One of my chores is still handfeeding Eudora. Her sight, or perhaps her neurological impairment, is preventing her feeding properly without help. I'm still hoping this is a temporary set-back, and I've called the vet yet again. To tempt her appetite back, I feed her all her favorites: molasses-flavored water, sugar beet, and barley. Ivy is a good tonic for sheep so on shoot days while I'm supposed to be watching birds overhead, I'm picking young ivy leaves and stuffing my pockets full, to bring back for Eudora.
Even I know I'm a bit of a sucker for spoiling her with treats. Eudora can't be that impaired as she's already learned that if she bleats she gets fed. You could argue that I'm the impaired one, handfeeding a sheep on demand. I'm thinking of re-naming her "Eudora, Queen of Sheepa". I draw the line at building her a throne.
From sheep to pigs: we took delivery of half a pig from Peggy, my butchery teacher. She kindly saved me the belly in one piece, so I could try curing my own bacon.
A side-view of the pork belly in cure
I've used her recipe, and the pork is now submerged in its curing solution, salt, and water. I need to leave it soaking for the next 5 days. It will be ready to hang in the chiller for drying on Sunday, just as the two deer hanging in the chiller now will be ready for me to take out and butcher.
I didn't shoot these two; Dave the stalker shot them for me so I could have a bit of time off over Christmas with Mike. I still need to cull three more roe does from that area by the end of March because I culled a buck there last summer. The roe deer management ratio for our area of England is 2.5 does per buck. I will aim to take an older buck out of the area this coming summer.
Nearly all keepers' wives help on shoot days working the dogs or cooking, and in the off-season we help raise the chicks, but only a few of us stalk deer or help with vermin control. We're a large shoot but have a small staff, so we need all the help we can get: outside stalkers, ferretters to control the rabbits, contractors with tractors to put in crops for the pheasant. And willing wives of course.
To add to the workload this time of year, it's mating season for foxes. Vixens call up dog foxes, who flood in looking for a good time. Underkeeper Pete and Stalker Dave have shot a few, but I'm taking the lazy option:
A fox cage, baited with cat food. It's on duty all night protecting my chickens (I already have to get up at 2 a.m. to feed Eudora). I set it this evening, and almost immediate caught Podge in it. She knows a cage trap means tasty treats, and that we'll eventually come and let her out. Gun dogs are too smart for their own good.
And Mike's just this minute told me we're about to adopt a chocolate labrador! It's a temporary arrangement. One of our clients has been looking for another chocolate lab, and we've been offered a 3 year old bitch that needs a new home. I will settle it in with us, and make sure it has all its basic gun dog training before it goes to its new home.
I'm glad it's a labrador, as they're pretty easy going. Spaniels have more energy than I do. However, between 6 dogs and a self-important ewe taking up all the kennel space, I will have to make room for the new dog in the house.
Thankfully, one of the perks of shoot season is that the shoot guests never finish their wine and kindly give the keeper the extra bottles from their well-stocked cellars. The availability of good wine helps me to cope when my husband tells me he's bringing home another dog.
Anyway, it's only 352 more days til Christmas eve.