Wednesday 14 January 2015

Draw a Line....

The black spruce (Picea mariana) around the 'Secret Garden"
We are determined to put the upsetting fox episode behind us now so here is an easy-on-the-eye post which contains no foxes or even fox tracks. The whole scene has been blanketed in picturesque white snow (all be it only a few inches) so that we can all think of Christmas card scenes and, (apologetically) using that management-speak baloney expression "we can draw a line under it and move on".

Rudbeckia stems.
Sorry if the snow scenes are a bit monochrome, gloomy and sunless, but I whizzed round early in the morning, sure that the sun would not come out to brighten things up before all this lot started melting and dripping off the trees and fencing. The forecast is, anyway, for a thaw and a return to wind and rain for tomorrow (We hope, also that the forecast weather for "the wedding" is accurate).

No digging in the veg plot today!
The best aspect by far of the snow is that you can see that we have definitely no fox tracks anywhere on the property. With the dogs also confirming no interesting scent when we are out patroling we are hoping the 'line' in my title is well drawn and written in permanent ink, though realistically we know we have not done for all the foxes in the townland.

No sitting around enjoying the view today, either...
Just one amusing story on the subject of guns if you will allow me. My complete (but short) gun history up till two nights ago. Don't worry. It involves only one pull of the trigger and no deaths. Or injury even. When we posted our fox problem on Facebook, several friends stepped up with helpful and sympathetic suggestions involving, obviously, shooting the fox and such lines as "how are you with a rifle? - a shot in the air might be enough".

Quite cute - the lamb's tiny hoof print (left) next to Mum's
Well, if people knew my gun history, they would not be letting me anywhere near a shot-gun licence, far less a rifle. Way back, probably 30-35 years ago I was involved in a farm by way of courting the main man's Sister in Law and he (Big Tim) agreed to take me out 'lamping' in a Land Rover with a bunch of other lads. We'd drive around his land looking for bunnies, then stop the Land Rover, shine a big lamp on them and take pot shots at them from standing up in the back of the Land Rover. Youthful high spirits but also controlling the rabbits which were at pest levels and decimating the growing corn down by some woods.

Dawn from the top of the allotment, looking east.
We pulled up then, by a hedge where there are a gazillion bunnies mooching about near a hedge and Big Tim hands me a .410 (small shot gun, a "four-ten"). The rabbits are so close that one is almost under the Land Rover's front bumper so I take careful aim and squeeze the trigger as instructed. I have no idea where the shot went but the target rabbit remains standing looking at me, a bit put out at the noise I'm making. I hear Tim's voice say "D'yer want me to git out and 'it 'im with a spade?" and then there are gales of laughter and everyone else trying not to fall out of the Land Rover, creased up laughing.

Tim took the gun back off me and 'sacked' me as a gunman. I was relegated to gate-man. I had to just get all the field gates for the LR. I think I can also remember being a bit uneasy about killing a rabbit and relieved at having missed and being sacked, but that might just be me putting a favourable gloss on it all. That episode was the last time I fired a gun and the last time I even saw one fired. I went back to being an animal lover and wildlife nut for 35 years till 2 days ago.

Improved shelter.
Meanwhile, back on January 13th and we need to start getting the lamb ready for proper out-door living, but we have snow here and wind and rain forecast. Mentor Anne who, with Simon, has built and lived in a proper house made of straw bales, might be proud of us - we decided to improve the makeshift shelter with straw bale walls and a floor of shaken out straw (rather than, admittedly dry, soil). My little trailer will take ten bales so we were off to the local hay/straw merchant; 2 for the pig ark, one for the existing sheep-bedroom (former feed store), one for the new shelter floor and 6 to play 'Lego' with. We may need more, but the shelter is already a lovely, warm dry place for a lamb and the Mum and Aunt to take shelter from the snow, wind and rain and, potentially, for an Aunt to become a Mum in when we get to 25th March?

Snow Geese.
And so I have probably done enough now to bury Brer Fox. The chap himself has been removed by Charlotte of the Mini Horses who does some kind of fancy dog-training using the scent of the dead animal to train her dogs in the ways of what to chase and what not to. She came to collect him last night and we had to nip round with a torch and find him where I'd laid him out to take his picture yesterday but, of course, 3 inches of snow was now blanketing the scene. Amusingly we could easily find him as he made a cartoon style, perfect fox-shaped mound in the flat grass; he even had pointy 'ears', 'eyes' and a 'mouth'; somehow the eyes and mouth must have been that bit wetter than the glossy fur, so the snow was melting on these features as it landed giving little darker pits in the snow and the flakes had built up on the pointy ears creating an exact copy in white. Snow-Fox has now gone too, then, with Brer Fox. RIP, the pair of you.


Anne Wilson said...

If you can put the bales on a pallet Matt they wont rot or get contaminated from the sheep pee or dung. The feed store in CR normally has spare pallets at no charge.

Matt Care said...

Thanks for that. Anne. I am always in there and never thought to ask. When I was in the supermarket game pallets had to be exchanged one for one, or you'd get charged for the 'loss'. Blue GKN were something ridiculous like £23 a pallet!

By the way, our fox problems do not seem to be over. We lost another Buff-Orp hen late this morning, just a puff of feathers blown onto the surface of the pond from grass at the edge. I have alerted our man. This is heart-breaking.

Anne Wilson said...

Sorry to hear that Matt, I know you want the birds to be 'free range' but I hate to say it the only way to protect the birds is with electric fencing, the fox will keep coming no matter how many you have shot until they have cleared you out.
Simon examined the outer boundary of our runs yesterday, fox foot prints all around but none inside the run. Once a fox gets a belt it learns and does not try again, unlike mink.
I know you don't want to hear it but in all the years we have had poultry we have lost just five birds to fox and that was birds that had flown over the fencing.

Matt Care said...

I fear you may be right, Anne and it saddens me. The thought of how and where to fence so that we still have sensible access is bad enough with our overgrown hedges and already existing sheep fences. Then I still have the sight of that red bushy tail clearing our 3-4 foot fence into the East Field seared on my brain. Perhaps I need to rethink being in the chicken game.