Monday, 5 September 2011

Autumn bounty-ish

The season is changing. BBC news tells me that September 1st is the official start of autumn, but I have more reliable sources. The horses are shedding their summer coats. Plums and apples are ripe; the dessert menu in our house now features crumbles, a stodgy autumn pudding. I’ve harvested sloes, elderberries, and field mushrooms from the hedgerows.

I've dug up my onion crop from the garden and moved the haul to the spare bedroom to dry, a la Tom and Barbara Good. It works great but it's making the house smell like feet for some reason. I’ve dug up the small potato crop to store, but that just goes into a wicker potato hopper in the pantry.

Outside I can hear the clunk-clunk rhythm of a baler, baling up barley straw. I’ve split and stored half of our winter wood. Small talk with neighbors turns to who’s already put their wood stoves or Rayburns on this season.

The washing machine filter logs the changing season too. In summer it catches plastic S-hooks, the kind that are integral to holding nets over the pens that protect young pheasant poults. In autumn, the filter is full of spent .22 and .17 rounds from rifles now protecting more mature pheasant poults from predators.

September 1st is also the start of partridge and duck hunting season. I was invited on opening night to shoot ducks on a flight pond. I missed all five that I fired at, a poor showing even by my low standards. My companions brought down 5 between them.

Pete, Ian, and a selection of happy dogs

One mallard was ringed as part of the British Trust for Ornithology scheme. I reported the number to their website, and I’m looking forward to reading the migration report they promised to send me. When asked, I admitted that the bird was alive and well, until we interfered, and that said subject was going to be eaten. I’m not sure how the BTO will use that bit of data.

Spud the flat-coated retriever opened the season for me as my peg dog on the duck shoot. It was her first time as a peg dog, and retrieving duck. She was patient and interested and, though I gave her nothing to retrieve, she recovered a wounded duck for one of the other guns that we wouldn’t have found without her.

Autumn means a change to working rations for the dogs, which need to start building up reserves for a long season. A once-over from the vets is useful too. Our friend and trusted vet was supposed to stop by on his way to the office to give all of shoot’s dogs their kennel cough treatment (A house call is easier than having 15 rowdy dogs in his waiting room.) It was fortunate that he had to cancel as Brandy - one of underkeeper Pete's spaniels - went off on a personal hunt, and only just returned home for a late lunch. We'll try again tomorrow, and hope all dogs are present and accounted for.

I've moved the sheep to their maternity paddock across the street, where I can see them from my bedroom window. Man alive, are they pregnant. They're huge.

The first one is due as early as the 18th September; Eudora is bagging up already (i.e. her teats are filling with milk). I hope the ewes will all have easy births. If not I'll have to put my hands in the mothers, and move heads and legs around so babies can come out noses and front feet first. The ewes can get on with the business of pushing then.

I had to vaccinate all the sheep again, their annual top-up. And mine as, of course, I jabbed myself by accident. Again. This time I only caught the empty needle before I jabbed a sheep with it, so I'm not counting this one.

As I was cleaning up the spent needles I must have dropped one. Out of the corner of my eye I could see one of the chickens running, with its head poked out in front, the way a chicken does when it's found a worm or mouse and the other chickens are in hot pursuit to rob it. Instead of a worm, it was a needle. The chicken must have seen me drop it and assumed it was more of the delicious stuff I usually drop for them (Sometimes, I throw toast crusts out of my bedroom window and shout 'Manna from Heaven!' at them.) I got it back, but only by exchanging it for the last digestive biscuit in my cookie jar.

I came home from picking blackberries with Mike and found a letter had arrived from the British Wool Marketing Board. They bought my wool and enclosed a cheque for the princely sum of:

63p. And to think, it only cost me £30 to shear them. At this rate I could be bankrupt by next Tuesday. We might be living on what we can hunt and gather. Oh wait, I missed all those ducks. Blackberry jam on toast, anyone?


Poppy Cottage said...

That is a good day to have a baby!! Even if it is four legged!! 63p for the fleece? Crazy. Will you do that again? Jasper has been helping me garden, three trees down with Dad's chain saw (H & S would have had kittens!) but now my front garden seems bigger and lighter.

All change on the job front, back down West Bay, a few less hours but a lot less second job tax! I am babysitting Whinnie at the moment and her and Lily don't stop playing.

Hope to catch up soon (should be able to manage it with fewer hours)

C xx

CZLion said...

The Col and I picked two gallons of blackberries yesterday and she made a huge pie with six cups. Gosh it is delicious. I bucked up a half cord of fire
wood and looks like I'll have to buy a load to get us through the winter. I was hoping to hunt this year but need a knee replacement, the middle son is getting married on Martha's Vineyard where he is chef at Atria, so it looks like outdoor pursuits will be limited. I did put two chinook salmon and two big lingcod in the freezer so life isn't all bad. How is the new black Lab pup doing? I look forward to reading your drivel and happy to see an eastern city girl take to country life.


Johnny West

Paula said...

I think that you would make a LOT more money if you wash the fleeces and sell them to spinners. Lots more. Do a google on wool rovings.

Sorry about jabbing your hand again. You'd think you'd learn.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

I'm never disappointed in the entertainment I find on your blog. Run away dogs, run away chickens...with needles, you vaccinating yourself...with sheep meds, and I don't know what to say about the "feet smell" ha ha But don't worry, I'm laughing WITH you, not AT

Hazel said...

I can tell the seasons by my washing machine filter too.
DS (age 10) is a bit of a magpie and his pockets are always full of interesting bits of metal and stones he's found. In school time he has ends of pencils and bits of eraser; school holidays I find bits of Lego and tiny plastic people and I opened the machine yesterday to find tiny conkers and plum stones in the rubber seal. Autumn's here.

63p for the fleece is ridiculous. Why is woollen anything so expensive if that's the price farmers are paid? Even after cleaning, processing, spinning and dyeing, I'm not sure how the price of 100% wool yarn in my local knitting shop is justified...
DS has just got up and he's most indignant on your behalf. He's been watching Countryfile and says that Adam Henson got 40p a fleece, so he definitely feels you were underpaid!

What do you do with your elderberries, out of interest? I usually put a few in hedgerow jam and make elderberry cordial (originally as a cough/cold medicine, but the children liked it so much with hot water added that I had to hide it last year to make it last- must make more this year! The recipe on the link uses cloves as a preservative, which I liked) but I'm determined to try elderberry wine this autumn. Best get cracking!

Kate said...

Ouch. That's rather meagre, isn't it? I can't remember, did you have to post the wool? Or did they pick it up? At least you'll have those beautiful spuds to go with your blackberry jam on toast.

Anonymous said...

From Jen at M&T:

In defense of the Wool Board, I gave them very poor quality fleece. Looking at the projected prices, if I keep my fleeces in good shape they're worth £1.12 each x 12 sheep = £13.44. Still only half of what it costs to shear them but it's good to know the wool doesn't go to waste.

Paula - I am looking into sending it away to process into clean, spinable wool for the hand spinning market. It's VERY costly, and I would need to find a way to sell it. But it's not out of the question. Most hand spinners are like me - too lazy to clean lots of raw fleece in their bathtubs.

Johnny - Your comment was a blog post in its own right! We are visibly green with envy over your chinook salmon prize.

Two or three of our workers had new knees last year, and by the end of the season they were back to work walking the easier trails. All agreed it was totally worth it. Good luck with yours, and the upcoming wedding. Little lab is coming on really well. An absolute joy to work with.

KAren - I deserve to be laughed at, truly, but it's kind of you to laugh with me instead.

Hazel - You have the washing machine filter treasure hunt too then?

I watched Countryfile too, and saw Adam's bit. I think it almost breaks even when you have that volume of sheep. BBC this morning was saying that now the price of wool has increased for the farmer, the clothing and carpet makers are complaining that their raw materials are getting too expensive and they need to look elsewhere for 'cheaper alternatives'. The wool prices will drop again if that happens. At lease the price of sheep for market is at a high.

I'm mixing elderberries in with my blackberries for jam, as the blackberry crop was a bit poor this year, small and not so sweet. I make elderberry cordial too, though I've only used vitamin C as a preservative. I also discovered if you freeze the syrup in plastic milk jugs, when you derost it for use, it lasts a lot longer. Cloves sounds like a nice flavor/preservative. I will give it a try on your say so. Thanks!

Kate - It cost me more in fuel to drive the wool to the depot than I was paid for it. Again, my fleece was terrible but at least it will be put to use, even if just as house insulation or some such product.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Think of that 63p as symbolic. It's a symbol of something coming in, rather than absolutely everything going out. I grant you that a symbolic triumph is much less satisfying than the actual, flesh-and-blood variety, but it's still better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

Seasons are changing here, too, and your post made me think I should get to the range sooner, rather than later if I expect to put food on the table by shotgun.

I hope your sheep have a problem-free lambing season that leads to many cute lamb pictures.

Pomona said...

I love reading what you have been doing, and it always makes me feel such a fraudulent rustic!! We make hedgerow jam with our elderberries (brambles, elderberries, Bramleys, 2:2:1, stew fruit gently in water first, throw in any plums or raspberries you can find as well), which is absolutely delicious, and very fortifying in winter. I love the concept of taking 15 dogs to the vet - one Scottie is bad enough!

Pomona x

me said...

Wow! Those sheep are PLUMP!!! Also the first thing I thought when i saw the dogs was, "Those are some happy dogs."