Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Keep it local

We are champions of local produce, obviously, it goes with being a smallholder. So today, as we toiled away on a project behind the green door (which is now a very fetching shade of black) we needed a large promotional poster to cover a large blank wall. Just down the street is a printers, an old fashioned looking place (imagine fairy tale cobbler shop) so I took the small poster we had to be scanned and printed into a much larger version. Communication difficulties immediately made this a huge task. I was definitely speaking English, but trying to get the printers wife to understand the concept of take this picture and make it bigger was straight from Monty Python. Eventually we settled for almost A1 size, providing its no bigger than a half glazed door window. They would phone and let us know when it could be done by. The shop, ancient on the outside was crammed with hi tech scanners and a printer gizmatron that could do transfers for buses. I left feeling good about keeping the trade local and supporting local businesses.
They phoned.
Plus VAT.
Ok when can we have it
We need it tomorrow
Hang on I'll ask(muffled voices, tell them no) He says £36 plus VAT and you can have it Thursday.
I'll get back to you. Now call me old fashioned but if we are paying £36 plus VAT for a large picture we should be able to say when its going to be done by. And lets face it, scan, print, not exactly asking for much, I mean in 48 hours you can get a pretty decent oil painting done.
I sat and seethed. And Googled.
So we will have our picture when we need it, tomorrow. Costing £12. 24 hour delivery an extra £6. Its coming from Manchester way. If we had ordered it from Belgium it would have been £4.50 and £22 for delivery in 48 hours.
Keep it local.
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Monday, 29 November 2010

Meals on Wheels

The sheep took advantage today of the over enthusiastic way I threw a bag of poultry feed into Hazel, it split sending its contents everywhere. It always happens when you are in a hurry, similarly Geisha, who has some of Houdini's DNA in her genes chose today to practice her fine motor skills and undid the bolts on the rabbit hutches. With the cry "Freedom" the four predominantly white rabbits leapt from the hutches and vanished. It was bitterly cold this morning, minus 12, so the Berners warmed themselves up by playing in the snow. When parts of said snow started squealing and running around the yard it became apparent that all was not well. Fortunately the Rabbits are quicker off the mark than the big dogs and all were rescued and placed back in the confines of their rabbit palace where they no doubt reported back to the escape committee and fresh plans were drawn up.
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Sunday, 28 November 2010

Roll Over!

Stable Sprites got his hands full with baby porkers and puppies.

Two of the piglets were a bit poorly so were kept in the kitchen for a time, until they outstayed their welcome by not using the litter tray. So they were put in the workshop where they had a bed under the heat lamp. The pups spotted his and joined in but the piglets were not keen on sharing.
They might change their minds when they notice their bed is actually a Walls sausage tray.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Easy as 1,2,3!

Renowned as I am for my ineptitude at reversing with a trailer I have always managed a three point turn. So this morning rather than spend hours reversing down the track to the turning space I thought it would be so much simpler to try and turn in the yard. As we have had a massive clear out and several tons of dirt removed creating acres of space there seemed a reasonable chance of success.
However as can be seen from these pictures I was defeated by a combination of factors, ice and gravity assisted by incompetence meant that Trixie and Hazel slid rather than drove and soon we were at an impossible angle and wedged against the tree trunk and modern art that is at the edge of the yard and marks the four foot drop into the militias lands. There seemed only one option, unhitch Trixie and drive around the back of her.
Again things did not go quite to plan and once Hazel was out of the way the blocks under Trixie's wheels slid out of the way and she rolled, looking like she might carry on into the field and far away but the huge pile of gravel I have been meaning to move saved the day.

And that's where she stayed. Until help arrived. Around lunch time. And that's when our guests discovered theres no such thing as a free lunch!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Its here

It wasn't forecast for us, but it started and its getting deeper!

The Beet goes on

My reversing skills were shown for what they were today, usually I can manage, hitch a trailer to the car and they are non existent. Today I managed, eventually, to reverse Hazel the almost 4x4 and Trixie through barn doors wide enough to accept Vulcan bombers and far enough back to a monster pile of fodder beets which are to be a new and exciting foodstuff for the critters.
Quite how exciting we had no idea, but the excitement began when Trixie was loaded. Now being smallholders we often have to make do, so instead of a nice open trailer that the front loader tractor could scoop up a ton and drop into the trailer in seconds, I had to throw each beet rugby pass style into Trixie's hold. Built for two small ponies Trixie was accommodating enough to be used for this but the tyres almost burst with the weight. In fact so heavy was the beet that the jockey wheel smashed into the concrete as we pulled away. This called for some trick driving, balancing Hazel on two wooden blocks allowed me to pull the wheel out of the concrete trough we had just dug. Broken wheel recovered we used the farms airline to put an extra 50lbs of pressure in each of the trailer tyres.
Problem solved we made it back to HQ, just as it began to snow. This made any attempt to get Hazel, Trixie and Beets to the root store (formerly a rabbit house) impossible.
So began the long slog of unloading. Barrow full after barrow full taken up the increasingly snowy slope until finally the task was done. As ever I had helpers, a goat that thought each beet was more tasty than the last and kept sampling, from the barrow from the store, from the bucket, from the trailer in fact from everywhere except the big pile labelled Beets goats for the use of. The Berners helped by being underfoot at every opportunity, or sitting on them.
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Cutting remarks

Apart from "I have exorcised the Demons!" I think the most worrying remark you can hear lying down on a doctors couch while he digs into your scalp with the business end of a scalpel is "You're bleeding like a stuck pig, sorry"
How I got into this predicament began a few weeks ago when I saw the GP for a well man check. All systems were checked, pronounced very healthy. Just as I was about to quit while ahead I just happened to mention a strange lump on my head that had seemed to double in size and was, quite frankly annoying. He examined the strange lump, declared it nothing to worry about, but if I wanted it got rid of, he was my man. Which is why yesterday, in the early morning sunshine I sat in the waiting room of the surgery for the minor operation to remove the alien from my head.
For some strange reason the anaesthetic didn't work very well, and having been given enough to kill an elephant the Doc was perplexed as to why I could still feel the scalpel point as he prodded around ET. Neither of us could understand why my jaw was numb and my mouth was now hanging like a tired dogs but we both agreed that ET should go home and the Doc should as he put it "Give it a go and see what happens"
So while he dug deep I thought of nice things like puppies, ice cream and tried not to think of the ice axe in the top of my head sensation. A chance comment along the lines of "Can you feel the blood running down your neck?" alerted me to the fact my life blood had spilled over the couch, and irritatingly for the receptionist who would be tasked to clean them, a box of kiddies toys. They were bright colours anyway, but additional splashes of red would not be appreciated, especially as they might suck them. The gaping wound caused by prising the alien from my head was stitched. The two stitches became three as I refused to stop bleeding. Finally with five stitches the flow was stemmed and as my scalp had been drawn together to close the gap I left the surgery minus alien but with an expression of complete surprise as any other facial configuration threatened to burst the stitches and increase the continued blood loss.
Not being able to afford the luxury of time off sick I went to do my duty, and in any case it was going to be an easy day out at the seaside.
Driving home my head was pounding so I took a little detour to see a friend called Paul who has an amazing job working for Thatchers Cider. Being the kindly sort he helped me out with one of natures painkillers, a cup of green tea. I think he missed the hint that I would have preferred one of the million pints of cider stored in the huge wooden barrels pictured above. If you drank two pints a day from one of these barrels it would take nearly four years to empty. As I was driving it was just as well we didn't open one, so I waited until I got home and drank a bottle he had given me. Cheers Paul.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

No Show

On the day that the country was covered in snow, the earliest nationwide fall in years, we struggled with hours of sunshine. Our critters made the most of it, so did I, I went to the seaside, work made me. I forgot the camera which was a shame, had I taken it I might have been able to take a photograph of the beach, instead of the sheep.
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Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Great explorers

A new name can be added to the honorable roll call of Columbus, Roald Amundsen, Shackleton and Tom Maclean (any one who doesn't know who Tom is had better google quick!) all great explorers who set out with a taste for adventure and discovered new lands. Hetty, the Mad Dexter, recently dehorned, has been recuperating in the pigpencowshed, and as Laverne and Shirley, or the best parts of them, are now in the freezer, she has been a bit lonely. Ambrose the potential curry pops in to keep her company but Hetty is on the lookout for a bit of excitement. So today as she was lavished attention, fed from a silver platter, had a fresh bed made for her, a dark shadow stole past as the last of the new straw was carefully laid. Hetty did a runner. Fortunately Hazel the nearly 4x4 was parked in the lane which helped the speeding bovine choose a trajectory that led into the Cauldron. This was all new to her. Pastures fresh. Acres of wilderness lay in front of her. She stood. Sniffed. Stared. William the Welsh Cob whinnied in support. Hetty cast a glance towards him and nodded. Then bolted. She completed the 500 yards in a record time for a mid leg Dexter and ran straight back to her bedroom almost slamming the gate behind her.
Obviously a cow can handle only so much freedom of choice. Or perhaps she spotted the Trolls that live in the caves of The Cauldron.
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Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Double trouble

Any one would think that Stable Sprite is moving his pigs inside the house one by one as he now has two sleeping peacefully under the kitchen radiator.

Laverne and Shirley are back at HQ but in a markedly different form from when they left. Evenings are now spent bagging, weighing and labeling various cuts of meat either for freezing or for distribution amongst pig club members.
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Monday, 22 November 2010

Holey cow

Hetty is doing well after her minor op and the holes either side of her head where her horns were are keeping clean and healing nicely. She does look a bit puzzled, especially as she can now get her head inside the sheep feeder without getting into an almighty tangle.
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Sunday, 21 November 2010

Back to square one

Foggy. Dull. Wet. Miserable. Not me, the weather. We are living in a sea of mud and with 32 large paws running through it and into Rock HQ clean floors are unlikely to be seen until it freezes or summer next year. Various plans are on the drawing board to transform the yard from a faithful recreation of the trenches, complete with duckboards to a sterile area where you could venture without fear of losing a wellington or drowning. Each plan is thwarted by the combination of inability and finances. While we were trapped indoors we decided on drastic action, bath time for the Clan. So began a five hour marathon of cut and blow drys for seven Bernese and Golden Retriever. Each were coaxed, persuaded, wrestled, bribed and shouted into the wet room where yours truly lurked in his swimming shorts and one by one the muddy soggy creatures were transformed into bouffant shiny show winners. They then spent a leisurely afternoon in front of the wood burner, ate a few choice morsels before spotting the door was open as I was out doing the afternoon feed. Approximately 43 seconds managed to undo five hours of work and the Clan trotted back indoors having rid their coats of the shine and smell of lemons, preferring instead, eau de horse plop and fresh mud. At least we tried.
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Saturday, 20 November 2010

Yeah right!

We went to see Stable Sprite and his clan today. Stable Sprite is the pig keepers equivalent of Imelda Marcos, to him pigs are like chocolates, you can never have enough, he is obsessed with all things trotter. He will seek to deny this but you merely have to point outside to the 55 or so snouts grubbing around his smallholding to prove him wrong. Whereas most pig keepers will have one boar, or access to one when needed, Stable Sprite has four of the beasts to keep his numerous sows smiling.
So today when we arrived it was no surprise to find him up to his welly tops in mud repairing a pig arc, his gremlin sidekick racing around on the quadbike on spurious errands from one end of the smallholding to another. Mrs Stable Sprite was sweeping her newly laid yard clean so their oldest son invited us in and after some persuasion offered us a hot beverage. Asked why he was not out in the fresh air with the rest of the clan he mumbled something about mud, weather, animal dung and girls. Seemed he was trying to get ready to go on what the yoof refer to as "the pull". Nice clean shirt, clean jeans, trainers and an aftershave that smelt of breadcrumbs. Apparently the Birds love it. My exclamation of surprise that he was not out helping the others on the farm drew snorts of derision, "Farm! We don't live on a farm!" That's when we saw this cute little bundle in the kitchen getting warm by the radiator. Don't live on a farm? Yeah right!
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Friday, 19 November 2010

Tom, Dick or Harry?

The anti aircraft light swept the yard, searching for incursions from the vermin fox clan on the bonsai mountain. Its been quiet here, too quiet, the poultry are secured in Stalag 14 and The Goose House and for a while we have prevented free dinners to vermin occurring. The light picked out something strange in the Corral OK. A previously unseen shadow was on the ground. Inert. Investigations could wait until morning. Rock HQ slept peacefully.
Morning revealed the cause. Not something trying to get in, but something trying to get out. An escape tunnel, not sure which, Tom, Dick or Harry, but the routine patrol by William put paid to the monumental effort of Sybil the oldest of our rabbits' escape bid. Not having a TV to watch, or books to read, she has passed her time with subterranean excursions, digging under the door, out some two feet, about one foot below the surface where for some reason she turned right, almost parallel to the bunny house, going down another foot and excavating an enormous cavern. The grand design behind all this effort remains a mystery and Williams heavy footwork collapsed the long eared rodents endeavors.
Sybil is now in solitary with a wooden floor. If she thinks the sound of her baseball bouncing off the walls of her hutch is going to prompt an early release she is mistaken. Meanwhile the Beagles, trained to locate unexploded ordnance and booby traps are carefully working through the tunnels. We hope to have the Corral OK returned to normal by first light.
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Thursday, 18 November 2010

Farm vehicles

I gave a colleague a lift yesterday.
She exclaimed in horror when she put the seat belt on that A. The car stank like a farm yard and B. She was sitting on straw.
No idea how that happened.
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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

New arrivals

The straw barely had time to be changed from Laverne and Shirley's tenancy when we went to fetch Guinevere above and Morgana below. These are keepers, automatically bestowed pet status and free from the task of providing Rock HQ with pork based products. These are pedigree Berkshires and will be our breeding sows. This time next year, if all goes to plan (theres that word again!) we will be having the pitter patter of little trotters.
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Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Its all happening!

I didn't mind the fact that the Berkshires were demonstrating previously unseen sprinting ability at first light. Laverne and Shirley had an appointment to keep, the ride to the celestial sty was one they could not miss because today was all about timing. So as they pretended to be Usain Bolt I sauntered along the lane after them, supremely confident for I had the secret weapon. The feed bucket. After a 400 metre charge the piggies brain cells that were guiding this rebellious activity were overwhelmed by the neurons of greed and Scooby Doo like they both skidded to a halt in the lane, did the fastest 180 degree turn and galloped happily into the trailer, pausing only for a final photograph before the door was shut and their fate was sealed. By Friday thanks to our hard work and their total commitment Rock HQ will have more sausages than Walls.

What did cause a slight amount of consternation was Hetty's disregard for rule following. She, observing the lure of the bucket on the pigs decided that she would not be so easily persuaded back up to the stable to have her horns removed. No amount of provocative bucket tapping could win her round so we resorted to the use of goat again. As before she was lulled into a false sense of security by the presence of the horned beast and she skipped up the track and leapt through the stable door where she waited patiently for the veterinary.
Apollo had hardly any distance to travel to have his operation, but the distance he travelled was quite traumatic to watch. Vertical to horizontal in the blink of an eye. Thankfully we had the vets equivalent of the A Team, and Paul and Iris deftly removed both barriers to Apollos ability to sing Soprano. The collage shows some key points, if you click on the image it will get bigger so if you are squeamish avoid looking too closely!

Apollo really did come round quickly and again thanks to the skills of the vets he managed to get up without maiming himself or breaking the stable. Right away he began eating his bedding, so we knew he was fine. Without so much a cup of tea the vets went into the next stall where Hetty was waiting. She looked for all the world like a Spanish Bull, horns flashing in the sunlight. But Paul managed to get a halter on her, and with the halter passed through a useful knothole in the door Hetty was tethered, unable to move and not needing a sedative.

Forty five seconds later by use of a wire saw Paul had removed a horn, then sealed it with a hot iron. Hetty didn't feel a thing thanks to the anaesthetic and the whole procedure was over in around three minutes (remember click on the small image and it will grow) We now have a cow who looks less like she is about to kill you, the holes in her head will fill in with time, but for now we are getting used to seeing steam come out of the top of her head as the holes are linked to her sinuses, so presumably she could breath through these holes. We have kept her in in case it rains, an unfortunate drowning accident would not be funny.

So that was the morning sorted. Time prevents an account of the afternoon and our new arrivals. To be continued!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Looks like Reindeer

We managed it. For the first time in three and a half years we took a weekend off, so off that we went on whats known as a holiday, three day break in Sherwood Forest to rest and recuperate and eat. Lots.
Whilst there Rock HQ was left in the very capable hands of Louanna supervised by Stable Sprite, and thanks to them both all our animals thrived and survived. One of the highlights of our woodland break was an encounter with these beasts. I have for a while had half an idea that a small herd of Reindeer at Rock HQ would be a good thing. Diversification that's the key to smallholding. In the time it took to take these pictures I had already moved three to Rock HQ, trained them to pull sleighs (on all terrain wheels) sold Reindeer safari holidays, where happy punters live in yurts carried by the aforementioned mammals, sit around camp fires eating Reindeer jerky sat on Reindeer rugs and leaving with bags full of frozen Reindeer ready meals. Christmas would see Rock HQ transformed into a magical grotto where little kiddies would spend their pocket money and risk a mauling from Rudolf's mates. These were after all not much bigger than a large goat, OK they had lethal weapons on their heads but they are totally unable to take you by surprise as they have creaky joints which click in time to their movement. They eat the same as a goat and are much cuter and give as much milk, ie. none. They like cold weather and thrive on steep ground.
This sleigh ride of fantasy was shot down by the ack ack guns of reality when the subject of money was discussed. I was expecting a premium price, due to the huge aaahhh factor and the time of year, but at £1750 each I was, to say the least, staggered.
So Reindeer are off the list as diversification projects. I am now researching Zebras.
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