know he is going to lose and soon.
The question is, how will this affect your hens and what are you going to do about it? I was talking with a young lady who has her first flock of laying hens and she said they had stopped laying. Now, there are two factors here: one is that hens need a certain amount of daylight hours to lay eggs at all. They need 14 to 16 hours of daylight to lay eggs. The supplemental light should be added in the morning so they roost naturally.
The second thing is, in the cold of winter they need enough nutrition to keep warm and to lay eggs. If they are not getting enough good food, they will stay warm but stop laying.
You may well ask why the hens don’t just eat more of their layer pellets? Think for a moment. Layer pellets are always a food of last resort for hens. The feeder can be full of layer pellets and not a single hen is eating. If you throw in a chunk of wormy compost, suddenly, they are all eating.
That is where a hot mash comes in. Some people like to put their hens in the barn at night with a hot mash and some people like to give the hens a hot breakfast. Mine get a hot breakfast in the winter and they seem to thrive on it.
One farmer friend just pours a kettle of boiling water over a dish of layer pellets and lets the water soak in and cool down a bit and gives his hens that. The benefit to this is the hens think they are getting a treat and eat the hot mash up quickly, getting lots of water at the same time. Hens don’t want to drink ice-cold water when they are cold already so a warm, moist mash gives them the fluid they need to digest their food.
Other people make more elaborate mashes containing table scraps, porridge oats, fruit, kelp meal, soaked hen scratch and chopped greens. I sometimes soak alfalfa pellets and add that to their mash but not too much or the hens balk at it. I render lard from pig’s fat and the crackling, the leftovers from lard production, go into the hens mash. I give them mutton fat too as they really need rich food in the winter, especially bantams.
My bantams are Mille Fleurs, so you might expect them to be a French breed but they are really from Holland. They are large for bantams, about half the size of a laying hen. Smaller birds have more trouble keeping warm in the winter and mine stopped laying in the winter, years ago. I looked up the problem and the traditional solution: hot mash.
The next part of this essay deals with another underutilized traditional skill and that is darning. To illustrate my story, I want to tell you about a. favourite pair of trousers I have. They are green, cotton breeches that tie at the waist and knee. They came all the way from Nepal. I loved them so much I wore them out on the inner thighs and tore a hole in the leg while wearing them in the garden.
The holes in the inner thigh were very large and the remaining cloth there, very thin. Sewing a patch on them would not work. I thought about a story I read set in the gold rush of South Africa and how the servant would darn the master’s trousers. I thought I would try some visible mending.
Back in the day, people did invisible mending. They used different coloured threads to simulate the weave of a tweed or what have you. Some of those darns are minor works of art. I know because people were so proud of their master works that they were sometimes framed. I guess this helped if you were going for a job where needlework was part of the work. Easier to bring a framed scrap to an interview than a whole pair of trousers.
I can’t darn like that but I did have wool yarn I had spun and dyed in two shades of green. I was able to darn the thin cloth to strengthen it and to reweave places were the cloth was frankly missing in action.
The result was a fine pair of trousers with some very attractive darns if you look closely enough. One pair of trousers will not save the world but think what went into my having the trousers in the first place. Someone had to plow a field, probably using a petroleum-powered machine. The plants probably got dosed with synthetic fertilizer which, along with plowing, is terrible for the soil health. Then the plants were probably sprayed with fungicides and possibly herbicides. Cotton is a very polluting crop.
We are not done yet. The cotton was picked either by someone under the hot sun by hand or picked by another petroleum-powered machine. Transported by belching, diesel truck to a mill, carded by electrically-powered machines but the electricity was most likely from a (dirty) coal-fired electrical generation plant. Spun and woven by the same dirty electricity and then transported again to a factory to be cut out and sewn up by people who are classed as cheap labour and who help our lives of exaggerated luxury to continue on their exploited backs.
Then, the trousers were probably packaged in plastic that will be around, polluting for ages and poisoning any little creature who ingests it by mistake. Then, the trousers were shipped by various polluting technologies most of the way around the world where they came to me.
So, you see, by darning the trousers, I have saved the need for all that environmental destruction, exploitation and pollution that would have been necessary if I had bought another pair of trousers. Plus, I would never have been able to find this style of trousers again. If you are interested in darning, you might want to look up Sashiko, a traditional Japanese style of visible mending.