Tuesday 16 June 2015

First-Born Feste Finished

61 lbs of ram lamb carcass
This is another one of those posts you might like to avoid if you are not happy with the butcher's stage of the production of those New Season Lamb cutlets that look so delicious on your plate. Our main event this week was the collection of the carcass of our first-born ram lamb, Feste, taken off on his final journey last Tuesday. My fears were that in having to get him out of the way because of the risk of him tupping his Mum or Auntie, he was killed at 5 months old and I thought he'd be a tiny carcass. No such thing. He was a chunky lad, and had made similar weight to the store lambs we have done before, at 61 lbs.

That old favourite job - portioning, bagging and
labelling the cuts for the freezer.
The butcher's 'mate' Joe was even given to a mutter about him being 'too big' and bigger than the ones they'd handle through the shop, but main butcher Igantius G reassured us that as he was a ram lamb he'd not be fat, just nicely conformed. That was true - we got very little 'suet' off him.

A lamb chop and a salad "of incident"
Due to Feste being born so early and therefore finished early, we actually still have a bit of last year's lamb in the freezers which we will use up before we start on this 'New Season' meat, but we couldn't let this event pass without at least trying the lamb out, so we saved a chop each from the ice and had it for supper with a lovely salad. Very nice he was too. We now need to plan those 2014 lamb shanks, cutlets and the stewing 'breast' meat into menus to clear the decks. As to lamb for those readers who are normally  included in this largesse, do not worry. We only produced three of our own lambs this year, so we are back in contact with our old sheep-supplier, Kenny about store lambs to make up the numbers. Kenny is doing his usual 'Scarlet Pimpernel' routine but we expect he will turn up all of a sudden with his usual request to meet him with a trailer and some cash somewhere.

Meanwhile, Liz has joined me (again) in being a blogger. Again because she has written a private blog for a while, but this one is a bit special. The guy running the website for nearby village 'Kilmovee' put out a shout for anyone living in the area who would like to write a guest-blog, just light hearted stuff about living here, once a month. Liz thought she would give it a try and contacted him, and got accepted/selected. She has just written her 2nd one. Liz called it "Smallholder Life" and you can find it on this link.


Scraping the floor of the cattle-race clean
We are both very pleased with it  and happy to help out - we both know how hard it can be to keep a website fresh after the initial surge of enthusiasm has worn off. Mind you, Kilmovee seems to have quite a lot going on at the moment in particular with the completion of a new 'astro-turf' (all weather playing surface) sports facility as well as a thatched roof heritage centre both of which they have managed to photo from the air, I suspect with one of those new-fangled pilotless drone camera-platform thingies.

Young European Lime tree finding its feet
What else have we been up to? We have been loving a recent burst of just a few hot days and we've spent most of the daylight hours outside. We have been digging along a new front garden bed, formerly lawn and we have been giving the cattle race a thorough blitz. The concrete of the race is a bit old and pitted and the cracks and dents accumulate pine needles and muck plus, I guess, sheep-poo, daggy bits of wool, spilled feed. It all makes for a great substrate for grass and weeds, so in the few years since we first stripped it clean for the caravan (ahh the nostalgia!) it was getting quite a healthy turf layer; it needed mowing, never mind scraping! Well, that's all done now and we are back to pristine concrete - it even got hosed and brushed down which was a job which took me right back to student days, cleaning up the cattle pens at the end of a milking down in Westfield (Sussex). Moor Farm. Even more nostalgia. See also the haymaking pic below.

Local lad Kevin R gets the vintage gear out for a spot of
haymaking in the field opposite this house. 
Back in 2015 we have now made contact with three more local beekeepers, we are suddenly over-run with them. When I first got into bees I was a bit worried that I was the only bee keeper for miles and that any new virgin queens which went out on mating flights from our hive(s) might not actually find any male bees (drones) with which to mate. We now know of beekeepers at most points of the compass within the required 10 km or so of us, so this should not be a problem.

(Spoiler: Bee facts paragraph(s) - skip on by if bees are not your thing). You may not know that an emerging queen bee must get out and get mated on a mating flight (or more than one) within a few weeks of 'hatching', or she is doomed. Male bees in warm weather go out in numbers from the hive during afternoons and gather in specific patches of 'sky' called Drone Congregation Areas (DCAs) and these have to be found by the virgin queen - she zooms through the DCA chased by a 'comet-tail' of sexed up drones who each try to mate with her. She plans to be mated by 12-20 drones in quick succession (they get about 10 seconds a pop and actually die in the process), each 'successful' drone falling away from Her Majesty, to be shoved aside by the next suitor. In this way, amazingly, she takes in enough sperm from many different Dads to keep her laying fertile eggs at up to 1500 per day for up to about 4 years. It is presumably a short sex-life but a happy one. She returns to the hive to be welcomed home by her workers and never leaves the hive again till swarming time.

New toys for the chicken dept - an 'electric hen' chick-heater
and leg rings. 
No-one really knows why DCAs are where they are, though many have been 'there' consistently for decades. Some research in the German Alps suggests that the position has something to do with 'U' or 'V' shaped horizons, but beyond that it is just something hard-wired into bee DNA all around the world - the males know where to congregate and the females know where they will be. We just trust that somewhere around here, devoid as we are of alps, there will be a piece of sky which suits the boys from Moyne, Kilmovee, Driney, Feigh and is find-able by the ladies. Party on, bees. Bee genetics is a bit complex, partly because your queen is the mother of all the 50,000 bees in your hive, but also that drones are 'haploid' (they only have 50% of the chromosomes, 16 not 32) and are produced from unfertilized eggs (they have no father, only a grand-dad!), but suffice it to say that it is better for the queen to mate with a good mix of bee gene-pool from your area, not just the drones from your own hive(s). Enough, I suspect, on bees for now.

One of our honey bees on Summer Fruiting Raspberries
Anyway, our new friends are a young couple (A and TS) from beyond Lisacul to the west of us. They have a lovely neat place but no livestock as they are given to long tours of Europe in the summer months. The other is an aul' fella called Joe who comes from near the village of Moyne, to the east of us. We all met round at A+T's place just to drink tea and chat but also so that Joe could help them go through their 4 hives to check on general health and queen-right status. All good clean fun. We also met their lunatic female Patterdale Terrier, Patey who would, literally, play retrieving tennis balls all day if you had the strength in your arm to keep throwing it for her. Settle her down for a breather and relax for a few minutes but then, if your hand was low in your lap and palm upwards, you would soon find a ball dropped into the palm as Patey was bored now and needed some more ball throwing fun. Unusual name? Apparently, when she was a puppy her fur was black and velvetty like the cover of a 'Patey' style trad horse riding hat. (http://www.pateyhats.com/).

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