Tuesday, 1 February 2011


I've started my "last day of shooting season" rituals. Consigning the blood-spattered tweeds to the dry cleaning pile, putting the walkie-talkies away in a drawer, and the worn but comfortable shooting socks in the darning pile. It was cleansing, in all senses of the word, to hoover up all stray feathers that have followed the dogs or Mike through the back door (I found one in a kitchen drawer), as well as taking all the towels off of the sofa. The house smells better already.

The end of Spud's first working season. I hope it will be the first of many.

The dogs know it's over. Each got a big knuckle bone from the butcher shop as a thank you for their hard work. I'm writing this post to the accompanying sound of scraping and crunching.

Is that a bone or a lip plate, Pip?

I'm just as happy (if less noisy) drinking my pot of Green Mountain Pumpkin Spice coffee which I've been saving as a reward for this last day of the season. Laurie from Dog Hair in my Coffee sent it to me in a care package, along with The Bucolic Plague (a book, not a disease). Just out of the kindness of her heart. Laurie provided me a damn fine cup of coffee, and I supplied the dog hair.

The woodcock are for a Moroccan Pie, the partridge will be plucked for roasting later.

I'm also processing some of the game hurriedly procured before the season ended. Usually it could hang a day or two longer but the weather's warming up and I don't want to risk it spoiling.

I didn't shoot any of what I'm butchering now. I walked up the hedgerows yesterday with the cocker spaniel and the flat coat. The pair did a bang up job putting the birds over me, and I did a crap job bringing any down, missing 3 pheasants and a woodcock. Mike brought home 2 partridge and another woodcock from his day's shooting, so no one's going to go hungry. The way I was missing everything, I thought we were going to have to eat the flat coat.

One of the young lads who comes beating is completing his Gamekeeping qualification at college. Having been brought up on a dairy farm, he's already used to hard work. His father lets him run a duck shoot on the farm, and he brought me two oven-ready mallards for my larder this morning.
The ducks - I'm making confit with the legs, and crowns are for roasting late

He's only 16 and can't drive a car yet (the driving age being 17 in the UK) but because of arcane agricultural laws he can drive a tractor. So he drives ten miles to our shoot every Saturday in their farm's brand new 3-ton tractor. It makes me smile to see this teenage boy, thinner than a pencil with the wood shaved off, climb out of the cab in his too-big tweeds ready for work. It's funny moments like that I'll miss, now that this season's over.

There's a dinner tonight in the village cafe for all the shoot workers, venison stew washed down with port, homemade sloe gin, and more port. It's rarely a sober affair. Let's just say we're not surprised when we find a Land Rover abandoned in the hedge in our garden, or an underkeeper wrapped in a horse blanket asleep under another vehicle. I have to stay compos mentis so I can prevent our revellers from dying of exposure, or suffering a severe near death-by-pecking experience from the chickens.

Tomorrow it will be the start of the new season, and a new set of worries. Mike won't take the day off, and he'll be up before dawn ready to start building his catchers, to catch up the next season's laying stock. My thoughts will also change from harvesting, to sowing and growing: vegetables and a good crop of grass on Milkweed. I need to improve my soil fertility programme, get contractors to put down a base for the stables/lambing shed at Milkweed, and find a ram to put to my flock of ewes.

Our Cobb meat chickens are growing on well. I like this breed so far.

It's the start of making our smallholding pay and there are some serious obstacles. Our sales tax in England has gone up to 20%. The cost of feed has doubled and is still rising. There's a shortage of hay, and if we have a long winter I'm in danger of running out. I dread another month where the Recently Called list on my mobile reads VET - VET - HORSE VET.

Worst of all diesel is now the equivalent of $9.70 a gallon. I need to pursue a path less dependent on fuel and chemical fertilisers. I will have plenty of time to ponder growing systems while I'm painting the kennels, which is the first job on tomorrow's list.

Feet up time, at least until the morning


Kerry said...

Please don't forget the time honored tradition of sitting in your pajamas with a huge mug of coffee and watching television after reaching the end of a months-long task. That is how I celebrate the end of each semester, and it has incalculable restorative properties. Particularly if there is a marathon of somesort -- Quincy M.E., Top Gear, or The X-files will do the trick. Those kennels can wait to be painted a little longer.

Paula said...

Gee, Jen! 20%!? and $9.70 a gallon! Think maybe you could grow your own hay and grain? Alfalfa would improve your soil fertility, as would clover, which you probably know. Here's something I'm not sure you know- the Obama administration deregulated organic alfalfa, so now Monsanto can sell the Round Up Ready seed, which I understand is an expensive solution to a problem that doesn't exist (according to Michael Pollan). You know what will happen next: the Round Up Ready alfalfa pollen will blow in the wind and contaminate other fields that weren't planted with the stuff, and then anybody saving that seed and planting it will get sued by Monsanto, who will win. I sure hope that the seed can't be imported to the UK- I think you guys are more sane about GMO plants, aren't you?

I miss the sound of scraping and crunching- it's such a happy sound, isn't it?

KD said...

Rest a minute, you deserve it. Though with that menagerie I suppose rest is what you would do if you weren't busy. Love seeing the photos.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kerry - I've had 3 cups of coffee already, alas no Quincy. I've had to slum it with an episode of TJ Hooker.

Paula - Have you read 'Seeds of Deception'? It might just make you more angry, but it was eye opening for me. The new farming report commissioned by the UK government is trying to force GM crops down our throats (no pun intended) with no talk of labelling.

I'm up for science and breed resistance strains, but I don't think GMOs are the solution to food shortages, some of which seem to be the result of political strife and capitalism, not production.

We use white clover to fix nitrogen on Milkweed already, mixed grasses, and rotational grazing, but I need to add some farmyard manure for humus and nutrients. Sourcing it may be a problem.

We can't grow alfalfa in this climate, but I am going to experiment with growing animal feed, and turn 1/2 an acre over to barley (in an area that's was covered in nettles). I can feed both the straw and the grain. Harvesting and processing it will be a challenge. So will the strange looks from 'proper' farmers but hey ho.

KD - It's mentally easier without the need to plan a shoot day. A long walk with the dogs will be a relaxing morning for us all.

Maria said...

Congratulations on surviving!!! It sounds like you're already deep into thinking out the next phase. Painting dog kennels just might be a sufficiently repetitive task to let you mind wander?

and I totally hear you on the price of diesel, even though I only have a car, not a tractor... (£1.33 the other day. I only put half a tank in, and decided to hang on for the rest)

Kate said...

Whew! Doesn't sound like there's much rest for the wicked over there! I hope you at least feel a measure of accomplishment and relief that one major task is behind you for the year.

Never heard the rest of a duck called the "crown." That Moroccan pie? Would that be HFW's River Cottage recipe? The one he made with doves? I love the idea of a college degree in Gamekeeping. Somehow I doubt there are too many schools offering that course of study Stateside.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Hi Jennifer, I have just passed an award on to you called The Stylish Blogger Award. The purpose of the award is to help bloggers get to know each other. I love your blog and want others to enjoy it! Please click on my link to Gordon Setter Crossing for the complete details. Hope you got some rest last night! You surely do deserve it!

Megan said...

Sounds like you deserve to put your feet up! Especially with The Bucolic Plague... it's a really good book. Lots of laughs and sadness and interesting stories. Anyway, relax for now! :)

On a Wing and a Whim said...

Congratulations on another season finished! The chickens are looking good, and I'm glad to hear Eudora is doing well!

Hope you enjoy the dinner, and nobody gets pecked too much. :-)

Jennifer Montero said...

Maria - Of course you're on this side of the pond so you can appreciate the belt tightening measures we're subject to. Diesel's up to £1.36 in our area now.

Kate - I think the crown is officially just the breast meat still on the bone, but the legs cook so much quicker, this way I don't ruin them and I get a whole different meal. The Moroccan Pie comes from a book called The Hunter's cookbook (i think). Ray, HFW's butcher, is involved so it could be the same recipe.

Karen - You're so kind! I never imagined an award for my somewhat limited writing and computer skills. I'm still amazed people find it interesting, but glad that they do. Thank you for thinking of us.

I've had to stop showing Mike the pictures on your blog because he's making noises about having a Gordon Setter. The puppies are far too cute.

Megan - I devoured that book in a couple of days, the writing and the story were both great. I was tired just reading about their ambition and attention to detail. And we're always up for more book suggestions here.

OaW&aW - Eudora is officially doing great. She's nearly back to her old self. Her sight seems much improved (she can see me coming with a bucket from waaay off).

Erik Jensen said...

Neat that there appears to be a couple UK-based hunting bloggers out there (you and the suburban bushwacker). I think American hunters need to be more aware of hunting in Europe. Generally amongst conservative-leaning hunters in the U.S., the assumption is that there is no hunting culture there. My dad is Norwegian and my sister is living there now, and I'd say it's a more pro-hunting culture than the U.S. when you look at land preservation and a general consensus that hunting is a way to get natural meat. I do wonder about the UK, though, it being heavily urbanized with what appears to be overly strict gun control as compared to Canada, the Nordic countries and Switzerland, where firearms ownership is regulated but fairly common.

Jennifer Montero said...

Erik - Thanks for joining us. I look to SBW for a lot of tips and skills, it's a great blog.

I'm no expert, but the biggest difference I've noticed between US and European hunters is the people who do it.

In the US, it seems hunting is an everyman's pursuit for putting meat in the freezer. In England at least, it is an upperclass sport, with all the pomp and expensive clothing to go with it. Even if you don't like hunting (shooting as it's called here) but you're upperclass, then you must do it as part of the social calendar. It's more for networking and being seen. The meat only is a by-product.

We do have stringent gun control laws. Even mace is illegal. Handguns aren't legal for the private citizen (or even the general police force, only special forces). No defending your home from intruders either.

If you have land to shoot over (always private), no criminal convictions, and can prove a need (ie vermin control or sporting) than you can apply for a gun license. Shotguns and rifles are licenced separately, and ammo is metered out.

I haven't really got an opinion on the UK's choice to limit firearms. We still get the occasional crazy person get hold of a weapon and go on a killing spree. I don't think you can legislate to prevent psychotic behaviour. But hunters are usually very good, and we have only very rare hunting accidents. I'm not sure what it's like in the rest of Europe. But Norway is our next vacation destination, so I hope to find out!

Erik Jensen said...

Jennifer -

I do support stricter gun control laws than we have in the U.S., but I also support government aid to shooting sports. Higher costs and access to shooting ranges is getting to be a problem here (largely because of urban sprawl), and I say that as a member of a gun club. I see it is clear that stricter gun regulations DO reduce gun deaths, there is lots of evidence for that, but that has to be traded against another social good - hunting. Too strict of gun regulations DO make it harder to recruit people to shooting sports.

In the U.S., unfortunately, the debate over gun regs never looks at things this way, since it is usually between people who believe guns are morally good or morally bad. You may want to look at my blog, The Progressive Outdoorsman http://theprogressiveoutdoorsman.blogspot.com/ (it's a pro-hunting and angling blog written from the political left)and read the entry "Grand Bargain on guns ?"

I have read social studies about hunting participation in Europe, and it does appear to have an upper-class bent, although the Nordic countries may be an exception. There you have the typical (general) difference that you have in the U.S. and Canada: high numbers of rural people hunt, small numbers of urban people.

Have fun in Norway. Very beautiful, very clean with good services and very safe (low crime), but very expensive. To save some $, get used to eating bread and cheese and maybe some cured meats or fish. Only eat out on special occasions !