Saturday, 31 May 2008

Sheep rescue

video

To be continued......

House Guests

video

We have guests at Rock HQ, this is a short clip of them drying off after playing in the Cauldron, five wet Bernese Mountain Dogs in the house take a bit of clearing up after.

First dog is Lucy, Rocky's Mum, then Rocky, Reba is lay in the corner and Montana is sat just in front of her, Chester, Rocky's Brother is lay by the door waiting for me to open it.

Friday, 30 May 2008

Musical patients


It was an odd experience, being a day patient for surgery. I didn't know what to expect so jogging along the corridor next to an equally unfit theatre nurse really didn't strike me as odd.

I had spent the previous hours irritating Tracey and Bethan in the waiting room with my version of humour. Nurse DeAth separated patient from anxious relative before the double doors at the end of the waiting room. I kept waiting for my turn to play victim but it never came.

Eventually a very stressed nurse appeared carrying a sheaf of papers and shouted my name. She ushered the three of us into a small room and asked me lots of medical type questions, identical to the ones I had been asked the day before when I turned up for a pre surgery consultation. As she was already showing signs of stress I decided to play the game properly and answered most questions correctly. Relieved that she had found me she made me change into my very fashionable surgical gown and dressing gown.

Tracey was ordered to take all valuables off me but I managed to keep hold of my MP3 player, even when I was told I wouldn't need it as I was just about to go to surgery. It became obvious that the only way they would get it from me was to prise it from my cold dead fingers. They gave up and and I was told to go and wait in the waiting room again. Nurse DeAth reappeared and it was finally my turn to brave the ordeal of the double doors. I went through and as I suspected the double doors didn't lead to surgery, they led to more chairs.

The NHS has taken a leaf out of the theme parks books in this respect, they make you queue for the real queue to the attraction. So just when you think you are getting close you discover a whole new world of queueing misery ahead. So I was sat next to an assortment of outpatient cases in various stages of undress. Better than my last experience of surgery when I was left in the main public waiting room of the hospital sat in a wheel chair in my underpants and bleeding onto the floor.

I plugged myself into the MP3 and tried to forget the hunger pains. Now I am a big lad, a healthy eater, and I enjoy a big breakfast most mornings so had to starve myself for the operation. In a masterpiece of planning the waiting room, full of starving pre operative patients also contained the theatre staff kitchen, so a host of hungry nurses and doctors appeared while I listened to Metallica and made themselves sandwiches, soups and hot drinks.

A registrar appeared and confirmed my personal details which were remarkably similar to the questions I had been asked about two albums ago. I complied and answered, this time signing the form.

I was starting to feel strange, very sleepy in fact, my mind was drifting away with the music and I was having imaginary conversations with animals from Rock HQ. An anxious goat disrupted my daydream, I looked around the waiting room, a few patients sat around were giving me funny looks. Had I been talking out loud?

Metallica gave way to Mike Oldfield in my headphones and I settled back in the chair for some more goat conversations confident that the drugs they had given me were having no effect whatsoever.

Another nurse appeared carrying the form I had just signed and asked me the questions again and asked if the signature was mine.

She left.


Mike Oldfield became Do Me Bad Things.

A very upset nurse appeared, "Are you Tony?" she asked

I nodded

"I am glad about that" she said

"So am I" I replied

"Quick, follow me they are waiting for you" she turned and jogged off along the corridor.

Luckily she was nearly as big as me so I was able to keep up despite my drugged up state of mind. We raced along the passageways dodging the giant pink elephants and white rabbits emerging out of the walls. Finally she shoved me through a doorway where a complete surgical team were ready and waiting. Everything was in place, except me. The surgeon patted the empty bed in encouragement "Glad you could make, I was beginning to think you weren't going to turn up" I sat on the bed and tried to catch my breath and tried to speak "Never mind that" he continued,"what are we doing today?"

I lay down as instructed, "I was hoping you would remember"

"Ah yes, arm, metal, its coming out, not all, but most, no you cant have it, health and safety things you see, God there was a time when we gave people whole limbs back, not anymore, not even allowed to give you a screw"

I looked at him in his surgical gear, him giving me a screw was a scary thought. The anesthetist started to up the medication. I protested, cant I have it done under local anesthetic, "No you can't, silly idea, it would hurt too much"

As I started to tell the surgeon he only wanted me unconscious so I wouldn't know what music he was playing during the operation I was told to wake up.

As quick as that.

I had checked the clock as I went in, my conversation with the maniac with the scalpel had been over an hour and a half before being told to wake up in the post operative room. This was production line surgery that Henry Ford would have been proud of.

My arm felt odd but apart from that I was fine, oh and thirsty I was definately thirsty, and hungry, very hungry.

So the operation was very successful.

Nurse DeAth made me a cup of tea which by hospital standards was quite good.

Tracey and Beth came to fetch me and were surprised at how lively I was.

In fact I have heard Tracey telling our friends who phoned about me that I was still annoying so I must be getting better.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

In this weather!

video

This is Geisha, Katy and Daffodil giving their verdict on the weather. Normally they run straight past me and try to find Tracey with their morning milk. After four days of rain they are obviously as fed up with it as we are.

I thought I heard a cuckoo yesterday but can't be sure so still not properly heard one this year. I did see a bird that I have never seen before though, a Redstart, an amazing Robin shaped bird with orange red plumage, blue wings and head and a white cap. I'm not a twitcher or anything weird like that but you do tend to notice things when you are outside a lot of the time. So even in the wettest weather there are rewards.

Today I have to leave Rock HQ, hopefully only for the day, having some metal work removed from my arm. This will hopefully allow it to get a bit more movement and I have a mental physio on stand by to twist and stretch it into shape one the surgery heals. Its taken nine months to get to this stage, I thought it would only take nine weeks to get back to normal, but I've always been an optimist!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Fencing for begginers


We were both at the point where it wasn’t physically possible to get any wetter without immersing ourselves in the stream that runs across the end of our land. The book on smallholding doesn’t really explain how to erect barbed wire fences, those that do show how it’s done on a level site with all the right gear, which includes wire stretcher thingys, mallets, hammers, wire proof gloves and sleeve protection and staples to hold the wire to the posts. Usually the grainy black and white photos illustrating the art of fencing show a sunny day for the pastime. It was hard to remember that only four days ago we were getting sunburnt as we began the fencing project in the garden pictured above.

As we are smallholders who work full time, time off has to be spent on the jobs that are vital, so wet weather has to be ignored and tasks ticked off the to do list or you find yourself in a spot of bother. Our plants in the green houses now need to be put outside, we can’t do that without making the garden goat proof, feral sheep proof, dog proof, and after seeing the havoc wreaked by a Black Rock in the potato beds, chicken proof as well. So the fencing had to be completed despite the rain, despite the lack of appropriate kit and despite incompetence.

So in the teeth of the current deluge Tracey and I were on a 45 degree dirt bank that is behind the stable and up the slope as high as the roof. Whilst I hung on to the barbed wire with my gardening gloves using my considerable bulk to get some tension on the strand Tracey hammered nails into the posts and bent them over in lieu of staples. This technique seemed to be working quite effectively. Admittedly we wouldn’t win any prizes for our work but it would at least keep the animals off the vegetables. After 25 metres we were nearing completion, the jokes had stopped, event the tried and tested “Ok, when I nod my head you hit it” routine failed to raise a smile from a thoroughly drenched Tracey, and from the look on her face she was tempted to follow my instruction. I kept quiet and pulled on the wire.

Mind you the rain was partly her fault, she had just said “Can’t it rain any harder” and right on cue it began to. As we valiantly continued to cheer ourselves up we tried to remember when we were last so wet. Possibly it was at our son’s, Ben, Sovereigns parade, or maybe when we installed the reservoir in the stream and laid out the water supply piping, no, it was definitely when we were chain sawing and Murphy turned up.

If you go right back to the start of the blog you will find references to the perils of an encounter with Murphy. He is referred to as a character by those of us that live here, a character that you have at one time or another felt like physically harming to stop him talking at you. He just doesn’t stop, a meteorite could crash into the ground next to him and he would say something like, “Oh, I see a meteorite has crashed into the ground right next to me, but anyway, as I was saying….” And so he would continue his monologue about whatever.

Tracey and I had been sawing branches off trees to let some sunlight into the small paddock area at the bottom of Oak Bank and Willow Rise. It was a wet miserable task and after several hours we had had enough. Cold, tired and wet through we started to pick up our gear and as we did we heard those heart stopping words “Oh, I can see you’re busy, but …..” Murphy had arrived.

“Come in and have a cuppa Murph” I said cheerily.

“No I wont stop you, I can see your busy.” He stood and drew breath.

“Murph, we’ve just finished, we were going in for a cuppa, come on in” I was sure he could sense the desperation in my voice.

“No, I won’t trouble you; I can see your busy sawing, that reminds me…”

And so he talked at us, and we stood, getting colder, and colder. Tracey started to exhibit signs of hypothermia, I pleaded with Murphy, please, for God’s sake man come in and have a cup of tea, lets get in the warm, but no, he was adamant, he wasn’t going to stop us, we were busy.

He left an hour and half later. Tracey and I only just reached the sanctuary of Rock HQ before exposure claimed two fledgling smallholders.

Tracey and I battled with the last section of wire when we heard a voice. “Oh, I can see you’re busy, I didn’t think you would be out in the rain.”

A chill went down my spine, I looked at my soaked but still beautiful wife, she shook her head and mouthed the words “Please God, not Murphy”, I thought about crying, or maybe having an accident with the hammer, just a small one that would stop him talking at us.

I pulled back my hood and turned to face the voice.

A stranger!

Relief!

“You’re not Murphy!” I babbled.

“No, I’m Steve; I’ve brought you a fox trap.”

I felt like kissing him, but as we had only just met that was a bad idea, so I let him talk me through the principles of the fox trap and we set it along the side of the chicken run.

So now we wait.

There is a bet on to see which of the magnificent seven ends up caught in the first; my money is on a beagle.

Global Warming

video

As you can see from the video clip Global Warming has yet to arrive in our valley. It has rained almost constantly since last Saturday night making life for the smallholder difficult and life for the animals miserable. Most of them are sensible enough to take shelter except for the Ryelands who seem to view taking shelter from the elements as a sign of weakness so stay out all weathers. Since being here we have dug them out of snow, watched them spray gallons of water from their fleece as they shake like dogs to dry themselves and heard the ice crack as they run to the trough when its been so cold their wool has frozen solid.

Ryeland have only one concern in life, that's where is their dinner.

Its been a good month for us at Rock HQ, and the blog readership is growing, twice as many as last month and in 32 different countries. Even Norway has joined in, cheers George, keep reading in between kayaking trips.

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Noah's Ark

video

Given the weather we have suffered the last three days perhaps we should have built an Ark instead of a stable. Our highly accurate 21st century rain gauge which also doubles as a coffee mug placed on the wall outside Rock HQ has filled to the brim in the last 48 hours. Here you can see some of our motley crew taking shelter.

They don't show this type of weather in the books about smallholding, they are usually full of pictures of smiling folk bucket feeding alpacas. Erecting barbed wire fencing in a monsoon hardly features at all.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Organised? Us?


A friend e mailed the other day saying he had been keeping up to date on the blog and it sounded like organised chaos but a lot of fun. After last nights shenanigans I can give the definitive answer.

Its just chaos.

We must enjoy it or we wouldn't do it but as I was stood in the pouring rain last night in a foreign field I questioned my sanity, not the first time my commitment but most importantly questioned how do I get over this barbed wire fence in the dark whilst wearing boots that had no laces and carrying a torch. To make matters more interesting there looked like there was a ditch the other side and I can only use one arm for climbing due to my left arm not bending and still being broken. Oh, and the batteries were failing in the torch. How I got myself into this predicament at eleven thirty at night rather than tucked up in the land of nod was due to our friend Mr Fox and one of our beagles, Preston, who decided at the age of fifteen years he would take up hunting. (He is the one looking at the camera in the picture above.)

He decided to do this by himself and in the dark.

It had rained all day, the highly technical ceramic water gauge (a coffee mug)on the wall at the front of Rock HQ showed we had over an inch of rain and none of the outside jobs got done. Practically none of the inside jobs got done either as we sat and watched the weather hoping for a break in the clouds. Horses got brushed, animals got fed, a fence post was replaced but no real progress along the jobs list was made.

At around nine in the evening the rain paused slightly so I went to put the birds away. We are keeping them shut away during the day at present due to Mr Fox but Tracey was on auto pilot first thing in the morning and had let the Black Rocks out along with Terry the Turkey and Daffy the Muscovy drake. They were all on their perches and Daffy hissed his contempt as I closed the door. I opened it again when I remembered Terry, conspicuous by his absence. My heart sank, surely the Fox hadn't taken Terry, the bird weighs over thirty pounds and has attitude to back it up. Gentle giant he is not. There was no sign of him, or his feathers, so maybe he was safe but I had to find him.

I returned to the cottage for a torch and in a moment of madness released the magnificent seven, our dogs who were all in their luxury appointed kennels sleeping off a large dinner. They are useless as tracker dogs, would probably make friends with a Fox if they met one but having them career around Rock HQ might just deter Foxy if he was in range.

I found Terry sheltering in a rotting sycamore tree. Like I said in a previous entry the Fox attack changed him, he even let me pick him up. Something of a struggle, a wet bird with a huge capacity for violence and a one armed smallholder who is justifiably scared of the Turkey. Bernard Matthews workers wouldn't play football with this one, he would rip their legs off and beat them with the soggy end. As I began this delicate manoeuvre things went well until Terry realised allowing himself to be carried seriously affected his credibility as a bastard so he freaked out. Readers may have heard that swans can break a mans arm with a blow from its wing, Terry has the strength to break a mans neck with his wingtip. Trapped in the confines of the pig run and wrestling with a demon Turkey I took the only sensible option, I dropped him and ran to the gate. He did a pretty reasonable impression of a Harrier jump jet and took off over the pig sty and from the noise, a sort of oooof sound, crashed into the old stable door the other side.

I rallied and fetched help, taking on Terry was a job for Tracey, I know my limits. We both cautiously approached the stable and found the big bird wedged in between some bales. This made it easy to get hold of him and gently transport him to the hen house opposite. Easy as in moving a ticking time bomb is easy. Luckily he didn't go off and this time didn't draw blood.

We assembled the magnificent seven who as I thought had been a great help in the unfolding crisis, roll call, one of our beagles was missing.

No amount of shouting his name produced the missing mutt. Preston and Passion are very old beagles in their sixteenth year. The used to be lemon and white, now they are just white. They were bought by me as pups from a hunting pack over Hay on Wye way as they were not fit to train as hunters. Passion was the runt of the litter, I bought Preston and the huntmaster gave me Passion for free. That sounds a bit odd doesn't it but you know what I mean, he gave me the second puppy for nothing, I didn't have to kiss him or anything.

Since then these two dogs have been a pain in the backside and I defy anyone to be able to train them. They just do their own thing, hopefully without damaging anything, unlike the time they got onto a shelf with tins of paint, of various shades, yellow and purple stick out most vividly in my memory. They knocked the cans down, ran through the contents and ran around the house. I got back to find most rooms redecorated with bizarre hues and paw print patterns. This theme continued over the furniture, the PC, the dining table, the stairs, in fact anything with a surface they had managed to put a paw print motif. This was just one of their misdemeanours, I could write a book on the joys of beagle ownership and can relate to anyone who uses them for experimental research, I have often felt like conducting my own research on them following their antics like the time they emptied the freezer or ran off with the Christmas Turkey that was cooling on the side.

Preston, it seems, had run around with the pack but had picked up a scent. Obviously remembering his heritage and keen to prove the huntmaster who had so cruelly rejected him fifteen years earlier wrong, he had set off in pursuit. It must have dawned on him as he got further away from the safety of Rock HQ that this sudden rush of bravery would have consequences. Not least of which one being his owner stuck the wrong side of a barbed wire fence in the rainy darkness.

Tracey and I searched for the hound on foot for an hour, keeping in touch by radio. We think we saw him once running across a field but as he was running away from the house and showed no sign of heeding our calls it might have been a sheep. Looking for a white dog in the Welsh countryside at night is far more complex than perhaps we first thought, there being hundreds of white woolly runny things giving false sightings.

Tracey and I decided to search different areas. I thought I had found him at one stage, but it turned out to be a dead lamb. No signs of a violent death so not the result of the Fox or Preston. Incidentally I can see the corner of the field that the dead lamb is in as I type this and a Red Kite and several Crows are fighting for possession. Nothing gets wasted out here.

Tracey radioed that she would search the lanes by car. I watched her drive off as I balanced on the fence wondering how to get the barbed wire out of my trousers without dropping the torch or letting go of the fence. I decided not to radio for advice as she had enough to worry about without wondering how her idiot husband would get down from his latest predicament.

I negotiated the obstacle and when I found my boot that had fallen off in the process I set off with new resolve, one that included buying new laces for my boots. I got back to Rock HQ and stood in the rain wondering what to do next. I toyed with the idea of getting a coat as the T shirt I was wearing had poor weather protection. Tracey returned and found me searching the sheds. Neither of us had found him. It was very dark, raining heavily and the wind was cold, not a good night to be out for a very old dog used to his creature comforts. Tracey turned Rene round in the yard and set off down the track for one last look. I went back into the warmth of Rock HQ to light a candle and start a vigil for the missing dog.

Tracey returned around a minute later, reversing Rene up into the yard. I've got him she shouted. Vigil over I went out to greet the wandering hero who was cold, tired and incredibly grateful to be found. Tracey had got halfway along our track and he suddenly appeared, on seeing Rene he ran off, but Tracey turned the lights and engine off and he came to her call. He was ecstatic when he realised it was his owner and gave her the welcome only a grateful dog can which included widdling on her foot.

Safe in his kennel he climbed into his bed and curled up very happy.

We were cold, tired and wet after two hours on the hill but happy our old beagle was where he should be. We got back to Rock HQ and headed to where we were meant to be. Bed.

Sunday, 25 May 2008

Goats behaving badly

video

Its been a miserable day, but with lighter moments like this one, Maggie falling over as she tries to get the leaves from the branches above her.

Do not get a goat if you want something to eat grass, they wont touch it. Ornamental trees they love. Maggie will clear branches off trees height of about six foot. Whether you want her too or not.

Good Morning!

video

With a severe weather warning in our area and torrential rain falling this morning didn't look like it was going to get off to a good start.

But as usual the life of a smallholder is full of surprises and as I prepared our early morning coffee and the bottles of milk for the lambs I heard a noise from the incubator.

These two had hatched during the night and a third is pecking in a bid for freedom. We were keen for these to hatch as they are eggs from our oldest hen, Devil hen who is over eight years old and still laying eggs, nice light blue ones. She has survived rat attacks, fox attacks, managed to cope with ever increasing numbers of dogs, different cockerels and moved house with us.

Hopefully at least two out of the three will survive to adulthood and one at least will be a hen to replace Devil when she shuffles off her mortal coil in a manner that befits such an ancient bird. Asleep on her perch not as a snack for foxy.

Saturday, 24 May 2008

Ideal renovation project


This may look like a pile of stones but it is in fact the remains of a cottage that once stood in Oak Bank. The bright green strip above the trees pointing to the top of the hill is what we call North Face Gully, very steep and the source of one of the streams that runs alongside our boundary.
The hill beyond the trees is all ours, its actually common land but that's just a technicality.
The gully isn't on the north face either, but its sounds more dramatic saying you have been up North Face Gully rather than saying you have been up West North West Gully.
The field is work in progress, in 2006 the field looked like the rest of the hill, hard work, a sharp machette, a box of plasters and a brushcutter coupled with lots of perseverance has turned it into reasonable grassland, all be it littered with anthills and fallen trees. There is a lot more to be done, the soil is a bit on the acidic side so this weekend I will be scattering lime over it and cutting back the new shoots of bracken.
You may have read previous entries where I mentioned that this is valley has been inhabited for a long time. Rock HQ dates back to around 1750, thankfully a few improvements have been made on the original cottage, its been extended up and out. We have the paperwork for the cottage dating from 1887 which are interesting to look at but impossible to read. Amongst all the parchments is a curious document referring to another cottage with the same name as Rock HQ.
This was sold to the owners of Rock HQ in 1906 for the princely sum on ten whole pounds. For that they got the cottage and the grounds, approximately two acres. The inhabitant, an old lady moved out to live with relatives in the next village. Times have changed since 1906, ten pounds wouldn't buy a door lock yet alone a cottage and two acres. The cottage has also seen better days but its repair is on the to do list.
Not that it will be restored to an actual cottage, the stones will be used to create a dwelling like The Black House in the Outer Hebrides. The blackhouses of the Highlands of Scotland were byre dwellings in the tradition of ‘long houses’ which have existed in Northern Europe for over a thousand years. Originally blackhouses had no chimneys or windows and were built with locally-found materials - stone, turf, thatch of reeds, oats, barley or marram grass. The animals lived one end and the people lived the other. Ours will be used as either an animal shelter or a bunkhouse for walkers. More likely it will be used by me as a play house for living history days. Until I get fed up and wander back down the track to a house with plumbing, a roof that doesn't leak and comfortable beds.
The way the current jobs list is being raced through this project should reach the top of the list in about 2016.
Patience is a virtue.

Friday, 23 May 2008

Watching patiently


This is Rocky on the left and Reba on the right watching patiently as Tracey and I erect a fence around the vegetable garden to keep the goats out.
That's the thing about Bernese Mountain Dogs, they are so interested in what you are doing they always stick close to you.
It seems the web page is having problems with video so you will have to wait patiently to see the video of William below.

Things you don't see everyday

video

This is something you don't see everyday!

In fact its the first time I have ever seen William, our handsome Welsh Cob, lying down. We were busy in the garden building a goat proof fence, how effective it proves to be remains to be seen and as Maggie the mental goat was watching from the cottage roof an eight foot high stock fence might not pose her too many problems. After a few hours hard toil we made our way back to the cool of the cottage and just checked to see how the boys were in their stable. Trevor the Shitland practically took a chunk out of the inside of my right elbow so he was fine whereas William next door was having a lie down.

Now I thought he would stand up when he saw me but as you can see he remained on the floor. There was, I thought, no way he would let me enter the stable and stay on the floor but again he stayed put and let me stroke him.

Tracey came in too and for a full ten minutes this lovely Welsh Cob posed for photos and put up with us making a huge fuss of him.

It is a sign of how much he trusts us that he remained so calm and vulnerable allowing us to sit down with him. We are socialising him well, he is only just two years old and unbroken. We are getting him used to us and gaining his trust so we can train him to work with us on the small holding, harrowing the fields, crushing bracken, carrying wood and dragging logs, that type of work. We would like him to be able to pull a trap, or small cart which might be good fun, especially on summer evenings on an outing to the local pub. He should also make a good steady hacking horse, a plodder, I don't want a fast mentaler, a nice bombproof steady ride will suffice. So William is maturing into a nice people pony, trusting, good natured and affectionate.

Lets hope he stays that way the first time we put the saddle on him and climb on board!

Thursday, 22 May 2008

How to annoy a setter

video

Faith loves chicken.

This lot are lucky they are not on the menu.

Yet.

The Hills have eyes.


I don't know who was more surprised, me or the fox.

I was putting the birds away so it was dark and I was alone and armed only with a torch. The dogs were in their kennels as they are a bit of a nuisance when trying to persuade geese, ducks and chickens into their houses.

Terry the Turkey is obviously suffering post traumatic stress after the fox attacks last week, he was perched in the Black Rocks house. He is so subdued he even lets you stroke him now, until last week he would have launched all thirty pound of his carcass at your face. He wasn't really aggressive but like many of the animals at Rock HQ he has a certain attitude. His was "get near me and I will kill you". Now he is seeking comfort from any source and that includes human contact, the first since he was an egg.

Tracey is so worried about his change in attitude she has contacted a Turkey dating agency on the internet and asked if they will sell us some new wives for him.

Anyway he was safe and well and tucked up for the night with the hens. I went to the other end of the smallholding to sort the rest of the poultry. We had already discovered that Apple, one of the Pekin Ducks, was missing probably victim of the fox. The birds were all accounted for except Apple. Tracey joined me by the duck house and suggested that we look for her. We both knew this would be pointless but we did it anyway. (Shes the one in the middle in the picture)
I climbed the steep bank of Willow Rise and shone the torch into the darkness of the Cauldron.
A pair of bright yellow eyes reflected back at me. There, sat under the hawthorn tree at the head of the stream in the Cauldron, sat a fox.

Typical.

No gun.

No dogs.

I shouted.

It stared at me, the eyes tinged orange, it looked quite evil.

Tracey shouted should she let the dogs out.

Yes.

The fox blinked and lazily loped along the track towards the top of our field.

Now our dogs usually when they are released from the kennels set off like unguided missiles in all directions. A sure fire way of startling the fox.

Not tonight. They all wanted to play, they stayed close by or fell at our feet. The fox looked on with yellow eyed indifference. I threw a stick in its direction to encourage the dogs to defend the farm. Poppy the retriever brought it back. I could not believe how dumb our dogs were being.

The dogs romped around the field while the fox approached our boundary. I led the charge. They took the hint and charged, straight back to the kennels.

The fox ran up North Face Gully and stood on a rock looking back, its eyes glowing in the torchbeam and then he was gone.

He will be back.

It is a war.

He is winning, he has cunning, stealth and surprise on his side.

I have a gun, and when the fox gets close enough the gun will win.

It's a dead fox walking.

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Wheres my sheepdog!


There are times I wish I had another dog.

Yes we have the magnificent seven, the Rock pack, the gang, the gits, and I love them to bits, even Pip the psychotic collie, but yesterday I wished we had another dog. A clever one, a well trained one, one that could help out, I'm talking about a sheepdog. Our current collection are as much use around sheep as a Burmese General is at delivering food aid.

We did a lot of work with the sheep last night, our little flock of Ryelands needed injecting with medicine to give them immunity against seven horrible diseases which include mange and bolus and all sorts of horrific sounding parasitic borne illnesses which will affect them if they don't have the injections. Now when we first bought Rita, Roxy, Rosie and Crispy I had no idea that within a very short time I would be trimming their feet, cleaning their bottoms, shearing them and administering medicines, basically waiting on them hand and foot. In fact the only thought I had put into it was that these four would produce me an unlimited supply of lamb chops.

I didn't really envisage that to get these lamb chops I would have to learn a vast array of new skills, learn a new language to discuss with other shepherds the pro's and con's of shearlings and whethers, and re read James Herriot to appreciate the complexities involved when you stick your hand inside a sheep's insides and pull out your potential dinners.

Our flock has grown considerably, we now have Easter and Springtime who are both massive Ryeland Ewes and excellent pedigree examples and we have the rogue sheep, two Suffolks April and Molly, plus a Suffolk Cross, Meg and Bill a whether, also a Suffolk who is M.I.A. on the common hopefully avoiding the piemakers. We also have a shearling from last year, Ebony a lovely little black Ryeland produced by Roxy.

Shrek, April and Ivory, last years lambs have all been introduced to Mr Whirlpool in the workshop and bits of them make periodic appearances on the dinner table at Rock HQ.

All the Ryeland Ewes have given birth this year, so Hercules, Bonny, Maude and Sandy have been out on Oak Bank with their Mums. Katy an orphan lamb is on the lawn along with Daffodil the Ryeland lamb abandoned by Easter at birth. Yesterday was the day for immunisations and separating from their Mothers, an easy task as our sheep are so tame they run towards you when they see you with a bucket.

Usually.

Sensing something was wrong last night they gave me a wide berth. Eventually I managed to coax them all to the food trough and inject them as they gorged on sheep nuts. I checked them all for maggots, a hands on messy job but necessary. They were clear. Now came the task of separating them. This went well until we got to Hercules. The first three we were able just to pick up from the trough and put in the goat house. Not so for Hercules, once jabbed twice shy he was off running as fast as his woolly legs would carry him aided and abetted by Ebony.

We needed to get all the sheep off Oak Bank, to let the grass grow back but also to break the parasite, egg, worm cycle, the ground needs to be left for 28 days to let the eggs die, otherwise the sheep just eat them up off the grass, the eggs hatch, the parasite infects the sheep, the sheep takes a dump passing more eggs onto to the grass and the cycle repeats.

We managed to get all the sheep out of the field except for Ebony and Hercules. It took ages to get them back into the bottom corner of Oak Bank where they would hopefully go through the gate and Tracey would intercept Hercules. He was quicker than she was and shot through reuniting himself with his Mum. Fifteen minutes running around later and after much sweating, swearing, threats and wishing for a sheepdog to round them up for me I managed to rugby tackle him to the ground and carry him to the others in the goat house. Taking the lambs from their Mums might seem harsh but it will allow the Mums to gain all the condition they lost in giving birth and producing milk. They have lost over a third of their body weight and look in a poor state.

Final task of the evening was to inject Daffodil and Katy. This was going to be so simple as they are hand raised and overly friendly. As they are more used to me carrying a bottle of milk rather than a hypodermic and responded as such. Jostling me, jumping over each other and pushing to get attention. This didn't matter, not until Daffodil hit my right hand as I tried to insert the needle into Katy's back left leg.

I injected my left index finger, despite the pain I consoled myself that at least I wouldn't get mange for the next twelve months.

Tuesday, 20 May 2008

Even more goat antics

video

This is Geisha having a spot of bother with a bucket of lamb feed. Normally she is quite intelligent but this morning she got a bit confused. Mind you she did double back while I was moving a bale of hay, let herself into the conservatory and sample the Olive and Lemon trees we have. Most plants get pruned by the goats, except the bracken and nettles, they are left for me to cut down. The books say that horses and goats love nettles, not true, they would rather eat broken glass, plastic bags or masonry nails before having to eat nettles. Humans can eat nettles, the tips anyway make a good substitute for spinach or you can make nettle tea.

I'm in the same mind as the horses and goats when it comes to nettle tea.

Monday, 19 May 2008

Easily pleased.


These bad boys were dug up from the vegetable patch yesterday and provided some of the veggies to accompany the Black Rock that was caught eating eggs.
I did worry when I killed it, was I too harsh, should I have tried to re educate it, perhaps a quiet word would have set it on the right path. Since its demise the hen egg production has not dropped, in fact we were up two today, so it wasn't contributing on that front, and we have had Pekin Duck eggs and another goose egg. So it definately was guilty of the crime that it was executed for.
That makes four goose eggs we have managed to round up in total. Three are currently in the incubator but I don't hold out much hope for them hatching given our current success rate.
When I say we have had Pekin Duck eggs I mean we have had one, which Pip the demented Collie cross beat me to, snatching it from the box and running off with it to eat, and another which I picked up, while feeding the sheep, from the floor of the goat house.
I love duck eggs and the yolk from ours is so rich and yellow and simply delicious so I was looking forward to eating the first Pekin egg to compare to the Runner Duck egg. We get a nice light blue Runner egg everyday. We don't have a male Runner anymore, you can guess who ate him, not me, the fox.
Anyway as usual I got sidetracked and forgot about the egg in my combat trousers, that was until I squatted down to collect the eggs from the Black Rocks boxes. A quiet popping sound made me remember where I had put the duck egg. I walked back to the cottage with cold egg running down the outside of my leg, again. I've lost count of the times I have had to undress by the washing machine and pour eggs out of my pockets.
The fat on the chicken showed it was having more than its fair share of the morning rations. As ours are corn fed they have a yellow fat which is excellent for roasting potatoes. So this bird slow roasted with garlic, leeks and parsnips was excellent. I think it is indicative of how much I have changed since living at the Rock that such a feeling of happiness can be achieved by digging up a root vegetable.
I just wish my memory would improve.

Where's my breakfast!!


These two are growing up to be really spoiled, spending another night on the sofa instead of outside. Its a tough life at Rock HQ!

Sunday, 18 May 2008

The Pocket Rocket Returns

This is Trevor the Shitland Pony having a mad moment in the garden.

If you look at the Pocket Rocket video from a few weeks ago you can see how much he has changed colour. He is still a mental bitey creature but he is great fun to have around.

video

On Guard


This is Reba keeping a watchful eye on Katy and Daffodil.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

No mercy


Today has been a real trial.

One of those days where you realise that smallholding really is a way of life, you cannot decide once you start to just stop. You cant wake up one morning and decide that's it, not doing it anymore. So today, despite the weather, we have been working outside doing heavy dirty jobs, and while we worked it was obvious the fox had struck again.

As Tracey and I cleaned the floor mats for the stable we could see Terry the Turkey on patrol around the perimeter fence. He does this all day everyday making the funny gobble gobble sound and puffing himself up displaying how big he is. Today he looked different, it might sound odd but the colour had gone from his face, he looked scared. In fact he looked so different he looked like one of the females. Tracey found a clump of brown feathers by the greenhouse, not a good sign. I climbed the bank and checked the nest site under the tree. The nest was empty, no eggs and a trail of feathers through the brambles down to the fence of the pigs sty where the flora was all flattened. From the signs the fox came in from the hill, crossed the garden and killed the turkey by the greenhouse and pig sty. It then dragged the twenty pound bird over the vegetable garden, over the lane and across the field opposite. What made matters worse was it then must have come back and killed the only remaining female turkey in the barn and taking that one the same way. We searched around for ages hoping to find the second turkey nesting somewhere, and Terry has been patrolling calling all day but no response.

This means out of the four turkeys we bought last September only the male remains, the rest have fed the foxes. We are beginning to question the free range aspect of the smallholding, or whether keeping poultry is viable. We cannot afford these type of losses. Its the time of year that foxes have cubs so the predation rate does up but we are losing a bird a day at least. Given that we found three fox trails in the snow last November we could have anything up to fifteen cubs that need feeding in the wood and hills around Rock HQ. As we are the first smallholding off the hill we are a prime target, and as the gorse bushes and bracken provide excellent cover they can move around with impunity during daylight hours when we are away.

Our neighbour, The Oracle, told us the other week that he had seen foxes sitting in the hedge watching the sheep giving birth and running out and taking the new born lamb as it lay on the ground. A farmer from over the ridge told us he had lost over twenty lambs to foxes.

It seems the local foxes view us as a specialist takeaway where they can supplement their rabbit diet with turkey, duck, and chicken. We had a round up when we discovered the missing turkeys and found that since Thursday we have lost a Muscovy Duck, two hens and two turkeys.

Now I would shoot the fox if I saw it, but only having one good arm limits my ability to aim properly. Tracey is not keen on me arming myself to the teeth and keeping vigil to shoot the murderous intruder given what happened last time.

I had borrowed a gun and sat waiting for Foxy Loxy on the top of Oak Bank, the killing ground baited with a couple of dead rabbits shot earlier. After a few hours of watching and waiting Foxy Loxy obviously had other dinner plans so I collected the rabbits and I made my way back down the hill to the cottage. I went up to our bedroom and very quietly laid the gun on the bed and started to take my camouflage gear off. I had been in the Army so I am quite used to handling guns, so a loaded gun on the bed didn't cause me any concerns as the safety catch was on.

I struggled out of my hunting gear.

As I did so I heard Foxy outside the cottage. I looked out of the window and could see him sat in the lane looking up at the bedroom window, I swear he was laughing at me. I reached for the gun.

As my hand touched it there was what can only be described as a very loud bang and bits flew off the bedside cupboard. Tracey sat bolt upright, my attempt to go to bed quietly was not working out as planned. Considering I had just shot some of her favorite bedroom furniture she took it very calmly. She didn't tell me off but I'm not allowed to handle loaded guns in the house. I cant anyway at the moment and Tracey has taken on the role of Marksperson. Quite often we stand too in the bedroom and fire a couple of volleys off to frighten off the fox. But as the vermin are now attacking in the day light other options having to be taken up.

The fox traps are on order.

These contraptions let the fox in to get the bait, I have several pheasants in the freezer earmarked as bait, but don't let it out again. I will then, if we catch one, shoot it. The way I feel about the fox at the moment I am likely to shoot it, skin it, mince it up and feed it to the poultry, but I shall probably just shoot it. There will be no mercy shown to the fox on my watch.

The day wore on, somehow these slabs of rubber had to be moved.Thankfully Tom and Beth were on hand to assist moving the heavy duty rubber mats from the barn and up to the stable. They weighed a ton and it was a real team effort to move them the 100 yards uphill to be laid on the floor of the boys new home. The boys showed their appreciation by taking dumps over them.

The tack room was next and we kitted it out with things to hang the reins and stuff, and a saddle rack. Its safe to say now the stable is completed, we are exhausted from the effort but its been worth it. Its just the dairy that wants kitting out now. Despite our tiredness several more little jobs got ticked off, the gate to the garden got a new catch, the onion sets were finally planted, the potatoes were covered with Williams finest pooh and the usual jobs were done.

As I fed the sheep I saw one of the Black Rocks eating something in the goat house, it turned out to be an egg laid by one of the Pekin Ducks. I had been wondering when the Pekins would start to lay, even watched them build a nest in the corner of the duck house, now it was clear why we were not getting any eggs. The Black Rock is now slowly cooking in the rayburn.

The fox isnt the only one partial to chicken at Rock HQ.

Things smallholders say

video

I think I will get a couple of sheep to help keep the grass down, a phrase I have often heard from would be smallholders.

As you can see demonstrated here they eat everything and only eat grass as a last resort. This is Katy and Daffodil who have got into the vegetable garden and are sampling the raspberries. They have already savoured the delights of the gooseberries, the strawberries, taken chunks out of the leeks and finished off some flowers in pots. Luckily most of our plants are still under glass as we try and construct a more goat proof fence which will hopefully keep these two rascals out.

The green marks identify them from the rest of the flock as keepers rather than eaters. You can also hear the sound of a chicken suddenly going airbourne as a Gordon Setter called Faith surprises it.

The sounds of the country.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Bernese alarm clock


This picture is of Reba our Bernese Mountain Dog bitch in her new hiding place, the soon to be goat dairy on the back of the stable block. She gets a bit hot so likes to find a cool patch to lie on away from the rest of the magnificent seven.

Looking at her butter wouldn't melt in her muzzle but she has her moments, like last night when Tracey went into the kitchen and found Reba sat bolt upright by the back door, a picture of innocence. As Tracey was about to leave the kitchen she just spotted that Reba's nose was white instead of its usual glossy black, she also had white around her mouth and on the top of her head. Behind her was an open sack of lamb milk powder which she had been dipping into as a little Berner snack. She is also not averse to stealing eggs, but will take them from the bowl on the kitchen work top unlike the rest of the pack who try to beat their master to the nesting boxes.

She is without doubt top dog of the magnificent seven who live at Rock HQ. We never thought she would achieve this status, particularly when you consider that Rocky and male Bernese Mountain Dog is here and top dog was undoubtedly a Gordon Setter called Faith. Faith didn't relinquish the top dog honour to Rocky but has definitely been moved down the pack order since Reba became an adult.

Reba didn't have a good start at Rock HQ. We got her from a breeder in Cornwall with a good reputation to be a mate for Rocky. Bernese Mountain Dogs are an exceptional breed and are fantastic companion dogs so we decided that we would like to breed some of our own one day. I collected the puppy from the breeder and put her in the back of the car. For the next hour and a half she howled and cried in protest against being taken from her litter mates. Exhausted she fell asleep and when she woke up she was meeting the pack at Rock HQ.

Rocky immediately fell in love with Reba and since they met they have been inseparable. Faith for some reason hates puppies so we were very careful to supervise her when she was around Reba. Unfortunately such close supervision couldn't prevent Faith lunging at and biting Reba as she walked past one evening. Pandemonium ensued as Preston dived in to stop Faith and Poppy joined in a spirited display of pack unity. As I tried to separate the dueling canines Tracey picked up the wounded pup from under the table. A nasty bite by the eye and a cracked tooth, she would live but Faith was banned from any contact until she was bigger. Faced with a wounded pup who was missing her mum I relented and let her sleep in our room, on the proviso she went back to the pack when she was better and bigger.

However due to further accidents and incidents she never got better and still sleeps in our room despite taking up nearly as much room in it as I do.

You see Reba was to accidents and misfortune as a magnet is to iron filings, you couldn't keep her away from them. A few days after the bite incident I was in the garden watering the salad bed when I heard an awful yowl and the noise of a puppy in pain. I dropped the hose and ran to the house expecting to find Faith finishing the job she had started on Reba. Tracey was hugging Reba by the front door. The puppy had climbed the stairs, got into the bathroom, climbed onto a radiator, onto the windowsill, out onto the conservatory, and fell off over the front door with a thump onto the concrete.

Three days later I was in the lounge and heard a strange gurgling sound and found that Reba was in the conservatory where she had climbed onto the back of the sofa, fell off and was hanging by the neck off a plant stand. Another near miss, like the time a while later when she fell into the pond and swam with all the grace and buoyancy of a brick and was rescued on the point of drowning.

It was around this time that the pack leader at Rock HQ decided that is was unfair that Reba had a bed inside our room if Rocky didn't as well. Knowing better than to argue I agreed and Rocky joined Reba and they sleep very contentedly on their beds either side of our bed.

Our bed is definitely out of bounds.

You will be surprised though how gently a fifty five kilogramme dog can tread when they apply themselves. You would think it unlikely that she would be able to get onto the bed without waking its occupants, especially when they are remaining vigilant against fox attack so wake easily. There have been a number of occasions when I have rolled over half awake and put my arm around Tracy to find she had a thick fur coat or an impressive set of teeth and whiskers and a very wet nose.


Normally though, just like Rocky, she sleeps quietly and wakes when the alarm goes off, waiting quietly to be let outside where she asserts her authority over the pack. She has grown up into a very fine Bernese Mountain Dog and is the friendliest canine you could wish to meet and if you like a lap dog that will crush you she is definitely the dog for you. She will spend hours sat next to you ensuring as much of her is in as much contact with you as possible. As I type this on the laptop her head is across my left forearm which cramps my typing style somewhat.

This morning though she changed tactics regarding the morning routine. Instead of waiting for the alarm she decided to be one. Nothing subtle like sticking her cold wet nose somewhere she shouldn't, or a big soppy wet kiss to rouse her owner, no, she thumped me on the nose with her front paw.

Just once.

That was all it took really.

That reminds me, I must change the pillow case, its got my blood on it.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Rambling on


I have just spent a happy hour and a half with a brush cutter cutting down the bracken, nettles, thistles and foxgloves that left unchecked would over run the two small fields we have that just about pass as grazing for the sheep and horses. When we first got here what identified it from the rest of the hill was that it had a fence around it, it was, just as the rest of the hill is, a tangle of brambles, gorse, bracken and weeds. We could have sprayed it and cleared it that way but we want to be as organic as possible here so we resorted to cutting it back. Which is why I spend hours of my time with the trusty brush cutter scything through two acres of weeds on what we call Oak Bank on account of it being the field behind the bank with the Oak tree on it.

While the brush cutter does its job as I swing it from side to side I can't help but think about the unanswerable questions in life. Sometimes these are interrupted by bits of nettle as they sting me by falling inside my boots of flying up and hitting me in the face. Tonight's rambling thoughts were varied, from the simple, like why do anti mist goggles always mist up (the pair I was wearing to protect my eyes from the flying debris were so foggy I had to take them off) to the complex like if mirrors need light to reflect what would happen if you were in total darkness in front of a mirror wearing night vision goggles, would you see a reflection?

These cerebral wanderings keep me occupied as I wage war against the weeds. If I am not pondering impossible questions then I am more likely to be contemplating how different my life is now compared to a few years ago when we lived in a modern three bed semi detached.

The longer you spend living the life of a smallholder the greater you realise the differences there are between you and non smallholders. This is most apparent when at work when I look at my co workers, none of them look tired, with the exception of one who is a first time Dad and so gets no sleep, they all look refreshed in the morning after a quiet night at home. None of them go home and start work again, and I know it’s a lifestyle choice but sometimes I do wish I could go to bed and sleep uninterrupted, or wake up naturally, not woken up by some insane dog barking at four am just to let us know that a goat was looking at her funny through the wire mesh of the kennels.

It would be nice to retire of an evening without having to worry about a night time attack on the poultry from the foxes on the hill, instead of sleeping lightly, jumping out of bed at the sound of a twig snapping in the lane and flying to the window holding the torch steady as Tracey gets ready to loose off a volley of shots at the intruding predator.

Co workers will get to work on time, or if they are late it will be due to traffic, or their car won’t start. Our reasons for lateness include these run of the mill excuses but include exciting variants from rounding up dogs who have run off, getting goats out of fences, getting the bucket off the sheep’s head, sheep delivering lambs, finding the missing rabbit, getting the goat out of the house, getting the goat off the car, taking pigs to the abattoir, floods, trees falling down and rock falls.

My co workers arrive at work dressed in clean and tidy apparel. I intend to, sometimes I even make it to the car clean only to be thwarted at the last second by an affectionate encounter with a goat, dog, or horse who want to share their drool, fur, bogeys or dirt with me or my clothes. My shoes usually look like I have been walking around a farmyard, which they been. I took to leaving a clean pair in the car, this worked until one of the dogs liberated the left one and concealed it somewhere on the hill. The next step is to leave a clean pair at work. This I will do as soon as I find the right shoe from my other pair which suffered a similar fate to the pair in the car once they were discovered in the workshop. I have before now set off to work in my farm boots and on one memorable occasion got to work wearing them.

Luckily I work in a supportive team who ignore the fact that they are talking to someone wearing chinos with a big brown muddy mark down the leg, or a shirt with a paw print on the back or boots that have enough dirt on them they could easily be used to grow a salad selection.

Their evening might be taken up with soaps, computer games or a quiet pint down the local and a game of pool. Mine might be spent carrying buckets of horse do through to the garden to put around the base of the 12 fruit bushes we planted last year, gardening or any number of animal related jobs or emergencies. We used to keep a jobs list, adding jobs when we thought of them and ticking them off as we did them, this practice stopped once the list got bigger than three sides of A4. Their conversation is about football, films and television, mine is about the latest addition to the clan at the Rock, our latest visit to the vet, the garden or more recently the building project.

I love living here, it's hard work, always different and I wouldn't swap it for anything.

Happiness is priceless.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

View from the hill


This was the sunset tonight as we put the boys away.

What Trevor thinks of the stable

Its been a very busy night at Rock HQ. We put the boys out on the field and set about clearing out the messy old stable. Somewhere there were four large rubber mats which we are going to put in William's new stable. This should then mean we put less straw bedding down which William can't stop himself eating thereby generating mountains of pooh. We are grateful for his contribution to the fertility of the Rock garden and fruit trees but this horse can dump for England. Its his hobby, producing two foot high models of the worlds mountain ranges created out of his crap. We have enough so he has to be stopped, hence the need to put the rubber matting down.



These six by four foot rubber monsters weigh a ton and God only knows how Tracey managed to lay them in the first place by herself as the two of us together had great difficulty carrying them up to the garden to be cleaned. Eventually we managed, with the assistance of a replica Halberd from when I used to re enact English Civil War battles (not by myself obviously) we folded the mat over the Halberd and lifted them. I knew it would come in handy one day. Soon I was covered in horse doings and under one mat there was some particularly foul smelling liquid which soaked my trousers. The joy of horses.



We fed and watered all the beasts, Faith got sent to bed early for biting Geisha, Daffy got a warning for jumping on Walter and tonight we just weren't quick enough so Pip got most of the eggs.



We cleaned put the stables and got the boys back. As you can see from the video clip practically the first thing Trevor the pocket rocket did was take a huge crap in his nice new bed. Those that follow the adventures of this miniature Shitland will see he has changed colour from the dark brown of his winter coat.




Bless him.




That's Shitland Ponies for you!




video