Monday, 19 June 2017

It's Awful warm...Me Feet are Broke!

Love these lemon drop yellow snap-dragons.
"It's awful warm...Me feet are broke!" This from friend and neighbour, old boy down the road. He says it "warrr-um". He's spotted me walking the dogs early, avoiding the worst of today's heat, as he returns on a tractor from the other side of the village, loaded with empty pallets. He invites me in for a cup of tea and it's only when we're in the living room (turf fire glowing red in the grate) that he takes off his woolly jumper and his wellies (we're dry as dust here now, no mud for miles). It was good and welcome tea, though.

A spare suet pud from the freezer. Hard to beat!
We are having another mini heatwave here with temperatures down in the SE up towards 26-28ÂșC (UK is even hotter - I am hearing 31 and 33) so inevitably all those sheep owners who have not managed to get their animals sheared yet are starting to get anxious about 'fly-strike'. This is a horrible smelly affliction where the flies lay eggs down among the damp, warm fleece and the maggots eat their way down to and the into the sheep's skin. Not nice.

Supervising baby chicks with menaces?
The answer is to shear them in a timely manner, like in May, so that there is no fleece left for the flies to 'nest' in. However, smallholders have a problem, in that the 'proper' professional shearers get too busy working the large flocks and farms, hundreds or thousands of sheep and cannot be bothered to drive out to your isolated little spot and shear your 3, 4 or 5 sheep. Even if you have booked your man, he is still likely to let you down at the last moment leaving your sheep wilting in the heat.

Broad beans coming ready in the tunnel.
This is one of the reasons I decided to do my own. I am delighted that I love and enjoy this job and it now seems to be spreading, my own ewes first, then Sue and Rob's gang but now more recently a request from a Facebook friend and more to come. The FB chum was asking me to do a few for a friend of hers who was not on FB and who I'd never met, so I agreed to step in if she was stuck. I was passed a mobile phone number and the lady then also provided me with her Eir-code (post code).

New release pen for those Hubbards for
when they get moved to the big outdoors
Eir-codes are now the way we all find each other here - they have been added to the Google-Maps programme so you can ask for directions from Lisacul to, for example, F45E600 and up will come the map you need. Add in the 'Street-view' technology and you can "drive" there looking for landmarks before you make the real journey. No more need for 'directions'.

Southdowns. Oh those fully-woolly faces. Scary for the shearer.
So, there I was, then, headed for the tiny hamlet of Carrowbeg near to the village of Kilkelly over by Knock Airport early on Sunday morning. I was nervous, of course, hoping I'd do a good job for this new "customer" and that she'd be pleased.

One down, two to go.
I needn't have worried (I hope!), the lady turned out to be a real, genuine, salt of the earth East Ender here 10 years now but via Canvey in Essex and a big sheep farm in Cornwall. No nonsense though, so I knew she'd not want me being flippant or over friendly - I was nudged into full cool, professional, competent mode.

The ladies are a lot cooler.
I was desperate not to make any nicks or cuts in her animals so I was being really careful, especially as she told me a 'happy' anecdote about one shearer who had come to her and sliced the ear clean off a sheep. She can still remember the "plop" of it hitting the ground. She didn't get mad, she told me but I gather he didn't get paid or invited back. To add to my worries, these were not 'beginner's' type sheep, so it was not easy.

No damage to ears or eyes
They are Southdown breed, one of the two breeds familiar to we Sussex folk, the other being the Romney (Marsh). They have completely woolly faces with only their lips and nostrils and ear-tips showing. They also have shaggy wool all down their legs to their feet. I had only up to then, sheared sheep with the side-burns and top-knot of Hampshires, or the 'clean' faces and lower legs of Suffolks and Jacobs.  No need to put your clippers anywhere too near ears, eyes or those Achilles tendons.

Rambling Rector against the blue skies
Ah well. It went OK and we got through the 3 of them in about 2 hours with my new friend, whom we will call East Ender (EE) for these purposes), holding onto the dog-lead tied round a gate and trying to steady the rather nervous first-time girls (shearlings) from hopping about too much. Almost inevitably, I did have one faux-pas, maybe as a result of the dancing or just my beginner-ish incompetence, and nicked a small bloody hole in an armpit.

I was quite upset and apologetic and because I do not know EE at all, I *think* she was OK with it and will cope. It is frustrating to know that I will not find out till next year when I either get asked back or not! What ever the case she did not march me off the premises - she gave me a nice cup of tea and I met the rescue lurcher dogs, one of whom has a front leg amputated having been rescued in an appalling state. The nick will soon dry and heal over with or without EE's reaching for the herbal ointments or Vaseline. Ooops.

Daft 'selfie' with smoker.
So, that was EE and her three Southdowns. Next up came a request from my fox-shooting rifle man calling from Co. Sligo. Now they, I knew, have a lot more sheep (18 and a ram, it turns out) and I was seriously worried I'd not be able for it, with my 2 hours per three sheep work-rate. However, my man is in the lurch after having been let down by their 'proper' guy and is happy to work away at my 'method' over several sessions if need be. I can't remember exactly, but I think his sheep are bare-faced and bare legged ones, so we might get on faster than on the Southdowns.

Loving the hot weather and the sunny flowers.
I will let you know in the next post. Meanwhile, it seems to be all go here despite the absence of Mrs C who has now moved from the Cardiff 'AGM' base down to spend a few nights with our good friends Mazy Lou and Airy Fox in Bridport. She's back Wednesday. I will be the one lying there asleep in a pool of sweat and lanolin. It's awful warrr-um... me back is broke!

Friday, 16 June 2017

The Turkeys go Free-Range

The Rector rambles up our old hay-barn wall.
He may only manage one flush of flowers
but he certainly pulls all the stops out to do it.
In the previous post, I apologised for possible poor service and English while borrowing Liz's laptop because my PC was in the doctor's. I can no longer use that excuse. The offending machine is back, delivered today by my new friend Patrick in company of his good lady Lara (no mean techie herself) and ball of energy and fun Tyler (2 and a half)

Red currants doing well despite losing many leaves to the rapacious
gooseberry saw-fly larvae. 
Patrick has done me proud, completely wiping all traces of the old Windows Vista system and installing an official, certificated (and legal, obviously) copy of Windows 7, MS Office etc while saving all our 'documents' (pictures, spreadsheets etc) and moving them across too. We are also right up to date on anti virus/spyware/malware. It all seems to be working; I have been in this afternoon making things happen as normal on email, Twitter, Facebook, spreadsheets and now this blog.

Liz's rose garden with the row of Lady's Mantle doing well.
The roses are just getting there. 
The clean-up has also got rid of numerous programmes which were all set to fire up on a boot-up for equally numerous historic reasons. This box is 10 years old and has seen no end of systems come and go, such as Spotify for music which leave bizarre bits of, for example, Apple software sitting there, firing up at every boot-up and asking for updates.

Our shiny motorway sculpture is now the go-to
poster-boy of dances and other adverts
It also kept telling me that Google Chrome would no longer be updated as Vista is now out of support. We should probably bite the bullet and buy me a new laptop but such moves are so far down the shopping list (Kitchen, chicken house roof etc) that this clean-up and upgrade will have to do for a few years yet.

The turkey poults go free range and, as usual, the Guinea Fowl
lads adopt them and volunteer to mind them. 
Meanwhile, as Summer advances, the young turkeys are released to full free-range having now found their feet in the familiarisation rabbit run. Even while they were so confined, the Guinea Fowl boys were quite attentive and we remember last year how the youngsters were adopted by the Guineas and minded by them.

The Hubbards at 10 days old get to feel the grass under foot
 and the sun on their backs.
I let them out on Wednesday which was a bit showery but that proved to be very beneficial come evening. Turkeys normally get a week or so of being allowed to free range but coming back to their familiar bedroom in the rabbit run. These guys, approaching evening lock up time were relaxing near the coop door when a sudden rain shower drove everyone indoors. No rounding up or shepherding required - I locked them all away and Bingo! Youngsters released AND moved into adult quarters all in the same day.

That proved to be very handy. I needed to put the Hubbard chicks somewhere while I cleaned out their brood-box. Hubbards are huge eaters and fearsome producers of poo, so a week in a small crate can easily have them trampling around in half an inch of the stuff. We started with 13 but one sadly died on the 2nd night (we have no idea why). The remaining 12 are thriving and seem to have doubled in size. White feathers sprout from their wings and tails.

These are not puny weaklings who need constant heat and Infra-Red lamps, they are thugs who can run around arguing about morsels of food and shrug off the breezes of a Roscommon June. As long as you keep them dry and out of the wind, they love being outdoors where there is space to stretch their legs, flap their wings and zoom about like little clockwork toys. So with it now having turned warm and dry, they are out in the rabbit run from morning till evening and then get rounded up back their crate overnight.

It seemed a good choice for a hot, thirsty,
pig-keeping gardener who had been mowing
for a good few hours in the hot sun. 
Only 2 other bits of news occur to me. Mrs C is in the UK for a long weekend meeting the 'girls' for a good session of gossip, gin and eating. The gang refer to it as their AGM. These annual meets which rotate around various European centres have been going for a decade at least and when they started most of those attending had 'serious' jobs in the City and needed a good excuse to not be able to 'just nip in' at weekends. They did not want to get caught slipping up with mentions of anything as frivolous as drinking or restauranting, so they called it the AGM. That way anyone over-hearing the planning talks on phones would assume they were talking business. Clever, huh? The name stuck.

Stumpy's turn to go broody. Probably nice to take the
weight off that poorly foot.
I delivered Liz to Knock Airport this morning for her Ryan Air flight to Bristol. There she'd be scooped up by our good friends Mazy Lou and Airy Fox and taken to Cardiff where this year's host lives and this year's AGM is to be held. Last I heard she had arrived safely and been 'handed on to the next responsible adult'. She's back on about Wednesday.

Good progress by the stone mason on the curved wall about
which more soon. 
Finally, in the warm weather, if it stays dry, I have picked up a bit more sheep shearing. This for a lady who is a friend of a Facebook contact. We are hoping to complete this job, which is only for 3 ewes on either Sunday or Monday, dry weather permitting. More on that when it has happened.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The Thousand Natural Shocks that Flesh is Heir to

80,000 kms of good rumpy-bumpy potholed Irish roads did for
the poor Panda's suspension. New shocks at the back and a wishbone
at the sharp end. €290 - ker-ching. Ah well. 
OK. The normal PC I use for this is at the 'doctors' (slow and old like it's owner; hopefully more fix-able!). This  is being typed on Liz's posher, newer and faster lap top which I am able to blag while she is out at knitting. The machine is, though, unfamiliar to me so if this blog posts has any howlers in it - typo's, missing pictures etc, then bear with me and I will try to fix them when I get the old familiar dog of a machine back, improved.

Shiny new wishbone drivers side front.
Also, little happening just now so I will keep this one fairly short. Main job today was to take the car round to the local tyre place and get new shocks fitted at the back and a wishbone at the front. Fiats are highly regarded here for the cheapness and ease of fitting of parts but even they will eventually wear suspension parts rumbling up and down our pot-holey, rippled roads.

Rain has stopped play in silage locally, but we heard a mower
going round a local field - we might be back on.
I'd noticed uneven tyre wear at the front and a "play in the suspension" rumble at low speed, so got it checked out up on the ramp at the tyre centre. Mr Fixer there declared play in a front wishbone and the upper bushes of both rear shocks very tired. Also recommended a tracking adjustment (after the new bits, obviously!).

Twitter stats for that @IrelandsFarmers account I steered
last week. You can see where I took over at the right hand
end of the graph. I did 3 times the traffic of the 3 weeks prior
combined. The boss was delighted!
I was quite impressed by the tracking machine - 4 laser/mirror contraptions get clamped one to each wheel rim and then the computer screen lights up with little graphics, diagrams and results for each wheel vertical-ness and horizontal toe-in. Modern cars apparently have adjustment on the back suspension as well as the front. Very cool. Ah well, I am €290 poorer but the car is safe and should see us through the next NCT, at least on that aspect.

I managed to get some statistics back for my week on the @IrelandsFarmers Twitter account. I knew I'd been busy and I was fairly sure the owners/bosses of the account would be delighted. I was and they were. Turns out you measure Twitter 'traffic' on 3 main criteria as well as how many posts you create, pictures you put up etc. These are "impressions" (where someone else clicks on your post to expand it or do other things with it (copy, follow links etc) - they create an impression of your post on their own screen. Secondly how many people 'like' it and 3rd, how many copy it on to all their followers (called "re-tweeting").

In the 28 days ending with my week, the account got a million impressions and over 500,000 of these were from my posts - they told me I got more in my week that in the 3 weeks prior. Not bad All the other graphs also show big peaks on the right hand end, my days - re-tweets, likes and replies. Some of the latter may be my own - Twitter only allows 140 characters. If you need more space you reply to your first tweet with the 2nd part of the anecdote and on and on. Some of mine went to 4 'replies' which were not really replies at all. I am quite proud of all this even though it probably confirms to all my own followers that I talk too much!

Baby George being minded by his 4 responsible adults.
The only other news is that the adult geese have finally brought the one baby gosling off the nest and started to show him off and show him around.

I'm saying "him" here; we have no idea really but for now he is Baby-George. I may have posted before that there were two. There are not and I don't think there ever were. I just miss-saw a 2nd between all the 6 legs in the nest.

When they go out for a sensible amount of time and I can shut the door on them safely I will get a chance to finally get in there and clean up, and throw out the failed eggs. Right. That's it for this lap-top post. I hope it all works.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Tweet Tweet

This little mite hatches yesterday (we think) and manages to get
out of the nest. We find him cheeping frantically and waddling
round the shed floor. Fear not, all ends well. 
A Birth is Announced! Best news, I expect, for this post is that we finally have a hatch of goose eggs, this a good 2 weeks after the "due date" for the original eggs (27th May). The reason for this is that the 3 Mum/Auntie geese keep leppin' in and out of the nest after #1 goes broody and the eggs you set get trampled. These will be more recent eggs. Our goose breeding is definitely chaotic.

Curator-ing the @IrelandsFarmers Twitter account
This little mite announced his presence with frantic loud cheeping you could hear across the yard even through the excited honking of 4 adult geese, He'd got out of the nest which means a 4-5 inch "fall" out of the former concrete cattle-trough in which they nest and was a bit lost running round the floor, not trying very well to get back into the nest. It could have ended badly. We had one gander one year so annoyed by the appearance of this new, noisy, scurrying "rat" that he grabbed it by a wing and threw it across the shed, badly damaging it.

But not THESE parents. They lower their necks and chunter at him encouragingly from close range so that he stands up to his full 4 inches of height and wobbles his head proudly. The gander (Gorgeous George) has amazed all of us by being even better a dad than the ladies are mums or aunts. They get distracted, he stays focused. All 4 would protect the little fella with their lives and get very excited and angry at anyone who comes near. That was my problem. If I needed to rescue him back to the nest I knew I would need the chainsaw helmet, gloves, a coat with thick sleeves and so on. A relief then at 6 pm ish to see him back in the nest and now accompanied by a sibling. I can sleep easy and undamaged! Wish the little ones luck.

The Hubbards at Day 5 are growing a-pace. They have lost the
spherical look and already have white wing feathers.
This, though, seems to have been a week where we have both "worked" for hours without actually achieving anything around the farm, not a stroke of weeding, mowing or tidying. For Liz there has been the normal working week plus all the politics to follow, both in the US (Comey's testimony to the Senators) and in the UK (May's snap election and subsequent need to get into bed with the DUP).

Potential fruit #1 : Cherries
Liz always stays up for the results and normally takes the day after as holiday to sleep and recover. This time she was denied the holiday by boss John who suddenly had a funeral to attend, so she had to go in "even if she slept for most of it". The office must be manned and the phones answered at least from 09:30 to 13:30, Mon-Fri. In the end she gave up on the  voting coverage at 03:30, slept a while, worked the morning, then caught up by sleeping from 3 till 6 pm. There's dedication.

My 'job' was to be 'Curator' of the @IrelandsFarmers Twitter account, the voice of Twitter-using Irish farming for the week from Monday morning (5th June) to Sunday evening, tomorrow. Most of my readers, I know, have nothing to do with Twitter even if they are regulars on Facebook. It is seen as too 'ephemeral', sound-byte-ish, fleeting and short lived. You post your comment of 140 characters max and if no-one's paying attention it vanishes down the screen quickly replaced by the next Tweet. It is seen as the medium of smart, office, city types clip-clopping across marble floors in their heels, their thumbs and noses glued to the ever-on expensive smart phones and 'tablets'. It is used by vacuous, brainless celebrities and, of course, Donald Trump

Potential fruit #2 :Plums
Stick with it, though, and you can find sensible, intelligent chatter within and between groups of like-minded souls, whether your thing is politics, news, Ireland or more specialist subjects like farming or even smallholdering. When this happens, someone will generally decide that the subject "needs an account" on Twitter so they set one up and start trawling for members to join them. In this case they give the helm of the account to a different person each week, the "Curator". Friends of the blog may recall that I have curated the @smallholderIRL account 3 times now and I love having the extra following (numbering thousands of people all round the world) for the week with whom to share my news, pictures, anecdotes and banter.

Potential fruit #3 : "Irish Peach" variety of apple
All well and good. Small Holdering is the home turf and I'd know a good few people on that group through Facebook or in real life. I am happy to go on that one and strut my stuff, reasonably confident of a sympathetic reception and not too much "trolling" (idiots who are just out to argue and spoil the chat). But then I was invited to curate the 'proper' farmers' one @IrelandsFarmers. I accepted but if I'm honest I was a bit nervous. How would they accept me, this wannabee farmer, blow-in, smallholder and a Brit besides?

Potential fruit #4 : (pea sized) Peaches
I needn't have worried - it has gone really well with 95% of the stuff getting favourable comment ('Likes' and 'Re-tweets') and only the odd one completely blanked or ignored. I have covered a good range of stuff - the holding here and its stock, equipment, activities as well as what I like to do when NOT farming and some anecdotes on disasters and triumphs. One post I was very pleased with had me showing that picture of the house circa 1900 alongside one of me sitting out front on the mini-horse and cart. As I go to press I have just looked in and that one has been seen by 6713 people, 93 have said they 'like' it and 16 have shared it on ("re-tweeted" it). I seem to have done OK and I am delighted. I have to hand the tiller back at 6pm tomorrow. It is quite tiring and you are tied to the PC (no smart-phone for me!) frequently so I will not be sad to finish but I guess the 'owner' will happily have me back when the rota comes round again.... next year, maybe.

A poor blackbird gets dismantled overnight
in the new kitchen. We suspect feline
What else have we been at? I was out at the archery coach's place  putting the cover back on our enormous "gala tent" (mini marquee) ready for the summer activities, helped only by the lady of the house (Niamh) and a friend (Karl, an Austrian lad). Hard work in quite a brisk wind but very enjoyable and, like the curating, good to get it done.

We do get to eat out sometimes!
For Liz tonight a "Mystery night out" for the Lisacul Players, the amateur dramatics group still a-glow from their very successful performance of "Cupid Wore Skirts" a few months back. They had no idea where they were being taken, only that they had to show up at the village cross-roads by quarter past 7 a bit glammed up. One of the lads was organising it and he was keeping very tight lipped. Small huddles of actors formed (plus Liz and Director Tom C) frantically trying to work it out from the time, the need for €20 as a share of the mini-bus hire and their knowledge of 'Derek' (organiser) where they might be bound. One actor was praying that he'd not take them anywhere with Country music - she can't abide that, she said.

Well. Now they know. I have just had a text from Liz to say they are at a place called "The Oarsman" in Carrick on Shannon. She will no doubt fill us all in on the standard of the place's catering and the presence or absence of good aul' boys slapping their thighs, plucking their banjos and shouting 'Yeeee Harrr!' Y'all have the biggest time now!

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

A 4-Way Birthday and some New Babies

Early Purple Orchid at Kiltybranks
Friends of the blog may recall that Jun 3rd is Birthday for 3 of our main animals (was 4) who are all 5 years old. The pups, Towser and Poppea were getting born on that night down in Mrs Silverwood's house in County Laois while we were also waiting for news of a birth of kittens at Mrs S's friend's house just around the corner. The two joyful news, triumphant phone calls met in the middle at breakfast.

'Twayblade' (orchid) at Kiltybranks
Lily had whelped 7 (I think) pups and the cat had kitted 3 little balls of fluff. Since then we have lost one of the kittens (Rolo) to an RTA but we have gained a rescue cat (Soldier) of whom we do not know a birth date. We have therefore given Soldier the 3rd of June too, so HAPPY  5th BIRTHDAY the 4 of you, Soldier plus Blue, Towser and Poppea.

Getting the painting gear out. 
My main news events since the last post, though concern not these animals, but a coat of paint (or two) on the kitchen and the arrival of yet more livestock. The new kitchen got its paint on Saturday and we decided to carry the colour on throughout the old which has been up to now Brilliant White.

Liz had fallen in love with the colour of the dry, bare plaster (a very pale grey) and could not think of a better colour to sit alongside the new floor tiles, the bare, raked-out-and-repointed stone wall or, in fact, the existing splash-back on the sink in the old kitchen. As anyone who has decorated their house will know, you can now pretty much get paint in any colour you like. The shop stocks white base paint and has a high tech, computerised colour dosing machine that mixes the tin to the shade you have chosen from the swatch cards.

The new paint looks well against the stone
wall. Ignore the dodgy plastic wall socket.
That is only there temporarily. 
We had tried the older method of buying small 'match-pots' and painting little test patches but could not get a pale enough grey - the kitchen risked looking like a WW2 battleship! Wouldn't you know it, the ideal colour was from the (Dulux?) "Colour Trends" range, the most expensive paint in the shop. This was going to be €36 for the 2.5 litres we doubted would go the whole room even once.

Watercress in a bog ditch. I had thought that stiff needed a clear
flowing, pure chalky stream.
To our rescue, the shop guy who is probably well used to penny pinching customers (his shop is in Roscommon!) who said that he quite often makes up the colour in the "standard" Dulux version of the base-paint and it always works. That was now €19 for the tin which was especially nice when it became obvious that we'd run out of paint and need a 5 litre tin to finish the first, and complete the 2nd coat. 5 litres was €29 which was not so bad. I didn't ask what a 5 litre tin of the real 'Colour Trends' version would have been.

The 10 week turkey poults arrive
Today, then, saw delivered both our turkey poults and our day old Hubbard meat-bird chickens. The turkeys come from Sue and Rob who are currently breeding them by the dozen, hoping to sell birds for people to 'grow' for the Christmas market. It is nice to know that her parent birds are, in some cases, raised from the eggs laid by our own (late) Tom and Barbara pair, so the DNA has been working away over there and is now coming 'home' in a sense.

Sue and Rob hatch these either in an incubator or sneaked under any broody hen who has space under her skirts. One such "clocker" (broody hen) got a mention in my recent sheep-shearing post when we discovered a hatched turkey during a pause from the wool clipping. Once hatched they are kept under good heat; an 'electric hen' AND and Infra Red bulb till they are about 9 weeks old. They then get a week off heat before they go to their new homes, acclimatized.

We have 'landed' ours into one of our well used redundant rabbit runs, which have a cosy, draught-free, bedroom at one end. They spend a week or two in there getting used to the sights, sounds and smells of our yard and all the other birds (and cats and us), before we start letting them out free range and try to persuade them to move home to the proper chicken/goose coops. This year we will be more careful around the start of cold weather and the increased braveness of foxes. Last year we lost all three in November and had beef for Christmas dinner. It was lovely but we still hated that fox for stealing our turkey(s)!

Hubbard chick at day 1
Friends of the blog will also know that we have done several batches of the Hubbard chickens as meat over the years, lately one from May-June to August and a 2nd Aug to Oct/Nov. We join in with Anne and Simon who have access to a big commercial hatchery (long term friends of the Manager) and when they drive all the way up there to get their birds, they always ask us would we like some too. Thank you very much, Anne and Simon.

The Hubbard is a popular variety in Ireland among the commercial boys who are supplying supermarkets with Free Range and/or Organic birds. They make a nicely keeled oven-ready carcass and have a phenomenal growth rate, achieving 2-4 kg (oven ready) in 80-120 days. We kill ours at about 100 days on our 'genuine free range' system and it has always been the tastiest, most succulent chicken meat you ever tasted.

Long may it continue. We also enjoy having Anne and Simon in for a chat, a cup of tea and either dillisk, or chilli-cheese-and-bacon biscuits (or both) which Liz rustles up within minutes of us all sitting down at the table.  We got 13 chicks this year (a miscount at the source!) instead of the straight dozen and we have been amazed by the speed with which they have learned to peck up their own food. In previous years I have spent some time pecking at the food with the point of a chopstick to 'show' them what to do and, even, picking up bits of food and carrying it to their little, hopeful, upward pointing beaks. This lot were straight in. Good luck to them.