Tuesday, 9 August 2016

The Great Outdoors

The two marmalade kittens are growing fast. At 12 weeks now (we think) they are not big enough to take on the dogs and we don't yet trust the dogs with them, but they are getting too big and lively to be confined to the one room. If you go into the Sitting Room to sit with them they quickly start doing 'wall of death' style charges around all the furniture and racing up your legs or across your shoulders. They are fast and agile and look every inch as if they NEED a bigger space to let off steam into. They also, rather alarmingly, make a dash for the door to their room as soon as you open it a crack, so keen to greet you that they seem unaware of the doggie danger lurking just outside.

Newest member of our menagerie meets our most seasoned
We have taken to smuggling them outside while the dogs are sleeping off a walk and letting them play round the yard and buildings with both of us supervising in case they should decide to split up; one person would only be able to keep tabs on one of these. The weather has been warm and it is very pleasant sitting out there in the sunshine watching the antics of 2 kittens.

Sitting in the sun supervising kittens. 
They have met some of our birds and even play-stalked the Guinea Fowl. They seem to find the chickens and, especially, the rooster, a bit big, so they've not pushed their luck there. Liz noticed that they seem to have an aversion to grass, even new mown short grass. Maybe they have 'feral concrete jungle' DNA, she says, as the kittens race between hard-standing areas and sprint across the grass between.

When you want to take cute kitten pics
among the flowers but they want to play
among the engineering. 
They loved the front 'drive' bits and the car-port with its 'Mad Max' vehicle and stacks of wood. When we carried them over to the 'Darby and Joan' chairs so that we could sit by the pond, they could not wait to get up off that grass by climbing into a lap or onto a shoulder. Ah well. I suppose they will get used to all the rest in time. We are doing all we can to get them to grow big and strong so that they can join the dog-owning half of the family without risk of getting chewed. When Blue was a kitten of course, Towser and Poppea were tiny pups - they grew up together without one side being dominant and when Soldier arrived he was big enough to cope and well versed in dog-management. This introducing tiny kittens to a full grown dog pack is all a bit new.

A nice tight cosy pen seems to be the answer. Nobody has
space to think they might get up some speed if they charged
 'that way'.
My other 'livestock' stories are 1) just that time came round again to foot-trim the sheep and 2) we 'harvested' a first Hubbard rooster. The sheep were last done at shearing and though you can't really get a good look at feet when they are wading through tall-ish grass, I'd been seeing occasional tenderness or lameness when Lily or Polly walked across the dry mud bits of their paddocks.

A neatly trimmed hoof. Lily in this case.
Nothing for it but to run them onto the concrete of the cattle race and give them a proper going over. We could now see that some of the sides had grown a bit long and were splaying, and some toe-points needed attention. We are good at this one now, so it was the work of no more than half an hour to do them all with my special "secateurs" while Liz subdued and calmed the neck and head end.

Every trimmed foot then gets a splash of the bright purple spray even though I could see no signs of foot rot. I even get most of it on the sheep's hoof (and up the gap between the 'cloven' toes) and not too much (OK some) on my hands or up the side of the sheep. The girls are then all released back into the East Field and we like to see the comfortable, relieved gaits on them as they spread out to graze. Job done.

First Hubbard rooster of 2016
At 80 days the Hubbard chickens are right at the start of their 'proper' harvesting time; we normally leave them to more like 100 days to let them get nice and big. However, we fancied a chicken for the weekend roast and had none in the freezer, so one of the boys got it in the neck. He plucked and dressed out at 2.320 kg, or about 5 lbs and was the ever reliable Hubbard version of delicious, tasty, meaty and tender. They really are superb, these hybrids specially bred to do the job under commercial Free Range or Organic systems and we swear by them (and thank Mentor Anne, of course, who can still get them as day-olds despite no longer being in that business and putting in orders for them by the hundred). We are always so disappointed when we have to buy other chicken in supermarkets.

Soapwort. Don't grow it near the pond - it is very toxic to
aquatic life.
Unrelated to any of this I had an exciting and interesting time a few nights back when asked by a friend in the village to 'rescue' his cattle water situation. No pictures for this story - I was not about to take my camera with me when scrambling about in a stream among cattle. These cattle live in a set of fields where their water supply is to drink from a stream just before that stream vanishes down a swallow hole. There are many of these fascinating geo-morphological features round here due to the fractured limestone geology.

The swallow hole in question sits at one end of a shallow pool but the pool-bed and the bed of the stream feeding it are only water-proof because they form a trough and dish shape made of fine sediment. Water can leak off the sides of this bed into any number of similar holes and this was what was happening when the stream became blocked by a log-jam of branches, reed-mace, plastic barrels and empty feed sacks. The 'dam' raised the water level upstream of our friend's land and all the water diverted left and right out of the stream (and underground) before his cattle saw any of it. Poor thirsty creatures were standing in the drying mud lowing their protests.

At last my Archery paperwork arrives. No stopping me now!
The friend is not really up to scrambling about in streams pulling out debris, so my job was to get in there and try to free up the dam while at the same time packing rocks and some of the bits into the 'leaks' in the sides upstream; really trying to get the stream to disappear into the correct swallow hole, rather than the neighbour's ones. Well, it worked and I managed to free up the log jam. The water surged forwards into 'our' pond and the cattle got to drink some before it gurgled away underground. I checked it all again today and it was still free, so everybody is happy.

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