Monday 30 June 2014

Make Do and Mend

Another lovely day in our current run of warm ones, brings us to the end of June and day 28 for the Guinea Fowl keets. They are thriving and seem a very happy little group despite our decision that these would never get to go free-range. They are in a rabbit run at present but we are creating them an aviary between the 'Primrose Path' and the East Field. It will be roughly 30 feet long and a 6 foot by 6 foot rectangular 'tube'. You can see from the picture that they are getting their long necked, slightly stooped, adult shape but have so far not shown any sign of losing feathers from the parts of their face which will be bald and 'splashed' with vivid white and there are no signs of the bright red 'chilli pepper' wattles which their mother (Min the Hin!) has. They have a high, piping version of the adult 'buck-wheat buck-wheat' call and amuse us every evening with a joint chorus at bedtime. We have no idea what they are discussing (with hens it is traditionally meant to be Danish politics!). They group together and drift slowly towards the pop-hole calling continuously. Bizarre birds!

Also growing fast are the pigs, now 10 days off their 3-months birthday. They are well used to us by now and well familiarised with what time meals should be - if they see either of us walking about when they think they are due one, they are up at the fence, grunting and then starting to squeal to get our attention. I tried to get a pic today of their lying-on-your-back-getting-your-tummy-tickled thing but they were too interested in the food and too playful for lying down. Of course, after supper they strolled out into the grass by the orchard and stretched out in the sun, bellies exposed to the warmth, catching the rays - if only I'd have taken the camera.

Rolo sleeping in the strawberry patch.
We did our weekly bee-inspection today. I was hoping that the colony would have expanded outwards from the original 6 'nucleus' frames across the remaining 6 of the brood box (3 either way) but we could not see sign of this. Maybe the frames were not all full, and the brood in them very young. Still, there is plenty of activity each day and we've seen plenty of pollen brought back to the hive (that is the protein to build little bee-larva bodies, so it is a sign that your queen is laying eggs each day). We will just have to be patient. We put the 'super' on anyway because we'd taken it down there with us. For those who know about these things we are not yet using the Queen excluder, so we are running the so called "Brood and a half" system. If the bees fill this, we will give them the 2nd super over the excluder, so that the top super will be just for honey. Mrs S (and little niece R) will be delighted to know that we used the smoker today properly and the bees were calm and relaxed - only a hundred or so came out to repel boarders - we were all done in about 10 minutes. Nobody got stung.

Meanwhile, Liz has diversified from the pure knitting into a bit of seamstress-ing. She is enjoying remembering her needlework classes from very young school days (so young that when you had a hem to make on a napkin, you had to get Mum to iron the creases into the hems). She has bought herself a very full kit of cottons, threads, needles, elastic and measuring tape as well as some nice fabrics. All the old saggy PJ's are suddenly as waist-hugging as new, many clothing items have been repaired for the little rips and tears from the barbed wire and I have seen an excellent fringe benefit in the work-shirt department.

Rhubarb and Ginger Jam
When I was working in the UK I had amassed quite a collection of reasonable quality cotton shirts (Marks and Sparks was the 'tailor' of choice!) and for a lot of these, the only thing which went wrong was that the collars would go threadbare at the neck crease. Those would get 'audited out' and join the rag-bag. Not any more. Liz has found that they can be very neatly and professionally de-collared and go back into service over here where no-one is making rules about wearing a tie. I also have quite a few more 'posh' shirts for going out in - we bought Jaeger and Louis Copeland and neither of these got used for work or saw much use, so I am very much the snappy dressed pig-wrangler when I feel like it. It's not all 'grunge'. We are not quite 'Make do and mend' with the wartime ends-to-middle bed sheet fixes, but we do feel a bit green and recycling-orientated. Usefully, my beekeeper suit also got elastic thumb-loops on its sleeves today - they keep the sleeves pulled down nice and tight into the long gauntlet gloves. No gaps for the stinging marauders.

Snake's head fritillary seed pod
So that's about it for June 2014. My final picture is of the snake's head fritillary seed pods now ripe and opening. These plants flowered back in Mid April, so you can immediately see why they can not survive in the wild in any commercially used grassland - grass in these parts is either grazed down hard by cattle, or it is zizzed off very short by the silage-mowers once in May/June and then again 10 or so weeks later. Plants like this simply do not have the time to flower, set seed and then ripen and shed it as they would have done in the more traditional July/August cut hay making regimes. In fact the silage boys got lucky this year and a lot of them saw good weather forecasts and left the grass which had been cut for silage on the ground, shook it through a couple of times with the hay-tedder and then baled it as hay. A lot of old, little-used equipment was getting greased up and dusted off. Fair play to them - make hay while the sun shines.

Friday 27 June 2014

Your Ideal Trailer

Trailers? Not any subject I'd have been that interested in the 'old' working life, but regular readers will know that we brought one over with us, towed behind the 2CV. This was a generous offer from my Kentish 2CV-Fixer, 2CV-Llew whose real job before he semi-retired was building boat trailers, yacht-club slip-ways, school fire escapes and so on. He reckoned that we could use one around the farm and the 2CV always had a tow bar, it just needed the electrics wiring up. He charged only £250 - I now know how generous this was as this post will explain.

The 'Lottery Winner' ideal trailer from Nugent.
The trailer was brilliant and proved extremely useful for moving wood, scaffold boards, hay and straw, feed sacks as well as being used as a super-size wheel barrow on hedge trimming jobs. However, it is no good for moving livestock, so every time we needed to collect lambs or pigs or to deliver them on their final journey, we'd quickly be beholden to, and reliant upon someone else with a stock trailer. A stock trailer became one of the top items on our shopping list. We also lost the use of the 2CV and had to have a tow bar fitted to the Fiat.

Trailer converted by K-Dub. Grey primer here.
Stupidly, spoiled by Llew's price, I dreamed I might find a good second hand one for €4-500 or so and we started looking locally and on the internet, and even called by hopefully to a couple of nearby farm equipment dealers. Here, my illusions were firmly shattered - we picked up a glossy Nugent brochure and found the perfect trailer - small enough at 6' by 4' to tow behind the (small) Fiat, single axle, tall enough for sheep and pigs but no need for it to be tall enough for cattle and horses, a loading ramp at the rear rather than the slot-in guillotine back-board I had on the first trailer. Such trailers from Nugent START at €1100 as just the flat bed, headboard, draw bar and axle - useful items like sides, a ramp, a roof, spare wheel and so on are 'Optional extras' which rocket the cost up to €1600. We put the Nugent brochure back down - that trailer is now consigned to the 'when we win the lotto' list. Unfortunately the local farmers and trailer owners are well aware of these prices and know the value of their second hand trailers, so that 2nd hand ones we were finding were all up in the €500 to €1100 price range.

Very smart in a coat of 'Killila Bay' Blue gloss
Then we got lucky. I had volunteered to help our friends Charlotte and Carolyn down the road to move a big heap of horse muck and, it turns out, man-of-the-house K-Dub is not only a carpenter but also a dab hand with the welder. He also hates doing garden jobs and horse muck-moving, so volunteered that if I would do the muck, he'd adapt my existing trailer into a stock trailer. Done! He has built a removable top which telescopes into slots added to the trailer walls. He has replaced my dodgy floor with decking planks and has given me a loading ramp. That is removable too. The new 'top' is the same 6 by 4 size as the original trailer, so for a roof, I can use my original 'tilt' made for the trailer by a sail-maker friend of Llew's. I have the trailer back and very smart it looks. I have given the new bare metal a coat of primer and a coat of 'Killila Bay' blue gloss. I just need to find the two reflective triangles we are sure we have somewhere, and we are done.

Sitting in the sun podding broad beans. 
I have no idea how blue Killila Bay really is - it is only a an hour away on the North Mayo coast but we've never been. I was amused by the fact that the trailer also includes some design features from Carolyn of the 'Jelly Bean Designs', maker of Em-J's funky handbag. She suggested that the grooves on the decking boards run longways for ease of sweeping out the trailer floor, but cross-wise on the ramp for extra grip on little piggy feet. I wonder if she'd give me a 'Jelly Bean Designs' logo sticker for my trailer and start a whole new range outside of bags and Christmas decs?

Some cheap old dwarf lily bulbs doing brilliantly.
Meanwhile, back at base we are well into Summer and salad production. I have finally, after several abortive years where I failed to sow or had rows of crop wiped out by the wet or the chickens, got the measure of 'successional planting' for my radishes and lettuces, so Liz has great bowlfuls to go at when she needs them, be they mixed-leaf or an old 'Brown Envelope' variety "Little Leprechaun". I have had a good year on the autumn-planted broad beans and a couple of globe artichoke plants have now come through winter as HUGE fat plants which are starting to push out the chokes we love. We have pak-choi to use in salad or stir fry. The redcurrants are almost 'there'.

Phacelia tanecetifolia planted for the honey bees; so far
we've only seen the bumbles on it.
We've been busy too in the 'pretty' bits. We have finally weeded all across the big raised bed (by the car port) and have found loads of space to put in new stuff. All the roses are going like a storm, especially the pink 'The Lover' and the Red 'Dublin Bay' in the Kitchen Garden. The pigs are thriving - they grow so fast!. The 2 youngest goslings thrive too, starting to go all long-necked and goose shaped, while their big brother 'George Junior' is quickly turning into a half-scale grown-up goose as he starts to feather up. Not a sign of wry-tail, so that was presumably a gander- or in-breeding problem.

Redcurrants nearly ready.
The bees are very active, we see a lot of coming and going but we are steeling ourselves to NOT FUSS THEM. Apparently some keen new bee keepers can't keep away and break open their hive every other day 'just to check' and the bees spend all day 'repairing the damage', re-sealing the cracks with propolis, which is to no-one's benefit. The Two Marys were very firm telling us to leave them be and restrict ourselves to weekly inspections. We have decided to do ours on Monday evenings.

Ready when you are, bees. A 'super' (Honey store) box
full of new frames.
This weeks should be a fairly quick and non-disruptive one, anyway. We just need to crack the crown board off, see if the colony is running out of space, and (if so) add the new 'super' (Honey store box) and then re-assemble and retreat. Although we are through May/June and the main swarming season, a colony can still swarm if it runs out of space, so you are advised to keep an eye and generate the extra space if they look like they are bursting at the seams. You do this by adding 'supers' (normally 3-4 but can be as silly as 10!). It is the top supers you 'steal' later in the year when you want to harvest your honey. The bee colony will need 'only' 15-30 kg of honey to get through the winter - about 2 full 'supers'. Anything else you can theoretically take without having to provide supplementary food (sugar syrup or icing 'fondant') to help them through. I have started to see 'our bees' out in the lane, a km from here, when I am walking the dogs and surveying bumble bees. There is a box on the survey form for 'Apis mellifera' - the honey bee. Tick!

Guinea fowl egg
Finally, Min the widowed Guinea fowl has come back into lay running with the hens and occasionally surprises us with an egg in one of the hen nest boxes. Her keets are also thriving in their rabbit run on the front lawn and look very much the young Guinea Fowl now rather than fluffy chicks.

Monday 23 June 2014

Radio Silence

4 'children' in a car.
Regular readers may have been wondering where we have gone - we have been in 'radio silence' due to having had visitors. It is almost a household policy that the internet is turned off so that we can concentrate on our guests (and them on us), and enjoy the fresh air, peace and countryside away from the glut of modern hi-tech "comms" devices. One visitor in particular, Mr Silverwood, was enjoying the extremely rare chance to go on holiday WITHOUT having to take his works laptop and to be on call. His company (used to be mine also) runs a very lean staffing set up and just expects you to be available 24/7 but had, on this occasion (his daughter's 16th birthday) reluctantly agreed to bring a bloke over from the UK to cover Mr S's role, so he was genuinely free.

2CV as logging tow truck.
So, yes, the Silverwoods descended, coming to us via taking Em-J out for a Birthday lunch; it's a fair old drive - 2 and a half hours from their place to Connemara and then 2 more hours Connemara to here to stay for 3 nights till they could return this (Monday) morning to collect her and take her home. The three nights give Liz the chance (which she LOVES), to be catering and hostessing for 7 and also meant we could include them all, more by luck than judgement, in some nicely geared 'entertainments'. Today, Monday, is the one official day when you can legally have a bonfire, in County Roscommon (it's all based around traditional celebration of the Summer Solstice and St John's Eve (23rd June into the 24th). This gets a bit mangled into "the weekend nearest" and we could see yesterday from the numerous plumes of smoke rising across our view North, that the 22nd was 'near enough'.

We had all around the 'farm' piles of cut branches left over from the logging, we have a perfectly good bonfire site in the middle of our East Field, we have a 2CV which has a roll back roof and seats that children can stand up on to look out of the roof, and we had 3 enthusiastic children keen to play and assorted adults who wanted to do something 'physical but brainless' as the perfect antidote to endless computer 'work'. A powerful combination! With grown ups assembling 'bunches' of branches and lashing them to the car's tow-hook, and more adults ensuring that mini-horses did not sneak out of the field while the 2CV and woodwork sneaked in, in a couple of hours we had all the wood gathered around the fire site. Horses and fire do not mix, we are told, so Charlotte and Carolyn rescued the horses to do a bit of lawn mowing back home while we 'played'.

Bee colony 'nucleus'
Meanwhile, I had received the long awaited email from the Two Marys to say that our 'nuke' of bees was ready for collection. Mrs Silverwood is as fascinated by bees as we are and quickly put in a bid that she and Mr S would drive me out to Drumshanbo to collect the bees. and Liz agreed to stay home and 'mind the smalls'. All we could do that night (Friday) was to bring them gently home and place the 'nuke' in the final hive position. It had to be left for 48 hours to settle down and to allow the bees, waking up on Saturday morning, to re-orientate themselves to the unfamiliar surroundings. We had to collect the 'nuke' at after 21:30 so that the bees would have gone to bed in Drumshanbo (and could be shut down) - we were positioning them in our place at more like half eleven at night, which is dusk here at this time of year!

Re-hiving the nuke frames
The bees then needed moving from the nuke to the proper hive on the Sunday and once again Mrs S volunteered to help, with Liz stepping aside. This went (sort of) OK but in our beginner-ish fumblings and non-use of the smoker we sent angry bees zooming off in all directions and unfortunately managed to get 2 members of our audience stung even though they were standing at quite a distance, Liz and our youngest niece, R. Useful lessons learned there! I am still un-stung, but it can only be a matter of time. Even the experts get stung on a regular basis.

And so to bonfire night. We snuck ours in a bit early because the children had helped us build the fire, and would be gone at 08:00 on the morning of the 'proper day'. We lit the fire at about 7 pm on the Sunday (by which time, as I said, there were plumes of smoke all over our northern horizon and a plume of thick black smoke in our NW, we guess from the 'pub one' which happens at the crossroads in Kilmovee. Mrs S had bought chocolate digestives and marsh mallows (the kids here all grow up on something called 'smores' which are melted marshmallow squished between 2 biscuits. I had never heard of it. Liz thinks it might be a Girl-Guide campfire thing)

The fire here was made up of the long-since-dried out 'sneddings' (side branches) of black spruce and ash, so it burned fierce, hot and fast, driving us back but also keeping the mozzies and gnats at bay. When it calmed down a bit we threw in potatoes covered in tin foil and eventually a saucepan of beans, planning to have ourselves a picnic with coleslaw, but as we gathered the chairs, food and blankets around the dying embers, so too, the little biting horrors gathered in a huge cloud and soon had us gathering up our stuff and retreating indoors. Liz and Mrs S in particular seem to be very tasty to the local brand of midges and gnats - it must be in the family scent, CO2, skin and blood; I get driven crazy by them crawling over my scalp but I do not seem to get bitten.

Mrs S and Pirate the cat.
The cat 'Pirate' gets a stage closer to our being able to handle him/her and to get the poor thing to the vet. Mrs S made it her mission on this 'holiday' to try a bit of 'cat whispering', going out to meet him (I'm going with 'him' till proved wrong), whistling him up, calling him and then tempting him in with plates of food. He came up really close and later was confident enough to stay at his bowl while both niece R, and then I was able to pet him. He is not at all well, poor thing,

His eyes and ears are badly crusty and infected, he is very thin and when you stroke him you can feel lumps and scabs through the fur. His right eye, in particular, seems sunken and may be useless. Still, we are persisting with him. We are determined to get him to the stage where we can capture him into the cat basket and get vet Aoife to have a good look at him to see what he needs. Meanwhile, we may try to get some 'Spot On' anti-flea meds onto him.

Dublin Bay rose doing its thing.
So, now it is Monday morning and the guests are gone. We love them all madly and we love having them but we also love the peace and quiet which descends as they depart. Safe home you Silverwoods, and safe journey to Carraroe to collect Em-J and her friend Mohammed. We enjoyed our day of recovering, stripping beds, moving the futon back to the caravan, washing up, ironing (Liz) and mucking out geese (Me). Sorry this blog has been a bit of a long one, but we'll be back to normal now.

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Scorched Earth

One plant spared on this spraying exercise!
In these parts, the lay-by in front of your house or, if you have no front garden, the hard standing between your house front and the lane or public road, is referred to as 'your street'. Your street is very much part of the local culture of 'house keeping' and keeping it tidy is a big thing round here. The thing is to have NO WEEDS or, as far as we can see, no other sign of life apart from the farm dog.

Even a random gateway gets a dose.
Sadly the standard way to achieve this, at least among the older folks, is to spray it vigorously with some kind of broad spectrum herbicide. This might be a contact killer like Paraquat, or a systemic one like 'Round-Up' (Glyphosphate) but the effect is the same - great stripes of straw-coloured death in the verges just when your eyes are accustomed to the peaceful greens. They glare in the sun and stick out like a sore thumb. We find them ugly and offensive; we hate the 'scorched earth' effect and we weep (well, OK, maybe not quite) for the flora and fauna wiped out in the interests of "tidiness". Certainly we worry about the amount of chemical be lashed around.

Both sides of the road, 'napalmed' 
Some of these 'offenders' do both sides of the road and any nearby farm gateways, as well as the 'streets' outside any abandoned farm buildings which they presumably own and feel that they also need to keep tidy. They seem to see nothing wrong in this, so it is a regular feature of a drive down any of the lanes here. Our good friend John Deere Bob does it, and even expressed concern at our drive full of daisies and suggested that we need to spray it off. Our protests about "trying to be organic" and "not using any sprays here" just brought a bemused and baffled expression to his face - we are obviously a bit new and silly and inexperienced and have not yet found the true path to tidiness. You could no more talk him out of it than teach him to fly to the moon. I also have to watch where I am collecting my rabbit-treats. It has been my habit on dog walks to gather a handful of dandelion leaves and red clover stems as a treat for Goldie and the babies. I now have to avoid streets, farm gateways and abandoned buildings in case they have been sprayed recently, lest I bring back glyphosphate to my animals.

We are back to 3 goslings, these two new ones are from the
2nd batch, under 'Smudge'
There is a gleam of hope in all this despair. Plenty of the younger land owners do their tidying with powerful 'strimmers'; so even though the foliage and flowers get it, the ground stays green and is not coated with nasty chemicals. We just scythe our bit down to maintain the 'splay' so that you can see cars coming when you are nosing out of our gate. We have no 'street' to worry about - our front hedge is right on the lane.

Blue skies and Foxgloves
I suppose I should put in a quick comment on my "trying to be organic" line above. We currently think of ourselves as that dubious non-status "Nearly Organic" and I can hear the justified howls of protest from the truer exponents of the regime. The real organic producers have to jump through hoops and keep watertight audit trails on all their inputs (feed bag labels, receipts etc) and outputs (lists of where all their chicken poo goes, for example) in order to earn the certification, so quite rightly, they will guard the status jealously. The fact that we use no chemicals here but do NOT feed purely organic feed (I use standard commercial pig ration, feed wheat, lamb 'crunch', layers pellets, chick crumb and milled barley for example) would count for little in the eyes of the certification bodies. I claim to be 'nearly organic' but not too loudly within earshot of, for example Mentor Anne and Simon. They have been there, done that and bear the scars and trauma.

Keet at 15 days.
So, what else is happening? We are currently enjoying a proper heat-wave, with the Irish midlands getting temperatures of 28 degrees C, the forecasters issuing 'heat warnings' and my poultry discussion forum carrying reminders to keepers to provide extra water and keep it fresh and topped up. We have sheeted over the rabbits and the guinea fowl keets to provide shade, and we have taken to getting up early and doing all our hard physical gardening by about 11 am.

Eating outside in the hot evenings.
The B-team broody goose, 'Smudge' has hatched another gosling, so that we now have 3 including the big strapping 'George Junior'. She has one more egg left in this dysfunctional group, so she tends to focus on that and hand over the goslings to Black Feather, George and now also G-J to rear. He parades them around like a big brother should, teaching them where to drink and how to graze the best grass. The little silver keet who went all wobbly on us, survived a couple more days under 'intensive care' but we found him on his back, eyes closed, last night, so we put him out of his misery. The remaining ten are thriving.

The pigs are now much more used to me and love to have their necks and backs scratched while they are eating. Their bellies too, when they have done in the trough. If I stop I get nudges in the calves by little piggy noses the same as you would from a dog - "Oy, I was enjoying that! Why did you stop?"

With all the jobs done, we've been able to finally unfurl the sun-parasol on the 'terrace' table and to sit in the shade for some of the afternoon and even to eat a few meals outside. It's nice that these can be light and salad-y warm weather food and we are able to supplement the commercial stuff with our own lettuce, radishes, salad potatoes (Sharp's Express) and broad beans. We are looking forward to hosting the Silverwoods for a few nights. We were hoping we'd have bees by now but sadly still no word from the Two Marys, so the Silverwoods will just have to content themselves with the keets, goslings and piggies.

Sunday 15 June 2014

Springing the Niece

As 'spoilered' in my previous post, today we head for the 'Ghaeltacht' in Connemara to rescue niece Em-J from her 3 weeks of intensive Irish Language training, for a brief respite, picnic on the coast and a chance to talk to English speaking family for a couple of hours. My Irish readers will know all this, but for the benefit of the Brits, the Ghaeltacht (pronounce, roughly, "Gale-Toch-t") areas are the areas of Ireland where Irish is still the main language used and the vernacular used indoors. The first 'H' seems to be optional.

Em-J's house for 3 weeks. What a view!
The internet has it that, "The term ‘Gaeltacht’ is used to denote those areas in Ireland where the Irish language is, or was until the recent past, the main spoken language of a substantial number of the local population. The Gaeltacht areas are defined by Government order and every successive government has recognised the need for specific measures, structures and funding to ensure the maintenance of these communities.

The existence of areas where Irish lives as a community language is an important cornerstone in the building of a bilingual society in Ireland, and it provides an environment where the language can evolve naturally in a modern setting."

Picnic on the rocks.
Part of the 'specific measures, structures and funding' are about support for the tourist industry to keep the cash flowing in (or these areas would depopulate and 'die') but also to provide many hundreds of language learning 'placements' where school students from all around the country can come and immerse themselves in the language for 3 weeks and bone up their Irish language skills, which is what Em-J is currently at. She is loving it. She has got in with a gang in a shared room in a house who are winning good Brownie points with the host-lady by keeping their room tidy. There are a couple of Irish language jokes around this with which she was regaling us. The hostesses who take in the students are known as "Bean an Tí" which is pronounced 'ban on tea', hence the joke, "Why do they all drink coffee in the Ghaeltacht?" - Because there's a Bean an Tí (how we laughed!). The rooms in houses are given room names - Room A, B. C and D etc. Em-J and her chums are in Room C. "Seomra C" (say it Shome-ra-See). Not the 'Living Room', you understand , The Irish for Living room is "Seomra Suigh" (pronounced the same). I guess you had to be there?

Em-J with the new bag.
We also scored major Uncle-and-Auntie points by turning up with a 16th Birthday present in the form of a unique, cool and funky hand-made bag. This from the stable of Carolyn of the mini horses who, as well as being same, is also the artistic mind and superbly skilled hands behind the internet company "Jelly Bean Design", makers of bags, one-off teddy bears, Christmas dec's and a host of stuff decorated with multi-coloured buttons. Carolyn was once (as well as being a fully qualified Royal Navy engineer (served on Ark Royal etc)) a demonstrator and trainer on sewing machines and now uses those skills to turn out horse-tack and these bags to a very high standard. Well, we scored a hit with Em-J who pronounced the bag really cool and 'savage' and I think Carolyn's status has now risen to the coolest grown-up in Em-J's circle. I should also say that the bag was made from a standing start in less than a day - we only asked for it yesterday dinnertime, and it was there, fully formed, for us to collect at 9 am today. Thank you so, so much, Carolyn.

So, other than the picnic, we used the time to pootle around in the car just letting the road take us to unknown and interesting places. We stopped to look at Em-J's house; we were not strictly speaking supposed to as the students are not meant to be at the houses during 'school hours' but , you know, silly old Uncles, blundering around in the bliss of ignorance! I was keeping an eye out for the trad sailing work-boats 'Galway Hookers' but there were none to be seen except on this pub name and in stone in someone's wall. It's a good 'icon' and they use it everywhere.

Galway Hooker created in stone in this wall.
Our route to and from had taken us through one of our favourite bits of Ireland, across West to Cong (location for most of John Wayne's "The Quiet Man" movie so crawling with American tourists!), on to Maum past Lough Corrib (where Liz unfortunately tangled with a gazillion lycra-clad racing cyclists on a charity ride pedaling along as they do in groups of 30 or so, 4 abreast at 25 mph oblivious of the queue of cars building up behind. The language was getting a bit blue in our car).

Em-J and Liz
On the way back we came across an old boy in the middle of nowhere hitching a lift. There is little or no public transport in these parts so hitching lives on as a method where it has pretty much died out (20-30 years ago!) in the UK. Not only was he an Irish speaker but he was also "with drink taken", so he slurred his words and lolled about. Liz had enough Irish to ascertain that he wanted dropping to a village 10 km away and on our route, so we were OK with that, but we were happy to get him back out of the car where he managed in very halting, accented English "Thank You Very Much" looking all delighted with himself at having used some English. I hope he got home OK, the aul' fella.

A rock-pool near to our picnic site. 
And so, home to a flurry of livestock checks and jobs, relieving dogs, feeding everyone else. It seems that the Goose Gods have given us a 2nd chance. You'll recall I accidentally allowed the dogs to kill the 2nd gosling "Very Junior", well today we have a 3rd hatched out ("Extremely Junior?" ) who looks very very tiny alongside the now strapping George Junior. To balance this good news we have had one of our guinea fowl keets go a bit wobbly - one of the silver ones was all moopy tonight, lying limply on the 'bedroom' floor and getting kicked around and walked over by his 10 active clutch mates. We have rescued him to back under the IR lamp and tried a little water and olive oil. Up to now he's still with us, but we don't hold out much hope for the morning. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Telling Them Apart

Mapp delicately samples a small wedge of apple.
When our pigs arrived, apart from being totally unfamiliar (our first ever pigs), they seemed as alike as two peas in a pod. We wondered whether we would ever tell them apart. Even the ear tag numbers (371 and 372) are not visible from the front, so are no use when a piglet is nervously checking you out face to face. 9 days on we are starting to get to know them better and they are getting a bit used to us. I spotted that although Mapp (371) has a full 'pelt' of bristles across her shoulders, her sister (Lucia (372) has a bit of a threadbare patch between her shoulder blades.

Sometimes all you can see is two ginger backs
among the buttercups and grass!
Once separated, we could start to see differences in their little personalities, especially as they started to come up and eat food near to us. They are currently on a commercial pig-ration ("pig nuts") which they quickly recognised as edible, and we are introducing new things to try them out; so far mainly apple and tomato. Banana, carrot and pear were all declined.  We started with them sharing a bowl but they started to squabble over food, so we've moved up to separate bowls.

'Greens' for the keets - chopped grass and cucumber.
Mapp seems to love her fruit and piles in to that first, leaving the pig nuts till she does not have a scrap of apple or tomato left. Lucia, in total contrast, concentrates on the nuts and leaves the fruit till last. If I'd had my camera with me this morning I'd have taken a clear picture of this - ten minutes in you could see the shiny, nut-free bottom of Lucia's bowl and 8 intact wedges of fruit, while Mapps had no fruit and a complete layer of pig nuts. Sometimes, Mapp will suss that Lucia may have fruit left and abandons her 'ration' to try to a sneaky bit of piracy but Lucia, who is possibly slightly 'alpha' will usually butt her away. She's not that bright and sometimes will grab the one slice of apple and dart away as if saying "No! It's MINE!" leaving the bowl, of course, completely undefended. Mapp is then in there like Flynn!.

The roses are doing well in Liz's "Rose Walk".
As I said, they are slowly getting more used to us. I sat in there on the grass for a while yesterday and one of them came right up and butted my shoe, but then sprang away nervously. I have not yet got to being able scratch their ears and backs yet. Patience is the thing, obviously. We are, as I said, only 9 days in and these are still very small and nervous babies. They have met the dogs through the orchard fence and were happy to graze 6-8 feet away from the 3 whimpering, excited, bouncing, tail-wagging, would-be-hunters. They seemed unconcerned, but were not taking any chances with closeness.

They got me again - one gooseberry bush defoliated by
gooseberry saw-fly larvae. 2 others untouched.
No such differentiation is possible between the Hubbard youngsters, 'poults' now rather than 'chicks'. They are all white and fully feathered. The only differences are that 3 or 4 of them are developing the bigger, redder wattles that make us think 'rooster' rather then 'hen' and we have seen pairs of them squaring up to one another. They are on day 45 today and all growing well. Our friend Simon tells me that he has found the same as us, they seem to be a far healthier group this year than last, as if some work has been done to improve the strain. We had no lameness this year and the legs seem sounder all round. I am sure they are gaining weight faster too, but I did not take any detailed records last year. These birds are hand-reared. Last years were under our 'clocker' Broody Betty. Hen or 'roo' does not actually matter this year, they all face the same fate come July or August.

Does Min 'know' these are her babies? She is quite often
hanging around, pacing up and down and peering in.
In the guinea fowl keets we have 3 distinct colour types and one poor little soul who is very easy to tell apart with his/her unfortunate scrunched up toes. My experts on the web forum tell me that our hen bird 'Min' would be called 'Lavender' for the purple tint in her cape feathers. Henry was "Pied", with his white chest and underside, so the babies, still in chick-fluff and just starting to feather up are either fully brown and stripey (They will be the Lavenders), brown-stripey with white chests and neck-fronts (Pied) or fully silver-grey. The latter (2) will presumably come out white like our brief resident "Blondie".

Last year's lambs continue to yield well -this huge leg of
'16A' - a big lad, fondly remembered!
In the lovely sunny weather we have been letting them out to feel the grass under foot and the sun on their backs and on one warm night, even to let them sleep outside, shut into the 'bedroom' bit of the rabbit run. On cooler rainy days we rescue them to indoors, the crate and the Infra Red light, all be it the latter is so far up above them it must feel like a distant sun! They are doing well and we are very pleased with them. They have a very amusing way of zooming up and down the run, flapping their tiny wings and managing short flights 3-4 inches above the grass. I need to build them their big aviary. Apart from anything else we will need the rabbit run for Goldie's "kits" - 5 weeks old now and soon needing to be taken off Mum as she stops lactation.

Pulmonaria (lungwort)
Soon something a bit different. We are off to 'spring' niece Em-J from her 3 week session in the Irish speaking Connemara, just to take her out for a picnic. She could not have chosen a more remote bit of Ireland if she'd tried - she is in Baile Lar, way down in the bottom left hand corner of Galway, on a headland surrounded by Atlantic.

Well done Lidl! One of my favourite
'foreign' beers is on special offer!
I am secretly hoping that it is the kind of Atlantic that might have the trad wooden sailing work-boats 'Galway Hookers' nipping about but whatever, we will surely enjoy the time with Em-J and the beautiful scenery. More on that when we're done and back.