Friday 30 June 2017

A Nice Kind of Boss

Kitchen finished but for aluminium detail
strip along step (bottom of pic) and light
fitting (top left)
With the kitchen now all but finished we "builders" can move on to the next job. The little bit of de-snagging (as they say) involves just a fancy metal angle strip on the step and the light fitting in the new bit of kitchen, both of which we have yet to buy. The next job is all about creating, in K-Dub's yard, a series of concrete pads. One will take the planned big new shed/building/workshop/winter-quarters for the mini horses. Others will support dog-pen, dog house, green house and path(s).

That lovely old digger - a Massey Ferguson version of the JCB
mainly used by Councils back in the day.
When the helpful professional digger driver originally did the ground works for the house/extension he carefully sorted the 'waste' into piles of mainly one substance - topsoil for example, or rocks, or subsoil or turf-waste or 'rubbish-soil-with-boulders'. This is unusual, I gather - you normally inherit a great big mountain of general "spoil" and it's up to you to sort it out. In K-Dub's case there are mini-mountains dotted around the restricted space.

The trees out front getting rocked about
by the recent stiff NNW breeze
All this concrete work involves bringing lots of '804' gravel (sub-base) and several 8-wheeler concrete lorries onto the site and needing somewhere for the 804 to 'land'. K-Dub's solution is to move the mountain of top soil and, rather than double-handle it, to create several big, deep raised beds for the future veg garden. We do this by barrowing the stuff over into the beds but to fill the barrows out comes my favourite toy, the "JCB". It is not actually a JCB, but the Massey Ferguson version made in the 70s and very popular with council fleet buyers back in the day.

Plenty red currants up out of rooster-reach
K-Dub, being younger and fitter than me and a nice kind of boss believes that if he is not actually paying the 'help' then they ought to get the easier job (digger-ing) while he does the barrows. Suits me - I get to sit there for the hours twiddling my 6 levers with only the uncomfortable, tired seat and the chilly breeze blowing through the open-backed cab to complain about.

Mullein. Another 'wild' species we are
 trying to self-seed up a sustained population
I am reasonably good at it - I am tidy and I have not killed anyone yet but I have to confess I was delighted when the aforementioned professional digger driver (Jimmy, who lives next door to K-Dub) crept up behind me while I was working, stopped us working for a quick chat and fancied a 'go' on our old rust-bucket. He has long since moved on to the huge multi-ton turf machines but would have learned the ropes on these old MF work-horses back in his (relative) youth. He was a pleasure to watch - such control and deliberate movement. Poetry in motion. I must have been paying attention to this involuntary "master-class" too. K-Dub was amazed at the "improvement" after I'd watched Jimmy - "You are much neater and you're filling the barrows perfectly!" he said.

"Big Red" with her 4 now out and about.
Meanwhile, back at home, after all the excitement of that job I am refraining from talking about in this post (pssst... haircuts for ovines) we are enjoying a bit of a relaxed week bedding in the new chicks. Big Red has now started bringing her 4 chicks out to join white hen 'Connie' and her 3. They have little run-ins with other hens now and again and the ginger cats seem fascinated by them but too scared of the bossy hens to actually have a go.

Hubbards at 25 days get moved to the release-pen. 
They are thriving. I get good chick crumb and my finely-chopped hard boiled egg mix into them by periodically going to find the groups and, if there is no competition about, dropping little piles near them which the mother hen dives on clucking her bass-y "Food here children!" cluck. We thought we'd lost one of her black chicks - he was suddenly all slow, wobbly and woozy but he has recovered.

Release pen. They get a few days and nights to get used to
going to roost in the house, then let out into the 10 m by 10 m
pen itself. 
Maybe it was a chilly, wet day and he'd taken a 'puck' from an adult hen's feet (or beak) and got a bit cold and shocked. He got left behind a couple of times but we rescued him back to Mum and he seemed to improve after a few of their 'nap-time' hunker-downs. Mum-hens do that. They go exploring for a while but then decide it is nap time, gather the babies back under their skirts and settle down for a rest where ever they happen to be.

That first sour-dough loaf.
The Hubbard "babies" who are now as big as a pigeon in body-size despite only being 25 days old have been moved from their 2 square metres rabbit run, to their 'grown-up' 10 m by 10 m pen via a release pen I have built. Previous years I have had difficulty getting them to go to bed safe in the house - they started camping out UNDER the house and I had to rake them out and carry them to bed. So I built them a small training run which excluded them from 'under'. When they've done a few days and nights of going to bed properly, they can come out into the wider pen.

Welsh Cakes
In the new kitchen we are enjoying the sour dough bread making. I have had 2 reasonably good loaves (both been eaten) and I am creeping up on 'perfection' with a 3rd attempt tomorrow. The "sponge" is bubbling away now. Liz got inspired by some Welsh-Cakes brought by one of the guests to their recent AGM in Cardiff. She has had a go at them here. Again, they were OK but she was disappointed by the slightly scorched colour and that they were too thick and a bit sticky to handle. I expect there will be a 2nd prototype along soon.

Tuesday 27 June 2017

The Final 9... and a half

Colin has a bit of a sort out of the sheared ewes
In the last post, I promised an end soon to talk of sheep shearing. This is definitely the last word on that subject or at least the penultimate one. Friends of the blog will know that on Saturday I was booked over to Co. Sligo again to nail the final 9 Texel ewes plus, it turned out, a little grey mountainy animal who had nearly sheared herself by losing her winter coat except for some shaggy pantaloons and a fluffy (un-docked) tail. Some sheep breeds do this, the Wiltshire Horn for example, so this girl, Molly, may have some of that DNA in her mix. She was our "and a half" sheep.

For this session our French student assistant was absent, given a lie-in by the family as she'd been working her socks off all week and was exhausted. It was just Colin and I but that was OK. The 3rd hand is useful but not vital. Anne joined us late morning when we were just 2 sheep from the end of the task, a nice "bringing on a fresh sub" move.  We took it fairly steady and got through all ten animals between 9 a.m. and 11:30 even with a break for coffee mid way and a bit of a pause to sort and treat a fly-strike victim.

Fly strike lesion on right side of ewe. Cleaned up in this pic.
You'll recall that one of the main reasons for shearing early-ish in the year (May?) is to avoid the over-heated sheep getting blow flies lay their eggs down among the fleece. These eggs hatch and the maggots crawl down to the skin and start eating that, causing, as you can imagine, all manner of discomfort to the sheep and eventually worse ills.

Letting them all go back out to pasture.
Fly strike is messy, smelly and not nice. We only found the one case, a ewe with maggots down in her groin area. These sheep-keepers though, know their stuff and had what felt like 4 different lotions and potions on hand to wipe on, sponge on, massage in and then (a very bright yellow cream) smear around the outside of the place. Once we had got rid of all the maggots all you can do is prevent more and let the wound, which was not very deep in this case, dry and heal.

So that was me, sheared out for the year. I could clean the shears, de-tension them and send the blades away to be sharpened. Luckily I mentioned this to Alayne, who sends her horse-trimmers off like this and when I told her of the 'brilliant place' on Achill Island I have used before she was able to advise me that that one is closed following the tragic death of the business owner. She gave me an alternative place to get them sharpened.

Had to try these new "Jakoti" hand shears
The reason for my "penultimate" possibility is that I have been tempted by all the @smallholderIRL Twitterer sheep-folk into buying a new toy.

Connie takes her 3 babies to visit 'Big Red' in the Utility Room,
who has just hatched 4 for herself. She does not receive an
enthusiastic welcome. 
This is a pair of Jakoti hand shears looking like an extended pair of Felco secateurs. All the sheep people swear by them now and have been abandoning the olde fashion sprung-steel "double bow" type. I have now received these just after having finished shearing proper but I have one tidy up job I can try them out on - those frilly knickers and woolly dewlaps I left on my own sheep before I had all this practise on Southdowns and Texels.

The Hubbards at 3 weeks are fast out-growing "baby chick"
Meanwhile, back home we are awash with baby chicks and more on the way. You'll know we got the 13 (now dozen) Hubbards hatched on 5th June. In the last post I spoke of 3 chicks hatched under our #1 broody, Sussex 'Connie', with Utility Room broody coming up to Day 21 yesterday. Well, right on schedule, UR-Broody (we'll call her Big Red) hatched hers, 4 chicks in her case. Hot on her heels should come 'Stumpy', Due 7th July and now we have found a 4th 'clocker', the part-Araucana we call 'Beeblebrox' whom we THINK will be due on the 15th. We are furiously trying NOT to count our chickens.....

Foaming porridge? A sour dough starter. 
Tipped off by our visitors from Dorset, Mazy Lou and Airy Fox and then encouraged by the 'curator' of that Twitter account (@MagsMorrisey) who did a week of bread making Tweets, I have decided to try my hand at the sour-dough bread. Both of us have tried plenty of yeast bread since we have been here (and before) but never sour-dough. I will not go into detail as this 'muck and magic' has been covered intensively else where but in brief, the bread rises due to the activity of a 'starter' which you keep active, instead of dried or fresh yeast.

Bread makers love and cherish their starter cultures, feed them and tend them like any other livestock. They even give them names. Mine came over from Mazy in Liz's hand luggage and I named it Reginald after the ram I had just sheared. Ooops - sorry, that slipped out.

Anyway, long story short, we have fed Reg for the required week and, finding him foaming like a swamp, I made the first loaf today. Even though I failed to artistically score the top of the lump of dough and scorched it a little by forgetting how fierce our oven can be, it came out very well and is delicious.

Hard to beat. Your own pork. The bread-crumb crust covers
shredded courgette in creamy garlic sauce
Other than that, a nice bit of progress on the kitchen project. We'd been looking for a suitable worktop for in there against the bare stone wall plus wondering how to mount it given the lack of cupboards, then sitting down at our Dining Table to scratch our heads and drink coffee. This is what we need, we agreed, something like the top of the table. Solid wood, 4 cms thick, honey-coloured oak (or similar?), 6 foot long, stripped of varnish and cherished for years with something like our beeswax polish.

New kitchen gets an up-cycled dining table work top. 
BING! Light-bulb moment. Why don't we either find another table and cut it up (well, get K-Dub, our ace carpenter, to do it) or find one to replace this one and cut this one up? So we did. I was out in Boyle last Friday and spotted a "Pre-Loved Furniture" shop (yoiks) and there, right in the front window was the very table. We nipped out to collect it yesterday and texted K-Dub, and he came round today. Bingo! Liz has a perfect-height, solid wood worktop which even has a 'splash-back' with twin double sockets for the various kitchen gadgets. Marvellous.

Friday 23 June 2017

Too Sheepish?

This week's breed of sheep is the 'Texel'. My first ever ram, named
Reginald is that tank of a sheep on the left in this shot.
This blog is in danger of becoming a bit sheep-orientated but bear with me. All these shearing stories are very seasonal; nobody does much shearing after June so normal, sheep-less service will be resumed shortly. The previous post had me just finished with the East Ender's woolly faced Southdowns and looking forward to getting stuck into Alayne and Colin's EIGHTEEN ewes and a ram. Count them. This is more sheep in one job that I had sheared up to that point in my life. It would also include my first ever ram so I was a little nervous.

French student Anne holds Reginald at mid-way point. 
I needn't have worried. With Liz still away at her 'AGM' in the UK, I spotted a free Tuesday morning when it was certain to be dry and suggested we make a start and make a dent in the number left to be sheared this weekend. My own private target was 6 sheep, which would be a third in half a day, which would make 12 in the whole of Saturday manage-able. Yes, I KNOW the pro's would laugh at these work rates as they bash through ewes in 5 minutes ( I think the current world champ takes 40 seconds!) but I'm a 20-30 minute guy myself.

A sheared ewe looking very skinny next to her full-fleece sisters
As I suspected (hoped!) the sheep turned out to be the Texel breed I had remembered, conveniently clean of face and lower limb, so there was to be none of the clippering round eyes and ears. We were also well staffed - Colin and Alayne use the Help-X "agency" to secure student volunteers who will come out and work hard for bed and board just so they can experience life on a smallholding or farm for a week or two in summer.

Looking like a 'pro' but what's he going to do with the toothbrush?
This summer they have French horse-riding instructor and student 'intern', Anne S on site and she was keen to get involved in this unfamiliar sheepishness. She was to be 'holder/steadier' but went on to be much more involved - catcher, shepherder, sprayer of nicks and cuts and even trainee shearer.

Anne tries her hand at the shearing under "expert" (hah!)
instruction from me.
We ended up having a good deal of fun and banter working away there and flew through the animals, starting with big, chunky Reginald who turned out to be the gentlest, calmest, sweetest victim you could ever have hoped for. The nick and cut spray became a particular in-joke and source of banter and heckling. Called 'Terramycin' and meant to stop any infection at the broken-skin wound sites, it is a bright, lurid blue so all your little nicks and cuts show up really obviously.

The Blue Spray of Shame
We named it the Blue Spray of Shame (and even translated that into French; Jet bleu de l'honte?) and Anne was trying to lash great blobs onto every tiny graze, even where the skin was not broken and I was pleading mercy "Ahhh come ON! Not THAT tiny one!" She had dalmation-ambitions for sure. Colin and I got our own back when she wanted a turn at the clippers and (oops) made a bit of a nick in a brisket. All good clean fun.

50% done, the group are run back down to the field.
We cracked on, swept past my 6-sheep target and managed 8 with a short stop for a refreshment smoothie. First time I'd ever had one of them. Thanks Alayne. We were half packed up and ready to run the sheep back to their field when we took pity on a ewe panting hotly even in the shade of the shed, so we buzzed her off too, total 9 - 50% of the flock complete!

Un-fazed by the shearing this sheared
girl lambed twins today. A nice
unexpected surprise
That was Tuesday and with Liz coming back and having to work, we decided to catch up the rest of the job on Saturday. With rain forecast Thursday night we knew we might need to do some judicious shepherding of the full-fleece ones in and out of doors out of the rain. As a nice happy "ending" to this part of the story, one of the ewes we sheared Tuesday dropped two unexpected happy, healthy lambs today.

Nice pick of broad beans from the tunnel
Had we known she was pregnant we should not have sheared her. I take from this encouragement that the "not while pregnant" rule only applies if you are up-ending the sheep to shear them - all that upside down stuff and stretchy manipulation could easily bring on miss-carriage or spontaneous abortion. Shear them standing on their feet and the stress is so little that even a full-term pregnant one could survive it. Obviously you'd not touch her if you knew. Colin is also delighted that by shearing the mum we have cleaned all round her udder and the lambs had no bother finding the teats and were suckling away in minutes.

Not so much a gift from England as Liz
repatriating this lovely whiskey which had
tried to escape the Island. This from Bristol
Airport's Duty-Free shop. Thank you Mrs C.
That was the first half of that then. More Texel-shearing tomorrow before I hang up the clippers for this season..... as far as I know.  Back home in Roscommon, the house has welcomed Liz home from her travels. She has had a whale of a time re-acquainting with a lot of the UK-based and Internet friends. Among the gifts she came home with, my first play with a sour-dough starter for bread making. More on this in a future post.

Our first 2017 broody, Connie the Sussex, nails it hatching
3 of the 5 eggs she was cooking. 
The first in our little collection of broody hens has hatched her chicks. She was sitting on 5 and now has 3 tiny chicks to Marshall around and rear.

She has made life very easy for herself by doing it all in a wicker basket in the Tígín (feed store) where we can close the door an anyone else interfering with her  and she can teach the babies to feed and find water in safety before she feels the need to take them out into the yard proper and meet all the aunties (and Dads). All three broodies so far this year are the young hens from Sue's replacement group which we got to re-stock after our fox. None of our mature old-stagers have shown any inclination.

Trad Irish Stew but made with goat chops.
That's surely enough for now. One more post about sheep, then I promise to leave them alone for a while as long as no-one comes a-knocking pleading with me to "just do" their 3 because their bloke has let them down.

A personal best post, read by almost 400 readers.
Oh, just one more thing - remember how impressed I was that one of my posts had attracted 300 views? The post, entitled "Welcome Strangers" featured Senator Frank Feighan and our visiting artist, Brian John Spencer. I just looked back at it and see that it has now been read by almost 400 folk. Thank you very much whom ever you are.

Monday 19 June 2017

It's Awful warm...Me Feet are Broke!

Love these lemon drop yellow snap-dragons.
"It's awful warm...Me feet are broke!" This from friend and neighbour, old boy down the road. He says it "warrr-um". He's spotted me walking the dogs early, avoiding the worst of today's heat, as he returns on a tractor from the other side of the village, loaded with empty pallets. He invites me in for a cup of tea and it's only when we're in the living room (turf fire glowing red in the grate) that he takes off his woolly jumper and his wellies (we're dry as dust here now, no mud for miles). It was good and welcome tea, though.

A spare suet pud from the freezer. Hard to beat!
We are having another mini heatwave here with temperatures down in the SE up towards 26-28ºC (UK is even hotter - I am hearing 31 and 33) so inevitably all those sheep owners who have not managed to get their animals sheared yet are starting to get anxious about 'fly-strike'. This is a horrible smelly affliction where the flies lay eggs down among the damp, warm fleece and the maggots eat their way down to and the into the sheep's skin. Not nice.

Supervising baby chicks with menaces?
The answer is to shear them in a timely manner, like in May, so that there is no fleece left for the flies to 'nest' in. However, smallholders have a problem, in that the 'proper' professional shearers get too busy working the large flocks and farms, hundreds or thousands of sheep and cannot be bothered to drive out to your isolated little spot and shear your 3, 4 or 5 sheep. Even if you have booked your man, he is still likely to let you down at the last moment leaving your sheep wilting in the heat.

Broad beans coming ready in the tunnel.
This is one of the reasons I decided to do my own. I am delighted that I love and enjoy this job and it now seems to be spreading, my own ewes first, then Sue and Rob's gang but now more recently a request from a Facebook friend and more to come. The FB chum was asking me to do a few for a friend of hers who was not on FB and who I'd never met, so I agreed to step in if she was stuck. I was passed a mobile phone number and the lady then also provided me with her Eir-code (post code).

New release pen for those Hubbards for
when they get moved to the big outdoors
Eir-codes are now the way we all find each other here - they have been added to the Google-Maps programme so you can ask for directions from Lisacul to, for example, F45E600 and up will come the map you need. Add in the 'Street-view' technology and you can "drive" there looking for landmarks before you make the real journey. No more need for 'directions'.

Southdowns. Oh those fully-woolly faces. Scary for the shearer.
So, there I was, then, headed for the tiny hamlet of Carrowbeg near to the village of Kilkelly over by Knock Airport early on Sunday morning. I was nervous, of course, hoping I'd do a good job for this new "customer" and that she'd be pleased.

One down, two to go.
I needn't have worried (I hope!), the lady turned out to be a real, genuine, salt of the earth East Ender here 10 years now but via Canvey in Essex and a big sheep farm in Cornwall. No nonsense though, so I knew she'd not want me being flippant or over friendly - I was nudged into full cool, professional, competent mode.

The ladies are a lot cooler.
I was desperate not to make any nicks or cuts in her animals so I was being really careful, especially as she told me a 'happy' anecdote about one shearer who had come to her and sliced the ear clean off a sheep. She can still remember the "plop" of it hitting the ground. She didn't get mad, she told me but I gather he didn't get paid or invited back. To add to my worries, these were not 'beginner's' type sheep, so it was not easy.

No damage to ears or eyes
They are Southdown breed, one of the two breeds familiar to we Sussex folk, the other being the Romney (Marsh). They have completely woolly faces with only their lips and nostrils and ear-tips showing. They also have shaggy wool all down their legs to their feet. I had only up to then, sheared sheep with the side-burns and top-knot of Hampshires, or the 'clean' faces and lower legs of Suffolks and Jacobs.  No need to put your clippers anywhere too near ears, eyes or those Achilles tendons.

Rambling Rector against the blue skies
Ah well. It went OK and we got through the 3 of them in about 2 hours with my new friend, whom we will call East Ender (EE) for these purposes), holding onto the dog-lead tied round a gate and trying to steady the rather nervous first-time girls (shearlings) from hopping about too much. Almost inevitably, I did have one faux-pas, maybe as a result of the dancing or just my beginner-ish incompetence, and nicked a small bloody hole in an armpit.

I was quite upset and apologetic and because I do not know EE at all, I *think* she was OK with it and will cope. It is frustrating to know that I will not find out till next year when I either get asked back or not! What ever the case she did not march me off the premises - she gave me a nice cup of tea and I met the rescue lurcher dogs, one of whom has a front leg amputated having been rescued in an appalling state. The nick will soon dry and heal over with or without EE's reaching for the herbal ointments or Vaseline. Ooops.

Daft 'selfie' with smoker.
So, that was EE and her three Southdowns. Next up came a request from my fox-shooting rifle man calling from Co. Sligo. Now they, I knew, have a lot more sheep (18 and a ram, it turns out) and I was seriously worried I'd not be able for it, with my 2 hours per three sheep work-rate. However, my man is in the lurch after having been let down by their 'proper' guy and is happy to work away at my 'method' over several sessions if need be. I can't remember exactly, but I think his sheep are bare-faced and bare legged ones, so we might get on faster than on the Southdowns.

Loving the hot weather and the sunny flowers.
I will let you know in the next post. Meanwhile, it seems to be all go here despite the absence of Mrs C who has now moved from the Cardiff 'AGM' base down to spend a few nights with our good friends Mazy Lou and Airy Fox in Bridport. She's back Wednesday. I will be the one lying there asleep in a pool of sweat and lanolin. It's awful warrr-um... me back is broke!