Friday 30 January 2015

Unwelcome Visitors

Thanks for the 'present' you fly-tippers
No more foxy visits, but lately we have been subject to visits by two other species, namely Rattus norvegicus and good aul' Homo sapiens. The humans were that low-life sub-species, the fly tippers, who generously donated us a series of dustbin liners of mainly bottles, hoyed into the hedge in the layby almost opposite us. In theory the county has, I am told, a 'Litter Warden' who you are supposed to phone and he comes out, checks for 'evidence' (addressed envelopes, I presume) in order to bring the offenders to account and then, presumably has the council operatives come and clear up your mess.

Call me a cynic, but I couldn't see any of that really happening here, in the snow, in anything like rapid time and there was not too big a pile - half a dozen bags. I thought the pre-existence of rubbish might just make other folk think it was OK to dump here, so we tidied it all up ourselves (and, of course, found no addressed envelopes). We donned the "murderer gloves" (actually blue nutrile milking gloves!) and went to work filling the wheel barrow. The glass is in the local bottle bank and the rest went into our wheelie bin which was due to be emptied that night anyway (goodbye shameful fox corpses).

I was annoyed by the effront but I feel more let down in a delusion which I should not have brought along with me anyway. I had always thought the Irish were a more careful nation than we Brits (just me stereotyping mainly), more caring of their children, more concerned about issues like South African apartheid, keener to keep their country clean and the environment more pure. In general they have lived up well to most of my stereotypes, but on litter, pollution and environmental damage this was just a delusion. The Irish are as careless about chucking food wrappers and beer cans out of their cars, and of fly-tipping as are my countrymen. Don't worry, though, you litter-bugs. I am that loony who goes out with his hi-viz jacket, bin-bag and rubbish-grabber and cleans up the local hedges. I pay the honest sub to Barna Waste so that we can get wheelie bins emptied each week. I'll clear it up for you. Don't mention it.

Classic rat damage to stored Sarpo Mira spuds - chewing
marks, shredded potato bits, spuds wet with urine and
'wet cigarette end' poo.
The rat-visitor found our crate of stored spuds. As is normally the way of these things, though, we only found him, and then the damage, when he succumbed to the ace ratting skills of our handsome  and fluffy cat, Blue. Blue normally kills them and then leaves them for us, very dead and partly dismembered or disembowelled to tread in, in the dark. He and his late brother, Rolo, were a real find, the perfect farm cats. They were big and strong, athletic and powerful, patient and magnificent hunting machines (Blue still is, of course). They have kept our rat and mouse population at very happy low levels and have only made a few 'mistakes' - a wren or two, a swallow, a chaffinch.

Blue 'hunts' a soap packet. 
They came from a house near the Silverwoods and, if memory serves, there is some 'feral' in their DNA. Either the Mum or the Grand-mother was, I think, dumped in a box by one of the porta-cabin classrooms at the girls' school and there was a bit of "Mummy.... Pleeeeeeease can we keep this kitten we found?" What ever the truth, these two boys had definitely landed on their great big paw-pads, good hunting country with plenty (originally) of rat and mouse targets to go at. Rolo, sadly, also had a propensity for crossing the lane and came off worse eventually in a drive-by hit and run, but his bro is still here doing Sterling service.

The beautiful county of Sligo (picture blagged off the net)
But it's not all doom and gloom. We went adventuring today, a shopping mission to Sligo. Sligo is another beautiful county which we have on our doorstep (an hour's drive at most) but which we have shamefully neglected since moving here. We went to Sligo town early on (2012) when we needed to get the cars registered as Irish, but we didn't really see the place even then - the route to the registration centre skirts the town and diverts off to Carraroe and into a business park, just warehouses and car show rooms. On one of the runs we found some scenery by mistake when we were diverted off the big roads but we have never been back properly.

In 2015 we resolve to correct this omission and we may today just have found the perfect incentive, a magnificent and well stocked housewares shop, the sort of place where Liz (when she's not in favourite UK stationery outlet 'Staples') thinks she has died and gone to Heaven. Our mission today was straighforward, a food mixer for the baking (and also sausage grinding, maybe) but the shop, and the whole of Sligo Retail Park was a revelation. We had thought we needed to go to Galway or Dublin for such shops and such choice.

Naan bread - we are ready for the next visit.
The scenery en route did us proud, too with the higher bits of the lovely Ox Mountains being white with the recent snow. We were in and out today, though, in a bit of a hurry (possibly a hurry to get the new 'toy' home, unpacked and loaded with cake ingredients) so we didn't go a-wandering. We are determined to return, though and find some scenery to take the guests to which is closer than the current "must see" territory of Connemara. Connemara is gorgeous but there is an hour-plus drive to get to anywhere worth looking at which is better than beef country and dry stone walls. Driving up through Balla-D, Gurteen and Ballymote, you can start seeing good lumpy mountains half an hour from here.

More Sligo (another blagged image)
We have the imminent excitement of some more visitors. More on this soon, but these, we know, like a good curry, so we are going to crack open the faithful Madhur Jaffrey book. I am the chief Naan-bread maker in this house, so I have been playing in advance - we can make the bread ahead of the day by only part cooking it. It gets frozen or refrigerated in a rather blond state and takes on its full colour when heated up for the meal on the day. I love bread making and I thoroughly enjoy the kneading stage, which I find very therapeutic. The fancy-dan new food mixer has a dough-hook, of course, but I will be hanging onto my Naan bread by hand and let Liz try out the new technology on some of her workaday white bread.

Space saving in the kitchen - a nice recipe book stand
from the Steak Lady. Thanks, SL!
With all this new 'stuff' turning up, our tiny kitchen (8 foot square) is starting to look a bit crowded and we wryly look at the occasional Lottery ticket and wonder whether Lady Luck might just give us the money for a big, game-changing, extension of the kitchen. We can see it now - bash out that wall, push the kitchen out along the 'pottery' with a glass roof down from the main house to the Tígín, the 'A Team' all back together flinging joists around and whacking bits with the 14 pound sledge..... ahh sigh. We don't do the Lotto that often, mind, so it might be a while and today, when Liz checked the 'winnings' from a €4 punt she made on Wednesday, we found we'd 'won' €1. Ah Well.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

A Deal With the 5-Acre Fox?

Call it mad folly, but we have come to a verbal agreement with our 5-Acre Fox. You might want some explanation around that statement, so here goes.

Campaign Map
I have posted earlier that we have killed three foxes including, we are sure, our foolishly brave 'Daylight Raider' of 12th January and his 'wife' and maybe a daughter grown-cub from this family who we think live(d) in the whin scrub down the bank and across the stream from us (see map, top right). The red box on this map is 'our bit' and North is upwards. Unfortunately on the late evening of the day of the third shooting I got that sinking feeling when I saw, way off in the 5 Acre field to our west, the yellow/green reflections of the eyes of yet another fox.

We have come to know that these foxes are creatures of habit and, on the plus side, this fox seemed to stick closely to his (or her, we have no way of knowing but I'll call him 'him' for these purposes) own set of rules. He has only ever been a bit of a 'scaredy cat'. leaving some scent in our woods (see blue shading on map) at around supper time, well after dark and after bird lock-up but then scarpering quickly into the 5-Acre field at the first sign of me or dogs. He runs a good 50 yards diagonally across the field (blue arrows) before pausing to look back over his shoulder and then vanishes, presumably through the very gappy hawthorn hedge and tumbledown barbed wire fence. We have never seen him in daylight or closer or for longer than that. I just see the eyes, at a distance, when I get round to our (wired up) gate (orange on map).

Coppicing more ash in the 'Secret Garden' (now pig paddock)
So why don't we hunt him down and kill him? Well, If I'm honest, I have 'done' 3 and I have now no more stomach for this work. I hate that they kill chickens but I hate having to get them shot, seeing that beautiful and so dog-like shape change from an animated, lovely living thing, in an instant, (Bang!) into a limp shape, steam rising from its mouth as it cools down. I know I needed to kill my Daylight Raider, who would have given us no peace, but the '5 Acre Fox', I am sure had no part of this. The whin-scrub family always came and went up and down the bank-fields; this guy from away across the fields to our West. I think this guy will do me no harm as long as he stays a nocturnal 'scaredy cat'. So I decided to cut him some slack and do a deal with him.

Yes, I know. I was out with the dogs on the Friday evening at 10 pm and saw him, as usual, way off so I heard myself calling to him and then talking to him as he stayed there, blinking occasionally, as if he was listening to me and trying to work out what was going on. Was I going to let the dogs go after him or pepper his butt with shot? "OK", I said, "you got away with it this time. If you can stay out of our cross-wires till Sunday Night, we are calling off the campaign. If you stay scared and nocturnal and don't catch any of my chickens then you can live". He heard. He blinked a couple of times more, then vanished, presumably through the gappy hawthorn hedge and off home, where ever that may be.

Pulmonaria (lungwort) coming into flower.
I also realise that this may have been folly, that he/she will grow up and get hungry and possibly as brave and reckless as our Daylight Raider, but if that happens, then we can always call the guns back in and swing back into action. I have not seen him, nor have the dogs picked up any scent for the last few nights, since the thaw. Perhaps we should have hunted him down, but I do not want this 'mission' to 'creep' from killing a nuisance fox, to trying to eradicate foxes from the townland. I suspect we'd not win that one anyway. I have my doubts about whether we'd even 'get' this one, that's a big field and has none of the restricted 'creep-in-under-the-fence' access of the Bank Field(s) and our sheep fencing.

The pig ark is ready, but when will we
get the pigs?
As to 'eyes', I got quite good at eyes over the fortnight. The fox with his yellow-green, slitty, close together, blinking eyes is easy to distinguish from the local competition. Blue the cat has big round eyes which reflect back more a blue-green in the LED head-torch beam, plus he tends to sit there, gazing at you across the lawn, unblinking (as opposed to running away) and then comes bouncing across towards you, which the foxes don't tend to do (!). The sheeps' eyes are much further apart, being on the sides of the animals head and are a dull blue-green plus, easy to spot, there are 3 pairs of them, 2 pairs on tall animals and a little, smaller pair, lower to the ground. 'Feste' the lamb of course. As another clue, as soon as they see us they set up calling, 'baaa-ing' for a late supper or in protest at no longer being allowed to sleep indoors.

Amusingly different widths, left to right, Lily (no longer pregnant)
Feste and the broad-in-the-beam, in-lamb bulk of Polly.
So what else is new? We have been enjoying more signs of spring with the Pulmonaria in the woods coming into flower but we are, again, a few weeks behind Mentor Anne, who has snowdrops and primroses out already. We have more snow and cold forecast for tomorrow, though. I have been out coppicing some more ash and logging it up, all good work for the chainsaw. I have also been chasing up some possible pig suppliers ready for our 2015 maybe-Berkshires. We are going to have to start some eggy baking - we are getting 2 goose eggs every other day now. It's never dull, this small-holdering.

Sunday 25 January 2015

Of Home Grown Haggis and Mad Poems

Appropriate veg.
This household has always loved the haggis and has generally celebrated Burns Night despite not a one of us having any connection to Burns's countrymen save going there on holiday as a child. The college where I did my post-grad research used to do a superb feast and Liz and I even used to seek out a good Burns Night supper in a favourite pub in Kent where the hosts would "pipe the beast in" properly. We had our tame authentic Scot (Rest in Peace, Joe Cosgrove of the sea-dog leathery skin, gruff Merchant Mariner accents and salty sailorman grey beard; we will never forget your renditions of Address to the Haggis) do the poem.

Bud break in quince.
Now that we are doing the small-holder thing and have our own lambs, we can make our own haggis, of course, and this Liz does every year. Haggis tends to use the more 'gribbly' bits of lamb, heart, lungs and what are euphemistically called 'trimmings' - the bits of edge and end which the butcher will not sell when he is cleaning up a nice joint for the shop display. We now arrange with our own slaughterman/butcher to give us back the 'offal' on the day after slaughter, and then keep all the trimmings a week later when we go down to see the carcasses butchered up.

'Steak Lady's daffs looking promising.
This gap of a week makes assembling the ingredients a bit more complicated, but Liz gets round that by using this years heart and lungs 'fresh' but saving some frozen trimmings from last year to go in with them. Our other peculiarity is that we found that you do not need to stuff the ingredients into a bit of gut, a mad made "cover" or a sheep's stomach (the latter would be huge anyway!), but can make a 'tray-bake' version in the oven.

The surviving half dozen young Buffs
3 hens and 3 roosters.
I don't often do recipes on this blog but here, for the sake of it, is the recipe Liz uses from the BBC website but adapted for home use after point 4.


This is an authentic recipe from Scotland and the ingredients and methods of cooking may be unfamiliar but we hope you enjoy the results.


Heart and lungs of one lamb
450g/1lb beef or lamb trimmings, fat and lean
2 onions, finely chopped
225g/8oz oatmeal
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground dried coriander
1 tsp mace
1 tsp nutmeg
water, enough to cook the haggis
stock from lungs and trimmings

Preparation method

  1. Wash the lungs, heart and liver (if using). Place in large pan of cold water with the meat trimmings and bring to the boil. Cook for about 2 hours.
  2. When cooked, strain off the stock and set the stock aside.
  3. Mince the lungs, heart and trimmings.
  4. Put the minced mixture in a bowl and add the finely chopped onions, oatmeal and seasoning. Mix well and add enough stock to moisten the mixture. It should have a soft crumbly consistency.
  5. (Liz's edit) Brush a lidded casserole with melted lamb fat and put the mixture in. Press either a butter wrapper or a greased piece of tin foil down on top of the mixture, cover with the lid. Bake for one and a half hours at 180ºC.
These seed heads can go onto the
compost now the birds are done with them
So there you go. We will be enjoying ours with home grown mashed spuds and 'bashit neeps' even though the accompanying 'dram' will be Irish Jameson whiskey (with an E) or possibly poitín as we don't have any Scotch in the house.

Meanwhile, I have resisted temptation to paste in a chunk of the famous (Fair fa' etc) poem but this is because we have our own semi-homegrown madness to publish. I don't have a great deal to do with the social media system 'Twitter'. I have an account and it can be diverting but I think it only works if you have a smart phone and the time to be always on it. People post up what ever they are thinking at the time and then move on, so it is by definition ephemeral. When I go onto a computer twice a day or there-abouts, morning and evening, I would have to scroll back through hundreds of these little quips just to catch up; there would be no point. 

Goose, duck and chicken eggs.
Occasionally, though, one of these people with, probably, too much time on their hands does have a moment of inspiration and creates or shares something which catches the attention with its sheer lunacy or amusement value. Liz spotted one of these last night; an "app" which creates a poem out of the 'tweets' you have posted ('tweeted'). You can choose from a choice of three poetry styles; Liz went with 'Rondel' and sent the app off beavering away to find my (thin and far between) tweets which are mainly about farming and small-holdering. 

We can now bring you, by the magic of Twitter, the following masterpiece which may one day make it to the English canon and your grand-children's school-book anthology. Or not.

On goats

by Matt Care

Probably not that impressed by the poem, but happy
not to be in the haggis. Feste the lamb is getting very
big now. 
We have control over the spend?
Place or I'll be in the dog 'ouse.
Through to Ivy at the December end.
You need an excuse?

Damn! Puts down Visa-debit card.
Smaller ones so now I have 2 pairs.
You'll be grand. Welcome aboard!
Westie dogs barking from upstairs!

Cracking image!
Old names, though, don't you agree?
The onion'. One in every village?
Was caught munching on the fig tree
Can't beat a topp sausage.

..... Follow that Rabbie Burns :-) !!!

Friday 23 January 2015

Uninsured GMOs

These Lidl supermarket Muscari did very
well on the Dining Room windowsill
At last we enjoy a bit of a thaw. The temperatures outside zoom up to a heady 10-11ºC, all the snow melts away, the drizzle has a familiar non-crunchy wetness about it and we even have some bees out flying, evicting the latest dead colleagues and doing their hive hygiene thing. The pond looks odd this morning, still covered in a wet, thick, pond-sized sheet of ice but one which is now freed up all around from the banks and covered in wet, thawed rain so that the ice is part submerged. I have been out digging or cutting red cabbage, turnips, sprouts, parsnips and red beetroot without having to scrape away the snow first.

Popcorn and old Doctor Who episodes
for a quiet night in.
Last night I was able to fill the goose baths using the garden hose, though for the first few minutes the hose was pushing out 'sausages' of ice which plinked onto the old ice sheet landing like a small dropped heap of cocktail sticks till the new water eventually evicted them all and the hose could run at normal pressure. The 'little' lamb thrives and is now big enough to be safely out of doors through the night. In reality he probably has been for a good week but we are nervous and over-careful beginners, so the chap will have been enjoying not having to expend calories on keeping warm in the frost. Tonight, his first night out (other than his date of birth, of course, when he took us by surprise and  was welcomed to the world by rain, wind and a wet tuft of grass on which to lay his head) he will only have to worry about keeping dry.  They have a good field-shelter out there with straw-bale walls and a scattered straw floor. They should be grand, but I will be anxiously checking first thing to make sure everybody coped with the night.

On a completely different note, our house insurance is with the mainly farming based company FBD. I believe these people used to be called 'Farm Buyers Direct' but like many such outfits, they now go with the initials and logo and have left the old name well-buried behind, but anyway, they are an insurance company who specialise in insuring farms and farm buildings. We were pretty much obliged to go with FBD when we were building because no-one else we could find, would agree to insure a house over 150 years old but this is not a bother, they have proved to be a perfectly good, professional and reliable company, helpful and pleasant to deal with (all be it we have never had to try to make a claim!).

A welcome gift of a dozen duck eggs from the Mum of one
 of Liz's 'students'.
As you'd expect, we get our renewal reminders sent out annually and we pay up and it all goes away again for another twelve-month. Generally I don't read the small print in any kind of detail but this year I happened to have the papers in front of me having just sat down with a coffee. I was surprised, amazed and, I guess a little delighted, to spot that FBD have now added a specific claims exclusion to the rules - the policy now

The new dish washer chugs through another load.
"excludes loss, damage, cost or expense of whatsoever nature or any legal liability for personal injury to third parties or damage to property belonging to third parties directly or indirectly caused by, resulting from or in connection with a) the research into, testing of production or supply of any genetically modified crop or genetically modified organism, where liability may be attributed directly or indirectly to the genetic characteristics of such crop or organism (and) b) the presence of such crop or organism other than where contained in feed products purchased for use as animal feed on the farm"

Duck egg Spanish Tortilla with our local 'red' coleslaw
(our own red onions and red cabbage plus carrot)
I am curious as to why this should now be so (and I am expecting Mentor Anne to possibly comment - she watches these issues like a hawk and will not have missed this one). I cannot imagine that FBD are taking a principled stand against GMO; many of these big insurance companies have funds which invest in exactly those kind of 'Gen-tech' and bio-tech start ups. I suspect it is more about fear of the unknown which many of us have at the core of our objection to the use of GMOs. We just do not know what will be the effect on natural populations or even on populations of traditionally improved and bred crops of these new man-made genome tweaks. For an insurance company, that may well translate into "what will be the insured risk of those effects" so they are dropping these issues like hot potatoes till there have been some effects and test cases and know whether they can risk their shirts. They presumably have to include the "other than where contained in feed products" bit because the vast majority of commercial feeds already contain GM soya or maize meal, so they would end up with no customers.

Shot gun shell.
Meanwhile, RIP Fox #3, a younger female this time, 36 inches nose to tail.

Tuesday 20 January 2015

Enough Foxes, Already!

I promised you a few pics of us scrubbed up for the wedding.
Here are a couple taken by other guests and posted on
Facebook, l-r Liz, Mr and Mrs S and the author.
I am thinking I may have been obsessing on our fox issue lately and the blog has become "all about the fox". Vulpes vulpes and his/her kin have rather taken over to the detriment of stories on all the other many aspects of this story of a small holding. Our foxy adventures may also have taken over the village with even wife of Mike-the-Cows reporting to us a fox she saw "by the bridge near the crossroads".

Liz and I with J-M (left) and Em-J (right)
John Deere Bob was down at his kesh (a concrete bridge over a drainage stream), half a mile downstream from ours, this morning and reported "so many fox tracks in the snow" as well as rabbit tracks, hare prints and pheasants. "There must have been half a dozen foxes", he declared, "there were so many I'm amazed they'd not 'swept up' all the rabbits!" Even Mentor Anne is riffing in the comment section of my last post that the place is "teeming" with foxes. The word must have gone out that we are running a "Fox MacDonalds" Enough, I say! I will make no more comment on the fox story unless something amazing happens, at least not for a while.

I quite liked this rather bizarre one.
You, the reader, will know there is all sorts going on behind the scenes (sightings, hunts, killing, insults and mild effronts and even (gasp) the blackening of names) but I will , from now, only post up the body count as a post-script.... Fox #2..... Bridget Jones style, when/if it changes. I will leave you with just one of JD Bob's tongue in cheek pearls of foxy wisdom. Chickens, pheasants and any other bird, he tells us, are safe as houses at night from Brer Fox because they perch in trees. Not so (allegedly) the turkey. Bob, in one of those stories he has told us several times as he sometimes forgets he has already shared it, says that the fox knows to walk round and round the turkey's tree so that the turkey, looking down and trying to keep his eye on the fox, twists his neck round and round. The turkey then gets dizzy and falls off the perch into the waiting jaws of the fox. "Did you ever hear that?" says Bob as his cheeks and eyes crinkle up and he rubs his hands together, chuckling his breathy giggle. That's it. No more fox-bore.

I like a good drive on snow - always have since I was a young fan of Motor Rallying. I enjoy the (rather tame) risky feel of barely having grip and feeling the starts of mild slides on corners, quickly corrected of course (this is the family car on standard tyres, after all!) and knowing that you need to drive with extra anticipation and alertness. I love the headlights peircing the gloom and the optical illusion of the 'star-field' of blizzard flakes parting in front of the car to whizz by all around your 'trajectory'. I had some fun, then, last night, heading for 'Bee School' in Longford in the dark. There was a good covering of snow on the minor roads all up through Moyne and Fairymount to French Park, though the main roads from French Park were clear on the outward journey. On the way back I met a blizzard between Termonbarry and Strokestown and there was laid snow on some of those bends from Strokestown back through Ballinagare. All good fun.

Our first goose egg of 2015. The 'use first'
egg is a first from a chicken with a soft
shell one end.
This 'Bee School' is my studies towards the Intermediate "Written Practical" exam at the end of March. Written in that it is a written paper, 'Practical' because questions will be on practical hive/apiary tasks and management, honey extraction etc, as opposed to the 'scientific' paper which is on bee biology, anatomy, diseases, honey chemistry and all that jazz. This is a whole different ball game to last year's 'Preliminary' paper which was an easy, entry level, half hour, 20 questions, single (or few). word answers. Name 3 major parts of the bee's body (head, thorax, abdomen). Name 4 substances bees bring back to the hive (nectar, pollen, propolis and water). What is the main problem with honey from oilseed rape and heather? (It sets hard quickly in the comb).

The kitchen gets knocked about a bit.
This paper is 3 hours long, 5 questions of at least half an hour of writing asking for lots of detail on (for example) aspects of a main disease (hive signs, symptoms, effects, risks, legal side (i.e. is it reportable), remedies, apiary recovery). It's going to be fun - the pressure is on. Liz has opted out of this one; she is happy to own just the Preliminary Certificate and slowly build up her knowledge and experience hands-on in our own hive(s)

Our other news is two simple bits. The plumber has come and installed the new dish washer, which involved also swinging the sink round by 90º to 'look' out of the kitchen window at the setting sun. We have just about managed to get the fridge back in, which looked likely to need a new home in the corner of the Dining Room for a while. Liz ran the washer for the first time last night and is delighted with it. She won't mind me admitting that I have always been a bit jaundiced about these machines and my default setting would be to do the washing up by hand; in my head I see them using more water and energy than you need and pumping out more waste chemicals but Liz has long dreamed of this day and she's just handed me a drink, so I will keep quiet on this one! Meanwhile, I had a nice surprise  this afternoon when I spotted a goose egg in the nest compartment, our first of 2015. We may have 4 females this year (one is a bit 50/50 at present and may prove to be a gander) so we should do OK for eggs. We are not allowing any broodiness in geese this year as we don't want any more goslings.

Sunday 18 January 2015

4:2 - a Final Score? A Sigh of Relief?

This funky chicken cushion has nothing to do with this
post but I love it!
Call me naive if you like, call this the triumph of hope over experience, even, but today I am at last daring to hope that we have sorted our fox problem, at least till these very mobile and fast breeding mammals move back into the territory, which they inevitably will. I now do my night time patrols believing that I might NOT now have to spot a pair of green eyes reflected back at me from near my rabbit runs or at the far side of a field. When I nip out to check on the number of chickens I am daring to beleive that there will be the right number and there will not be a sad puff of Buff feathers caught in the grass. When I hear the geese kicking off I am daring to guess that this is just the geese kicking off for no reason (as they commonly do) and NOT because they have spotted the instantly recogniseable shape of a loping fox.

Fox #2, A vixen, 43 inches nose to tail.
Why? Yesterday morning as I was constructing breakfast, I looked out over the snow-covered east field and saw what I believed to be my "10 pm fox" from earlier posts strolling in the sun. I clapped my hands and she ran off but left tracks in the snow giving away her sneaky 'hole' under the sheep fence. To cut a long story short, she has now been shot (cleanly and quickly again) and I think she was probably partner to the previous lad, so we may now have killed both the pair which would have had this territory. They would be mating about now but not yet have cubs in the den.

The perfect rifle range? Shooting downhill with all the
bogland as your back-stop (butts).
In the process of all this I have learned a great deal about shooting and safety (not that I am about to take this up as a hobby, I hasten to add). My picture shows the view north from our east field down the 'Bank Field' to the drainage stream and concrete 'kesh' (bridge) and into the 'whin' scrub where our shooters believe the foxes hide up (I hope 'hid' up!) during the day. Across the bog and way higher up is the nearest likely human 'target', the cars moving along the Balla road. Our rifle man can sit in my field with his fox-call (a whistle which makes a scream like a rabbit being badly injured) and then spot the fox approaching. He should be able to pop the animal between the eyes without any risk of a miss-bullet hitting anything. That's the theory, anyway. So far we have not needed to test this out as our 2 have fallen to shot-gun fire from closer range.

Thin grazing for the geese.
So, where are we now, apart from immensely (if a little warily and perhaps optimistically) relieved? Our advice is that the foxes will not be all gone and they will be back and back till we eventually run out of animals to "feed them on". Our 3 year run of fox free luck was a lucky abberation which we should not, if we are wise, rely on being back. Mentor Anne is firmly of the view that we should give up on the 'total free range' system and, instead pen the birds in decent sized runs surrounded by flexible 'net' style electric fencing. We could do this (the advice goes) in the orchard or one of the existing sheep-proof paddocks and use a wooden shed or wendy house out there as the coop(s), i.e. not bring the birds home each evening to the concrete out buildings as we do now.

A typical fence line here with 2 gates along it, the 'veg patch'
gate and the 'apiary' gate (blue and white)
We are now looking into all this, with all its many permutations - the cost of fencing, choice and design, suppliers, maintenance and so on. We may go down this road but I  sincerely hope we don't have to. I love my total free range system, where the chickens are on the front lawn one minute, then in the yard, then visible in the car-port or down among the veg raised beds.

Brambles outside the orchard fence.
I also struggle to see how we could make the thing work in our system where we have built everything thinking we would not need electric fences, so our hefty sheep fences and gates divide up a series of contiguous paddocks - the veg patch butts up against the orchard, which butts up against the pig paddock and then the east field. The sides of these paddocks which touch the property boundaries are hard up against hedges and they are commonly a mass of brambles 'outside' the good fence.

Frozen veg plot
The advice for the 'Flexinet' fencing (which is a soft 'curtain' of loose netting with the strands interwoven with the electric wires and the whole hanging from thin insulating plastic 'posts') is to hang it about a foot outside the existing paddock fencing. There, as they say, is the rub. To do it outside the orchard is to run it down my veg-plot main path, through 2 gates, then along the 'back' where a bramble thicket would need clearing, back up in the pig paddock and along the top (another path). I would also need to divide the orchard in half (temporarily and flexibly?) to keep the geese separate from the chickens. It might be possible to get a big shed which could be divided in two, geese at one end, chooks at the other, to straddle this orchard-divider. Finally, there is the height thing. The Flexinet is 1.2 m high at best (that is if you keep it taut and don't have lower loops between your posts) and my fox was happily clearing my 3-4 foot sheep fence the other day, so why is he going to run at this new fence and then stop to get a jolt off the mains before (rethinking the decision to..) go sailing over?

It's enough to turn a man to drink!
There's a lot to think about starting with whether we still want to keep chickens if we have to go to all this trouble and expense. We love them but they are relatively cheap beasts, so if I have to spend hundreds of Euro keeping them safe, should we not just be buying the eggs instead? Electric fencing is also notoriously NOT 100% fool-proof - everyone we know describes 'accidents' where they forgot to turn the fence back on after a job, or it shorted out or there was a power cut and the ravening beasts outside are said to be able to tell. They may be able to hear the clicks or sense the electric pulses, or they just try the gap just one more time and... ooh look.... I got straight through.

This, I sense, could run and run. For now though we have another dead fox to dispose of and a latest score this season of 4 dead chickens (3 and a head taken) vs 2 dead foxes. Dare we hope that this, for now is a 'Final Score' on this match? I am enjoying, for now anyway, a sigh of relief, but we have probably not heard the last from our red, brush-tailed chums outside the wire.

Friday 16 January 2015

A Weddin'

Left to right, Em-J, Mr S, R, Mrs S, M and J-M. 
Regular readers will know of the 'Silverwoods', the Sis-in-Law and 'Mr Silverwood' whom you may have assumed were a married couple but who (I never did work out when you should use 'whom' and when 'who' was acceptable) have actually been keeping their gunpowder dry these last 16 years or so. Well, now they are. The 'Knot' was finally tied this afternoon down in Silverwoodland and we were down to do the official 'witness' thing for them. I am hoping some nice pics were taken of Liz and I by one of the many i-phone weilding guests, who seemed to be tagging and posting to Facebook even as we did our bit. If there are any, I will post them in a future blog-post - we actually looked quite presentable in the new suit and the new dress.

M (8 years old) was Best Man; he even
had a speech to deliver!
It had snowed some more overnight, so we were all primped up and "looking in our prime" as we set out driving very carefully over the compacted snow, but that cleared up in the bright sunshine, so that by the time we hit Ballymoe the roads were clear. Our instructions were to drive right by the Registry Office and on for another half hour to Silverwood, to take some "casual" pics of everyone getting ready (which we did), and then to re-trace steps to the venue for the actual signing, before re-re-tracing past Silverwood and on to the Hotel for the 'breakfast'. My best information as I write this, has Liz still 'down' there doing it for the both of us.

Em-J plays Mum in to the ceremony with Ed Sheeran's latest
song, "Thinking Out Loud"
'We' of course have our fox issue. In a previous post, I mentioned that I had spotted a 2nd fox on the evening of our shooting of Fox #1, who I have named the '10 pm fox'. We think this may be the vixen, wife of our Late Chum. Yesterday lunchtime, I walked round the garden and spotted Buff-Orp feathers on the grass by the pond and a few floating like little sailing boats on the water; I rushed to count the young Buffs and , yes, we are now down to six, so soon after I had learned to call them the 'Magnificent Seven'. A fox which I assume is my '10 pm' fox has snatched another one and we are back to square one, contacting our shooter and asking for more help.

All legal now, Mr S signs on the dotted line.
We had already engaged Charlotte of the Mini Horses to close up the livestock on the big day, with the ceremony being at 14:30, there was no way I'd get back in daylight. Bless Her, she'd offered to stay the night here so we could both enjoy the evening, but we all knew I'd be twitching to get home and now, after that ambush, doubly so. If I wasn't panicking to get Liz home in the evening, I'd have been making her life a misery first thing next morning. I decided to go down to do the official bit but then head home and leave Liz to 'cover' the breakfast, which is how we now stand.

The good joke at the end of the Best Man's speech.
He is only 8.
I also sought advice from Mayo Liz about the lamb. If it was me, she said, she'd keep the lamb indoors at night if she KNEW there was a fox. So, the sheep and lamb were brought in last night and then kept in today so that Charlotte would not have the worry of trying to round up 3 sheep, who wouldn't know her, this evening. Well, as it all happened, everybody co-operated with Charlotte and she reported back to me that everyone was in bed, safe and accounted for; I could have spent the night at the Wedding after all, but by then I was half way home. It's just the anxious, livestock-keeper way of me. Laugh if you like.

In other news, we found ourselves trying the 'Taste of Success' winner from the recent Lidl supermarket/TV competition, an "Irish beef short rib with pancetta and cider sauce". We don't normally do ready meals, far less supermarket ones, but this one had pipped our Pig Mentor (Alfie McCaffrey)'s entry (he'd done a pork-burger from his organic pigs) in the comp, so we were curious. Well, I have to say it was impressive - tender, succulent, flavousome meat in a lovely sauce. We had it between 2 of us but you could have easily stretched it to 4 with the addition of a few more spuds and maybe some buttered carrots. Nice one, 'Lidl'. We may never buy it again but we are happy to reccommend it to 'them as do ready meals'.

A toast to the Happy Couple
Tonight, then, let me just sit back and drink a toast to the Happy Couple, now officially Mr and Mrs Silverwood. We had a lovely time and I hope you had an enjoyable afternoon and evening. All the best for the future.