Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Sheep and Deer and Fox and Dogs

I got up this morning in anticipation of catching the partial solar eclipse, but instead I was treated to the flat grey fog that England is famous for. I missed the lunar eclipse last week for the same reason. All the grandeur of astronomically significant events scuppered by a low front. I sulked for a bit, until the clouds dropped fat snowflakes. Nothing accumulated, but it made a lovely wintry backdrop for my morning chores.

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.

We've been so busy I've not really had time to think about the New Year or relevent resolutions. We celebrate slightly different holidays, based around the rural calendar. Our holiday period starts Christmas eve and officially ends on Distaff Day, which is this Friday. Traditionally Distaff Day is when women resume their work, picking up the distaff and starting to spin wool I suppose. Typically, men's work doesn't start until Plough Monday, two days later than women's work starts. Read into that what you will.

Anyway, it's only 352 more days til Christmas eve.


Poppy Cottage said...

A new dog!! Lucky you, don't tell Lily!!

Thinking about the new year and how this year is going to see big changes for me. Jose has said she plans to leave school in July then go off to Kenya for nine months from Oct.

Makes me think how close being able to move, start afresh actually is.

Maybe life will start at 39 rather then 40!!!

Hope you are well, good luck with the bacon.

Are you around next Mon or Tues for a dog walk?

Paula said...

How cool that you are trying your hand at your own bacon!

Thanks for all your kind words and encouragement in the past couple of weeks. I finally figured out my online problem was with Firefox, so I switched browsers and all is well now. So I'm able to tell all what a kind person you are and how I'm grateful for your blogging friendship!

Anonymous said...

Love the image of the cocker hanging out in the fox trap, munching cat food, waiting to be let back out!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I'm glad the Queen of Sheepa is hanging in there, but I hope the hand-feeding stage doesn't last too long. Getting up at 2 am in perpetuity doesn't seem like a viable option.

Would you explain the deer thing to me? Do those rules mean that, if you shoot a buck, you're required to shoot the does in the ratio prescribed? What happens if you can't? Or if you don't have a use for that much venison?

Speaking of venison -- I not only have deer envy, I have chiller envy. But if you can't get a deer, you sure don't need a chiller ...

Kevin F. said...

Eudora just looks a bit cross-eyed to me...
Perhaps a pair of spectacles will do the trick.
The bacon sure looks good from here, as we always say in this house "All great recipes, begin with preserved Pork products!"
Kevin F.

Jennifer Montero said...

PC - Shooting Mon & Tues for my sins...but a dog walk - if the weather ever allows! - would be great. Here's to hoping you get a chance on a year's head start to the new you (though I'm quite partial to the old you.)

Paula - That's what internet friends are for! If it wasn't for people like you, Tamar and Kate - and your blogs - my own sanity would be hanging by a thread.

The bacon is the start of my commitment to a new skill this year: meat preserving (not that I've mastered fruit preserving or pickling yet). Corning, drying, smoking etc. I hope to save freezer space, and make the endless weeks of eating venison a bit more interesting.

Jennifer Montero said...

Sara - She's the only dog small enough to fit inside the trap. The other dogs watch with envy as Podge eats all the catfood.

Tamar - The ratio thing is just a guideline for deer management. You can't always be prescriptive about it; as you rightly point out just because you need to remove a buck doesn't mean you'll get one in your sights. The ratio differs too, depending what county you're in, like state-to-state bag limits if you like.

There's a good market for venison. Anything you don't want to keep you can sell straight to the game dealer (there's two in our area) on a £ per pound basis (head and feet off, skin on). It all adds to my small income stream. Though I usually squander my deer money on a nice meal out some place that doesn't serve game.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kevin - Sheep spectacles...hmmm, now there's an untapped market...She's already got the toupe thing going on, spectacles might just complete her look. 'German Tourist' chic.

Bacon IS the Esperanto of ingredients. It speaks to every recipe.

Anonymous said...

Our Pembroke Welsh Corgi would love to help you on the Manor. Good to see you're doing well, cousin Travis