Thursday 31 January 2013

Are these cats dogs?

We are fairly convinced that we have a couple of confused cats here which seem to think they are dogs or, at least, think they have the right to as much fresh air, exercise and walking, as our dogs. First though, a quick 2 pictures of the first completed rabbit run as promised yesterday, now that it is out in the sun. The cats, though. We first noticed that Blue had a love of coming out on walks when I used to take the pups for their first walks around the perimeter of the 12 acres of this farm (the bit we don't own). The walk is almost a km but Blue would howl to be allowed to come out with us and would then bounce along with us, leaping from tussock to tussock with his tail up like a flag, no mean feat for a small kitten.

Since then the pups have grown up a bit, gotten more adventurous and had started to escape and get into the lane as well as, on one occasion attacking our rooster, so that they are now only allowed out on the lead and we take them for a short walk round our bit of the farm (2.5 acres) several times a day so that they can do the necessary. They also get a proper walk, of course, up or down the lane, also on the lead. During the short ones I generally get out of the front door with my three dogs and no sooner am I gone than both cats are yowling at Liz to be allowed out with us. My route usually goes down the length of the lawn, round to the drive, back up to the orchard and then through the yard and back to the front door. I am barely half way down the lawn when I hear the front door clonk softly closed again after Liz has released the cats and seconds later they come bowling by us down the lawn mixing it playfully with the dogs. The 6 of us then do the walk and at the end the cats either decide to come in or not, as suits them.

In the dark, I use one of those new-fangled LED head-torches which, amusingly, show up the cats' eyes a bright blue-green even when the cat is too far off to see any of the rest of the cat. Amazingly, even if all I can see of the cats is the pair of eyes reflected, I can unerringly tell which cat I am looking at. Blue bounds down the lawn towards me just like when he was a kitten, so the eye-reflections bounce across the dark grass. Rolo is more of a slinky mover, and walks down the lawn so his eyes come at me in more of a straight line.

Recently we also had an issue where Blue tried to follow me down the lane on one of the main walks, yowling at me to wait for him to catch up. Given the fun we have had lately trying to keep pups from getting run over by cars, this was NOT FUNNY. There was no way I could manage 3 dogs on leads and grab a handful of cat when ever a car approached. I had to walk back to the gate and call Liz down to grab the cat so that we could set off again sans cat. We soon learned to check Blue was safely indoors before I set off from the house. Yesterday that all worked fine but I had got half a mile down the lane, way past McG's and John Deere Bob's house, when I suddenly had Rolo with me. He must have snuck along behind us, undetected by dogs and then 'pounced'. Once more I was on the phone to Liz, who I thought might drive down but she came walking down commenting that this was the 'most she'd walked all week!' She carried the kitten home while we carried on the walk. Now we know to secure both cats before we head off down the lane.

My other news is just that we have started to get some damage from the geese on the new fruit trees. I had been warned that geese can damage trees but I had thought that this was just nibbling leaves. I assumed that our fruit trees, which are mostly tall enough to have their leaves well out of reach of even the gander, would be OK. The older trees already have their sheep-proof fences round them and this seems to keep the geese far enough away. I had not got around to fencing the  7 new trees yet as we are not likely to get this year's lambs till August or so.

Well, it is not just the leaves, by all accounts - geese will nibble away at small shoots and buds and even have a go at the bark on trunks. They are creatures of habit and obsession, and will happily start worrying away at a fruit tree's bark till they have stripped the bark all round, ring-barking the tree and killing it. Some of our new trees are so young and small that even the main 'trunk' is still, technically, a fine branch and I was starting to see the geese hovering near the trees whistling innocently and when I inspected the trees, I was seeing nibbled ends and the start of ring-barking on the small ones. Time to invest in some tree -guards. We have bought the hard plastic spiral ones 75cm tall and have now fitted them to all the trees without sheep guards. They came from an on line supplier and were only about 50 cents each. For some of the trees which looked particularly vulnerable, I have even stacked another half length on top, so that I have easily enough protected even from the tall gander.

My final picture shows the three suspects by a tree but is mainly to show off how bright and white they are now in the sunshine and to let you see the view across the turf bog land and forestry to the north of us, the view we 'borrow' for the garden in best Capability Brown landscaping tradition. It gives the geese something to look at, too. I am hoping that now that the geese are not confined to the orchard, they will not focus on the trees and will start to explore other sources of bark-nutrition.

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Good Feedback

Good Feedback. Now there's a business-speak expression I have not used a whole lot since finishing at DHL in Dartford in June 2011. We bloggers write these reports and fire them off into cyberspace hoping that maybe someone is reading them and enjoying what we have written. We cling to the 'site-meter' reports telling us how many hits we are getting and listening out for comments each posting. But I have an additional incentive to keep writing and to try to keep this interesting; this has become, for me, my letter home to me dear aul' Mum, the 'Pud Lady' mentioned in some of these reports.

Pud Lady (named for her marvelous steak and kidney puds) is of that generation (she's 86) that never got to grips with computers (except for word-processing), the internet or blogging, Facebook, Twitter and all that jazz. She does love, though, that we have moved to Ireland and started this small-holder life and she is hungry for news and fascinated by all the goings on. When we were living in the caravan and had no access to the printer, my brother Mark offered to print these posts off (in the UK) and to include them in his own letter home which already contained his 'blog posts' and other news. He has kept up the habit even though we are now installed. Thanks Mark - much appreciated.

Pud Lady is therefore now getting all my news, and probably knows more about what we are up to than when we lived in Kent, just 45 miles away from her, I am ashamed to admit I was never that good at writing or phoning. We know Pud Lady is enjoying it because we also now get old-style 'snail mail' letters from her every fortnight included in the UK-addressed forwarded mail posted on by my other brother, Tom. Thank you for these Mum, they too are much appreciated. Today's has them impressed by the height of our daffodils and comparing gardening notes (we are both keen gardeners), describing their snow and Tom's family's children's off-school adventures, and looking forward to the RSPB's "Big Garden Birdwatch" which we used to do every year. See? Good Feedback. Everybody is happy!

Liz has just described today's weather to Diamond as varying between lashing rain in strong wind, and glorious blue sky, sunny warmth. That's no exaggeration. I am trying to build three tough, fox proof rabbit runs and a tough, fox-proof house for the geese. The rain has driven me indoors, so I am trying to work in the Tígín which is a bit tight for space but nobody wants to be using an electric circular saw in the wet! The 2CV trailer has been pressed into service as a mighty sellotape-dispenser style wire mesh machine. The heavy 30m roll of 1" square weldmesh is threaded through with a pitch fork handle and slung across the trailer box so that I can unreel lengths of wire, hooking them over the back of the trailer while I go along laboriously cutting each strand of wire.

The plywood and rough-cut "2-be-1-and-a-half" lengths are in the car port and the tar-felt is already in the Tígín. Sparks has run power and lighting to the Tígín, so it's not a bad shed to work in. I tend to rough out a plan of what frame and sheeting I will need (mainly so I can go buy enough!) and then start with this but then let the part built frames dictate actual sizes and saw cuts as I go along. The width of the mesh (92 cm, 3 feet) dictated the width of the run and I went with half that for the height to minimize waste. 3 metres length we thought would give the rabbits enough space to run about while leaving the thing light enough for us to move it about from grass to grass. You can see from the picture that I have, tonight, completed one run. This one is for (Buck) Rogers, our bought-in male bunny who is now separated from his ladies. I had a bit of blue fence-paint left from an earlier job, so Rogers's house is painted blue to go with his eyes. Ahhhh.

When the paint's dry we'll drag this one outdoors and get some sunny pictures of it (with rabbit!) to give you some idea.

Monday 28 January 2013

Shredded, Sprouted, Serviced.

The recent wind proved more than a match for my poor, prototype mini poly-tunnel cloche and today's picture shows the shredded cover. Not a bother. That cover was only ever some free, left over plastic sheet which came as a cover for something or other (possibly the shower enclosure) during our build and I guessed it would be too flimsy. Mentor Anne has been able to obtain the proper, tough, poly-tunnel sheeting by the yard from a supplier over by Carrick, so we will nip over there soon and create the Mk II version a bit more able to stand up to the local weather. Tonight Met Eireann are predicting 125 kph winds down on the coast and a friend of Liz is saying that their coastal house has views of the sea to the South, to the West and "possibly, tonight, OVERHEAD also!"

Also from Anne comes advice that for the geese and hens, if you sprout your feed wheat prior to feeding, they prefer it and it is better for them. The sprouting process can increase the available protein and the available fibre by a good margin. The scientists tell us that "Very complex qualitative changes are reported to occur during soaking and sprouting of seeds. The conversion of storage proteins of cereal grains into albumins and globulins during sprouting may improve the quality of cereal proteins. Many studies have shown an increase in the content of the amino acid Lysine with sprouting.”
“An increase in proteolytic activity during sprouting is desirable for nutritional improvement of cereals because it leads to hydrolysis of prolamins and the liberated amino acids such as glutamic and proline are converted to limiting amino acids such as lysine.” So now you know. By day 5 the protein will have gone up from 12% in the raw seed to 14%, and fibre from 5% to 10% (of dry matter). The food also warms up and can be more palatable to the birds for that reason on a cold day. 

We are having our own little play with this using the feed wheat I now buy for the rabbits instead of the expensive "Bunny Munch" muesli. Each day I set a half 'bucket' of wheat to soak overnight in a yogurt tub. The next day this batch is drained of excess water and returned to its 'bucket'. They then sit for the next 4 days with me occasionally shaking them a bit to see how they are getting on and you can see the 4-days sample in the bottom picture has plenty of fine white roots sprouting from the grains. Tomorrow this first batch will reach its Day 5 so we will try it out on the hens and geese to see if they believe this 'more palatable' theory.

Meanwhile, we get a phone call from Felix, our bearded backwoodsman who was fixing and servicing the chainsaw. He phoned while I was out walking the dogs, so Liz took the call. We had not known his name and I have been unable to place his accent (Dutch? German?) but he introduced himself as Felix to Liz and she thought he might be German too. We nipped down to collect the saw and got talking to the guy. He turns out to be Swiss but from the German-speaking side 'up in the Alps'. Charging me only €22 for the job he'd cleaned air filters, changed spark plug, cleaned the carburettor and changed both the chain oil and the 2-stroke mix and the machine is now running and idling sweetly again. Nice one, Felix. 

Talking some more, I wondered would he be able to do anything with my 1960's Briggs and Stratton powered rotovator. He knew the type and the engine well, and is more than happy. Unfortunately the rotovator died back last summer and has, since then, been languishing with the formerly 'helpful' plant hire firm, Domac. Worse, they actually farmed out the repair to a little workshop guy in Ballinasloe, an hours drive away and no amount of chasing and harrying has made them produce the machine, fixed (or otherwise). Worse still, our local branch of Domac has closed "for the winter', their yard cleared of mini-diggers, shredders and other gear. The official version is that they will re-open in April, but other contacts in the trade are not so sure. My mission is to renew my harrying and get the machine back, fixed or not, even if I have to drive to Ballinasloe to collect it, and to pass it to our new friend, Felix the Bearded Backwoodsman. Watch this space.

Persil Whiteness

Another Atlantic storm blasts through lashing the rain against the front of our house and trying to shred the poly-tunnel cloche. I may need to try a Mark II with proper poly-tunnel plastic sheet. There seem to be two options on weather in County Roscommon in January, if it's cold then it's dry, but if it's warm then it is wet. Ne'er the twain, as they say. The 08:00 first dog walk, just round the 'estate' is accomplished in my big Hi-Viz coat and Barbour hat over the dressing gown and everybody is very pleased to be led back indoors for breakfast. I was going to be building rabbit runs today and hoping to work outside but today I envy my former work colleagues going to work in warm dry offices in their warm dry cars. Yes. EVEN though they have to travel on the M25.

Our three geese, when we brought them home from just south of Roscommon town a week ago were in a bit of a sorry, muddy state. Geese are naturally fairly clean animals who, if given access to plenty of clean water, spend a lot of time cleaning, splashing and preening, attending to the condition of their feathers like any other bird. Ours were muddy because, as far as we could tell, they had had no access to water which is wrong and a very bad welfare practice.

It looked to us as if the previous owner was a busy sheep farmer and the geese were just a hobby his son was allowed to play with leading up to Christmas. His farmyard was crammed full of lambing pens and the geese seemed to be allowed one small wedge-shaped pen in the corner of a big barn at night, and a dirty strip of muddy grass between buildings, if they were lucky, during the day. We could see no pond or water of any kind so we were not surprised that they were muddy.

We were determined to correct this as soon as we could so had built a ramp up to the enamel bath in the orchard, but they did not seem to be able to work this out or climb the ramp. I knocked them up very quickly this 'bund' made with chunks of underfloor thermal panels and a sheet of plastic. They had been trying to wash in the shallow puddles and the tree-planting holes in the orchard. They adopted my bund immediately and have great fun each morning splashing about in it. Unfortunately they also enjoyed pecking at the foam and have made a bit of a mess. I hope they haven't swallowed much!

Then it rained and rained and quickly filled up all our puddles and filled the diggings of the part-complete pond, so we were able to shepherd the geese out onto the grass there for even more water and splashing. You can see from these pictures that they have now cleaned themselves up, necks, backs, bellies and bums. Persil white, they are now and both of us agree that they also look 'bigger' so probably we are seeing 'fluffier' with the feathers laying more naturally and light against one another where they are no longer smeared down with mud.

Obviously that 'bund' is a pure quick-fix temporary solution which will be replaced with a better one, maybe made out of the roof beams from our old collapsed hay-barn (the gift that keeps on giving!). Some people use the children's old paddling pools. What ever you use, the geese will get themselves clean but at the expense of your water, which they will quickly try to turn into a stagnant, muddy, poo-y wallow and each week (at least) you must bale or tip it all out and refill with clean water. We are hoping to supplement this with our goodly supply of puddles which the geese can use when they are new and clean but will them helpfully drain themselves away and not need baling. The big pond, when it's dug, we are hoping will be big enough that they will not be able to yuck it ALL up. The thought of trying to bale and re-fill a 30 foot by 20 foot pond is a bit more than we'd be able to handle.

Saturday 26 January 2013

Hummus, Neeps and Tatties?

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftan o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang’s my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill, and on and on

You will, I hope, recognise the above as Robbie Burns's famous "Ode to a Haggis" beloved of carving-knife wielding head-of-the-table blokes on Burns Night, 25th January. We love our Burns Nights in this family and we love the haggis, neeps and tatties that come with, the onion gravy, the whisky and the Scotland-related desserts. This started for me back in the 70's when the College used to do them as a formal dinner, black tie, academic gowns, Top Table and all that. Ever since then we have managed to find haggis available in shops and supermarkets, always leading up to the Night itself and often all the year round. 

Big shock then, when we realised we have moved to a place where nobody celebrates Burns Night and nobody has seen or eaten haggis, though a few have heard of it and 'seen something about it on the telly'. We looked in three different supermarkets (Tesco, Aldi and Lidl) and some butcher's shops on the day we went down to buy the geese, to no avail. We have since heard that these shops might have been selling it around Dublin (Mrs Sparks even helpfully told us that Tesco in Newry had it - that is 3 and a half hours drive away!) and Aldi might have had some on Thursday 24th but that was no good to us. 

Our last hope on Goose Day was SuperValu in Castlerea where Liz had a brief surge of hope when keen young butchery counter man leapt to her aid. "Of Course!" he said and led her to a nice full chill cabinet stuffed with .....Hummus! He was crestfallen when she explained that, No, she meant 'Haggis - the stuff Scots people eat?' We don't have many Scots here, he told us. Amazingly he was more hopeful at Liz's half-joke that he might be able to sell her a sheep's stomach. "Over the road!", he said - in 'that' butcher, but you'll have to go on Monday; That's the day he does his slaughtering. 'That' butcher is, of course, our old chum Ignatius G Victualler, slaughterer of our own three sheep. 

Never mind, we thought, we'll just have to make our own. How hard can it be? Surely it's just rough old bits of lamb (of which we have plenty), oatmeal and a few spices and pepper. Liz quickly surfed up a recipe from the BBC website.

This looked very manageable and had the option of baking it in a casserole dish rather than trying to source a sheep stomach or "ox bung" (Don't ask - it's a bit of lower gut). We have an amusing family expression for the non-lean-meat bits of lamb, offal etc, the "gribbly bits". Now, there's an excuse for a 2CV picture, the expression was invented during a trip across Northern France in our then-freshly restored old 1961 car where it quickly translated in to 'les pièces gribbloises' because we were teasing an endlessly-indecisive friend who didn't want anything 'gribbly' off the restaurant menu. 

Gribbly bits we have, of course, having recently had our lambs slaughtered. Not the 'lights' (lungs) listed in the recipe maybe but we have heart, liver and plenty of the really cheap cut 'breast' and other off cuts which the butchers would normally discard but which we asked him to bag up. For the next set of lambs we will see if we can save the lungs and stomach too, with Burns Night in mind. Oatmeal and the other ingredients are easily available, so Liz was on, in creative mode on the Thursday, and also decided we needed whisky (no 'E' in Whisky  for this - Scotch for Burns Night) and a dessert called 'cranachan'; a mixture of whipped double cream, honey, whisky, raspberries and toasted flaked oats. The raspberries led us way away from our normal principles of locally-sourced and 'sustainable' eating - they were from Morocco and cost the equivalent of €16 per kg. Oops.

Well, we got there. The BBC method, adapted by Liz, worked superbly and the haggis was, we both agree, the nicest we have ever tasted. Being non-commercial it had way less pepper and being home made by us using known gribbly bits it was ten times more meaty than any tartan-packed, mass produced version. Of course we do mashed spuds to suit our own taste (skins on, plenty of butter, pepper and full-cream milk) and also neeps (steam and mash, nothing added) plus a lovely onion gravy. We were stuffed to the gills but still managed some rather generously proportioned cranachan and a wee dram to wash it down. 

It made for a very enjoyable and pleasant Burns Night and, for an added 'sharing' socially, we had set up a silly 'On Line Burns Night' on social networking website 'Facebook' which had gathered up lots of like-minded relatives, friends and former colleagues who were comparing recipes and planning detail leading up to the evening and then comparing successes afterwards. We 'shared' all the fun with oldest cousin Win, Challock Forest living friend Rona D, Kent-based Diamond and Mazy, ex-colleagues Cath and Shane, Sparks and Mrs Sparks and many more. It was quite an occasion.

I hope you had a good one.

Friday 25 January 2013

Ward Round 25th.

Doctor's Ward Round Report 08:00 25th Jan. "The patient appears to have managed an almost full recovery and is bouncing around with the others like a mad thing this morning. We have walked the estate, she has poo'd and pee'd. She has eaten a hearty breakfast and the three have now been allowed upstairs to rest on Liz's bed (the morning treat). Poppy was maybe a little less sprightly going up the stairs, but she made it. I lifted her onto the bed. Today we buy short leads for pups before anyone goes out in the lane. The relief is immense"

Thank You, Aoife (Rhymes with Deefer) the Vet for your prompt and skilled response. Poppy is on pain killers called Meloxidyl (Oral Suspension of 'Meloxicam') and may be floating around on a drug-induced fluffy cloud, but they seem to be working. I was thinking I'd have to leave her behind on walks for a couple of days and then dreading meeting the lady who she collided with in case the lady saw only 2 dogs and had a panic. I am now thinking that Poppy will not actually put up with being left behind, so I'll do a gentle, careful, recuperative walk with all three (on short leads). 

Meanwhile, in other species we have no more goose eggs yet but I am getting a fairly regular supply from the hen 'Lucy Long Drop' and from Wandering Wendy. Lucy Long Drop is our hen who gets caught short while still up on the 7 foot perch in the night and drops the egg onto the bedding of hay (and poo) below. They always survive this, cushioned by the hay and just need a quick wipe to remove any poo they may have picked up on impact. WW lays eggs which are slightly freckled with tiny blips of shell material which stand proud of the surface, just enough to feel them with your finger tips, as if the date code was written in braille. She mostly now lays hers in the nest boxes, but we do occasionally find them in the yard, on the front terrace, down the drive or in the cattle race. We think it's just the 2 girls in lay at present. Broody Betty has been off since her broody episode and the other chicken is just, we guess, fed up with all the rain and cold and is waiting for the humans to lay on some proper spring sunshine for her.

Thursday 24 January 2013

Nearly a Disaster

I was determined from the start of this blog, not to fall into the trap of just reporting the happy, good news stuff. My main issue with family photo albums is that you see a succession of happy occasions - weddings, Christenings and parties and everyone poses with their most false wooden smile. I get the impression that they contain a very incomplete set of memories and I like my diaries and journals to be 'warts and all' complete with mistakes and plans that didn't work out so well. Well, today we nearly had just one such event and pure luck has me here tonight having, to a large degree, gotten away with it.

4 o'clock this after noon had me messaging Mrs Silverwood along the following lines.

"Ooops, I nearly broke Poppy. She managed to break away from me and got clouted by a car. Luckily the car was travelling slowly (on account of us cowering in the verge) and it was only a glancing blow but it knocked her over and put her in shock. Nothing broken and (says the Vet, Aoife) no internal bleeding, just tender bruising down her right side. She (Poppy, not Aoife) is a bugger for trying to chase passing cars and our lane is narrow and has no 'pavement' as you know, so we walk along the middle of the lane and then try to retreat into the verges or a farm entrance as cars approach. I wind in the extendy-leads and hang on. This time (like most times) the lady in the car slowed and waited till I had what I thought was a firm grip, then we smiled at each other, nodded our thanks and she pulled through. Just at that point Poppy made her dash and, to my horror, I obviously didn't have the button on the lead pushed down hard enough. Poppy ran into the side-skirts of the car just by the front wheel and got knocked flying, luckily back towards me and away from the back wheels. She was winded and shaking but got back to her feet and even tried to carry on walking home. The lady stopped and was horrified and very upset but I made it very clear that it was entirely my fault. We were both very relieved when Poppy came to and stood up on all four legs! Anyway we're all back home, warm and vetted now and my own blood pressure is nearly back to normal.
Hopefully we will all make a full recovery and she might finally learn that cars bite back."

This was a lesson learned for me too. From now on, the dogs will be walked on non-extending leads in the lane even if they do get under my feet. The Flexi-leads will be reserved for round-the-estate walks and in the woods. Aoife was, as ever, brilliant. She checked Poppy's gums for colour (a symptom of internal bleeding), her heart and lungs with stethoscope and articulated all the relevant joints. She thinks that Poppy is merely bruised and is very tender along her right flank. She gave her an injection of Vitamin K (which would help with any internal bleeds) and of pain killer. Poppy being Poppy, made more of a squeak and a shrill fuss at the injections than she had by nearly being totalled by the car. She advised us to feed Poppy a little every couple of hours, mainly to see whether she can keep food down (she can) and offer her water. We are doing that as well as letting her walk gently round the front lawn to see if she'll pee. So far she hasn't, but the prognosis is good and we hope she will get over the bruising and pain over the next few days. The lady driver will be very relieved to see us all back out again. She must be going through a world of worry now; she was only nipping out to collect her little ones from school.

As I go to press, Poppy is sleeping in the kitchen. She has had her evening dose of (oral) pain-killer and looks OK, sleeping now but bright and alert when she is awake. Her brother Towser is very confused about why his sister can't play with him tonight. 

Meanwhile, in other news, the geese are now regulars out in the sheep field. Liz and I shepherd them out there each morning and back in the evening. Soon I will build them a little house and they may end up out there all the time, being locked up in the fox-proof house at night rather than brought back to the calf house. They are still a little wary of us, probably because we man-handled them to clip their wings but at least than makes them easy to shepherd. You just hover behind them and they waddle away in a small group, turning left and right depending on where they can see you from.

They are loving grazing the grass although they do not seem to have yet discovered the enamel bath and how to get into it. I am feeding them grain at the same place each day as advised, to try to get them used to us and to know that we are a good thing. So far the chaffinches are the only takers, but they do peck up the grain I put in their corral in the evening. They are delightful birds. 

Wednesday 23 January 2013

You can't make an Omelette...

I had a nice surprise this morning when waking up the live-stock, our first goose egg. Thank You very much Goosey or Goocie. The girls have a lovely hay box in their calf house in which I optimistically (and rather naively) thought they might make a nice nest and lay their eggs all clean and attractive looking. No such luck. Geese are, by their very nature, mucky beasts who have no respect for nice housing or bedding and tend to mess everything up by splashing their water about and poo-ing in their beds. I suppose it comes from normally 'roosting' in nature, out on the open water or in some muddy winter field where it didn't matter. So this lovely egg was dropped carelessly onto the wet poo-ey concrete of the calf house floor and needed a bit of a spruce up before I took its picture.

It weighs, we were interested to find, 110 g which is not quite twice what our chicken eggs weigh (around 64 g) so it's a bit big for the toast soldiers but would be great in omelette, or the Spanish Tortillas which we love and eat frequently here, and they are supposed to be excellent in cooking and baking. We also hear from Mentor Anne that there is a guy in town happy to sell any surplus we might produce through his little green-grocers.

Anyway, nice one girls (and the boy, I should add, who is marshalling and protecting them). We may reward them with a look at the orchard today; lots of lovely green Roscommon grass to eat and space to range in.

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Outdoor Paddling Pool

With the geese now wing clipped I can construct them an outside run today without risk of them taking off into the wide blue yonder (in this case rather overcast and with light snow falling). I build a circular corral outside their door using an off-cut of sheep wire generously donated by our fencing guy, Paul M after the last job for use as tree guards against sheep.

The geese immediately come out to explore the new space and spend the afternoon coming in and out and splashing about in the crate of water, I have surrounded the crate (which I must stress is only a temporary pool pending them getting moved to their proper 'home', the sheep field / orchard) with logs and rocks to allow them to scramble up to the rim and climb in if they wish for a quick 'swim', all be it a rather space-restricted one.

So far they have only messed around on the edges but they love ducking their heads and necks and then throwing the water down their backs. In this way they are cleaning themselves really well and starting to look bright and white, rescued from their Rahara mud-farm 'Somme'. They can not get at any mud here (yet). They are also settling down well and do not run about in alarm as much when we appear or come near. We are delighted with them and we are sure we will enjoy their company as well as their eggs.

We also took the opportunity to introduce them to the dogs and vice versa. This had to be on the leads at first as the dogs would charge the fence and panic the birds. The geese do not yet know they are safe behind the wire. That gave me a nice chance to take a catch-up pic of the two pups at nearly 8 months, looking very shaggy and woolly bear here. Towser with his floppy ears is on the left. He will stay this way now - if he didn't prick his ears up in the first few weeks, then it's not going to happen, but we find him cute anyway and it certainly makes it easy to tell them apart even at a distance.

Meanwhile I was out with Bob today across his land with the tractor doing some more logging. He'd asked for my help, I thought to log up a tree already felled by our neighbours, the McG's, but in the event "that" was another tree and I had to fell 'ours' before we started. We did OK and spent a couple of hours at it, but my chain saw had started playing up and was refusing to idle. You could still cut the wood at high revs but stand back and 'lift off' and the saw sputtered to a halt. I was getting worn out with the number of times I had to re-start the thing by pulling on the starter cord.

About 11:30, Bob called a halt "for today" and suggested we go to see a man he knows 'out beyond Moyne' (a nearby village) who was good with chainsaws and would sort my machine out. We broke for tea and then piled into the 2CV (much to the delight and amusement of Bob, who'd never been in such a car) and headed out into the back woods. This man turned out to be an amazing 'find'. He is a real back-woods looking bloke with a bushy beard and a pony tail. He is chubby and speaks with a foreign (Dutch?) accent. Bob did find out his name once ("it's an unusual name") but has forgotten it.

His workshop and, indeed, his house are old and wooden and are in the middle of a grass-less wood running with chickens and ducks. His workshop is an Aladdin's cave of broken quad bikes and other equipment but his passion and knowledge on his subject was amazing. He immediately spotted that my saw was ex Lidl and knew that it had been €120 but said that they were a qood quality saw. He was interested in how I was getting on with it and delighted that I had been able to obtain extra chains and a sharpener. He gave every impression of being delighted and welcoming of this new bloke who loved his saw and tried to look after it. He gathered up my saw and had me write down my name and phone number. He is going to phone me back when it's done.

(Again) Meanwhile I have sneaked in a couple of pictures, one of the pathetic snow we woke up to this morning, more like a hard frost really, but we are being careful what we wish for! 2nd is a shot of the 'baby' chicks at 13 weeks, now looking very leggy and 'velociraptor'- ish. Their long thighs and high 'keel' have us convinced that these are both boys, so the coq-au-vin pot looms for them in March or April.

We are working our way steadily through the home made wine, in this case some bottled into a recycled Greek Brandy (Metaxa) bottle. It is so light and quaff-able that we are sometimes tempted to pile into the 2nd bottle when perhaps we shouldn't. In our defence, though, we are planning to take a break from the booze for the '40 Days and Nights' of Lent. This not for any religious reasons - it is just a nicely placed and sensibly long 'fast' which reassures us in the years when we do it, that we are not desperate alcoholics! The last drink we will take (all being well) is on Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day on February 12th, and we will then try to stay off it till Good Friday. That's our 'Lent' although it might not be recognised by any theologists. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we are not so virtuous.

Monday 21 January 2013

Goosey, Goocie Gander

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs

Yes, Dear Reader, we are in the goose business with our first three generic farmyard geese, 2 geese and a gander. We'd been looking around in books and on the internet for some of a variety called 'Pilgrim' having read that they were gentle, quiet and in the 'light' category (as opposed to the huge, saggy-bellied, Toulouse or Embden "heavy" type). However Pilgrim proved to be (in Ireland anyway) a bit of a specialist pure-bred type which would be pricey (over €100 per bird) and might even need sourcing from Norfolk in the UK, so we gave up on that idea and decided to look for common-or-garden farmyard geese available locally through the on-line classifieds website "Done"

So this morning saw us driving down to Rahara, just south of Roscommon town (about 40 minutes drive) with a big cardboard box and the cat basket in the car, not at all sure what we were buying, not 100% certain we'd be happy with the geese we saw and definitely a bit dubious about whether they would fit in our boxes. I had already gone onto the poultry advice forum on line to ask what I should be looking for in the way of clues to bad health or dodgy birds, warning bells etc. It turns out that geese are basically healthy and not beset by anything like as many issues (parasites etc) as poultry, so if I was after hybrid farmyard geese, as long as they were bright of eye and standing well on both legs, I'd be safe enough.

Well, they looked OK to us, so we paid our money and loaded them up, along with a bucket of the feed they'd been used to. They looked a bit muddy, but one thing we do know about geese is that they love to have water to wash themselves in and it didn't look as if they had had any down in Rahara, just mud and straw. The guy (quite a big sheep farmer by the looks) warned us to clip their wings as they'd be in a new place and might try to fly off in fright. We would therefore need to keep them indoors till we wing-clipped them.

We have set them up in the calf house with a crate of hay if they'd like to nestle down, a bucket of water and a bowl of the feed, and left them quiet to get over their journey. When we checked back on them we could see them reveling in the bucket of water, dipping their heads and letting the water run across their backs, shaking it about and making a lovely wet mess. We decided they might like a bit more water, so we have filled a crate to the brim and set up a 'stairs' of ash logs to climb up to get it. Tomorrow I will build them a run and let them have a bit of yard to look at (and their water-bath outside)

Mentor Anne and Simon called by and showed us how to wing-clip them. They were not happy about being handled, but this doesn't hurt them, you just clip across the 'upper-arm' and 'fore-arm' main feathers (leaving the long feathers on the 'hand' because that helps them defend themselves in case of a fox or dog attack). This tells them that they cannot fly because they can feel out of balance as soon as they flap their wings. Now we can make them an outdoor run without risk of them taking off, which they can easily do while young and light. We are told that once they know the place and are used to us this becomes less of a problem and , anyway, a fat, fully grown geese is nothing like as aerially minded as a rangey youngster.

We have called them Goosey, Goocie and Gander because it would be silly to give both the girls the same name, wouldn't it? :-) . Goocie has some black feather in her wings. Our plan is to keep these three as our 'parent generation' and only eat their eggs or any progeny. These should not end up in the freezer; those who were concerned about our lambs and rabbits will be relieved to know. 

Sunday 20 January 2013


I am not sure how much I inherited from my late Father but one thing I definitely picked up was a love of Chivers Olde English Thick Cut Marmalade. In our house, growing up, it was the only type we ever bought. Nothing else would do. I am not even sure Chivers still exist properly (I think they may have been swallowed up) or if you can still buy this style now but I have since maintained my love of thick-cut marmalade although I have never made any.

Now that we are 'small holders' and getting involved in jam making and other forms of 'putting food by', I decided to give the marmalade making a go. I began asking back in November in local fruit shops where I might get the Seville oranges and struck lucky in a small shop in Ballaghaderreen called "Dew-C" (geddit?) who promised they'd have some in 'after Christmas' and then eventually "next Thursday".

By happy coincidence it turns out that the oldest niece, Kat is also a marmalade-whizz who not only likes the family choice of rather tart thick-cut but also makes her own and has published a recipe with attractive pictures in her own blog. I promptly abandoned my book research and attempts to choose a 'professional, published' recipe and went with the 'family' one. Thank you, Kat. If you, the reader, fancy giving it a go, then the recipe is on

Mine was a 3 kg batch of the oranges to which are which 4 lemons, 4 kg of sugar and 5 litres of water, to make 12 good sized jars of the product. We save our Hellman's mayo jars for the purpose, some of which are the 600 g size, so you'd probably get 14 jars or more if you stuck to standard jam jars.

I love the easy-going, chatty, style of the recipe notes and I was smiling at Kat's getting bored with "finely shredding" the peel half way through the job and deciding that "coarse" is perfectly fine. I must admit I soldiered on with the fine but I could see where she was coming from.

My other comment on the recipe, if you are trying it, is that the original as per Kat is for 1.5 kg of oranges and 2 and a half litres of water which are probably manage-able quantities. We doubled up and ended up with a bit of an issue of fitting the muslin-bagged pulp, water, juice and peel into even our biggest jam pan. I had to leave one litre behind to be added 'downstream'. If you are doing a 3 kg or even a 4 kg batch, check your jam pan is big enough!

We also had a bit of an issue getting a fast enough boil to set the marmalade, even on our bigger back ring on the hob, till we discovered that the gas cannister (no mains gas here - we are on those pale yellow exchangeable cans of (?) propane) was running low and pressure was falling off. Once I'd swapped out the cannister we were away and quickly got that wrinkly-surface to our cooling blobs on the freezer-cold saucer we were using to test the stuff.

It only remained to decant via our plastic measuring jug, select the correct lids, cool  and label It is a beautiful looking bright marmalade, delicious and reasonably well (if a little softly) set. It will join our Blackberry and apple on the shelf for using up, giving away as gifts, or bartering in 'swapsies' as is now our favoured method of trade.

Thank you very much for the recipe and the inspiration, Kat. What's next?

No snow here but..

No snow here but plenty of rain. On this particular piece of ground at the end of this very wet year (last year, actually, I guess) any decent amount of overnight rain means we know we will wake up to some impressive puddles. My two pictures are of the pond garden; only the first is not meant to be actual pond. What we have, though, a-top our 75 m ridge between the valleys (and boggy land) of the Lough Feigh to the south and the River Lung to the north, are a good depth of lovely soil lying over clay. We are not convinced that the clay allows much downward drainage but we know that the soil layer allows good sideways drainage down the slopes either way so that when it stops raining, our puddles are generally gone by 12 hours later, certainly within 24 hours

The problem has been that in the very unusual year of 2012 (all the locals say "We've never known anything like it!") the puddles have barely drained away and the water table is still fairly high, before the next rains come and re-fill the puddles. Even in the summer, and the month of August when we had the Silverwoods up to stay for a week it did not really ever dry out to depth. They were able to camp and there was plenty of dry ground to play badminton on the front lawn etc, but nobody was kicking up any dust.

It can happen. I have seen video of the turf 'harvesting' machines down on the peat bogs in summer kicking up clouds of dust as they move about so we are hopeful that 2013 might give us some proper summer heat. In 2012 I never had to water any plants. Having taken a bit of a ribbing from some quarters for "moving to a bog" we were relieved that the wet also included the UK, where those taking the mick 'enjoyed' conditions as wet as we were. Mercifully the whole winter where we were caravan-based and building the house, was mild and dry enough that we were never prevented from working. The week we chose to do the plastering was exceptionally mild and the guys were all working in polo-shirts and short sleeves. Messing with plaster and cement is not a lot of joy when there's a frost.

As to the pond, when I get a chance to complete the digging of it, the plan is to dig down the 2 spade depths of soil to expose the clay, and then puddle and draw up a clay layer from this to form a bowl. We hope this will save us using a liner. Even if the pond does not become waterproof, if it rains in 2013 like it did this year
we should have no problem keeping it full. I will just divert the car-port run off into it via the sheep drinker. In the next few posts you will learn that we are soon getting some geese. I am hoping that these guys, puddle-ducking in the unfinished pond, might be able to help with the "puddling" of the clay.

The existing animals, of course, will always find somewhere out of the rain, even when, as sometimes happens with the cats, they are outside the house as we lock up to go shopping. The picture is of Blue on his hay bale in the chicken house, keeping an eye on any local rodent incursions.

Thursday 17 January 2013

From 'None' to 'A bit of a...'

There is a well used Irish turn of phrase about the evenings getting longer which goes "Ah there's a  grand stretch in the evenings!" We have even seen a spoof website which alleges that there is a NASA department tracking when the country moves from "None" to "A bit of a stretch" and so on. What ever the truth, the evenings are definitely getting longer and nightfall as far as chickens are concerned is now drifting out past 16:30 and off towards 17:00 p.m. (except on miserable, dark, rainy evenings when sometimes it's even as early as 15:30). Spring is on it's way.

For a good while now we have had daffs and narcissi breaking the surface; these in the picture are from a big net of bulbs given to us by Steak Lady on one of their visits. We are hoping for a good show of colour from these mixed species.

Also breaking surface now are the white tulip "Concerto" planted into three big tubs in mid October, now standing on the concrete plinth under our western gable end of the house.

All around the place there are new leaves coming on shrubs and buds expanding on fruit bushes, all be it these have been in the ground since last year and were still fairly active when they either died back naturally in the autumn or were browsed into submission by passing sheep.

It was definitely the sheep who defoliated the clematis shown here but sheep tend to carefully nibble off leaves and there is enough plant left to recover.

We have had no such recovery or bud break yet from the trees delivered already dormant and bare rooted, now sitting in the orchard, but if memory serves, bare rooted trees have to have a few weeks of getting roots down before they attempt any above-ground stuff.

Another sure sign of Spring is that the seed packets have now been delivered, so we can start with that lovely job of spreading the packets out all over the table to sort, plan and stroke them. These ones came from Irish seedsman "Mr Middleton Garden Shop" (Mary Street, Dublin) as part of our joint order with Mentor Anne, mainly (in our case) so that we could secure our Sarpo Mira, blight resistant seed potatoes. I added in my mental list of spring onions, brussels, beetroot, carrot, leeks etc to bulk us up into the 'free delivery' stakes but left beans and other stuff to buy in Spring.

Mr Middleton not only does his own range of seeds, but is also the Irish agent for Thompson and Morgan and plenty of his varieties have already been 'proven' for Roscommon by Anne and Simon whose conditions are very similar to ours. I am doing all my veg in the raised beds which I am currently digging this year, so I hope I will have a season free from too much waterlogging. Wish me luck.