The Winds of Change.

It’s been a long time since I chanced this way and much has happened on the journey.

 I got “the Girls” in to help with the garden. They came in the form of two Gloucester Old Spot weaners. They moved onto the veg patch and dug and weeded out all the nettle roots, whilst they ate all the old veg and kitchen peelings and no small amount of pig food. Their cosy house was of small straw bales all put together with a tin roof , they snuggled down every night after their supper and slept late every morning. They sunbathed and wallowed and chomped and scratched and greeted anyone walking down the path with a grunt and a big pink nose snuffling over the fence. They were a joy to watch and talk with. Then when the work was finished and they found relief from their growing discontent by digging up the fence and pulling down their house and digging their strawy wall into the soil, they were big enough to make the 4 mile journey to the local butcher. A freezer of wonderfully tasty pork was their parting gift.

Chloe has grown to be a strapping girl however it seems her unborn twin was not as thought, a sister but a brother whose foetal blood infused enough male hormones into Chloe that her reproductive organs did not join up fully, so they are all there but incomplete. The result is that there will be no calves to stimulate a milk supply or to encourage her to become protective. She is the largest of the bovines yet she gets bullied by both the dexters, one of whom is not yet fully grown.

Another lambing season has come and gone and the next has begun just a few short weeks ago, along with the first flush of goat kids.

 The goatherd moved away from the family home to a village a couple of miles away. She comes back daily as work allows to do her goats, with me filling in the empty job slots. The shepherd moved from the local town to the next village and now walks over daily, appearing unannounced often with arms full of firewood and checking on sheep as she comes to start her daily tasks.

 Last summer was dominated by illness and hospital visits to a loved one who, despite our best endevours, died, leaving us shocked and numb. We held a celebration of his life, in the garden with family and friends. We blew bubbles at his eulogy which was read by one of his best friends.  We took him in his woollen coffin in a borrowed astra van, to be buried  in a corner of a small local graveyard surrounded by trees. There were nearly 50 of us in all, some staying all day and others calling in or leaving, as busy times allowed. Everyone bought food and drink to share and we ended the day, after sunset, with fireworks and chinese lanterns at a place where he loved to sit and watch the view. We toasted him with sparkling wine and champagne and made it a day he would have loved.

I hope he did.

I have spent the autumn and winter, such as it has been so far, drying apple rings, brewing wine, making jams, baking bread and collecting brushwood to feed the stoves in mine and the shepherds homes. My fleeces all got left out to perish in the sun and rain so no spinning or felting. We have had a bit of snow but winter has been really mild and so far, spring has begun early.

 Before our lives were turned upside down, I went to visit my Mother. Whilst I was there, I spent time with my Sister who I have been in scant contact with for many years. We enjoyed walks on the beach, drives on the moor and evenings by the fireside. When I left to come home, she sent me with a top bar beehive. I was so pleased as I have wanted one for ages and believe them to be more bee friendly and the intended husbandry to complete the concept has to be better for the bees. Little did I know that far from seeking a swarm or nucleus from a local beekeeper, a swarm of bees would come to us. I love having them here and hope they will expand to more hives as time passes. They come out in force on warm days, of which there are increasing numbers and carry pollen of various colours back home.

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Published in: on Thursday March 15th, 2012 at 9:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

Just the way that it should be?

Or should that be, is my life just SLIGHTLY ODD?

A near neighbour has raised a hatch of chicks and now,  at the end of summer they bought the males round for me to turn into dinner. They arrived in a plastic feed sack in the boot of a car so they quickly needed to be dealt with. The quickest thing to do was to put them in an empty rabbit hutch with some food and water, then decide when I have enough time to kill and pluck them, a job which always takes me ages.

 A couple of days later they were still waiting and eating and one morning, I asked one of the resident “outlaws” to let them out. Having a senior moment, or should I say, rather a lot of them, is rather common for me and what I meant to say was to give them food and water. So out they came, now what? Well “what”, came at bedtime when they were nowhere to be seen. Damn, I bet they have got out or been caught by a fox. The next morning they were wandering around, eating veg from the garden and generably being where they shouldn’t. Bedtime again, none present or correct, but the next day there they were as bold as brass, this time one was baiting one of the breeding cockralls who was defending his pen of hens.

 This went on for a few days until one evening I thought to ask if anyone knew where they went to bed. The answer was a delight to my ears, they roost in the hawthorn tree. I have always loved the idea of hens which roost in trees. It seems so natural and easy, but I always clip wings to keep tabs on all poultry, then I decide where they will sleep, what time they get let out and all the other controlling things we do to “look after” our pets. Now the boys have introduced a small flock of home bred pullets to their version of night life. Lively it is too, they often crow at intervals from about 11.38pm until around 4am when there is a distinctive wing clap and soon after the crowing moves around. With no housing there is no build up of lice or mites, they seem safe from foxes, whilst roosting anyway and they must get a primeval satisfaction from being on branches which are constantly on the move. The downsides are that they can get over the wall into next doors garden, they are vulnerable when they are at ground level from before dawn and I do need to eat them before they spend the winter getting tough and eating their way through precious feed.

 The hawthorn tree is a great love of mine, I can see it in the mirror from my bed. I watch the blackbird eating the berries whilst I sit in bed in the morning and the outside world is monochrome. I love the shape of it and I love the way it looks like a picture which changes according to the light, the weather and the activity of the time. A stratigically placed mirror can open up a whole new world.

I took one of the animals to my vet in a local market town. I take anything which will fit in my car rather than pay the call out fees and in the past have had animals at all stages of life from birth to death, carried in the back of my car or van, but the things which don’t fit are cows, ponies and donkeys. So after my consultation I returned to the waiting room for some injections to be dispensed. The Vets surgery is an old shop and the reception and waiting room is the shop itself, the window opaqued to provide some privacy but one can see out quite clearly and waiting outside with a middle aged lady was a  small horse. As the Vet finished writing the directions on my syringes the receptionist told him that George had come for his booster for Tetnus and Equine flu. I asked the receptionist if this is an unusual occurance and fortunately it is rather commonplace. Why does this soothe my equalibrium so?

Now there is no reason why this should be an odd phenomenon but how often do you see a horse waiting in the high street for his appointment at the vet?

Published in: on Wednesday November 11th, 2009 at 10:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Of predators and the unexpected.

 A few weeks ago,  the Boy was out doing, what boys of their early twenties do of a Saturday evening and had taken his car to a local watering hole so the view to the Northwest was uninterrupted for a short distance. Whilst he was gone, the sheep went rushing up the road from the wood and on hearing the sound of hurrying hooves, one of the girls looked out into the dusk in case there was an errant dog on the loose. She certainly did not expect to see a wild boar, giving chase. She called to me and we went to see if the boar was still around. Alas no, so the next morning we went to wander in the woods to see if there were any traces of it’s meanderings. Still nothing. Only by chance had she seen it. Normally a car would be parked blocking the view.

 Now, I have long since been aware of sightings of these creatures and many have got very close to them, even families of them. I have witnessed the turfs on roadside verges , turned over, but as yet I have not witnessed a boar at large. However the fact that they are obviously here in the hamlet means, come lambing, a greater level of vigilance will be required.

 Lots of areas have a “beast” at large, mostly being members of the big cat family. Hereabouts we have two or more.

Many years ago I was driving to get some homebrew supplies and there, in the bracken at the side of the road was a big black cat, heading into the undergrowth. A few yards on, were a group of sheep grazing as if there was nothing untoward at all. I was so shocked that I had to stop the car to decide if I was seeing things.

 I realised that the animal I had seen was exactly what I had thought. It was around the height of the sheep and the tail was long and carried down, following the line of the rear legs with the last few inches carried parallel to the ground.

 There have been many sightings of both this cat and a brown “tabby” coloured one over the years and a handful of photographs taken, one being a close up image taken as someone walked along a forest track, camera poised to shoot another image. Unbeknown to both, the two beings were so close that they shocked each other the person regaining enough composure to snap the camera shutter closed as the feline snarled. 

 Obviously there are birds of prey, mainly buzzards and owls, though other hawks and falcons nest here too. Herons and Egrets, haunt the streams and ponds.  

 Then there was the White Stag. It was spotted from time to time and occasionally photographed before it “came to hart”, when it was at its’ prime with a full set of antlers. It haunted the woods to the north of the land, quite close to here and was seen quite regularly even becoming caught in a tennis net at one time. Before it matured there were sightings of a white doe to the south.

 Then a year after it was at its most magnificent it was killed on the road. I drove out one morning and saw the top of its head and antlers emerging from one of the deep drainage ditches. There was no mistaking which deer it was or that it was dead.  Gradually word got around and the whole story was recorded.

He was hit and killed about 3 miles away from here at a juntion. The body then disappeared for a while during which time I saw it, before turning up near the center of the woods several miles away, minus the head which had been hacked off for a trophy to grace someones wall no doubt.

 A great numbness was felt by lots of folk as the animal had been a sign of light energy coming back to this area of  heavy dark energy. Other sightings were told of white deer around the land but within a year all reports seemed to have ceased.

 I cannot say if these animals are indeed still around but I hope there will again be a white stag born to give hope for the area in the not too distant future.

Published in: on Monday October 26th, 2009 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Jam Tomorrow

Well yesterday I collected loads of comfrey to make a salve for a ewes ears. Cobweb has a beautiful face of course, all pink and flesh covered, as are her ears. Unfortunately her head and face area is not covered in any hair and she has been out in the rain and sun, so her ears are cracking, just where they swivel around for her to flick off flies, or listen to sounds from behind her. So they need soothing.

 Today I melted some hard vegetable fat in a pan and added glycerine and whilst it was turning to liquid, I finely chopped some comfrey leaves and added them until half of them were heating in the liquid, the juices turning the mixture a golden greenish colour. When the greens had cooked fully, I strained the liquid off and squeezed the greens through a sieve, getting all the liquid out whilst it was congealing into hard fat amongst the chopped greens. I then added the fresh half of the greens to the liquid. More of the same but this time, after squeezing the last of the liquid, I added dried lavender flowers and reheated and cooked. Then I pushed all the “mush” through a mouli and heated and strained again. Then a reheat of the final liquid before I decanted the salve into two containers, one an earthenware crock in minature, the other to half fill a glass ramekin, adding a large spoonful of honey to this part. I stirred and put the ramekin onto the crock  to warm the honey through. This is to use as a lip balm for us. The crock took longer to set and set firmer than the honeyed batch, it is good for hands. But the honey balm is great for lips, and around eyes, and the face and throat. A little sticky at first, just a very little but then sooo soft. As it has been pouring with rain this evening, Cobweb is sheltering somewhere,  so when she is around in the morning she can try some too.

 Oh, and going through the bag of greens and bruised fruit from the veg shop on which I feed the rabbits, I have salvaged some plums, peaches, a pear and some apricots. None alone in sufficient quantities  to be useful but together they will make a great jam. So they are sweating in the pan as I scribe.

Published in: on Tuesday July 28th, 2009 at 7:40 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Last Lamb?

 Well on Sunday we lost a sheep. Not just any old sheep, I don’t have those sort. We lost Nesta, our first home bred badger faced ewe who has a fleece to die for, but not this year.

This year The Shepherd saw her honeymooning with our coloured ram lamb from last year. Does that make him a Ramling?

He is Bryonys son, the twin to Sage. Last year we found the three of them walking down through the village and Sage was limping quite badly. As we were going through a lot of rain and the dreaded Scald had infected the grazing in this area. It lives between the clews in the hooves and sits there all sweaty and nasty smelling until eventually  it becomes footrot.  So, we bought them all indoors and sprayed everyones feet with a purple coloured spray made for such situations. This will often take out the problem within a couple of days, along with an antibiotic injection, short acting and given daily for 5 days. By day 3,  Sage was unable to stand and therefore could not feed. So several bottles a day were administered and she stayed with Mum and brother for a while but the lameness spread. Now she could not move any of her legs. The Vet did not know what was wrong but he tried several drugs and homeopathic remedies. After a couple of weeks Sage came to live in the kitchen as she needed to be turned every hour or so and Bryony  and son needed to be turned out.

 So the summer went on and Sage grew slowly. She could by now move her back end but not her front end. This perplexed the Vet even more as, if it was a condition of nerves he would have expected the front end to be affected as the nerves travel down the spine. Eventually he told us that if she was not substantially better within a couple of weeks he felt her case was hopeless with little chance of recovery for Sage to live a natural life. So curtains for her. Well I don’t know if he expected me to take note of what he was saying but we had had the conversation about if she was in pain-NO. And the bit about her “Spark”, definately present.

 So to use the Vet for her any more was pushing it a bit. We had done the herbal and homeopathic route with no change. So we decided to see how things went. A month later I was beginning to think we should give up too.

BUT, the Shepherdess. She say NO!

Her arguments to keep Sage were all sound but there was a nervousness about her being kept as she was, in a dogbed in the kitchen. We had tried to adapt a baby bouncer, on the Vets advice, so she could get the chance to move her legs and feet, without sucess. We turned her regularly and she could push her front legs against the side of the bed and get a bit of pressure behind them. Her back end could stand but just shoved her forwards, but if she was put on the floor she could shuffle around. Then she would do “push ups” against the cupboards and steps. By the time she had been in the kitchen for nearly 3 months she could nearly sit up like a dog, but if we put her in a standing position, her legs would just bend and take no weight at all as she slumped to the floor.

 Most of the time she seemed happy enough with lots of attention and the best pickings of any greens and roots available. She had a blanket of dogs to sleep with and would boss them all around. She did need to be put in the bath from time to time which she did not enjoy, but though her life was unnatural, it was not causing her distress. I supose it was as unnatural as we make life for a lot of our pets, yet we love them all the same.

 During August, one rainy afternoon, I was starting the process of dyeing some wool in fact rather a lot of wool. It needed boiling to remove the dirt and the lanolin. So with the Rayburn roaring away and a huge pan of boiling wool on top, the kitchen windows were streaming water from the inside and the room smelled like a wet sheep, it was a very pungent place to be. Sage was shuffling on the floor and the last place I noticed her, she was in her sitting position at the steps into the dining room. The dining room door opened and in walked DSs girlfriend. As I looked over and caught her eye, there was Sage, standing at the bottom of the steps. Knees and hocks bent and very shakily but she really was standing.

 Over the next few days she advanced to walking albeit rather oddly, then after a couple of weeks she was ready to move outside into a goathouse. Finally she was able to go out, acompanied by one of us at first. By November she was refusing to come in at night, so warily we let her out, checking on her at bedtime and first thing in the morning.

 This year she was shorn and now she no longer has a brownish dry, even dead coat, she is difficult to pinpoint from a distance.

 Back to Nestas suitor. He remained as wild as the other lambs until Sage started being out on her own. Then gradually he became more bold, until one day I was sitting in my car at the entrance to  my top field, when a dark brown sheep wandered up and stood next to my open window and I was idly stroking it. When I looked to see who had come to visit, I realised it was Sages’ brother. He has been one of the tamer sheep ever since.

 We all think Sage told him of how she lived with us and we looked after her until she got better.

So Nesta has a long luxurious fleece but had not lambed yet so we could not shear her Her wool has begun to separate and felt but as she had grown bigger and more sedentary, there was nothing we could do.

 On Sunday, she was missing. The rain of late has grown the bracken to enormous heights and most is now above my head if I walk the tracks and the sheep stay nearer the dwellings around the Hamlet as the grass is shorter and the wolves and other beasties can be spotted and an eye kept on them. The one short stretch of pavement bears testimony to where most sheep doze during the short hours of darkness. So that needed cleaning and lots of searches through the bracken to hedges where the sheep lamb, proved fruitless. Most of the sheep lamb, if not where they were born, in the same place every year. By afternoon we were very worried. Over the years we have had attacks on sheep, occasionally by dogs but most regularly by local people. On a few occasions we have had sheep taken off the common and dumped, usually miles away and often on very busy roads. So we checked with the Chairman of the commons, and other people who might hear of sheep being dumped.

 Nothing reported, but I needed to go out for a while, leaving The Shepherd to keep an eye out for Nesta and walk some tracks again. She went along the stretch of hedge often used as shelter but now overgrown, though this had been walked lots of times during the day.

I went to collect some much needed hay, lovely green stuff.Useless for horses which would become ill by gorging on it, but for the goats it is well appreciated and keeps the milk yield up. I can fit 4 bales in the back of my car and we use a bale a day at this time of year.

 On my return I went to put the kettle on and make some tea. The Shepherd came in and we talked for a while. After way too long I asked about Nesta thinking that there would be no sighting as she would have said.

Wrong. It seems Nesta had been found along the stretch, checked often that day, with her newborn baby boy just beginning to stand up next to her. He is black with white stripes on his face and a grey haze on his sides and brown on his legs. He was still very wet and she still had afterbirth dangling down, so he was very new. He is quite big. The pair were safely penned up to bond and recover before going back out in a few days. Just a little gem of information.

 Teenagers!

 Now the one ewe who has not lambed this year is Florence, and we are still waiting to shear her too.

Published in: on Tuesday July 21st, 2009 at 6:26 pm  Leave a Comment