Wednesday 16 December 2015

R.I.P. Theo

Theo at a family wedding a while ago. 
I start this post with the saddest of news, the passing away of Liz's Father, Theo C who has been a feature of this blog for as long as it has been up here. We knew him as 'Mr SL', being the husband of Liz's Mum, Steak Lady. Regular readers will know that he had not been well for a while now and that some of Liz's missions down to Silverwood land had been to look after him as he was in and out of short stays in hospital.

Enjoying the sunshine outside here with Liz this summer.
He passed away peacefully in that hospital yesterday afternoon surrounded by all the family. He had been very much part of the bedside chat as the clan gathered and had just had his lunch. He was 88. We will all miss him - he was the best of men. Certainly to me he was the best Father in Law I can imagine wishing for and he always had a lot of time for me; generous, loving, welcoming and kind. I laugh now at my worries when 'courting' (does anyone still use that word?) Liz and knew I was going to have to meet her Father, impress him and ask his permission for Liz's hand, with me being a 'foreigner' and him known to be a passionate expert on all things Irish History; me coming to take away his kith and kin to another country. The 'perfidious Albion'? He was, instead, the best of hospitality, immediately bringing me into the family circle like that old 'cliché', "gaining a son, not losing a daughter" and his "Father of the Bride" speech was a mix of history and olde Irish (Brehon) Law around how auspicious it was to be wedding in November (the Feast of Samhain) and the old dowry set-up for the family women, that I will never forget. Love you Theo and I will miss you a lot. RIP my Friend.

Pink's ewe lamb. 
But what of things more local? Most exciting, I think, are events over at Sue and Rob's (they of the piglet-wrangling) rain soaked establishment. The ewe 'Pink', who you might recall I sheared this year as my first sheep owned by "someone else" and was true wife of the ram we borrowed to service our own ewes (the late Rambo) surprised Rob two evenings ago by popping out two tiny lambs.

Pink with both lambs.
It was lashing rain (as is normally the case) and Rob was doing his evening rounds when he heard bleating which was way too young to be the adolescent ram-lamb still hanging around with Mum. Investigating that far corner of the field , he found Pink there surrounded by afterbirth and with two lambs, on their feet, suckling away like good 'uns. That rainy cold night with the snow still melting in the field, was no place for these tiny newcomers, so the family have been rounded up and penned in a dry barn on good hay. This not without difficulty, apparently because the lambs, carried by Rob did not make the usual protest noises which bring the ewe anxiously following you across the field. They were quiet, so Mum looked like staying in the field where she could smell the afterbirth and presumably 'knew there were lambs here somewhere'. They had to park the lambs in the car-boot temporarily while they manhandled Pink over to a happy re-union. All sorted now, though. One lamb is a ewe, the other a tiny ram.

Soldier just fits in the wooden fruit bowl. 
I nearly caused Liz to choke on her coffee by announcing this birth in a text message saying that they had been born to "Rambo's wife"; which she took to mean one of OUR ewes. No Lizzie - ours are not due till Valentine's Day. That same evening Sue also got a message that the boar and sow combination I helped load for their trip to new owners in Sligo (Rodney the boar, Cassandra the sow) have now also recorded a happy event, ten tiny plump, spotty little piglets, all thriving and suckling from Mumma's 'milk bar' to a band playing.

Potato cakes with a difference - these left overs were mixed
'spud' and 'yam' mashed. 
I nipped over to S+R's place to see the new lambs and managed to coincide with the task of docking tails and attempted castration of the little ram. I had not seen this done before so I am always keen to see and try it and hopefully learn. Sheep-folk commonly use a special pliers which stretch out tiny rubber rings while you slip the tail (or scrotum) through the opening and then allow the band to pull back tight cutting off the blood supply to the body-part 'downstream'. The tail or 'tackle' then shrivels up and drops off allegedly painlessly if you do it within the first 3 days of birth.

With the spud haulms cleared and tomato plants pulled up
the chickens are let in the poly tunnel for a clear up. It is the
driest place in the garden currently so dust baths are the order
of the day. 
We had no problem with the tails but hit problems with the ram's 'bits'. The tiny testes (sorry if you're having your tea) do not stay helpfully down in the 'sac' while you apply the band, the lamb can draw them right back up tight to his pubic bones. You try to hold them while you manipulate the pliers but then you are sure you feel them slip back out of the 'noose' and you are left banding a fold of empty scrotum. Both Sue and I had a number of attempts but ultimately failed. They may try again over the next day(s) to see if it gets easier, but my sheep 'bible' (Tim Tyne's "The Sheep Book for Smallholders") says (p106) "The elastrator can be used to castrate male lambs but you should ask yourself whether this is really necessary. Most people do not bother nowadays as the modern taste is for smaller cuts of meat - ram lambs will be slaughtered long before they become a nuisance. Entire (i.e. not castrated) lambs will produce a better confirmation carcass with more muscling and less fat". I may see how Sue gets on and then decide what to do with mine on the strength of that.

Love's young dream? Guinea cock-bird 'Apollo' is so firmly
bonded with our remaining turkey-hen that we worry about
killing the girl. 
Our other main task lately is killing the turkeys, 2 down, one of our own and a bought-in extra to go. Here we hit another 'welfare' issue. 'Left-over' Guinea cock-bird Apollo seems to have fallen deeply in love with the remaining turkey hen who is about 3 times his size. These turkeys were always going to be Christmas dinner, not 'keepers' but if I despatch this hen I will be left with a broken hearted Guinea fowl - exactly what we planned to NOT have when we got the two new Guineas hoping one of them would be male and would pair off  with widow-bird 'Min'. The answer might be to kill Apollo too but he's going to fun to catch - Guineas are way smarter than turkeys when it comes to evading me. Ah well, more on this after this weekend. I will let you know how it panned out.

Finally a funny human story. With Carolyn (of the mini-horses) currently car-less due to a dead alternator I have been doing 'taxi' off and on and this morning I was on school-run taking C and Henry (3) along to the local pre-school. Henry is normally madly in love with the young teacher and no trouble for Mum to get through the door but today he had what she describes as "a little wobble", didn't want to go in and announced that "This is the worst day of my LIFE!" Oh to be 3 again, when the worst thing that ever happened to you was having to go to school.


Anne Wilson said...

So sorry to hear of the loss of Liz's dad, please pass on our condolences'.

Matt Care said...

Thank you for that. I will, of course.