Tuesday 6 February 2018

Original Features

Newly cleaned out roadside ditch. The white
in the bottom of there is snow.
Yes, we currently have a light dusting of snow on the ground and yes, we still have light snow falling but overall we are definitely drying out. All the puddles are gone or nearly so, and the mud under foot is now sticky, rather than wellies-sloppy. The tarmac lanes are dry and the ditches either side of the road are mainly empty. Long may this process continue.

Original feature? A lot of the road-side culverts are still these
tunnels with stones for the 'walls' and a big flat stone across
the top. 
We have had a couple of contractor lads with a lorry and a mini digger, working along the road digging out the ditches and re-instating the drains and culverts where they pass under people's drive-ways, if necessary. They have even cut across the lane if they need water to flow from north side to south side and laid big new plastic pipes under the road.

Spot the heron.
A lot of the culverts along these lanes are still what an optimistic estate agent would call "original features". They were made by building in the bottom of your ditch a series of arches like mini-Stonehenge arches (dolmens?) with tall stones as the walls and big flat ones across the top. We have a similar structure buried down just outside our yard wall where would have run the right of way for all the locals using the main lane, to access their turf-cutting bog.

I wish the cats wouldn't kill the 'cute' and unusual ones. This
female bullfinch got it in the neck this morning. 
We are told that back then, anyone who had a chimney in their house would have 'Turbary' rights - the rights to cut turf for home fuel. They would have brought their donkey and cart down what is now our land to get to their 'stake'. When we bought the house, the Estate Agent told us that as no-one had used this right of way in 27 years, the route was now redundant and we did not need to allow any donkey carts down there!

Nobody's favourite livestock task - getting a wormer
tablet down the throat of each of your 4 cats. Liz's hands
are shredded!
Be that as it may, the contractor lads were obviously not re-instating these ancient structures as they went along, just burying modern concertina style water pipes and back filling with the stone and clay in what ever order it came available. They were also building up the immediate verges with the dirt and stone from the ditches. They have made quite a neat job of it and the new water-flows are obviously working. The ditches are empty.

The ewe (Lily) and lamb are still brought indoors each night
as the weather is still too cold for a baby to be outdoors. 
Meanwhile, after much deliberation I decided to cull out our bought-in ram, Pedro. It was not an easy decision. I never want to get into killing animals just because they are no longer convenient - if I ever do this then it will be a sign that we should not have bought in, or bred the animal in the first place. This lad was bought in, as regular readers may recall, last Summer, because we had produced no lambs of our own in 2017 and the freezers were almost empty of lamb-meat. He came as one of a pair, his sister being 'Oveja'.

When the time came to send Oveja on her final trailer ride, I decided to keep the brother (Pedro) as our 'stud' ram to save me having to borrow in a ram. I knew that we could always send him to the butchers later if the new set-up did not work out or if he became human-aggressive. This "sort of" worked and we think that all four ewes may well be pregnant, though I only saw him mounting Lily and Polly. Time will tell on that one.

Pedro offal. Oh, and a couple of nice
steaks! Well, I was in a butcher's shop.
As to the aggressive thing, I did take a couple of 'pucks' from him but I think these may have just been argy-bargy trying to be first to any food I was taking to the food trough. I'd get a thump from behind at thigh-height but not really know if he'd squared up on my derriere and done an adolescent head-down charge, or had just run clumsily into the group following me and my feed-bucket. Whenever he squared up facing me, I was always able to deter him by swishing a stick back and forth in front of his nose. It's the lack of trust that decided me. I could no longer enjoy communing with the gentle ewes if I had to keep one eye on Pedro.

The peach tree, housed indoors for the Winter
needed a tree-guard when the cats started
using its main trunk as a scratching post.
I did, though, see him banging the ewe 'Myfanwy' about. Whether she is pregnant or not, nobody likes to see our gentle ladies getting T-boned in the midriff. He was also a bit feisty with Lily and the new lamb when they first met but we put that down to him reminding them who was boss in case they'd forgotten while they were in 'confinement'.

So, the decision was made and Pedro was taken on his final trailer journey on Monday (yesterday). That gave me another interesting reversing task - the butcher's back way was part blocked by a big trailer one side and a shiny 4 x 4 on the other. I could not get to the 'lairage' pens (holding pens)  so the slaughterman (Joe) had me back in the shorter distance to the slaughterhouse door. Elizabeth tells me that the lad was 'offed' almost before his feet hit the concrete - she'd heard the 'pock' of the humane-killer and had seen the main butcher nip in there straight after with the big knife, while I was closing up the trailer and pulling out. He (Pedro) certainly spent no time in the unfamiliar lairage pens wondering what was going on or stressing about this new turn of events.

That was that. I collected the offal (liver, kidneys, heart and tongue, this time) today and picked up a couple of lovely (beef) steaks as I was in a butcher's shop. He hangs the carcass for a week before cutting to allow the meat to "set" so we go down on Monday morning to collect the main meat. I feel as though I have been given my sheep back. I can go into their field and speak to them, tickle their noses and under their chins, pull bits of twig and bramble out of their wool and generally enjoy contact with them. There is no ram there bashing them away from the breakfast food trough or trying to get between me and the girls. A whole new relaxed, calm, stress-free atmosphere has returned. It was the correct decision. This year we will borrow a ram just for the 'tupping' season AND nothing like as early as August - more like December or January. Lambing in January is just daft.

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