Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Waiting till the Worst Possible Day?

Lily's first lamb of twins, born outside. 
I was up on an early alarm this morning anxious to check on our ewe, Lily. Friends of the Blog will recall that she was "bagging up" (udder enlarging) in the previous post, so we knew we were on for some lambing, but she was still, this morning, officially 10 days early. She had teased me all yesterday with her retreating to far flung corners of the field to lie down, get up, walk in small circles and lie down again. She'd taken a light breakfast though and was not showing any other signs (like 'star-gazing'), so we had all gone off to bed lamb-less.

Twin #1 gets a good lick over by attentive Mum. 
Liz and I had been joking that she was deliberately hanging it out till the forecast snow started, the better to guarantee herself some nights indoors. Well, this morning her retreating, declining breakfast and looking uncomfortable were at a whole new level of intensity and I just KNEW we were on today. Then at 9 am the snow started to fall in earnest. I 'spoofed' the other sheep onto the front lawn so that we could have unfettered access to her and her lamb(s).

Chowing down on the all-important
colostrum, indoors by now. 
I retreated back indoors for my own breakfast but could see her through the binoculars from the Dining Room window and at 5 to 10, I shouted up to Liz that "we have membranes". We were on. Lily is a fast and efficient Mum. She quickly followed the bag of membrane and liquids with the lamb herself. She was no sooner on the ground than Lily was licking her clean and in minutes she was up on her feet and nosing around for Mum's milky teat.

The second twin arrives within minutes of us moving the
new family indoors.
Then it all went a bit quiet. Lily gave one big squeeze which sent her loin almost concave as seen from above and pushed out the 'leavings'. I guess Lily ate these though I didn't see that - I'd gone off to set up some indoor accommodation out of that snow and wind.

That lovely cardigan now finished by Liz. The same-colour
snood / neck-wrap  is here sitting on the right shoulder. 
I was in two minds whether to call it a day, all done, just the one lamb and bring them indoors, or whether the move might stress out Mum half way through her labour (if it was twins). We decided to bring them in as it was very cold and still snowing and the first lamb was shivering badly. This is relatively easy with a calm ewe - one person picks up the lamb and holds it where Mum can see it, then retreats to shelter with Mum following the 'stolen' baby.

That morning really was awful.
With the family safe indoors and towelled dry (with hay; also good for massaging some warmth/life back into a chilled infant) we humans retreated indoors for tea, me thinking that this was it. I sent the usual volley of texts out to interested parties. I went out to check the sheep about 10 minutes later and was delighted to find that in that interval she'd fired out the second lamb - twins! #2 was already struggling to its feet (I have not checked sex on that one yet) and starting to nose around for a teat.

Christmas left overs - turkey and ham PIE. Respect. 
And that was it - all over by about 11 o'clock. We both went about the various other businesses of the day, frequently nipping back to check on the new family. We have Mum-in-Law coming up possibly tomorrow (though the snow may cause a re-think on that plan) so there was shopping and house-work prepping, plus I had been asked to help friend move furniture to clear a room that was getting new lino, and then to move it all back afterwards.

As we go into the dark evening, it is still snowing on and off and I gave the dogs their off-lead exercise tonight in the orchard in a mini blizzard. Liz is delighted that the bad weather has caused tonight's play rehearsal not to happen. The lambs look very well as we shut down for the night - I have seen both suckling heartily on that all important colostrum and I have seen both Mum's teats in action. I have yet to see the lovely, comforting 2-lambs-at-it-at-once-one-on-each-side which we shepherds love to see. That tells us that all is really well. I have sprayed the lambs' 'belly buttons' with iodine. We have yet to ring-dock their tails and to take the iconic, lamb-under-each-arm cute photo. Tomorrow for those jobs all being well. It's been quite a day.

Friday, 12 January 2018

John Downie

Father-to-be, Pedro?
Friends of the Blog may recall that back in August last year I posted that I had seen signs of affection between new ram-lamb 'Pedro' and our mature ewe 'Lily'.


Onto the calendar for 5 months later (Jan 25th 2018) went my note saying "poss lambing date, Lily" and we all relaxed while nature took its course. She was likely to be our first at the lambing. You cannot hurry these things, after all. Mother Nature knows best.

Apologies for the technically bad and not
very edifying pic but it does show very
clearly the enlargement of Lily's udder,
called "bagging up" in the trade. 
Coming through Christmas I have therefore been keeping half an eye on Lily particularly, but not really expecting any signs for a week or more yet. Yesterday, though, I could see that she was suddenly 'bagging up', her udder which is normally invisible from behind clearly visible. I apologise for the picture which also shows that she is a bit 'dagged' up and needs some tidying.

Larch logs
Bagging up can be several days or even a few weeks prior to lambing so she still might hit the 25th (or even over-shoot) but we will be watching anxiously over the next mornings for our other favourite signs; declining breakfast, lying down in some far flung corner of the field a long way from all other sheep. Our girls never miss a breakfast, so when there is one missing from the feast you know something serious is happening. Wish us luck. This is a tense and anxious time.

New kids on the block, these 2 year old
crab apple whips. 
In other news, I have finally scored a couple of 'John Downie' crab apple trees, these from top Irish fruit tree supplier, Future Forests (www.futureforests.IE). In every garden we make, Liz and I always seem to pull in plants, offspring, cuttings or varieties from other gardens we have been involved in. Like old familiar friends, we seem to gravitate towards those varieties if we are contemplating buying or 'getting' anything from that broader group. John Downie is the variety of crab apple which in my memory has always grown in my Mother's garden in Hastings.

Mum's tree is now quite a landmark, being huge and visible from either end of the street. I am sure we three bothers used to climb it as young boys, and certainly made a load of wine from its fruit (sometimes wind-falls) as teenagers, while Mum, throughout has been making crab-apple jelly, sending us boys out to harvest its red fruits. When we first laid out the orchard here, the only crab I could find was 'Golden Hornet' variety, which has done very well but this year I was determined to fill 2 gaps with John Downie and this I have now done.

More protection than tree for now. They
should get away nicely. 
The tiny whips look more 'protection' than actual tree for now, ringed around with weld-mesh to keep the geese from ring-barking their tender trunks but, as I say hopefully when I plant anything, "They should get away nicely" (Geoff Hamilton!), and will soon out-grow the geese.

One of last year's babies comes up to 'point of lay' and goes for
a sit down. 
In the poultry department, we are happy to report that we are now well through the egg-drought and now starting to get sensible amounts of eggs per day - recent record days have been an 8 and then a 9.

I love the gentle range of colours of our eggs. 
Some of the new hens, hatched in Spring 2017, are now coming on line. They generally start with a few tiny, yolkless eggs, mis-shapes, double yolkers or shell-less soft 'bags' but quickly get into the proper groove and give us a decent egg most days. I love the range of gentle colours we produce, from almost white (actual white for the ducks, of course) to rich dark chocolate brown from the Marans girls.

2nd job for chickens in the morning after a quick scrabble for
breakfast seed - to the 'watering hole' for a drink. In this case
the duckling's paddling pool. 
I think that's about it for tonight. News on the lambing in a post soon, I hope.

Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherd's Warning. I do so hope not!
All the best.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

A Genuinely Short Post (Honest)

A welcome cold snap
OK, I know I have many times recently started a post with comments along the lines of "not much to say, so this is going to only be a few paragraphs" and then gone on at normal length. Well, this time, I genuinely have little to say, so I might be for real here. Added to that, one major 'thread' of narrative is under that embargo to which I have already alluded; the main characters in those episodes do not like to be spoken of 'on here' and there is no arguing with that.

Frosty East Field
Main event for this post was the 'Little Christmas' or 'Ladies' Christmas', (Nollaig na mBan or, if you prefer, simply Epiphany) when the men take over the reins of the household and try to treat their women-folk to a complete day of rest.

When you can only find 4 ducks it is a sure sign that #5 is off
hidden up somewhere laying a surreptitious late egg. When
she returns it is then a race against the magpies to find the egg
before they do. 
It is nothing that heroic, so does not generate me much Blog text but it is fun to do and much appreciated by Lizzie. I have to do all the kitchen and dish-washer duties, provide tea on demand and cook the main meals. Also, on this occasion, carve a good snack's worth of thin slices off the 'Parma'-style whole leg of ham mid afternoon and pass in the gorgeous chocolates we were gifted by our French visitors at Christmas (Thank you, Marion, Clara and Augustin). It all went very well.

Frosty early morning view from the new kitchen windows
I have also tried to progress from knowing that we have "around 30 chickens" to doing some kind of census to get an exact list. This is mainly so that we can report egg production, health and progress more accurately and to identify whether we have any 'passengers' who are contributing nothing and need weeding out. Tough old, cut-throat world?

We both wish the cats would not catch these cuties and we are
always amazed how tiny they are in the hand. A goldcrest, of
Obviously, with the birds free-ranging this is not that easy - you walk one way round the site with your notepad and pencil and try to record who is where but by the time you have nearly finished, are you double counting hens who have gone widdershins round the house and come to meet you again? I scratched down a list of 28 hens by name if they have names, and by a rough description if not. I now have a list that says such arcane things as "Stumpy", "Big Red", "Grey / Dark cape" and "Flat black / big crest" and is peppered with codes like 'A-head' and 'A cheeks'.

Poor little mite. At least we have a strong population of goldcrests
here, so this one will not really be missed.
The 'A' thing stands for Araucana, which is a weird 'fancy fowl' beloved of show folk which has tufts of feathers sticking out of the top of its head and sideways from its cheeks. The latter give it a strange hamster-like look from the front. Pure bred A's lay blue eggs which are quite nice, but we only have crosses between A's and other types, so we only get white eggs and we get hens which are mainly hen-shaped but have some bizarre A-tufts on their heads.

I now need to take my list into the coop at lock-up and double check. I better not bore you with a complete list of all the birds as a fancy tabular addendum. You might think I was trying to flesh out a slow news day. As if.

The half moon goes down into that big patch
of new morning sky where Storm Eleanor
decapitated our larch. 
Finally, we are now at Day 9 of the two major New Year's resolutions. First that #DryJanuary - we are both sticking to this as per the agreed rules; one 'day off' allowed. Mine is going to be Burns Night, Liz went for Nollaig na mBan and brother Mark has a gin tasting he has booked in on 15th. So far so good.

Knitting project gets finishing touches.
Second, Liz was determined to get out all the unfinished major knitting projects and finish them. She loves knitting up the pieces of a garment but hates the stage where you sew all the bits together, so as at NYD, I had a lovely Aran pullover which was all there but for the assembly and Liz had a blue cardigan and a green woolly in similar states. Well, true to her resolution, my Aran is finished, the cardy just needs buttons (and even has a neck-warmer / 'snood' in the same wool, to go with it.) and the green thing is very nearly completed.

Publicity shot for the Men's Shed. The lads were doing a 'bucket'
collection at the check outs in local SuperValu, "Duffy's". 
And that, genuinely, is it. Till next time.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Eleanor and Fionn

The top limb of a larch tree blocking the driveway.
Friends of the Blog will recall the fun and games here last February when Storm Doris came raging through ripping the roof off the main chicken building and felling a decent sized spruce across the driveway. They may also recall more recent entertainment provided by Ex-Hurricane Ophelia and Storm Dylan. Those two were equally well advertised and came with Met Éireann 'Orange Alert' warnings for high winds, though we mercifully escaped any significant damage from either.

The topless larch. Lots of new sky!
In the last post I described the latest storm (Eleanor) who came with no such warnings (only 'yellow' status) but which, at the time of writing sounded noisier and more scary than any of the previous crew, certainly for the hour or so around 18:30 pm, when I was typing that post. A real screamer - Hurricane style noises howling through the tree tops. We learned a new meteorological term that night - a "Sting Jet". This is a narrow area of intense wind formed as an eddy inside the storm spiral-system. They never had these when I was at school learning Geography / Meteorology so they may be just a more exciting, 'tabloid-y' expression for what has always been there, or they may have been 'invented' as storm-science moves on and learns more detail. What ever the case, we were impressed and we could certainly believe it.

It was with trepidation then, that I went my rounds of the place looking for damage. Relief too, obviously, that we humans were unscathed and even more so to find that all the buildings and livestock were unhurt. That poor, long-suffering 'Doris' tarpaulin over the main chicken house was still hanging in there. The only damage was that the drive was blocked (again!), this time by a big branch broken off the top of one of our lovely, gnarly larches down by the main gate, a small, weedy spruce had been thinned out of the row at the top of the East Field and a hedge-row hawthorn had been felled across the veg patch.

Horizontal hawthorn
The rest was just the usual wheelie-bins gone walk-about, twigs all over the grass and other light stuff (flower pots etc) in some unlikely places. Nothing we couldn't handle with my little chain-saw and some strong-arm branch-dragging.

Silver lining for the sheep. They get to browse the ivy leaves
off the broken branches we toss in to their field. 
The spruce had fallen across the sheep fence, so needed some nifty cutting up and moving lest the sheep walk out over the now 6" tall barrier. That proved to be one of those you get warned about in the chain-saw training manuals, where the (incomplete) break is still under a lot of 'bend' tension and cannot wait for you to uncouple the weight of the tree's 'top' before it springs back upright taking the saw and arm/chin of any idiot, unwary chain-saw man with it. In my case it pinged up so fast it passed through vertical and whip-lashed itself backwards, completing the original break. I'm still here, obviously, so you'll know I was ready and saw that coming.

Not that many logs once they are all tidied up.
It continued more reasonably windy for that whole day and into the next (Thursday 4th) by which time we were getting a bit fed up with 'windy' as an idea. It turned out that a smaller storm (Fionn) was being pulled along behind 'Mum' but that lad mercifully followed a more southerly track and only really affected the island's SE corner, Wexford mainly.

That spruce that came down across the sheep
fence at the top of out East Field.
So what else is going on for us at the moment, in between the blasts of gale-force wind? Mercifully, no more appearances by our fox - and we have been doing a lot of waiting, watching and listening, believe me. We have sprinted out to check at every alarm call from the Guinea Fowl and every burst of goose-based cacophony.

A neighbour's hay barn was 50% shorter after Eleanor and his
cattle-race a bit fuller of scrap iron.
Naturally, in the absence of real fox scares, I had to give myself a self-inflicted DIY scare-myself-silly. On Thursday, I had a 'thing' in nearby town Balla-D at 5.30 pm, so I was racing about a bit trying to get some bread made and all the birds locked up by 5. That would usually be calm and no problem but one of the young Guineas managed to get 'trapped' in the East Field; happy to fly over the gate one way and then can't work out how to get back. I had shepherded the ducks home and then had to back-track to rescue the Guinea, but then very happily sorted her and closed the door behind her as she sprinted indoors to join her 3 colleagues.

Storm Fionn slides by to the south of the island.
Off I went to my meeting, came back at 8 pm to a late supper and a relaxed evening, then went out to do last minute checks at 10 pm. Ooops. The ducks were 'still' out and now very upset at being in the cold and dark and unable to get home; locked out! They had been vulnerable to fox-attack for 5 hours. They must have strolled back out for a final nibble of grass while I was rounding up that Guinea Fowl and I had missed them in my relief at re-capturing her. Lesson learned and a stricter roll-call introduced for lock-up. How can you miss 5 noisy ducks?

Blue perches on the full but still open crates
of Christmas. What could possibly go wrong?
We also dismantled Christmas and stashed the stuff away back into crates in the Tígín. Tomorrow (6th Jan) is the date for that much-loved Irish tradition, Nollaig na mBan (say it nollag na morn) , Ladies' Christmas or 'Little Christmas'. This is those hard-pressed ladies' 'Day of Rest' where we blokes take the helm of the 'farm kitchen' and they get to relax and be spoiled after 2 weeks of solid hard work giving everyone else a superb Christmas. Liz likes to dismantle Christmas and pack it away on the 5th including wrestling with the drying out Tree or, she says, she would just end up hoovering up needles on Nollaig na mBan. Nobody wants that. More on how that went in the next post.

Stay safe, people.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

In with the New, (Not) Out with the Old

Roscommon has the eye of Storm Eleanor
pass overhead at around 6 pm.
Fox! My one word text brings Liz running to join me in the garden but we can hardly hear each other over the cacophony of Guinea Fowl alarm calls. We've not seen one on the property all year, since the November 2016 attack but now, two days into the New Year we are back in the firing line.

A new gin for Liz to try. Blackwater.
It was fairly calm (though we were expecting the latest named storm, Storm Eleanor by evening) but lashing down with rain. I was just wandering about looking for eggs, and had come round the corner of the barn, headed for the orchard when all hell broke loose 30 yards away at the top of the 'allotment'. Guinea fowl were exploding into vertical flight and shouting blue murder about foxes.

...and a weird new beer for me. Loved the
goat logo. Very quaffable. 
I saw the fella straight away, with a bunch of feathers in his mouth (but no bird). He was a fine big adult looking first a bit put out that he'd near-missed the Guinea but then a bit concerned that I was running towards him, flapping my arms and roaring swear words at him like some lunatic. He took off smartly through the hedge and was gone. That's when I got a chance to text Liz.

The Guineas having a fox-free dust bath in the tunnel.
The Fox-Success Gods were on our side this time. The pouring rain had most of the birds hiding in the sheds anyway and it was an easy job for 2 of us to shepherd the rest home - geese and ducks. The Guineas now settling down and chuntering and scolding loudly (as they do) could not wait to go 'home' either, so by 15:15, still broad daylight, we had everybody locked up for the night, safe in case Brer Fox should try again.

A baffled turkey?
Well. For a given value of 'safe'. Eleanor is now roaring around noisier, if anything, than the 'Orange warning' one, Dylan. I fear, as ever, for the tarpaulin roof of the chicken house. (We have just been out for a check round at half past six and so far all seems OK. It's just very very noisy. We mainly feel helpless and powerless.)

Meanwhile, away from Storm Eleanor and her kind, all is chugging along nicely as we chug gently through New Year and welcome 2018 in. The remaining turkey hen seems somewhat baffled but that might just be us anthropomorphising like we shouldn't. We were amused to ponder whether she is thinking that she has nothing in her folk-memory or hard wired into her DNA to tell her what to do with the 25th, 26th, 27th, the New Year and so on.

Baffled Turkey Hen
She is also a bit lost-looking now the Guinea cock-birds have  dropped her like a hot potato when they received their new 'women'. Up to then the boys viewed it as their duty to shepherd all three turkeys around and mind them. Now she wanders about wondering where her 'brothers' and her 'minders' have gone.

New Year's Eve supper.
New Year's Eve went very well for us, and nice and quiet. We ate the celebratory haggis supper and sipped Scotch Whisky (no 'E' because this was Famous Grouse, a gift from Santa). We watched a nice Irish-flavoured 'rom-com' movie ("PS I Love You", based on the Celia Ahern book) to fill the long evening and then did the 'First Footing' thing. We have both decided to try our hand at 'Dry January' - no booze till the 31st EXCEPT that we are taking the Scottish Amendment which allows for a dram of whisky on Burns Night (25th). We are not alone, by all accounts. Cousin 'Win'  and  her Peter are doing the same and bro' Mark is taking a gin-drinkers version in Swindon. There is a pre-booked gin tasting on 15th Jan which it would (obviously) be churlish to refuse, though he's not too bothered about Burns Night and Haggis. I'll keep you all posted on how we all do.

One off design handbag by Con and Santa
I can now, at last, post pics of this Santa delivery which I have been dying to show you but unable to do so lest I spoil the surprise. Friends of the Blog may recall that my good friend and archery coach, Con, is also a fine leather worker. He is the national go-to expert on Medieval footwear, frequently called upon to create repro shoes for museums and 'interactive' exhibitions (i.e. where the museum visitors get to try on the items) and asked to try to make a shoe using the archaeologists/historians' suggested techniques. "Nope, they WOULDN'T have been able to do it that way!"

Con also makes items for sale through the website - archery gear as well as shoes, 'jewelry', bangles and (ta-daaaa!) one-off design hand bags. With Santa's help we conspired to get Liz involved in the design without being allowed to know what the final result might be. She'd 'chosen' a cocktail glass for her 'logo' and Con was able to sneak off and contrive a cocktail-glass-based design for our bag. Liz is over the moon and the new bag is now the bag of choice, filled with all the usual 'clutter' of notebooks, spare tissues, lotions and potions and 'stuff' that keeps herself on the road.

My old favourite billhook may be 100+ years old.
Finally, that line in my title about "Not out with the old". I have in my 'man-shed' a treasured favourite farm implement, my bill hook, bought over 30 years ago 2nd hand in Surrey. It has a forged blade marked with the forger's stamp. "I.H.   J Harrison   Warranted" I was chatting away about favourite tools on the Internet and got talking to a lad who is a bit of an expert on old English toolery.

The stamp on mine told him that it was made by the company 'I Harrison', long since absorbed into Spear and Jackson, and forged by the son of the firm, John Harrison. The chap has all the pattern books from these firms and was able to identify my billhook as being originally from 1916, over a hundred years old! I loved it in an obsessive way before. It was my most precious piece of kit. There will be no stopping me now!

And there you have it. In the time it has taken me to type these last 8 paragraphs the roaring wind of Eleanor has quite died away... unless she is just teasing us as we sit right under that eye. More on all this soon. Happy New Year to all our readers and don't throw away those old tools. They might be historically important!

Possibly taking the love of Prosecco a bit far? Now you can
emerge from the bathroom smelling of it!
Just a couple more pics because I have them.
Final loaf of 2017.