Thursday 29 November 2012

Some more Orchard

Big excitement today as our order for bare rooted fruit trees arrives from the excellent supplier Future Forests of Kealkil, Bantry, Co. Cork. We combined our order with that of Mentor Anne W to share the postage and the trees were delivered there; we collected them today. It being a funny, late season where the trees have stayed in leaf late into Autumn, these had to wait for delivery but that suited us as the orchard which these guys will supplement is within the sheep enclosure and, had they arrived earlier, I would have had to erect tree guards around each one. Now, with the sheep soon to depart, I can heel them in for a few days and then plant them without needing anti-sheep defences till next Summer.

This order, which cost us €180 was for 7 trees plus 25 raspberry canes and 10 asparagus crowns. The trees are 3 varieties of apple (and 'Irish Peach', an Egremont Russet and a Braeburn), a 'Sunburst' cherry, a 'Shropshire' damson, a 'Ludovic' Quince and a 'Czar' plum. The raspberries are 13 Autumn Bliss and 12 of the Summer fruiting variety 'Malling Jewel'. These trees will bring our orchard tree count up to 14, so we still have room for 6 trees in the 5 by 4 array. The asparagus will go into the raised bed which already had tiny, rather weak cheapie crowns from the Lidl "sick lame and lazy" racks. The raspberries will go into the raised beds of the allotment and a couple in the "Jam and Chutney Hedge" in the Kitchen Garden.

For the moment though, the ground is frozen and the sheep are still in the way, so the trees have been heeled into curver buckets and the raspberry canes into one of the other Kitchen Garden raised beds, just willy-nilly, any old how, clustered together just to keep the roots healthy and protected from frost till we can plant them all properly. Thank you very much, Anne, for your help in this one.

Sunday 25 November 2012

Stir Up Sunday

"Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen"

Church going types may recognise this as being a 'collect' from the Book of Common Prayer but more recently it features in programmes like The Archers as being the quote which is rolled out for "Stir Up Sunday", the Sunday "next before Advent", the day traditionally (in some circles) used for mixing up your Christmas Pud ingredients. This gives the pud a good chance for the flavours to meld and mature by the big day. 

For us it dawned crisp and frosty, with the grass nearly as white as the chickens, at first bright and sunny but then turning misty and dull and later thawing to a drippy wetness. It felt nice and Christmassy, like the true start to our Season of Good Will.

This is actually going to be our first Christmas in a sense, despite us being 19 years married. We were always invited to either Pud Lady's place in Hastings, or to Ireland for which we are, obviously, mightily grateful and we loved every one of them but now, with our own 'new' house we are determined to do it here and take our turn at being Host and Hostess.

So off we went on a special shopping mission yesterday to Castlerea armed with our list of ingredients. Liz is following a recipe from Pud Lady's beaten and battered 'family heirloom' cookery book which (Pud Lady may correct me here) I believe may have been a Wedding present to Pud Lady and Stamp Man way back and is called by us "Flo" (I think it is by a Florence Jacks, who was an equivalent to the more famous Mrs Beeton). This is the recipe Pud Lady has used for all my life and certainly for the 19 years Liz and I have been together. 

This being our first Christmas, it was pointed out to us by friend Mazy-Lou , it is also a good opportunity to start our own portfolio of 'family traditions'. To a degree we are there already because although we have never done the meal, we always decorate our house anyway and have a proper real Christmas Tree which we try to keep to a tasteful small amount of colours (this generally fails and we end up as garish as the next man) and clear (white?) fairy lights, plus we have traditionally purchased one tree decoration each new each year from some significant location. We have two, for example, from the market in New Orleans from when we were there, a crawfish and a 'beignet' (a New Orleans pretzel-type bread roll). If anyone reading this is coming anywhere near here at Christmas please do feel free to join in. Bring a tree decoration - big small, silly, serious, beautiful or kitsch, plain or garish - we will happily adopt them all and know that you were there to keep our tradition going.

Another tradition which is probably more widespread is for everyone in the household to take a turn at stirring the mixture and to make a wish. I can remember doing this when we lived at home and Liz tells me that the family photo 'archive' has almost an annual shot of kids round the kitchen table chopping peel and so on. We kept this alive this year with both Liz and I doing the honours but later on John Deere Bob called by on one of his drop in visits and Liz passed him the bowl and spoon to have a go. He was happy to oblige and joked that he'd wish for loads of money. We reminded him that money is one thing you are not allowed to wish for, and, anyway, he mustn't tell us or it wouldn't come true!

Saturday 24 November 2012

Frozen Lamb and Failure.

We wake up to our first proper hard frost of the winter and I'm amused to note that the backs of the sheep are frozen with white rime. I presume all sheep get this but as they are normally white, you'd not see it. I take it as a sign that their layer of wool, which is a good 3 inches thick at this stage is good protection and prevents any body heat reaching the outside world. A friend suggests hot water bottles, but I am already being laughed off the park for my rain proof shelter.

As per instructions from our sheep mentor, Kenny O'C, I try them on a handful of hay as a supplement to their new high-protein 'heating food' mix of sweetcorn, cereals and molasses but they are not impressed. They kick it a round a bit and nibble a small amount but it's still there in the afternoon and has actually been flattened by a sheep sleeping on it, so I don't think I'll be repeating that. Maybe with some straw as bedding. The frosted grass and the rime on the rushes hangs around all day as the thin, low sun has barely got above the trees to our SE when a cold mist blows in from the bog-land to our North and blots it out. The lambs manage to find enough grub in the greener stuff under trees and at the base of hedges, but they are fed up 40 minutes into each hour 'sheep watch' and come asking me for the bucket of 'crunch' and to be led home to eat it. I am very happy to oblige as I too have been standing around in the raw cold for those 40 minutes and the house with its lovely toasty range and a bowl of soup or a bacon butty, beckon.

Meanwhile the 2CV as NCT failure saga moves on. If you are not interested in car technical details look away now. Remember we were last seen still waiting for a chunk of rubber for the steering, called an anti-rattle plate, our existing one being worn and allowing play in the track rods? Well, that part never arrived (still hasn't) and my 11th hour re-test was due this Saturday (today) with no more room for postponement wriggle-room. We had repaired everything else the car had failed on (wheel bearing, track rods, non-compliant tyres etc) so the garage guy said he'd tighten up the steering without the missing bit and we MIGHT get away with it on the retest. Unfortunately, that is exactly what WOULD have happened, had he re-set the tracking (wheel alignment) after tightening those nuts.

Off I went to my re-test for 16:55 p.m. today and the very nice man accepted that all the work had been done but the non-alignment caused us to fail something called a side-slip/alignment test. The car is driven over a posh rolling road which tries to push it off line and then measures how far off the road you'd be in metres per kilometer of forward motion. My front end failed because it would have been 20+ metres off line after a km (in the bog somewhere, I guess). The bloke even tried it 5 times to try to get a pass for me, but couldn't. So, here I am with a car which needs no more parts and just a simple tracking adjustment which many garages would do for you free, but I have to go back to square one and submit the car to the full test again at €55. Obviously what we will actually do is wait for the anti rattle rubber to actually arrive, fit that and then set up the tracking with that bit fitted. Hey ho. We are getting closer each time but still not actually on the money.

I need a drink.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Thorn in my Side

Regular readers will know that this adventure has been great fun and, almost entirely a great success from sell-up, through house hunting, our move in convoy, then gutting and rebuilding the house and now getting established in the garden and setting up the small-holding with the animals. I've written good, positive reports and almost entirely these have been written from a happy place. There is, though, one remaining area where we have had no such success and which is still a constant source of irritation, stress and hassle, a real thorn in my side. That is the 2CV.

A hobby car, and (in UK) great fun to own, I decided to bring it with us and keep it as a second car mainly for fun and emergencies. Prior to leaving UK, I had my 2CV fixer bloke, 2CV Llew, do a good thorough job on preparing it for the journey and generally making it as good as you could, to give it a hopeful start when I was out of his range - lots of metal got replaced and new panels welded in from floors, sills through the firewall / bulkhead, it got a full service and even all the wheels were taken off, cleaned and rust treated. Llew also created a trailer for it with the same wheel-hubs and wheels and tyres so that I traveled with, effectively, 4 spare tyres. You'll know that the convoy succeeded, and both the Fiat Panda and the 2CV and trailer made the 500 mile run without missing a beat.

It was when we hit our destination in Ireland that things started to go wrong. We tried to register it in Ireland as an Irish car on the same day as we did the Fiat - the Fiat 'flew' through but the 2CV got held up for 3 months or so because the Registrations computer could not cope with a 1986 2CV. We chased and harried but to no avail. Luckily, when we were in the office in Sligo waiting for the Fiat to process, we had got talking to a lady from a local garage who had volunteered 2 bits of useful information, first that her business was mainly importing cars, so she was well versed in the office side and well know at the Sligo NCT ( registrations and 'MOT' tests) office as a regular 'customer'. Second that the garage, which is in our local town of Ballaghaderreen was formerly a Citroen main dealer and that a number of her mechanics (including her husband) were experienced in Citroens and 'loved' 2CVs. We adopted the 'lady' (Helene) and her garage as A GOOD THING and started to use them for all our garage needs. Short-term, this was mainly prep'ing the Fiat for its NCT test.

Eventually we got fed up with waiting for Sligo NCT and Helene offered to chase our case in person, a move which resulted in us finally getting released from the log jam. Now registered, we could finally get the 2CV insured and taxed and could think about the test. Unfortunately, just at this stage  a frost cracked the windscreen right across, starting at an old stone-chip hole which had been there for all the 10 years+ I had owned the car. We now hit the issue of getting hold of spares for repairs, most of which have to come from specialist suppliers the UK. 2CV Llew is also a good source of bits, but those who know him will agree that although we all love him he is NOT one for the deadlines or doing anything urgently.

We were more months after he promised to send a windscreen waiting for him to get it to us and then eventually, just as we'd given up, 2 things happened (again). First a chance conversation with Helene and an internet search revealed that Sligo Windscreens, in the next county actually had one in stock and would supply and fit it for £190. We agreed and then the second thing, Llew finally got it together but could only find couriers for £80 or so. Eventually I was coming to UK for my barge week, and I decided to  bring it back with me - check-in luggage at £24! I suddenly had 2 windscreens. The car chose this week to stop idling. It would run OK at high revs and was perfectly drive-able but if you pulled up at a junction you had to sit with your foot on the throttle or it would die. The NCT test involves a fair few stages where the engine is left running, so this was no good for the test.

So, in went the car a month or so back for its NCT pre-test, to get the windscreen changed, the idle fixed and any other niggles sorted prior to the test. We were now the €190 plus another €200 poorer. The approach the garage use on such old cars is to fix all the obvious stuff, then submit it for test. Then you only have to fix the fails, you don't spend an arm and a leg fixing stuff which you might have got away with. The test is €55. In the event, we failed but not too badly - we had bad play in a front near side wheel bearing, a worn "rubber bush" in the steering, and 2 tyres which did not have the required "type approval" E numbers embossed on them (they were too old).

We were right back into sourcing bits from the UK and the car was back in the garage. You have 30 days from an NCT fail, to get the (€28) re-test. We booked it for today (20th) giving us, we thought, plenty of time. The wheel bearing came and (a horrible job NOBODY likes) got fixed. The garage then told me that they were not sure what the testers had meant by 'rubber bush' but they now had play in the kingpins, so we went through it all again sourcing the pins. Finally with that fixed, and us running very close to the 30 day limit, the garage found that there was indeed a rubber 'bush' in the steering (actually called an 'anti-rattle plate'; part 46 in our middle diagram if you are interested) with play, so last Thursday 'we' ordered that bit.

The retest was due Tuesday and the part had not arrived Monday, nor today, the day of the test. When it failed to arrive on the Monday I decided to re-book (postpone) the test, which you can do for €11, but nearly came a cropper. I saw two slots available on this Saturday but opted to take, instead, a slot next Tuesday (27th) but the website bounced this request telling me my 30 days were up on Saturday 24th, so I had no choice but to book for Saturday at 5 to 5, one of the two remaining slots on line.

So here, we stand, haggard and worn out from all this emotional roller coaster ride. It's only a hobby car but I love it so all these set backs upset me and drive me close to despair. I am now numb to the point of considering giving up if there are any more setbacks and I will be so so unbelievably happy if it all ends happily on Saturday night. We are now waiting for the part to arrive this week and be fitted (a fairly straight forward, 'easy' task, say the garage). I am like a kid waiting for Christmas or his Birthday, hardly able to contain himself waiting but helpless to do anything to help the situation. Fingers are crossed. Fervent prayers are offered. I appreciate that many of you will have far more important things to worry about and are wondering why all the fuss. It's probably a 2CV driver thing.....

I'll let you know.

Monday 19 November 2012

Not Ready Just Yet

On Friday 16th, former plasterer and more recently sheep mentor and supplier, Kenny O'C arrives in his big shiny 4x4 to take a look at our sheep. We had thought we were doing really well with the sheep obviously thriving and getting bigger before our eyes. We 'knew' that when they arrived on the 20th September, 8 weeks ago, they weighed 31-33 kg so we were sure they'd be easily 50 kg by now and ready for the butcher. In my wilder moments I even imagined that Kenny, when he did eventually see them would be telling us off for letting them get too fat. I say 'knew' in inverted commas - I'll explain.

So, Kenny arrived and looked them over and his first comment was that they still had 'a way to go' which was a bit depressing. We bribed them into a corner of the paddock where we could wedge them against the fence using the gate and get a good feel across spine and rib cage and Ken showed me that you could still feel each rib, which should by now be too covered with flesh. He then called for the bathroom scales which we set up on a concrete area. He weighed himself (84.5 kg) and then grabbed up each sheep in turn, holding it round the chest as a 10 year old would carry a 5 year old sister, and weighed himself with each sheep. They 'proved' to be almost 38 kg each. I was appalled and distressed that we'd "only got 5-7 kg onto each one" in 8 weeks. Both Liz and I now think that maybe we haven't. Either they weren't 31-33 when they arrived, or they aren't 38 now. Even if this bathroom scales method is accurate (which has got to be in question) then the chances of Kenny's scales being the same as ours is tiny. Kenny may also be genuinely mistaken. I do not want to entertain the aspect that he sold us these by weight and therefore might have erred in his own favour, he is a nice bloke who we like a lot and we can't believe he'd be up to any such mischief.

Anyway he had a small amount of wormer/liver fluke medicine in his truck and gave each of them 10 ml just in case. He pronounced them in perfect health and said that the ground would be 'clean' anyway because no sheep had been on it in at least 15 years, but the dose would do no harm,. He also advised us to change (over a week) from the 'Ewe and Lamb Nuts' we had been feeding, to something called "Fast Lamb Crunch" and to increase the amount fed. The former is made mainly of grass and is to support the lactating ewes. The latter is a much higher performance feed, rich in all manner of grains, molasses etc and is designed to put weight onto lambs in a hurry. We still have plenty of grass, said Kenny, but start giving them each a double handful of the crunch morning and evening and even hay on frosty mornings. Try to keep their bellies full and active all the time. The hay is only €3 a bale and the crunch is only €9 a bag, and the one I bought should, says Kenny, see us out. Under this regime, Kenny is convinced that these babies will reach their desired 50 kg by the proposed slaughter date, which is currently Thursday Dec 13th.

At least the slaughterhouse will have proper professional scales and we apparently get a print out with the ear-tag numbers against each weight, so we'll even know the individual scores for Connie, Dora and Florence.

A Punt on Sex?

As Liz arrives home from her few days in UK, the baby chicks reach 4 weeks and are starting to get feathered up, the baby bunnies are big enough at 6 weeks to come out of the Maternity Unit and join the main 'warren', and our sheep-mentor and former plasterer, Kenny O'C turns up to assess our sheep performance.

The chicks are starting to develop their facial features - the comb and wattles which may be the first indication of whether they are female (pullets) or male (cockerels). We are in regular contact with other Irish poultry keepers on a website called  and when we publish pictures of these chicks on there, my friends are starting to take punts on the sex of the babies - several guessing they'll be one of each, but our main mentor, Anne W thinking they look like they may both be boys.

The one-of-each punters are going with the darker one, with the redder comb, who we tentatively named CJ after a character in "West Wing" (American political TV drama), being the cockerel while the blonder one (our "Donna") is the girl. We cling to the hope that they are both girls and can be added to our little group of 'Lovely Girls'. It will be nice to know we bred them (all be it we'd then have to be careful not to try to hatch any of their eggs as they'd be Father x Daughter line-bred progeny, assuming William is still at the helm). If they do turn out to be boys then they will be for the freezer but hopefully Broody Betty will do her thing again next year and we will do it better having learned from the mistakes on this one (October hatch, eggs of varying start dates, candling sooner, not reacting quickly enough when BB got bored and the eggs started to cool).

The bunnies are now HUGE at 6 weeks and starting to out grow the hutch, plus definitely weaned at this stage. We decide to put Mum (Padfoot) and all three back into the run with Ginny and Rogers. In my dreams I have the possibly ill-advised plan to keep these rabbits in a family group in a warren type environment as close as possible to the way they'd live in the wild. This might be nutty and we may end up with all sorts of problems, but I am thinking I'll keep Ginny and Padfoot as the two matriarchs with Rogers (plus visits to see Peter) as the male input, with any other output being culled for the freezer or for sales as pets. Having said that we have not had a breath of interest from our advert on so pet sales might be a non-runner.

The move is done on Sunday 18th and goes well. Ginny and Padfoot have a bit of a chase around and kick at each other but this may just be the excitement of 2 sisters being reunited after their 4 or 5 weeks apart and everyone settles quickly and no-one tries to kill the babies. As I said, I am aiming at a warren type environment with a family group rather than hutches and everybody separate. We are not sure where this will happen but for now we have, by happy coincidence the big run in an excellent position. There is a short wall on the north side of the cattle race, behind which I had stacked our kindling wood (former floorboards) in flat sheets and rows of bits on edge, rather like a book shelf, all raised off the ground on old cavity blocks (concrete building blocks with big holes through them). Next to this I had created a compost heap for which the sides were old panels of wooden picket fence.

We had moved the run to this site as part of a tour of the garden, moving on every time the grass ran out, but it was here that Padfoot came full-term and created her nest (in the compost) so we had to stop moving on. It's still there and the grown up rabbits seem to have adopted it with delight, burrowing around in the compost and now through the cavity blocks to get under and into the 'bookshelf'. I put corrugated iron over the whole while the nest was in there and the bunnies seem to like the new three dimensional nature of their home, happily scrabbling up the book case behind their now abandoned hutch to sit up on top of the corrugated, as if keeping watch. All the new babies and Padfoot have all now settled into this environment, so we may well adopt this as "The Warren". If that is the case I will have to make a permanent run here and use the move-able one in the summer when there's grass to graze AS WELL some how. I may also have to re-think my supply of kindling!

The sheep and Kenny, I will cover in a separate post.

Guilty as Charged

On the morning of the 16th, with Liz still in England, we have a near disaster. It is breakfast time and all the animals are fed, the chickens are out free ranging and the dogs are doing what they do. I walk through to the kitchen looking to make my porridge, and I see through the kitchen window, white feathers all over the yard. In the middle of all this eye-catching whiteness a white blur of activity which I quickly see is the rooster being bundled around by the two pups one at each end. The rooster is on the ground helpless.

I dash for the door screaming blue murder. Both pups look up and I am relieved to see the rooster jump to his feet and scuttle off through the gate round to the coop, but the flutter and scrabble sets the pups off in pursuit so I am hot on their heels, yelling all the way. I catch and grab Towser before he makes the coop 'pop' hole but Poppy dives inside probably by now thinking the Hounds of Hell are on her tail. Luckily she re-thinks her escape route and nips back out where upon I can scruff her too and the two pups are hauled back to the house, thrown into the living room and the door slammed on them. I never actually hit them but I think they got the message that they had done wrong.

Back outside I could see that there were a lot of feathers and some had blood on the quill ends, so I feared the worst and went to check on William. He was in a sorry state, filthy from being bundled in the wet gravel of the yard, disheveled and very miserable, head down and poked into a hole in the wall, hunched on the floor just inside the pop hole. I've only seen him look as miserable as that once before and that was when he was young and the Lovely Girls were bullying him as a new-comer.

I went in there quietly and talked gently to him so that he eventually raised his head and walked through to where the perches are, and hopped up on one. At least nothing seemed to be broken and I thought him not too injured, no bad bleeding anyway. The Girls were a distance away across the field, so may have been scattered by the attack. I am told that in a fox attack it is usually your rooster who cops it because he heroically dives in to the line of fire to protect his women, so this might have been William being heroic. Anyway, the Girls talked him down and within an hour he was back out free ranging again and preening himself back to a presentable state.

I got hold of him a bit later and gave him a good but gentle look over and could find no broken skin or open wounds and he has since made a full recovery.

The pups were left in the Living Room for the hour while I did 'Sheep Watch', to give them a chance to reflect on their sins. I don't actually think they attacked William with any malice or killer instinct. It was probably more like the kind of game they play with the cat-kittens or each other, boisterous grabbing and rolling around, mouthing up chunks of fur, only being a rooster, these were feathers which came out in mouthfuls and no doubt the distress of the rooster became, to them, an interesting new reaction and game. They probably did not intend to kill but that is what would have happened, I sure, had I not intervened.

Anyway, there was a rapid text conversation between Liz and I and, as Liz put it succinctly, "we have not given them any boundaries". So, they now find themselves grounded during 'chicken daylight' (about 0800 to 1630) allowed out only on collars and leads. They were not used to this and didn't like it much (especially Poppy!) but after a few days at three or four 'walks' a day, they are learning to love it even if only for the chance to get walked and not confined indoors. If we encounter William out with the Ladies on one of these walks he tends to take avoiding action but I think he's basically OK. There's a relief.

Three Strikes and You're Out

The pups are growing up fast and, we have to admit rather shame-faced, they have rather overtaken our management of them. It seems only 5 minutes ago that they were small, harmless bundles of fluff easily contained within these 2 and a half acres and more mischievous and cute than deadly, destructive or damaging. I suppose, too, if you accused us of it, we'd also have to admit that we were pretty much allowing them to absorb good behaviour (by osmosis or something) from Deefer and not really imposing any discipline out of doors.

Indoors we were OK, so they have rapidly learned what is allowed and what is not in terms of bodily functions, chewing, not fighting kittens etc, but out doors they have been allowed to run about where they could. They were told off if they chased chickens but this seemed to be only playful fun so it wasn't enforced with an iron fist.

Weds 14th Nov saw Liz scheduled to fly from Knock Airport to England to spend some time with Diamond (and, now, new husband JW) helping to paint the house and also meeting former work colleagues and friend Mazy-Lou. The puppies pick this day, as we are starting to think about the need to drive to the airport, to vanish. We are a bit worried but they've never gone missing before, so we start off walking round the house and garden shouting, whistling and clapping. Deefer is with us but there is no sign of pups. We widen the net. Liz walks the 12-acres boundary and I walk up and down the lane, with the vivid image of poor Coco hit by the vehicle still a bit raw in my head. I jump in the car and drive further up and down the lane where-upon I get a text from Liz. "I have them", she writes. "Butter wouldn't melt". They have somehow appeared from the Primrose Path - we assume they were across the lane and down in the fields to the south. You are never sure whether to beat their brains out or be delighted when they return. That was 'Strike 1' but we didn't know it.

So, the afternoon came and I dropped Liz to the airport and began my single-handed supervision of the 'farm' for the three days, hoping all would go smoothly. The sheep nearly behaved OK, but at one stage did decide to explore beyond our land into the Three Sisters' bit - there was a hole in the fence I'd need to shore up in the morning. The next day I fixed the fence and had a problem-free 'Sheep Watch' and then took the dogs round the 12-acres loop. We were right across the 5-acre field West of us where the Three Sisters' land butts up on John Deere Bob's field and the McGreal's house and garden, when Deefer suddenly led the pups through a hole in the hedge and then went chasing away for 2 fields and out of sight. I couldn't get through the hedge so I could only watch helplessly as they ran off. I whistled, shouted and clapped but I was wasting my time.

Eventually Deefer came rushing back across to me but not the pups. I could hear the McGreal children playing in their garden and I fancied at one stage the playful shouts turned to anxious wails as might happen if a pair of pups suddenly raced in and started jumping up like they had when those same kids came Trick-or-Treating but I could see nothing so I might only have been imagining it. After a while I gave up on whistling from the field and decided to walk Deefer home and then go out again in the car. Who should I see when I am half way back across the 5 acres than the two pups appearing from our garden through the field gate. They can only have got home first by getting into the lane and overtaking me by running along the tarmac, which doesn't bear thinking about. As we meet mid-field a lady's voice behind me hails me across the 200 yards of field, "Hellooooo! Have you lost your dogs?" I think it might be a McGreal Mum. "I had, but they've just found me!" I shout back. "They found us too!" she says. "Sorry!" . That was Strike 2 and a picture was beginning to form.

Strike 3 involved our poor aul' rooster, William the Conqueror, but he's in the next post along with the Pups arrested, tried and convicted.

Sunday 11 November 2012

An Alternative Blog

We are all enjoying the blog we have recently 'discovered' written by friend and mentor Anne, of Anne and Simon. It's on and describes their own small-holdering efforts and other adventures. The latest episode is entitled "Samhain" (it's pronounced Sow-uhn with the sow being the female pig variety, not the distribution of seeds) which is the pagan pre-Christian feast of November, safely gathered in and all that. That's how we are all feeling at present as the weather turns a bit wetter and occasionally frosty. We are glad we have our log store full. We are also enjoying the fact that despite the awful wet, cool summer and our late start to the season, the allotment and Kitchen Garden are pumping out some decent crops at present.

 We are especially amazed by the parsnips coming out of the raised beds in the kitchen garden. These have turned out to have quite sandy soil in, probably because the 'fruit cake' loam we barrowed in has now had most of the smaller fraction and humus washed out of it by all the rain. Anyway it suits the parsnips which are coming out a foot long and 2 inches across, with 2 feet of greenery on top and completely free from canker and any slug damage. They are the best parsnips I have grown including all the Kent allotment years. The carrots are clean and healthy too, all be it shorter and we are eating regular cuttings of curly kale, chard and 3 kinds of cabbage. The broad beans and peas are finally finished, knocked back by the frost, so have been cut down and the roots left in the soil to rot down and release their nitrogen nodules.

As well as the fresh produce, Liz has lately got into baking, so the 'safely gathered in' feeling is also happening in the fridge, which is quite often stuffed with left over portions of meat pies, Danish Apple cake and, more recently, lemon biscuits and bacon biscuits, Nigel Slater cakes and mince pies. We approve!

Although we are well off for logs, John Deere Bob has suggested we go logging with his tractor around the bits of the (12 acre) farm we didn't buy, in search of ash trees (of which there are many in the hedgerows round these parts). Obviously this land still belongs to the Three Sisters so we have contacted Vendor Anna L who is happy enough as long as we only take the free standing ash, nothing from actual hedges. That suits us, as there is a short stand-alone row of half a dozen coppiced trees near to the NW corner of the farm which may once have been a hedge but is now not connected to anything at either end. With that in mind I got the chainsaw out today and sharpened up the teeth, then used it to clear up a few stumps and left-over bits, mainly to top up the log store.

In the animals department, the sheep look heftier by the day and will soon be coming to the day for their little trip to Cunniffe's of Ballaghaderreen or possibly another slaughterman-butcher in Castlerea pointed out to us by Mentor Anne. We have therefore been in touch with plasterer and our original supplier of sheep, Kenny O'C who is going to come and inspect the sheep, make the decision and then haul the ladies to meet their fate; he has a sheep trailer. We do not yet. We are not sure if he was joking but he suggested that the best way to weight them would be to climb on the bathroom scales, then grab a sheep and climb on with that. I joked with him that I didn't think I'd be able to lift one and even if I could and it would stop wriggling, the combined weight of me and a 50 kg (we hope) lamb might be too much for the scales. He insists that he's not joking and says they used to do it regularly back home, grabbing the animals they thought were the heaviest and lightest. He's round this week. I will enjoy watching him try! We have also driven round to the Cunniffe's slaughter-house to see how the land lies and find out the procedure. We then went to Cunniffe's actual shop to order Christmas turkeys etc and came away with some good bones for the dogs to teeth on.

The rabbits are coming up to weaning (if they are not weaned already) so Mum (Padfoot) will soon be returned to her sister and 'boyfriend', Ginny and Rogers. The babies are putting on weight fast and look, to our eyes, bigger at 4 and a half weeks, than Rogers did at 10 weeks. Despite the colouring of the brown bunny, which looks a lot like Rogers, we therefore now think that these may indeed be children of Anne's meat-breed buck, Peter, the New Zealand White. He has 'thrown' children in all colours from wild-rabbit through all the whites, browns and blacks despite his whiteness. If that's the case and the three buns are going to become nice, heavy, meaty animals then we are not too upset that our effort to sell them as pets through the on-line classified ads website have so far yielded no fruit.

The chickens are growing too, sprouting tails and wings with real feathers. They are only 3 weeks old at this stage and it will be another 3 weeks before they are fully feathered. They are therefore kept indoors in their hutch which unfortunately means Mum must stay in there with them but we are getting hold of a cat and rat proof 6 foot by 4 run to give them all a chance to stretch their legs in the calf house without getting rained on.

Once they are fully feathered we may be able to let them all out on nice days to run with the main flock and William but we are concerned that once released we may not be able to round them up again so it's going to be a bit hairy.

That's it really at the moment. The 2CV still sits in the garage getting its kingpins (front steering/suspension parts) changed prior to its NCT re-test, now booked for the 20th, the sheep continue to expand their horizons into the east field, Liz stayed up all night for the USA Elections and we are hardly daring to whisper that we have not had any puppy poo or pee to clear up indoors for a couple of days now..... shhhhh!


Saturday 3 November 2012

Cuter by the Day?

Padfoot's babies are coming up to a month old by now and are getting cuter by the minute. They are also getting more adventurous and brave as they wean off Mum's milk and start to share in the 'grown'up feed mix (called Meusli) and in greens and carrots which they have to come out of the little 'bedroom' bit of the hutch to eat.

We therefore see them every day and get a chance to photograph them. We are now fairly sure, as the brown and white one looks so much like Rogers, that these babies could be by Rogers rather than the meat-breed (New Zealand White) buck, Peter, which we visited at our Friends and Mentor's (Anne and Simon's) place. Anne's not so sure because Peter has 'thrown' babies in all shades and hues from a wild-rabbit brown to pie-balds and pure whites and we did actually see Padders successfully mate once with Peter but, what ever, we will probably never know. If they are by Peter, they should grow fast and put on meat quickly, where as if they are by Rogers, they will presumably grow at standard bunny rate. Could even be some and some, I guess.

The fate for these guys is probably going to be the freezer and some kind of rabbit stew, but just in case there's a market, we have put them up on the Irish "classified ads" website at €15 a pop. If we are lucky enough to sell them as pets then the €45 will have paid for all the meusli we have had to buy since owning Padfoot, Ginny and Rogers and probably a bit of the chicken wire that's gone into their runs and hutches. A rabbit's not just for Christmas?

Meanwhile, the baby chicks are growing fast and starting to put on real feathers on tail and wings. If anything, baby chicks tend to get a bit less cute as time goes by, changing from the almost spherical cartoon chick shape to more of a chicken shape as they go through the adolescent, part-feathered stage. They show their 'reptile' and 'dinosaur' flavours as they change, particularly around the head and face, before their fully feathered chicken appearance comes with the in-lay fully formed wattles and comb.

We need to check with Anne again, but I think they basically stay with their Mum (in this case in the 'other' hutch or in a run in the calf house) till they are feathered up, which is 6 weeks. They are too vulnerable, when just 'fluffy' to the cold and wet, especially in November, so they can't go outside and, if they are for any reason abandoned by their mother, we have to supply an "electric hen", a hot pad under which they can huddle for warmth. We are hoping our surviving two are both girls so that they can join the flock (all be it we'd have to watch out for any broodiness because any progeny would be father x daughter 'line-bred' birds).

We have named them CJ Cregg and Donna Moss after characters in the West Wing TV series. 'CJ' and Donna may turn out to be boys but if so, so be it
and they may be for the stock pot or a coq-au-vin. You can't have more than one "William" after all. That is possibly the less palatable side of small-holdering. We are not running a retirement home for geriatric farm animals.

Sad to relate that the 6 eggs we rather optimistically rescued into the incubator when Broody Betty got fed up with them just to see if they might survive, didn't. Today we decided they'd gone on long enough so we checked them one last time, then cracked them open by the compost heap and found them all to contain almost fully formed but dead chicks. Either this happened at some point after we'd candled them and the hen knew, and gave up on them or she gave up anyway and the eggs got chilled to death. Either way they are, sadly, no more and Betty can get on with rearing the 2 babies who are now 11 days old.

Wish her luck.


It dawned on us that although we've been married 19 years, we'd never actually done a Christmas in our own place. Liz has never actually cooked the Christmas Turkey or had guests round. We have always been invited to spend it with Pud Lady and Tom (and, obviously we have been delighted to do so and very grateful to be asked) or we have been asked over to Silverwood to share theirs. Again, we have no problems with that and it was wonderful but now that we have our own place in Roscommon we are determined to correct this imbalance and we are going to do it here so that the Silverwoods can come to us and be spared the need to worry about cooking and kitchen stuff!

Along these same lines, we are also looking to enjoy doing OUR Roscommon version of any other festivals, High Days and Holy Days which come along. The first of these (maybe not a 'Holy' day?) coming our way was Hallowe'en which, here in Ireland, the locals go mad for it seems in lieu of a UK style Bonfire night and Guy Fawkes. It gets very American and all the kids dress up and go out Trick or Treating so anyone who wants to take part decorates the front of their house with appropriate pumpkins and any amount of lit up witchery, plastic tombstones and black-hooded, scythe-wielding, Old Father Time effigies, and stocks up on chocolates and Haribo sweeties for the marauding hordes of kiddies.

Now we live quite a way outside our tiny village and we were not at all sure how many Trick or Treaters might come our way but we decided to try a pumpkin on the gate pier and bought an 850g tub of Cadbury's Celebrations. Luckily, a couple of days prior we also met some kiddies who we knew lived in the nearest big house out walking a dog and established that they were, indeed Trick or Treating on the day.

On the night, about 7pm we were duly invaded by a nice selection of small ghouls, witches and ghosties accompanied by 2 Hi-Viz clad Mums. These were, by all accounts, "all the children in the village" (there were 8) who do this in one big posse. The Mums also, apparently pre-visit some of the senior citizens like our own John Deere Bob who don't really 'know about' Trick or Treating and give them a box of suitable sweets which they can give to the children on the night. The Mums were therefore delighted that we, the 'new people' had opted to join in the fun. The Mums, both in local family we will call McG, are quite close neighbours but we have to shamefully admit (as did they) to not having actually got around to calling on one another since we moved in, so it was nice to be able to say hello and to promise to go meet each other properly. We must actually DO this and not leave it another 10 months!

Happy Hallowe'en!

19th Anniversary

Well, every one, we made it to our 19th Wedding Anniversary! It's been an interesting year in which we've spent some time apart (once we'd moved out of the Faversham house, Liz was at Diamond's, I was in the caravan or Hastings and then over here, house-hunting) and some time in very close proximity (the famous caravan). We've had all the stresses and strains of  being made redundant (me) and giving up a job which got seriously awful by the end (Liz), selling up and moving countries and the gutting and rebuilding a farmhouse in County Roscommon. Yet, here we still are, still madly in lurve with each other and nobody has been killed and buried under the patio. These two are our most recent pictures, taken by Sis-in-Law Pauline C (Mrs "Sparks") on the occasion of their recent visit down here to visit.

This was Sparks's first visit since the completion of the rebuild project way back in April and Mrs Sparks and son Brian (5)'s first ever. They therefore saw it with the garden reasonably well advanced and with the 'small holding' coming together quite well. Brian loves all that and had a whale of a time feeding sheep, chickens, rabbits and baby chicks, getting chased about by puppies and cuddling kittens. He was a very tired boy by the end of it and Mrs Sparks tells us he was 'in a coma' that evening, sleeping like a log.

We love these visits and a chance to show off the place and, in the case of Sparks, it has the added pleasure of knowing that he was the main king-pin in the build project, Project Manager and Main Builder, so most of what he's looking at, he put together with his own hands (helped, admittedly, by Liz and I and a few tradesmen) so, to a degree, we feel like we are being judged on how well we have looked after 'his house'!

Happy Anniversary!