Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Spring Animal Round-up

It's amazing what two days of back-to-back sunshine will do for your humour, and for your productivity levels. There are hints of the spring to come, at least in the sunshine. In the shade and in the wind you can tell it's not quite here yet. The daffodils are late. Some of the early varieties like 'February Gold' haven't even begun to bud yet. That is the topic of talk in the village - which spring plants are out, which aren't, which were out this time last year. Everyone agrees that it's been a good year for snowdrops.

I have one houseplant - an african violet which I won last week at a charity quiz night. My Aunt Meg has the greenthumb when it comes to these temperamental plants. She had a picture perfect display of them in her stairwell windows. Even as a (supposedly) trained gardener, I haven't got the affinity with this species. It probably wasn't a good start that I left the plant in the back of the truck for 2 days before I remembered it was there. But I'll do my best and enjoy the deep violet blooms while they last. I have had the sense to move it out of the truck and into the kitchen window.

The chickens are dusting in dry places and sunbathing. If you've never seen a flock of chickens sunbathing you'd be forgiven for assuming a car had just driven through the garden and run over every bird on the way out. Bodies everywhere, laying on their sides with their wings out. Occasionally there's a flap flap and some scratched dust kicked into the feathers, so you know they're alive and well. Or come outside carrying a bowl or pot and create a mass poultry resurrection. I estimate that they can go from dusting to feasting in under 3 seconds.

I'm moving 3 surplus cockerels to the woods today now that the guys have got the fence and feeders finished. I hate knocking them on the head when they're healthy. They can pretend they're jungle fowl and make their way in the (semi) wild. The Barbu D'Uccle hen hasn't improved any. It's the same condition that affected her mother Paula and her sister, but I don't know exactly what it is. I can only put it down to an inherent weakness in the strain. I think it's best if this weakness dies out with that line rather than perpetuating the problem. So we're visiting the log pile this morning.

No hens have gone down on eggs yet, so I trust that they know this break in the weather is only temporary. I set the duck eggs for Lady S this morning but early eggs usually have lower fertility. And there are only 4 eggs which are now over a week old. The odds aren't great but you never know. Nature always surprises me.

Chicken folk say that your early hatches tend to be more hens than cockerels and late hatches more cocks than hens. I'm going to monitor our chicken crop this year and see if the theory stands up.

We've had our first spring related injury yesterday. Eudora the lamb was gambolling (is that the term for lambs?) with her sisters and shortly after I saw her favoring her front leg. I sat her on her bum (it's so much easier to handle sheep when they're still pint-sized) and felt around the digit for a thorn or swelling, felt for any heat in the leg and looked for signs of scald. Nothing. She's still limping today so I'll keep an eye on her. I stopped the shepherd as he was coming through the village on his quad bike and asked him for a second (more experienced) opinion. Too much frollicking, quite common in lambs when the weather turns he said. Other than the sports injury, they are growing fast on their bottles of milk.

The horses are sulking from the lack of grass and it will be some time yet before enough shoots poke through their paddock to keep those fatties fed. I bought up all the surplus hay bales from a local farmer, and filled up our truck and trailer. I hope will be enough to see them through. It depends on when the ground warms up and the grass gets away. It's hard to predict.

Finding small bales of hay is difficult nowadays. Most farmers produce huge bales that have to be moved with a special fork on the front of their tractor. I watch them go down the road sometimes with the bale skewered in place. If it's haylage, you can smell the sweet fermented grass. It smells like spring. As I was humping bales into the trailer by hand, I imagined our ten acres being contract cut into round bales like that, and stacked on the field. Enough food for even the longest winter. I was dreaming of grass species that I would overseed to make it palatable and nutritious for the stock. And the agronomist coming to take soil samples so I could organise my fertilising plan and rotation. Pigs to turn over an area, then a catch crop of kale for the sheep to graze. Then a winter tares to feed the soil. Turn it in when spring comes and use that as my vegetable plot.

Any hint of spring makes me daydream like this. Any one of you who has been reading through a stack of seed catalogues knows just what I'm talking about. It's possibilities. As Charles Warner wrote "Hoe while it is spring, and enjoy the best anticipations."

As I'm anticipating this weather won't last forever, I'm off to take the dogs for a run behind the quad this morning and let them get some sun on their backs.


Maria said...

Glad you too are getting some sun (we are getting some in Oxfordshire as well, though as an office-worker I am wishing we had had it at the weekend!).
Oh and I love the three-lamb feeding routine you've got going there with yours hands and knees :o)

Jennifer Montero said...

Maria - I hope the sun stays long enough for you to enjoy it! It has dawned on me that I'm going to need a new feeding system if I ever get more than 3 orphans at a time. I'm envisioning bottles strapped to a board...

Paula said...

I had to show my husband how to feed three lambs...so cute.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I'm with Maria and Paula on the 3-lamb feeding system!

I'm glad the sun is shining in your life -- literally and figuratively, it seems. Funny how moods change with the seasons. Unfortunately, it's snowing on Cape Cod right now, but I have confidence that spring will come. Eventually.