Tuesday 30 January 2018

Dark Nights, Extreme Knitting and 'Dumb' Phones.

It's not true, I tell you! Lovely sunny place!
I'd not realised that anyone kept such statistics but a recent edition of the Irish Times noted an article by Euro weather experts which says that "Northwest Europe is suffering one of its darkest winters since records began due to a seemingly never-ending series of low pressure systems shrouding us in cloud since late November" I can quite believe it. We are more familiar with stats on how many hours of sunshine places, especially resorts, get and this may just be the flip side of that coin. "If you live in Brussels, 10 hours and 31 minutes was your lot (of sunshine) for the entire month of December. The all but benighted inhabitants of Lille in France got just two hours, 42 minutes through the first half of January" (it says).

We got this one lovely sunny day Monday 29th. 
"Things weren’t too bright in Ireland either. (it goes on) Met Éireann reported below average overall levels of sunshine throughout December.
The lowest total, just over 20 hours, was recorded at Valentia in Co Kerry while the highest total was 59 hours at Dublin Airport.
Monthly sunshine totals in other measurement stations ranged from 24.5 hours at Knock Airport in Co Mayo to just under 54 hours at Shannon Airport in Co Clare."

Preparing our own suet for the next
pie crust.
As I said, I can believe it and it may explain the dip in egg-laying felt by us and by all the chicken keepers I have heard from. Everybody experienced the 'drought' through December and January. Our geese would normally come back into lay in November and have yet to produce an egg this winter at all. We have nearly 'done' January. In other time of year news, incidentally, I wonder did you spot the unusual timings of the full moons at the start of this year - we have Jan 1st and Jan 31st, then March 1st and March 31st, so 2 'Blue' moons (2nd one in a calendar month) but no full moon at all in February.

A rather superb pie. A suet crust around a filling of (our own)
sausage meat, black pudding, leeks and apples.
At the weekend we re-started archery after a break of several weeks when either the hall, or too many archers were not available. My good friend Paul Fox and I spent the session just messing around on the unofficial targets - shooting at plastic rings from milk bottle tops which were pegged to the foam butt with golf tees, or playing '301' on a big dart board. 

Some fancy knitting going on here but will you have enough
wool for the sleeves? Knitting close to the edge.
For those unfamiliar with this pub game, you throw darts to try to score points to count you down from 301 to zero, making full use of the doubles and trebles on the board but with a little evil twist in the tail that you must finish on a double. I played plenty of this as a student and, although I was OK at the dart throwing, I was appallingly bad at the 'backwards' maths you needed to do in a hurry to get to a good finish. 73 left to get? OK - hit the 13 to bring you down to 60, then get a 20 and a double 20. Job done. I was so slow that I'd have been OK if they'd allowed me to bring in a pencil and paper and sit down somewhere quiet to do the sums, but that is not really on in a fast-moving shoot-out between a load of 'bevvied up' (This was Lancaster University, so I'm allowed a Northern expression!) lads, quaffing pints and wanting you to "Get on with it!" If I missed (in this case) the 13 and got, say, the 10 just next door, I was lost about what to do next to still finish (maybe a treble?) All that bad memory came back to me as I shot off the arrows but Paul coped and we took our time planning each other's finishes while the rest of the archers shot out the round.

A stressful and not very happy start to learning the skill of
"lace knitting" 
I was still chuckling as I arrived home and found Liz knitting, but (as I was to discover) not ordinary knitting. I told her my story of being rubbish at the maths and looked up at her to see a broad grin settling on her face. "Funny you should say that!", she said. Uh-Oh! She'd been knitting up to that point a complicated blue/green Aran number using up a gift of some left over wool and frightening herself as she knitted up the back panel with how quickly the wool was running out relative to how much she'd need to do the sleeves. She was keeping every morsel and off cut for the sewing up stage. 

It was all a bit stressful and at one stage the only answer to a premature run-out was to "rip back" the back and start again narrower. The jumper is cabled in front but has a plain back. Knitters will know that a cabled panel will come out narrower than a plain if you start by casting on as many stitches. Liz was looking at a good 3" of spare width across the back, so knew that if she ripped it back she could use the freed up wool to do those sleeves. We named it 'extreme' knitting. She just about got away with it, using the absolute last feet of wool to do the sewing up, often having to join 2 lengths to complete a seam. 

You might think that that was enough knitting stress, yes? Maybe go and do a nice simple scarf next? Oh No. Our knitter has always wanted to be able to make those fancy, intricate, light weight shawls done in "lacework knit". Grabbing a ball or two of light pink yarn, she sat down with a YouTube video and 15 re-starts later was hailing a successful fifth row (of about 79 before pattern repeat. But the mathematical ability was on a par with my darts-tactic sums, and every row involved such focused and intricate counting that the whole job soon became a pain rather than a pleasure. She threw in the towel and ripped it all back, determined to try something similar but less complicated. We had a day of that but our stressed out knitter admitted defeat again and is now calmly succeeding in a shawl/scarf thing which is one stage simpler again. None of this 79 row pattern repeat for the moment.

Works for me, and I bought this as a
"button phone" but it is now, allegedly a
"dumb phone"
Lastly, I was amused to find that I am once more at the cutting edge of fashion. How so? By owning no smart-phone but instead an old fashioned Samsung (or Nokia) button-phone. I killed my last one by drowning it (accidentally, of course) and went off to buy a replacement at Car-phone Warehouse, delighted to find that are they only €28, as opposed to €2-3-400 or more for a fancy, big screen smart-phone. The sales folk call them rather disparagingly a "button phone" to distinguish them from the touch screen, glass fronted smart phones. 

Well, apparently, I hear today, that there is now a big movement by people to put down their smart phones because they feel trapped in a world of Twitter and Facebook where every move you make, every plate of food you eat has to be photo'd and fired off onto the Internet for all your 'friends' and followers. The first thing you do when you get off a bus or arrive in a room is to check your (news) 'feed' rather than actually greet the real people you have just arrived in front of. People are so horrified at their addiction and enslavement to this virtual world that they are taking 'de-tox' breaks or 'digital holidays', going cold turkey and even putting down their smart phone and going about only with.... you guessed it, a button phone costing only €28. They can't see the Internet with one, and can only text or phone each other. 

I have to admit, I am here, all fashionable again, just by chance. I could never get on with the smart phones since I got a useful tip from our fencing contractor. He said he'd gone back to button phones because of working mainly outside and physically. He told me that he was often moving about between paddocks and through gates with both hands full and his phone in his pocket. He'd go to nudge the gate open with his hip and hear the crunch of another 'big screen' breaking up. Yes, you can buy a toughened glass protector (Gorilla glass) but a good fence-post nudge would break the thing anyway so, no, he'd given up. He'd leave the smart phones to the neat office workers with less physical lives. I was offered phones, of course, hand-me-down style but my other problem with them was battery life. They only seemed to be able to hold charge for half a day before you needed to put them back indoors, connected to the mains. My button phone will happily go 2 weeks before it needs re-charging. Liz spends a good part of her Internet time standing by the plug socket, connected to the wall by a wire. No good to me. So, I'll stick to my 'dumb' phone (as opposed to 'smart', I guess) - if you need me just call or text. The device is unlikely to be broken or have a flat battery. Talk to you again soon.

Friday 26 January 2018

Slow News Day

Horse Chestnut bud still firm closed
Another short and sweet post, I'm afraid. We are in an event gap between the funeral which took up most of the last weekend, the piggy movements which followed it and the coming weekend for which the calendar is also blank. It has been raining too much for anything but cursory tidying outside and a bit of photography of signs of spring. 

Burns Night came along on Thursday giving us a minor excuse for a wee celebration. I had kept a bit of Scotch back from Christmas (Elizabeth had won it in a raffle) for the day and we had made, as usual, our own haggis from our own lambs.

This gets done as a tray-bake, sitting in the oven with a butter paper covering the top so that it does not dry out, rather than trying to obtain some natural gut to stuff. 

Another named storm tracked through - Storm Georgina - but this one came with only 'Yellow' status warnings and did us no damage - it just re-filled all the puddles. That has been the way of recent weather - we get a dry day when most of the surface water drains away but then it rains like mad at night and we are back to sloppy surface mud again. All yard and livestock jobs are done in wellies.

Rosie and Polly keeping me waiting. 
The new lamb (Tigger) continues to thrive and we are now in a daily rhythm of shepherding the family out of the shed mid morning, once Lily has had her breakfast, and round to the front lawn.

By mid afternoon, Lily has done with wandering round on the damp, almost non-existent grass and is back at the gate, baa-ing her pleas to be allowed back into the warm, dry straw of the shed. I grab a bucket of 'grub' and lead her home, with Tigger running along close at heel.

My first 'Irish' lapwings. 59 birds in this pic but I think around
75 in the flock down by the local lough.  
Lily's sisters are keeping me waiting on the lambing progress. Polly, we know, was tupped on 5th October, so she is not due till 5th March, but the other two (Myfanwy and Rosie) did not give me any such clues.

A tiny self-seed holly from Mum in Law.
I am reduced to checking their nethers every day and looking for any signs of bagging up. It is perfectly possible, of course, that they are not pregnant at all, but they do have that look, matching Lily (as was) and Polly in girth and shape. Either way, Ram 'Pedro' will not be around long. His days are numbered. I have had no interest from my attempt to sell him via Done Deal, so he is booked in for his final journey in 2 weeks. His aggressive butting of the ewe Myfanwy, has sealed his fate.

That's about it on this slow news day.
Pussy Willow.

Tuesday 23 January 2018

Rent a Reverser (?)

A first look for Tigger, at the soggy, puddle-strewn front lawn
At just a week old, newest lamb 'Tigger' is thriving. I have been getting him out of the Tígín (along with his Mum, Lily, of course) each day for a run around on the front lawn. He seems to love this, following his Mum around as she grazes but often charging away from her a few yards in a mad, bouncy 'pronking' tip-toes gait of a deer, and then zooming back to her side.

Staying close to Mum
I am 'doing' them alone on the front lawn for the moment because I am not 100% sure of the ram Pedro leaving him alone and because it makes the process of letting him out and getting him back in of an afternoon, a whole lot less complicated. Trying to extract them from the East Field while not letting the rest out to play is more risky a prospect than I need.

I am not sure about Pedro anyway - I have seen him chasing the big ewe Myfanwy about and butting her a bit too aggressively for my liking so, even though he has not had a go at me, we may part company soon one way or another. At the moment I have him up for sale on the Irish 'classified ads' website (DoneDeal.ie) but I have not even had a 'tickle' so he may end up in the freezer. We'll see. If his chasing of 'Myf' is due to her not being pregnant yet and now coming on heat, then that might see him forgiven, but nobody needs a ram trying to 'T-bone' their in-lamb ewes in the midriff.

A house favourite use for a sheet of belly-pork. Mini porchetta.
Talking of animals going to the butcher's, I was involved over the last 24 hours in our good friends Sue and Rob finally getting their 2017 pigs off to Webb's in Castlerea. Friends of the blog may recall that Sue and Rob came with us over to the breeder's place near Boyle on the day we went out to collect our own pigs, 10 week olds Pride and Empress. They chose much younger babies, maybe 6 weeks old, so they were already a month behind us on schedules.

Thanks very much 'Steak-Lady' for this framed print, latest
Paris-themed picture in our collection. 
Their pair came ready about a month after ours (end of October) but Sue and Rob had little space in their freezers, so decided to keep the pigs on till after Christmas. It was very wet and now the time came, they asked me for help extracting the pigs from their 'swamp' and getting them into their trailer. Also, Sue, by her own admission "cannot reverse the trailer for a toffee" (and Rob can't drive anyway) , so could I help out at the other end of the journey, reversing her 4x4 and the trailer into the tiny narrow 'slot' between buildings which is the butcher's answer to a "loading bay".

Paris scene
That all went swimmingly in the event. Rob had constructed a really good, pig-proof 'race' up from the swamp to the hard standing and those pigs had been kept hungry so that they would be suckers for the bribe of a rattled food bucket. Pigs never explore anywhere new fast - they just amble along with their noses to the ground, taking an occasional step. They will not be hurried and you are a fool if you try. If you did spook them and made them bolt, you are not going to stop 80 kg of charging pig, so the best bet is to let them amble along and just gently (but firmly) close the ground behind them by nudging up against their bums with a big board. By this method, Sue guided them up the 'race', and Rob and I nudged up behind them till they eventually went up the ramp and we could close the trailer on them.

Pig haulier's breakfast.
In the morning, I'd set the alarm for 7 so that I could meet Sue with the 'load' at the butcher's nice and early while there was not much traffic about for us to upset. It is a known bad manouvre - the narrow gap is at 90º to a narrow but busy main street in the town. The gap is only about 6 feet wide, so as you slot your trailer neatly and professionally in (ahh shucks!), don't go in past the kerb with the truck or you will not be able to open the doors and get out! We managed that OK with Sue seeing me back and then, with the pigs unloaded and safely into the lairage, Sue finished all the paperwork, I bought a pack of Webb's superb dry-cure rashers and we adjourned to local Deli, Benny's for a celebratory coffee. Job well done. I even grabbed some croissants and Danish pastries 'to go' so that Liz and I could have a nice breakfast back at the ranch.

My new favourite Irish author, currently filling the gap left in my
reading due to running out of Maeve Binchy books.
In other news, we have been quite deeply involved in a local funeral. No names, no pack drill for the usual reasons. I think if you ask any Brit who has moved over here, what is the biggest single difference in local village or community life that they noticed compared to the UK, it will be the Irish way of death. In 55 years in the UK I probably went to half a dozen funerals at most and all of them small, quiet affairs which involved you to attend for only a short time.

Comparatively, the Irish funeral is massive, especially in rural areas where everybody would know the family of the deceased especially if they have lived in the community for all their life. Hundreds of people will attend and the proceedings can easily take up the evening prior and all of the day of the actual burial. Family and friends who have long since left Ireland in search of work or what-ever will make the trip home to be part of it. The deceased may even be one of the 'diaspora' wishing to be laid to rest in the family plot back in the village of their birth.

I apologise hugely in advance if I have any of this wrong - please do comment and I will make corrections. The last thing I want to do is cause any offence to anyone involved in 'this' or any other funeral. The proceedings follow a sequence something like this, with every bit attended by a good many of the mourners. First is the 'reposing' where the deceased is laid in the coffin at the Funeral Parlour  - you queue outside for yards down the pavement to get in one door and you slowly process, shuffling forward to view the departed and then shake hands with the immediate family . It is good to have something to say to each - I have taken to using popular local expression "Sorry for your trouble". You then shuffle down the out-corridor to the exit, passing the book of condolences on the way. This stage takes a couple of hours to get everyone through. It is common for the coffin to be open at this stage, so that you see the deceased - I have not got used to that bit yet.

Next is the 'Removal', where the coffin is taken by hearse to the church, commonly followed by all those mourners in dozens of cars - an impressive cortege threading its way down the country lanes. The hearse may pause at the house where the deceased lived, or was born, letting the 'late' soul know that he is really home, I guess. This is followed by the Mass itself. Mass going is way more popular here than (taking Communion) in the UK and churches are packed every Sunday, so it is no surprise that all our mourners pack the church for this bit, likely to be the most familiar to mourners in the UK.

Next we move to the graveyard. Depending on distance this might be all back in the cars or walking. This is the 'Burial' and can involve, again, a big group of mourners gathered round while more prayers are said and the coffin lowered into the grave. Some of these graveyards can be on quite bleak, windy hilltops, so the wise mourner equips with a warm coat, hat and gloves. We then adjourn, if invited, to a suitable location for 'Refreshments' - in the case of my Father in Law (Theo), this was a nearby pub for drinks (obviously), welcome hot soup and bread, with sandwiches or even a full 3-course meal, maybe stew and veg and a dessert. This stage can go on as long as you want - there will often be live music and happy chatter as family members and friends who may not have seen each other since the last funeral catch up on gossip and each others lives.

You Brits can see that this all adds up to quite a day, an impressive event. More amazing (to us) is that this all happens generally within days of the passing away of the person, the whole 'machine' fires up and all the stages are organised and slotted into place. In the UK, that is normally the work of weeks - we hear that person X has died and maybe 3 weeks later we find out the arrangements for the funeral. They KNOW that this is all a bit special here and there have been some excellent (including funny in some cases) books written and TV programmes made explaining the process. I hesitate to compete with those, but thought my UK friends might like a small flavour of what it means when someone here says "There was a funeral".

Additional reading - Try the book "How to be Irish" by David Slattery


Friday 19 January 2018

Bouncing around like Tigger

Elizabeth heads off to work through the snow.
The plan for this morning was to lead the ewe, Lily, and the surviving lamb out to the front lawn for a look at some first grass, fresh air and exercise. By Day 3 the lamb is bouncing around like Tigger and looking very much like he needs more space than the 20-odd square feet of the hurdle pen. Mum is looking a bit fed up too with this mean old diet of hay and 'crunch' ( a mix of grains etc with a dash of molasses for energy ) even though I have brought in the odd, blown down 'branch' of ivy as greenery.

Please let me out. I want to run around on the grass. 
However, we woke up to a keen, frosty wind, an inch of snow on the grass and more wet snow falling, so the family had to stay indoors today, as they will, in fact, tomorrow with us being involved in a local funeral for most of the day. We will try again on Sunday, praying that the warming-up forecast will come to pass.

Lamb #1 gets some intensive care. 
But "Whoa!", I hear you cry, "Did you say 'surviving' lamb?" Yes, I am afraid I did, dear reader. We have a tragedy to report - one of Lily's twin lambs only just made it through the first 24 hours, fading and dying at around midday on the 2nd day. Readers of the previous post will know that this lamb was born outside - the pictures of her are in that post - and for this reason, and the weather, many have commented that she died of hypothermia (including vet Aoife (rhymes with Deefer)) but I am not so sure.

Last moments for the ewe lamb. 
The story goes something like this. The lamb was born outside onto wet ground in a bitter wind but was efficiently licked clean by Mum and was up and suckling in minutes (no more than 10) . Mum very soon passed the afterbirth so, thinking that this was all, we rescued the ewe and lamb into a shed within an hour of the first ewe being born.

Mum and 'Tigger'. The pen now has extra
This is when the first sign of trouble was seen and both of us were a little concerned for the lamb - I put her down into the pen with Mum but she lay there on her side either shivering or spasm-ing. "That's not good" said Nurse Elizabeth. I picked her up and rubbed and massaged the baby for a while, seeming to help her so that she could stand OK and at that point we went inside for a cup of tea, thinking no more about it.

The 'Easter Island Man' gets a woolly hat.
My previous post shows that the p.m. went fine with the 2nd lamb being born and both then sharing the suckling and seen several times up and about or curled up together as twin lambs will in a 'yin and yang' pair. We all went off to bed thinking all was well and certainly I had no thoughts of the lambs suffering hypothermia.

By morning at first checks, it was clear that all was not well. The ewe lamb was lying flat on her 'tummy' like a frog (which no lamb normally does) and when I tickled her rump she pushed that up in the air with her back legs but her chest and chin stayed put. When I lifted her, her head flopped right round onto her shoulder and she seemed way too floppy, lethargic and sleepy. I started to vigorously massage her to try to get some oomph back into her, and texted Nurse Elizabeth that all was not well.

We took the baby indoors and had a morning of trying everything we knew to warm her plus phoning the vet and Mayo-Liz (our sheep supplier and guru). I whizzed out to buy colostrum formula-powder and a bottle and we tried dribbling some of that across her tongue but she didn't even try to swallow that. Occasionally she would seem to spasm some more, kicking out with all 4 feet as if trying to struggle upright, or she'd bleat loudly and give us a flash of hope. Sadly, these were just spasms and the general direction was downwards. We worked this out at about 11:45 and put her to die in peace, wrapped in a warm coat. She slipped away just after Mid-day. We think she was just not a do-er who probably would have died anyway. It was a sad and crappy day.

Sorry about the dark pic, but it was taken on the pig breeder's
phone. These are the first batch of 'possibly ours' piglets. 
Happily, that was the low point and things have been picking up ever since. The 2nd lamb, the ram, is thriving and risks being named 'Tigger' for his bouncy antics in the pen. In the afternoon of that same day, we received word from our pig breeder that he has started farrowing for this year's piglets, these from his first sow, 'Plum', who had had these three by that point. Since then Plum's sister, Iris has had 10 and 2 other sows in that group have also had 10 each. Lots of choice for mid March when we come to want our class of 2018.

Snowdrops starting to show themselves.
The garden, despite the snow and the sloppy, snow-melt mud, is showing good signs of spring. Daffs, tulips, snowdrops and Muscari are all bursting out of the ground and starting to bud up. Liz is back on the Drama Club rehearsals trail, with the usual Easter weekend (end of March) deadline looming.

10,000 Tweets. 
In the week, I saw that I have now passed the 10,000 tweets milestone on my Twitter account. I am not sure whether this is proof that I am officially become a boring old fart or whether it just means that I ought no longer to reply when asked about this social media that "Ah yeah, Twitter.... I don't really get on there much....". Truth is, I think, that I might be 'done' with my Facebook phase.

If your filing is getting a bit behind and the pending file getting
a bit thick, a cat will weigh it down nicely and it will not look
so neglected. 
FB is OK for proudly putting up a picture of your latest good news (lambs born, piglets bought, foods cooked, etc) and getting a load of old mates 'liking' it but it is not any place for interesting discussions. I think I am losing the love for it and moving on to Twitter just as many friends are moving on from Twitter to the newer, smart-phone-friendly systems like 'Instagram' where I have not yet been. Also not likely to while I am working on an old PC, rather than a smart phone.

One of the cats adds a final touch to this tray of chocolate
fudge brownies by walking across it. Thanks cat!
That, I think, is about the lot for this one. I will just close with a couple more pictures because (as usual), I have them.

May not have needed this many logs.
Bye now.

Tuesday 16 January 2018

Waiting till the Worst Possible Day?

Lily's first lamb of twins, born outside. 
I was up on an early alarm this morning anxious to check on our ewe, Lily. Friends of the Blog will recall that she was "bagging up" (udder enlarging) in the previous post, so we knew we were on for some lambing, but she was still, this morning, officially 10 days early. She had teased me all yesterday with her retreating to far flung corners of the field to lie down, get up, walk in small circles and lie down again. She'd taken a light breakfast though and was not showing any other signs (like 'star-gazing'), so we had all gone off to bed lamb-less.

Twin #1 gets a good lick over by attentive Mum. 
Liz and I had been joking that she was deliberately hanging it out till the forecast snow started, the better to guarantee herself some nights indoors. Well, this morning her retreating, declining breakfast and looking uncomfortable were at a whole new level of intensity and I just KNEW we were on today. Then at 9 am the snow started to fall in earnest. I 'spoofed' the other sheep onto the front lawn so that we could have unfettered access to her and her lamb(s).

Chowing down on the all-important
colostrum, indoors by now. 
I retreated back indoors for my own breakfast but could see her through the binoculars from the Dining Room window and at 5 to 10, I shouted up to Liz that "we have membranes". We were on. Lily is a fast and efficient Mum. She quickly followed the bag of membrane and liquids with the lamb herself. She was no sooner on the ground than Lily was licking her clean and in minutes she was up on her feet and nosing around for Mum's milky teat.

The second twin arrives within minutes of us moving the
new family indoors.
Then it all went a bit quiet. Lily gave one big squeeze which sent her loin almost concave as seen from above and pushed out the 'leavings'. I guess Lily ate these though I didn't see that - I'd gone off to set up some indoor accommodation out of that snow and wind.

That lovely cardigan now finished by Liz. The same-colour
snood / neck-wrap  is here sitting on the right shoulder. 
I was in two minds whether to call it a day, all done, just the one lamb and bring them indoors, or whether the move might stress out Mum half way through her labour (if it was twins). We decided to bring them in as it was very cold and still snowing and the first lamb was shivering badly. This is relatively easy with a calm ewe - one person picks up the lamb and holds it where Mum can see it, then retreats to shelter with Mum following the 'stolen' baby.

That morning really was awful.
With the family safe indoors and towelled dry (with hay; also good for massaging some warmth/life back into a chilled infant) we humans retreated indoors for tea, me thinking that this was it. I sent the usual volley of texts out to interested parties. I went out to check the sheep about 10 minutes later and was delighted to find that in that interval she'd fired out the second lamb - twins! #2 was already struggling to its feet (I have not checked sex on that one yet) and starting to nose around for a teat.

Christmas left overs - turkey and ham PIE. Respect. 
And that was it - all over by about 11 o'clock. We both went about the various other businesses of the day, frequently nipping back to check on the new family. We have Mum-in-Law coming up possibly tomorrow (though the snow may cause a re-think on that plan) so there was shopping and house-work prepping, plus I had been asked to help friend move furniture to clear a room that was getting new lino, and then to move it all back afterwards.

As we go into the dark evening, it is still snowing on and off and I gave the dogs their off-lead exercise tonight in the orchard in a mini blizzard. Liz is delighted that the bad weather has caused tonight's play rehearsal not to happen. The lambs look very well as we shut down for the night - I have seen both suckling heartily on that all important colostrum and I have seen both Mum's teats in action. I have yet to see the lovely, comforting 2-lambs-at-it-at-once-one-on-each-side which we shepherds love to see. That tells us that all is really well. I have sprayed the lambs' 'belly buttons' with iodine. We have yet to ring-dock their tails and to take the iconic, lamb-under-each-arm cute photo. Tomorrow for those jobs all being well. It's been quite a day.

Friday 12 January 2018

John Downie

Father-to-be, Pedro?
Friends of the Blog may recall that back in August last year I posted that I had seen signs of affection between new ram-lamb 'Pedro' and our mature ewe 'Lily'.


Onto the calendar for 5 months later (Jan 25th 2018) went my note saying "poss lambing date, Lily" and we all relaxed while nature took its course. She was likely to be our first at the lambing. You cannot hurry these things, after all. Mother Nature knows best.

Apologies for the technically bad and not
very edifying pic but it does show very
clearly the enlargement of Lily's udder,
called "bagging up" in the trade. 
Coming through Christmas I have therefore been keeping half an eye on Lily particularly, but not really expecting any signs for a week or more yet. Yesterday, though, I could see that she was suddenly 'bagging up', her udder which is normally invisible from behind clearly visible. I apologise for the picture which also shows that she is a bit 'dagged' up and needs some tidying.

Larch logs
Bagging up can be several days or even a few weeks prior to lambing so she still might hit the 25th (or even over-shoot) but we will be watching anxiously over the next mornings for our other favourite signs; declining breakfast, lying down in some far flung corner of the field a long way from all other sheep. Our girls never miss a breakfast, so when there is one missing from the feast you know something serious is happening. Wish us luck. This is a tense and anxious time.

New kids on the block, these 2 year old
crab apple whips. 
In other news, I have finally scored a couple of 'John Downie' crab apple trees, these from top Irish fruit tree supplier, Future Forests (www.futureforests.IE). In every garden we make, Liz and I always seem to pull in plants, offspring, cuttings or varieties from other gardens we have been involved in. Like old familiar friends, we seem to gravitate towards those varieties if we are contemplating buying or 'getting' anything from that broader group. John Downie is the variety of crab apple which in my memory has always grown in my Mother's garden in Hastings.

Mum's tree is now quite a landmark, being huge and visible from either end of the street. I am sure we three bothers used to climb it as young boys, and certainly made a load of wine from its fruit (sometimes wind-falls) as teenagers, while Mum, throughout has been making crab-apple jelly, sending us boys out to harvest its red fruits. When we first laid out the orchard here, the only crab I could find was 'Golden Hornet' variety, which has done very well but this year I was determined to fill 2 gaps with John Downie and this I have now done.

More protection than tree for now. They
should get away nicely. 
The tiny whips look more 'protection' than actual tree for now, ringed around with weld-mesh to keep the geese from ring-barking their tender trunks but, as I say hopefully when I plant anything, "They should get away nicely" (Geoff Hamilton!), and will soon out-grow the geese.

One of last year's babies comes up to 'point of lay' and goes for
a sit down. 
In the poultry department, we are happy to report that we are now well through the egg-drought and now starting to get sensible amounts of eggs per day - recent record days have been an 8 and then a 9.

I love the gentle range of colours of our eggs. 
Some of the new hens, hatched in Spring 2017, are now coming on line. They generally start with a few tiny, yolkless eggs, mis-shapes, double yolkers or shell-less soft 'bags' but quickly get into the proper groove and give us a decent egg most days. I love the range of gentle colours we produce, from almost white (actual white for the ducks, of course) to rich dark chocolate brown from the Marans girls.

2nd job for chickens in the morning after a quick scrabble for
breakfast seed - to the 'watering hole' for a drink. In this case
the duckling's paddling pool. 
I think that's about it for tonight. News on the lambing in a post soon, I hope.

Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherd's Warning. I do so hope not!
All the best.