Thursday, 31 July 2008

Animal Hospital

We have so many animals that some times I cannot honestly remember precisely if I have definitely seen them that day.

Case in point.


Anglo Nubian Boer cross, multi coloured and her main talent is causing mayhem.
This morning when I gave them all their breakfasts Maggie didn't show up. On a mission not to be late I didn't go and look for her. As we drove down our lane we encountered all our sheep sheltering from the weather, no Maggie though. Usually she drives the sheep bonkers by shepherding them around, her two horns help make the point that the sheep should do as they are told. Best not argue with a mental goat.

By about lunch time I was starting to worry, I couldn't honestly remember if she had turned up for her evening meal either. By mid afternoon I was convinced that she was stuck fast in a fence somewhere, we are about due one of those, and on the drive home I was imagining that the RSPCA would be waiting in our yard to arrest me for cruelty to goats.

As we drove along our drive the sheep were in more or less the same place they were first thing, Geisha was with them, but no sign of the mental pointy headed one. Set for a long search in the heavy rain we pulled into our yard. On the step to nowhere was our Maggie who looked decidedly depressed.

Whilst we fed her a portion of goat feed Tracey inspected Maggie's feet, she had a slight limp a few days ago, perhaps that was what was upsetting her. Nothing seemed wrong but on closer inspection and during a second portion of goat feed Tracey found a large bump at the top of Maggie's front right hoof. A large blackthorn was buried in a puss filled lump, a quick squeeze and it was easy to pull out. Easy as in any task can be considered easy wrestling with a deranged goat in obvious pain who is trying to bury her horns into your face. A quick squirt of purple antiseptic paint and Maggie was released and free to go.

I would like to say that, much like Daniel and the Lion, she rewarded our kindness. However, this being Maggie she responded to the removal of the painful thorn by charging the dogs, knocking over the food buckets and chewing through the television aeriel cable.

Normal service has been resumed on both counts then!
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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Have teeth, will bite!

This is our mighty warhorse Trevor the Shitland taking a chunk out of Geisha.

He likes to assert his authority with a combination of teeth and heels.

Obviously he needs more sleep before he can contemplate world domination.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Saddle up and ride your pony!

Who looks a smart boy?

This is William our well behaved Welsh Cob trying his new saddle for size. Its a western saddle I bought for Tracey's birthday from a very nice lady on ebay with a strange name, fluffyfelix, probably not her real name.

Anyway the nice DHL man delivered it today, funnily enough his name was Steve, and tonight when we got back from work we tried it out for size. Now William is a very placid lad, we have dressed him up in his bit and bridle and a roller, a large body belt type thing, and he has taken this all in his stride. Having us faff around with a saddle was a new one for him, and us as it is a bit different to the English general purpose seat but he was very patient with us and let us push and pull him around as we tested the fit.

He wore it well and its now in the tack room awaiting a good going over with oil to soften it a bit. We cant actually ride him yet, he has a bit more growing to do and it will be around this time next year before we can take him out for a hack.

Meantime he will be trained to do some work on the smallholding, log work, that type of thing and we will have to be very patient while we wait to ride him on the common.

We really cant wait.
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Monday, 28 July 2008

Take Cover!!

Having basked for days in glorious sunshine the weather finally broke with a vengeance.

Yesterday we had to take cover from the sun it was so strong, as did our animals. Maude, one of the Ryeland lambs came back into the yard from the common and keeled over by the stables. Even to my untrained eye it was obvious something was seriously wrong. A close inspection revealed that she was infested with maggots, her back left leg was home to a mass of the crawly flesh eating fly larvae and untreated she would probably die. We were lucky she had the sense to return home as another day and she might have been a goner.

All the sheep had been treated for maggots last Friday, preventative treatment is routinely given. All were checked and clear two days ago, its best to do this especially if a period of hot weather follows a wet spell, it creates ideal conditions for the flies to lay their eggs on the backsides of the sheep, who being messy bottomed types usually have a load of pooh welded to their buttocks.

Clearly the prevention hadn't worked on Maude and she was being eaten alive by the wretched things. After a good trim with the scissors the maggots were revealed, there were hundreds of them in a writhing mass, we killed them with a mix of jeyes fluid and warm water. Once the wound was cleaned and much TLC given Maude returned to her usual self and stood in the feed bin bleating for her mother Rosie. We kept her under observation for 12 hours but in true Ryeland fashion was now more concerned about getting her stomach full than worrying about having backside like a baboon, on account we had sprayed it purple with antiseptic marker.

Happy to be reunited with her companions she is out in the rain that has just started sheltering under whats left of the trees in the lane.

The two characters lurking under the bush are Katy and Daffodil, they lie in wait and as soon as they sense the chance they will try to get in the cottage. Sheep are not stupid despite what people think. They know where its warmest and driest, but as that is where I am they are out of luck.

While you were out!

This is the scene that greeted us as we got back from work tonight. Our lovely leafy lane has been vandalised by the electricity board. They have removed 50 metres of trees from one side of the lane including a huge beech tree. This is so it wont interfere with the electricity supply. Now we hadn't actually noticed any interference and the first we knew that this was taking place was when The Oracle told us as we got back that the electricity board were trimming trees in the area.

This is trimming! Goats cause less damage!

Now I am sure we will get used to the new panoramic view but its a bit much that people can turn up to your homestead and without a by or leave so drastically re arrange your environment. Its not as if it was done with any care, the far end there is still half a tree standing leaning right over our lane at a most precarious angle.

Hopefully there will be some good to come out of this, the wood that they cut will burn nicely once dried out and once I retrieve it from the field.

Lets hope our neighbour doesn't get it first!
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Sunday, 27 July 2008

Apple surprise

Clip of the Berkshire Pigs getting a tasty apple treat thanks to the Maggie the goat knocking them off the tree.

Pork and apples go so well together.

Sunbed thief!

Turn your back for a second and you lose your place in the sun!
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Top Gun Show

Just doing my workout. Tuesday's arms and back.

Welcome to the gun show!

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Cow Pat

The sun is setting on another day at Rock HQ, a day of massive effort and teamwork which has ensured a years supply of forage for the vegetarians inhabiting the Rock and a new recruit for the ever expanding menagerie located here.

It didn't get off to a good start though.

It has been a day that we were dreading, looming on the calender horizon like Titanic's Iceburg today was approached with a feeling of dread by the crew of Rock HQ. The bales of hay have been waiting patiently in a field ten or so miles away. Luckily it has been dry and fine since they were made a week ago, we knew our luck wouldn't last so plans were made to get them in. As I have a bad back and only one useful arm the bulk of the lifting and carrying was inevitably going to fall on my oh so patient and beautiful wife Tracey.

Sensing the prospect of moving 300 or so bales by herself was not her most ideal way of spending a day I press ganged Ben our uber fit Army officer son to assist. Beth and Tom were cajoled into staying at HQ and unloading. All was well with the plan except for one teeny weeny detail. We were going to have to do 40 plus trips in Rene to move the bales unless we could find a suitable trailer. Good fortune smiled on us again as I contacted Tim and Steph and pleaded to borrow a trailer that would at least cut down the journeys by half. A twelve foot long beast was loaned, capable of carrying huge loads this was more than adequate for our bales.

Day dawned, while doing the rounds we found the chickens had moved one foot closer to stew time by getting into the garden and eating all the salad and sweetcorn seedlings we spent most of yesterday planting.

At Tim and Stephs we were given a rudimentary introduction to the joys of trailers which included hitching, unhitching, loading and coffee conversation focused on the nice field of cows Tim had. Tim knew we were thinking of getting a house cow and made an offer seldom made by farmers, this offer included the wonderful words free to good home. They had a cow, past its sell by that they were very fond of and couldn't bear getting rid of but good sense told them she had to go. Luckily for us good sense seldom features in our style of farming and even before we saw Pat (the cow) we decided that we would love to offer her a retirement home. Tim sweetened the deal by saying she would be in calf by the time we got her, so milk aplenty for all at Rock HQ, and on the proviso we wouldn't eat her and wouldn't be terribly offended if she dropped down dead anytime after her arrival we were welcome to have her. The day might have started deficit salad but we were now proud owners of a beautiful cow Pat.

Getting the bales was a doddle, I nearly broke into a sweat watching Ben, admittedly loading and unloading took less time than tying the bales to the trailer, and then driving with a fully laden trailer was an all new experience. I like to think of it as exhilarating, the vague steering, the car trying to fishtail down the road, the dubious braking, the lack of acceleration and the wonderful burning smell generated by an overburdened clutch. My passengers, given the way they clung to various bits of the cars interior trim would be inclined to describe the journeys as terrifying. Thankfully we only made 3 trips and stored around 180 bales. Each one was followed into the barn by one or other of the goats, obviously some form of quality control.

Taking the trailer back livened up some poor souls day as a huge girder structure detached itself from the rear of the trailer and parted from the main body like a section of a Saturn V rocket, crashing onto the Queens highway giving the wide eyed driver following us a wonderful opportunity to test the manufacturers claims about his cars ability to steer under heavy braking. Unable to turn around and recover the missing piece and as Rene now had the braking ability of an oil tanker I had to finish the journey, drop the trailer where I demonstrated my complete inability to reverse whilst towing, and race back to get the vital metalwork before it caused any more upset.

Finally home after a nice cold one with Tim and Steph we were able to watch the sunset, a good day, and thanks to all those that made it possible. But best of all we are closer to getting our house cow.
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Friday, 25 July 2008

Coming through!

New rule of smallholding, pay attention to whats coming from behind!

William stops for no one!

Intruder alert!

Maggie has breached the defences of the garden and is raiding the orchard. Here you can see her being chased out, even when caught she still pauses to eat more of the fruit trees. A closer look and you will see some of the trees are almost devoid of foliage and fruit. This just shows what havoc a goat can create in a garden. The spend all their free time plotting to get in. She has not been able to get over the fence so has dug underneath between two trees on the bank behind the stables. The hole has been repaired and we await developments. Last year she managed to get to all the apples before we did.

Top cat chilling out

This is Earl taking it easy after breakfast.
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Thursday, 24 July 2008

Feed me now!!!

The laziness continues unabated at Rock HQ.

The sun is shining, the grass is green, the skies are blue, the birds are singing, apart from the ones the cats have got, and all is well with the world.

Visitors are calling in and sampling the hospitality of Rock HQ which includes cake and a rousing welcome from our pack of dogs. Most visitors have got used to the idea that cars should be parked well away from the trees unless you want a goat on the roof. They still insist on wearing tidy clothes or cream coloured trousers, both are a bad idea when surrounded by the magnificent seven.

Trevor and William had a bit of a spat in the field, Trevor had found a handful of oats and was defending them from all comers. He kicked William buckaroo style about six times in rapid succession before William maneuvered to deliver a knock out blow. Luckily he failed to connect with my little possessive pony, lucky as a kick delivered with that much force would have broken Trevor and probably launched him over the fence and into our neighbours field. As I am already paying for torture sessions from an osteopath for a bad back gained from my sheep wrestling I just know fetching an unconscious shitland back across the border would have crippled me for life. Once William failed to deliver his death blow he took cover behind me in a bid to stop further violence whilst Tracey led our little aggressor away.

Trevor is not the only one to be misbehaving, Maggie was caught trying to get inside the rabbit hutch today, if only I had got the camera with me, but in the goat equivalent of trying to get a pint into a thimble she valiantly persisted until it fell on her, the open door saving her from injury. Laugh, I nearly broke a rib.

Our animals are not used to having us around so much, they are a bit confused. This is Katy who crashed into the sitting room earlier demanding we feed her now. Not wanting to upset a deranged Welsh Sheep Tracey took control and sorted her out while I continued to take it easy, I mean nurse my bad back.
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Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Its a dogs life

This is Preston, and this is how busy we have been today.

Once all the animals were fed and watered Rock HQ was declared a work free zone and humans, canines, felines and two ovines found their own sunbeams and chilled out until the evening rounds had to be done.

Katy disgraced herself by taking a leak on my pile of cushions, made worse by the fact that I was lying on them at the time.

Maggie has discovered the apples on the trees and is currently making raids on the orchard, I haven't found out where she crosses the fence yet but when I do it will have to be raised by another two feet.

Looks like bad news on the duck eggs in the incubator, no sign of life, they were due to hatch last Sunday so we are well overdue.

So life in the garden was settled and calm, a holiday atmosphere reigned and a few ice cold beverages were consumed in the sunshine. Nothing could spoil the day. Apart from the wasp that somehow crawled along my arm and under my watch strap before injecting me with its full load of venom. In spite of having a bad back I can, when prompted move pretty quickly. Spectators would have marvelled at my vertical jump, my sprint to the first aid box not to mention my Karate moves which dispatched the wasp to its own heaven as I went. Additional points would no doubt have been awarded for the volume of my war cry and colourful language.

Luckily I didn't wake Preston.
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Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Trevor update

Trevor is developing quite a fan club now.

He has a face book page under the name Trevor Shetland, look him up and he might be a friend of a friend.

He also has a my space page now

He is a little pony with big ideas and a bad hairdo.
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Lifes a Beach

Today I have been sunbathing.

Well I am on holiday and as I lay in the sunshine thanking my good fortune for living at The Rock it dawned on me that Tracey and I haven't actually been sunbathing since our honeymoon in Antigua in 2005. Seems like a lifetime ago, the same sun beats down but instead of the hypnotic noise of the waves gently breaking on the white sands I can hear the rhythmic munching of a Ryeland lamb called Daffodil who seems to think that the tastiest bit of grass is under my hammock.

Now you might be wondering why, given the whole host of jobs that wait to be crossed off the list I have been so indulgent as to lie sun worshipping in the garden, seemingly wasting time. You have to remember I am still nursing an arm that is broken, held together at an odd angle by space age technology, so that does have an impact on the type of jobs I can do on the smallholding. I am also in agony from having hurt my back wrestling Meg back over the fence in a one armed demonstration of shepherding machismo. Now unable to sit, stand or lie down without making oooh oooh sounds like an excited chimp I have resolved not to do any work until the pain is at least bearable.

It is fortunate that we seem to have taken the week off where summer has finally decided to show itself and the rain is at least for today falling elsewhere. So I have been sunbathing, reading a very boring book lent to me by Mr 20%, who also popped over to see me today. He thinks that as this web site is now read by thousands of people in over 34 countries every month I should write a book. Enthusiastically I told him of my idea of a novel based on a psychopathic ex paratrooper who hears voices, discovers a body and gets mixed up in a terrorist plot to blow up the worlds biggest Elvis convention. This was not what Mr 20% had in mind, he wants me to focus on Tales From The Rock. Given the feedback the site gets perhaps he has a point.

Anyway I was getting on really well reading the book until Daffodil decided to supplement her diet by eating one of the pages, this added to the damage caused by Trevor who had already sampled the cover while I wasn't looking. All I have to do is cover the book in suncream and drop it in the dirt and it will look like most of my other books I have taken on holiday.

Tracey is on holiday too, she wasn't sunbathing though. She can start once Rene has been emptied of the 14 sacks of animal food she went and collected from Kington Farm Supplies. Its a dirty job but someones got to do it.

I just wish I could help her.

Oooh me back.
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Monday, 21 July 2008

Same, but different

Ben has been in the Jungle in Belize and found that many things there are the same at Rock HQ.
There are some differences though, usually the size is different and also the frequency.
For example we often get big spiders at Rock HQ, and I mean big ones, the type that would tear the newspaper out of your hand and hit you round the back of the head with it for even thinking of squishing it. As a confirmed spider phobic I wait patiently whilst Tracey clears the bathroom of the eight legged monsters before I attend my ablutions in the morning.
The ones Ben has had to deal with are a shade bigger, as in the picture, one is crawling over his webbing after taking a dump.

We also have bushes here, bastard bushes, so called because the first thing you say after an encounter with one is bastard bush, in the jungle of Central America they have the bastard tree which as shown has a few more prickles than your average Gorse Bush on the common.

Then there are the ants, our two fields now clear, well nearly clear of Bracken have revealed about a thousand anthills, luckily none so big as the one Ben bumped into, each leaf on the mound has a very angry ant carrying it to compost inside the nest. You can see Ben's size 11 boot print on the mound.

We also get lizards, in fact we found a really fat Common Lizard about to pop and lay her eggs in our straw bales a few weeks ago. The photo Ben has of the lizard he found in the jungle is a monster, a five foot iguana. I would show it you but its not for the squeamish, they ate it you see.

He does take after me after all.
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Sunday, 20 July 2008

Big girls and DIY

These are the pigs, they have grown very well, the one closest to the camera, Gerty, is trying desperately to achieve pet status by being the nicest pig in the history of sty's. They are big girls now, Gerty is clearly the biggest.

They currently gobble up four pounds of food a day given in two feeds and this will be supplemented by windfall apples as soon as they are ready.

The sun has shone all day on Rock HQ, this meant only one thing, the rabbits house should be finished, taking priority over all jobs. I was made to feel like a small child by the nice men at Kington Building Supplies, they have a knack of making you feel totally useless, which when it comes to DIY I am, but they pile on the agony. I rehearse what I want in my head so that when the knowledgeable one behind the counter enquires if he can help I can demonstrate my DIY prowess by asking for what I think I need without hesitation. He who hesitates in the DIY world gives himself away as one who is incompetent. Thus having measured, rehearsed the name and quantity of the corrugated metal sheet roofing, twenty six inches by seventy eight, four pieces mate and a bag of Dowty Spats, I fell at the final hurdle when told it doesn't come in 78's mate its 72's or 84's, whattle it be?

Damn! As I started the bunny penthouse I wondered about the roof size but was convinced they did 78's. The pressure was mounting, 84's and cut it he sneered knowing my ability with a disc cutter would, even if I found it intact after the Beagles have finished playing with it (which was why we cut up a static caravan with a junior hacksaw not a power tool) inevitably lead to another spell in casualty. Erm. Decide, decide, he who dares DIY's. The whole of the counter staff were now looking at me wondering which way I would go, bets were being placed, 72 and bodge or 84 and plasters.


Four 72's mate and a I'll stick a bit of wood on the end. World order restored I left with the just too short roofing and on return to Rock HQ attached them to the bunny palace. Being as good as Karl at measuring the 72 inch pieces of metal roof were just a bit longer than my 72 inch rabbit house so it fitted no problem. Aside from smashing my thumb every other hammer blow it all went rather well.

We took a break as my back felt like it already had and as I sat in agony on the sofa, consoled by a glass of beer and a cheese and onion sandwich the phone rang. Our bales were being made, could we collect them.

I did the only thing I could do.

Finished my sandwich and hid. The bales will have to wait until next weekend.
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Cupboard love.

This is William saving us a job walking up to collect him from Willow rise. I would like to think he is so keen to get to us as he loves us and can't bear to be away from us.

Whats more likely is that he wants his feed he knows is in his stable.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Bathtime for Berners

Its been a strange day at Rock HQ, not much got done because of the weather, yet again all jobs were rained off. We were supposed to be showing Rocky and Reba at Newport show but as our hay is ready we cancelled our trip to lug 300 bales into the not quite weatherproof barn.

Unfortunately it rained all night, the baler man didn't turn up and best laid plans have been ruined once more. Plus I really hurt my back wrestling Meg back over the fence, it was bad anyway, now its agony. But at least I showed her who was boss! No jumping fences on my watch.

So we did some admin, yawn, and when the dogs rolled in something that smelt worse than fox pooh we took the drastic step of bathing them all. So a production line was set up and Tracey was locked in the wet room and not allowed out until the dogs smelt better. Rocky immediately took exception to being clean and dug a pit under the bush and rolled in the dirt until he achieved a satisfactory state of uncleanliness.

By now the sun had dared to break through so we took advantage of our enforced idleness, ignored all the jobs and sat in the garden.

This was fine until Trevor the Shitland decided that he wanted the hammock and made a valiant attempt to climb into it despite the fact that Tracey was occupying it at the time. Forced to shelter from the attentions of an over amorous pony once more we settled down to more, yawn, paperwork and packed all the stuff sold on ebay to buy our cow(s).

At least its done.

Thanks Trevor!

Its my space!

Trevor the shitland deciding that Reba has got the most comfortable spot in the garden.

What this pony wants, he gets.

Brave dog this one!
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Friday, 18 July 2008

Rumble in the Jungle

Ben is back from Belize having completed his jungle training.

From the sounds of it it has been quite an experience, jungle survival, killing things and eating them, wading rivers full of bitey things, snakes, bigger snakes, spiders, bugs, flying bugs, having to take a compass bearing to go to and from the toilet as its easy to get lost when visibility is five metres (one bloke got lost for nine days a while back after taking a wrong turn from the bog) Apparently after three days insects stop biting you as they cant stand your smell, its like wee but worse because of the ammonia in your sweat. He has survived high temperatures, hundred percent humidity, washing in stream and going to the toilet like bears.

We listened quietly, impressed at his tenacity.

But nothing he has been through is as tough as living with Ninja goats.

He has had it easy.
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Finding Nemo

Somewhere in this picture there is a cat called Nemo.

Can you find him?
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Animal Olympics

This is Maggie the Mental trying to get a free lunch. You can see why you need high fences if you are unlucky enough to have goats.

Faith shows how to clear the fence without breaking stride.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Two Cats packed like sardines

The missing picture of Cosmo and Earl.
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New camera!

Well our old one died so we bought a new one, ex demo from a nice man on ebay who has a shop called Ace service and ace camera, it has to be a robust pocket compact that sings and dances all weathers. As we are spending the banks money still it was also cheap.

Cheers for getting it to us on time!!

Heres a picture taken five minutes ago on the doorstep of Katy and Daffodil.

They are growing fast!
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Natural Born Killers

Take a look at these two cats in the picture above, butter would find it hard to melt wouldn't it. This is Cosmo and Earl, Cosmo is the one with white bits, both huddled up in the cat box in the kitchen at Rock HQ.

Cosmo came from Charlies, she runs a pet rescue place that is hard to come away from visiting without a new member of our clan. Earl is from Aunty Jill's, she has a lovely farm Staffordshire way which I am loathe to visit as inevitably our visit coincides with a litter of kittens that just have to have homes and we end up with one. I would like to blame Tracey for this but I just cannot see a homeless tabby cat without wanting to adopt it.

Birdsong is a feature of Rock HQ. It is always commented on, how loud, how many different songs and the fact that its non stop, dawn til dusk the little birdies sing their hearts out. To reward their efforts we set out a lavish banquet on the bird table, particularly in the harsh winter months. So our bird population flourishes. Its also diverse, Redstarts, Nuthatches, Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers, are just a few. I frequently entertain my family with calls to come and see the Great Tits in the garden.

Then the cats appear. We have four, Black Cat and Nemo make up the numbers, Black Cat so named as she was called Molly until I sent her to the vet to be spayed and found she was a he and needed a new name. Stuck for a name Black Cat stuck as a name instead of a description. Nemo is the laziest cat in the history of domesticated cats, even Garfield would cringe at some of his lazy habits.

Anyway last night I saw Nemo on the cottage roof watching something. Thinking he was watching the Wisteria grow I left him to it.

This morning I was alerted to the panic cry of birds at the back of the house. Opening the back bedroom window I saw Cosmo in the Wisteria approaching a nest with malice aforethought. A cup of water got his attention and he descended tail twitching and in a foul temper at the sudden drenching. The nest was saved. A closer look, as close as I dared lean out of an upstairs window, the nest appeared empty. A thrush flew to the branches on my right and cocked its head on one side, eying me with suspicion before flying off.

Confident I had saved a catastrophic killing I went about my jobs. Less than half an hour later I saw Black Cat, Cosmo, Earl and Nemo all huddled in knot at the base of the Wisteria. Each had a large Thrush chick in its mouth. They scattered in four directions, well three, Nemo gave up without a fight, the effort required to keep his victim was just too much for him to contemplate so he let me have it.

The bird survived, its fellows were not so fortunate, they supplemented the crunchy cat food diet our boys get.

I put the bird in a cake tin, it was the first large receptacle that came to hand, and once I was sure it was OK I put it on the inside windowsill in the back bedroom.

An hour later it had gone.

In the tree with its parents hopefully, not eaten by these two.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

The magnificent seven in action

A shaky shot that finally shows all seven dogs, eventually.

A quick update, the spuds are ready so we are eating meals of meat and one veg that is all our own work. As soon as the peas kick in we can add a bit of variety and colour to our plate. The courgettes are minute, smaller than a gnats widger, the three that are ready to pick wont make a meal. I have looked at the how to grow veg book and the serried ranks of plump identical courgettes in the photos differ greatly to what we have managed to grow.

The slugs eat the lettuce as fast as we plant them, I shall have to start night patrols again, one night I collected 136 slugs. They have ceased to be.

The tomatoes never recovered from my omission to tie them upright so they lie at crazy angles in the greenhouse, they are, however, showing a mass of little green tomatoes so hopefully we will get some soon.

The eggs in the incubator are due to hatch this weekend, 18 out of 22 are still showing signs of life so fingers crossed and we should get some Runner Ducks on Sunday.

Rocky and Reba are entered in a dog show this weekend, we have been looking forward to this event but might have to drop out.


We've been told our hay is ready, its in a field ten miles away, 350 bales and it needs collecting and storing this weekend, while the sun shines. All in the boot of our car as we haven't located a trailer to borrow and the van is an ex van.

It promises to be an interesting weekend!

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The only good goat is a curried goat!

Geisha and Maggie are trouble. When they didn't like each other they were a nuisance, now they have formed a bond they goad each other on to create mischief. Geisha the ninja goat is chief nuisance at the moment. Sunday she slid off the cliff into the garden and wrecked every ones siesta. Monday evening she used her ninja powers to get into the house through the front door while three adults were using it. Somehow she managed to slip through completely unnoticed and started to eat a vase of flowers off the mantelpiece in the living room. I just made it across the room in time to prevent a disaster by catching the priceless glass Ikea vase as it dropped towards the hearth.

Suitably chastised Geisha stood on the low wall outside the front door watching us watching her. She obviously plotted revenge because sometime later I could just make out the top of her head as she crept past the front window. Now I don't watch much TV, but I do like the news, somehow Geisha has worked out that the weak point in our already weak TV signal was the connector on the cable just by the front door. By chewing and tugging at it she she can alter the picture radically and get an instant response from her long suffering human. Usually a swift one containing words of four letters punctuated by a volley of wellington boots.

Late last night we knew we were set for an interesting time with her. She had managed to get over the fence into our neighbours field along the front of our cottage. No real problem as she was accompanied by Katy and Daffodil who are prone to launching raids on next doors grass. The difference being that the smart lambs can work out how to get back to the safety of the step to nowhere in front of the stable. Geisha spent a happy few hours munching nettles, she refuses to eat ours but The Oracles nettles are delicious, so after clearing his weeds she suddenly found herself alone, in the dark. She did what any self respecting goat would do when finding itself in such a situation, she freaked out and cried like a baby. Luckily for her she did not rouse her exhausted humans who had stockpiled the wellingtons for such an eventuality.

Sometime in the night she set out to explore the strange dark world of the open field, and several fences later found a flock of sheep, which for safety's sake she gathered around her like a giant protective mutton barrier. Any predator would have to be very hungry to get to her.

Come morning time we found her missing from the step so set out to find her. There she was, a lone brown speck in a confused white sea of wool. I shouted. She bleated. I shouted louder. Her volume increased as well. I started the great trek across to her, her bleat changed to one of relief once she saw me to one of joy when she saw I was carrying a bottle of milk. Overcome with emotion she ran towards me her ears flapping uselessly either side of her head. The sheep suddenly free from their goat tormentor and bewildered at the sight of a man crossing the grass carrying milk for an adult goat turned and fled in the opposite direction. Instinct took over and Geisha turned and joined the sheep stampede having succumbed to flight aspect of the fight or flight response. As she ran away it dawned on her that unlike her woolly prisoners she had no need to be scared and rather sheepishly for a goat turned on her hooves and galloped over to breakfast. A few reassuring gulps of milk later she began the long walk back with me to Rock HQ where she was reunited with Maggie and no doubt spent the day plotting further mayhem.

People ask if it takes a lot of time feeding and sorting out the animals in the morning, you must get up really early they insist. On a good day Tracey and I can sort all the stock out in fifteen minutes. When you have goats you can add two hours to that.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Personality Transplant

This is Faith our gorgeous Gordon Setter, a very complex character who is happiest when she is careering around the hill chasing bunnies and foxes. Not that she ever catches one, but if there was a prize for effort she would win it.

She is quite a grumpy character, or rather, has been a grouch. For some reason she has undertaken a radical personality change. Several weeks have passed without a single grump from her. She spent most of yesterday racing around the hill or protecting the farm from all intruders, especially Blackbirds by endlessly running from one end of the track to the other. Most of the time yesterday we were gardening or working on the current priority project, that of building a new set of quarters for the rabbits. This may seem a bit of a pointless task, ours not Faith's, re homing the rabbits but it has become a bit more urgent over the last few days.

The rabbits are pets and sit quietly in their hutches not bothering anyone. The goats on the other hand quite often bother Sybil and Manny, quite often knocking the hutch over in their attempt to liberate the rabbits of their breakfasts. Sybil was so traumatised by yet another aggravated burglary that she took refuge in one of the goat houses currently home to the last batch of chicks. These are quite big now, not big enough to go out with the other birds but a good size. Unfortunately Sybil the traumatised rabbit sought comfort from one of the small chickens, she obviously wanted a special friend and the hapless chicken was smothered to death whilst Syb's gave it the kind of loving only a confused and traumatised rabbit can. A new house is therefore a priority to protect the virtue of the remaining hens from the unatural attentions of a marauding lovesick bunny.

By late afternoon we were running out of wood and I was running out of enthusiasm so we adjourned to the garden where I fought off the attention of an inquisitive shitland pony called Trevor as he tried to sample my cheese and onion sandwich and my glass of wine. For a moment I did consider letting him sample the wine, thinking the hangover might teach him a lesson, however the prospect of a drunk belligerent pony rampaging around attempting world domination as opposed to having just a belligerent pony rampaging around attempting world domination was too awful to bear so good sense prevailed.

The occupants of the garden settled down to a lazy Sunday afternoon once the food was gone and Faith continued in her quest to be nice to everyone by settling down to sleep by Daffodil the Ryeland lamb on the patio.

It was a blissful, peaceful afternoon.

Until the goats climbed the cliff again and chaos ensued.
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Sunday, 13 July 2008

How does your garden grow?

I got up early today to catch up in the garden as its stopped raining for a while. This is the garden looking at it with your back to the cottage. Considering my green fingers had only served a brief apprenticeship growing cress out of blotting paper on windowsill I don't seem to be doing too badly for a one armed gardener.

18 months ago this was a wilderness, all brambles and weeds. Now most of the weeds have been replaced by more useful plants like potatoes, sweetcorn, peas, cauliflower, broccoli, squash, courgettes, strawberries, fruit bushes at the back and a pumpkin patch behind them. The out of control grape can just be seen in the closest greenhouse, the other one contains the tomatoes and the salad, most of which will be put out in the bed that's empty, covered in Williams finest pooh. Out of shot are more beds, mainly onions, sprouts and beans, more pumpkins (went a bit mad there, I don't even like pumpkin!) and herbs.

As long as the goats stay out we should get some tasty veg this year!
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Saturday, 12 July 2008

Thinking in circles

The weather this week has been grim but we have still had a good week. The garden had taken a battering from the torrential rain but apart from a few small lettuce being ripped apart by the deluge it all seems to be surviving. Today I was going to plant out more seedlings but again the rain has thwarted my planning.

Instead I took William our magnificent Welsh Cob around the hill as exercise for us both, I never grow tired of the views and at the moment the fields are taking on different shades of green and gold as various crops ripen or farms gather the hay and silage.

William was well behaved as usual and we are both getting fitter as this time neither of us had to stop as we made the hilly circuit. Because of the rain we weren't tormented by flies either so in all it was a pleasant amble round. We saw our Suffolk's high on the next hill eyeing us suspiciously and getting ready to bolt if we showed any indication of turning their way.

Our route took us past the other houses on the hill, all were empty as usual, all very imaginatively have the same name as the hill differing only by being referred to as lower, middle and upper. I think its only been on two occasions have all the houses been occupied in the last 18 months. We share the hill with Mad Keith the technohermit and as we walked past his abode all was quiet, he has kept a lower profile than usual since he escaped from hospital last week.

The path took us to the Haunted House on the hill, this squat white walled building with its peeling black paintwork was a silent witness to our progress. Our neighbour, The Oracle, wouldn't venture as close to the house as William, four of the magnificent seven and myself now found ourselves. The house stands alone in a small garden which, despite the fact that the fence is down along one side, sheep never seem to venture into. Our garden only has to have the gate open for a few seconds and feral sheep rush in and strip the place of all consumable foliage, but this one they never seem to get into. The field to the rear and side of the house has nettles, thistles and weeds whereas the Haunted House has a verdant green lawn. As I listened to the lazy plod of Williams hoof fall I pondered on the fact that the dogs also looked like they were avoiding going too close as they all crossed to the other side of the track and had definitely sped up. William and I crossed the front of the house, me looking for movement at the dark windows, he ears pricked forward eyeing up the lush grazing opportunity passing him by.

We began the steep descent to the main track leaving the house alone. Perhaps the stories about the house are true. The Oracle certainly believes them.

Fresh marks on the wet grass showed that Mad Keith was out on his bike somewhere so presumably his indigestion is better. William isn't the most chatty of walking companions so I let my mind wander, thinking about how life has changed. All those years racing round on motorbikes at suicidal speeds, the extreme sports, the adventure training and lengthy expeditions away from home, the endless training, I was the absolute gym rat, I was, I concluded, undoubtedly looking for something.

As I returned to Rock HQ with my one horse power and my four wet canine companions, despite the rain, I felt an incredible sense of wellbeing, I felt extremely happy I had left that all behind.

This is what I have been looking for, my life with my family and animals here at The Rock.
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Friday, 11 July 2008

Rock HQ Most Wanted

These two felons are known to be operating in the Rock HQ area. Captured on CCTV they can be seen helping themselves to food meant for other animals. If you recognise these opportunist thieves please contact Rock HQ where your information will be dealt with in the strictest confidence.

And please.....

Don't have nightmares!
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Thank you Rocky

We have for about a week been driving Rene our Rx4 around wondering why we can smell germoline.
Our trusty Renault has transformed in the few months since we took ownership of him from the pristine concourse vehicle with shiny bits and plush leather seats into something that resembles a crash between a rubbish skip and a compost heap. Whereas Rene's previous owner spent his weekends polishing paintwork, hoovering the interior and giving the upholstery nourishing polishes, we spend our time ferrying animals, animal feed, animal bedding and all the accoutrement's essential to the health and welfare of our charges. As I type Rene is sat in the yard waiting for me to unload the four sacks of pig nuts, two sacks of horse feed, two sacks of rolled oats and a bale of wood shavings for William's bed. It was only due to the fact that they misunderstood our order at the farm supply shop that Rene's suspension was saved from further abuse as six bags of dog food were missing. I haven't unloaded Rene as it is raining, for a change.
So we are used to Rene looking less than showroom. We are used to wiping the seats clean of mud after an enthusiastic dog has jumped in when we open the door, in fact that was why we chose Rene with his leather and therefore wipe clean seats. We are used to the foot wells being lined with straw or hay, used to the clink of jam jars donated by our friends rolling around the back seats, used to strange handling characteristics as it barrels around corners overloaded with animal supplies and very used to strange smells emanating from a variety of sources.
Most noticeably was the aroma of onions caused by our dog Rocky developing a taste for onion as he was travelling in the back where he discovered a nice bag containing our onion sets. After chomping through several dozen he hid the rest in cracks and crevices that are a feature of the RX4's interior design thus allowing them to rot in peace. Once that aroma dissipated it was replaced by a nice smell, initially, of bananas. This welcoming smell soon deteriorated which prompted a search which uncovered two bananas I had forgotten I had concealed in a secret compartment under the rear seat.
We had a few days without any real olfactory problems but the last week we have detected a medical type whiff which has grown stronger and named two days ago as germoline. Thinking it was a final assault from the rotting bananas we tried to ignore it.
Today I can reveal what the cause of the smell was. Rocky, bless him, had found the bottle containing the potion to be used as a lubricating gel for when we, I say we, I obviously mean Tracey, clean William's todger of smegma. He had accidentally opened it and it had soaked into his cushion and the vinyl cover in the back. Tracey had been looking for this potion so we could tackle our horses tackle earlier in the week unable to find it the job was put off for a few days.
Rocky might have wasted £5.99 by knocking the top off but he had temporarily saved me from a grisly task and consequent nightmares.
One more reason why I love Bernese Mountain Dogs!

I got in a bit of a mood last night. The rain gods have conspired against us and for the last six days we have suffered torrential downpours with heavy showers in between. These have been particularly heavy first thing in the morning and after 5.30 pm, times which coincide with our routine on the smallholding when we set about our other job of looking after the animals. There are only so many times you can put on your wet waterproofs and soggy boots and remain happy about it. I was cheered up as usual by the antics of the dogs running about the smallholding, chasing or being chased by goats and sheep. They all get on so well, even Faith the grumpy Gordon Setter has been adorable for the last few weeks, not so much as a raised lip yet alone a growl. Perhaps she has finally grown up!
Speaking of which here are two pictures of Reba the Bernese Mountain Dog demonstrating how much she has grown in 12 months and also how much we need to redecorate the conservatory!

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Jungle training


There are wild animals in there!

Country Cousins

We get lots of visitors to Rock HQ, all are welcome, especially if they want to have a look around or better still help out with the jobs!

Everyone who makes the perilous journey up our track enjoys their time here and go away promising to return, no matter how dirty they get while here!

Not so sure about this pair though. My lovely mother-in-laws dogs seem a a bit agoraphobic to say the least. Holly and Zak are townies you see, the countryside scares them. Whilst the magnificent seven career around looking for stagnant ditches to sit in, fox pooh to roll in or chicken eggs to steal, full of the joys of life this pair seen sat in the yet to be dairy hide until they are escorted to the cottage front door where they seek out the safety of the sofa.

They went missing yesterday as I was feeding the pigs. They had run with the rest of the pack down the lane to the barn where the pigs are housed. Once their dogsitter was otherwise occupied fighting off the enthusiastic attentions of four hungry porkers they took their opportunity to scarper. Worried that I had lost my mother-in-laws precious babies I returned to the cottage to raise the alarm.

In the time it took Tracey to don her boots I had located the missing mutleys quivering in their beds. Ours have to be asked, cajoled, threatened with sticks and ultimately carried back to their beds. Not so these two, totally unlike their country cousins they cant wait to curl up in the safety of their pits away from the perils posed by the great outdoors.
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