Wednesday 28 May 2014

School's Out!

Enjoying the surprise sunshine on Tuesday 27th.
In the previous post, we were just fresh from our Bee Keeper, 'preliminary' level written test and waiting on a slot for our practical 'exam'. Well, that came through the same day and we were instructed to show up on the Monday (26th) at the Longford Group's club apiary out north of Longford town, in the forest alongside Cullyfad village. We had to be suited and booted, gloved and armed with a smoker. We were also advised that because this test was to be done by Mary H, one of the "Two Marys", whose specialist subject is bee and hive diseases, that we'd do well to bone up on that subject. Further they thought it a good idea that we should all know how to take a sample of 30 bees for sending away for testing, should you need to. You use a special technique to catch them in a matchbox, but more of that later.

Back on the knitting - a cardie for R
Off we trundled the now familiar hour's run to Longford, but diverting off just short, headed for Cullyfad where we luckily came upon one of the Committee members out of his car and knocking a 'Bee Exam' sign into the roadside turf with a hammer. We followed him 'home'. The club has half a dozen hives well up a forest track where the road widens enough for them to have parked the club's container and the hives. We looked a bizarre sight, 20 odd bee keepers all in our brilliant white new 'space suits' but sadly no-one had thought to bring a camera, so no pics, I am afraid. Liz volunteered to go first. She had about 10 minutes of being asked to open a nuke-box (small nucleus colony) while naming parts, telling what she saw and answering questions about diseases like Varroa mite and American Foul-brood (AFB). I was next up for my session. I got the impression that they were being very gentle and friendly, coaching us and guiding us all to succeed; as if the group wants a good pass rate to show off and all of us safely onto the first rung of the training ladder.

George Junior learns to peck up food from Dad (l) and Mum (r)
Then it was all over, we could unzip the (sword fencing style) mesh-visor hats and compare notes. It seems we both almost fell into the same trap - asked about sending samples off for checking when you suspect AFB, we started down the 30-bees-in-a-matchbox route. AFB though is a disease of larval bees when they are still in their brood cells, so you should send off chunks of comb or a whole frame. Oops. A dubious and schoolmarm-ish look from Mary H had us both, in our turn, stumbling in retreat from our matchboxes and hurriedly correcting ourselves.

George Junior
Ah well, every day's a school day, as they say, and in the case of Bee Keeper training to preliminary level, we are done, 6 training sessions, a revision session and 2 exams, and school is out! We don't know when we will see results or the certificate. Apparently, it might be as long as 3 months, but we don't really mind. In  general we have been mightily impressed by the quality of the training laid on by Longford Group under the wing of the Federation of Irish Bee Keepers' Associations (FIBKA), and delivered via the Government quango "Teagasc" (the agriculture and food development authority in Ireland). It certainly knocks any training days we've done for goats or pigs into a cocked hat, excellent though they were for privately run one day courses. We feel very well trained, prepared and knowledgeable. The icing on the cake is that the Two Marys have now emailed to let us know that the bees have been breeding like Billy-O over in Drumshanbo, much better than 2013, and our 'nuke' should be ready roughly mid-June. We'll be ready for it.

The three colours of Goldie's babies - now 4 weeks old. 
One final anecdote on the bee exam. Poor Lizzie had a massive streaming cold that day as well as having just collected new specs from the optician. Worried that looking for tiny bee larvae would be 'close' work, she opted to leave the specs off for the exam. Worse, the suit is not quick to get into or out of - all those poppers and zips around the mesh visor to keep the bees out, so she was worried that she might have to break out of the exam to open the suit enough to blow her nose. In the event she went for a massive nose blow, quick bit of suit zipping, pile into the exam and get out fast to open the suit and blow the nose just in time. She wonders whether in between being 'half blind' and dripping from the end of her nose, she might not come over as a very professional bee keeper. Ah well. All over bar the shouting now. Water under the bridge etc.

Goldie with 9 of her babies. No room at the feast.
Where do we go from here? FIBKA runs all manner of increasingly expert courses through 'Intermediate' and 'Senior' up to the impressively named 'Bee Master', with a little siding out to 'Honey Judge'. Most of these you have to have been in the grade below for a year prior to taking the next level up. Liz opines that she has done with all this and is happy with just the Preliminary Certificate but I don't know. The idea of being able to call yourself 'Bee Master' has put a new gleam in my eye. I may well try for some upgrades at some point in the future.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Testing Times (and a Minor Miracle)

Little George looks a bit lost with Big-G and Black Feather
We have been witness (and enablers, we guess) to a minor miracle. The tiny gosling rejected by the parent group on day 2 and rescued by us for, we thought, hand rearing, is now back with his parents. In our (limited) experience these rejections are permanent and if you try to reintroduce the rejects they can be attacked and killed. Geese are big, powerful birds, and the damage can be very fast and serious. Even as we let the reunion happen we were anxious that we might have to dive in fast and re-rescue George (Junior).

It was a charming and almost 'magical' day, the day after all our fun and games with exploding eggs described in the last post. Like a Mum who knows she is pregnant but daren't tell anyone before the 2nd Scan lest they jinx the thing, I didn't dare report this till now; I wanted to see us survive the first 24 hours and the first night.  Now, though, I can tell the tale. As I opened the goose house door first thing in the morning, I expected just George to march out to the orchard, and the 2 'women' to stay sitting on the eggs. Not this time. Out marched Black Feather on the heels of the Gander and off to the orchard in a determined way, her involvement in sitting on eggs now obviously over as far as she was concerned. She was a free range goose again.

Up the bath ramp at Mum's feet, down again nudged by Dad.
It was also a lovely warm morning, so I wondered whether to try again with the meeting we arranged 2 days ago between Gander George in the orchard, and G-Junior, safe inside a wire crate. That had gone well, with lots of excited beak-to-beak nuzzling and chuntering. It convinced me that Junior was well imprinted on geese, not humans. I wondered how it would go with George AND a female goose (Mum or Aunt, we don't really know). I did not use the crate this time, but put the gosling outside the orchard fence. Baby straight away started homing in on big guys and they on him. I held my breath. There was a good bit of the nuzzling and some open beak 'mouthing' of baby by George. Suddenly the gosling did one of his little clock-work-toy scampers in through the fence and was as suddenly 'in there' between the parents and was as quickly accepted by both.

These buttercups are a bit tall Dad!
The little threesome walked about in the orchard and even ventured up the bath ramp. There was some sitting down with baby allowed to sit close but Liz and I, looking on and feeling the rather keen wind which had sprung up waited for that moment when baby, who had been nudging around the sitting shape of Mum, seemingly nibbling the ends of wing feathers, was properly invited in under the Maternal wing, into the warm. The rest is history, really. They stayed nicely together all day so that we decided that they were better off like that than if we tried to end the experiment and 'rescue' the gosling again. It would have been more like 'steal' the gosling and we couldn't imagine the grown up geese being too happy.

Back on the nest between the 2 ladies
So we left them be, checking them hourly till 'bed time' when I shepherded them home and Black Feather jumped back onto the nest hotly pursued by the gosling, though he had to make his peace first with his other Mum-Aunt, 'Smudge'. Since then they have been doing happy families. This morning it was chilly and windy and no-one came out to the orchard. They all stayed indoors sharing their time between sitting on eggs, standing guard and walking around. I supplied food and water for all ages indoors (little 2 inch high Tupperware for baby, builders bucket for grown ups!). There is still a possible confusion as to how this goes in terms of either female being willing to leave the eggs to go exploring with Junior, but we are a lot happier that he is being minded by the geese rather than us.

So that was the parenting skills tested on the day when Ireland went to the polls so that the Euro and Local candidates (plus a couple of by-elections) could test their democratic mandates, and today we had the NCT ( =MOT ) test on the Fiat and our Bee Keeper written test. The Fiat failed but only on the alignment of the off side headlight (dip beam aims too high), so I was a bit annoyed but also very happy and relieved that that was all. The Bee Keeper exam went well for both of us, with almost all the questions being ones we had seen before and practised on. We are both hoping for good scores, though we may only hear the results in pass/fail format. We have now heard that the practical 'exam' session is to be on Monday evening. It will be good to have that all over so quickly.

Friday 23 May 2014

Exploding Eggs

Ordinary common plantain. I just like the look of them.
You will recall that we have long since reached the end of our broody Buff Orpington's planned sitting time and are also at the end for the original twelve eggs which were being sat upon by both our sister geese, Black Feather and Smudge. These things can not be allowed to go on and on unchecked as the birds concerned quickly get out of condition due to the lack of food and exercise, and can get sick. The Buff had sat her full 21 days ending 8th May by which time she'd broken or rejected most of the eggs.

Broody Buff gets (un)comfortable
on the mesh 'deck'.
We gave her another 7 days for good measure after which we cleared the nest and cracked open the eggs to see what might have been what. One exploded so spectacularly on being tapped that a piece whizzed past my ear and I was glad I was aiming the opening away from me. Since then we have hoofed Buffers off the nest three times a day or so to try to break the broody habit. Nothing doing. She'd have a quick mooch round, eat a bit of what was available and straight back onto the nest. Anne tells us that in these circumstances you need a 'broody cage', a wire mesh floored cage where the chicken cannot get comfy and can always feel the breeze blowing round her nethers. Hang the bird in a tree for 24 hours, allegedly and 'Bingo' no more 'clocker'. The girl goes back free-range. I have no such cage but my version of this, which might work was to build a wire mesh false-floor to get Buffers up off the warm hay and breezily uncomfortable. We'll let you know if it works.

Ash bark-beetle tunnels in some firewood.
Back at the geese we had to recover the old date coded eggs (some going back to 4th April!) from under the pair of ladies  and leave them with just the newer eggs if they wanted to stay sitting. This was going to be fun as geese are not always that submissive or co-operative. Also one egg had obviously exploded overnight and hit the wall of the goose house in an impressive 'paintball' splat. I'll forgive you for laughing at my expense, but you should have seen me 'going in' with chainsaw gloves on my hands and my chainsaw helmet with mesh visor protecting my face from any attacks. I needn't have worried. There was plenty of honking and hissing but the geese both panicked off the nest and out of the door at the sight of me looming over them.

Liz was waiting behind the door to close it while we worked. Anne had advised that we candle the eggs just in case they were good and hold each to our ear to listen for the faintest heart beat or sound of a little beak trying to 'pip' the egg (break out through membrane and shell, which can take 4 days). Well, these (4) eggs were silent and candled as fully opaque. We took them to the compost heap and gave each an exploratory crack with a piece of slate. One contained a full size but very dead embryo, the remaining three exploded in soft yellow, smelly mess, addled and a bit 'ripe' after 40 days under the geese. There were originally 12. We can now account for 6 - one hatched, one exploded overnight, 4 recovered. We assume the other 6 have also broken or gone pop and are buried in the debris under the nest. Well, there were also 8 'new' eggs, so we made up a couple of nests of 4 each and retreated. letting the geese back in (and George go with them as he had been a bit upset by our rude assault on the ladies). As of this morning (Friday) Smudge has now claimed all 8 and is still sitting but Black Feather has cried a definite 'Enough!' and followed George out to the orchard in a determined manner this morning, her job done as far as she was concerned. We are assuming all the new 8 are from Smudge, mated by George while Black Feather was already sitting. If she is doing her standard egg every other day, than that will have taken her at least 16 days so the eggs have now been incubated by the sitter for between 2 and 16 days. They might therefore hatch (probably widely spaced) any time from the 4th, right through to the 23rd June. It is not likely to end well. Once the geese have one baby needing to get off the nest to get food and water, they tend to abandon the remainder of the eggs.

Sorry about the rubbish photo - I was trying to juggle egg
and light in one hand, camera in the other. I couldn't use
flash or you'd not see the transparency of the egg.
Finally a more pleasant task, to candle the 16 Guinea Fowl eggs in the incubator, now at day 13. Well, we are very much beginners at this but to our untutored eyes, all 16 seemed to be fertile containing growing embryos. All have healthy sized air sacs and as you twirl them in the 'candler' light you can see a definite opaque side and a transparent side, a sign that the 'germ' disc is spreading its fan of blood vessels out from the embryo around the yolk. These guys are due on about the 6th of June.

It's all go! - oh and we had some fun yesterday as we returned from shopping to find the lawn running with escaped baby rabbits. We had to round them up and shore up the gap where the straight bottom of the run meets the not-particularly-flat lawn.

Wednesday 21 May 2014


Hubbard chicks at Day 21
Either our bushy tailed red 'friend' got wind of our evil intentions for him or he's way too cunning and wise to return to the same place the morning after when you might be waiting for him. He has failed to show on the last 2 mornings and the dogs have had neither scent nor sound of him and none of us have seen him. Nor did Mike the Cows who came to check on his cattle with a shot gun (broken) under his arm see anything.

All cleaned up, his fighting days done.
Our current alpha-male, Buffers.
Mike tells me that strolling around at 06:30 is no way to 'get' your fox anyway. You never see the chap, never mind get time to un-break, aim and fire. 'Round here' they would tend to go out as a gun club of a night 'lamping'; using powerful searchlights mounted on 4 x 4 trucks and shooting the yellow reflective pairs of eyes. It is unpopular though and many residents object to the engines and gun shot noise in the fields at night, so the more common method is to set snares (they say 'shnares' here). Mike happily explained this all to me, telling me where I could get good 'shnares' for 'a fiver' and how to set them in the little nip-through holes that Mr Fox uses in the hedgelines; preferably where there is a drop down so that the fox, having caught his neck in your wire, then hangs by his neck on your shnare over the drop with his feet unable to touch the ground. Nice.

Goldie's kittens are now exploring the grass. 
Well, I am sorry, but I am not about to start snaring (or even shnaring) any kind of animal. I do not mind despatching them in a quick and clean way, but the thought of a fox being slowly throttled from 8pm or so when I set the snare, to 6 am when I check them does not sit well with me. I suspect even Mike may be spinning me a yarn about how frequently they use these deadly methods. He has told me on another occasion that he bought his gun (which looks like a good one, though I've no idea really) 8-9 years ago for €2200 and has only fired it about 10 times in that period. Also that unless your cows with calves are well used to the gun noise (and he suggested that very few are) then they get really upset by the noisy intrusion. No over-loaded gibbet of corpses dripping fresh blood there then!

These later quince flowers only got a little wind-burned
So 'our' fox remains at large and seems to be staying away, at least during daylight hours. I did see him today, however, nipping across our lane at 4pm in front of my dog-walk, so we are not complacent and we are being very careful to lock everybody down as early as we can get away with it. We wonder whether he might be able to explain the disappearance of 'Blondie' but he's not coming forward to volunteer his testimony.

'Goz-1' on his hot water bottle before we rigged the heat lamp.
Meanwhile, I left you at the previous post (in a comment, anyway) with our first hatch of a gosling. This should be an exciting and happy time but sometimes these things do not go quite to plan. I had a dream of a little row of a dozen goslings following Mum to the pond for a sunny photo-shoot. Sadly we have only had the one so far (despite Black Feather and her original 12 eggs now being 8 days overdue; of which more in a later post) and that one has been ignored by the Mum and Aunt.

It floats!
We did not see them actually eject it from the nest, but they were definitely not helping it back in, so twice on its 2nd day we had to rescue it and try to return it (which got us soundly hissed at and pecked by the sitters, though they did 'allow' the baby back in to the nest edge but did not draw it back into their warm skirts). The third time it was shivering in a corner, so we rescued it and Liz had the idea of sneaking it under the broody Buff hen. That seemed to work.

Cuckoo Marans 'hin' strolls on the lawn.
We fancied we could see a new contented look come over her face as the unaccustomed warm wriggling form moved under her breast. I sat and watched for half an hour and then all seemed to be well; we left them to get to know one another. Half an hour later though, he was out on his ear again and this time Mrs Buff was not letting him back, and she tried to peck him. Well, now we were out of birdy options, so to cut a long story short he is in the brooder box under a heat lamp and we are trying to hand rear him. Thank you to Anne for the advice on this one - there is plenty to worry about.

Evening, 3 Westie romp in the orchard
If your 'chick crumb' feed is medicated for coccidiosis (many brands are) then it can be lethal to waterfowl. (Ours isn't, luckily). You need to worry about the baby 'imprinting' on you the human, thinking you are parent and then not being able to socialise properly with geese. We seem to have got away with that one - this baby spent the vital first day and a half in the goose house and met both females and George the gander. Today we showed him to George while safe inside his crate and the pair bonded gently through the bars - George seeming to be 'showing' Goz-1 how to pull and eat grass and chuntering at him, Goz-1 trying to touch beaks with 'Dad' through the wire. No-one tried to kill anyone else. It was a touching scene.

The old apple tree almost swamped by the beech and ash.
We are hoping that if more goslings hatch we might be able to sneak him back into the clutch. It can also help to suspend a mop head over the pen so he can sneak under and feel like he is being mothered. Ah well. He is drinking plenty of water and from today (his day 3) taking plenty of food from a tea spoon and from the ground, so there is more hope currently than there was when we rescued the little mite, his pathetic body wracked with spasms of shivering, while still wobbling in that half-co-ordinated way baby birds have who are still too young to have left the nest-bowl yet and should be just flopping around between the unhatched eggs, all warm under their Mum.

Hairpin bend in the apple tree trunk, the 'elbow' leaning
on the big ash. Bottom arrow shows main trunk. 
It's not all worry, mind. We have made a rather nice discovery. An old apple tree dating from TK Max's day, right down on our North border by a collapsed corrugated iron toilet-shed, is in bloom! This tree was first remembered by John Deere Bob is a gnarly old bent and ancient thing. Only about 8 feet 'tall' it actually has a main trunk perhaps 15 feet long but it grows from a bank almost horizontally till it leans an 'elbow' on a big ash tree and turns back droopily to get its branches and foliage almost back into our new pig-patch. This tree was so bent and broken looking that we assumed it was lost in the hedge, 'buried' under beech and ash growth and well over-topped by the black spruce. But today Liz found blossom on it, so we wonder whether it might bear fruit and, even if we can't rescue this tree, we might be able to take a scion and graft it onto a root-stock to save the DNA and the potentially old variety. Perhaps this old fellow has out-foxed its historic, neglectful human keepers?

Monday 19 May 2014

Put Salt on His Tail

It's a hullabaloo from my dog 'Towser' which has us suddenly wide awake at 06:30 on Saturday. The window sills are low enough upstairs for a small dog to jump up onto them and we let him keep vigil up there where he can see out across the front lawn out out of the back where he can see across the orchard. The other two dogs were joining in from the bed and floor - something was amiss in the front garden. It was a fox! A big, fully grown, fit and healthy looking animal standing bold as brass in the middle of the front lawn looking about him, not 30 yards from Ginny's and Goldie's rabbit runs. Both of them were out in their wire mesh bits looking back. I had enough time to call Liz over to look before I flicked one of the front windows open, which startled him into a lope off across the grass and out of the front gate into the lane.

I was wide awake by then so I got the dogs all onto leads and we went out on a 'patrol' and the dogs were going ballistic trying to get on the scent and the smell was obviously everywhere; they were pulling this way and that in zig-zags trying to be everywhere at once, noses to the ground, anxious to be "there" first even if they did not know where "there" should be. But Mr Fox had scarpered by then and I doubt whether my short-legged crew would keep up with a fleeing fox across these fields and hedges which he would know but mine would not. We ticked it off to experience, thanked Heaven that our birds and rabbits are locked up safe at night, and didn't really think any more about it. Later that day I even went on line to record the fox's existence on the Bio-Diversity database.

Generally, given that we are fully free range here, we are both amazed at how few (touch wood) big predators we have seen in the 2 years we have been here. No mink so far and just the one very young looking fox a year ago which fled at the sight of me and was never seen again. I have been told that it was probably a young cub leaving 'home' and trying to find a territory of his own. We lost just one of the original Sussex Ponte hens within weeks of first getting them and that when we sat talking indoors late into the dark evening and didn't know to lock everybody up at dusk. We are amazed and delighted that we have not really had a fox problem, when we are sure they must be about. Until now, maybe?

This morning he/she was back. No hullabaloo this time - the fox was undetected by the dogs but as I took them out for their first 'patrol' (I walk them round the place on leads to do their toilet because otherwise they would be away through a hedge, totally out of control, harassing the neighbours' calves or worse) I spotted out of the corner of my eye, the fox's russet shape nip along the side of the pond and out into Vendor-Anna's 5 acre field. He looked like he was coming from our yard up the cattle race, and this was 07:30 this time and broad daylight. The dogs, hidden down below the wall had not seen him and only discovered his presence by scent when we got round that far on our walk. I could see him again in the 5-acres obviously not having run off that far yet, but seeing me again he turned towards the bog field and, I thought, fled.

I hoped he was away home to his earth. I finished my patrol and started to do my feed and release of chickens and geese, hopeful that now he really had gone, but was appalled and surprised, 10 minutes later, to see his tall narrow triangular red profile just outside the front garden gate into the lane, sitting there as if somebody had trained him (...and SIT!), peering in at me. Liz, now awake upstairs had seen him too. I headed for the gate and lane but he now did flee and I could see no more of him in the lane. We've been around all day and we are sure he's not been back, but it's a nervous time.

Our nearest 'man-with-gun' happens to be Mike-the-Cows (who is also, according to Bob, a member of the local gun club) and I was reasonably sure this is his week on the cattle minding. The three brothers rotate the task week-about. I texted him to tell him about our fox and invited him to come and take a pot one of these early mornings. By then it was quarter to 8, so Mike replied with "Yes, it's a bit late this morning but I will put salt on his tail tomorrow morning". This expression struck a chord and tickled me, bringing back from childhood long forgotten memories of, I thought, possibly a childhood book. I could even see in my mind's eye, an illustration of a small boy chasing after a chicken, trying to pour salt on its tail though I couldn't for the life of me remember why. I was especially intrigued at how such a long forgotten image could be a phrase still used by the local farmers.

Step forward, Google. Liz tracked down the expression which gets frequently discussed on 'childhood memory' sites and 'things I used to believe'. It is a thing many people can remember being told as children by grand parents - if you chase a chicken (or other birds and animals depending on whose memory it is) and can manage to pour salt onto its tail it will stop running and you can catch it. John Deere Bob remembers it as you having to pour salt on the cat's tail to make it run away. In the course of all this internet searching I also remembered that it was not, in fact a book, but was the logo on a table salt pot. I thought 'Saxa' but we have now nailed it as 'Cerebos' table salt, where the 'see how it runs' is not only a reference to the chicken chasing but also (It's all coming back to me now!) to how freely Cerebos salt flows from the shaker. Ah, the nostalgia.

Brooding goose eggs in stereo.
Meanwhile, far from simplifying things in the goose brooding department with a nice, final and decided hatch, we are, sadly back in the world of confusion and uncertainly. This is Day 38 for the proper first batch of 12 eggs, brooded so well and faithfully by Black Feather, so we are past the expected hatch date and into waiting patiently and leaving well alone. We know that the other female goose (Smudge) is both getting 'trodden' by the gander and laying eggs into the nest at night, but we have not wanted to disturb the sitter this late, so we decided to wait for the hatch, when we'd then be able to have a good old clear out, rescue the more recent eggs and clean up. No such luck. This morning, Smudge decided to go broody too on the same nest, so we now have 2 geese sitting on an indeterminate number of eggs, some 38 days 'cooked', some for fewer days. The Gander is out in the rain on his own in the orchard. We are now very uncertain of the future. We hope the old eggs will still hatch whereupon both mothers will proudly put 'their' babies on display (as they did last year), abandon the rest and we can clear up and Smudge will wonder at the 'express' hatch rate - 2-3 days on the eggs and, look!, I already have goslings! Or we may have to wait till day 48 or so and the give up on the original 12 eggs, junk them and let the girls carry on with any newer eggs for what Black Feather will surely think is a marathon sitting session. We were going to get it right this year but it seems we have lost the plot once again.

Friday 16 May 2014

Cody's 'Op'

William's spurs
I start with a quick word of warning. This post contains a rather graphic image of a veterinary operation on a horse. If you do not like that sort of thing, then click on by and don't scroll down.

First, though, a tough decision we had to make yesterday. Our two roosters had not, as we thought, settled their differences after all the fighting and were continuing to scrap. The Buff Orpington rooster, 'Sir Bufton' was winning all these battles but seemed to want the vanquished William not only off the top spot, but also off the battle field and out of sight. He was giving William no peace. It became obvious that we needed to intervene and remove one of these boys and another factor was also weighing against the relegated William. He had inch and a half long sharp spurs on his feet which were doing quite a lot of damage to any hen he tried to 'tread', particularly to the wider bodied ladies. They were bald of feathers all across the 'saddle' and some had more-than-skin-deep slashes down their thighs. There is a way of trimming spurs, sanding them down and cauterizing them but William's seemed to have the blood filled vein going right to the point. To cut a long story short we decided to cull out William and to go with the Buff Orpington rooster. It was a shame; he's been a good lad and an effective marshaller and protector of the girls. We will miss the old boy.

Blissfully ignorant of what's about to happen.
But today was mainly about the mini-horse. 'Cody' who was scheduled in for his gelding operation. This, nowadays, is a very quick operation done at the owners property and under sedation rather than full anaesthetic. It is a whole lot less risky for the horse than earlier methods. Basically the horse is knocked down by shots of the powerful sedative and, once lying on his side his upper hind leg is tied forward to expose the necessary bits.

With Cody immobilised, Aoife (Vet) moves in for the 'kill'
The vet makes a couple of incisions to get at the testicles, pops them out like buttons through a button hole, and then uses a fancy powerful clamp to scrunch through the blood vessels and connecting tubes, effectively sealing them off while they heal and seal over. It's all over in about 20 minutes. The horse is now recovering from the sedative. The wound is cleaned but left open so that it heals from inside outwards, and there is no risk of the scrotum filling with infection fluids. The horse gets a big old dose of anti inflammatory, anti biotic and anti-tetanus, the ropes are released and the horse quickly gets back onto his feet, all be it rather groggily.

The clamp in position after one 'side' is done.
Cody is a resilient strong boy, famous for being able to take a good amount of sedative and also not being a great fan of being injected, so we actually took more time to get him down onto the lawn grass than it took to operate on him. We had to stand quiet and let his head sag - if we fidgeted or did anything to excite him he would surely stay awake and fight sleep like a small boy at bed time, but we got there in the end. This was all fascinating for Liz and I who have had nothing to do with horses in our former lives and had never seen this operation take place. Liz took the pictures - my job was to hold onto that 'hog-tied' back leg. Cody was only sedated and could obviously feel some of the cuts and was trying to kick out in his drowsy semi-conscious state.

Back on his feet though leaning on Charlotte for support.
Well, he's all done now and, no doubt a bit sore for a while, is back on his feet and liberally sprayed with silver-spray around his nethers. He has to take it easy for a week in his 'Recovery Room' with its nice clean straw bed and should then experience a running down of his testosterone-charged 'Stallion-ness' over the next 6 months or so. He can go back with his two former chums, Bob and Romeo (already gelded) and should cause fewer problems trying to escape to be with mares. His breeding days are over but there is no market in Ireland at present for horses, so it's better that way.

Knackerbocker Glory?
When we go a-visiting these days Liz will quite often bake a cake, but what kind of cake is appropriate to go with the gelding of a horse? Liz put this to her (self proclaimed) "Internet Weirdo" chums on one of her discussion groups and they went into quite a canter inventing something called 'Knackerbocker Glory' and suggesting all manner of ingredients which were to do with the parts of the horse involved ( e.g. Ginger "nuts") and possible 'wet' ingredients which might be relevant - raspberry sauce to suggest blood, cream etc; I don't think I need go into detail here. Pictured is the result, a lovely cold trifle based around ice cream and half peaches. The lychees in Plan A were not available in the local shops.

A basket of mischief. 
Meanwhile with the weather now nice and warm and the Hubbard chicks more feathered by the day, we have been leaving them outside in a rabbit run right round till evening and tonight we decided to risk leaving them out for the night. They are in the nice warm, hay lined, draught free 'bedroom' section of one of our rabbit runs and I have created a pop-hole door to keep out the night air. The gang should be as warm as toast in their little huddle in there.

Finally on geese, I posted earlier that I could have sworn that I heard the thin piping "week week" noises of goslings hiding under Black Feather's skirts. We have neither of us heard anything since and I must have been 'hearing things' (too eager?) because tonight I happened to catch the girl in one of her moves where she stands up among the eggs and shuffles the eggs around her feet with her beak, presumably moving edge eggs to centre and vice versa. I got a clear view of the eggs and can definitely report that eggs is what they were, not a fluffy gosling in sight. It's day 35 now but Anne tells me not to worry. Geese are notoriously variable and we need to sit tight and be patient for a while yet. She has even had Muscovy ducks hatching on day 47, way way later than the books would advise you. Patience is the thing.

Thursday 15 May 2014

The Golden 'Mile'

Widow 'Min' hanging with the 'hins' now
Big News! I am almost certain that we have had a goose hatching event! No pictures yet and I have not actually seen any fluffy gosling heads poking up through Black Feather's immaculate white feathers, but today she seemed more than normally protective of her spot and I am 99% sure I heard the thin weedy 'wick week week' noises  of new-hatch goslings coming from under her. I heard them a couple of times but (don't you know it?) when I went in there to 'show' Liz, all was innocent silence and Black Feather looking at us as if to say "Yeah? What?". More patience required on this one. Tomorrow I hope to see some gos-fluff and I will probably put some food down in case 'anyone' should be feeling a bit more adventurous than today.

One of ten Goldie x Kiwi bunnies at 16 days.
Meanwhile, you'll just have to make do with some cute baby bunny pictures. This heroic litter of 10 'kittens' by Charlotte's 'Kiwi' out of the doe 'Goldie' we got from Anne are doing really well. You may recall that we had all sorts of problems last year with bunnies fading and dying for no apparent reason; we just kept finding a new one dead each morning. Later on we started post-mortem-ing them and were surprised to find them dead with full, bloated bladders but we never got to the bottom of whether this might be an infection passed on from Goldie, a 'first litter' problem, bad husbandry on our (inexperienced) part, or something genetic. So far we have had no problems with dead 'uns and long may this continue. These ten seem pretty vigorous to us anyway.

6 white and 4 'Goldie' coloured. 
We know we are lucky enough to live in a lovely part of the world but we were delighted last week to 'discover' a breathtakingly beautiful walk within a stone's throw of the house. We had heard about 'The Golden Mile'  from the promotional village book produced by Lisacul as part of the tourism promo "The Gathering 2013" and knew from what Carolyn had told us that it was quite close to her house but on the other side of the River (Lung) and 'through' the forestry at the back of her house. To get to it you have to go into the village, cross the River, and come out again the south bank.

Then we got talking to John Deere Bob after his little 'dust up' with Jim B ( see my earlier post ) and it turns out the Golden Mile is just a bit further down the lane (Ball Court Lane) in which Jim has his yard and workshop, starting and finishing at the 'Old Kiltooan Graveyard'. The old graveyard, now out of use and replaced by the spick and span modern graveyard in the village, was where the villages went to hold their services and bury their dead. There is even an old track to it from the village called 'Dead Man's Lane', the route trodden by the pall bearers in those times.

Old Kiltooan Graveyard
Many of JD Bob's older ancestors are buried there. There are graves investigated by the Irish Archaeologists Society which date from the 1600's but most now are weathered into illegibility. The site and all paths to and from had been overtaken by decay and undergrowth, buried among chest-high brambles, fallen old ash tress and collapsed walls. About 8 years ago, the village (Lisacul) got involved in an environmental project designed to promote and inform people about old hedgerows. As we understand it they utilised labour from the Government quango "FÁS" (pronounced 'Foss or (almost) 'Force'), the (then) "Irish National Training and Employment Agency" (since dissolved).

The Golden Mile
These were young lads on training courses who needed practical experience with landscaping, gardening and forestry equipment. Who better to put to work clearing fallen trees and undergrowth, opening up old pathways and tidying up an old graveyard? Well, they created a marvelous thing - a beautiful walk in sunken paths which starts with a skirt around the graveyard (though you can walk through it if you choose), heads off into the paths between fields and loops back round on some newer tarmac lanes, back to the graveyard. It is buzzing with insects and  green with hedgerow herbs, wild strawberry, cranesbill, violets, hart's tongue ferns and the like, way more species than I am able to identify.

Stone steps into the graveyard, over
the wall.
There is a nice interpretive board at the start telling the newcomer what he/she might expect, though it is not well way-marked, so that you could easily take a wrong turn at some of the junctions. As we had expressed an interest, Bob himself offered to show us round the route and show us his family plot within the graveyard. Bob is not the fit young man he once was and can get a bit breathless but we needn't have worried. The whole 'Mile' is, in fact, only 1.03 km and almost flat, so he was well able for it. He only admitted to us, rather shame-faced afterwards, that although he knew the area, he had not actually done the full walk himself in its 8 years in existence! I have already posted that I have joined the bumblebee survey group, which involves walking set 'transepts' on a monthly basis and recording bees seen. The Golden Mile is now one such walk, and today, in the warm sunshine, I was happy to record my first score in double figures. Go the bees!.

Hubbard chicks at 14 days enjoy the sunshine
Meanwhile, back at home, we are now regularly putting the Hubbard chicks outside. Today's forecast had Roscommon up to 17 to 19 degrees in the sunshine, so the babies were outside for most of the day, but the night time temps were due to drop down towards 6, so they are not yet staying out overnight. You can see from the picture that their wings are well feathered and the new paint brush feathers 'in pin' are coming on their legs, chests and around their vents (bums!).
Hubbard Chick at 14 days.
It will not be long before we declare them 'fully feathered' and able to spend warmer nights out in the 'hutch'.

Monday 12 May 2014

Black Feather's Day 31.

Hunting for Guinea Fowl eggs. 
Monday the 12th May and day 31 for the Black Feather goose incubation, so we are hovering around all expectantly and keep poking our noses into the girl's private bedroom to see if we can see or hear any evidence of fluffy gosling heads poking up from between the sitter's pristine white feathers. If solid and consistent sitting is anything to go by then Black Feather should be an A1 brooder - she has stuck to the job with first rate professionalism for the whole period, only coming off the eggs for her 'allowed' 20-30 minutes each day to eat, bathe in the big pond and presumably to do her toilet. As I type this, though, at 14:30 on the first likely day we have no movement so far, but that would be normal. These things go at their own pace and the poultry-man must go by the 'watched pot never boils' school of patience.

Guinea Fowl nest with 16 eggs
Sadly, we have a tragic event to include today, the 'loss' of our Guinea Fowl cock-bird Henry, he of the frequent hanging about in the lane and on the verge  keeping watch while the hen bird (Min) laid her daily egg in the bushes. My top photo shows Liz at the nest site which we eventually found. It was with a grim inevitability that we found Henry's sorry, flattened body on the tarmac on Friday afternoon. We quickly checked that Min was 'home' and realised that we might have the same noisy grieving process from Min as we have recently described for the rescue Guinea 'Blondie'. This is a definite failure on our part but would be part of keeping your birds completely free range. We could only have prevented it by caging the Guineas in some kind of tall-sided aviary and that is not how we do things here - we would sooner not keep birds, but it is still an unhappy 'first' for us a bird killed on the road.

Guinea Fowl eggs.
Mercifully (for us and for her!) Min does not seem to be suffering the loss as much as Blondie did hers, so we are not getting long periods of loud, strident, carrying, heart-rending, 'Buckwheat buckwheat' calls; we just get a short burst morning and another in the evening. We put this down to the Guineas having been well integrated into our flock as a whole, so Min is nothing like as lonely as Blondie and in between the calling she hangs out with the hens moving about with them, feeding, sheltering from showers and so on. Also Mercifully, she has completely given up on the nest across the lane and does not go out of the gate any more, not even to look for Henry. This observation had Mentor Anne asking "so who was leading who astray, then?"

Setting the Guinea eggs in the incubator.
We decided that we might as well gather up the eggs from Min's possible nest and see if we might hatch any; we'd keep Henry's DNA going even if we'd lost Henry himself. A quick rummage through the hedge had Liz discovering Min's little stash among the ground elder and snowberry close by the abandoned cottage opposite us; 16 eggs down in a neat mossy bowl. Charlotte of the mini-horses has leant us her incubator for the 28 days and the eggs are now sitting in this being turned twice a day.

Anne and Simon have managed to hatch Guinea eggs before but under a broody bantam, they are notoriously hard-shelled and you can have problems at the end with the little 'keets' unable to escape the eggs. G-Day 28 will be Friday 6th June, the day after, all being well, we collect our pigs. I have to smile. We were never going to get into all this - hand rearing, brooder boxes, Infra Red lights, incubators. We were just going to keep a few hens for the eggs, and if anyone went broody than that was a bonus. Now we suddenly have an incubator set, the Hubbards in their brood box* and a feeling that this poultry 'thang' has crept up on us and is taking over!

Scrubbed up for M's Communion 'do'
Back on the 'humans' though for our main event yesterday, a visit down to the Silverwoods for the First Holy Communion of No. 2 nephew, M who is now 8. For my non-Irish readers, this is major Rite of Passage - almost all Irish school children will have their First Holy Communion aged around 8 and then, still organised by the school, their Confirmation at age around 12. The event becomes a big Family Event with all the relations and friends gathering, suited and booted, new outfits, bouncy castles, outings and restaurant meals. Lately, this being modern 'austerity' Ireland, there has been some controversy around the amount of money being spent on these 'do's (the little girls' dresses can be as elabourate and expensive as wedding dresses and some families go a bit mad with stretched limos hired to get to the church and so on). There are questions asked about why this is still part of school life (Despite appearances to the contrary the Catholic church is NOT an 'established' church in Ireland, there is officially NO established church) and why there are even Government grants available to help you pay for the bouncy castle and the dress if you if you have fallen on hard times, lest your child feel excluded from the bulk of society.

Family catering. Liz is on the flapjack job.
I have to quickly say here that the Silverwoods do no such excessive thing, there are no stretched limos prowling their streets and they do not avail themselves of government aid but Mr S. says it is still "a bit like paying for a wedding" - they do have to budget for it. Be all that as it may, it was a lovely day for everyone and we did little M proud, He looked superbly dapper and handsome in his light sandstone linen suit, the church service was dignified and genuine (this class of 20-odd boys slotted in to a normal 12 o'clock Mass well attended by the normal parishioners). We adjourned to a small local hall for the 'party' which had a hot food caterer but baking done by family and friends, there was a puppet show and magician for the little ones and a bit of a 'disco' with no end of balloons flying about to burn off some party calories. Some of the grown ups sneaked off into the kitchen area and set up a laptop to watch the Liverpool game, this being the final day of the footie season and crucial to decide whether the Silverwoods' beloved 'Pool' might pip Man City to top spot in the Premiership. (No such luck). Thank you all the Silverwoods for inviting us down. It was a pleasure to be part of it all and we thoroughly enjoyed the day and the superb spread of food. Thank you, too, Charlotte, for 'dog-sitting' to give us a bit of extra time at the event.

Sheep's Liver and garlic about to become paté
Probably enough for this one. Just a quick Kitchen note - Liz gave a try to a recipe idea you may not have thought of. Liver paté with whiskey is common enough but we have a bottle of home made Cassis knocking about. This makes for an interesting paté with a novel sweet twang. Beautiful on your toast or on a bagel. Signing off now, must go check on that Black Feather goose again. I will let you know as soon as we have news.

12 day old Hubbards get to walk on the grass. 
*These guys actually had a little look at the outside world today as we had some lovely warm sunshine. We snuck them down in the cat basket and let them have a scratch of the good green grass and a little sun on their backs. They are well feathered on the wings but still only 12 days old, though, so not really allowed out yet and we rounded them all back up to their box before they got a chance to get cold.