Friday 30 September 2016

Ross's Turn

Down in the rain ditch, one of the pigs
manages to nudge the barbed wire aside
from the hawthorn roots. In this pic I
have wedged a spare sheep hurdle into the
gap and wired it down solid. 
After the dramas of the previous post about kitten suicide missions, the next day one of the pigs (Ross) decided that she, too, needed a bit of a break out. I am a creature of habit and routine and I always do the early morning livestock rounds in the same order; that way I don't miss anybody. I had fed, watered and released the baby chicks and Mums, the young Marans, fed the sheep, then the young Hubbards. All this time I can hear that the pigs are awake and getting all excited about their breakfast - low bassy grunts and some squeals come at me round and over the main chicken house.

Somerville fancies a taste of camera,
I gathered up the pig food and fruit, then walked down through the side-gate of the cattle race, expecting to go across the 5 yards of space to the pig-gate and be met by the pigs. I was a bit surprised then to find Ross wandering about in this gap but my worries about how I would recapture her evapourated when she looked up at me as if to say "Ahhhh, now THERE's a breakfast!" and she happily trotted after me down the 'race' to the gate and in through it to join her sister at the breakfast banquet. This was our first ever pig escape in 3 years and felt a bit like an initiation. I hunted down the escape hole which proved to be at the top of the rain ditch among the hawthorn roots and grabbed a spare sheep hurdle to wedge into it, wiring it firmly in place. When the pigs are gone I will fix this properly (I can't afford to just 'lose' a sheep hurdle into a hole in a fence!).

A 365 pic of a sunlit lane just after a shower
While I am on pigs, a fascinating fact I read in a book today ("Spotted Pigs and Green Tomatoes", Rosie Boycott, Pub Bloomsbury 2007). I knew, of course, that Truffle Pigs exist and get used down in Perigord (France) for hunting out these 'foodie' treats but I had no idea of the mechanism. It turns out that the truffles grow in symbiosis with the local oak trees where ever there is a shortage of phosphorus. The fungal mycorrhiza (filamentous roots) grow into the oak roots and act as an extra root system to extract the phosphorus from the soil and in return the oak supplies the fungus with carbohydrates. The oak can breed and spread via acorns but the fungus, being wholly underground has no easy way to spread its spores about.

Nicely back-lit teasel head.
Step forward the wild boars of that area which could find these truffles and then spread the spores on their snouts as they went rootling onward. In a rather clever example of co-evolution, the fungus adapted by producing and releasing a synthesised copy of a testosterone chemical called 5-alpha-antrostol which smells, to the female pigs, exactly like a randy boar. They go rooting around convinced that somewhere under those trees is a buried boyfriend. Everyone is a winner, I guess, except for the frustrated sow who never finds the boar. It is to be hoped that a supper of truffle fungus is compensation. Thank you for that gem, Rosie Boycott.

A nice afternoon snack - Autumn-fruiting raspberries and
a slab of ice cream. 
In Yoga, I am now 4 sessions to the good and I am definitely improving and still enjoying it. My Wednesday evenings are enlivened by a series of animals (OK Yoga positions); cobra, eagle, downward-facing dog and other weirdness (Warrior 2, Plank, 'Child' position etc). We blokes get well stretched about and warmed up trying to follow the very bendy instructor at the front but it now feels like good 'pain' and work to me. It's like freeing up a rusty hinge with a drop of 3-in-1 and then pushing/pulling the flaps ever further till you can move the hinge to its fully open/closed positions.

The muscles particularly feel as if they can now extend further when relaxed and tighten up further when retracted than they have had to do for decades. In one move I was whisked right back to childhood; lie on your front, flex a knee and grab your foot, then pull the foot all the way down till your heel is touching your thigh and your knee is bent to 180º. Now, I should rapidly add, I can NOT do that one all the way like I remember we used to do as boys (we could all do it standing up on the other foot and hopping around pretending to be pirates), but 'teach' was quite impressed by how flexible I was after only these 4 sessions. And relax.

Rudbeckia 'Goldsturm'
No progress on the Kitchen since the last post except that we have had our delivery of the timber and building materials and we have secured the fibre glass at a very reasonable price. We love that K-Dub who is used to his friendly Dublin prices where the quantity of stuff he buys from his tame builders' merchants gain him good trade-discounts, hates to re 'ripped' off by the smaller local shops out here in the sticks. He hunts around locally and finds the best price he can but still brands it daylight robbery and gets on the phone to his Dublin colleagues. He doesn't HAVE to do that. We love him for it.

Tuesday 27 September 2016

A Mum-Seeking Missile

Our two new kittens, who came to us on the day after Brexit-vote day (24th June) are, we estimate, now 4 months old. They are big and lively and have long out-grown their willingness to stay contained within the Sitting Room so we leave that window ajar for them and have taught them to come and go through it so that they get access to the whole garden and yard.

Chip (boy)
They are, however, a bit small  and silly yet to be able to cope with a chase or an attack by the terriers. Deefer would possibly be OK on her own but the 'pups' in pack-mode are a different species, rushing in teeth-first, desperately trying to get in faster than their sibling. Real 'red mist' stuff with no thought to whether this is allowed prey or just ratty vermin needing several bites and shakes to kill it as fast as a dog can. The kittens have showed a tendency to try to get back into the house through the other (non-Sitting Room) windows or doors, which would (and has) land(ed) them in the doggy parts of the house. A mad scramble then ensues to rescue the silly kitten and secure the dogs. We have to remember when we open the Sitting Room window, to close all the others far enough to prevent kitten ingress.

Chivers (girl)
We have started to warily try out some controlled 'meetings' and looking at options like crating the kittens in a room to let the dogs get a bit familiar with them and calm down the killer instinct a bit. Liz tried one yesterday where the 'pups' were locked in the bedroom and Deefer was allowed access downstairs. She apparently walked right past the kittens to go steal their food. Progress of a sort, we guess.

The Araucana x game cock-bird always
manages to look totally demented.
This morning, though, a rude awakening of a new sort. We were lying there semi-asleep in the last few minutes before my alarm goes off (07:30) with the dogs scattered over the duvet as normal. I had every reason to think the alarm would sound, I would get up and then prod some snoozing dogs into action so that I could take them out for a 'comfort stop'. Suddenly all hell broke loose and the three dogs were charging about the bedroom down and around each side of the bed, round the foot-end or over the top (and us).

Guinea Fowl also managing to look demented. 
They can't actually get under the bed as the space is full of suit cases, crates of bed linen and 'other season' clothes but the spaces are small enough to allow in cats and Soldier in particular likes to wake me up for (his) breakfast by playing with the dogs and winding them up. In the half light I assumed he would be, as usual, on my bed side table 'asking' to be let out (and then fed downstairs, of course). Then I saw the real cause of the chaos - a kitten was running around and diving under the bed whenever a dog got too close for comfort. Luckily he was still intact and Liz, awake and out of bed in an instant was able to scoop him up while I tried to hold all three dogs at a distance. Obviously we had left too many windows open and the bedroom door, and the kitten had woken up, then gone out, come back in through the kitchen and hunted us down in our sleep. "That boy is like a Mum-seeking Missile" was Liz's comment. Luckily, no harm done and a lesson learned.

K-Dub hacks off render with the medium
sized kango hammer. 
Meanwhile, work has started on the kitchen extension. First job once the site had been cleared was to hack off the render on the house side of the new space, so that we get a lovely attractive stone wall in the kitchen, instead of the stippled "gravel-dash". The plan was to hack off this, rake out the (pointing) cracks between stones and repoint with pale mortar which will contrast with the beautiful dark grey of (we hoped) the lovely quarried, shaped stones.

Raking out the old pointing and the 'gobs'
of render in the cracks
We were not at all sure that the stone would be beautiful, of course. Plenty of the internal walls proved to be a right old mess of concrete blocks, old bricks and re-used rubble. But 'no', we were delighted to find quality stone work with big blocky 'coin' stones at the corners and well bonded rows of good stone throughout. Some of the coins are 13" high and one was a gorgeous black stone which will make quite a feature. We were also delighted with how "handy" (well) the render came away. You can be days chipping away inch by inch. You don't know till you start. The kango-ing, raking out and then wire-brushing were all dusty, messy jobs and my hair felt like a Lego man's one-piece plastic wig by the end. It was pure joy to be able to get into the shower.

Lovely stonework revealed. 
Since these pics were taken we have moved on. The plumbing has been moved to accommodate the new roof (mainly sneaking the vent 'stack' out sideways through what will be a block-work in-fill mini-wall so that we do not have to make a big hole in the new roof). We have also measured up and now ordered all the timber for rafters etc. That should arrive tomorrow. More on this in the next post.

The Buff chicks are a month old now. 
Tonight we will be a bit more careful with the windows at lock up. By the way, I love that the spell-checker on this site offers you 'mango' for Kango. While trying to work out what a Mango-hammer might look like, I am also trying to see tropical fruit used to remove concrete render from the outside of a house.

Friday 23 September 2016

An Embarrassment of Pig Nuts

The area is currently a vision in green and red - Mayo are
in the All Ireland (again); a replay on Saturday week.
For some reason I have gone, this week, from nearly running out of pig feed, to having an embarrassment of riches. We get 99% of our stock feed here from one particular supplier in a nearby town, mainly because through time we have been let down too many times by the local branches of a 'co-op' (no names, no pack drill). The latter are well known locally for running out of stock of vital lines (barley, pig feed, layers pellets etc). Even if you are trying to be loyal, this annoys you and sends to scurrying off to other 'shops' where, if you find satisfaction like we did, you tend to stay.

365  picture. 
It is all a big shock then when you let your own stock run down a bit, and you rock up at Mr Reliable Supplier to be told that, sorry, we just sold the last bag. Back to the co-op then, to be told that they no longer stock pig-feed because nobody ever wants it. You hold back from saying that nobody tries to buy it here because you never had it in stock! To cut a long story short I asked both if they could get me some in and both promised to. Mr RS even took a phone number to contact me on when it arrived. I gave my word to the Co-op guy that I would come back and buy his bag if he could, indeed, get it by next Wednesday. I would not leave him sitting on stock. Although it is a dry mix feed, it does have a limited shelf life.

The start of Autumn colour.
Then today as I was talking to Charlotte of the Mini Horses, she said that a branch of the co-op in another town "usually had it". So today I called by there and the guys had a bag, so I bought it. Within half an hour Mr RS had phoned me back to say that his lorry had just turned into the yard and he could see the pink pig-meal bags on the load. I now have 2 bags and next Wednesday, if Co-op guy #1 amazes me by producing the goods, I will be morally bound to buy the third. More pig food than I can use in the limited time these pigs have left. Ah well. Lesson learned; never "nearly run out" of pig food.

I use shredded paper from Liz's work as bedding when I can
get it. Yesterday's had an amazing array of bright coloured paper
in it. I hope the turkeys don't get disturbed, psychedelic dreams.
That Guinea Fowl was just having us on. After 2 nights roosting out elsewhere and me working out dates on the calendar for likely hatchings, she meekly returned to the fold with her husband and is now roosting back indoors. We may never know whether there were eggs or what happened.

New toys for Lizzie.
I will keep this one a bit short as the rest of the week was just the 'buildering' (we were back on the stone walling) and the usual round of shopping, taxi-ing and missions of mercy.

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Road Trip(s)

'Golden Hornet' crab apples ripe for the picking. 
We do very little driving around for its own sake but since the last post I have found myself on two very different but equally remarkable road trips, one in an olde tractor and one in the 'normal' car. The tractor ride came about because a good friend of ours was having his little old 2 wheel drive John Deere fixed at a workshop down beyond Castlerea - only 28 km but that's a decent tarmac drive for a tractor, likely to take an hour and a half at least. He didn't fancy the job so when I volunteered he looked at me as if I must be mad but readily accepted.

A few more weeks and the pears will also be ripe.
All the serious farmers round here and the contractors have, by now, much bigger machines - big 4 wheel drive 100 hp+ with fancy sprung, air-con, sound proofed cabs, very comfortable seats, all automatic drive and gearing and assorted bells and whistles. It is only the old boys on the tiny farms who retain the smaller, simpler tractors which I would know; which I would have driven back in my farming days 40 years ago. Or the restoration/vintage enthusiasts, of course. This was one such - I was going to be bounced around and deafened all the way home but I have a kind of masochistic nostalgic delight in these rattle-buckets.

A '365' pic of the road down to the old graveyard.
I ran the route on Google Maps and wrote down the following figures, just for interest. The journey was only 28.3 km (17.6 miles) but took 1 hour and 50 minutes so I was able to average only 15.43 km/hr (9.58 mph). Total hearing loss was about 70% (Wha'...? Pardon?) and I was delighted to finally get the tractor home, 'strangle' the engine and park the hydraulics. For some of the route I was following the road markings painted down for the half marathon a few weeks back - 5m, 6m and so on. I actually FELT like a marathon man slowly creeping towards his finish and anticipating the cheers of the crowds.

Kilrooan old graveyard
The other road trip was a very different affair, my 2nd down to Co. Tipperary (I was down there for my pig training course 2+ years ago ) and our first to Cashel (as in "The Rock of.."). As the song goes - it is, indeed, a long way and we planned a 3 hour run down to the funeral (brother of friend) to be in time for the midday Funeral Mass. We made it and did the honours at church and then at the graveyard but ended up with no time at all to look round what looks like a beautiful town and the castle/rock itself.

The 'posh' shoes don't get many outings. I had to brush the
dust off for the funeral. 
The journey home was a little longer but we broke it with a small diversion into Mum's place for soup, tea and cake. That was a long old day. It was also the day of the 'All Ireland' GAA football final between Mayo and 'the Dubs' (they drew) so Liz (outbound driver) picked up some traffic reminiscent of our Kent days on what are normally empty roads, with all the Mayo lads heading up to the capital.

Nice harvest moon - this would be a 'Hopping Moon' in Kent
(from the hop-picking)
In other news, young Deefer, our oldest dog made her 10th birthday (17th Sept) and the Guinea hen (Min) may have gone broody. She went AWOL Sunday and Monday nights and was not there at lock-up. We had a quick patrol but not with any hope of success as it was getting dark. We reckoned that as we have seen no mating behaviour or eggs for months, she might be doing a sneaky stash somewhere and on Monday we kept a bead on the 'boys'.

An early breakfast for the ewes on Funeral Day. 
When they were both loitering with intent, looking guilty. next day between the caravan and the 'Mad Max' vehicle, we deduced that she might well be among the old rafters slid under the caravan, where she might be quite safe as it would be a tight squeeze for Mr Fox (if not the mink) and, anyway, we'd not be able to extract her. Subsequently she has been off the eggs and wandering round with the boys enough to make us doubt her commitment to this broody thing but we keep and open mind since so many hens we have doubted have, in the event, produced the goods. Tonight, though, she is back roosting in the coop up in the rafters with her beau, so that might be that. I will keep you posted.

Existing tiny 8' square kitchen, looking at
the window which will  soon be a bigger
Finally a start soon on a house project which has been on the cards for a while, the kitchen extension. We have put up with the old floor plan since our rebuild. This includes a 50's "council style" extension to the back of the house which holds the kitchen downstairs and a flat-roof bathroom upstairs. The kitchen is only 8 feet square which dictates that a lot of stuff (fridge, freezers, crockery and cutlery) end up in other parts of the house and pretty much fixes the design options (path up the middle, oven one side, sink the other)

The 'Pottery' and that window from the
Ours, however, came with a tempting opportunity to expand with a lean-to or conservatory style (ish) extension. The west facing window looks out over a bit of concrete 'path' between the exterior house wall and the out-building we call the Tígín (wee housey), an area we optimistically named the 'Pottery'. It was going to be a garden for pots, planters and tubs but hey, the best laid plans etc. It never happened and it exists merely as a pad of concrete where the chickens come to scrounge cat food through the open window. It is an 8 feet wide and 11 feet long blank bit of wasted space inches away from the poor over-crowded chef who is crying out for more elbow room and storage area. Well, not for much longer. More on this soon.

Friday 16 September 2016

Ivy Honey (The End of the Year?)

Ivy flowers about to open
Irish honey bees are different from all other 'tribes' in being adapted to cope with the long, mild, wet winters here. Their dark (mellanistic) bodies give them the name Apis Mellifera (sub-sp Mellifera or AMM for short) make them easy to spot and their special attributes make mockery of the global trends in commercial bee-keeping (Let's buy queens from Italy! Let's use these fantastic "Buckfast" hybrids from Devon!) - Irish beekeepers tend to be looking now, only for genuine dark Irish bees.

The ivy flowers start to open.
Worker bees hatching around now are physiologically very different from the short-lived 'Summer' bees; they can live for 6 months and this is not just because they do not have to go out and do all that exhausting foraging for nectar and pollen (and water and propolis). They have fatty 'bodies' under the skin in their abdomen where they can lay down fat to help them through the bad times. The fat comes mainly from ivy pollen, which is good news in Ireland where ivy is hugely abundant (hence, presumably, the co-evolution).

These 'super' frames are in pristine mint condition with none
of the wax 'foundation' drawn up into hexagonal honeycomb
Top frame in this pic has drawn comb over all but only
capped-off wax (white crinkly bits) on a small area. The bottom
frame is a bit better.
Ivy, though, is good for bees, but bad for Irish bee keepers (well, pushy, asset-squeezing, exploitative bee keepers, anyway). The nectar the bees gather from those pollen-rich flowers, when converted to honey by bees and packed into honey comb, sets like concrete! You cannot extract it from the combs in any easy way, so bee keepers make sure that they go through their hives taking off the summer and early autumn honey BEFORE the ivy flowers start to open - about now in these parts. This is the end of the year in honey-harvest terms.

I was pretty sure I'd have no honey to harvest. Regular readers will know that I looked in a while back and saw two completely empty 'super' boxes containing frames of foundation wax like new, as if no bee had ever walked that box and none had started to draw up the hexagonal tubes of honeycomb. I put the lack of honey down to the wet and horrible June and July when the bees would have been unable to go out foraging and would have used up any stores ( gathered in April and May) keeping the larvae alive.

Dark Irish workers on capped honey. 
One of the hives today was true to this story. The super was still clean and untouched. The bees have probably been 'up' there for an explore but have not needed it yet as a larder. They seem perfectly good and vigorous below this in the "brood and a half" boxes. There are stages to this honey comb. You start by giving the bees your frames of wax sheet embossed with a hexagonal pattern (foundation). The bees add more wax to this, building up the hexagonal tubes of the 'honeycomb' we know. These tubes are then filled with nectar/honey as the stores are dried out and chemically changed (to invert sugars). When the gloop is dry. stiff and changed enough to be honey, the cells are capped off with more wax, crinkly and white this time. Job done.

Arum berries in the local hedges.
The style of bee keeping we do in our apiary is very different (I have suggested above) from the intensive, manipulative pushiness of the commercial boys. They are in it to make a living from honey or selling new colonies. I am just trying to sustain colonies on site here to help with pollination (and because I like having them around). If I get honey then that is a bonus. My second hive does, in fact, have some capped (extractable) honey in it but is patchy and light. An Irish hive colony needs around 40-50 lbs honey to see it through the winter. The bees work all summer trying to accumulate this amount FOR THEMSELVES, not so that humans can 'harvest' it. The commercial boys will take honey anyway and if that leaves their hive short they will replace the 'stolen' honey with sugar syrup. I do not do that. I leave them the first 40-50 lbs (about what would be found in the first 'super box') and would only take crop from any 2nd, 3rd or higher boxes. (Some colonies get so strong in a good year, the bee keeper can stack 10 supers up like a hi-rise block)

To cut a long story short, these amounts of honey are not worth extracting and it would do too much damage to the hives to do so, so I have decided to leave them with it this year. Hence, you hopefuls who have been asking whether there would be any honey, I am sorry to disappoint you this year. That's how it goes with 'Natural' beekeeping, I am afraid.

BIG thistles.
In other news, we sadly lost one of the tiny Buff Orp chicks this week. We don't know what did for him/her - I spotted that the 2 mums had only 4 chicks with them and went round trying to see if the little mite might be stuck somewhere in need of rescue. I found the body clean and dry, with not a feather out of place, but stretched out on the grass, stiff and lifeless. These things happen. Small Holders have a wry comment to one another to cover this - "Ah well... where there is livestock, there is dead stock". Just not a thriver, I guess.

Tuesday 13 September 2016

Anyone for Yoga?

Morning sky on the 11th
Readers who know my brothers and I will know that we went through our first 50 or so years without a sporty bit in our DNA. We know nothing of soccer and at school would swerve outdoor team stuff as often as possible when options like cross country running or canoeing were available. We have precious little interest in any other sports (except maybe rallying, off roading or possibly Formula 1). Gyms were BAD places and, as far as I know, none of us did that 'subscription' thing when gyms became fashionable.

Yellow hot poker?
Lately, youngest bro, Mark, has been getting into the weight loss and fitness thing, and his blog posts and Facebook have been well laced with various exercise classes and words like 'biceps curl' and 'abs'. Most recently he has been doing "Total Body Conditioning" and "Balance Classes". I have no idea what these involve so, Mark, you'll have to forgive me if I have an image in my head of you balancing along one of those 3" wide beams like a latter-day Nadia Comaneci.

Blue the cat (top centre) looking a bit beleaguered when his
day time hidey hole is invaded by all the birds taking shelter
from the rain. Blue hates chickens and always gives them a
wide berth.
I am not sure I have been inspired by all this but when Liz organised some Yoga classes at work and included, for the first time, a men's beginners class, I found myself agreeing to support this worthy clause. I was, of course, scared stiff as it would be a first time doing anything formally 'fitness' and I was also worried that I might be the only bloke who turned up. I felt a bit like a school kid being dropped off at school by her Mum as Liz drove me down there and waved me off. Her 'Mixed Ability (Ladies) class had their session after ours. I am also, I think, the only bloke in Roscommon who doesn't own jogging 'pants' so I was attired in a pair of rarely used long pyjama bottoms which were dark-ish and could pass muster in a dim light. (Yoga instructors seem to like dim light and tinkly piano music for atmosphere).

Nice low angle shot of one of the hens with all 5 babies.
Well, it went OK in the end. There were 4 other lads there, mostly as old and creaky as me. I have to admit to spending the first 15 minutes (warming up time?) feeling a bit rebellious, hurting at the unprecedented pain being done to hip joints and convinced that I had done what I agreed to - go along and try it the once - so I could bow out after this session. Yoga? Tried it once but it wasn't for me. But then, as I warmed up, I began to enjoy the stretches, the heat and the pain in under-used muscles and joints. It helped that I didn't feel completely useless as the lads around me were groaning and gasping just as loud as me and the man to my left at one stage grunted a very audible 'Aaahh Jeeeeezus!' which had us falling about laughing.

30 minutes in I had changed my mind completely and was determined to come back for the remaining (5?) sessions of the course and I have to also admit to a lot of respect and admiration for our teacher, easily the bendiest woman I have ever seen in action (maybe with the exception of Nadia C?). She apparently races around Roscommon doing these classes in all manner of villages and towns, most evenings. She is in huge demand and Liz was (she says) so lucky to get her for Lisacul. Yep, I was actually quite proud of myself that evening and the next day, wearing my whole-body aches and pains with pride. I knew I had had a good work out and hope that those joints and muscles will all be a little better for it, all be it I will never be as flexible as 'Teach'.

Who knew that the membranes inside your 'dippy egg' could
have this honeycomb structure?
If I am getting healthier, though, the Health-bogeyman must have spotted me and decided to whack me on Sunday-Monday with a horrible stomach bug. I 'never' get these (We can remember just one from our marriage which hit me on a Christmas in Hastings) so the pain and seriously 'ill' feelings come as much a shock as debilitating. I got first signs on the Sunday night, spending all that night very uncomfortable and not sleeping very well. I woke up at normal time and forced myself to do livestock rounds (waves of hot-flush and sweaty nausea), and then engaged in a 3 hour drive/hang around getting the right people to the butchers to see the lamb cut up and re-homed. At that point I was packed off to bed by Nurse Lizzie.

The ivy starting to flower. Bee keepers need to be getting their
honey off the hives - ivy nectar sets like rock once the bees
have processed it into honey.
I spent most of that day in the sickbay. Meanwhile, Liz (snr) was due up for a visit, mainly to go blackberrying with us. Not that day though - every time they fired up the car it lashed down with rain! I woke up at lunchtime feeling a little better and tried some flat 7-Up (a family cure for dodgy tummies) and some sieved (bitless) borscht. I sat and chatted for a while but was quickly needing to get rid of lunch. Back to bed for me, then and Liz beating me into submission - SHE would do the livestock rounds and no arguing. The good news is that I woke up this morning with all pain gone and happily tried some toast to no ill effect. I have eaten normally today and drunk normal amounts of coffee and tea - no dizziness, no nausea, no sweaty hot flushes and no excuse to not go to Yoga on Wednesday. I guess a winter-vomiting bug picked up from somewhere, or maybe Liz is sneaking the strychnine into the BBQ chicken.

Liz and Liz at the blackberrying
Today also dawned beautifully sunny and warm, so we grabbed our tubs and buckets and headed off for the brambly hedges of the fields of a very good farming friend. The fruit grows lush and bold in those fields and, them being a silage fields, I know they never get sprayed with anything except slurry and fertilized with anything but inorganic NPK to help the grass after each silage cut. In an hour and a half we had quickly accumulated 4 kgs+ of lovely ripe fruit. The sun was starting to get to me (maybe not as fully recovered as I thought?) by then and Mum was feeling tired, so we stopped at the one big bucket. We have an option to go back for more. There are plenty there. We didn't even get all the way round the first (of two) field(s).

I think that'll do for this one. Here, though, is some lovely, mad, china Mum brought up as a gift. Thank you so much, Liz (snr)

Friday 9 September 2016

Four by Four (or Twos and Fives)

I made it 45 swallows on the wires this afternoon, 46 if you
include the one just left of the pole. 
As our very wet August does its drippy 'segue' into soggy September (and I have my usual debate with myself whether that should be pronounced 'segway' or 'seeg') we start to give up on Summer and look down the barrel of Autumn. Today is a particularly wet example - it is doing that rain which I have only ever experienced here in Ireland. It is 'heavy' in the sense that there is a lot coming down but the drops are like big drizzle falling slowly and landing without drama. There is no roar of hammering raindrops bouncing off the tarmac but you get wet very fast because of the density of the drops. It is surely this kind of rain that was first described as a 'soft' day.

The half-feathered 2nd batch of Hubbard chickens at 4 weeks
looking at their most "velociraptor"
I feel a bit like 'Lady Muck' going round the village distributing cakes to the poor peasants when I am doing my livestock rounds. The sheep and pigs are fine and probably sheltering in their lean-to or ark but the birds are all either young, so I like to give them food under cover, or holed up in various places around the farm sheltering from the rain - under the trailer, in the car-port, in the sheds and coops, under the bottom shelf of the log store and so on.

This hedgehog called by one evening and I came upon
him unsuspecting with dogs, hence he is curled up in a ball.
I take the appropriate feed for the groups round in 1 litre yogurt tubs and slide a portion in onto their dry ground without worrying them into getting to their feet and sprinting out into the rain to avoid me. The geese and ducks, of course, have no problem and show every sign of loving the warm shower. They will happily hoover up wet food from the rain soaked ground. The chickens, Guineas and (now) turkeys (of which more later) all hate to get their feet wet and will not eat wet food.

Mr/Mrs Tiggy Winkle uncurls and sets off after the doggie
It must be time for a livestock round up; I know some of the readers like to hear the latest moves and worry if they have not heard from xxx for a while. Pigs are good and ever bigger. We have had no repeats of the belly-ache wobble by Somerville which scared me to death last week. I must measure them again for a weight estimate. I may do that tonight if I can 'borrow' Liz's dress-making (soft) tape measure again. I will let you know. Our current thoughts are to 'finish' them in late October.

Chip with his damaged pupil. It seems to not be able to close
from the right side of his face but he manages. 
We are now down to our 'ground zero' on the sheep flock with the last two lambs-for-meat being away at the butchers hanging for their week before they get cut up in our presence next Monday. The 4 keeper 'yows' going in 'steps and stairs' in ages down from 7 year old Lily, 5 year old Polly, through 3 year old Myfanwy and now this year's 'replacement' Rosie. We will probably stick with 4 as that gives us potentially more than enough lambs but you may recall that we have offered to rehome a couple of 'geriatrics' for our Mayo breeder friend who may be coming out of sheep.

Firing on all cylinders - 100% hit rate from the ducks, all be it
one is still sneaking out the smaller 'first' eggs
('fairy' eggs or 'witch' eggs).
The ducks amazed us by all coming into lay - we got 4 eggs from 4 females. Admittedly one of these was one of the small 'fairy' or 'witch' eggs which new birds do as they stutter their pipework into action. These eggs usually have no yolk or a funny, embryonic squiggle of 'germ'. You can eat them (though I prefer to discard the squiggle!) but the birds quickly come on line properly with a normal size egg after a couple of days. These are young ducks only hatched in March, so I assumed they'd not come into lay till spring. Their '4 x 4' productivity out-does anything we have ever managed from the chickens (or the geese for that matter) where I think our best was 9 eggs from (then) 11 likely hens.

I was getting a bit carried away with my flavoured goats
cheeses. Here left to right, chive and garlic, parsley and marigold
and then honey and paprika. Great fun. 
No such excitement from the hens of similar age to the ducks, the 'Corporal' and his 3 ladies. Not a one egg yet there. The other adult chooks are bimbling along disappointingly rarely giving even 3 eggs per day (from 7 eligible grown ups); I am excluding the 3 Buffs who are currently tied up rearing youngsters, the Corp's lot and the 2 month old Marans.

Badge of Honour? You've not lived till you have been snotted
on the left man-boob by 60 kg of hungry pig.
Our two most recent broodies (briefly here as "Dustbin Lady and Crate Lady" if you look back a few posts) have delighted us by forming a nice little family group looking like a pair of London Nannies taking their charges out to the park each day. Both Mums share the job and the 5 babies seem to happily interchange between the two 'parents'. They are so close now that I call them the "Two and Fives". The five chicks are all thriving, with little buff coloured true feathers coming on their wings between the chick-fluff.

There is always paperwork.
The other 'former broody' is way further forward with her little 'Araucana' chicks (the 'black babies'). These guys were hatched in late June so are 11 weeks old and should probably have left home by now, off to University or earning their own wages. It may be that they are little 'bantam' sized things and Mum thinks they are still 'her babies' but we still see her with them, minding them. Being Araucanas (or at least A x game) they are tricky to sex - both sexes have the fancy top-knot and an erect tail so we may have to wait till they reach 'point of lay' (21 weeks?) as we did for the white silkies in Kent, to see do they lay an egg or shout cock-a-doodle-dooooo!

Turkey Poults
This week we took delivery (Thanks Sue) of our three handsome turkey poults, settled them in for a day and then let them go free range. Up to now they had lived under cover in a shed and (said Sue) were long overdue for some sunshine and freedom. They spent settling in day out in a small triangular run in our yard, gazing up at the sky and the passing poultry. Yesterday they went free and had a good old explore of the site. Today, in the rain they were back indoors looking a bit less impressed but at least they are under cover voluntarily so it still might count as an improvement.

Free range turkeys.
The three is made up of 2 bigger (older) birds and a youngster. The bigger ones may even be children of our own late lamented Tom and Barbara who gave us some eggs in spring prior to Barbara going off to do her suicide-nest in the fields. I passed these to Sue for hatching but I have no idea whether those eggs became these particular birds. It would be nice to think that the DNA is carrying on but these birds are for Christmas so any boys will be 'gone' before they turn into  red-pyjama-hating, Liz-attacking, kick-boxing hooligans.