Friday, 16 March 2018

Bo, Luke and Daisy which I update you on a lot of exciting live-stock stuff including ewe 'Rosie' going sick and needing the vet, we collect this years pigs and the grey hen, 'Crate Lady' comes off the nest with 5 new babies. It's all go, for sure. We have left the slow-news days and short posts behind but I daren't give you too much detail on these stories or we'll all be here hours.

Towser tries to work out what flavour of dog this is.
The bottle feeding of the rejected ewe-lamb is going really well and she is thriving. She is also coming to love being indoors and socialising with the dogs, who have also now got used to her and we are not living on our nerves worried that they might turn on her and attack her. Indoor "sheep worrying" is definitely not needed. She is filling out and growing visibly before our eyes, so much so that she is leaving her "breast fed" brother behind, but more of that in a while.

Indoor sheep worrying?
I woke up to a worrying sight on Weds 14th, the new Mum, 'Rosie' standing miserably in her pen, facing away from me, showing no interest that breakfast might have arrived. She was also "scouring" (diarrhoea) badly and also passing some bloody remnants of after-birth from her vulva. A bucket of part-eaten food sat in the pen from the day before. All was not well. I needed to phone our wonderful vet, mentioned several times in this blog, "Aoife (rhymes with Deefer)". We tried taking her temperature (rectally) using our first aid kit mercury-in-glass and could not read it. We did not know then that 'normal' for a sheep is 38 to 39ºC, and our patient, who was at 41.5ºC pushed the mercury so far up the (human) thermometer that all you could see was mercury.

Baby-formula for lambs. The green tub is
"Survivor" brand colostrum. 
Armed with this knowledge, Aoife turned up in an impressive hurry. Hurry is her style, and when she talks to you it feels like a machine gun blast of information, symptoms and medicines to solve the thing. I find myself thinking "Whoa! I need to write this down". Sheep-folk here would generally do a lot of their own 'vetting', though possibly with 'prescription' meds which you can only get from the vet, so Aoife tends to do that day's injections but leaves you stuff for any treatments over the following days, making sure to show you how to do a subcuteneous jab or an intra-muscular one and that you are happy doing them.

Sheep meds and my scrappy notes of instruction.
To cut a long story short (well, shortER) our girl had a rake of issues. She was exhausted and still off her food from the labour and the lack of roughage (she was ignoring the hay) had stalled her rumen. She was also possibly in early stage liver-fluke attack. Her temperature was up, making her feel uncomfortable inside all that fleece. Aoife showed me that the inside of her eyelids was salmon pink rather than red, and that you could pull small tufts of fleece away with a little force - it was not falling away easily in hanks. Red eyes and fleece falling out are symptoms of advanced fluke infection.

The ram lamb gets a go at the formula milk.
She got injections of anti-biotics, a vitamin to stimulate the gut and anti-inflammatory to get her temperature down. I also had to take her off the 'crunch' (meusli with molasses) and put her on hay and water (plus small amounts of ivy) while she stopped scouring. Later that day and over the following days I had to mix up some 'by mouth' antibiotic from a sachet and do her two injections. If her temperature came down I needed to get her out on the grass. Under this regime (Thanks Aoife!) she perked up really quickly, got her appetite back and has stopped scouring. Everybody is out on the lawn during the days, even the bottle fed lass, who is now named 'Bábóg' (Irish for female baby or doll, say it 'bab' and the the og as in 'bogus').

First hatch for Crate Lady, our grey hen. 
My little comment about Bábóg out-performing her brother on the formula milk had us worrying today that her brother was looking a bit weedy, thin and 'meh'. We wondered whether Rosie's sickness might have also involved her drying up a bit and the lad not getting enough milk. Elizabeth took him in hand and tried him on a bit of Bábóg's bottled milk, which he sucked well enough, all be it nothing like as well as Bábóg. He will learn. We will offer him more 'little and often' over the next few days to supplement the real stuff. If Mum starts up again, he will presumably ignore the offered bottle.

Sorry about the rubbish photo - the grey hen comes off the nest
with 5 babies but into a small sunbeam in a dark shed. I will get
better pics when I can get her out into the sunshine.
The grey hen we call 'Crate Lady' came good at the end of the last post, with a first hatch on the Tuesday and she climbed off the nest on Thursday with 5 new babies. As she was famously down in a foot-deep crate, this meant me having to lift her down off her shelf and tilt the family carefully over  so that the little ones could get out of the crate - they were never going to be able to climb out. They are now all thriving and Crate Lady is bringing them out of the shed, our first new family of 2018.

Rather a lot of pig for one small car and two dodgy looking crates.
You may be able to see a snout at ground level in the left hand crate
down between the feet of the standing pig. 
Biggest news today was our collecting of this years piglets from our breeder in Boyle (Co. Roscommon). It was lovely to be able to go see our breeder (Adrian) again, see all his piglets and talk breeding and blood lines. I was slightly worried because he sells such big pigs. Last year's were 10 weeks old and we could barely fit 2 in the crate - I had asked for smaller, 8 weekers this year. However even though these were 8 and a half weeks old, the litter was only 3 pigs, so the babies had had so much milk that they were nearly as big as last year's. Adrian struggled to do that lift-them-by-the-back-legs; they must be 15-20 kgs already.

Landed safely.
We got them to the car (they got wheeled in a wheelie bin!) and loaded into my worryingly flimsy looking crates. I was definitely having second thoughts and it was an anxious journey home (at least to start with), as I could see in my rear view mirror, the two in the wire crate fidgeting about, trying to turn round, climbing over each other and sometimes pushing (inadvertently, I'm sure) against the sides and doors of the crate, looking like they might well burst the crate and I'd have loose pigs in the passenger seat.

Settling in and straight down to nose-based exploration, 
I knew that if I pressed on, a) I'd get home quicker and reduce the length of the risk and also b) pigs tend to be unhappy passengers and the movement and vibration of the car makes them go all quiet and subdued. I still sent Mrs C a text pleading with her to be ready in gloves and wellies as I might need to make an emergency landing!

No such worries in the end. The subdued pigs just lay in the bottoms of their crates, no more thoughts of bursting out, while we wheel-barrowed them round to their paddock and landed them outside the ark doorway. Another long story gets cut short here, as they are now settling in and looking very happy and they have even received 2 visitors. Everyone wants to see the new pigs.

Working on a suggestion from 'Sparks', I was trying to name them some combination of the characters from the old American TV comedy, "The Dukes of Hazzard" which has crooked and corrupt county commissioner Boss Hogg. But these pigs are 2 'bonhams' (males) and one gilt (female), so Elizabeth decided they should be the main Dukes of Hazzard characters, cousins Bo, Luke and Daisy. I now need to make the name plate.

What ever the case, they are here and we are very happy with them. Only one resident is not happy. The black hen we call 'Beeblebrox' had been, unbeknownst to me, laying her eggs in the ark, walking in to the pen each day. She had accumulated a clutch of 13 eggs, so may have been about to go broody. I found the eggs when I went to bed down the pigs. Beeb was in there when we landed the pigs and shut the gate. She does not know how to fly out (apparently) so we had to release her after she'd been chased a few times by the playful newcomers. Her eggs come to the kitchen but we don't know the exact age of them, so they get labelled 'With Care'. That way we know not to use them as hard-boiled and to always open them into a empty bowl before adding them to baking or scrambling them in case they are off.

Small...... Far away. 
As I said, there is a lot going on. Neither of us will need anyone to sing us a lullaby tonight. We will sleep like new hatched chicks, belly-full lambs or travel-exhausted piglets.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

One Star on 'Trip Advisor'

When you're on holidays and you need your hair
done and you conveniently brought Mum along.
This post comes with a Health Warning regarding itself and possibly future posts. My trusty Dell 'tower' PC, at more than 10 years old, brought over from UK with us, may be about to expire. If it does, there may be an interruption in transmissions on here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. If I suddenly go quiet, don't worry for me. We will sort the tech out and get back on line as soon as possible.

The guests battled over goose eggs for breakfast.
My symptoms, should you be of a techie mind-set are an 'American Megatrends' screen appearing on boot-up. AM produce the bios chips that sit behind your 'Windows' stuff and , in theory you can solve this by changing a small flat, coin-size battery on the board. My experts think I may have gone beyond that, and my board is no longer charging the battery, so even if I change it, I will only 'live' a couple months more.

On Day 10, Polly takes her twins out onto the front lawn so they
can stretch their legs. They are soon racing about.
No problem. We have a handy solution - lose the PC, I inherit the laptop which is currently nominally Elizabeth's, and we treat herself to a shiny new tablet. I will also borrow the laptop in the interim so that the world is not deprived of my twaddle. I knew you'd be delighted!

Expert stock-man training. Danielle learns to lean professionally
on the fence and watch the sheep.
What of this 'Trip Advisor' header, though? In our house growing up, Mum (Pud Lady) was always the main cook and our family in-joke way of expressing pleasure at her marvellous food was something like "Mmmmm.... I will DEFINITELY be visiting this restaurant again!"

The girls hit the local fund-raising pub quiz. They came 3rd, only
3 points down on the winning table.
The modern version of this here, when we are visited by Danielle (plus Dan or, in this case, her Mother, Cathy) is that they pretend they are going to write us up on that website belovéd of travellers, stayers in guest houses and diners in restaurants, ( ) Trip Advisor. This is a site where members of the public can write attractions up with star-ratings and, because it is all open and unsupervised, it can all get a bit brutal with little tiny disappointments and grudges getting aired.

If Danielle gets exactly the breakfast she desires (e.g. dippy goose eggs) she sighs out a contented "5 stars on Trip Advisor!" If we 'fail' in some way she gives us a twinkly eye'd dark accusing look and mutters (I promise jokingly) "1 star on Trip Advisor.... just saying...". All good clean fun; we are not even on Trip Advisor (as far as we know!)

Dippy Goose Eggs. The stuff of 5-star write-ups
on Trip Advisor?
Regular readers will know that the guest came this time in expectation of the usual good food, drink and hospitality but we dreamed that we might also be able to supply a successful lambing, a fox in a trap and a possible hatch of duckling eggs.  Well, the hard numbers will show that we failed to deliver on all 3 of these. Every morning on livestock rounds we found the trap empty and unsprung, and pregnant ewe Rosie piled into her breakfast like a girl not thinking maternal thoughts that day. The incubator stayed quiet and duckless. 1 star might be our fate after all.

The Parma-style ham is nearly all gone. 
Still, the guests had a great stay and loved it all anyway. Cathy learned some cooking techniques and how to make sourdough bread. We sent her home with a little starter culture to begin her own line. Danielle saw plenty of livestock action including running Polly and her 10 day old twins out for their first explore of the front lawn paddock. Liz and Cathy diverted off to Silverwood land on Sunday to attend the party following nephew Morgan's Confirmation and for Cathy to catch up with all the Irish relatives.

The first lamb's tiny front hooves appear at the 'exit'
If you follow us on FB or Twitter, you will know that the guests' run to Knock Airport for their flights home was the ewe Rosie's cue to start the long awaited lambing. They left at around 10 am and missed all the excitement by only 5 hours. They were spitting. We had to furnish them with plenty of pictures, text updates and (a new 'attraction' for this Guest House) video clips.

A (black) head emerges, bundled in membranes, and some
(paler) woolly neck. 
Actually being there for the whole thing was a lovely, thrilling new experience for me. I'd only gone out to scrub the wellies used by Danielle clean, and when I looked in on Rosie I could see that she was finally in the lying down, canted over with neck stretched up "star-gazing" position. We were on. This was quickly confirmed by the big whoosh of liquid and ropey membranes passed out, the big, pink, enlargement of the dilating vulva and the rapid emergence of the two, tiny, white-hooved front feet.

First born (ram) gets expertly licked clean. 
Rosie was a first time Mum so I'd been worried about all manner of problems (all except the one we actually got, in fact!) and sheepy friends chatting on social media had, of course, delighted in telling me all their horror stories and heroic rescues (thanks people!). My delight was well seasoned with relief, then, when Rosie shot the first one out like a sausage from a hot dog.

I had reached to gently grab it in case she needed help but the lamb came apart from the ewe "in my hands, guv". I only had to clear membranes from it's face and then swing it gently to start the breathing, before I could put it down in front of a rather surprised Mum, who quickly started licking it clean like a pro. Elizabeth actually caught this on video. The clip is on FB and Twitter and I sound, on the soundtrack, as childishly excited as a kid at Christmas. I was.

The new twins. Rosie only wanted the one, thank you very much
All shepherds know that the 30 minutes it takes the ewe to lick the new baby clean gives the uterus time to take a breather but then start labour on any 2nd lamb. That bit went OK and the 2nd lamb, a ewe-lamb, came out as quickly, cleanly and neatly as her brother. At this point we started to have a problem. That may be enough for this post, however, so I will be very brief and expand on this in the next post. The ewe is "supposed" to stop licking lamb #1 and transfer her attentions to #2, giving both fair treatment and bonding. Rosie was having none of it. Don't put THAT in front of me.... I HAVE the only lamb I want and it's right here. No! I insist. TAKE IT AWAY.

Hazel catkins
In brief, she rejected it outright despite my pleading, trying to persuade her, putting the new one in between her nose and the first born. She refused to lick it and even started to head-butt it away. We sought advice from all our tame 'experts' and helped it to get 4 good feeds from the uncooperative Rosie (by gently holding her against the pen side while we sneaked the lamb in out of view.). However by 8 pm we could see that this was not going to work and the new lamb would stay cold, wet, confused and unloved, plus possibly injured or killed by Mum unless we rescued her indoors, towelled her dry, and started bottle feeding her. Welcome to the world of bottle fed 'pet' lambs. She's doing OK, a day and a bit later but, as I said, more on that in the next post (if there is one!). We also have a first hatch of chicken chicks in that same shed. Too late for that Trip Advisor review, though, I suppose.

Friday, 9 March 2018

Two Teasers

Archery friend Niamh calls by and has to have
a lamb cuddle. This is one of Polly's twins at
9 days.
Another short post  with very little progressing, especially in the fox and the lambing departments. There is just a quick, tantalising tease in each, but more of that later.

Cousin Cathy takes a 'selfie' with Towser. 
Our guests for the weekend arrive safely and we collect them from Knock Airport. These are Cousin Cathy and her daughter (so, presumably another cousin) Danielle. CC would be Elizabeth's closest cousin from childhood; the 2 families shared a house for 2 years

Danielle cuddles the other twin. Note turkey on
chicken shed roof ridge. 
Friends of the Blog will know that Danielle (Mrs Dan) has been here many times before and loves our live-stock filled farm life and is delighted that our ewe Rosie decided to hang onto her 'payload' till the girls got here. They had booked these dates completely unawares that this might be happening and we had not told them anything because we had no idea Rosie was going to 'pop' over these days. Of course we have no idea whether she will - she might equally keep hanging in there till after the guests have left (Monday), just to be a minx.

Lamb takes selfie of the three of us.
This is Cathy's second visit. She'd be maybe more interested in the indoor, 'domestic' side of this life and doesn't go quite so mad for the animals - she's getting Mrs C to show her various cookery skills, and I am teaching her sourdough bread baking. I will send her home with a sourdough starter 'dose'. My starter (Reginald) was the 'son' of a culture in Bridport originally, so now the 'grandson' (or daughter) is almost coming back home.

A duck egg but the purple thumb is a clue
that I have had a lameness problem in
our last-to-lamb ewe, 'Myfanwy'. I hope
she's on the mend now.
But those teasers. I will tell you first, perhaps that Danielle, being over here and loving our animals, has also come to hate our fox with the same passion, and wants rid of him as much as we do. She was very interested in our current 'fox-watch' campaign and the trap and I knew if Foxy showed up, Danielle would be out there with us gee-ing on the dogs.

Alder catkins. They open Mid-March
Well, we didn't see him today but we were all in the Dining Room at about 3 pm, chatting, when that old familiar Guinea Fowl alarm went up, but out on the front lawn. We all charged out and I let the dogs off. We never saw a fox, but the way the dogs shot off on their usual track down through the veg patch and out across the slope fields suggested that he might have poked his face up above the bank in our 'woods' and been spotted by the Guineas.

I love that the buds of hazel break first with this tiny red tassle.
I will have to look up whether this might be the female flowers.
The 2nd tease was a little 'stunt' pulled by very pregnant ewe, Rosie who we are sure will lamb soon. Today I was introducing her to Danielle and joking that if it started to go wrong I'd be looking to see which of the ladies had the smallest hands, roping them in for a bit of midwifery. Blow me if Rosie didn't suddenly arch her back as if straining to poo.

Turkey hen 'Gloria' tries her hand at
weather vane. 
She produced no poo but I am fairly sure I saw at her vulva a small amount of pink membrane and glistening wetness. Cathy also described seeing the contractions going as a slight wave down her abdomen. I was sure we were on, but, no, she seems to have been having me on a again. The pink may just have been (engorging?) vulva and the wet might just have been wee. I kept checking her through the evening and even blew out my attendance at a pub quiz to which all the girls have gone but she has showed no more signs and her back end is back to dry-ish normality.

There is no sign of any more back-arching straining or the great woosh of baggy membrane and amniotic fluid which precedes a genuine birth. That hangs there like a water filled party-balloon while the lambs slide out and only really falls away when she passes the afterbirth. (Sorry, hope you weren't just having your tea!) . Now at 10 pm Rosie is just lying there on her hay looking like a normal relaxed sheep, falling asleep. She has fooled this amateur shepherd again. Maybe more news by the next post.

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Fox Watch

Just for a laugh, our biggest snow-drift of the recent cold snap.
It formed in a eddy in our yard and must have been... oooh...
6 cm deep at least! The turkey-hen stepped in for scale. 
Yes, Fox-Watch. This is the new buzz-word name given to our newest and most time-thirsty 'hobby'. It is, exactly as described, time spent watching out for our persistent and so-far uncatchable furry friend. Brer Fox. I might sound upbeat and light hearted about this but inside, both of us are starting to get very annoyed and increasingly ground down and frustrated.

Our cat, 'Soldier' looking very 'Miss
Haversham' in his cobweb fascinator.
Presumably sticking his head into some
dusty rat-hole. 
Previous foxes have come and done their terrible stuff, but then turned stupidly predictable in their raiding or their routes to and from. We have been able to trap and shoot them within days so that we can then relax and forget about foxes for periods of 15 months+. This guy (or gal) nips in at random times in the afternoon (or 11 a.m. once) to just snatch a single bird from the orchard or the bit of land behind the goose-house. These are the places you cannot see from the house and cannot hear very well.

We have an excellent alarm system involving the 4 Guinea Fowl who scream blue murder at the sight of him, which works when they are out in that bit too and we now know to drop everything and race out there at the first shout. We also have the 3 dogs who are now expert at zooming out there, down through the veg garden and out through the hawthorn hedge in hot pursuit. They know by now to ignore all the 'not-prey' species (poultry, lambing sheds etc) and they know what Brer Fox looks and smells like. We let them go when we dare and they vanish for 20 minutes or so. We don't know whether they even get close to the fox, but the fright seems to make him rethink his tactics for at least a few days.

The 'beastly' winds turned the knitter's thoughts to hat and gloves
The trap is now permanently baited with tinned sardines or kippers but has so far caught only a 'foreign' cat, a manky looking grey and white yoke who was very fed up at being caged all night, lucky he didn't get rained on but presumably happy to have a belly full of my tinned fish. My heart missed a beat when I looked across and saw that the trap had been sprung. When I let the cat out he shot off like the proverbial scalded one and I have not seen him since. I was worried that he'd get trap-happy and come back for more fish, safe in the knowledge that he'd come to no harm, which would have made setting the trap for our fox a bit of an issue. I do not even know that the fox has smelled the fish or found the trap, never mind cunningly decided not to go in it. Patience is, as ever, the thing.

Apologies for this terrible (heavily cropped) shot of our
male reed bunting. 
We are left, then, with the need to stand 'Fox Watch' in person out there for all the at risk hours and indoors for all the less risky hours that the birds are out free ranging - about 8 a.m. till 5 p.m. currently. I do the outdoor stint from about 3 pm to lock-up. I am well bundled up and brought cups of coffee periodically by Elizabeth. I take my binoculars out there too, partly to help me scan the far horizons for russetty red, bushy-tailed varmints, but also so I can indulge in a bit of bird watching. When 'The Beast' is not blowing through this is actually quite a pleasant way to spend the 2nd half of the afternoon. I sometimes relieve the boredom by taking the dogs out with me, the better to keep a visible fox-deterring presence out there and scent-marking the boundaries. I just hope I can soon report the capture and despatch of this red bastard and put an end (for a while) to the need for all this nerve-twanging, tense, vigilance.

What else is new? As suggested above, we finally saw the end of our brutal cold-snap, "The Beast From The East" and in fairness we got away with it very lightly compared to some parts of the island and, of course, the UK and other countries. Over in the East and SE friends were reporting being snowed in by 7 foot drifts and I've seen today, pictures of Chinook (helicopter) supply-drops to cut off farms in Cumbria for solid fuel and food. There have been all the usual footage of hard pressed farmers digging out their sheep, alive if they were luckily but frozen to death if not found in time. Even so, the first thing I noticed when I went outside on Monday (5th) was NO WIND. Bliss. By afternoon the smoke from our chimney was pouring away into the NE, no longer at the beck and call of that horrible NE wind. Today we've had proper wet rain. A few chunks of broken ice float on some of the stock drinkers, but mostly we are 100% thawed.

You'd not fit any more sheep pens in that
 shed. Lady in Waiting, Rosie here is
next door to Polly and her twins. 
The ewe, 'Rosie' continues to keep us waiting and makes me feel like a proper beginner "panicking" and dragging her indoors a week early (OK, it's only 4 days so far). We joke that she is conning us to get some nights in the warm, 'bagging up' a little bit (yeah, yeah, show a man a flash of pink booby and he's putty in your hands!) and then holding out for the arrival of our next house-guests. We have the baby-animal-mad Danielle and Cousin Cathy arriving Friday, so Rosie will be able to do her thing to an audience. Ta daaaa! Look what I did!

Sun 3rd saw me at the end of the 13 week Garden Bird Survey
for Birdwatch Ireland. 
The ewes are in the small concrete/stone building we call the Tígín (wee housey) which is a proper man-shed with man-junk and tools stacked and shelved to roof height and some bits hanging from beams that run across the room from wall to wall. I was joking on Twitter that I couldn't tell whether she was really "star-gazing" or just looking up at the dusty, cobwebby, man-shed mess; the former is a sign of labour and imminent parturition, the latter just a natural female horror-reaction to the man-shed scene. Ah well. She'll make up her mind soon enough. Mother Nature knows best. Patience is the thing. 

Friday, 2 March 2018

Twins for Polly and 'The Beast' Blows Through

Polly and the Twins. Only hours old here. 
Sometimes it all goes perfectly and you are delighted and relieved to have made the decisions you have made. In my previous post we were hustling the ewe 'Polly' indoors safe from the threatened weather and from our fox. I wasn't convinced she'd 'pop' that day, but I'd seen her pawing the ground, which is a good sign of imminent lambing. She wasn't very happy to be penned indoors but she settled down with her bucket of water, one of grub and a wad of hay.

The first born ewe-lamb in the morning.
I checked on her for the last time at 10:30 pm but there were no signs of action, so I took myself off to bed thinking we'd be 'go' the next day. She has always lambed down during daylight in previous years. Well, not this time. Liz was taking her last visit to the bathroom at midnight and could hear, from the Tígín beneath her window, a loud bleating which could only have one meaning. She raced down, checked the pen and took a photo of #1 lamb who was licked clean and on her feet, trying to suckle. She came to find me, woke me and showed me her phone. Woop woop! I sprinted down in my dressing gown (as you do) for a check and, finding all well, left her for 2 hours to see if she'd drop a twin.

At 2 a.m. or so I went back out and found she had now passed the 2nd twin and that, too, was on its feet, so may well have been born within half an hour of the first. That's how Polly usually does these things.  My memory always plays tricks on me in these situations - the newborns look so tiny and thin compared to our hulking great thug of a thriving ram-lamb born to Lily, now 5 weeks old. I was so pleased we had brought Polly in - the thought of those two thin little mites being born into the teeth of that snow and wind. I thought they'd have only lasted minutes or been lifted easily by the fox.

A kiss from the new lamb?
Long story short on these little ladies - we are all thriving and growing plump on Mum's milk. The wind since their birth has meant that they are still indoors and have not even seen the grass yet. It's all going very well.

Fox trap as a flat pack. 
In that same post, I was also chasing our fox trap, which I'd had on order from MacEoin's. We'd had a fox near-miss in which I'd let the dogs loose to chase the lad across the fields and we'd not seen the fox since, but it could only be a matter of time. The chase of MacEoin's got me a reply that they were dispatching their traps on the Tuesday, so we will receive ours on the Wednesday (28th).

Don't scratch my floor! Trap assembled in the Dining Room.
It turns up by the brilliant DPD courier at about 2 pm so the local flat-pack team goes to work and assembles it within half an hour. We bait it with dog food (it's all we had) and put it down in the veg patch where the fox killed the previous hen.

Come on Foxy. You know you want that
dog food. What could possibly go wrong?
While we are assembling it, our much forecast storm finally arrives, with flurries of tiny, very frozen snow. The forecast had Roscommon and our NW corner missing all the bad stuff - the worst of the snow and wind, and that has proved to be the case, so I shouldn't be complaining too loudly. My friends in the badly hit corner of the island have been posting impressive pictures of drifts, tractors struggling to get about, sheep getting rescued from out-fields, snow men and all that malarkey. We've had a good centimetre and drifts up to...oooh..... maybe 5 cm?

It is the wind that has got to me - a week plus of continuously strong, bitterly cold easterlies, frozen mornings including one where the wind froze the pipes inside out bathroom. This was where they run against the concrete block wall of the extension OUTSIDE the insulating panels / dry lining. That morning we had no loo-flush or hand basin cold supply (warm was OK) so I had to import our saved big Jerry-can of water for the flushing and go up into the loft to check that all the tank and pipes up in that restricted space were flowing freely. They were. The outside tap also regularly freezes, so my livestock rounds currently including carrying warm water to all the drinkers and buckets. The winds have been giving our temporary tarpaulin roof for the chook house quite a buffeting coming, as they do, from our least protected direction. The tarp is chafing badly and I will definitely need to do that new roof job this summer. My nerves will not stand another winter waiting for that to rip open in a gust.

A comforting sight for the house owner during 'The Beast' cold
snap. The top half of the roof is thawing, so you know the attic
is safe from freezing. 
This freezing indoors thing reminds me that this house is a bit oddly set out. It is not really actual "two storey" but what they call "one and three quarters" round here. The vertical walls stop at the top of the upstairs windows and the interior 'sides of the room carry on up inside the roof rafters for another 4 feet, so the horizontal ceiling is only a narrow strip up in the apex. The attic is in this tiny triangle, the 3 feet or so from ceiling to ridge and about 6 feet wide at the base. With the big water tank wedged in there, it is very difficult to move about if you are of any decent size. If we needed a plumber we'd have to find one with a child apprentice!

It's a long way up to the tiny loft hatch. 
I pass most winters with the loft hatch pushed open to ensure a regular flow of warm air from the spare bedroom up into the attic space, which is ludicrous from a thermal efficiency point of view but saves me worrying about frozen and burst pipes. If we did this again I think I'd insulate right to the apex and have the tank and pipes inside the warm 'cocoon'. I run outside on frosty mornings and check to see if the top half of my roof is white or black (thawed). Weird, even paranoid, maybe. It works for me.

Bundled up like Barge-skipper for fox watch.
Trapper hat, scarf, 'mighty' coat and gloves.
But back to that fox. 'Fox-Watch' has now become a regular part of our duties. He seems to come at around 4 pm which, in warm weather, is now a good hour and a half before bird lock-up, so not only do I try to do as many outdoor, visible, noisy tasks as possible during the day, but there is a whole fox-watch shift that starts at 4 pm.

The pond well frozen.
I take the dogs out to the front lawn for their off-lead run about at 4-ish and hover near the NW corner which gives me a good view across the 'allotment' and pond (and now the trap). Then I drop dogs back in and feed them before coming back out to supervise the last few minutes of the birds. This has been a mercifully short 'shift' during The Beast, with all the birds happy to get in out of the wind and snow by 4:40 pm or so.

Mrs C decides on a '4-cat' duvet day. 
That worked well up to today, and there had been no more fox attacks since the dogs chased the fella (or girl) away. But today, I spotted that the next ewe on our list is starting to 'bag up'. This is Rosie, our first home-bred 'kept' lady and a first time Mum. So, fun and games this afternoon running into 4 pm, trying to run the flock into the yard where we could separate off Rosie and persuade her into the pen I'd built next door to the Polly family. Part way into this job I'd heard the Guinea Fowl alarm calls and raced out there praying fervent "Ah, not NOW, Mr Fox!" prayers. I could see nothing. This happened twice. I should have known by now to trust these birds.

In the buffeting East wind, the tarpaulin over the chicken house
is starting to chafe badly. 
With no apparent fox we got on with the sheep-wrangling and we are mid sheep-chaos, with loose sheep chasing about and not yet back in their field, when the Guineas shout again. Mr Fox has struck, grabbing a Buff Orpington hen from right up by our compost heaps and fleeing as Elizabeth is struggling to release my sheep-proof barriers. By the time we secure the sheep, it is too late to follow and I'm disappointed that the lad did not go into the fox trap.

Dublin 'Coddle'. A stew of sausages,
bacon, onions and spuds. A real
Winter warmer. 
Ah well. I leave you on another blog post with a bursting ewe we hope about to lamb safely indoors and a fox who has pushed up the score again. The Beast from the East is almost done, with the winds now dying back here and us due to warm up a bit a thaw out over the weekend. I think that'll do for this one.