Tuesday 31 May 2016

First there were 2 Goslings....

First time on public view and, here, 'photo-bombed' by one of
the male Guinea Fowl 
As I write this on Tuesday afternoon, we are suddenly goat-less again for the first time since early January. We shipped Nanny Óg and the new kid (Henry Óg) home this morning to their new abode in Sligo in my trailer. K-Dub and I had been hard at work in the blue sky, sweaty heat (OK it's only 21ºC but this IS Roscommon) of Saturday, creating a third paddock at the Sligo rebuild house while being eaten alive by mozzies. Luckily for me, anyway, K-Dub is like Lizzie in being a very attractive target for these bitey b**tards, so he was the one being eaten. They don't seem to find me palatable. But then, it WAS his fence.

Only days old here. 
The holding over there includes a nice big and smooth but slightly sloping 2 acre (?) field. The field, though, has been left to go to ruin dominated by huge tussocks of rushes and thickets of bramble and 'sally' willows. The tussocks trap water and the whole field can get very boggy - way too boggy to risk driving the yellow 'JCB' tractor onto it.

This green stuff is grass, children and we eat it.
Never mind - Carolyn is an experienced and cunning improver of grassland and knows that by using combinations of grazing by the mini horses and goats, brush cutting and loppering, the field will soon be brought back into good heart. Razing the rush tussocks to the ground helps water run off and allows grass to recover faster than the rushes by growing up through and between their clumsy root pads. The horses and goats WILL eat the fresh green rush regrowth. We know this works - we have no more rushes on either our front lawn or the East Field after we 'borrowed' the mini horses and the field in this village where the horses were up till recently was also a rush-bog a few years back, when Carolyn's squad moved in.

Baby pears, or an excuse to photograph those
glorious blue skies?
The secret is to divide the field into paddocks so that you can concentrate all your grazing into one small area at a time preventing anyone from being choosy and just eating the sweetest grasses. When the field has been 'hammered' down to the 'clay', you take all the animals off to rest the paddock and let the grass leap into action. Several cycles of this and you have a good field and continuing to rotate the grazing by this 'mob-grazing' system keeps it that way. Hence K-Dub and I sweating and beating off mozzies in the sun.

That (lovely) straying dog, our most frequent visitor, again
Meanwhile the humans in this saga seem to be pinging about all over the place also. Liz went down to Silverwood-land to see the First Holy Communion (and party etc) for youngest niece 'R'. I must admit I cried off this one on grounds of livestock, newly hatched geese and not being Catholic (OK, maybe not that last one) so Liz went down to spend the night and would return on Monday in Mum-in-Law's car (with M-i-L, obviously) so that she could spend a couple of days here catching up with the farm and the various animals. Last time she was up we had the lamb bottle-feeding incident. We were to remember this yesterday evening. There may be a pattern forming.

Bobby the Dog. His brother, Shep, is just as gorgeous.
During this break Charlotte came home from college for the Summer and hence all the goat-moves. Charlotte is our go-to animal wrangler and we know she can usually help if we are doing anything live-stock. She wanted to gather up the goats to bring them home (where she now is, of course) so that she can try out some goat-milking, and we knew we could 'borrow' her to grab my ewes one by one while I trimmed off the last fuzzy edges of my shearing. Everyone's a winner!

Early Purple (?) Orchid
Ah but the livestock "incident" I mentioned. Sad to say we synchronised a bad event with this visit by Mum-in-Law. I had gone out to lock down the poultry for the evening and found one of the goslings looking like a casualty. He had either taken a bad clout (peck?) from an adult bird or been trampled underfoot. He was lying on his back in the dirt on the coop floor with his legs twitching and his head trying to get upright. He was stuck like that, as if a tortoise had been flipped over. Adult geese are massive strong beasts compared to the few-ounces fragile balls of fluff goslings and they can be very clumsy with their feet set so far back on their bodies. It was not looking good.

Some first fox gloves
We rescued the gosling to the sickbay via a warm-up cuddle down Mum's "front" while the 'electric hen' warm-plate warmed up. The brooder box is in the same room as Mum was to be sleeping but she said she could cope with his little pathetic cheeping so we all retired to bed quite hopeful. The little guy was still alive in the morning but although he could sit upright and squirm back up the right way if he toppled, he could not walk. Gander George was all over him when we tried to re-introduce him but that was no good to us if he couldn't move about with the family. Back into the brooder box then, with the little chap, hoping that maybe he was only bruised and might recover over the next days.

One of our big red showy poppies. 
Sadly no. He went downhill mid morning and died while Charlotte and I were doing our goat-taxi run. Ah well. You don't win them all. The other gosling seems to be thriving and is out and about in the orchard today with anything from 1-4 adults depending on who wants to stay near the remaining eggs. Sorry, Mum - we will try to arrange a visit soon where livestock does not die at you!

Friday 27 May 2016

High Babies, Low Babies

Our high and low babies - the Buff Poults at 8 weeks meet the
tiny Hubbard chicks at 8 days. 
When Liz was coming up through school and later, when she was babysitting or minding children of friends, the young children who we, in England, called "infants" were always referred to colloquially as the "Low Babies" and the "High Babies". I suppose that they were officially "junior infants" and "senior infants" or some such (It was a long time ago - Liz can't remember that far back!) but I love the expression and it has come to be stuck to our two current groups of chicks - the Hubbard chicks at 8-9 days and the Buff poults at 8-9 weeks. All are thriving. We have passed 6 of the Hubbards across to our friends Sue and Rob to try out - they had not done pure meat-birds up to now and fancied giving them a go.

2 goslings. One just visible as an eye and a bit of face!
Good news at last in the goose dept, with the start of hatching. 2 happy healthy ones so far, starting to peep out from under Mum's (or Aunt's) skirts and sadly I can also see a sorry, flat inert one down under all those heavy webbed feet, presumably one that didn't quite make it out of the egg. That's the way it goes sometimes, especially in our rather chaotic system.

Should be safe enough with all those beaks protecting you!
There are plenty more eggs in there and regular readers will know that these get dropped into the nest by the 'aunts' all through the broody period. We have no way of knowing if they are new or contain part-grown or even ready-to-hatch babies. What generally happens if that the first goslings, when they reach 3 days or so, will be led off the nest and out into the grassy orchard for a first explore but will leave behind an 'aunt' still sitting on the rest of the eggs.

In the past these 'aunts' have hatched a few stragglers who then join the kindergarten in turn (more high babies and low babies?) so we end up with a funny looking straggle of goslings of various ages like "steps and stairs". We are happy either way. We do not really want to be breeding geese anyway so the fewer we have to sell or finish, the happier we are. Cute though, you have to admit and it is nice in welfare terms for the geese to do 'family' stuff, "expressing natural behaviours" and all that.

Turf extruded out ot dry by a turf-hopper in local bog, Kiltybranks. 
After a 3 week break while my 'boss builder' (K-Dub) was up doing some proper paid work in Dublin (a loft extension) it was nice to get a Thursday back on that job this week. The Sligo house project rather missed the deadline - they'd been hoping to move in during April - but K-Dub is a realist and knows he can't turn down good paid jobs like that one. They can use bits of the house - the heating and range work and they can use the shower for example, but the kitchen is still just carcasses and half built units and even the most advanced bedrooms need paint. A few more weeks of living in that (nice and big!) caravan for now, people.

Being a British citizen who has been resident in the UK in the last 15 years, I was eligible to vote in the upcoming 'Brexit' referendum (Britain's exit from the European Union, or not). I have heard so much scary nonsense on this one that I was happy to oblige. It was just a case of logging in to a website and providing various personal info, passport number and the like) to secure my postal vote. All the paperwork for that arrived on Wednesday, so I quickly did my form-filling, placed my 'X' in the appropriate box and posted that back off to Swale Boro' (Kent). I can only pray now that good sense prevails and wait for the results after the actual poll on 23rd June. I've done my bit.

A brace of cakes for the Faversham Friends
We were almost visited by some friends from our 'old' town of Faversham in Kent. They have relatives in Ireland (2 and a half hours away in Thurles) and were over for a wedding which was to happen in Claremorris, which is only half an hour's drive away. Liz baked a couple of nice cakes and there was home made bread and our usual range of jams, pickles and, of course, our version of 'Serrano' ham. Unfortunately a grand child got sick and then a grown-up in the party, so the run across from Thurles to the wedding was called off and they couldn't make it. Ah well, we will catch up with them on a future visit and we can certainly 'tidy up' the cakes.

First yellow flag iris opens in the pond.
Other than that I have been playing 'sheep' (well, in a way) in two different ways this week. Sue and Rob finally received their ear tags from the co-op, so asked me to come across with the pliers to do the job on all 8 of their sheep. Rob is in UK so we roped in grandson Lewis (him of the piglet-bagging) as sheep-wrangler and got them all done in about 15 minutes. The baby suck-lambs were easy, the shearling and the adult ewe took a bit of catching using bucket-of-grub bribery and some nifty rugby-tackling lunges.

Dog foot prints in your turf?
Then I was down in town Sunday to get a haircut and got chatting to my friendly barber (Barbara, yes I know!) about sheep shearing. She had never seen sheep shears close to and was curious when I said that they were much bigger, heavier , noisier and more 'industrial' than the quietly humming "human" clippers she was used to. She asked would I bring them down to show her and she could maybe frighten a few customers by pretending to use them. Well, I advised against that but took them down for her to see, hold and fire them up. What a racket they make (especially with the tension slacked off for storage) - she was quite impressed and agreed that you could do some serious damage to any poor customer in the chair even just joking around. I was happy to put them back away in their case.

Tuesday 24 May 2016

Only those Hubbards....

The Hubbard chicks at 1 week get a first chance to feel the
warm Roscommon sun on their backs. It's the hottest day of
the year so far  and they will come to no harm. 
Another week passes and there is still no sign of our AWOL turkey hen, Barbara so, naturally, we are becoming convinced that Brer Fox has had the pleasure. Yes, she MAY still be out there, rearing her chicks in the (now) cattle fields and a miracle may happen and she'll stroll back in with a little 'crocodile' of adolescents. Ah well. It does not matter physically for the moment as we will not be deciding whether or not to replace the turkeys any time soon. Emotionally, of course, we will miss them - they were an intriguing and fascinating couple to have wandering about and liked to home in on us if either of us were out gardening or sitting by the pond.

Misty morning across the bog to our North
No babies either yet for the geese or any of the chickens. For our fix of chicks, then, we only have those Hubbards, 7 days old today. We are always impressed by their speed of growth and development - if you want photo's of that clichéd image of the spherical ball of fluff body with two legs at the bottom and a head at the top, then you really do have to get there in the first 3 days. By day 4 and certainly by day 7 they are already growing taller, with an obvious neck and pin feathers are sprouting to give them definite wings among their side-fluff.

The Captain's table? Our former rooster re-appears coated with
a rough and ready BBQ sauce but even though we slow-cook
him, we'd both admit that he was a tough aul' bird. 
Of course, in commercial terms, they are not fast growing at all. Free range, they take a good 100-120 days to reach good carcass weights. Commercial broiler birds housed indoors and grown on a diet of growth promoters under controlled day-length can be harvested at more like 40 days, still covered in chick-fluff. As I understand it (and I'm no expert), those would not be Hubbards - our Hubbards are bred (designed?) to do well under commercial scale free range or organic conditions. We are actually slowing them down by giving them fully free range conditions, too much exercise and a diet supplemented by worms and grubs scratched from the ground.

Breakfast in the early morning sun. 
Meanwhile in other 'babies', our little gilts continue to charm and delight us. They are almost 4 months old now and suddenly seem to twice as long as the day they arrived. We were delighted recently to be visited by the couple who did my pig-training down in Tipperary 3 years back and with whom we have stayed in touch and would now call firm friends.

I love the light under new beech leaves. This is in the pig run.
They were in the area, by coincidence, to collect a puppy and recognised the name of the village as being one I had mentioned. I was delighted to show them around the place and particularly to show the two pigs to Alfie. He pronounced them fit, well and a credit to us. "I love to see HAPPY pigs" he said as the our pair scampered round our feet deciding whose footwear to chew first.

This lovely foal and mare combo (plus the
other filly behind) have moved in next
door as lawn mowers. 
I should add that it's not all sweet perfection, however and a nasty incident between dogs and pigs soured relations between these species for a while.The 3 westies were enjoying their half hour off-lead exercise and gazing through the fence as the piglets wandered over to sniff the dogs.

This pigmy shrew was only slightly chewed by the cat.
Liz rescued him and I got a quick chance to take his pic
before we released him to the safety of a log stack.
Faster than I could react, a pig had got too close, a dog had thrust his head through the sheep wire and grabbed a chunk of pigs ear. The hullabaloo of squealing and barking had me sprint over adding my own roar to the cacophony. The dog let go the pig and the pigs both ran off to hide in their ark while I reprimanded the dogs. I went in to console the pigs and was relieved to find that the ear was only a bit bitten, not actually torn, though it was bleeding quite impressively. First-aid for piggies, anyone? Luckily, no lasting damage done though I note the pigs stay well clear of the fence now when the dogs are about.

Small white (?) on dandelion. 
The 365 photo project chugs on coming to the end of its 4th month. Last week the 'Tidy Towns' group in the village wanted to take part in the (national) Bio-Diversity week, so the 365 photographers were asked to specialise in wildlife related stuff. I have had some fun trying to give them a good choice of subjects and not just the cute and fluffy - slugs, snails, dead wood and so on have all featured. I am not sure I am 'allowed' to be pleased that Blue the cat caught a timely shrew which Liz rescued and then, while it was still frozen in shock and a-trembling, take its picture before it suddenly came to, realised its good fortune and scampered for cover. Sensible shrew.

The long border at Strokestown, still a bit
'early summer' and green. Pic by Liz. 
In the extra-curricular area, we found out about a plant sale happening in our favourite guest-visit destination, Strokestown House. This was not Strokestown selling stuff from their brilliant walled garden, but merely acting as host to a dozen or so traders. However the traders were excellent and the plants were in gorgeous condition and very reasonably priced and, included in the €5 entry fee to the 'fair', was a chance to walk round the walled garden. Despite showers, that was us sorted for a very enjoyable Sunday morning.

Strokestown House walled garden.
For not too much of a dent in the wallet, we came away with a good haul thanks, mainly, to one of the traders doing a "6 plants for €20" deal. All perennials needed (and longed for for a while - Ireland is not a natural gardeners' country and the Garden Centres are few and far between and not well stocked with unusual stuff) for our big raised bed. Some inspired by the lovely plants growing in big drifts in the walled garden - the blue Centaurea particularly.

Admiring the old equipment in the restored working area.
This a lovely old Allen Scythe
We shipped a couple of tall clump-forming grasses, that blue centaurea, a nepeta (cat mint), a sedum, salvia, Solomon's seal, a hemerocallis (day lily) and a frothy-flowered thalictrum (I think) with granny bonnet leaves (aquilegifolia). With all this haul home we go into designer mode placing them out on the bed in their prospective positions to see if it works.

The gardener - muddy knees to prove it!
We are still enjoying the fact that this is not our overcrowded garden in Faversham. By the time we'd finished there we had no space to plant things we'd buy so they sat in pots for too long, or some other plant was evicted to make room. Here, we have 2.5 acres, so we can still buy 'thugs' that will take over space - mint, the Solomon's seal etc or will happily self-seed. We'll get there.

Friday 20 May 2016

Maternity Chaos

Hubbard chick at 2 days
The little list of birds currently keeping us waiting grows ever longer. There is turkey hen Barbara, of course, possibly still AWOL, out there in the fields sitting on eggs or possibly hatchlings and maybe, just maybe, planning to walk them all back up here to the farmstead at some stage. At the other end of the 'hope' scale, of course, there is no Barbara and the bones of the former Barbara are drying out in the midden heap outside some fox's lair. We can only wait and see but turkeys are famously mainly grass-grazers, so if she is out there somewhere in the lush Roscommon grass, dodging the hooves of clumsy cattle and teaching the young 'uns to eat grass, we could be waiting a while.

The broody geese, sharing the manger 'trough' and swapping eggs between the two nests each day are also devoid of fluffy goslings. Day 28 for the first eggs we knew about, was 16th May, so we are fast running out of 'late hatching' but regular readers will know that our goose 'breeding' is fairly chaotic and the sister birds have been happily dropping new eggs into the trough for the last few months. There will be eggs in there coming due every day from now till Heaven knows when.

Class of 2016. 18 Hubbard chicks.
We have three separate broody chickens on the go at the moment. One is a-top a 4-bale high pile of straw, wedged up into the door lintel. I suspected when she started that she was sitting on nothing and today she hopped off and confirmed this for me. She has sat for 28 days on fresh air and straw. Might be time to move her on and break the habit. I was toying with the idea if she even hatched ONE egg, of sneaking a few 'ringers' in there (of which more soon).

Gone broody in an old dustbin
One is, rather daftly, in an empty feed bin, 2 feet tall and only containing a few bits of rubbish plus any straw that has fallen in. I was using it as the shed dustbin. This nest has also been plagued by all manner of other poultry hopping in there, squeezing the 'clocker' aside and laying 'cuckoo' eggs in there for her to brood. She had 11 including some Guinea Fowl eggs last time I looked. But think it through, hen! Once they hatch, how do you get them out into the world? I can see me having to do some surreptitious tipping over of the bin at some stage. The 3rd broody hen is the only one doing it sensibly in an actual nest box in the actual coop. Yes, it happens occasionally.

Holding up the beekeeping jobs. Blue asleep in a commercial
'super' box. 
The antidote to all this failed Maternity Suite malarkey is, of course, the annual purchase of our day-old 'Hubbard' meat birds. Hubbards are our most delicious and fast growing (free range) meat bird of choice and we are generously included in the run made by friends Anne and Simon up to an industrial scale hatchery up by the N. Ireland border where they know the team and are allowed to buy small quantities of day-olds (as opposed to the 10,000 bird batches the 'factory' would normally supply to commercial growers.) We 'ordered' 18 this year and these arrived on Wednesday. We had the brooder box set up ready and the 'electric hen' heater plate running. The babies quickly settled in while we fed tea, cake and home-cured 'serrano/palma' style ham to Anne and Simon and chatted. as usual, poultry, gardening and small holdering in general.

Neat and tidy now with a 'super' box (dark
green) added to the top of the stack and
the roof straightened out. 
Meanwhile, outside of poultry and broody birds, I have been settling in the new bees - after a few days of just sitting, getting to know the area, we tidied up the new hive removing the straps and gaffer tape that we'd secured it with, adding an empty super to give them more space (trying to discourage swarming) and settling the roof straight. In the dark we'd not lowered it on quite right and it was a bit drunken looking.

Although I know of no proper 'bluebell
 woods' within our 365 patch, once you
get your eye in, there are plenty of small
patches in hedge bases etc. 
This manipulation also gave us a chance to see if any more work was needed to set it up for summer, and we found, as T McC had said, that the upper brood box (painted white in my pic, above the silver gaffer tape) had some dummy blank frames in it. These will need replacing with proper frames and wax foundation for honey comb next time we are delving around in there.

Lough Adreen, in Cloonargid (Silver Field)
I have been out and about some more on the 365 project photography and as this week is 'Bio-Diversity' week I have been asked to go get pics of flora, fauna and 'natural' stuff. I found myself exploring one of the local cutting bogs down south of Lisacul, in 'Cloonargid' (Silver Field) and found this lovely little lough - I'd known it was there from the map; it is called Lough Adreen (there's no real translation unless the "dreen" is one of those transliteration jobs from 'small oak' like for Ballaghadereen (Bealach an Doirín)). I am convinced that even after 366 days of photography, I will still not have seen the whole patch. Which is good.

Tuesday 17 May 2016

Sheep Shearing

Definitely not of marketable quality, a pile of white fleece from
our ewes Lily and Myfanwy. Polly's slatey grey fleece is out of shot.
Nothing if not a bit of variety in this post - shearing sheep, snatching a beehive under cover of darkness and a bit of a barney in the roosters dept. Read on.

Not bad - our 3 ewes all looking tidier and a lot cooler
The sheep shearing is the 'biggest' story from my point of view. It is an important job and one I am trying to learn to do myself but I am finding it hard and difficult work. Last year I tried to do my ewes the 'proper' (professional) way - all that upside down wrestling and sheep on its rump between your legs that you may have seen at Agricultural Shows. It is wearing on the back and, while you are not very good yet, tends to take too long - up to an hour per sheep - for all of which time the poor ewe is under a lot of stress. I finished last year helping friends Sue and Rob by shearing their ewe, 'Pink', who is trained to a head collar and stands upright, on her own feet, reasonably calmly and lets you shear her without any fuss and wrestling. Blow trying to do it the pro way, I decided. I was determined in 2016 to do all ours upright. But head collars for sheep?

The ewes sheared with a bunch of this year's lambs. Goat and
kid in the background.
Anybody that knows sheep will know that you should really collar-train them from lamb-hood. They are big, strong, heavy animals and do not take kindly to suddenly having a collar round the neck or a halter about the face. They will buck and jump and fight and thrash about, especially if they can see a way out. We were not at all sure that our plan to corral everyone into a tight space while we collared the ewe and then have Liz whispering sweet nothings in the front end while we got a collar on and tied the sheep to some solid cattle-race ironwork, would keep the ewe calm enough when I fired up the noisy, rattling shearer and plunged it into the wool at the back end.

We followed up our own sheep success
by shearing Sue and Rob's ewe, Pink
(here) and Pink's 2015 lamb, the shearling
 'Rosie' today. 
Well, in a triumph of calmness, it all went OK. Liz undoubtedly had the harder physical job, hanging onto the rope after she'd "put a turn around" the bars (as we narrow-boaters say!) and steering the sheep's body with a spare knee or hand. I started with a long 'blow' up the spine to open up the fleece and then zizzed out and down in long stripes like mowing a lawn, with the fleece falling away like a cardigan put on backwards. I finished by nipping around legs, under the belly and up the brisket and neck, and finally by shifting the collar down and doing the face.

A Guinea Fowl hurls abuse at everyone
and anyone from our "Howth Head" rock.
We took around 45 minutes for the first ewe (already much faster than 2015), and then sped up with 35 for the 2nd and 25 for the 3rd. We were covered in lanolin and sweat (plus a bit of poo!) but happy and delighted that the job was over here. I just needed to get over to Sue and Rob's today to tackle Pink again and their shearling ewe (2015 lamb from Pink), Rosie. Now I can clean the machine and put it away for another year. I am quite proud of myself and feel like I am doing OK at this shearing lark.

A second hive collected at night - still needs the straps tidying
away and the roof settling properly. 
I spoke in the last post of our friend and near-neighbour T McC coming out of bees after a sting reaction and dispersing his numerous hives. We had agreed to take one of these so we were back into the joys of trying to safely move a hive containing 20,000+ stinging beasties. Readers who were with me on 13th April 2015 (http://deefer-dawg.blogspot.ie/2015/04/reinforcements.html) will know that you have to do this at night because otherwise all the workers are out foraging and they get left behind. You need to wait till around 22:30 and they have all gone to bed.

We got 1.764 kg of lovely lean 'parma' ham off our leg. 
The hive is made up of a stack of square boxes which sit on top of each other with no lugs or fixings, so to secure the stack we use gaffer tape all around the joints (to stop the boxes hopping out of line as the car goes over bumps), then ratchet straps over the stack in both directions. The final move is to block the entrance hole with foam and secure with tape, then heft the stack gently onto a wheelbarrow and slowly trundle it to the car. It gets the softest seat in the car (passenger seat) and is lashed to the seat back. You align the hive's internal frames north-south to minimise the slapping if the car brakes - you take all the corners veeeeery gently. You arrive at your destination apiary in pitch darkness and set the hive down on its stand. You gently peel back the foam and tape from the entrance and leg it back indoors. The hive then sits for a few days to settle before you worry about tidying up the remaining tape and straps. In our case it all went well and the ladies were all out doing orientation flights next morning and then normal missions and returns by afternoon. Good luck Hive 2; we hope you will be very happy and content here. Thank you very much T McC.

The Colonel has been in the wars. His face, here, is
spattered with dried blood.
A while back we had a lovely visit from cousins Dan and Danielle during which Danielle happened to comment on the amusingly creaky 'crow' noise of one of the roosters. We wonder now whether this next story had really started way back then. We have recently kept 2 Buff Orpington roosters. One, The Colonel, we have had for three years; he is our 'alpha'. As back up we allowed one of his children to stay but explained to this lad (The Captain) that as long as he was happy to stay at 2nd-in-Command and did not fight our main man (well, at least as long as he didn't win!) he was a keeper.

The 365 Project is focusing on bio-diversity this week. Our
local crows are all of the 'hooded' variety. 
Well, possibly as a result of the Colonel's loss of manly voice, or maybe the shortage of available hens (several gone broody), the #2 rooster has broken that agreement this week and started attacking The Colonel. This culminated in Liz having to race to his rescue yesterday when The Captain had him down on the ground and was beating the bangers out of him, pecking and kicking. Bad move, Captain.

You cannot leave this kind of thing to run - these are big powerful birds and can do each other serious damage - so we took the not very nice but necessary decision to cull out the young pretender. He is now variously in the freezer as meat, in the bin as feathers and gribbly bits, in the cats as scraps from the stock pot and in a big bottle of stock. RIP Captain. The Colonel is recovering his dignity and pride and looked decidely disconbobulated for the next 24 hours, presumably wondering why his adversary was no longer pouncing on him.

Friday 13 May 2016

'Plane' Sailing

No, not a spelling mistake, this really was an aircraft (a Boeing 767 no less) taking a trip by sea up the West coast of Ireland from Shannon all round Galway and Mayo to end up in Enniscrone on the N coast of Sligo. Only in Ireland I suspect. The story caught the imagination of the social media (the Twitter feed was tagged as #planesailing) and then National radio and we just lapped it up.

Blue the Cat rolling about on the roof of the car.
Businessman David McGowan is mainly an undertaker but in a big way (runs training courses for other undertakers etc) but is your essentially eccentric entrepreneur and turns his hand to anything and has a very amusing and love-able way about him in radio interviews. He has started a transport based 'posh' camping site (glamorous camping = glamping) and already had a load of taxis, buses and other vehicles in there but he needed a focal point. A plane! Why not? Hunting about he found a de-commissioned Russian 767 at Shannon airport and was not put off by not getting permission to move it by road; he spent €25,000 or so hiring cranes and a barge and took it out of Sligo airport "via the back door".

The apple trees are LOADED with blossom
this year.
I think he had the whole country rooting for him in the end and following the every move of barges, tugs, tides and winds. Even the weather man co-operated and only a heavy swell in Killala Bay held him up for 12 hours trying to land the barge on the beach. The plane is now safely delivered to the glamping site and the media circus has moved on but I don't suppose David McGowan was that upset by the massive publicity. Fair play to him!

As ever, much more parochial here. We have been blessed by a succession of scorching hot, blue sky days which have brought out the fruit blossom in bounty and the bees have been having a field day pollinating them. OK, this is Roscommon, so it has only been up to about 21ºC but we are not used to it here and we wilt in heaps and stop working for a good siesta, sit by the pond and watch the blue sky.

Whole leg of Tamworth, salt cured then air dried for 8 months
Even slower at its 'work' (tenuous Radio 4 style link there!) has been our first attempt at 'Parma' ham. You may recall that we 'saved' this whole leg of Tamworth pig when we butchered our pair of gilts at the end of August 2015. We smothered it in a spicy salt-cure for 3 weeks, regularly replacing the salt and draining off the brine that the salt "sucked" out of the meat.

Salt cured air dried ham. 8 months in the making.
We then wrapped it in a purpose built muslin bag made by Liz and hung it up in the spare room (all the heating turned off and window vents open); our "cool dry place" for 8 months round till now. Well, this week, curiosity got the better of us and we interpreted the instruction to "hang it for 4-12 months" as 8 months. We took it down, unbagged it, scrubbed the (allowed) minor mould off the outside with vinegar, then cut away the surface skin and fat. We were delighted - it is lovely! It smells sweet and sound and tastes perfect. As an added bonus we have eaten some and NOT got food poisoning or died in the night, so we guess it is a success.

The ever-more adventurous ducks at 6 weeks.
In '365' project land we have a new mini sub-project. Next week is "Bio-Diversity Week" and the village is submitting an entry in the national "Tidy Towns" competition as their environmental category. This is, of course, right up our street and we were heavily involved in our Kent days in the local equivalent "Calor Gas Village of the Year", even judging. We have both offered our services and been to a meeting discussing the 'Action Plan' but for now we are just asked to do website stuff and to gear the 365 photos that week to flora and fauna. No problem. Happy to oblige.

5 of the ducks have a bath. The 6th, for some reason, sits this
one out under the honeysuckle top left.
On fauna, a little hiccup in the local pollination department. Our good friend T McC who keeps bees one ridge away in a neighbouring townland has 5 hives and was steaming along in his bee keeping work, pushing way ahead of our beginner-ish efforts. However, last Autumn he was hit by that problem all bee keepers fear, a bad allergic reaction to a sting. He suffered mild anaphyllactic shock and as he was on his own, called an ambulance.

One of my girls on apple blossom. 
In fact he had started to recover by the time the paramedics arrived so he spent the winter wondering whether to give up the bee keeping and getting medical tests done, gearing up with tablets and an 'epi-pen' (epinephrine auto-injector). He hoped to be able to start back into it this Spring at his first hive inspections, with me as stand-by / back-up able to summon an ambulance if it all went a bit pear-shaped again. Well, his bees jumped the gun on him today and he got stung while he was just wandering in the garden and came over all woozy again. He decided that this was too risky and too silly and that this would be the end to his bee keeping. He is going to disperse the hives to good homes and sell off his mountain of brand new, unused equipment to friends in the game. The silver lining on poor T's cloud for us is that I have put in a bid for one of his colonies and he is happy for me to buy this and then to give him 'visiting rights' and the odd jar of local honey.

The new poults are also fully feathered at 7 weeks.
Watch this space for our adventure collecting this colony soon. T McC is not strictly speaking far enough away from us - some of the bees out exploring from our hive site may come across bits of 'map' that they recognise from their old missions and follow the old 'roads' home to T's place, but we hope not too many and, anyway, 'summer' bees only live 6 weeks so pretty soon the hive will be full of new workers born and hatched here, who have never seen T's place. Sympathies, T McC. We'll miss you bee keeping and our mutual cross-support at inspections and manipulations.