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