Friday, 29 April 2016

Quattro Stagioni

Impressive snow flurries on Thursday
Ah, the 'Four Seasons' - but not those well known four concerti by Vivaldi. I was actually remembering my favourite choice of pizza topping from my youth when (I can't remember why or with whom) we'd head off en-masse to a chain pizza restaurant in Maidstone. The internet now tells me that a Quattro Stagioni pizza "traditionally" featured ham, artichoke, mushrooms and olives to represent the four seasons though I swear I can remember pine-apple for summer. Ah well. That was Kent and decades ago, so maybe they are not the right kind of 'traditional'.

That is just the ancient memory. The up to date use is a comment on the wry Irish take on the weird weather that we have had this week - that you get all four seasons in the same day - rain, hail and snow, drizzle and then bright sunshine with blue skies and puffy cumulus cloud. The coat, hat and gloves you put on to counter the 'winter' are suddenly way too warm as the sun comes out and the wind dies away, until the next squall. I managed to capture a couple of pics of snow, but snow is notoriously tricky to do justice to falling. You have to try to force the flash to go off to illuminate the nearby flakes, but it was so bright, my various auto settings refused to do that. I had to crop in on bits of dark - an open barn doorway or a grey concrete block wall.

Nugget, Goldie's daughter, is still free range and we are letting
her be so. She does not seem to be doing any damage. 
We are mindful, of course, that somewhere out there in all this wintriness is poor Barbara, our turkey hen. At least, we hope so. We hope she is hidden up well in a hedge somewhere and that her instincts have made her choose a place under cover and out of the wind. Maybe there will also be the fast-growing cow parsley (Queen Anne's Lace) around her so that she will be more and more protected as time goes by and Brer Fox will not happen upon her (or his mink and pine-marten cousins). We will never know if she is taken by a fox, of course; we will only know she hasn't if she wanders back in here with or without some chicks. Fingers crossed. Barbara!

Two lovely things happened to me this week - Liz came home and my archery stuff arrived on the courier (EXPD) from the UK. Liz had thoroughly enjoyed catching up with all the cousins on that side of the family - they are all Irish and at one stage all came to squeeze into Liz's family home when she was 8-ish prior to emigrating (back) to Swindon.

Pointy end and nock ends of my new arrows. €10 a pop. 
'Little-Liz' loved having all these wonderful new play-mates descend upon her, sharing bedrooms and toys etc like one huge family. She gravitated particularly to Cathy as she was closest in age and stayed in Ireland longest and they have been great friends ever since. Returning from the funeral it seemed to be a decent sized cup of tea that she missed most about home. No problem. Get the kettle on,

My archery stuff arrived while she was still away, coming from Quick's Archery of Portsmouth (UK) and delivered by the courier EXPD. I was sure I'd not heard of the latter but the guy, when he rocked up, told me he had not needed to ask directions because he "knew us". Anyway, I can heartily recommend both these firms if you are ever in the bow and arrow buying business. It was all nice and safely packaged and arrived intact, safe and sound and complete and within days of being ordered.

A handy kit bag for the gear. Not sure If the dozen
29 inch arrows will fit in it, mind.
Of course, like a kid at Christmas, I had to unpack it all and see what I had there. I had to assemble the bow, don the glove and wanted to lash off a trial arrow just to make sure it all worked. But what to use as a target? Anything solid and wooden, the arrow would surely sink in an inch or so and be a pain to extract. The arrows are €10 each, and have thin-ish wooden shafts, so you'd not want to break one trying to wiggle it out. Stones and rocks in any mud-banks would just shatter the arrow on impact. Maybe that big pile of shredded (felled) tree would stop it. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

Apple blossom nearly open.
Well, I nearly lost the arrow. The shredded wood pile was so fluffy and loose that the arrow almost disappeared. All 29 inches bar about an eighth of an inch of 'nock' (back end) zoomed in and it was only that I saw the puff of the dry surface shavings jump, leaving a small darker patch of the inside bits in the middle of which was my yellow, plastic nock, or I would have been dismantling the pile to find my arrow. That was enough of an explore. I will try again when I have dreamt up a denser target; maybe more of those wood shavings rammed hard down into a big feed- or coal-sack.

Pear blossom.
I am in a strange kind of limbo on archery now - midway between my beginner training course and my onward practise, between using the club 28 lb pull bow and my beefier 35-40 lb pull own bow and between the indoor, badminton court training sessions and the club's summer outdoor archery. Rather than have me loosing off arrows out of doors as a first introduction to my new bow, the instructor has allowed me to come and 'play' outside with my familiar club bow.

Our local bridge with the river running very low. 
But that is all to come. Sunday's job is for a gang of us to head round to his farm and help set up the outdoor course including the marquee we will use for coffee breaks. I am told the guy tries to set up quite an interesting course as near as possible to the kind of 'field archery' course you would meet in a competition; varied targets including the 3D animal models marked with heart/lungs they use as well as normal targets, all at a variety of ranges and some uphill and downhill by means of the 'tee' position or the target being up on pallets or mounds. Sounds like fun. I will be able to tell you more after Sunday (weather permitting)

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

The North Wind Shall Blow....

An abrupt end for us, to our lovely foretaste of spring. The wind swings round to the North and strengthens (I have borrowed 2 weather maps from AA Weatherwatch and, for those who don't do meteorology, I have added two bloomin' great red arrows to show you how the wind is working.) Our lovely blue skies and sitting out by the pond in tee-shirts with a pleasantly cool wine, are replaced by dog walks clad back in the winter coats, gloves and warm hats. Today I was out helping a neighbour with a job out in one of his fields, and an impressive snow and hail storm came blasting through, sending both of us trying to hide in his one-man tractor cab (stationary of course). Liz is currently over in the UK for a funeral, so I am not sure what weather she is getting (Swindon) or how she is faring. Keep warm, Lizzie.

Here at home, we are chugging along steadily with no great drama or excitement. The local idiom would be "Nothing strange?" (meaning 'I guess you have no new gossip for me?') The reply is "No, nothing strange". There is a whole conversation in there.

On Sunday we have a National census to complete. We love this sort of thing so we are happy to oblige. Liz loves to look back at old census results which are mainly available free on line now to see how the various aspects change, rural depopulation and the like. An interesting aspect of this one has been a ground-swell of anti-church sentiment which follows the recent conflicts between the old Catholic establishment and the more non-religious younger people. The latter, of course, 'rule' the Social Media and have been spreading the word that it is OK to say in the census that you have "No Religion" if you are not a regular church-goer. The church, it is known, use the official census data to argue for a big share of any resources (teaching etc) because they can demonstrate that, ooh look, 80%+ of the population say they are Catholic even though perhaps only 20% of the population go to Mass. The anti-camp feel that if the people declared more truthfully their support for the RC church, then the latter would get a smaller (and fairer) slice of the Government finance cake.

Lambs looking quite chunky now at 2 months+
Meanwhile I have had a couple of queries about how those lambs and the kid are doing and a request for some update pictures, so here goes. The (5) lambs are over 2 months old now so we have been ear-tagging them. I was amusing myself with the thought that you know you are not a sheep beginner any more when you have to order your next batch of ear-tags. I have just one left from my 1-10 series so I have ordered #11 to #30. They look nice and chunky and are full of beans.

Goat kid at 3 weeks. 
They have adopted the new goat-kid (Henry Óg) and can all be seen playing chasing and King-of-the-Castle games with him. He bounces around like Tigger on all 4 feet or tries to engage them in gentle forehead to forehead pushing matches. He is still suckling and pays only scant attention to the mealtime feeds of ewe and lamb 'crunch' or to the browse which his Mum finds. Lily's lamb Rosie, our likely keeper, is all done suckling now. We still see Polly's boys at this occasionally and Myfanwy's girl twins. These lambs are all so strong now that when a pair of twins dive in to suckle both at once, and 'bunt' the ewe's udder with their noses, the ewe gets lifted off the ground at the back end. It is comical to see but I can't think it is that comfortable for the ewe and I assume she will be keen to stop all this 'nonsense' and let the babies fly the nest.

Just before the weather turned, I got a first grass-mow in.
My two on/off/on broody birds have now settled on the 'broody' option. The goose has settled now in the coop and sits glued to the nest in a kind of trance all day and all night (as far as we know). Barbara the turkey hen went AWOL again and has not been seen around here for 3 days. Poor Tom, the ''husband" looks very miserable and forlorn, abandoned by his wife and does not spend his whole day in display mode. As

We don't normally light this open fire
in April. This one was more about putting
off some jackdaws I had seen nest building
than keeping the house warm. 
I have said in previous posts, we can only guess where she is (out there in the fields somewhere) and how she is getting on. We are unlikely to see her for at least 25 more days in which time she could easily fall prey to a fox, pine marten or mink. Then she may or may not hatch any youngsters and may or may now be able to bring them back here. Domestic turkeys are notoriously bad mothers; big clumsy stupid things who tread on their own chicks and then do not realise that the screams of agony under their feet mean they should shift their feet or get off the nest. We can just wait and hope and pray till around the 16th May. You never know. Maybe it will go OK.

The blackthorn has started flowering in
all the local hedges
In an unrelated nest-building story, I had spotted a couple of jackdaws bring twigs to the chimney on the west end of the house and some of these were even falling down the flue when dropped by the clumsy birds. I do not have a jackdaw 'pot' (wire cage) on that flue yet so I lit a couple of good smokey turf fires in the grate to send them an unwelcome signal. They seem to have abandoned us for now.

Ah well, Lizzie comes home tomorrow; she is actually back into Ireland tonight, flying from Bristol, but will stop another night at the brother in law's in Dublin and catch a sensible train tomorrow. I will collect her from Castlerea station. She then has a couple of days of work-holiday before we are descended upon by three guests for the weekend. Two of these are 'returning customers' but one is a first timer.

Of COURSE there's room for 2 guests in this room.
Why would you doubt it?
This is going to be fun - the spare room is fairly well stuffed up with the boxes, bags, crates, sewing machines, a spinning wheel and even a dress-makers dummy we are minding for our not-quite-finished-building-the-new-house friends. Never mind, with a bit of judicious stacking, moving and hiding of 'stuff' behind the sofa downstairs, I have manage to uncover 2 beds upstairs and one downstairs. What could possibly go wrong?

Friday, 22 April 2016

False Alarm!.... (or not).

Good book choices among the Birthday present 'haul'
In my previous post, I recorded that both a turkey hen and a goose had gone broody; the former in an inconvenient place lost in a neighbouring field, the latter nice and tidy in her proper coop. Well, as soon as I had gone to print, of course, both ladies changed their minds. In the morning, the goose was off her eggs and asking to be let out with the gang into the orchard, where she happily stayed all day and the cold eggs, I picked up for normal kitchen use.

Calf-eens a-plenty in many neighbouring farmyards.
In the middle of the afternoon, while I was away buildering, Liz texted to say that Barbara had turned up, butter wouldn't melt, looking for food in our yard. False alarm? Well, you never know with poultry. The goose, having taken her day off, decided to go back onto (some more) eggs and has now spent the last 2 days sitting tight. I assume the eggs can stand this on/off start to the incubation when they are still only a 'germ' of embryo. Barbara spent a day or so very much here, mooching about with the husband (Tom) but today went AWOL again from about 9 a.m. till just before lock-up (8 p.m.). These eggs are either taking a long long time to lay, or she is doing like the goose and building up to broodiness.

Rounding up the mini-horses. 
Meanwhile in the Sligo dept, the mini horses which had been happily grazing the last few millimetres off the rented field down by our local river-bridge, suddenly needed moving. The person who is taking over the rented field next was asking if he could spray slurry all over it prior to the agreed date and Carolyn was not at all sure he would take no for an answer.

Primroses are everywhere this month.
K-Dub and I had to take a day off from the buildering to rapidly create a horse proof paddock about 40m by 50m at the new place (not an easy one but we made it) and then I was asked to help with the rounding up and loading of Cody, Romeo and Bob at this end into a borrowed stock-trailer. That bit, at least, was a doddle because these boys are suckers for a carrot-bribe. I offered them some nice fresh crunchy veg through the gate while C snuck up behind and slipped head-collars onto them. They are well used to trailers, being former show-horses, so all three were led up the ramp with a minimum of fuss and off they went to Sligo.

The warm weather has given us some gorgeous sunsets
Out of nowhere we have been enjoying a week of gorgeous sunny, warm weather. That's 'warm' by Roscommon standards, you understand, so daytime highs of 17ºC, nothing too tropical (or even Mediterranean) but after a long, cold, wet, miserable winter it is a lovely relief. Liz and I have been able to enjoy a post-work coffee 'al-fresco' and on one evening sat out by our pond in the 'Darby and Joan' chairs till gone 8 p.m. rather than spoil it by coming indoors to cook. We didn't even light the range. The dogs had been let loose in the orchard at 6:15 p.m. expecting to only get the usual half hour and they were still out there, running free, at 8 p.m.

A '365' pic of a nearby swallow hole. The yellow arrow
shows flow direction before the water disappears under-ground.
Obviously I have not put the arrow on the 365 version. 
I heard my first cuckoo out in Sligo (on the 19th) while we were putting up the horse-fence; he sang away all day. I then heard my first home-bird the next morning here at 7 a.m. on my first dog-'patrol'. We saw our first swallow near here on the 16th and then saw a load of them flying over a nearby lough (Lough Glynn). We have since seen "our" swallows dipping over our pond to catch insects and to drink. Summer is definitely coming, even though the forecast has some nasty cold nights (down to 2ºC) coming up over the weekend.

Keep warm, people.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Free Range

Currently AWOL, our turkey hen, Barbara. 
Tonight, one of the downsides of fully free range poultry came and paid us a visit - that is the ability of hen birds (in this case the turkey, Barbara) to go and hide up to go broody under a hedge somewhere. You are lucky if you see them sneak off, and even luckier if you can follow them and discover their carefully hidden nest site. There is no bird-proof (or fox proof!) perimeter fence here, these are fully free range birds. They are here because they want to be - we obviously have the best food, housing and TLC around.

"Full House" from the geese - 4 eggs from 4 birds. 
Barbara had come into lay at the start of the month and produced 4 eggs that we had found - she scatters them all over the gaff - but had then stopped (as far as we knew). Then she started to go missing during the day and 3 days ago had us out searching all around the neighbouring fields looking for her quite dark and well camouflaged shape. To no avail, that time. We gave up and came back 'home' only for Barbara to suddenly re-appear in the yard mid afternoon. We had seen tracks in the mud just outside our NW corner but not enough to follow her.

For 2 days she stayed put (again as far as we know - we don't watch them all 24/7) but tonight at lock up, she is AWOL. We have searched the fields again, but no sign, not even of follow-able fresh tracks. She may wander back in - I am patrolling round every hour to see if she has arrived back and is trying to get into the (now locked for the night) coops but that is not very hopeful by now - it's 9 p.m. and quite dark.

Chestnut "sticky bud"
We are looking at a 28 day period of incubation when she could easily be snatched by a fox or, by some huge miracle of good fortune, successfully hatch the chicks and then bring them the marathon hike back home. We can only wish the girl luck and pray that we see her again with or without babies. Her husband Tom seems oblivious of all this and struts around the 'farm' displaying at everyone and strutting his stuff as if it has not yet dawned on him that she is gone.

Early sunrise breakfast for the flock
Meanwhile, not all our baby birds are living so dangerously, nor our broody 'Mum'. The latter is the first of our 4 geese to tip over into broodiness. She's been very clingy to the (indoor, safe) nest the last few mornings, sitting tight till gone midday before "asking" to be let out to join the gang in the orchard. Then just today she sat there all day and got quite stroppy when I went in to gently offer her a bowl of grub. In previous years this has been the sure start to a broody session, with geese being 28-33 days at it. I think she is sitting on last night's 4 eggs. She may be joined by other geese and they may also try to drop more eggs into her nest. We have a rather confused time with our goose breeding as regular readers will know. This mainly because we don't actually WANT to breed geese, but our efforts to steal all the eggs as soon as they are laid do not work out 100% towards this time of year.

The ducklings get a first feel of grass and sunshine.
The little clutches of ducklings and chicks are now at the stage (just under 3 weeks old and part feathered) where they get little try-outs in the yard in rabbit runs when it is warm. They get to feel the grass under their feet and the sun on their backs. If our judgement or the weather forecast calls for it, they are rescued back up in the early evening for another night indoors.

The chicks
Both groups seem to be loving it. The ducklings in particular have become a loud and clamorous gang of demanding 'gannets' who peep-peep loudly for food as soon as either of us show our faces at the back door. The chickens do not want to be left out, so they kick off too, but 4 chicks cannot compete noise-wise with 6 ducklings. They are all getting a good mix of chick crumb, cooked rice and finely chopped veg peelings/grated carrot offcuts and they are all wolfing it down. Thriving, they are.

Electricity pole covered in ivy.
Finally, I am now pretty much through my archery beginner's course. It was going to be ten weeks at 1 hour a week, shared with up to 5 other students but regular readers will know I got lucky. Not only did I get one-to-one tuition but also some weeks we carried on after the hour into the 2nd hour of club time in that hall. The instructor would have been well within his rights to say, nope, you had your hour... now I am off to 'play' my own archery. So, 6 weeks in I have ticked all the boxes (literally) and my form has gone into the national club to win me my membership card and number (and insurance cover) and I have been measured up and assessed to see what size and draw-strength bow and arrows I need to be buying. 62 inch bow, 29 inch arrows and a 40 lb draw, for those who are interested. Off to t'internet then and Quicks Archery of Honiton (Devon) to select £315 (nearly €400) worth of shiny new equipment. That will help distract me from waiting for Barbara to return.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Eat Your Vegetables!

Ross (l) and Somerville (r)
Our tiny pigs, Somerville and Ross are both nicely settled in now to our place and our ways. This may be the case every year (you forget) but they seem so tiny to me, probably because the last pigs we had were our departing Berkshires; long since gone through 'tiny' to become hulking 70-80 kg beasts. When the new ones turn up I worry that they are so small they will get through the gaps in the sheep-wire and it takes me a few weeks to relax into the idea that they might like it here and stay voluntarily, even if they could escape.

Ross is a galia melon kind of girl.
These two were immediately the most friendly and tame newcomers we have ever met. Real charmers. Within 24 hours I could feed them from a bowl which I still held, and now, a week later they are both sprinting up to me on my arrival and 'asking' for food. Somerville (the 'spotless', sandy one) is perhaps a lot more chummy that Ross (she of the many black spots and blotches). The former will allow me to scratch her head, shoulders and flanks and is all over me nuzzling into pockets and wellies. The latter, Ross, is a bit more shy, only allowing a little touching of her forehead.

Somerville prefers a tomato.
In a previous post I said that I was a bit worried about their lack of appetite. They seemed fixed on the wetted grain-mix that I got from the breeder and turned their noses up at my 'proper' commercial pig-ration. They also ignored my offerings of apple and carrot. 'What manner of pigs are these?', I worried, 'that they won't eat anything? Were we going to have to teach them to eat their vegetables like naughty children? We are through all that now as I ran out of good breeder-mix. They are now piling into my 1/3 : 2/3 mix of barley and pig-nuts and happily accepting apple, tomato, carrot and galia melon. That is a relief.

They are also lovely looking, attractive animals and I have been able to get some lovely pictures of them glowing in the afternoon sun as they wander about in the grass patch up the side of their 'woods' next to the goose orchard. They are completely unfazed by the arrival of a camera lens close to their pile of fruit. We have great hopes for them and they might just have knocked our belovéd Tamworths off the top of the "most favoured breeds" list.

Happy pig-butts
Meanwhile on 'veg' Liz continues to do the swimming lessons thing with the ducklings and both of us are finding, as usual, that the official diet of pure chick-crumb is just plain boring. The ducks enjoy dibbling the crumbs up from the surface of their bath but they just look like they should be grazing up greenery and vitamins. We had some curly kale in the fridge (for us, of course) and Liz wondered whether if she finely chopped this and set it afloat on the 'bath' water, the ducklings might enjoy that. Well, talk about feeding frenzy! 6 ducklings were immediately in the water splashing it every where as they scrabbled up the bits of kale. No problem with them eating their veg.

We are fast approaching the time when we can let them out into the rabbit runs on sunny afternoons for an hour or so, and, as they become more waterproof, we will also give them a try out on the big pond. We KNOW that ducks can wreck a pond but this is a BIG pond (6m by 10 m) and there are only 6 ducklings, so we are willing to risk it. If the pond starts to suffer we may re-think this plan and confine them to a smaller run with some kind of kiddies' paddling pool, but the photo's wont be anything like as good.

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Nearly 60, You Know!

Liz is currently enjoying knitting with some pure wool. 
Regular readers will remember fondly with us, the late Diane Walsh (formerly Riches), a very good friend from our Faversham days. Diane used to regularly amuse us with stories of her friends and relatives from 'up North' - Stockton on Tees - from where she hailed. One of these was an elderly friend of her Mother. This lady, 'Ellie' was forever proudly telling all and sundry how old she was and how she managed with it.

2 Brown (Irish) Hares check us out from a safe distance after
we'd met them in a narrow lane. 
Her regular was "I'm nearly 84, you know!" which lasted from just after her 83rd Birthday and as quick as you like became "I'm nearly 85, you know!" within days of her year clicking over to the next year. Then she'd assure you that she "doesn't get out any more..... oh, except for Bingo...oh and when (Diane's Mum) takes her shopping.... and the Post Office to collect her pension... oh and the occasional car outing... etc etc" Bless her. She is still with us as far as we know, and must be way over 90 by now (Nearly 91, you know?).

All the logs in the front garden split and the machine lowered
into travelling position. I towed it round to the yard with the car.
I am cruising in towards my 59th Birthday in a few days and wondering if the day afterwards, I might get away with an "I'm nearly 60, you know....and I don't get out any more". I suspect that those who know me will tell me that this is because I love this place so much you have to pry me free with a crow-bar and, anyway, neither of us feel at all like we are either "nearly 60" or much much younger (depends on which of us you are talking about, he said carefully). Liz can't quite believe she is married to a bloke who is nearly 60, and I certainly don't feel that old, or see someone that old in the mirror. I find I have no reference point. I don't know anyone who was particularly 60 while I was watching.

Squawk, our 9-10 year old Cuckoo Marans, still laying those
dark brown spotted eggs.
Ah well. These things happen anyway and need celebrating, so as I write this I am a bit stuffed up with food and rather awash with the good Guinness. Not to a dangerous degree, I hasten to add. It was also very recently K-Dub's Birthday, so we adjourned to his local pub close to the Sligo house for a few (Liz drove us there and collected us later, nipping off to spend an evening knitting at Carolyn and putting the world to rights in the meantime). Then today a nice family tradition - the Birthday boy/girl gets to choose the menu and/or the restaurant and here I am happy to be a "cheap date".

Gorgeous George, the Gander
I do not need fancy restaurants or expensively 'foodie' fare - my idea of Heaven just now is the "bacon and cabbage" option at The Golden Eagle (Hester's) in Castlerea and 2 pints of Guinness. We had a nice salad starter and Liz had a pot of tea afterwards, but that was it. Nothing finer. I am stuffed with the food and a tiny bit squiffy from the beer. I will need no proper supper, but there is a lovely rhubarb cake sitting on the sideboard there and I have ice cream in the freezer. There is also some good cheese knocking about somewhere, so while Liz is off at knitting club I will not be starving.

The dog micro-chip certs are quite posh, serious affairs
on heavy paper. Impressed.
What else is a-foot? Our dog micro-chip certs came back from the database people at Fido.IE (Yes, I know!) and were impressive heavy-weight paper. I was expecting some aul' print out slip torn off at the perforations. I am not sure why you'd need such a posh certificate - I can't imagine anyone framing it for the office wall, for example. Impressive, none the less.

Baba and Marta (Myfanwy's lambs) enjoy the climbing pile
I have finally ploughed my way through the stack of tree slices  using the borrowed log splitter. I rescued a few rounds and built a mini pyramid in the East Field for the lambs and kid to play on, having seen how much they enjoy the grassy knoll further down the field. The youngsters have quickly adopted this and we can see them enjoying leaping on and off, playing 'King of the Castle' from the Kitchen window. I have seen mum-goat Nanny Óg up on it too with her baby. The baby goat tends to sprong up there on all four feet, boinging about like Tigger.

Guinea cock 'Apollo'. What a handsome fella!
The weather has taken a turn for the worse, reverting to freezing rain and bitter raw winds just when we were getting used to March's (false) spring. This has stalled the bumble bee surveying for the moment, killed all thoughts of opening our honey-bee hive to check for brood and stopped all outdoor gardening. Everything around field entrances is, once more, a soggy mess into which I am firing quantities of the shredded wood to try to mop up the sloppy wet. Back indoors, then, to light a fire and think about writing this blog. Have to look after myself and keep myself warm and dry. I'm nearly 59 you know!

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Taking Stock

New species for 2016 - these Khaki Campbell ducklings
At this time of year we seem to accumulate livestock at a breathless rate with new species and baby animals turning up every week. I need to stop, take a moment and do a mental stock check on what we have here. I thought the readers might also like to know, so this post is a bit of an annotated list of the animals and birds we have as of 9th April 2016. In order of appearance, then, here goes.

Careful swimming lessons for the not-very-waterproof ducklings
Poultry - where it all began back in 2012 with our 5 "Lovely Girls", the Sussex Ponte hens. Only one of these ladies is still with us and we are trying to 'evolve' by natural wastage into a mainly Buff Orpington flock. The current chicken list is....

2 Buff Orpington Roosters (The Lieutenant and the Captain)
5 Buff Orpington hens including one of our own breeding last year (Remember "hen and one"?)
1 Sussex Ponte hen
1 Cuckoo Marans hen
2 Hubbard hens (0ne red, one white)
2 "Mini Buff" hybrid hens
That's 11 hens by my reckoning.

Eyes down - 8 sheep line up at the trough.
Other Poultry include

1 gander (George)
4 geese (technically 2 wives of George and 2 daughters but he's not too particular!)
3 Guinea Fowl including our original hen (Min) and 2 possible suitors (Apollo and Belvedere)
4 newly hatched Buff Orp chicks (pure bred we hope but time will tell)
6 newly hatched ducklings
1 pair of turkeys (Tom and Barbara)

That is 33 birds, total.

Newly built duckling and chick brooder box. A sheet of
house insulation, some old election posters and a rabbit hutch
roof. Load of gaffer tape and Bob's your uncle.
Mammals dept.

3 ewes (Lily, Polly and Myfanwy)
5 lambs (3 ewe lambs, 2 ram lambs). One of these, Rosie Probert is a 'keeper' and will become our replacement ewe as old Polly (9) heads for retirement*.
2 new pigs - 10 weeks old at present. "Oxford Sandy and Black" breed (OSBs) named Somerville and Ross
Guest goat (Nanny Óg) and her week old son Henry Óg (our newest animal).
3 dogs (Deefer, Towser and Poppea)
2 cats (Big fluffy 'Blue' and young lanky pretender, Soldier.

Home made 'hedgerow' wine used up the freezer bags of fruit.
...and then there are the honey bees of course - how could we forget? One colony at present living in a (British) National hive as 'brood and a half'. Probably about 10,000 to 15,000 bees at this time of year but till we get through the cold/damp/wet/late spring we are not counting any "chickens". We got our fingers burned in 2015 with total loss of our previous bees in spring just when we thought we were out of the woods. This, we are told, is when bees die - they do OK in winter when they are pretty dormant (they do not technically hibernate), but run out of food when they start to get active and start flying as temperatures come up above the tens and the crucial 14ºC.

The log mountain almost 'complete'. 
I have been trying, and struggling a bit, to 'wean' the pigs off the mixed, soaked, mollasses'd grain that came with them and onto which they had been weaned from Mum's milk. The breeder gave me a sack of this mix to help the piglets settle in here and instructions to slowly transition them over to my commercial 'nuts' with days on 75%/25%, then 50/50, then 25/75 etc. The pigs were not keen and were not co-operating. They refused my ration and left me with bowls with all Darren's mix gleaned out of them. They seem to eat way less than previous pigs and, to my amazement and alarm, were also refusing all fruit and veg "treats" - apples, carrots etc. I'd find the wedges of apple lying withered and dried up in the left overs.

My kind of Birthday Present!
The moist mix from Darren was starting to go off - it warmed up and smelled decidely "perfumed", then started to go mouldy, so we had to force the issue. Luckily the pigs have now had a change of heart. My pig nuts are now 'OK' apparently and the apple wedges and carrot bits are also vanishing from the food bowls. We may be on the run home to well fed pigs.

The sweet little ducklings need to be taught to swim. Well, not true, exactly - they need to be shown water so that they will swim and get wet, to make sure they then learn the preening behaviour which will let them spread their own natural water-proofing oils all over their feathers. Ducklings hatched in nature are straight way rummaging around in Mum's feathers and pick up the preen-gland oils from her. They hit the water already proofed and float like corks. Their own preen glands take a couple or three weeks to develop, so ducklings hatched in an incubator have a problem. If they get into water, they just waterlog and sink very quickly, as well as getting very cold from the water-skin contact. The breeder/brooder must introduce them to shallow, warm-ish water in a safe way for the first weeks to stimulate the preening behaviour which will coat their duckling-fluff with the oil. Liz is having great fun doing this in our Sitting Room using a cat litter tray (with flat rocks as 'beaches') and a big, water-absorbing rug.

There ends my stock take. In the words of all 'Thank You' speech givers everywhere, I hope I have not forgotten anybody. If I have I will have to sneak back into this post with my tail between my legs and add any forgotten birds or beasts under cover of darkness.

Newest animal, Henry Óg a week old.
*I had always believed that ewes were only good for about ten years of lambing, probably because I know that from my Fallow Deer studies, but I have since heard from an internet smallholder that they know of a ewe who was still going strong aged nineteen and 40 lambs later. This 'retirement' may be some time coming but it will give Rosie a nice few seasons to learn the ropes from her auntie