Friday 2 March 2018

Twins for Polly and 'The Beast' Blows Through

Polly and the Twins. Only hours old here. 
Sometimes it all goes perfectly and you are delighted and relieved to have made the decisions you have made. In my previous post we were hustling the ewe 'Polly' indoors safe from the threatened weather and from our fox. I wasn't convinced she'd 'pop' that day, but I'd seen her pawing the ground, which is a good sign of imminent lambing. She wasn't very happy to be penned indoors but she settled down with her bucket of water, one of grub and a wad of hay.

The first born ewe-lamb in the morning.
I checked on her for the last time at 10:30 pm but there were no signs of action, so I took myself off to bed thinking we'd be 'go' the next day. She has always lambed down during daylight in previous years. Well, not this time. Liz was taking her last visit to the bathroom at midnight and could hear, from the Tígín beneath her window, a loud bleating which could only have one meaning. She raced down, checked the pen and took a photo of #1 lamb who was licked clean and on her feet, trying to suckle. She came to find me, woke me and showed me her phone. Woop woop! I sprinted down in my dressing gown (as you do) for a check and, finding all well, left her for 2 hours to see if she'd drop a twin.

At 2 a.m. or so I went back out and found she had now passed the 2nd twin and that, too, was on its feet, so may well have been born within half an hour of the first. That's how Polly usually does these things.  My memory always plays tricks on me in these situations - the newborns look so tiny and thin compared to our hulking great thug of a thriving ram-lamb born to Lily, now 5 weeks old. I was so pleased we had brought Polly in - the thought of those two thin little mites being born into the teeth of that snow and wind. I thought they'd have only lasted minutes or been lifted easily by the fox.

A kiss from the new lamb?
Long story short on these little ladies - we are all thriving and growing plump on Mum's milk. The wind since their birth has meant that they are still indoors and have not even seen the grass yet. It's all going very well.

Fox trap as a flat pack. 
In that same post, I was also chasing our fox trap, which I'd had on order from MacEoin's. We'd had a fox near-miss in which I'd let the dogs loose to chase the lad across the fields and we'd not seen the fox since, but it could only be a matter of time. The chase of MacEoin's got me a reply that they were dispatching their traps on the Tuesday, so we will receive ours on the Wednesday (28th).

Don't scratch my floor! Trap assembled in the Dining Room.
It turns up by the brilliant DPD courier at about 2 pm so the local flat-pack team goes to work and assembles it within half an hour. We bait it with dog food (it's all we had) and put it down in the veg patch where the fox killed the previous hen.

Come on Foxy. You know you want that
dog food. What could possibly go wrong?
While we are assembling it, our much forecast storm finally arrives, with flurries of tiny, very frozen snow. The forecast had Roscommon and our NW corner missing all the bad stuff - the worst of the snow and wind, and that has proved to be the case, so I shouldn't be complaining too loudly. My friends in the badly hit corner of the island have been posting impressive pictures of drifts, tractors struggling to get about, sheep getting rescued from out-fields, snow men and all that malarkey. We've had a good centimetre and drifts up to...oooh..... maybe 5 cm?

It is the wind that has got to me - a week plus of continuously strong, bitterly cold easterlies, frozen mornings including one where the wind froze the pipes inside out bathroom. This was where they run against the concrete block wall of the extension OUTSIDE the insulating panels / dry lining. That morning we had no loo-flush or hand basin cold supply (warm was OK) so I had to import our saved big Jerry-can of water for the flushing and go up into the loft to check that all the tank and pipes up in that restricted space were flowing freely. They were. The outside tap also regularly freezes, so my livestock rounds currently including carrying warm water to all the drinkers and buckets. The winds have been giving our temporary tarpaulin roof for the chook house quite a buffeting coming, as they do, from our least protected direction. The tarp is chafing badly and I will definitely need to do that new roof job this summer. My nerves will not stand another winter waiting for that to rip open in a gust.

A comforting sight for the house owner during 'The Beast' cold
snap. The top half of the roof is thawing, so you know the attic
is safe from freezing. 
This freezing indoors thing reminds me that this house is a bit oddly set out. It is not really actual "two storey" but what they call "one and three quarters" round here. The vertical walls stop at the top of the upstairs windows and the interior 'sides of the room carry on up inside the roof rafters for another 4 feet, so the horizontal ceiling is only a narrow strip up in the apex. The attic is in this tiny triangle, the 3 feet or so from ceiling to ridge and about 6 feet wide at the base. With the big water tank wedged in there, it is very difficult to move about if you are of any decent size. If we needed a plumber we'd have to find one with a child apprentice!

It's a long way up to the tiny loft hatch. 
I pass most winters with the loft hatch pushed open to ensure a regular flow of warm air from the spare bedroom up into the attic space, which is ludicrous from a thermal efficiency point of view but saves me worrying about frozen and burst pipes. If we did this again I think I'd insulate right to the apex and have the tank and pipes inside the warm 'cocoon'. I run outside on frosty mornings and check to see if the top half of my roof is white or black (thawed). Weird, even paranoid, maybe. It works for me.

Bundled up like Barge-skipper for fox watch.
Trapper hat, scarf, 'mighty' coat and gloves.
But back to that fox. 'Fox-Watch' has now become a regular part of our duties. He seems to come at around 4 pm which, in warm weather, is now a good hour and a half before bird lock-up, so not only do I try to do as many outdoor, visible, noisy tasks as possible during the day, but there is a whole fox-watch shift that starts at 4 pm.

The pond well frozen.
I take the dogs out to the front lawn for their off-lead run about at 4-ish and hover near the NW corner which gives me a good view across the 'allotment' and pond (and now the trap). Then I drop dogs back in and feed them before coming back out to supervise the last few minutes of the birds. This has been a mercifully short 'shift' during The Beast, with all the birds happy to get in out of the wind and snow by 4:40 pm or so.

Mrs C decides on a '4-cat' duvet day. 
That worked well up to today, and there had been no more fox attacks since the dogs chased the fella (or girl) away. But today, I spotted that the next ewe on our list is starting to 'bag up'. This is Rosie, our first home-bred 'kept' lady and a first time Mum. So, fun and games this afternoon running into 4 pm, trying to run the flock into the yard where we could separate off Rosie and persuade her into the pen I'd built next door to the Polly family. Part way into this job I'd heard the Guinea Fowl alarm calls and raced out there praying fervent "Ah, not NOW, Mr Fox!" prayers. I could see nothing. This happened twice. I should have known by now to trust these birds.

In the buffeting East wind, the tarpaulin over the chicken house
is starting to chafe badly. 
With no apparent fox we got on with the sheep-wrangling and we are mid sheep-chaos, with loose sheep chasing about and not yet back in their field, when the Guineas shout again. Mr Fox has struck, grabbing a Buff Orpington hen from right up by our compost heaps and fleeing as Elizabeth is struggling to release my sheep-proof barriers. By the time we secure the sheep, it is too late to follow and I'm disappointed that the lad did not go into the fox trap.

Dublin 'Coddle'. A stew of sausages,
bacon, onions and spuds. A real
Winter warmer. 
Ah well. I leave you on another blog post with a bursting ewe we hope about to lamb safely indoors and a fox who has pushed up the score again. The Beast from the East is almost done, with the winds now dying back here and us due to warm up a bit a thaw out over the weekend. I think that'll do for this one.

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