Sunday, 31 August 2008

Cat Basket

They are close friends, just as well really.
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Horsing around

Follow on from yesterdays video where Apollo sneaks into the house, not that you will have seen it yet as the technonerds have broken the server so you cannot log on. Meanwhile the fun and games continue at Rock HQ.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Open House

At Rock HQ we have an open house, all are welcome provided they are willing to help if we are busy and don't mind getting dirty.

While we were gardening Apollo was keeping us company and here we can see that his curiosity has got the better of him and so he sets off to explore a very strange stable.

Friday, 29 August 2008

Apollo lifts off!

10 second countdown and off!

There is something wrong with the blog so photos wont load and text comes up with errors.

So I am not able to tell you about all the things that have happened here over the last 24 hours like more bad news about Rene and the quest to find an exhaust, only Renault can provide the part and its great value at £495 plus vat, and a further £65 an hour to fit it. Bargain. Currently we are negotiating with a friendly welder, Tracey's brother to come and fix it.

Neither can I tell you about the food aid from Mr20% and his lovely wife Annie who fed us the most gorgeous ham from a Gloucester Old Spot raised by a friend of theirs in Devon and the huge donation of apples and cabbages for our pigs, who as I type this are munching their way through pounds of cherry red crab apples.

Because the blog wont load photos I cant show you the pictures of JJ's hard work where he single handed cleared 30 metres of hedge that was over shadowing the garden. His very patient lady Kay who had been promised a few days in the countryside ably assisted by dragging a seemingly endless supply of greenery down the lane to the goats who gorged themselves on the tasty foliage.

Nor can I show you pictures of Apollo in the house, having a good nose around and testing the chewiness of the sofa.

So you will just have to make do with the video of Apollo's first launch in the field, nicely fenced in with a new fence provided by JJ and Darren.

Team work!

A very big thank you to you all!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

False alarm!

A really busy day at Rock HQ, not helped by the garage who phoned whilst we were in the thick of the action outside to say that our exhaust for Rene was in. Once the crippled car was on the ramp it became obvious that the exhaust they had was not the one needed and after much head scratching and sharp intakes of breath they decided they couldn't do it, Rene needed a Renault garage. I wasn't in the best frame of mind anyway having already cancelled going out to dinner because we couldn't get there, swallowed the bitter pill of inflated prices charged by the garage (the parts on the internet came to £75, the garage first quoted £270) and having made the effort to get there finding they were not able to repair it put a real downer on the days activities. In fact I was so bothered by the garage I completely forgot the second reason for being in town that of visiting the vet Andy.

Hopes were raised at one stage though. Steve the electrical sprite from across the valley called in and brought with him his family who had the Rock HQ tour, the usual welcome from the animals and a chance to feed the fattest bottle fed lambs in farming history.

Steve's wife told a tale of a strange hill sheep that mugged her for yogurt coated raisins whilst on the summit of our hill. She had even filmed the beast and showed us the clip on her camera. Initially we thought it was Bill, who is still M.I.A. and hopefully happy on the hills and not wearing a Ginsters wrapper at a garage near you. Close inspection showed it wasn't him, but his mum, still wearing her fleece as she evaded capture by the shearer.

So we are no closer to discovering Bill's fate, but we do know not to fill our pockets with yogurt coated snacks whilst out looking for him.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A new breed of Superhero!

We had a nice surprise visit yesterday from The Stable Sprite who dropped by for a cuppa and a chat. I think he was checking to make sure I hadn't done too much damage to his masterpiece of equine housing with my modifications for Trevor who now has the dairy as his stable. I shall now have to milk the goats in the rain on the step to nowhere outside Apollos stable, a small price to pay for the pleasure of owning such a fine beastie.

While The Stable Sprite and I admired his handy work and then checked on the pigs, also supplied by he a family of gypsies got stuck in our lane. Luckily for them the Stable Sprite was here as their caravan was stuck on the hill approaching Rock HQ and they needed a tow. Rene is out of action having dropped his exhaust just outside Gloucester so we couldn't oblige but as you can see from the clip above Super Stable Sprite equiped with a state of the art utility belt and white van dragged their aging Volvo and house on wheels to the relatively level bit just before the barn.

The gypsies are in fact JJ and Kay who were so happy at being rescued they have volunteered to take down the hedge along the garden in return for a free nights pitch surrounded by the beasts at Rock HQ.

The Stable Sprite, his work done waved goodbye and set off to right more wrongs and do other superhero stuff.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Apollo 3

Its been a really busy day here, but still had time to watch Apollo having his supper.

Handsome lad isn't he!

Monday, 25 August 2008

Hot under the collar

This our big Bernese Mountain Dog Rocky cooling off in the stream.

His mate Reba is in season so he feeling a bit frustrated, she is too young for them to breed just yet so we have to keep a close eye on them both.

This is his version of taking a cold shower!

Apollo 2

This is Apollo stood against the gate at the end of our track, only six months old and already nearly as tall as the gate. This is his first walk out with us, he coped very well considering he had to put up with dogs suddenly appearing from the bracken, goats running after us, geese trying to get us to feed them and monster puddles. He is a bit shy of puddles at the moment, given the number of potholes in the lane that's something he will get very used to.
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And now for something completely different!

Old habits die hard, I wasn't always a laid back smallholder, happily married and living the Good Life dream.

There was a time when I was a standard issue biker and I still have some links to that past, some really old friends still call me by my nickname Speed, and my taste in music does tend to favour the type that features distorted guitars, fast drum beats and incomprehensible lyrics.

I have been lucky enough to have seen some of the best rock bands in the world, my initiation to rock concerts started in 1979 with Queen, but I have seen acts like Pink Floyd, Saxon, Status Quo to more modern stuff like Incubus, Feeder and Ash. Too many to list. Then there are festivals of rock like one held at Milton Keynes in the 80's where I remember a Welsh Bike Gang started a huge fight because the crowd didn't show Gary Glitter the respect they felt he deserved.

Wonder what they think of him now?

This weekend was Reading Festival, a huge event attended by thousands who brave primitive conditions to pay homage to their small gods of music. Like most memories of past events the bad stuff is reframed and you are left with the good. So when Tracey offered me a ticket for my birthday for this Sunday at Reading where Metallica were headlining I jumped at the chance.

I had forgotten how bad 110,000 unwashed campers can smell, how appalling the toilets are, how creatively the event organisers shaft their punters by selling them food and drink for outrageous money in the show village shops before you get to the main entrance and find any food and drink you have just bought is not allowed in. The gates were crammed with people hastily downing expensive alcohol watched by bad tempered security staff. Inside you find the same drinks on sale in the same paper cups sold by the same franchise as outside. Burgers cost over six pounds, chips are cheap at three fifty and of such poisenous quality it would have Jamie Oliver in tears.

The line up changed, the drummer of SlipKnot had a bad ankle and another singer had a poorly throat, not that anyone would have noticed, so we stood in a field for nine hours, watched three acts and waited for Metallica. They made it all worthwhile, an awesome display of lights, pyrotechnics and volume of such intensity it moved your clothing and probably caused internal bleeding. They were so good that they made getting showered by warm liquids of dubious origin that fell from cups and bottles thrown by the crowd seem acceptable.

Finally the concert was over, Beth went back to the riots in the campsite, she is still a hardcore festival goer while Ben and I made our way back to the car and eventually found the motorway heading home.

We were so tired we had to change driving every half hour or so, and after the third stop where we loaded up on energy drinks, ran round in the cold night air to wake our addled brains I contemplated how different life is for me now and how much I prefer my quite life out in the Welsh Hills, where two walkers seen in a month means its busy. Looking at the clock whilst listening to the high pitched whistling in my ears I calculated that at our present speed in Rene we would be home just before four in the morning, a twenty two hour day. Nothing would stop us getting home and nothing would persuade me to leave Rock HQ for the rest of the week.

It was at that point the exhaust fell off Rene.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Animal Olympics

Bernese Mountain Dog 100 metres!

Rocky is a fast mover.

Don't get in his way!

Apollo has landed!

We have a new arrival at Rock HQ, Apollo a Gypsy Cob foal, six months old has taken up residence in the stable vacated by the pocket rocket Trevor. He is settling in well and getting to know the neighbours.
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Friday, 22 August 2008

Just William

A happy horse, as long as he's eating.
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Let there be light!

Another good day at Rock HQ, lots of jobs done and a couple of mysteries solved.

The weather has behaved and allowed us to venture outside dressed in clothing other than not quite waterproofs so we have pottered around catching up on little jobs. Currently I am in the doghouse for leaving an axe hanging on the workshop door which fell off and nearly amputated Tracey's arm, but apart from that the day has passed without mishap.

William is fit, well and deposited vast quantities of pooh on the stable floor in an effort to demonstrate he wasn't bunged up after last nights colic attack so was allowed out to graze in the sunshine.

One mystery we solved was the strange case of the disappearing smoked salmon. We went to bed and in the fridge was the remains of our dinner, a slice of smoked salmon saved for some scrambled egg for breakfast. Tracey got up early and went to collect our latest purchase of animal feed, I found the salmon gone thinking she had had it. She returned later and decided on a sandwich for lunch, found the fish gone assumed I had it. What actually happened was Ben our son returned home at 1 am, dropped off a ton of his army gear, couldn't resist looking in the fridge, after all the food in there isn't actually owned or wanted by anyone in the house and it was he who ate the salmon. And Cheese. Oh and some cold sausages, milk, bread and anything else that wasn't nailed to the shelf.

The second mystery was solved by the electrician Steve. He still claims his name is Paul, but as all professionals and tradespeople in the valley are called Steve he is only trying to buck the trend. So Steve tipped up in his van which is a special edition white van with chest of drawers and portable chemical toilet, both securely fitted in the back by the ubiquitous bungee strap. Steve's task, apart from sorting out quite how we get electric into the stables and fit it out with lights and switches, was to find out why the lights in the dining room, downstairs wetroom, utility room, workshop and pantry either fail to come on when asked or go out after a few minutes.

This is an old house, and it has had things done to it many times, the electrical system has been designed so that you are never more than an arms length from a light switch. In fact some lights have three switches, allowing a wonderful combination of on off pleasure and for the real thrill seekers there are spare switches on some walls fitted for no other purpose than to provide the home owner with the joy of switching. If there was on Olympic event for light switching this house would be the training area.

The lights in the shower went out about a year ago, we tried to shower by candle light but this was far from successful. Dinners have for while been candlelit affairs as the ceiling lights went out and refused, despite all efforts to illuminate. The pantry lights would stay on just long enough for you locate what you were looking for before plunging you into an abyss of darkness as you clutched your can of baked beans whilst praying that you found the exit before the pantry monster grabbed you.

We needed expert help.

We needed Steve, even if he was called Paul.

I watched with interest as he dismantled vital sections of the house, transformers and wires were laid bare as I fought off electricians tourettes syndrome. This is the overwhelming desire to shout bang everytime I saw him touch a wire. Seeing I was struggling with this Steve told me that shouting bang wasn't as scary as builders and their nail guns who have the habit of firing them everytime he tests a circuit in a new build house. That was scary enough to cause accidents. That explained the toilet in the back of the van.

By mid morning we had two bedrooms dismantled and most of the lights working except for the shower room and the dining room. We even phoned the nice man who sold us this wonderful house to see if he could shed any light on why we were suffering eternal darkness. Steve was shocked by some of the wiring, literally, only for the third time in his life as an electrician he got a jolt from the mains after turning off a circuit. What he didn't know is our house is so good some switches are wired into two circuits. He swore to be more careful, I swore not to stand to close to him in case he exploded.

Finally after much head scratching, endless trips up and down stairs the circuit into the shower room still refused to work. Steve had tested it, it was live, it all should work, the bulbs were good, it made no sense.

Pondering what to do we were stood in Beth's room, our faces glum, he about to admit defeat, me contemplating another year of dark showers and wondering if there was any money to be made from a patent for an umbrella for candles when he said "Whats this switch do?"

Low on the wall below Beths bedroom window was a switch.

He turned it on.

We have lights.
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Thursday, 21 August 2008

Another long night

This is Katy crashed out on the doorstep five minutes ago. I know how she feels. Its been a long night at Rock HQ.

One that started well, and hopefully has ended well.

As from five this evening we started our holiday, eleven days at Rock HQ, fantastic, and right on cue the sun started shining and Tracey and I decided to have an early dinner on the patio in the evening sunshine before we got on with our jobs. Our holiday could not have got off to a better start, sitting in the sun, enjoying a glass of wine and marvelling at the view from the garden.

Paradise found.

All was well in our world.

Until I went to the stable. William our Welsh Cob usually scoffs down his supper as soon as it appears. Tonight he stuck his nose in it and moved it around. I watched wondering what was going on, he looked ill, his head was low, ears back and he wasn't interested in his surroundings. His surroundings were different, normally this horse makes scale models of the Himalayas in pooh for us to clear up, hardly a plop in sight. This did not look good.

Tracey came to see and was convinced the poor horse had colic, this can either mean he needs a good fart or could prove fatal. Walking tends to ease it so we set off with the magnificent seven down the lane. Things rapidly took a turn for the worst as he tried to lie down, this was a very bad sign, if he lay down it would mean he wanted to roll and could twist his gut which can lead to death. He was persuaded to stand and walked back to his stable where I stood with him while Tracey phoned the vet. As she was inside he sat down on his bottom like a dog and tried to get his head down. After a quick wrestling match ended by a slap on the backside he got back to his feet and I walked him around the yard until the vet arrived. Luckily this vet only took forty five minutes to get here which meant William and I only completed 147 circuits and 89 figure of eights in the yard while we waited.

Gabriel the vet did all the right things, and was happy to report that Williams heart was beating normally, mine was taking a bit longer to settle, his temperature was normal, whereas I was sweating like a backpacker at a Baghdad checkpoint and he concluded it was likely that William would be OK after a quick shot of pain killer and something to settle his tummy. Unlike humans this is not a simple matter like taking a glass of Andrews Liver Salts, no, horses have to be injected in the jugular vein. By now William was feeling a lot better and if anyone thought they were going to stick a needle in him they were going to be made to reconsider the rashness of this action.

Finally after he had shoved us all around the yard for having the audacity to try and give him medication the patience of Gabriel had been tested enough and he decided that a horse with that much energy would make a recovery unaided.

William is now under observation in the stable, he seems well enough.

I on the other hand feel like I have run a marathon and done ten rounds with Frank Bruno.

I need a holiday!
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The sixth rule of smallholding

Here is a clip showing the sixth rule of smallholding, animals can get through holes only half thier body size.

Daffodil and Katy returning form a grazing raid looking for milk.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Break it up!

Leave him, he's not worth it!

Geisha and Crispy in dispute over grazing rights.

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Its good news week!

Today was one that I wasn't looking forward to, a visit to the hospital to meet the cheerful surgeon who put my arm back together eleven months ago. Last time we met at the start of June he cheerfully told me that I would need another operation as for whatever reason my bones were refusing to join back together. Being told that it was a race against time to get bone growth before metal fatigue set in and my arm fell apart was not the news I wanted. As there was nothing I could do about it I got on with life on the farm doing all the jobs I could do, forever attempting jobs I shouldn't do and generally driving my wife potty by not looking after the poorly limb.

So convinced were we that I was facing a serious operation that we saved annual leave, conned friends to come over and help do lots of jobs before winter sets in and arranged our calendar to be clear for the inevitable hospital admission. Friends and work colleagues thought they would help lift my flagging morale as the hospital appointment loomed nearer with, oooh remember how happy you were to come back to work and then turned green and nearly died, bet your glad that's all over. I on the other hand having erased from my memory the hideous MRSA related infection a nurse who looked like a refugee from the Local Shop in Royston Vassey gave me by pulling out the fifty or so metal staples holding the wound together with a staple puller she had been carrying around in her uniform pocket since the great plague began to have second thoughts about surrendering to the surgical team without a least a fight this time round.

So whilst I waited for the wizard with the scalpel to finish examining the latest set of x rays, where yet again I had to patiently explain to the nice radiographer that no I wasn't being awkward, that really was as straight as my arm could go and no it wont twist to that angle to make it easier to get a nice picture and yes there is a lot of metal in there isn't there conversations with nurses, who now know my name without consulting my notes as they have seen me so many times, I planned how I would barricade the door with the upturned examination couch and refuse further surgery until scientists from Porton Down came and chemically cleansed anyone before they lay a surgical glove on my delicate skin. I was distracted by seeing a friend at the hospital, seems he was there to discuss surgery of a delicate nature, lots of you knows and face pulling as he oh so casually tried to tell the receptionist through the back of his hand which clinic he was booked into without talking too loudly thus alerting the rest of the queue to the reason for his visit. I have posted a picture of Crispy our ram showing his purse to remind my friend what he is losing, soon. I am nothing if not sympathetic, and anyway its only a small operation, particularly in his case.

The door burst open, every time this maniac scalpel jockey appears you expect a fanfare, the surgeon grinned, how are we, we are fine, hows the arm a question asked as he lifts it up and waves bits of it around, as I answer he is in a world of his own, my comments bear no relevance to his as he squeezes bends and prods my damaged limb. Eventually he feels we have had enough bedside banter and ushers Tracey and I to the next room where he excitedly shows the latest view of the internal goings on of my left arm. Its healing, the thick black line of the main break is now a fuzzy mark. He was pleased. I was euphoric.

Three months time I have to go back and the metal can be removed, this will then help the movement. Three months? That's about as long as its going to take my friend to learn to walk properly after the swellings gone down.
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Monday, 18 August 2008

The Chinese mean business

Size doesn't matter, its spirit that counts. Here we can see Sid and Sally our Chinese geese standing their ground against Chester a visiting Bernese Mountain Dog. Already he has had his ears tweaked by Sid, Chester is unsure what to make of these strange birds, so does what a sensible dog should do when faced with complete defiance, beats a hasty exit.

This might be one reason why the fox gets so many of our birds. Our poultry is so used to having dogs careering around the homestead that they are used to dogs approaching at speed and used to the dog taking evasive action rather than jumping onto them before tearing them to bits. There have been a couple of accidental deaths, see murder most fowl in the blog for details, but on the whole the birds are not bothered by the dogs. Perhaps then when they see a fox approach they think its just another dog visiting and that a quick peck on the ear will send the fox on its way.

As I type replacement hens are hatching out in the incubator. A project when we are on holiday next week it the construction of a fox proof bird run, they can use that during the day and free range in the evening.

As yet the fox trap remains empty.

Apart from Bella.

Why we left the nettles

In places our garden is quite wild, OK its a jungle, but we left it that way on purpose to encourage wildlife. The nettles are a favourite of the Red Admiral butterfly, pictured here, I took this picture as I was walking back to the cottage after weeding the garden. There are three in this shot, I didn't see the others until after I snapped the one in the centre. Judging by the number of Red Admirals and Peacock butterflies floating around yesterday leaving the big patch of nettles by the compost bins has paid off. Sometimes laziness has unexpected rewards!
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Sunday, 17 August 2008

What a wonderful world

Yesterday was miserable, truly miserable. The evening rounds feeding the animals was without doubt done in the worst weather we have had since being here. Yet today is completely different, and when you see something as perfect as this butterfly on the Buddleia in the garden you really don't mind how horrible it can be, the world is full of beauty.
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Saturday, 16 August 2008

Killer on the lose

Look very closely and you will see the live trap set for the fox.Posted by Picasa

Rocky making friends

I sometimes wonder about this dog, here he is at the dangerous end of one of the Berkshires. the pigs so startled at the sudden intrusion its given up eating, only for a second but its still stopped which takes some doing.

He ran into a gate today, full speed down hill charge, realised the gate was closed and tried to stop, slid in the mud and muck and then he did stop, the heavy metal hurdle stopped him in his tracks. Undeterred he backed up and cleared the gate effortlessly, quite a feat for a 110 pound dog.

It has been quite wet here today, we had thought that we had seen the heaviest rain ever, but as ever Mother Nature can top any previous effort.I have had to change clothes three times as my not quite waterproofs failed to keep the elements at bay. All the animals are miserable, either because they are wet, or because they are shut in to keep them dry. We have set a new record at Rock HQ, just for a few days there are 11 dogs here. I am currently being watched by five very wet Berners, who smell fantastic, the way only wet dogs can. We have a very ancient black labrador called Polly who is waiting for her owner to return from Canada to recue her from this madhouse. The rest of them are drying off in the kennels.
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Squatters rights

While William and Trevor are out on the hill in the driving rain these two have given up terrorising the sheep and have moved in to the empty stables.

Wishful thinking on their part!
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Bernese Mountain Dogs on guard

Be nice to think they were on guard to catch to fox but actually they are waiting patiently in the rain for their mad owner to finish strimming the bracken out of Oak Bank.
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Friday, 15 August 2008

Brandy and his gang

This is Brandy and his gang two nights ago. Bella is the big white goose that pushes to the front. Poor Bella met a grisely end, see the posting below.

Another one bites the dust

Theres been another murder!

You might have thought it had gone quiet on the fox front but Foxy Loxy has been as busy as ever. Since Terrance the Turkey shuffled off his mortal coil the fox has had another Muscovy duck, six black rocks and Devil Hen our 8 year old bird.

No matter how hard we try we haven't been able to shoot or trap the scoundrel and tonight it has killed Bella our blue eyed Ebden Goose, a bird that was the most gentle goose ever. Obviously pet status had been achieved by Bella from the day she arrived at Rock HQ and we had hoped she would produce interesting goslings by pairing with Brandy the Brecon Buff Gander.

We have tried keeping the birds in while we are at work to stop the killing but its had little effect, except on egg production which is about half as the birds like the sunlight to promote laying. I have also taken to marking our territory like alpha males do in the wild, hoping it would deter foxes crossing the perimeter, no effect other than a few patches of dead nettles.

Today was a nice sunny day, Beth was home for half the day so I thought I had better let the birds out. Bella must have gone up to the stream and by the state of her when found was killed about an hour before we got home. She was still warm and only her head and neck were missing. My letting the magnificent seven out of the kennels must have scared the fox off. I found her after noticing that she wasn't with the rest of the geese.

This is Rocky exploring the murder scene a couple of hours ago.
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Thursday, 14 August 2008

Good times!

A great day at Rock HQ, lots of good news.

Beth has passed her A levels and has done really well so we celebrated with a bottle of fizz and a whole host of msg from the takeaway, which was definitely the last time ever. Beth is riding the wave of success and loving the attention, the flowers and chocolates from her boyfriend Tom, the phone calls and text messages telling her she is a star. We always knew that but now she has certificates to prove it and one is an ology just like mine. Who knows where she might end up.

More good news is that our lovely Berners have passed their exams too, both have passed the hip and elbow scoring which means they can have puppies next year. This will undoubtedly be a trial for us as if and when they have a litter we wont want to get rid of any. I am already composing a dog ownership exam for any potential Bernese Mountain Dog owner and will probably visit to make sure they are going to a nice home. Entrance into the SAS will be easier than taking a puppy from Rock HQ!

The poor starving sheep is still alive and so far has consumed four pound of high calorie feed and is currently munching her way through half a bale of hay. She seems quite happy with her choice of quarters and the lump on her jaw may be a bit smaller.

All this and the sun was shining for most of the day too.

Oh and the pigs are getting fatter.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Stranger from a strange land

Those that follow the Tales From The Rock will know that life here is rather like Forest Gump's chocolates, you never know what you're going to get. So tonight when we returned from work in our trusty troop carrier Rene we were prepared for the usual jobs, the checks on the animals and the cleaning out and feeding up. We also expected the torrential rain which was set for the evening and intent on making life miserable for all stupid enough to be trudging around the mud loaded with various foodstuffs for hungry animals waiting patiently in their dry bunks. What we didn't expect was to find this poor creature sheltering in the goat house.

Now to get to the goat house you have to walk along a narrow passage, directly in front of you is a wire door with members of the magnificent seven sat watching your every move. This can be quite intimidating to a lone herbivore, especially one that isn't used to the mayhem of the Rock HQ pack. I left the door open to the goat house today in case our two intrepid explorers got fed up of the wet weather and decided to behave like goats in the how to keep goats book says they should behave, by taking shelter. Our two are obviously a hardier type than those of the author and seem determined to test their weather proofing at every opportunity.

This sheep must have come in from the hill while we were out, explored the yard and then decided to check out the sleeping quarters by the kennel block, braved the undoubtedly noisy reception from the dogs and settled herself in the dry straw under their watchful eyes.

As can be seen she is in a bit of a state, painfully thin and with a huge lump which we suspect is an abscess on her jaw. She lay calmly while the magnificent seven were reunited with their humans which is never a quiet affair and watched quietly while a nice bowl of goat mix with some supplement mix to boost up the mineral content was offered as a tasty dinner. At first we didn't think she was going to eat but pretty soon she scoffed the lot. Hopefully the injection of antibiotics will start to sort her mouth out and she is comfortably settled for some TLC at Rock HQ.

When she is stronger we will try and find which of the local militia she belongs to. Its not uncommon for broken mouthed animals like this one to be abandoned to their fate on the hills, it saves disposing of the body.The hills are littered with remains of the dead, Sheep Skull Lane gets its name for a reason.

Quite how she found her way into Rock HQ is a bit of a mystery, the luxury accommodation on offer cannot be seen from the hill or the track. Its tempting to think she knew we would look after her. Wild hill sheep don't normally seek out contact with humans, especially those surrounded by so many dogs.
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Tuesday, 12 August 2008

All quiet on the Western Front

Strange weather here today, lots of heavy rain and then a fantastic burst of sunshine. Jobs got done in quick time tonight, one of those evenings when it all seemed to go too smoothly. The sheep were somewhere on the hill, the goats were almost certainly bothering them somewhere so they were not around my feet or jumping into the feed buckets as I carried them to the pigs and horses.

At the bottom of the lane I saw an ominous set of tyre tracks leading off up to the ghost house. I did think I would collect some more apples for the pigs, they like free food as much as I do, but as I was stood pondering the meaning of the tyre tracks, the pros and cons of carrying a heavy bucket full of apples a third of a mile home I saw out of the corner of my eye a familiar shape amongst the bracken. I pretended not to notice wondering what Mad Keith was up to, more importantly what he would do next and whether I should drop the bucket if I had to run.

He sidled over trying to look as nonchalant as a hermit can when discovered in the foliage.

He stood with me looking at the tracks and we shared a few moments silence.

"I thought you were Murphy" he eventually said his voice tinged with relief.

I looked at him, he was studying my face for a reaction, he nodded "Ah, Murphy's back" he added as he watched me scuff the stones in the track with my boot as the implications of the information were dawning.

"I didn't know" I replied looking up the hill to the ghost house perched on a small westerly facing spot, the hill looked so peaceful. Mad Keith followed my gaze, "Ah, I thought you was him see, I saw him this morning but I pretended to be busy, I avent got time for him."

"Thanks for letting me know Keith, I'll give getting the apples a miss"

"He likes the apples too,I dunno what he does with em, crab apple cider I spect." he chuckled to himself.

"Cheers Keith" I turned and headed back along the lane, a narrow escape, Murphy is back on the hill. It is indicative of how much of your time he takes in any encounter if the techno hermit hasn't got time to spend talking to him. I knew the evening was going too smoothly, with him back we would all have to be vigilant that he didn't catch us unawares with a "I can see you're busy...."

Perhaps we should pretend we've moved until Mad Keith gives the all clear.
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Chip off the old block

Here are two pictures of the cows opposite, one is a calf which looks like its overdosed on steroids. This calf is a Belgian Blue cross and as you can see its pretty much like its dad in the background. Massive.
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Monday, 11 August 2008

White knuckle ride

Another day marking great progress at Rock HQ. William our fantastic welsh cob cross was backed for the first time by Tracey. This is a technical horsey term meaning sitting on the beast for the first time to see what will happen. Hopefully it wont end in a trip to casualty.

Now we do have a plan, one which involves getting our animals to trust us completely and as a result they tend to accept what we do without fuss or stress. Having said that there is always the potential for disaster, the animals can decide to do what they like, as in the case of Maggie the psycho goat having her feet trimmed. First attempt led to a strategic withdrawal by the humans at Rock HQ both having suffered injuries. The following day she submitted meekly to the indignation of a compulsory pedicure without recourse to extreme violence.

So we have invested a lot of time getting William used to our antics, he is a very placid lad and has only been a bit naughty from time to time, on one memorable occasion galloping off around the hill with his stable mate the pocket rocket, each goading the other to run further away from home until they were eventually headed off at five ways crossing by a very hot and bothered owner and marched back to their stable.

William has shown signs of how much he trusts us, lying down in his stable and staying put while we made a fuss of him was an indicator of how he was developing (see things you don't see everyday posted a few months ago) and he really is a people horse, coming over to see us even when distracted by food.

So today after a quick leg stretch walk and being made to give up his grazing early he stayed in a cheery mood and waited by the pile of steel gates. Once we were sure he was calm Tracey sat on him, this video shows how he took it. He hardly reacted at all, this is it has to be remembered totally alien to a horse as they would never have a weight on their back in the wild. As you can see he just carries on munching his dinner, listening to the noises around him and unconcerned that the dogs are as ever roaming around. I must admit to breathing a huge sigh of relief as Tracey got off him, it was a great test of her relationship with him and it shows what can be achieved with trust, patience and good horse sense.

He is not old enough to ride yet, we have to wait another ten months or so, we will use him to assist on the farm meantime, and that's a whole new set of tricks William and his humans have to master.

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Hot Dog!

Clever dog this one, he is cooling off by sitting in a ditch of running water.

Goat in the apple cart

We went to collect some free pig food this afternoon, Geisha as usual had to get in on the act by standing on the cart and helping herself. If there is a speed eating for goats competition she would win!

Saturday, 9 August 2008

British summer continues!

These buckets were empty this morning, the rain from the roof of the pig sty has filled them, Rocky helps himself to a drink after racing up and down the lane.

Its been a good day though, we got a fair number of jobs done. You have to be really disciplined when on the smallholding, something I find hard, you have to strike a balance between the jobs that need doing and those that you would like to do. So whilst I would have liked to have got the brush cutter out and cut swathes of bracken down, a job that is itself getting quite urgent I forced myself to weed the garden, even more urgent, when there were gaps in the rain.

To reward myself for sticking to such a tedious job I cut down two large hazel trees that currently put the garden in shade, not that there is much sunshine at present, but when it returns part of the garden will benefit from extra light. I now intend to take much of the twenty foot high hedge down from the length of the garden, removing the hazel, sycamore and hawthorn but leaving the three plum trees currently fighting for survival. The pigs watched and then chomped through the cut down greenery.

I then fell victim to one of the rules of smallholding, when a jobs going well don't allow yourself to get distracted. Pretty soon I had lost sight of the task in hand, clearing the hedge and was happily engaged in the very entertaining task of feeding the pigs windfall apples by hand. Their antics and the chase game they play around the trees whiled away the time until the rain made it too uncomfortable to stay out.

I dragged a fresh bundle of hazel up the lane to the goats and sheep sheltering under the trees by the stable. Maggie and the Ryelands tucked in with as much enthusiasm as the pigs. Only Geisha was missing the feast.

She suddenly appeared, clearing the gate across the front of Trevor's stable with ease, not with her usual grace though, more of a sideways jump with an accompanying oof sound. Trevor appeared at the gate whinnying defiantly. Geisha had obviously been helping herself to his bucket of horse feed and judging by the way she cleared the gate Trevor had given her both heels to help her out.

Friday, 8 August 2008

Rocky the sun worshipper

Rocky watching the sunset at Rock HQ.
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Time flies

We moved here thinking we would be more in tune with nature and notice the seasons slowly pass but in reality time flies by. It doesn't seem long ago that we were totally focused on lambing, it will only be a few weeks before we put the ewes back with Crispy the ram.

The sun is slowly moving back across the horizon to its winter solstice position, a while yet but its noticeable how much further along the hill the sun sets, and how much earlier.

This is the cottage in the setting sun tonight, I hope you appreciate the picture, having fallen through a patch of nettles and turning my back on the giant bull to take it. Whilst in the field I began operation lumberjack, transferring the bits of tree left by the electricity board when they pruned the hedge along our lane.

Another sign that the year is racing by, today I picked and ate the first blackberries.

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The end is nigh

Its going to be tough but two of these lovely pigs are not long for this world. In about two weeks they go to live in Mr Whirlpool.

Crackling to die for.


Thursday, 7 August 2008

Nerves of steel

Some say the most dangerous job in the world is crab fishing off the Alaskan coast. Brave fishermen risk their lives in sub zero temperatures in wild stormy seas climbing into steel wire cages to empty them of prized crab for posh restaurants.

Others will argue that tree felling in Canada should be top of the list, where life and limb are exposed to horrific danger from natural sources like extremes of weather and falling trees to man made dangers like machinery and chainsaws.

Maybe the view that those engaged in mine clearance have an occupation that holds certain hazards, or putting out fires in oilfields, lifeboat crews, clearance divers, the SAS even.

None however face the hazards that Tracey and I faced this evening, that of trimming the hooves of a psychopathic goat. Our difficulties were compounded by Geisha who tried to assist. It was a simple plan, get Maggie eating, when suitably distracted trim her hooves. She has been limping so may have foot rot in her front right hoof. The hoof traps dirt, and this breeds bacteria and infection which in turn causes pain. Its solved by keeping the hooves trimmed and clean.

Maggie started off well by burying her head in the bucket and happily munching. Tracey gripped the offending hoof and began trimming. Geisha approached at speed and dived headfirst into the bucket I was holding, and as every action has a reaction Maggie freaked out at this sudden intrusion and gave Tracey a glancing blow from her horns just above her ear. Her cry of pain was somewhat drowned by my cry of pain as goat and bucket slammed into my groin.

Maggie has less of a limp now, Tracey has a headache, I am a proper farmer with two acres and Geisha was last seen heading down the lane with the bucket still attached.

We take comfort in the fact that there are only three hooves left to do.

I have always wanted to be a fisherman, maybe there are vacancies.
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Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Breakfast is served

Maggie trying to make the point that its her breakfast everyone is helping themself to.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Five Ways Crossing 360

This is my favourite view on our walk around our hill and if the video upload works you will see a 360 panorama of the sights of Five Ways Crossing. It starts looking along the track that will take you to the technohermit, then a view of Herefordshire, along Hergest Ridge to the fir trees at the top of Sheep Skull Lane, then along to a view of the summit of our hill and back to the track.

Tonight I took all of the magnificent seven who immediately set off on mission impossible to catch rabbits. They will never learn that stealth as well as speed is needed.

I, on the other hand learned a lot from tonights ramble, that I attract just as many bitey flies as a horse, that autumn is on its way, the leaves are losing their edge, the green already giving way to autumn hues and that crab apples, no matter how long you chew one for, remain sour.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Poor cow

I took this happy snapshot last night of the cows outside our front door grazing in the sunset.

This morning as I took the feed to the pigs I could see the black cow stood over an ominous looking lump in the grass. She was bellowing and in distress. I couldnt see clearly but it looked like she was standing guard over a dead calf. The bellowing continued, a short sharp urgent sound. She stopped when she saw me and for a while we watched each other until sensing I was no help she began her lament once more. The field contains a very large bull who can cover the ground a lot quicker than I can so tempted as I to go to her I resisted, instead I phoned The Oracle who knew who the cow belonged to. Help was on its way.

The cow circled the dead calf urging it to get up and she began to call softly encouraging it to follow her. She got further and further away, all the while calling whilst eating, occasionally charging back to scare a crow away.

The farmer duly turned up and drove his four by four over to the corpse. On seeing this she galloped over to its defence and watched as the man struggled to lift the body into the back of the pick up. I watched from a distance eager to help but having only one servicable arm I would have been more of a hinderance. Exhausted he gave up and attached a rope to the calfs front legs and using the towbar dragged the poor dead beast towards the gate and his farm. Seeing the calf suddenly moving confused the cow and she ran excitedly after it, trying to lick it clean when they stopped at the gate.

She followed and I watched as this sad procession went across the fields and out of sight.

As I fed the pigs this evening she is back, at least I think its her as there was a black cow stood over the spot where the calf died mooing softly, and as I type this I can still see her nosing the spot on the ground where she lost her offspring.
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All dressed up, no place to go

This is our bomb proof Welsh Cob cross called William. His first time in all his new kit, the blankets moved a bit during his exercise walk but apart from that he took to it very well. We are going to back him at the end of the month which involves sitting on him for the first time and praying.
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Rocky's brother

If Carlsburg made dogs, they would be Bernese Mountain Dogs.

This is Rocky's little brother.
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Sunday, 3 August 2008

More trouble with buckets

Meg and Geisha share the same taste for food and headgear.

Its a dog Holmes!

As its the weekend I did plan to lie in a bit longer than our usual morning routine allows. I should have known our tribe of critters would have other plans. The Bernese alarm clock went off at around half five and then the dawn chorus of hungry goats bleating under the bedroom window put paid to any thoughts of sneaking back to my bed and grabbing another hour of much needed kip.

Never mind I thought, this will allow me to catch up with a few garden jobs and I can have a long and leisurely breakfast. Again the plan and reality differed greatly as Reba, pictured here, decided to take off over the hill forcing her hapless owner to abandon his full cooked English and find her.

The hill is currently covered in five foot high stems of bracken so making it impossible to see anything unless its the size of a small elephant. Much calling and silent swearing failed to produce the missing pooch. Swearing has to be silent as Tracey has a swear box, a pound an expletive towards her new dog. Tracey joined the search, we found out why our sheep have suddenly stopped turning up for breakfast, The Oracle has taken to feeding them as they look so cute. So our fat Ryelands have persuaded a grizzled border farmer to part with sheep nuts, as he says they are now his friends for life, or rather as long as there are sheep nuts in his bucket. After a light breakfast with him they then bother Mad Keith for bread so no its wonder we don't see them.

Tracey decided to go back to Rock HQ while I was ordered to go up to the technohermits collection of shacks to see if he had seen our dog. I don't know why but as I approached the ghost house today I felt distinctly uneasy, the sun shone through the leafy canopy of the trees as they arched over the path but it was noticeably colder. Rabbits were grazing ahead, not actually going onto the lawn of the white house in front of me. No one was home, as usual. For the first time since we have been here I let the stories of the house influence me and I turned back from the path and headed home. I didn't, just like instructed by the stories look back. Anyway with rabbits on the path it was clear my dog hadn't ventured that way.

She was on the hill, probably adding to the legends and ghost stories that abound in this area. There is for instance a huge black dog that terrorises the hills, if you come to Rock HQ you will meet three real live ones, but this legend has been around since the fifteen hundreds.
A local Lord, a nasty fellow called Black Vaughn was on the losing side at a battle and beheaded. His ghost tormented the locals until thirteen priests were summonsed and were so frightened as they tried to exorcise his ghost from the local church that they lost their minds. One did however manage to reduce the ghost to the size of a fly and catch it in a snuff box, which was then thrown into a big pond on top of the hill next to ours. Some local sap let the fly out of the box and Black Vaughn's ghost manifested as a big vicious black dog forever roaming the hills and scaring the locals, usually on their way home after they had been to the pub.

Some chap called Sir Arthur Conan Doyle heard this story and published it as The Hound Of The Baskervilles. Now you know.

Anyway our hound of the Baskervilles was found by Tracey sat in the conservatory covered in sticky bods and reeking of fox pooh. Obviously she had picked up the scent and set off to investigate rolling in every turd she found along the trail.

She was feeling very pleased with herself, not nearly as pleased as the cats were feeling after helping themselves to my unattended breakfast.

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