Monday, 24 May 2010

Coming up short

Everything's growing. The chicken babies are getting bigger; some are foraging without their mothers now. Others are big enough to go to roost at night. Pheasant and partridge chicks are spending the warmer days and even nights now in their outdoor runs. Their adult feathers begin to grow and make their wings hang down which give them a slouchy teenager walk. The lambs are so fat it's almost obscene. And the horses have round spring bellies.

The only thing that's not growing well is the grass.

It doesn't matter what you farm: sheep, cattle, even alpacas. You are only ever a grass farmer. Everything depends on grass. Lactating ewes need it to make milk to feed this year's crop of lambs. Lambs and calves need it to graze. Even deer need the long grass as cover to hide their young.

A cold winter and a dry spring mean the grass has been slow to grow. Most of my time at the moment is spent moving grazing animals to any available patch of grass, even if I have to stand there with them as they eat it. Sometimes I'm patching fences with whatever I can find in the back of the truck: wire, baling twine. I had to tie two gates closed on a paddock this morning with the horses' bridles so they could graze the best of the grass in there.

The permanent pony paddock is left of the fence. It's horse sick and needs fertilizer and time to grow without being pestered by two gluttonous horses. I have let them onto the track the other side of their paddock, to let them eat what they can from that small piece of field, and for emergency fencing purposes ---

I blocked them in with the truck. The ingenious part of the plan was that I brought my knitting and a flask of coffee and was able to sit there and have an hour to myself.

The local farmers have a saying "Fog in March, Frost in May, isn't any good for hay". Which is exactly what we had. This means that hay is going to be short again this year. We need to get bales made, or bought and stored, before the end of summer.

We've just about come to the end of crow trapping season. I will pack up my traps by 1 June. I was surprised to see what was waiting for me in a crow trap this morning -

It's a fox cub. He climbed into the trap and got himself caught.

He might look like he's being cute in this picture, but he's actually hissing and snarling at me. This cub is the sign that it's time to trade in my crow traps for a gun, and do some fox control in the evenings. They get bigger alongside the pheasant poults. The foxes will have their share of the pheasants before pheasant shooting season.


Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I don't envy you the part of your job where you catch really cute things and then have to kill them. I do envy you the skills that turn horse bridles, baling twine, and trucks into fences.

It's been an excellent growing spring here in New England, and I'd send you some of our grass if postage weren't cost-prohibitive.

Jennifer Montero said...

I love foxes, and I have to come clean and say that I left the dastardly part of the job to the underkeeper this morning.

I'm glad you're having good growing conditions. That comes with its own set of challenges - keeping up with it for a start! You're feast and we're famine this year.

Poppy Cottage said...

Hello my dear. And hour to yourself, to knit and drink coffee. Wow!! I am in the middle of decorating Josie's bedroom, she has moved rooms with her brother. I keep looking out of the window at the garden........

Paula said...

I don't think he looks particularly cute in that photo. I think he looks crazy. Crazy as a fox- maybe that's where that expression originated.

Why aren't foxes smart enough to know that they'd get left alone if they'd just stick to mice and other vermin and leave the chickens and game birds to people?

Terry Scoville said...

I am glad to hear you got an hour to yourself with coffee and knitting. That too is important in being a farmer. Your creative fencing and patching is another sure sign of farmer ingenuity. Let me say very McGuiver'esque of you!

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - In this weather I say the house can wait, get out and enjoy your garden! That's an order.

Paula - Crazy possibly. He was certainly less than pleased about his incarceration. I don't think foxes can resist chicken any more than we can, but I agree wholeheartedly: I wish they would stick to mice and voles too.

Terry - Coffee and knitting makes even the worst setbacks more bearable. The fencing and lack of grass has been a bit trying this spring.

All country fences and gates are kept up with baling twine. It's Britain's answer to duct tape. If you're really fancy you use cable ties or hog rings (rings you would put in a pig's nose to keep them from rooting also are a great way to fix wire together)

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

so busy, it is SUPER important to take a moment to yourself! I would be crazy as a fox if I did'nt. I have babies (turkeys, chicks, piglets) everywhere! Goodluck with your brood!