Friday 11 July 2014

Wheel Tappers and Shunters

Cylindrical "Sausage" turf
Way, way back when I was a student (70's?) there was a rather silly variety show on TV known as the "Wheel Tappers' and Shunters' Social Club" about which I can remember very little, but the name, which I found intriguing. It derives from the fact that in railway engineering there was a task to check whether the steel wheels of rolling stock (carriages, railway trucks etc) might be cracked and this was done by whacking each wheel with a hammer and listening to the ring, or otherwise. Sound wheels rang, cracked ones answered the whack with a dull 'clonk'.

Achillea millefolium (a Yarrow cultivar)
I only mention this because we had 'The Man from ESB' (Our electrical supply company) all around the property and surrounding fields this week testing the "telegraph poles" for soundness in exactly the same way. Walk round whacking them high and low with a hammer and listen (I presume knowledge-ably and skillfully) to the noise. If a pole proved to be suspect, then phase 2 of the process involved hammering a 6 inch nail into the wood and seeing how easily it sunk in. We got chatting to him and he proved to be a fascinating bloke, brilliantly chatty and a mine of local lore to listen to.

One of two hugely spreading "Orion" geraniums
We have a pole on this property which has been concerning us because it is (now) well buried in the earth bank and surrounded by elder trunks and branches as well as having our previously mentioned buried clamp of 'sausage' turfs at the base. We wondered whether the burying of the first 5 feet or so of the pole would have given it damp-rot and also then whether our works to unearth all the turf and re-model the bank might undermine the pole (cutting off power to the rest of the lane!).

New Keet Run
Well, the pole is one of a batch now about 52 years old, most of which are still sound (others in the area, only 11 years old are rotting badly already) but our particular one is indeed rotten and is now marked for replacement in the next 2 months. The sausage turf is not, as I had guessed, ancient, hand-won stuff. It is cut and extruded by a machine like the modern (rectangular) stuff, but a different machine which favours the wetter bogs and is still in use in much of Mayo. So it could well be from our previous owner, TK-Min's days on the farm, maybe only 20 years old or there-abouts.

Keet run from the south end.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, we have met our ever-growing Keets' need for more space by slotting a clever little run into a bit of waste-ground between our 'Primrose Path' and the Eastfield. This is basically a 6 foot tall, 9 feet wide and 30 feet long rectangle with a coop and gate at one end. It was cheap as chips. The 'walls' are made from a donated roll of 6 foot high 2" chicken wire, held up on the big trees or existing fence posts, and the roof is a piece of fruit-cage bird-netting held up by polypropylene 'rope' and the gate wrangled out of rough-cut 2 by 1 and a half inch timber.

Keets at 5 weeks explore the new big space.
We successfully moved the ten half-grown guinea fowl keets (babies) which are now well able to fly and to run much faster than Liz or I can (!) using a cat-basket method suggested to us by Charlotte (Thanks, Ch!) who was reported to have been in fits of laughter telling her Mum how we had originally proposed doing it, but I will draw a veil over that bit. There was one small hiatus when we went back to check on them and saw, sitting cutely in a row on top of the coop (inside the run), a row of nine keets. Nine? Didn't we have ten? Number ten was sitting up on the polyprop rope on the top of the run - he/she had found a tiny corner where we had left a gap twixt wall and roof and got out somehow. That one was quickly rounded up and gap closed with a bigger, more powerful cable-tie (Thanks again, Ch!) and we have had no escapes since.

We were not actually looking to sell these keets (yet, anyway) so we had not advertised them anywhere, but John Deere Bob had let a friend know we had them, when talking to the guy and finding out that like us, he had lost his male bird. We had no sooner released them into the new run and I had snatched these pics of the ten, than this guy (Declan G) arrived wanting to buy 3 (un-sexed) birds hoping there would be a replacement cock-bird among them. We sold them for €8 each which will nicely pay for most of their chick crumb and growers' pellets. I have since had a 2nd call from a lad who wants 2 more, so the word may be spreading but we will not sell any more after that - we want to know what these guys taste like after all this hard work!

It's not ALL glamarous cooking - a first go at
home made pizza.
We also managed to sell, at last, a couple of baby rabbits. We seem to be plagued on the local 'classified ads' website, with getting very few bites and a huge percent of those who make contact prove to be time-wasters who do not phone back when they say they will, or don't show up. You also get short text conversations which end without apology or 'goodbye' when they say something like 'where are you?' and you say County Roscommon.

Possibly the best Black Currant Clafoutis ever.....
It seems to be perfectly OK here to just stop texting. There is no need, apparently to finish with 'Ohh, that's a bit far, I'll pass' or 'OK, sorry to trouble you'. I am not alone in this - plenty of sellers complain of the same problem. One trap I have not fallen into yet and do not intend to is to hang around the house waiting on a call or a visit. If I'm in, I'm in. However, you do occasionally get the exact opposite, a serious, well meaning, polite buyer willing to drive all the way from Galway; in this case they got a bit lost en route and took 3 hours but still turned up. They were a Lithuanian couple, again brilliant people who we felt would have stayed and chatted for hours. They took 2 female bunnies at €20 each. They had actually wanted a breed-able pair but ours are all brothers, sisters and litter mates. They will keep hunting for a Giant breed buck.

Hubbard rooster at 10 weeks, carcass weight 2.012 kg.
Rather early, on Day 72, we decided to start 'harvesting' our Hubbard chickens, delivered as 1 day old chicks on May 1st. Although they are a bit young yet, the roosters in particular are already starting to look huge and are starting to clutter up the place - we get that feeling of too many chickens under foot when we walk in the yard. So, pretty much as an experiment, this guy got the chop and turned out to have a live weight of 3.016 kg, a carcass weight of 2.012 kg (plus 232 g of 'bits' (liver, heart, gizzard for us and the neck for the cats!) Not bad for a free range bird only just over 10 weeks old!

Pioneer gardening. Liz hefts a rock.
So that's about it for recent adventures. Opening up the run for the keets showed us that we have yet another untamed bit of 'garden' which needs sorting, so Liz has been out pioneering in the stinging nettle proof gloves and rock-proof wellies, breaking off only to study the gardening books for the 'dry shade under trees' species. Convallaria, anyone?

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