Thursday 24 April 2014

Lookering (Sook sook sook sook)

Nothing to do with the 'story' at all.
In Sussex (UK) where I was born, especially down on the Romney Marshes, the farming is mainly for sheep (The Romney Marsh breed are famous for their resistance to foot-rot and have been crossed with breeds all over the world to improve this attribute) and there is a long tradition of shepherding, shearing and related tasks in the area. One of the less well known ones was 'lookering'. Men (Lookers) were employed to go and live among the sheep to look after them and check on them and they were provided with a very rudimentary, single room 'Looker's Hut' where they could get out of the bleak, cutting winds and sleep. Some of these huts are still there now as listed buildings. Plenty of the modern farmers now have sheep down on the marsh and would still use the word to describe the act of going down to check on your sheep. I've got to go lookering. Obviously now they'd be heading off from their nice warm farmhouses in a Land Rover or a posh 4 by 4.

Not a very helpful sleeping place, Rolo!
Over here the word is not used and I was telling John Deere Bob all about it. Bob is currently without tractor as he has killed the clutch and it is in the repair shop, so I have been driving him about to the shops, Post Office and Doctor's clinic but also out to check on his cattle. He has a group of 13 young bullocks recently back out in 12 acres on the far side of the village, by the 'Swally Hole' about which I posted recently, so we nip out there to check on them. Bob is a gentle, quiet, calm man and it is lovely to see him with these cattle. He calls them over to him with just a quiet repeated calm call, almost whispered, saying "Suck suck suck suck" but in the local accent it has the longer vowel sound (as in forsook, or look). The first 'sook' is quiet enough, but the other three fall away to a whisper, as if he is calming a crying child with a 'Ahh hush now....." The cattle all come over and line up to look all doe-eyed at Bob while he counts and checks them visually.

Larch in flower
I have never seen him get excited or angry or loud with them  and I have never seen him engage in that popular pastime among local farmers of walking along behind them whacking them gratuitously with a length of flexible water pipe across the rump to keep them moving. Liz and I both grumble about this and we know it is an issue but it is widespread. We saw it a lot in the Castlerea Agricultural Show where it seemed to us that the cattle were moving well enough to or from the show ring and the lads driving them were maybe just putting on a bit of a show for the public of being the big man, in CONTROL of his beasts. We have seen in farming papers, items written from the slaughterman's and butcher's angle saying that these whacks leave bad bruising right where the most expensive cuts of meat are - the rump steaks - and can reduce the value of the killed out carcass, pleading for the herders to abstain. My cattle experience is based around dairy animals but we never used to whack them. You could carry a stick if you felt the need, and tap the back of a cow's hocks if you needed to, but you'd never whack them. I'd go with Bob's way every time.

Absent Without Leave. Blondie
Meanwhile, our re-homing project Guinea Fowl, Blondie has gone AWOL. She wandered off eastwards towards Una's (again!) on Tuesday at about 6 pm. She strode up and down the gate looking like she wanted to be let through but we know by now she can fly and sure enough minutes later she was gone, away to roost, we assumed as it had gone dark and cloudy and looked like rain. We noticed her absence very early on Wednesday morning, the way (like "The Silence of the Lambs") you miss a noise you've got used to, rather than hearing a new one. At first light, before we were even up we were both aware that we could NOT hear the strident, distant 'Buckwheat' calls coming from across the field. Blondie is as loud and carrying as a good rooster-crow; we could hear William and Buffers OK. The silence gave us a sinking feeling, fearing the worst.

Bee Heaven, hedges white with blackthorn, grass yellow
with dandelions. If only we had a few bees...
All that day we listened out expecting her to pop back up. I called, whistled and tapped my plastic feed beaker on the gate-piers. I walked up the lane and round those gardens to look and even walked the dogs deliberately eastward to Shannon's Cross instead of west to the bridge. No sign. No sad squashed body on the road and no pathetic slew of feathers among the grass. The previous owner (Dawn R) tells us that she "has form" and is a bit of a wanderer  and has also at some stage in her past, been found sitting on a stash of 32 unfertilized eggs, so we are clinging to those hopes but we may never know. Has she been snatched by a predator? (Fox, mink, pine marten, dog, cat, car driver with an appetite for roast Guinea Fowl, local farmer with gun? Who knows?) Is she just plain lost or even exploring, still looking for her late mate?

Hornwort in the big pond
Our work here is mainly about weeding those bits which we have not been able to get onto due to the wet but which are now running away with weeds, the 'allotment' and the raised bed by the car port. We are also gearing up for some imminent happy events. We add a 'lip' to the rabbit's bed chamber to stop the baby kittens from being able to fall downhill out onto the grass, and also to make sure that when Goldie gets up from her nest having fed the babies, any kits still clinging to her teats are gently rubbed off as she climbs out.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam under construction.
We have also had to cut a larger hole in the former-rabbit Maternity unit 'bedroom' wall because we will let the Buff Orpington broody have her hatch in there (where she is) but she's a big girl and would not be able to get into the open mesh-fronted bit of the 'hutch'. The doorway as it was was only rabbit sized - 6 by 6 inches - that would be a tight squeeze for our rather Mumsy Mum-to-be. We have also heard from Anne and Simon that they are doing the Hubbard Run again this year - they drive all the way to the border to a commercial hatchery where they know the people and are let take away our relatively tiny order of a few dozen one-day-old Hubbards.

Lovage coming up well in the
Kitchen garden
These places do most of their sales by the tens of thousands and would not generally entertain Joe Public, but A+S were in the business and are known, so they make the exception. We benefit by being able to buy just the 12 and Anne collects in one go for a number of 'customers'. These birds are due next Thursday afternoon, so we need to be ready with a warmed brood-box (Infra red lamp etc) although we are half wondering whether we might be able to work a fiddle with either Broody Betty, who has shown no broody urge yet this year, or Mrs Buff who is sitting on 7 eggs, due date 7 days later. Would she notice if she suddenly went from 7 to 19 chicks, 12 of which were a bit bigger? Ah well. Watch this space.


anne wilsn said...

Mrs Buff might just take the chicks but would certainly abandon the eggs a day or so later.

Matt Care said...

Don't worry Anne, we were only dreaming. Mrs Buff is not due to hatch till a full week after the Hubbards arrive, so they'd be a bit big for her to take them on. Also, this is her first time at it and she's not doing a very good job. She keeps breaking the eggs and/or letting them leak out from under her skirts and go cold. She only has three left at this stage and may well get down to zero and give up on the job before the Hubbards arrive!

anne wilson said...

Our Buff is sitting tight, rather too tight, she has to be physically removed from the nest in the hope of her taking food, water and to have a ...., she objects very loudly and just hops back into the nest without eating or drinking, we hope she is doing her feeding early in the morning while it's still quite and no one's around.

Matt Care said...

Ours sits tight and is, like yours, quite aggressive and shouty, but she just doesn't seem to have a clue about pulling all the eggs back under her and sits oblivious to the slew of eggs scattered around her.