Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Known to the Police?

The village 'Centre' gets new varnish in the main hall in
this 365 offering.
First, a little more on the Gallowglass Warrior featured in the last post, if you'll bear with me. I had a root around (not too hard!) and found that our man is the work of an African born, UK-working sculptor name of Clare Bigger. The website has it that "Clare Bigger’s sculptures are all about movement.  With subjects ranging from athletes and dancers  to race horses, cats and birds of prey, her sculptures can be anything from 10cm – 10m high.  She works in stainless steel which allows her to create light airy structures which are both strong and weather resistant.


A bird in the hand? Hubbard Chick.
Clare has always had a keen interest in sport (which includes a black belt in Tae Kwon Do) and her work often reflects this, its dynamic nature capturing a dancer balancing on point or a sprinter in full flight. Clare Bigger’s sculptures are a revelation, a celebration of life and the spontaneity of movement.

She was born and brought up in Africa and has since travelled extensively with destinations including Solomon Islands, Bhutan and Costa Rica."

Some good curds in the latest goats' milk cheese batch.
Her website has an impressive gallery of pics of her work. I contacted her just to say how much I admired her warrior, that I had posted a blog on the subject (I hoped she approved) and that I was trying to get a picture of the guy silhouetted against the sunset. She replied that she was delighted that I liked him, had enjoyed the blog and was looking forward to my sunset pics. I have since found out that a local pub is holding a light hearted competition to choose him a name - I'm not sure what Clare would make of that! I suppose it depends on what name they choose.

Pre-game huddle for the boys in black and white.
Meanwhile the ever more diverse campaign to find interesting things to photograph for '365' took me into the world of sports photography. Not having a big interest in sport, I do not go there every often and had not actually been to the local GAA (Gaelic Athletic Association - it covers all the good honest Irish sports like Irish football, hurling and handball) ground when a game was on in all the 4+ years we have been here. It was a bit of an adventure with me the nervous newcomer creeping warily onto this hallowed turf of all things rough, tough, Irish, athletic and sporty.

Ah well, I shmoozed up all the right people and even went to see club chairman to check it was OK to sneak around the boundary with my big 'pap' lens, a 100-400 mm telephoto like a newspaper man's. The club (Éire Óg - pronounce it 'air' and then 'og' as in bogus; it just means "Young Ireland") were playing rivals 'St Croan's' that day. Our lot play in black and white, so I just had to make sure to get good pics of the boys in black in the sunny first half before the drizzle set in at half time and I had to pack away the gear. Our lot co-operated by putting in plenty of attacks which brought them up 'my end' so I got some pics which have pleased those in the know who have seen them so far. I have found out since, however, that 'we' lost in the end 2-6 to 0-16 (12 points to 16) but I enjoyed my involvement and they know I am happy to come take some more in future games.

Carrying on with the Hubbard harvest. This is bird #7 of 12. 
So, what's all this about the Police, then, in my title? Well, it's like this, m'lud. UK readers may not know that the Irish Police are called "An Garda Síochána" (The Guardians of the Peace), and the officers are known as 'Guards' or 'Gardái' (gard-ee), Garda Sargent and so on. They are a modern force, very similar to the UK force, equipped with all the modern gear you'd expect and dealing with similar problems plus given to a bit of cruising around getting to know the locals and the territory - Community Policing, I suppose. Out on my dog walks I occasionally see them driving about but none had ever stopped to chat or ask me anything and I'm fine with that. Probably like everyone else, I immediately start to feel guilty if a policemen stops me and start dreaming up things I might have done or seen, so easier if you just avert your gaze and slope by un-noticed!

Our current pair of broodies - 'Crate Girl' and 'Dustbin Girl', both
due in the next couple of days. Can we arrange a happy event
while the guests are here?
Not so a couple of days back when the car stopped and the boys in blue fancied a lengthy chat with me. This is how I described it on Facebook.

"(Relatively) new kid in town, happy to chat and 'explain myself' to two coppers (Gardái) in a car who pulled up when they saw me out with the dogs. Anxious, of course to let them know that I was 100% law-abiding, harmless, no trouble etc. Gave them the abridged life story, bit about the house we've done up (which was once owned by retired guard so is well known here-abouts). Of course, being police, you'd know that they were sussing you out between the lines etc but hey, open and honest me, Officer. Cheerio then, off they drive.
It's only then I look down and see the lurid spray of blood on my trouser leg which can only have come from the chicken I dinged just before the dog walk. They flap their last, sometimes and the blood can go everywhere. That's my story, anyway. " Ooops. One friend on FB even offered to cook me a cake with a metal file inside it in case I got arrested next time and slung in the local lock-up.

Not the best pic - I only had the standard lens on when this
dragon fly started laying egg after egg in our pond margin.
This shot is cropped out of the middle of a bigger pic so has
lost quite a lot of detail. Sorry, species is unknown. 
The rest of our news is about getting ready for an invasion by some UK guests; these are a couple we have had before but in the interim had used 'their' room as storage for the house-move-to-Sligo dept. They could have slept in there but would have been sleeping in fear of an avalanche of boxes and black bin-liners falling on them in the night. We shifted all that stuff yesterday and were able to give Liz "her room back" so today has been a blizzard of cleaning that room and assorted heroics in other rooms prior to the guests arriving on Saturday.

Tidy Towns picnic
I have been out exploring for new walks, too, but was in that search, disappointed. I had gone armed with a very pretty, helpful brochure from the local tourist-y department, ('Lakes and Legends') which told me of a way-marked 'bogland trail' brim full of historic and wildlife interest. A nice country walk, in fact, which would surely see me way off the beaten track, climbing the local hill (Bockagh Hill) where I could get views out across Sligo and could see an historic 'Mass Rock' (a secret religious site dating from when Catholicism was outlawed).

The Young Pretender, "Corporal".
Unimpressed, then, to find that the 'trail' was just a 4.5 km loop of tarmac lanes fenced either side to keep you out of the cattle fields or off the actual bog. A few green arrows on posts led the way but there were no interpretive boards, just one rustic seat to sit on to look at Sligo and a complete absence of signage for the advertised "diversion" to the Mass Rock. To add insult to injury we didn't even get near the summit of Bockagh Hill itself - our tarmac lane skirted by on the lower slopes about half a mile east of the summit. If I want to walk 4.5 kms of tarmac, guys, I can do that just outside the house gate here. I won't be coming back to try the other walks on your brochure.

Rosie, our 'keeper' ewe. She was born this year beautifully
marked in blacks, greys and whites. All that remains of this
now are a few white spots on her face. She's having a good
old chew on her cud in this picture. 
Finally a village event which WAS a pleasant surprise. We were invited (open invitation to the whole village) to a picnic to be held in the central garden area at the village cross roads to celebrate the end of a busy season by the Tidy Towns team. They had asked people to bake a cake or turn up with some food; Liz had baked a gorgeous fruit cake. It was very pleasant - good company including many people we know anyway from the village, a nice sit down, chattering away being plied with good tea and superb cakes and biscuits. There were some children playing or sitting on a duvet cover someone had spread out for a 'picnic blanket'. It was warm and almost windless and the midges mostly stayed away. Very pleasant.

No, it is not a trick of the light. Deefer (top)
really is green from having rolled in the newly
mowed lawn  just before supper. Poppea
(bott) has a few smears while Towser (mid)
is un-accountably clean.
We couldn't stay long there, as Liz had another engagement, a meeting for the upcoming Half-Marathon which pants exhaustedly past our gate in September. Liz got involved with the publicity this year so ended up attending a few evening meetings either at the village centre, or down at the GAA ground. What rock'n'roll lives we do lead?

Friday, 19 August 2016

Gallowglass

One aspect of Irish life which regularly impresses us is the quality of their road-side art and sculpture. The nearby town of Ballaghaderreen is ringed by lovely wicker-work cattle, milk churns, men, huge urns, a big fish as well as various arches and arbours or shapes made out of woven willow. It is all very dramatic and interesting to see as you drive about, but they have now exceeded even all this by commissioning an impressive, 16 feet tall sword-wielding warrior in a bright (chrome?) stainless steel to stand by the west-bound side of the new bypass.

Locals will know that this guy has actually been there a while and is not, technically, still 'news'. He arrived in May this year; it is just that I have never yet got around to nipping over to take his picture. It is not a piece of road we would drive; we come and go from Balla-D rather than whizzing by from west to east.

As seen from the East-bound carriageway. 
He is, in fact, a "Gallowglass" warrior. Says everybody's tame expert, "Wikipedia", "The gallowglasses (also spelt galloglass, gallowglas or galloglas; from Irish: gall óglaigh meaning foreign warriors) were a class of elite mercenary warriors who were principally members of the Norse-Gaelic clans of Scotland between the mid 13th century and late 16th century." If you were an Irish regional king or warlord and you really wanted to win that fight with your neighbour, you would hire these guys to strike fear into your rival's army (and presumably duff them up a bit).

This clematis has decided not to climb my convenient ash
 poles this year, but to scramble instead, through the Lady's Mantle.
I love this piece of sculpture which I imagine cost the town a fair amount. He is on a nice rise in the ground and I keep meaning to pick a nice sunset evening and go get him silhouetted against the colours of the sunset. If you want to see him, next time you are coming in through Frenchpark and you join the by-pass, don't come off at the first exit to Cooney's, Tibohine and Ballaghaderreen, but carry on to the next exit. He is just after that first exit on your left.

This one is going to be for me! Liz completes
this lovely cabling pattern on the front panel
of the latest jumper.
Out on the Sligo house project we progress. Having pretty much finished the house, so we have moved outside back onto the 'hard landscaping'. This is all about making a garden and yard around the dwelling instead of it sitting in the middle of a building site (usual stuff - piles of rubble, stone, scrap wood, old, dead wheel barrows, a big yellow digger, dead cement bags and so on). Some of it is the stone wall building, so K-Dub and I are back remembering the old skills of stone laying, cement mixing and lugging stuff about. This rather handily uses up the piles of stone and avoids us having to double handle it. It's come from the demolished walls of the house and been stacked around the house while the house got itself built. Some of it went back into the house on the new walls and bigger gables but the rest is now being scavenged up for these garden walls. Very efficient.

Branching out from the straight knitting, Liz has now enrolled
onto some crochet lessons. This is the first, ever, test square. 
We both love this stone - Sligo stone is some manner of stratified sandstone which comes out of the ground already in flat slabs and pieces. Most of it is between about 1 and 4 inches thick, so it is like long or broad bricks which means you can lay it in a bond like brickwork. Our stone here in Roscommon is in rounded boulders about the size of your head, so impossible to lay into walls - walls here were always poured between a sandwich of timber shutters as a mix of boulders and concrete or cement. They are thick and strong but nobody would ever call them elegant, neat or beautiful.

Our friends came a-visiting with their huge St Bernard who
rides in state in the back of their capacious 4 x 4. 
Just down the hill from where we are working a proper professional stone mason is doing a gorgeous job with his stones all chipped away to size and perfect fit. His wall will be smooth like the pyramids with tiny thin joints. We are in awe of that skill but we are, even so, well pleased and delighted with our efforts. Neither of us claim to be stone masons and we know we can do this well only as a result of the lovely "pre-prepared" (by nature and by previous wall -builders!) stone we are lucky enough to have lying about the place.

Prada. Beautiful dog. 
There, by happy chance, a whole post about crafts, skills and working with your hands.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Blue Skies, Butterflies and Bog Hoppers

Our long wet July and August were beginning to feel like the slide into Autumn had started without us ever getting any Summer but, no, out of nowhere we are suddenly blessed with 2 good, honest, blue sky, sunny days. In proper, genuine Irish fashion, poor Liz even manages to pick up a minor sun-burn. She dozed off while listening to a historical pod-cast on the i-phone while wearing a spaghetti-straps top and sitting out on our terrace so she has gone an interesting red colour about the shoulders. Nothing too alarming, mind. We do not anticipate her skin falling off .

Small tortoiseshell on purple verbena
The sunshine has brought out an explosion in butterflies such as I have not seen in the time we have been over here. I had come to accept that butterflies in Ireland were a few orange-tips in May and perhaps one or two large whites to lay their eggs in your brassicas. I'd not seen a single butterfly on our buddleia. I am not that good on butterfly ID; I know the 'usual suspects' (peacocks, commas, red admirals etc) but I get very lost around browns, gatekeepers, fritillaries and the like.

Red admiral
Over these two days of heat, then, I have had to try to get a few pics and sort out some IDs. Please correct me if I must be wrong, but the lane out here is alive with what I think are speckled woods (No picture - they do not stop long enough and get very nervous if you loom over them). The flower garden is a-flutter with red admirals, small tortoiseshells, peacocks and a tiny white one which I do not know - each wing is not much bigger than a thumbnail. That one might even be a moth. It is all rather lovely and summer-ish after a dreary month.

Your chicks arrive at a day old in these neat,
4-chambered boxes.
Regular readers will know that our first batch of Hubbard (meat) chickens are now getting "harvested" (there's a euphemism for you!). They will give us 12 good sized birds for the freezer but would expect to see us only about as far as Christmas so when our friends and ace chicken procurers, Anne and Simon offered to get us a second batch in August, we jumped at the chance. Our friends Sue and Rob, who took 6 of our last lot (of 18) also asked to come in on this order, so A+S headed off to the huge hatchery near Monaghan with quite an order.

24 balls of fluff. How cute can you get?
Hubbards are excellent birds and are known among we free range (and in some cases organic) keepers for the big, tender and tasty carcasses so Anne was joking with us that as soon as the word goes round that she has birds, all the gang descend on her placing their orders and she is (her own admission!) a bit too soft with them and lets all her birds go leaving she and Simon with only a few for their own freezer. Last time A+S did all the work, as usual and only got to eat half a dozen of the birds so this time they went prepared and came home with enough for everyone. Thanks, as ever, Anne and Simon - we will make sure to do the birds proud. They are day olds now (well, 2 days as I write this) so we hope to be seeing them 'finished' in mid November. That will re-stock the freezer for the spring time.

Out free ranging. Marans birds at 5 weeks.
While I'm on chickens, the Marans poults are now 5 weeks old and, in this hot sunshine, are getting to explore the patch each day. I make sure they get a good breakfast into them, then throw open the rabbit run in which they sleep. In practise they do not go far yet - day 3 and they stay in the yard being visited by all the other chooks and Guinea Fowl who patrol around the place in big circuits, passing through the yard frequently. As they get bigger and braver they will start to range further but probably stay in their little tight-knit group of half a dozen.

The gosling's left leg (red circle) is held up at this odd angle
as he/she hops along on the right foot.
Meanwhile our nearly full-grown gosling has suddenly gone lame with symptoms echoing, worryingly, the problem of the old mother/aunt bird a couple of weeks back who never really recovered from being broody. He/she (I'll go with 'she' for ease) holds her left leg up against her body and hops along on her right helped sometimes by wing flaps and the (damaged?) heel of her flexed leg.

One of the local bogs (Cloonargid = Silver
Field) is bright with heather.
We would normally cull such a bird out as they struggle and get very distressed when lame as they are so front-heavy but this one seems to be coping OK. She hops out of the coop in the morning and moves around with the healthy four adults, gets to water and to food and then makes it home in the evening. I carried her in just the once when she was newly lame and had not mastered the one-legged gait, but she has not needed help since. We will observe her and, for the moment, give her the benefit of the doubt. The speed of the problem would indicate injury rather than a developmental thing but we are not sure as we know that 2 of the mums are almost certainly recessive for 'wry-tail' which can cause pelvis (and hence leg) problems.

An early duck egg. 
At least one of our ducks has come into lay. They have rather sneaked this one up on us, though we should have known to expect this at around week 26. I had seen sexual behaviours out in the orchard. Then 4 days ago I picked up an egg from the yard broken into by a magpie. It looked pale but I thought no more of it. 3 days ago there was another pale egg just inside the chicken house (where the ducks sleep) on the floor. Liz had that one as a poached egg but still didn't click. Another got used in cakes.

Bog Trotters - our 3 westies at Cloonargid bog.
We are slow learners here (!) and only when Liz cracked #4 into the frying pan and noted the pale colour of shell, the thicker 'egg white' and the stronger membranes did the shout go up. "This is a duck egg!". Of course we are onto it now and I know to find the daily egg at ground level once I've hooshed the ducks out to grass. Ducks, of course, don't do above ground chicken nest-boxes. I presume if we get to breeding these birds and need a 'nest' to go broody on I do something at ground level; I need to ask someone who KNOWS about ducks.

Bacon boiled in Coca Cola. I kid you not. Finally there is a
valid use for the stuff other than as hang-over cure of choice
for the late, lamented 'Diamond'. 
So, there you have it for this one. Other than the above we have just weeded, knitted, crocheted, cooked, taken pics for '365' and fended off visits from stray dog 'Bobby' and drunk oceans of tea through the days. Loving the sunshine, though.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Slow News Day

365 this week has focused on local colour
in the form of gardens, planters and
hanging baskets. 
On the very few occasions where friends, knowing I have this blog running, and are thinking of starting one up, ask me for tips and suggestions, my main advice is always this. Make sure you have something to say - a story you need to tell or an opinion you are burning to express. The other side of that coin is, of course - if you have nothing to say then shut up. There is nothing worse to read than a blog post which says "I'm bored" or "Nothing much happened". I know how much easier it was to write a 'good' post while we were building the house than when I was in Kent working, walking the dogs, eating and sleeping.

This advice might also be followed up with instruction to stay within what ever rules you have set for yourself. Some of what I do is really part of someone else's story and it would feel wrong to go into any detail on stuff which they should be describing themselves or want to post in Facebook or Twitter or some other favoured medium. Or it involves friends who, for perfectly good reasons, do not want their picture or any details of their comings and goings put up on the internet for "everyone to see". It is not everyone's cup of tea.

Orange montbretia - grows like a weed in all the hedgerows
around here. 
Following my own advice, then, most of what I have done since the last post is out of bounds or, unless you want to hear about a dog needing ear drops or a cat needing wormer, is not exciting enough to make a post out of. Even my pictures this time are just 365 pics. So, I will keep this one nice and short and hope for a bit more inspiration by my next 'due date', Tuesday.

A lovely old tumble-down barn.
Good Luck Now

These pink-wrapped silage bales are done by farmers as part of
a campaign to raise awareness of breast cancer. They pay extra
for the wrap and the difference goes to the charity. You do not see
many round here but I spotted these tucked into the back of a
farm yard. Fair play that farmer. Proud of you. 

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Great Outdoors

The two marmalade kittens are growing fast. At 12 weeks now (we think) they are not big enough to take on the dogs and we don't yet trust the dogs with them, but they are getting too big and lively to be confined to the one room. If you go into the Sitting Room to sit with them they quickly start doing 'wall of death' style charges around all the furniture and racing up your legs or across your shoulders. They are fast and agile and look every inch as if they NEED a bigger space to let off steam into. They also, rather alarmingly, make a dash for the door to their room as soon as you open it a crack, so keen to greet you that they seem unaware of the doggie danger lurking just outside.

Newest member of our menagerie meets our most seasoned
veteran. 
We have taken to smuggling them outside while the dogs are sleeping off a walk and letting them play round the yard and buildings with both of us supervising in case they should decide to split up; one person would only be able to keep tabs on one of these. The weather has been warm and it is very pleasant sitting out there in the sunshine watching the antics of 2 kittens.

Sitting in the sun supervising kittens. 
They have met some of our birds and even play-stalked the Guinea Fowl. They seem to find the chickens and, especially, the rooster, a bit big, so they've not pushed their luck there. Liz noticed that they seem to have an aversion to grass, even new mown short grass. Maybe they have 'feral concrete jungle' DNA, she says, as the kittens race between hard-standing areas and sprint across the grass between.

When you want to take cute kitten pics
among the flowers but they want to play
among the engineering. 
They loved the front 'drive' bits and the car-port with its 'Mad Max' vehicle and stacks of wood. When we carried them over to the 'Darby and Joan' chairs so that we could sit by the pond, they could not wait to get up off that grass by climbing into a lap or onto a shoulder. Ah well. I suppose they will get used to all the rest in time. We are doing all we can to get them to grow big and strong so that they can join the dog-owning half of the family without risk of getting chewed. When Blue was a kitten of course, Towser and Poppea were tiny pups - they grew up together without one side being dominant and when Soldier arrived he was big enough to cope and well versed in dog-management. This introducing tiny kittens to a full grown dog pack is all a bit new.

A nice tight cosy pen seems to be the answer. Nobody has
space to think they might get up some speed if they charged
 'that way'.
My other 'livestock' stories are 1) just that time came round again to foot-trim the sheep and 2) we 'harvested' a first Hubbard rooster. The sheep were last done at shearing and though you can't really get a good look at feet when they are wading through tall-ish grass, I'd been seeing occasional tenderness or lameness when Lily or Polly walked across the dry mud bits of their paddocks.

A neatly trimmed hoof. Lily in this case.
Nothing for it but to run them onto the concrete of the cattle race and give them a proper going over. We could now see that some of the sides had grown a bit long and were splaying, and some toe-points needed attention. We are good at this one now, so it was the work of no more than half an hour to do them all with my special "secateurs" while Liz subdued and calmed the neck and head end.

Every trimmed foot then gets a splash of the bright purple spray even though I could see no signs of foot rot. I even get most of it on the sheep's hoof (and up the gap between the 'cloven' toes) and not too much (OK some) on my hands or up the side of the sheep. The girls are then all released back into the East Field and we like to see the comfortable, relieved gaits on them as they spread out to graze. Job done.

First Hubbard rooster of 2016
At 80 days the Hubbard chickens are right at the start of their 'proper' harvesting time; we normally leave them to more like 100 days to let them get nice and big. However, we fancied a chicken for the weekend roast and had none in the freezer, so one of the boys got it in the neck. He plucked and dressed out at 2.320 kg, or about 5 lbs and was the ever reliable Hubbard version of delicious, tasty, meaty and tender. They really are superb, these hybrids specially bred to do the job under commercial Free Range or Organic systems and we swear by them (and thank Mentor Anne, of course, who can still get them as day-olds despite no longer being in that business and putting in orders for them by the hundred). We are always so disappointed when we have to buy other chicken in supermarkets.

Soapwort. Don't grow it near the pond - it is very toxic to
aquatic life.
Unrelated to any of this I had an exciting and interesting time a few nights back when asked by a friend in the village to 'rescue' his cattle water situation. No pictures for this story - I was not about to take my camera with me when scrambling about in a stream among cattle. These cattle live in a set of fields where their water supply is to drink from a stream just before that stream vanishes down a swallow hole. There are many of these fascinating geo-morphological features round here due to the fractured limestone geology.

The swallow hole in question sits at one end of a shallow pool but the pool-bed and the bed of the stream feeding it are only water-proof because they form a trough and dish shape made of fine sediment. Water can leak off the sides of this bed into any number of similar holes and this was what was happening when the stream became blocked by a log-jam of branches, reed-mace, plastic barrels and empty feed sacks. The 'dam' raised the water level upstream of our friend's land and all the water diverted left and right out of the stream (and underground) before his cattle saw any of it. Poor thirsty creatures were standing in the drying mud lowing their protests.

At last my Archery paperwork arrives. No stopping me now!
The friend is not really up to scrambling about in streams pulling out debris, so my job was to get in there and try to free up the dam while at the same time packing rocks and some of the bits into the 'leaks' in the sides upstream; really trying to get the stream to disappear into the correct swallow hole, rather than the neighbour's ones. Well, it worked and I managed to free up the log jam. The water surged forwards into 'our' pond and the cattle got to drink some before it gurgled away underground. I checked it all again today and it was still free, so everybody is happy.

Friday, 5 August 2016

As Fed as Mice

As fed as mice? Our 3 remaining lambs
and one of the ewes (left).
I chug along here playing 'small holder' and beginning to feel nicely integrated when I am brought up short by a local expression which I have not met before. A local near-neighbour and friend, a beef farmer has called round on an unrelated errand and says to me that "Those sheep out there... they're as fed as mice!" I must have looked at him a bit shocked, thinking that he might be being rude about them ( - mice - small - underfed? ) because he looks at me a bit anxiously and hurries to reassure me that "You can tell when they are nearly ready - the grease (he says it "grace") starts to rise in their wool"

At least it is wearing its seat-belt. Another load of stock feed
Local lore has it that when lambs start to turn yellow with the lanolin starting to rise up through the fleece, they are fattened up nicely. Also, presumably, the local mice are very well fed, plump little things; no "sleekit timorous cowering" rodents this side of the Irish Sea.

Footie with a water melon....... naaah. We'll sniff it a bit then
ignore it. 
While I'm on stock, feeding of, I had read somewhere that it would be amusing to try the pigs out on a water melon. The local supermarket had them at a sensible price, so I picked one up. The theory was that the pigs had great fun playing a rather frustrating game of football while they worked out how to get into this unidentified, new food item. I grabbed the camera and went a-visiting.

Rip it to bits.
Well, my two know that when I arrive un-announced midday, this can sometimes mean an unscheduled food treat, but they had not read the book about the football game potential of water melons. I can only assume that an intact 'closed' water melon does not smell or taste at all interesting. Both pigs raced over to the thing, gave it a quick sniff and an exploratory nudge but then looked back at me as if to say "OK - funny green round item which we might look at later but where's the food?"

Schlluuurrrrrp.
They raced back to me and started the usual round of nuzzling my wellies, trying to mouth my ankles and feet, rubbing the backs of their heads and necks on my legs as if I was a scratching post. They are like puppies or cats only they weigh in excess of 50 kg a-piece, so there's a good chance they would trip you or knock you off balance. If I cannot make them cop that this is a fruit which might be nice inside, I have to 'dink' the thing gently on a fence post to make a crack in it which will leak juice, smell and taste.

This year's Buffs at 5 months.
Straight way then, of course, we are away. Both snouts start to bully the melon open and both sets of teeth start to rip and crunch, both tongues slurping delightedly at the sweet, juicy contents. The girls soon have the thing ripped in half and then chopped up completely and emptied of its red lusciousness. I stay with them about 20 minutes and when I return an while later with their proper evening meal I note that every scrap of water melon is gone, green skin and all. Great fun had by all even if there was no 'footie'.

Spot the gosling! The young one is getting increasingly hard
to tell apart from his parents, aunts and Dad.
Meanwhile the birds are also eating well and growing up fast. Our gosling is now very difficult to tell apart from the adults - he is fully feathered and has lost most of his gosling fluff. Because we had to cull out one of the 'aunts' this year when she lost the use of her legs, we have decided that the gosling can stay all the time 'he' does not mature into a gander and cause problems with George, our existing 'alpha'.

The Marans half dozen are feathering up well
at just over 3 weeks old.
This year's crop of Buff Orps are now 5 months old and have decided to be a rooster and 3 hens. 2 of the hens are, we think, pure Buff Orp (along with the rooster) but one is a darker bird with some dark (black) tail feathers. She may have some Sussex Ponte or "mini-Buff" in her - we have one remaining hybrid buff from gifted eggs a couple of years back. Possibly even some Hubbard. This is quite a handy situation because the roo might be able to be our replacement 'alpha' if the 'Colonel' goes sick again next year. This year, if you recall, he went sick and got himself beaten up by our then #2, "The Captain". This youngster has been named "The Corporal", sticking to the naming system. He's looking good so far.

As all these young birds come of age, of course, they start to think about getting hitched and finding out about the birds and the bees. The Corporal and some of the Hubbard roosters have all been amusing us by trying out a bit of 'Cock-a-Doodle-Doo' -ing. Liz amused me a couple of days back by describing one 'crow' as sounding as if the bird was doing it through a kazoo.


Purple loosestrife by the pond.
No such vocalising for the ducks who are also 5 months old - they seem to have gone straight to adulthood without passing 'Go' or collecting £200. I saw them all heading for the small pond in the orchard yesterday and then in a flurry of splashing and quacking, one mounted another while the 4 others raced round in excited circles flapping their wings. It was confusing and fast and I cannot now swear who jumped on whom, but they were definitely going for it despite their lack of obvious sexual differentiation (curly upper tail feathers etc).

This neatly stacked barn caught my eye when I was out 365-ing
That is enough for now. I need to head for the kitchen and gaze meaningfully at some food, see what can be done about supper. Have a good weekend.