Tuesday 27 February 2018

The Pest From The West

Dippy Goose Eggs. Breakfast of Champions.
Friends of the Blog will know that we had started our goose egg season with a first one laid on the 18th, the day after the layer's sister-bird had been killed by the fox. By tradition, though, in this house we get to eat these first eggs (rather than selling them giving them away) jointly at a breakfast, as 'dippy eggs'. We therefore have to wait for the 2nd egg to arrive (that was the 21st) and then for both of us to be available and in breakfasty mood. That brought us round to Saturday morning (24th) but the eggs did not disappoint. They were well worth the wait. Happy First-Goose-Eggs-of-the-Year-Day everyone.

Anchovy flavoured pizza.
We have also been messing around with pizza. Now that I am steadily into the sourdough baking (we buy very little shop bread any more) I was curious to see whether sourdough could be used as pizza base. Of course it can and no end of my contacts suggested recipes.

Pizzas (raw)
This will have the average 'Mum' laughing in her socks. These days they cut their baby-chef's teeth on pizza assembly; it is real kid's stuff taught to 4 year olds, but at 60 years old I had never actually made my own pizza base and then covered it in ingredients.

Chopped pork pizza
I am happy to report another cookery triumph and one of those in which you can claim a good few ingredients as home made from home grown basics. The sourdough was mine. The 'ragu' had been made by Elizabeth using the rib and breast trimming bits of our most recent lamb. The chopped roast pork which went into one of them was from our own pigs. Other ingredients were probably better than used in supermarket pizza - we used extra mature cheddar for the cheese for example and whole anchovy fillets, fresh salad peppers and onion. These bad boys positively BUZZed with flavour.

Fast growing lamb, Tigger, still takes Mumma's milk but is also
keen on grass, hay and the breakfast 'crunch'. 
The down side of this is that I may have shot myself in the foot. The Head Chef enjoyed it so much that she said "Right - THIS is how we do pizza from now on. No more shop bought stuff!"

Thick ice on the goose bath.
Meanwhile, we are now seeing the first real effects of the cold easterly air stream coming across UK and this island from Siberia, for which everyone now seems to be using the handle " #TheBeastFromTheEast " . We have had the dry, bitter winds for a week now and we are beautifully dried out and frozen firm most mornings, but across today and through to Friday the 'Beast' is forecast to up the ante and start dropping snow and hail on us.

Straw bales keep the wind out of the sheep shelter. The sheep
can hunker down behind a bale. 
Naturally, fore-warned we have been able to stock up on coal and animal feeds and I have bought extra straw bales to give protection to the eastern side of my sheep shelter. That is the theory anyway. In fact the sheep have mainly gone right over to the East side of the field and lain down under the thick hawthorn hedge. The bales are used by lamb Tigger for bouncing up and down 'stairs' on. If I had a Euro for every time I'd stood the walls back up.......

Feathers mark the murder scene and the arrow shows the
villain's escape route. 
In other news then, if the storm is called #TheBeastFromTheEast, then I am calling my fox, who comes from the other direction, #ThePestFromTheWest. Yes. He has been back. On Monday (26th) we were both indoors relaxing prior to me going out to do 'Fox-Watch' from about 4:30 pm till lock up, when suddenly the shout went up from the ever-reliable Guinea Fowl. Rushing to the front window I saw a stream of fleeing chickens sprinting right to left, away from the pond side.

Our #1 Buff Orpington rooster. This is Herme. He survived.
His son, who looked very similar, was the victim
Rushing into footwear and coats we raced out but we were too late. We found the sorry patch of feathers which marked the murder scene and from the colour we knew the fox had snatched a Buff Orpington chicken. We quickly checked all the survivors and worked out that the fox had snatched our #2 Buff Orpington rooster, 'Orion'. I let the dogs off - we now trust them not to kill chickens on the way out or back and they chased around for the trail but they were way too late.

Getting in supplies of feed and coalite to see us through
"The Beast"
Upside(s) to this story. This attack had me chasing up the fox-trap supplier and finding that all their orders for these traps would be dispatched today (27th) as they had now been received by them on the Monday. We should get that this week, all being well. Also a new rooster just coming of age and possibly becoming a nuisance is now saved from the 'relegation zone' and promoted to #3. He looks a bit Marans so might make a future replacement for our #1 bird, 'Gandalf'. Assuming Brer Fox does not get him, of course. Thirdly, the attack put me back on high alert so that today I spent a good part of the day patrolling around outside (yes, in the cold!) and happened to be out with the dogs this afternoon at 4 pm when The Pest came back.

The local Tidy Towns group kicked off
their 2018 season with a very good talk
on composting. 
The Guineas kicked off and I saw a duck fly up and bonk down again onto the frozen pond but I was quickly able to let the dogs out of the lawn-field and was very satisfied to see the three streak away in echelon formation, hot on the heels of the fleeing fox. I don't suppose they caught him for one moment (little legs!) but they were gone out of sight for a good 15-20 minutes and returned breathless and buzzing. Maybe the fox will think twice tomorrow, now he know the dogs here are not ALWAYS under 'control'.

Finally, with The Beast coming across over the next few days, and The Pest very much a factor, we watched the black clouds building in the East and the first flurries of hail and snow come down on a squally wind. I looked across at Polly, our next ewe due to lamb, who was the far side of that East Field and saw that she was pawing at the ground. A definite sign of imminent lambing, though I'd not thought she was 'bagging up' that much yet. Still, we made an executive decision to get her indoors - I was mainly thinking of the cold and wet, but the Assistant Shepherd noted that Brer Fox would almost certainly be attracted to all that birth-fluid smell and fresh blood. Foxes will readily steal a new born lamb while it is helpless. I could not bear that.

So she is now in the pen in the Tígín on new straw, with a bucket of water and some grub. She is not totally happy about this but this is one of those times where the humans need to 'play God' and decide what is best for the animals in their charge. Polly's instincts might all be shouting to her to go find a lonely corner of the field and go it alone, but she doesn't know what we know about the Beast and that hungry, frustrated fox who just missed his duck dinner. Lastly, good luck to all our UK friends, who are mainly around the SE which seems to be the place posting the snowiest pictures on Facebook and may be getting The Beastly snow storms in the neck. Stay warm and dry. 

Saturday 24 February 2018

It's an Ill Wind....

#TheBeastFromTheEast That is the new name given by the trendy Twitter 'meteorologists' for this blast of cold air coming clockwise round a high pressure system sitting over Scandinavia. Yes, we've enjoyed "weather bombs" and even "Sting Jets" and all manner of hell-and-high-water that hadn't been invented when I was studying Meteorology, but now we have a 'beast'.

The bog land to the North of us looks a bit bleak on a
frosty morning
We know this eastern flavour of wind well, of course, especially its NE variant, having spent 20-odd years living on the NE Kent coast in Faversham, where it'd come charging across Nagden Marshes. Elizabeth used to call it her "favourite" wind and we were pleased that our house faced into it so that the terrace out back was relatively protected by the bulk of the place. Before that, I lived in the Lincolnshire Fens which are also NE facing and with way fewer houses to hide behind.

There it came howling across the North Sea picking up a bit of instability and moisture in preparation for snow and drifts. The locals joked that it was a "lazy" wind looking at you all expectantly, waiting for you to ask them to explain the 'lazy'. "Too lazy to go round you - it goes straight through ye!" How we laughed.

Polly is looking most promising for my next lamber. Is she
waiting, like her Sister, for the worst possible weather? 
It's an ill wind, though, that blows nobody any good. It may be cold and send you running back to coats, gloves, hats and scarves for the livestock jobs, but in my reckoning it is beautifully drying. The weather maps are cloud-free lately and we've had no rain for days. All my puddles are gone and the small patches of bare mud that remain are sticky rather than wellies-sloppy. Crocs are once again the footwear of choice. I am not sure how dry we will stay. The wind is currently SE and not yet backed through pure East to NE but the forecast has weather warning of snow in the East and South East of the island. We may get some.

Two late-hatch poults came of age and decided to be roosters.
Bad move lads. They are now rather scrawny frozen
oven-ready carcasses. 
Meanwhile, the ewe 'Polly' seems to be lining up to be my next lambing event. She is working her way through the signs - #1 "I want to be alone" and now #2, starting to bag up. She is not ready for sign #3, declining breakfast, though and not really due till more like March 5th (though you never can tell). So she gave me a fright this morning when she was not in the queue for crunch.

I could not see her at all and worried that I'd have to go seek her out in the curves and dips of the field in case she had a problem. But no. By the time I'd gone to get the bucket of grub, she had rocked up and was baa-ing hungrily. No lambs yet then, Poll-Woll. The other two ewes (Rosie and Myfanwy - all these ladies are named after female characters from 'Under Milk Wood') are keeping me waiting. They look broad enough in the beam to be pregnant and Rosie is maybe, just maybe, starting to bag up but if they are, they are playing their cards close to their woolly chests.

Book of the Month!
Finally, I have discovered a new author of those year-round, starting to small-holder type books I love. This by an American lady, Jenna Woginrich who has jacked in the 9-5 office job and bought a small farm in the 'sticks' (Hudson River valley, Washington County). I love this book. Jenna has a lovely 'voice' and a very pleasing way of explaining what she's at (not laboured at all, she assumes a good level of knowledge already). Also a lovely way of expressing the joy, freedom and excitement of the lifestyle and her delight at actually being able to have the livestock and do the tasks. "I milked a goat! Me!" The book is also superbly illustrated (by one Emma Dibben). It is pure joy to own and to read. If I had a 'Book of the Month' thing going, this one would be a definite winner.

Tuesday 20 February 2018

Brer Fox Comes Back for a Goose

Not a clean death - she was covered in puncture bite marks
and badly bruised. We think the neck wound was inflicted
when the fox tried to pull the carcass through the sheep wire. 
Our fox left us 10 days after taking the duck, in which to relax, start thinking he was a one-off and maybe drop our guard a little. Then he sneaked back at 4 pm on a Saturday. Luckily for him (or her, of course, foxes are almost impossible to sex on a fleeting glimpse) he chose a time when I was off site and Elizabeth was hoovering, so that she did not hear the Guinea Fowl alarm-call cacophony until it was too late.

A good old fashion (goose) stew with
I was out at a gentle, afternoon, drinkless, family and friends gathering for the 60th birthday of my archery coach, Con, and heading home at half past 4. At roughly the same time, Elizabeth finished the hoovering, killed the noise and heard the Guinea Fowl clamour. She raced outside and found one GF high up a tree, giving out all manner of dog's abuse, which is never a good sign. Casting around she could find no cause for the racket but we know and trust these birds, so we keep looking for as long as it takes, or they stop the screaming.

Goosey Gumbo? This lovely soup (over rice) made a fitting
end to the fox's abandoned prize. 
Then she saw the sad white shape right at the bottom of the orchard against the fence. It was straight away obvious what had happened - the fox had got into the orchard, killed the goose and then dragged her to the fence. Unluckily for the fox, this was a big, 5-6 kg bird he had chosen, so he could not jump back out of the orchard with his prize.

The day after losing her 'sister', one of the
survivors gives us the first goose egg of
He'd put it down by the fence, jumped the fence unladen, then tried to pull the goose through the fence. It was too big a goose to fit through, so he'd presumably spotted Elizabeth bearing down on it and fled the scene. She never actually saw the fox. She'd just about time to carry the body back to the shed and hang it up to bleed out a bit, and shepherd the survivors to safety, when I pulled in to the drive way and heard the sorry tale. We didn't know at that point, whether the victim was one of those females I'd been waiting to start laying eggs, or our belovéd gander, Gorgeous George. It was the former.

Still spoiled rotten and sleeping indoors at this stage, Lily and
the month old lamb, Tigger. 
The plucking took place that evening, when the bird proved to be so full of puncture holes and bite marks, that Liz decided to skin the bird instead, half way through plucking. This goose was going down the 'stew' route. At the gutting stage it turned out that the bird also had half a dozen part-formed eggs up her 'pipework', the largest of which was almost laying-size and could only have been a day away from our long awaited "First Egg of 2018".

Outdoors now - breakfast with Mum and Aunts on
Monday morning.
Long story short, the goose became a superb stew and dumplings, the gribbly bits went in the wheelie bin and a great pile of white feathers went on the compost heap. The latter fact is the most significant because our furry, bushy-tailed friend came back for his lost prize the next day (Sunday) at about half past eleven. This time we were both up and about when the Guineas kicked off, we raced outside, each via a different route and caught the lad in the act of sniffing the pile of feathers on the compost heap, right up by our cattle race. He scarpered, of course, when our 2 heads appeared round either end of his covering wall, galloping off and clearing the 3-4' sheep wire into the pig-pen without breaking stride. He paused briefly to see how serious we were and then shot off down the pig-pen and cleared to bottom fence the same way, vanishing off down the bog field below us.

A 2018 first, the new kitchen windows are
thrown open to let some warm air through
as the sun shines brightly outside. Spring
is here. 
In a surprising parallel to Sue and Rob's garden-fox mentioned in a previous post (10th Feb), to get to the compost, the fox must have come in over the fences again but through the gangs of surviving geese and ducks, ignoring them. My guess is that he came first to the piece of fence where he'd left the goose in such a hurry, and once there, could either see or smell the "dead one" (he wouldn't have know it was only a pile of feathers) 40 yards away on the compost. I assume that had we not disturbed him, he'd have quickly worked out that he needed to kill another bird and done that (or more) on the way out.

Naturally we are back on high alert, Fox-Watch for all the hours that the birds are out of their sheds and free ranging. We have also abandoned all our optimistic foolish ideas that this might be a one-off, fox, a 2017 youngster turfed out of the home earth and roaming around looking for a territory to call his own. He came on the 2nd Jan, took the duck on 8th Feb, and has now come back on the 17th and 18th. He is now a local and regular visitor, though he didn't come back on Monday or today. While he is all unpredictable and careful, there is little we can do about this except keep watch and listen to what those Guinea Fowl tell us. However, if he starts to get regular, predictable and a bit complacent, then we have some options. Wish us luck.

Briefly chaotic Living Room scene, books
It is never ALL bad news though. The next day, one of the other geese laid her first egg of 2018 so we are back in that 'game' and the waiting is over. The ewe Lily refused to come 'home' that evening to her indoor pen in the Tígín as we've done happily for 4 weeks now and seemed to want to go, instead, into the East Field where her 'sisters' have been all along. I let her in and closed the gate on her happy re-union. It was a warm evening, so I decided that she was all done on the 'Intensive Care', indoor housed thing. Tigger is a big, bouncing, plump, chunky lad at this stage and no more likely to die of his sister's hypothermia that is his fully-fleeced Mum. They have slept out ever since (all be it they actually sleep in the shelter with the other girls) and I have been able to muck out the pen ready for the next mum+lamb. This looks like it might be first-timer Rosie, from the 'bagging up' evidence, or Polly, from the 'I want to be alone' sleeping behaviour.

One of the book walls!
Finally, Elizabeth finally made it to IKEA in Dublin to buy 2 more of their excellent, full height, 80 cm wide, flat packed "Billy" book cases. There are, obviously, a gazillion books here and the cases we have have been double stacked and overflowing for too many months. Liz finally cracked, girded her loins and went to do battle with IKEA. The boxes, although almost 7 feet long, fit neatly into our little Fiat Panda with all the doors shut; you just post them in the back hatch and slide them down into the passenger side foot-well. Brilliant. Well, now they are assembled (by the Flat-pack Queen) and full of books after a massive, day-long sort-out. We are so tidy, we won't know ourselves.

Friday 16 February 2018

As Clear as Gin

The big pond falls as clear and bright as gin.
At this time of year, our big pond falls as clear as gin. We guess it is too cold for the algae and there is none of the heavy rain which washes in as surface run-off through the grass and turns us all muddy.

Chivers on a fence post.
I am looking down into it several times a day at the moment, wondering when we will see the first frog spawn, but not really expecting any yet for the rather grim reason that I have not seen any road-kill frogs in the lane yet. I generally see those first as the frogs start to move about, well before I see any swirling in the night-time depths.

Ducks will quickly find any wet, low, puddly
bits in your grass and dibble them to a mush.
The water is clear enough too, to see that there are no invertebrates active and no newts have yet woken from hibernation. Hardly surprising when the pond is frozen most mornings, even if only with very thin ice. It can't be long now, at mid February.

Still keeping me waiting. No goose eggs yet.
Talking of mid February, I am still waiting for that first goose egg. In all previous years, at least one goose has started laying in November and we have had eggs all through winter from then.

Now bonded into a solid threesome. The turkeys.
This year, none, and when I asked various goose-keeper friends they were amazed at my November and said that they normally work to Valentine's Day, Feb 14th for their first egg. I sat back to wait patiently. Well, Valentine's Day is also now come and gone and we are still egg-less. As with so many livestock things, patience is the answer. Mother Nature delivers at her own pace. Same applies to my 'other' three ewes at the moment, none of whom are showing any keen-ness do drop their lambs into a snow drift. We can hardly blame them.

Who's a pretty boy then?
When the two new turkeys arrived, none of them wanted to know any other turkey. Worse than that, readers will know from my previous post that the two new, darker birds had been seen fighting for a short while and I assumed they might both be males. A week later, it has all gone quiet, the fighting is stopped and the three have bonded into a nice little group who wander around together at the foraging. The smaller dark bird no longer looks to me like a cock (Tom or Stag). He/she is on the right in my pic of 3 above and you can see that (her) face is way less developed than the middle bird.

A group of this week's Shedders gather around the 'mystery
guest'. On the right is my Syrian chess opponent.
I wrote of the 'Shed' in a recent post, and I don't want to be boring you on the subject, but I have to tell you about this week's meeting just because it was so much fun. In theory, nothing was planned - we were looking at a relaxing evening of chat, chess, draughts and popular local card game of "25" with which I am not familiar. I need to learn it's complicated rules but have not yet had a chance.

Tête a têtes starting to show their colour and nod their heads. 
In practice, the Chair slotted in a "Mystery Guest" at short notice to intrigue us and entertain us. That turned out to be a very well known local music and show-biz type who has in her life got involved in all manner of music and dancing. She currently plays side-drum in the local town 'Drum and Reed' marching band and teaches drumming, tin-whistling, trad (Irish) dance plus set dances and line dancing (Yeee hah!). She is one fit lady and kept all the lads gripped for over an hour with a whirlwind session of basic drumming (got quite noisy, that bit!), whistling and dancing.

Just for fun and the cuteness, these 10 piglets are new-born here
and belong to the sister-sow of "our Mum-pig". 
The Shed group has also attracted some of the Syrian lads currently housed in town in a bankrupted Hotel, as refugees in the Emergency Reception and Orientation Centre (EROC). These are really nice, friendly guys and their thing at the Shed, in the absence of much spoken English for the chatting, is chess.

I sat down with them this week with my coffee and watched the game for a while, but was then quickly invited to come play. I'd not played chess since I was a student - maybe 40 years ago but hey, in for a penny. I played the guy on the right in this picture who I think, is called Nazul (I will check). It was quickly apparent that he was a bit good and had me quickly nailed down into a defensive game and then killed within about 20 minutes, 3 times. One of his group told me that "In Syria, he is Number 1". He might have been joking but I could believe it. He only admitted to having been a "businessman" who played a lot of chess in evenings when he was travelling about.

Brilliant evening altogether. 

Tuesday 13 February 2018

Kick Boxing in the Snow

More snow.
I may have been making too many references lately to Spring-like warmth and things drying out, tempting providence to too high a degree. The Roscommon Weather Gods decided to teach me a lesson and we got another wintry front come through with appropriate weather warnings for the wind and the white stuff.

View across the pond to the new willow 'arbour'
In the event the mornings we woke up to were pretty and picturesque but not disabling - plenty of beautiful white stuck to trees and fences, but only about an inch on the ground. Elizabeth has been heard complaining that the weather keeps "messing about" and she wishes that we got some "proper snow", indicating a depth of about 2 feet with her hand. Careful what you wish for, there.

"Not a lot of drying in that!" Possibly should have rescued these
tee-shirts before the rain came at lunchtime. They are as stiff
as boards this morning. 
I was worried (at the warnings) that I might not get to town to collect our lamb meat; Pedro's carcass. I drove over compacted snow and ice most of the way, only coming onto cleared (salted) tarmac when I was almost there. The slaughter-man was there at the (butcher's) shop on his lonesome that morning so he was a busy lad. However he had no new animals to 'off' that day, so he was relaxed and chatting as he worked away speedily, breaking down our carcass into the various cuts as we specified - racks of chops, full shoulders instead of gigot chops, half legs and so on.

The Kentish souvenir fallow-buck antlers
get a dusting of Irish snow.
We know him well, by now, of course, having used 'them' 5 years running, but it was nice that he remembered Liz's love of the more unusual cuts and found us an ox-tongue to throw into our bag. As usual, I brought the bag home and we spread it out on the dining table - it was bagged into thin bags but not labelled. I like to 're-assemble' the animal so that I can label it shoulder, leg (upper/lower), shanks, loin chops, rib chops etc.

I also wanted to write 'Pedro' as he was both male and the oldest 'lamb' we had killed, so potentially the nearest to 'mutton' flavour. That's now all in the freezer.

Turkeys kick-boxing, battling for Gloria's hand in marriage?
Meanwhile, back at the ranch, our two new turkeys are increasingly convinced they are both male, even though we selected a big one and a small from the group. This morning, when I was only just up, I could hear some seriously loud 'gobble-gobble' male turkey noise from just outside the front door. I mean, maybe INCHes beyond the door. I looked out and could see both the dark new turkeys strutting that tail-up display they do and circling each other. The 'old' turkey, 'Gloria' was looking on with interest.

Pedro in kit form.
The dark ones were looking like males and one is 30% bigger again than the other. Any fight was not going to be well matched. If it was going to go on for more than a few seconds, I would have to intervene. Well, it didn't. There were a couple of very quick bouts of kick-boxing and the smaller lad retreated sensibly. Game over. Gloria wandered off with the bigger lad.

I have been very impressed by, and very much enjoying a book by one Louise Gray, feature writer on 'The Environment' for big papers like the Scotsman and the Telegraph. There she specialises in food, farming and climate change. Louise decided that for a year (which became 2) she was only going to eat meat (including fish) she had killed and for which she knew the history. She had to also know the growing conditions of the specific animal and for that industry she also to have researched the welfare statistics, environmental impact and so on. She also writes a blog.

As you'd expect, this limited her meat consumption to start with, never having killed an animal thus far, so she wryly comments that she was "mainly vegetarian". But she then takes us with her as she shoots her first rabbit, visits her first abattoir, goes deer stalking or fly fishing, goes out on a commercial fishing boat, learns about control of edible 'vermin' (like grey squirrels where the conservationists do not want them driving out the reds), and the use of roadkill.

An enormous vat of lamb ragu under construction.
She is a brilliant writer and I take my hat off to her - you can feel the nerves as she goes for that first rabbit and the upset when the rabbit runs off despite being shot and the shooters cannot confirm that it is dead. You feel her revulsion and horror at the first slaughter-house visit but she is fair, balanced and thorough through-out.

The new incubator. Same model as the borrowed one you may
have seen in posts from previous years. 
If you are not on social media for these subjects (farming groups, smallholders, animal welfare people) you will not be aware that there is currently a fierce and heated debate raging about the rights and wrongs of meat eating, going vegetarian, the activities of vegan 'activists' (think the bad old days of animal libbers). There is a lot of passion getting aired and no end of ill-informed and even bigoted anger flying back and forth often with bad language.

Louise's book is easily the best written, most thoroughly researched, fair and balanced contribution to this debate that I have ever seen. I try my best on this blog, but if I could write anything half as good as "The Ethical Carnivore" I would be a happy writer.

Duck eggs set in the incubator. 28-35 days should see them
Finally, Friends of the Blog will know that Mr Fox is gradually nibbling away at our laying duck numbers, and that our fight-back is taking the form of finally buying our own incubator and setting some duck eggs this spring, so that we can hear, once again, the splatter of tiny webbed feet. This week the exciting big parcel arrived and I have been stock piling the eggs since I placed the order, so I was able to start the batch this morning with 9. I will add any laid overnight tonight - the 16 hour head start for the 9 will make precious little difference. So, wish us luck and wait on my reports from around the 13th March. Peep peep. Quack quack.

Saturday 10 February 2018

Two Turkeys More But Down One Duck

The "Gang of Four" (Guinea Fowl) check out the new arrivals
We are offered by good friends Sue and Rob, a couple of spare young turkeys who survived the Christmas 'Matanza' because they were too small and scrawny to be worth the preparation. "Would you like them for growing on for Easter?" Of course we would and arrangements were made for Sue to catch our pair and bring them over on a visit where she could enjoy some tea and cake. Elizabeth and Sue have a bit of a quiet, friendly 'bake off' going on between the 2 kitchens and Rob and I are the happy beneficiaries.

The turkeys go out free range on Day 2
But then the most amazing thing happened. As they were getting ready to leave, their 3 dogs suddenly kicked off alarmingly, barking, growling and racing about, clearly disturbed by something. Rob looked out of the Sitting Room window gazing across to the sheep field over the heads of a huge flock of chickens and Guinea fowl, wondering if there might be a fox lurking among the tufts of tall rushes that grow there, 50 yards from the house.

They are good boots from the local farmers' co-op but they
don't last for ever. 
Only when he re-adjusted his vision, did he spot that among those chickens just outside the window on the lawn, was a big dog fox just standing there. The chickens for some reason had overcome their fear and were gathered round him full of curiosity. One of the Guineas was even taking a few exploratory pecks at his fur. Rob got over the shock and reached for the camera, calling Sue to come see too. The camera battery was flat, though and the fox seemed to spot Rob through the glass at that point and loped off, slinking into the cover of those rushes. I should have taken Rob's fox as an omen..... read on.

Shepherding ewe Lily and lamb Tigger round to the front lawn
each morning. 
Naturally, Sue and Rob are now on a rather nervous "fox-watch" for the next few days in case Brer Fox should return, and unwilling to leave the place unguarded. If I want my turkeys, I will have to go and collect them. Ah well. Sue's cake instead of the home stuff. It's flapjack this time. How we suffer. The turkeys turn out to be bigger than advertised, not "scrawny" at all. The little kitten-basket I show up with looks totally inadequate for the task, even for one bird. We fall back on that old safety net - we stuff them into woven feed sacks with cable ties sealing the top. Not ideal, but they are quiet enough and the journey home is only 20 minutes.

I land the turkeys in the big dog crate in our yard so that they can safely meet the home flock and get used to the sights, sounds and smells of their new home. This also lets my lot get a good look at them with no risk of anyone attacking the newcomers in the first 24 hours. They are let out next morning when it is nice and quiet, supervised, hoping they stay around till evening at least, when I can find them a bed for the night.

The snowdrops are looking good.
That plan works OK but wobbles a bit when the four Guineas decide to gang up together and charge the newcomers, sending them sprinting for cover by the caravan. I worry that they may even drive the new birds off site, into an unfamiliar corner from which they would not know the way home, only having been here 24 hours. The 'Gang of Four' though just seem to want to show the turkeys who is boss and, that done, they mainly leave them alone. By evening I grab a chance to shepherd them into the Tígín with the ewe and lamb, where they perch up on a straw bale and can sleep safe from Guinea harassment. The new pair seem to have no interest in our existing turkey (Gloria) and the feeling is mutual.

Then there were four? The 4 remaining ducks seem very quiet
and stay close to the sheds on Friday, here sleeping in the shade.
That evening (Thursday) I open the gate through to the (fenced) orchard and shepherd the geese home to their shed via the back door, and let the 5 ducks come through to the yard and garden for the last half hour or so before lock-up. It happens every night. It is never a problem. But tonight at lock up (about half past 5) there are suddenly only 4 ducks and the 4 who are left are very upset and anxious, quacking alarmingly for their lost sister and unwilling to go to bed without her.

The other three ewes have not yet lambed.
Are they even pregnant?
We fear the worst - maybe she has been snatched in a grab-and-run raid by the fox. If this is so, the fox most likely came in across the veg patch where I saw that one a couple of weeks back and nipped off the same way. Liz and I conduct an extensive search, sometimes with the other 4 ducks at heel (Find her Daddy, please find her!) as the dark descends. At one point I *think* I heard over the hubbub in the yard and shed, a single, distant, distressed quack, so maybe the last gasp of our duck as she was carried off, half a field away.

A recipe from the Johnnie Mountain 'Pork' book. This is pork
and apricot tagine with pistachio cous-cous. "Lush" was one
As dark fell, we had to give up the search. We were left clinging to the hope (against hope) that she'd just hunkered down somewhere to lay an egg and now that it was dark she'd stay there till morning. Maybe she would re-appear in the new day.

Lamb leg joint gets smeared with a mix of garlic, rosemary,
lemon zest and anchovy before being wrapped in foil for a long
slow roast. It does not need carving - a good shake and all the
meat falls off the bones. 
That is how we still are 36 hours later. The four ducks have settled down and I spent an hour and a half out there yesterday at the relevant time of evening keeping an eye; my own "fox watch" till I could shut all the doors and know that the fox had not come back for another bird to invite to dinner. Friends on the Internet have been nicely sympathetic and keep their hopes up, like us, that the missing duck might just be hunkered down on eggs, but hope is fading now. I find myself, when met by variations of the local 'condolences' (Sorry to hear about your duck.... ) etc, using another local expression "Ah well..... that's the way....."

Phil(omena) from the Red Cross leads a session on heart
 attacks, the defibrillator, CPR and strokes. 
Off the farm, I am increasingly involved in the local Mens' Shed charity group, our home-from-home for local menfolk who seek out a bit of company in a safe environment (no booze, no gambling, no smoking, no bullying).

Phil demo's the defribrillator. 
We do not have our actual shed yet (builders are still in there doing roof insulation etc) so we meet in a nearby Health Centre. The sessions are sometimes just chat, chess, cards and so on but sometimes the 'boss' (Pat) arranges experts to come in and do training.

"Nellie the Elephant packed her trunk". That's the rhythm you
need, by all accounts, for good CPR!
We've done a bit of an IT course and this week we had Phil(omena) from the local red cross showing us the defibrillator, CPR, and the symptoms and treatment of heart problems and strokes. I was amused by 2 surprising aspects of this compared to the old First Aid training from work days. By their very nature, some of these old boys have "been there" and done that with the heart attacks and strokes, so when Phil started to describe the symptoms as described to her, a group of our lads piped up with "Yes, when I had my first one, I felt I'd been smacked in the chest with a sledge hammer" and another replied - "It was like someone doing up a ratchet-strap round your chest!"

And then, because some of the lads are a bit tottery on their own legs, walking with sticks etc and unable to get down on their knees to kneel over the prone patient ("or if I did, I'd never get up again!"). One suggestion was that you might sit by the patient on a chair and do CPR with your heel. If you don't do anything, the man is going to die very soon anyway, so try anything rather than do nothing.

Ah well. That's the way.