Wednesday, 9 September 2009

All Creatures Great and Small (and Pavlov's Lambs)

I've been plagued over the past few days by pests. I took the laundry out to the dryer in the shed behind the house and surprised a rat, which made a panicked dash face first into my boot. Rats don't worry me - except from a disease point of view, and a 'killing small chicks' habit some have. Living between two farms it isn't surprising that we're a rest stop for them, especially considering the lovely nibbles that I leave lying around like corn and chick crumb.

I made the decision to put down wheat laced with blood thinner, a common rat poison here. Unfortunately, the antidote to the blood thinner is vitamin K, commonly found in cattle food and chick crumb. They've happily eaten all the poisoned wheat and continue to scurry about the chicken feeders like it's a brunch spread. My only hope now is that they die of obesity.

I also noticed a boom in the spider population, right after I stood on one barefooted. I take a 'live and let live' attitude to spiders. Crawly yes, but not carriers of Weil's disease. And they fall in the "beneficial" category; theoretically they should be reducing the fly population which, since the muggy mild weather, has also been multiplying.

Mike and I pruned some wild plums and sloe branches and brought them home to pick the berries off at our leisure. We sat at the picnic table at lunch today and as we picked, we counted a variety of insect species in between the clusters: labybugs, earwigs, aphid-looking nymphs, small spiders, and a caterpillar or worm that was trying to hibernate around the edge of the leaves -

It's a bit blurry, but maybe one of my learned readers can tell me exactly what they are (c'mon Sara, I'm counting on you!).

Mike and I started thinking about all the pests, parasites, and vermin we have to deal with on a daily basis. Then we wondered how much worse it must have been for Victorians, or people in the Middle Ages, or Iron Age. Lice in your hair, weevils in your flour, rats in your well. We decided that we're pretty well off, considering. Although it is my dream to have a day where I take a shower and stay clean for the WHOLE day and I don't have to kill something/put something out of its misery/pick up something that's died.

Today is not that day however. Besides being called to help the boys pull their ATV out of the mud - where I got stuck and a Land Rover had to pull me out - Mike brought home a baby pigeon. He found Lady S's cat torturing it and gave it to me with his usual "Here - see what you can do with this". The answer was not much. It had a punctured lung guessing by the wheezing sound it was making. Normally pigeons are considered pests - unless you're a pigeon, then it's the cat that's the pest. I suppose it comes down to personal perspective. We did our best by the little bird but it ended in a trip to the log pile again.

Dakota is sat by me while I type this and she's just eaten a spider.

And another. Pip is helping now.

Underkeeper Dave (our scarecrow) is working to keep the buzzards at bay - a pest from the pheasants' point of view and ours. The pheasants seem to be picking up and feeding well again. And speaking of doing well - Gertie's chick continues to thrive and Gertie is getting the hang of motherhood. I've been calling the chick Chicken Little, but I'm open to suggestions for a permanent name.

We also found out that we've been tricked by the lambs into feeding them double rations in the morning. Mike leaves the house just before daylight to check on his pheasants. He usually returns around 7.30am and feeds the lambs straight away. The lambs caught on to the fact that when his truck pulled into the driveway, they got fed. As they were both bottle-fed orphans (never again...) they are demanding about mealtimes, bleating with some vigour until they get their food. They are loud enough to wake me - I've been using them as an alarm clock. The 'OFF' button is a scoop of barley and sugar beet in their trough. So I just pad across the road in my bathrobe and slippers, and drop it in. I'm up, they're fed, no problems. I neglected to tell Mike. So did they. They see the truck, bleat wildly, get more food. Win win in their opinion. Well, we're on to their little game. It's regular rations from now on.


Poppy Cottage said...

Big Lamb and Little lamb. Far to clever for the freezer. Ideal 'pet' lambs for when you get your flock. Don't you think? Will make it easier for you........

Shame you missed last night, it was really good. I think it has all worked out so well, every one is so nice. there is another group starting up in the Electric Palace on the 24th Sep 7pm. What day is THE BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!?

How about Cluck for the chick. I have a lovely book (childrens of course) Where the little hen is called Cluck.

New job tomorrow!!!!! Getting nervous!!

Take care.

Pomona said...

Rats are not nice - my father, a farmer, nearly died from Weil's disease 10 years ago. We think he caught it cleaning out an outfall in a drainage ditch - it could have got in through a graze on his hands (he never wears gloves) or even water splashing into his eye. Just make sure you wear gloves at all times! And do you have terriers? We have used a rat trap and terriers to catch them.

Pomona x

Jennifer Montero said...

Hi C-

Cluck it is - and gender neutral, as we're not sure whether it's a he or she yet. Bound to be a he isn't it??

All the best on the new job tomorrow. Waiting to read about it on your blog, but call or text and lemme know how it goes. Will be thinking of you :-)

Hi Pomona,
Sorry to hear about your dad. Are there long term effects with Weil's disease? Def seems to be water+rats=bad things

A friend in the village has a very effective terrier and one of the underkeepers has ferrets. We've used both at different times. And my alsatian cleans up any she can get hold of. When I get a dose of chicks, it's the crumb that seems to attract them. This one is living under the freezer and hard to get at, but in a confined controlled space I have resorted to the poison which I hate to do. I might try the trap - god idea!

I must pull out that poultry number for you - promise to post it ASAP.

Hope your pigs & apple trees are doing well
:-) Jen

Sara said... best guess based on the crap picture presented would be...plum leaf gall mites?? Though I usually associate high mite populations with warmer, dry weather...not really in line with your previous reports. I'd love to go take a sample and dissect...if only I weren't 4,000 miles away. :) Good luck with the plums!

Jennifer Montero said...

I knew I could count on you!! Yeah, my camera is slightly on the old side and close-ups are not always great. Thank you for the ident :-)

When I move back to the US eventually I shall save all my P&D problems for you. We can have a girly evening dissecting and identifying. BYOM (bring your own microscope). Yay!!

Poppy Cottage said...

Hello Jen.

Just found this.....

Wonder if that will be next in your freezer. Right off to put on smart clothes!!

C x

Pomona said...

Thank you re the phone no. The traps are live catch, so you need to have a method of dealing with the rat when it is caught - I can give you a hint if you email me! Weil's is very nasty - my father had to learn to walk again afterwards - and a friend's father died of it - depends if you are lucky enough to have medics who spot it and give you the antibiotics in time, but it was touch and go for a while - a pretty dreadful time.

Pomona x