Wednesday, 3 March 2010


I took the pack of dogs quad biking yesterday for some exercise, but we didn't come back empty-handed -

That's a cock pheasant on the left and 5 fallow deer legs on the right. Dulcie retrieved the pheasant, probably ill or injured if it was caught by the dog. And Jazzie brought me the first deer leg, shortly followed by the others in turn, each with a leg in their mouth. Podge didn't want to give hers up and chose to carry it proudly the rest of the way home.

It's worrying to find deer parts like this cut off and left in the woods. It can be a sign of poaching, a big problem in the countryside. It turned out the underkeeper had shot 2 fallow for the larder so the legs were accounted for.

Even in the off season the dogs are providing services - clearing up sick and injured birds, and helping catch out potential poaching. I don't know what switches on in the dogs' heads but if they find anything of interest, they seem compelled to bring it back to me. Deer parts, pigeons, rabbits. Pip brought me a lamb's tail this morning. The lambs' tails are falling off (rings are put on which constrict the blood flow and eventually 'dock' the tails). Pip was excited to find this treasure and carried it into the kitchen to show me, tail wagging (hers not the lamb's).

We were down at the vets early this morning. My sick hen didn't make it to the log pile yesterday. I was concerned about the high mortality we've had with that strain of Barbu D'Uccle, and I began researching the symptoms. This was a terrible idea. Can you get hypochondria by proxy? By the time I'd finished looking at all the poultry diseases it could be, I'd convinced myself it was potentially a notifiable disease, that I would have to tell the Ministry of Agriculture and the flock would be destroyed. Plague, pestilence, death...

Terry, our sensible friend and a partner at our local vet surgery talked me down. I brought the hen to him for examination. Marek's disease. Which is what I thought before I spiralled into a panic. Terry kindly put the hen down for me with an injection (no logs were involved), and we devised a vaccination program for this year's hatch to combat the disease. Terry tells me that Marek's disease, which is a virus, is prevalent in nearly all smallholders' flocks. Vaccines which must be administered to day old chicks are not 100% effective. Older birds cannot be vaccinated.

While at the vets learning about chicken diseases, Mike mixed up the lamb's milk for be helpful...  

How one man can make so much mess from a litre of water and 200g of powdered milk? There was laughing and teasing over spilled milk. No crying.

He made it up to me though. No of course he didn't clean up after himself, but he did find me two really cool things: 1) a hermaphrodite pheasant

The brown birds are the females, the brighter colored bird front and right is the male. The bird front and left is hermaphroditic, and a good example.

From the neck up it has the coloring of a male, and the chest is darker. But the rest of the body is hen-like. It has underdeveloped sex organs so cannot lay eggs or fertilise them, so it's asexual. Mike's put it in the laying pens anyway because he knows I love anomalies, especially medical ones.

2) A large ammonite

We live in a geologically rich area, particularly ammonites and belemnites. Mike found this in a nearby field when he was soil testing with the agronomist. He even washed the soil off it before he gave it to me. It won't fit on our nature shelf so it's in the windowsill where I can admire it from my reading chair.

Podge is happy with her deer leg, I'm happy with my fossil, and Mike's just happy I didn't make him clean the kitchen. It's great when your needs are small and easily fulfilled.


  1. I have never seen a hermaphrodite pheasant before - I will look out for them in future! Your dogs are so well-trained not to gobble up all the bits they find. Our Border Terrier used to bring back dead rabbits and sit with them by the back door, very pleased with herself, but now she is older and can't catch things on her own. So you end up with a tug of war between the two, which I find too distressing, being a total petal, and usually end up in tears at the sight!

    Pomona x

  2. Pomona - You and your border terrier are not alone...the shepherd lives by the 'finders keepers' rule and sneaks off to eat what she finds.

    And the cocker who carried her leg home - I could physically lift her off the ground still attached to the deer leg. She brings everything back but needs persuading to give it up.

  3. Hello my dear. I did try and leave you a comment yesterday, not sure where in cyber space it has gone to. Lily has taken to guarding her tennis ball from the cats now. I can pick it up and take it from her no probs, but god help the cat if he so much as glances at the ball!!

  4. this was an interesting post (your life seems so much more interesting than mine, probably because it is), but I'm curious: why do the lambs need their tails docked?

  5. Jennifer, You've got me laughing out loud at the thought of your dog being airborn with leg bone firmly grasped. I don't know how guys can make such a mess out of so few items, it is truly mind boggling and quite perplexing. Glad you all were able to get done what needed doing. As for the chickens, yea I think I'd be a bit wigged out after looking up what all diseases "fowl" can and do get. Spooky.

  6. Colette - tennis balls are a valuable commidity her too. When podge finds one, she guards it, to the point of putting it in her food bowl when she's eating, and eating around it so the others can't take it. When you're small you have to be clever!

    Paula - I don't think it's mandatory. Some smallholders leave tails on. Most people dock them to help keep sheeps' backsides clean and prevent flystrike. Flies lay their eggs in dung stuck to the wool. If not checked, the maggots burrow into the sheep which can be both fatal and disgusting.

    There are lots of chemical treatments, but you can keep the back end clipped and free of dung to help prevent it. This is harder to do under a long tail. Our sheep actually came with the ring already on.

  7. Terry - I don't think our lot are as well trained as Jet. You know the hazards of more than one dog, they pick up each other's bad habits.

  8. Jen -- I'm with Paula. Your life is just way more interesting than mine. A fossil, a hermaphrodite, and fallow deer legs all in one day. And I thought my day was exciting because we tasted our dandelion wine! Sigh ...

  9. Tamar - I will swap you home made dandelion wine for all the deer legs you want, and throw in the hermaphrodite pheasant too. I am rubbish at wine making, mine tastes like paint thinner with a hint of raisins