Friday, 20 April 2018

Teenagers Leaving Home

Silvergirl with her chicks.
In a story which will be familiar to all parents who have seen their babies grow up to and through teenager-hood, our 5 baby chicks hatched under 'Silvergirl' were sent on their way this week. They are 6 weeks old today and fairly well feathered but still look very tiny and vulnerable to me, but Mum and Mother Nature know best.

A final lesson in sunbathing for the chicks
Two nights ago at lock-up time I found the five in the yard happily milling about as they had every other night, waiting to be led into the Tígín (lambing shed) where they hatched, by their Mum. But where was Mum? Nowhere to be seen. I soon tracked her down to the main chicken shed where she had gone to roost up high on the perching ladder where there was no chance of the babies joining her. They'd been abandoned.

Silvergirl's chicks quite well feathered up
We are used to this, of course, at about the 6 week stage, so I shoo'd them into the 'bedroom' and left them to find a suitable corner to sleep in. They chose the normal corner and huddled up without Mum. It was a lovely warm night. She is not, in fact, as fiercely negligent as this would suggest.

I'd been waiting for some blue skies to show
the flowering cherry off to good advantage.
They finally arrived yesterday.
When I released the birds in the morning, the 5 rejoined their Mum and spent all that day off and on together or happily apart. That evening she left them again and I repeated the bedtime shepherding. By chance tonight they were together at bedtime, so I shoo'd them all in including Mum but I think they are pretty much done, reared and chucked out of 'home'. Silvergirl has come back into lay and may well take up 'Stumpy's baton and go for a 2nd bite at the broody-ing cherry. We'll see.

The pigs have found the ditch.
A couple of bits of catch up news. Remember our recent visit from (Mr) Dan, the "struggling writer" who was over here to write his LSE Thesis? As he flew home he'd not quite finished dotting the i's and crossing the t's but was confident he'd finish and submit by the Thursday 08:00 deadline. Well, he did and sent us a celebratory message through Facebook saying "It's dooooooooooone!" We all have to wait for the marking system in LSE to know how he has done and how well received. He is hoping for, and reasonably confident of, a 'Distiction'. Watch this space.

Funky socks for my Birthday.
Our Ozzie visitors finished the last leg of their tour of Ireland and Facebooked us all (if that is a verb) with various updates as they handed the hire-car back, caught their shuttle-bus to the Departures building (3 pm yesterday), boarded their plane (half past 5), stopped briefly in Abu Dhabi (03:00 this morning) and finally arrived home at 3 pm this  afternoon, sending a final message that read "Home safe and sound! Can barely keep my eyes open so night all". They must be exhausted. Good luck you guys. We may see them again but it won't be for at least 18 months, they think, just for the cost of the flights.

Not easy to 'get' in Ireland. At least, not here in land locked
Co. Roscommon, but Elizabeth found some yesterday on our
wonderful local fish-van. Scrummy.
Not too much else going on. We are in a gap between all those visits finishing and the arrival of our first Help-X student, a German lad named Carsten early next week.

Our always reliable plum tree covered in
In the gap, both of us had a serious go at collapsing with chest colds, possibly picked up by me at The Play and generously passed on to the Lady of the House because... you know... sharing. Mine was quite quick - just 2 nights of coughing like an auld git but then followed by a gurgling left ear for 2 weeks which clears and re-blocks disconcertingly.

Latest knitting project is a fancy shawl and
a ball of nice blue yarn has also arrived.
Elizabeth converted this to a more normal "flu like symptoms" with the mandatory runny nose, coughing, aching tiredness and retreating to bed for long naps during the day. Fortunately the naps could be slotted into empty gaps in the schedule and she has not had to take a 'sickie' from any appointments, work or college.

We are both recovering now and should be able to shake it off in time for the Help-X lad.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

April Showers

Back to the roots? This house was formerly owned
by Steak Lady and Theo.
My last post saw Australian cousins Dee and Luke head off from here on the final leg of their family-finding tour of this island. They were headed from here via Strokestown House and the Famine Museum to visit 'Sparks' and Kim, from there up to north of Dublin to call in on Auntie Mary, back to Dublin for some hotel-based exploring and then the lengthy flight home on Thursday (19th).

Good egg yields at present.
It has been good to be able to follow some of their adventures on Facebook where they regularly post pictures and update stories. Last time I looked there were 247 pics of the "Ireland Family" in an album. One bit I did enjoy was Dee and Luke's little diversion to try to look up a street in Dublin where both families lived in the 60s just prior to the emigration. Dee's family lived in house No.1, Elizabeth's family in No. 3.

Scrambled eggs don't come much yellower. Elizabeth had been
making meringues and there were 4 yolks left over. I added two
'whole' eggs to thin it out a bit. 
All the kids' playing was done out in the street in those days but it was a cul-de-sac and you were only allowed "down" as far as the line in the tarmac where it changed from the cul-de-sac to the MAIN road and all the Mums (or probably all the grown ups) were allowed to clip the ear of any child who strayed, no matter who 'owned' the child, and send it back up to the permitted area.

April Showers brewing up.
It turns out the street and the houses are still standing, although No. 1, being on the end, has seen some major extending. Dee was able to stand on the ground where she had once played and even spoke to the owner of No. 3 (The nicest garden in the street!) who had bought the place from Steak Lady and Theo all those 48+ years ago when they had sold up to move to the 'new estate' in Portmarnock (N. County Dublin). Top roots-chasing Dee and Luke!

Bottoms up.
Dee and Luke actually managed to time their visit here to perfection in terms of finding a gap between the wet bits. As they arrived we'd enjoyed a good week of drying weather after a very wet March and April, so they were able to explore and meet the livestock with minimal wellies involvement. As they left another huge Atlantic storm brewed up with all the associated warnings for rain all up the coast. This storm was subsequently named 'Irene' though not till after it had passed dumping huge amounts of rain on us, joining up all our puddles again. One heavy shower today even had the ducks running for shelter, which was a new one on me.

Luke found some good beers in his travels. I'd not met the stout
version of Galway Hooker, or this superbly labelled 'Hairy Goat'
None the less, we still believe in Spring. Our first swallow turned up on the 9th and I have since seen them in threes and fours every day diving about between the rain drops and wind gusts, fuelling up on flying insects. They don't usually nest here since our cats became too athletic and too good at snatching them from the air as they dived from the bright sunshine into a shaded barn (and were briefly blinded, presumably). I also saw today that the local pair of coal-tits have come back to their nest hole in the gable end of the goose house.

Light reading for the Birthday Boy.
Not too much else happening except that, having got through the family visits, we have re-opened the humble abode to the Help-X volunteer students. We were advised that to increase the chances of your 'farm' being spotted on the website by prospective helpers, you should update your sales pitch. The website apparently brings fresher updates to the top of its look-up queues. As ours has said for the last 6 months, we are "closed for Winter", the simplest update seemed to be just to change that to "now emerging from Winter" and we are suddenly of interest to a German lass, an older couple of bee keepers from Canada, a French lad who fancies August, and a German lad who wishes to come this month. More on these as and when they work out.

Oxford Sandy and Black Pig Group 'merch'.
I think I will leave it at that for now. Talk to you again when we have dried out a bit.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Dee and Luke

Dee, Luke and some sheep
Happy Birthday to me! 61 today and starting to wonder just how long you can go on saying "Yes, but that's not REALLY old...." We had planned for a nice quiet weekend, relaxing, eating and drinking maybe a little too much, avoiding doing anything unpleasant or arduous, and we had no idea we were in for quite a treat from an unexpected direction. This would rather snooker the "quiet" bit of the plan but left everything else intact.

Dee takes her turn at the bottle
feeding of Bábóg
Welcome to the happy home, long lost cousin Dee and her son Luke. Dee is the same age as Elizabeth but her whole family emigrated to Australia back in the 60s when the girls would have been only 6. There is famous family story that when Dee (and the rest of the children) were being brought round Dublin to say farewell to the various cousins and relatives, young Liz so didn't want to lose her playmate that the pair conspired to hide Dee in a wardrobe buried under a pile of clothes.

Luke, Elizabeth and Dee
Well, it seems the missing Dee was eventually liberated from her hidey-hole and taken away to the airport. Dee has never been back since and grew up and had her own family out in Gold Coast, just south of Brisbane in Queensland. One of those family is eldest son Luke (30) who has joined Mum on this trip.

The by-now-traditional dippy Lisacul goose-egg breakfast. All
our guests seem to love this.
48 years later, Dee decided on a trip back "home" - a 3 week mission to see a bit of Ireland and to catch up on as many of the rels she had left behind, as she could. She already "knew" us a bit from Facebook and this blog. She and Luke are now 2 weeks into this and have done a lot of the tourist-ing and have met 'Steak Lady' and the 'Silverwoods'. This weekend is our turn before they head on to Mullingar to find 'Sparks' and Kim. Thanks for coming, Dee and Luke, you have been a pure pleasure to host and you are welcome back any time.

Dee is obviously delighted with the toast.
One amusing anecdote from all this is that Dee has only now found out how her old family name "should" be pronounced. She has spent 50+ years saying it with a hard 'T' and a long 'U' vowel, as kott-yule-y. When she arrived in Ireland 2 weeks ago she found they were all calling themselves with the very different pronunciation , 'kotcherly'. It was quite a surprise, she says, like suddenly finding out you are adopted. She has a whole new family.

Fox deterrent - 3 dogs, a male turkey, a human and a
smokey fire
That visit has obviously eclipsed the rest of the news, such as it was. I'd just been quietly bimbling around enjoying the increasingly warm weather, the spring flowers and everything warming up. It was nice to be able to spend some quality time outside.
Making smoke
One of the mornings I decided to burn some of the brushy wood brought down from the larches by Storm Eleanor. This would kill 3 birds with one stone. I would be out there for hours in full view of any foxes peering in. I would burn a pile of brush behind which the fox could keep hidden while getting dangerously close to the chickens. I would also remove that same pile which the turkey had been trying to lay an egg in when she got mauled by our foxy friend last week.

Flowering cherry
So, we are all tidy now and that risk is removed. It is a bit ironic that we spend all day trying to stop our chickens dying at the hands of the fox but then, occasionally, we have to 'off' one ourselves. This was the fate of a surplus rooster recently. This bird was becoming increasingly aggressive and amorous so that a level of stress and intensity had built up in the chicken flock without us really noticing. Once we'd ended his little run, we are both delighted and amazed by how relaxed calm has descended once more.

Flowering currant.
You can go outside and watch the birds for hours - nobody is squabbling, battling or trying to sneakily 'tread' anyone else's harem. That's the way we like it. Millpond smooth and still-quiet. That's if you don't count the bleating baby lamb, the 'buckwheat buckwheat' cries of female Guineas, the gobble gobble and chirruping of turkeys, the occasional cock-a-doodle-doo and dogs barking and the cackle of a successful and proud egg-laying hen. Or 15.

Horse chestnut "sticky bud"
Ah well, That's enough for this one. I must away back to my guests and my Birthday.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Walk-Home Wendy (2)

Lucky hen walked home from the fox's clutches.
My previous post had reports of a "minor miracle" where a grey hen had escaped the clutches of our fox part way (to his) home and amazed me by coming into view, walking (to her) home from 50 yards out in the fields. My report had the hen going from out in that field to "back with the rooster", with no detail. I now need to bring you a Part 2 as it was not quite as simple as that made it all sound.

Wendy back with the rooster and now sporting a pink leg-ring
to ease finding her again. 
I had seen her come as far as the fields 'below' our boundary-bank, but then saw her walk right past the obvious track home. I took Deefer and went out through a convenient hole in the hedge to look for the other 2 dogs but also to see if I could find the hen and help her home. None of the above were anywhere to be seen so I guessed that the hen had out-manouvred me and nipped home. I gave up the search and then found, with the rooster, a suitably bedraggled grey hen. 2 and 2 makes 5. Problem solved. Write up the blog post. Move on.

Bad sign. A slew of Gloria (turkey)
feathers. Another lucky escape.
That night (Thurs 5th) was very, very wet - lashing rain that turned us back into puddle central but the next night was warm and dry and on Saturday it was so warm that I went down to see how many bees I had flying. Lots, of course, but more notable was to find, standing in a daze in the veg patch, a bedraggled grey hen with a damaged, droopy right wing. My 'walk-home' girl, of course who had obviously been delayed in her walk home by 48 hours lost in the bramble patches or under the bank, struggling to navigate. Huge apology to the hen who will not have enjoyed the wet night.

I am happy to report that the (correct) hen is now returned to the flock via a quiet night's observation, the cutting off of the long primary feathers which were drooping down to her foot and getting kicked every time she took a step (must have hurt if her 'hand' was mashed by the fox), and by the addition of a pink leg ring to help us find her among the other grey hens into the future. She has been named "Walk-Home Wendy" at least for now.

Gloria after the fox attack. 
One more fox story, at risk of driving all my readers off by becoming boring on the subject. Trust me; I would be more relieved than the average person to off the fox and stop reporting him/her. This was today at 2 pm-ish and, once more, I am off site and miss all the action. We think now that Foxy pounced on Gloria the turkey hen as she was trying to lay an egg back under that bank which I have photo'd for you before. She presumably screamed and jumped up, setting off the Guinea fowl, and then Elizabeth, and then the dogs. The fox scarpered at that point leaving Gloria but with a mouth full of feathers. We found the feathers but by then Gloria was round in the yard (along with everybody else). It seems we have had another FAILED fox strike. It's all very nerve wracking but better this than successful hunts. Our big concern now is that once the neighbouring farmers' cattle are back out on the grass we will no longer have the option to let slip the dogs of war.

Blue Hyacinths.
It's not all foxes, though, so what else is new? THE PLAY had its final 2 nights on that Friday and Saturday and went off superbly. The Friday audience were especially appreciative and noisy, laughing readily out loud, cheering enthusiastically and 'ooh'-ing and 'ah'-ing when they spotted a cast member they knew or sussed a plot twist. Performers love this and all of them seemed to rise to new levels of sparkle and effervescence. It was lovely to watch. Praise is widespread and the Players have had some lovely feed back face to face and via Social Media.

Sarah and the pigs.
Our visitor from last weekend, Sarah M, had been off down south to her friends wedding and made it back, via Galway, to be here in time to come to the Last Night. She also got to meet the stock again. She loves our pigs and the sheep, especially bottle feeding the lamb. She left us for the 2nd time, heading back to Knock Airport after a goose egg breakfast to give back the hire car and fly home.

Not an easy picture to get - pigs sleeping contented in the sun.
Usually they spot you, jump up and scamper over.
This feels like the welcome end to a very enjoyable but very exhausting month or two of fierce activity with the play, especially, building to an ever-busier climax as the rehearsals accelerated to almost daily.

We are left delighted to be able to relax and take some days off to catch up with house stuff, but both of us could not resist wandering down to the Hall to see the stage and set all dismantled and being carried away in bits to a waiting van. It all gets stored in a container on the farm of one of the Players. Elizabeth had to get in there quick to retrieve all 'our stuff' (several play 'props' were ours) before they were buried for the summer in the storage.

Larch "roses"
I think that's about it, so I'll just post a few pictures which I have not had a chance to "use up".

Pulmonaria now in good flower

A man out standing in his field.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Waning, Weaning and a Good First Night

A bit swampy round the gate in the East
Field but at least the sheep can stand in
the dry to eat the rescue hay. Many sheep
keepers are suffering way worse.
I'm not sure how you, at the reading end of this blog, are doing for weather, but here in Ireland, our appetite for this rain and wet is waning fast. I was off collecting straw today for a beef farmer friend who asked me last time to just get half a dozen because he was sure he'd have his animals back out onto the grass "soon" and he'd not need the full load of 15 bales in my small trailer. Now he is more "they'll not be out to May Day at the soonest now". Another guy at the straw dealer was bemoaning that we'd need a good 2 weeks to dry it out even if it stopped raining today.

At least the sheep can have dry(ish) feet while they eat their
hay. I have spread a lot of gravel into this bit to stop the ground
chopping up so much in winter.
As a whole, Ireland is looking down the barrel of another Fodder Crisis like the one in our first year here (2011) as saved hay and straw start to run out. For luck, I slung a couple of hay bales onto my load - there is precious little grass yet in my sheep field. There is a little movement but the sheep are very pleased to get their crunch and hay each day so they can at least have that full belly feeling.

It's not all rain. I managed to get this complete line of post-visit
table linen through the system.
Which brings me to a related matter - weaning the bottle fed lamb. Little Bábóg is three weeks old now and starting to look very burly. We noticed that all the other lambs have started sneaking their noses in between the adult sheep to snatch a bit of the 'crunch' (like muesli with molasses) or the hay that we are feeding to the ewes. They are weaning themselves off the milk as Mum's milk starts to peak-flow and their ruminant guts start to work as proper grass-fermenting chambers. I have even seen Polly's two lambs (5 weeks) sitting in the shelter cudding.

Our flowering cherry, just starting.
It was back to the books then, for us, and the label on the 'Lamlac' packaging, plus a discussion topic opened up on Twitter to see how you go about this on bottle fed lambs. The consensus seems to be to wait till Day 35 at least and then, if you think (or know) that your lamb is taking at least 250g of solid food per day, you just do a "hard wean" taking the bottle away in one go. No messing about with watered down milk or small measures; the lamb's gut cannot happily do both food types at once unless they are coming little and often.

You are being watched. The ever-hopeful pigs keep an eye.
Readers may know that the sheep liver fluke is a complicated parasite which spends only part of its life cycle inside the sheep, chewing away at its liver and creating a good range of 'unwell' symptoms. The rest of the life cycle is spent in a mud-snail which loves the wet Irish bog-land soil. In normal years it seems to stay away from our, higher ground and we get no fluke problems in our sheep. Every time we send a lamb to slaughter, we get the butchers to slice through the livers and check for any damage. They are always 'clean'.

Silvergirl's thriving and surviving 5 chicks, 3 weeks old here.
This year though, you will know, that one of (ewe) Rosie's post-natal problems was early stage fluke damage. Vet, Aoife, told us that it is such a bad year that pretty much "everyone" has the problem. I can imagine. I look out across those sheep foot-print sized puddles in our field and I can just see the little flukey snail bas***ds thriving and doing a population explosion across the acre.

Sporting their new ear tags. Three of the lambs with one of
the mums.
We got all the flock into the cattle-race on a rare dry day yesterday, fluke-drenched all the ewes and took the opportunity to ear-tag all the lambs. The drench is 5.25 ml of chalky bluish gloop given by mouth using a syringe (with no needle obviously). Legal and healthy all on the same day. There's shepherding!

Meanwhile a minor miracle happened in the never-ending fox saga. The hens won a point back for their score board. The Guinea fowl alarm went up at 11 a.m. and we jumped to, and let the dogs out. They shot off with their "it was a fox" focus and speed. When there is no fox they amble about looking for a scent-trail and soon lose interest and return. We declare it a false alarm and move on. While they were gone on this one, I was able to walk round the far side of the poly-tunnel and spotted the sad slew of grey feathers. I was sure the fox had nabbed a hen.

Young love? The turkeys displaying to one another.
Ten minutes later and still no dogs, so I walked down to by the bee hive to look for distant white shapes meandering back to me between the rushes (that field, which is not ours, is more rush than grass!) and was amazed to see a grey hen walking back towards me from 50 yards out. She was very much alive, chuntering in an upset kind of voice and looking a bit shaken and ruffled. I can only think that the dogs caught up with the fox for some reason and the fox was forced to drop the hen in his flight. The hen rejoined the main rooster (Gandalf). What he said to her is not on record, but they spent the rest of the day as if nothing had happened. Go the grey hen.

Turkey egg.
Of course, you will know that the main story at the moment is nothing to do with rain, weaning lambs or the fox's antics. It is THE PLAY. You'll be pleased to know that the Lisacul Players nailed it on their first night, delighting a capacity crowd with a superb, very funny, enjoyable performance. Everyone is relieved and delighted. There are now two more performances, tonight and on Saturday, so I will give you a more thorough account in the next post, when it is all over and debut Producer (The Lady of This House) has had a chance to recover. If you are going then do as the printed programme says and "sit back and enjoy the mayhem". It is great.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Dress Rehearsal

The three would-be bank (un)robbers rehearse a scene.
This evening feels like a welcome, if lonely, night off, all on its lonesome in what feels like weeks of play rehearsal nights and hosting visitors. That's me speaking and I've only been to a few of the rehearsals; Elizabeth has been to every single one and to the extra ones slid in on Sunday afternoon. Yesterday was the final Dress Rehearsal, before the 'Players' get tonight off followed by the First Night tomorrow (Wednesday). There are performances on Friday and Saturday too, and then it is all over for this time.

'Badger' gets 'Windy' ready for the action
I have said before that I will not do 'spoilers', so no detail till after Saturday but it is looking really well and promises to be a great success. The players are veering between elation, excitement and total panic as you'd expect. I know from previous years how the (2) debut actors will be lifted but also knocked a bit sideways by the crowd reaction, having to pause while the laughter dies down and getting that instant feedback from the audience. All the players comment that by now, having rehearsed the thing to death, they are numb to the jokes and surprises and they start to doubt whether this is funny at all. It is, of course. They will do fine.

Dan and Sarah about to do justice to a roast and some ratatouille
Meanwhile, as you will know, we have seen our first visit to its end and enjoyed the first half of our other visit; the former being Dan with his thesis writing break and the latter a one night stop over by first time guest Sarah M who is wrapping a week of touring round a midweek wedding way down on the south coast.

Sarah tales her turn at bottle feeding the lamb.
Sarah was with us over Easter Sunday night. She has hired a car at Knock for her touristing but I nipped out to Knock anyway to 'collect' her and guide her home. Simpler than trying to give directions through these lanes. Sarah is a long-term friend of Elizabeth through the Internet and they have met several times.

Elizabeth really is the Yorkshire Pudding Queen of all Ireland.
These may have been the best yet - they were tall, light, fluffy
 and golden and "shook from the tin".
I'd know her from Facebook but had never met, so we were able to enjoy that 'thing' where you finally meet the person you feel like you have known and been friends with for ages, and to find out they are just as delightful as you thought they would be. She was a lovely guest to 'host' and loved everything here, from us and the livestock, to the superb food served up by Mrs C. Very easy to talk to as well and the conversation flowed really well. She is now off on a 5 hour drive to the south and will return next weekend for another stop-over on the way back through to Knock. She is already promising to return for a "proper" stay when she can sort out more time off.

Beef rib roast.
We dropped Dan to the airport this morning in the pouring rain. He'd not quite completed the thesis but assured us the end bit was do-able within the deadline even with taking Mrs Dan to a promised "5th Anniversary" (of being together) Dinner. He has until 8 a.m. Thursday, (he tells us) so he will work all night after the dinner if needs be. What ever the case he made sure we knew how grateful he was at giving him the space to get stuck into it, saying that he'd never have got so near the end without us. Good luck Dan.... get that submitted and knock them dead. I am sure you will get the high marks and Distinction you are striving for. Dan has promised to let us know how he gets on and, like Sarah, has also promised to come back soon, with Mrs Dan, but without the laptop, for a proper holiday.

Meanwhile, little else note-worthy is happening (that's actually a relief!). The pigs, the lambs and the baby chicks are all thriving. The fox has taken only one more bird, unfortunately our ace broody and chick-rearer of the 7-chick family last year, 'Beeblebrox' (see for example post ) This was a very quick attack as Beebs must have been right close to the boundary bank and Brer Fox nipped over the bank and ambushed the hen without being spotted (in time). The fox trap has now caught our own cat 'Soldier' but nothing else. Patience is the thing. More on all these stories in the next post.