Thursday, 22 March 2012

March Madness

Spring has arrived in our part of Dorset. We were spared a hard winter this year, so the transition was nearly imperceptible, unless you take notice of the signs. Like cock pheasants sparring - usually in the middle of the road, oblivious to cars bearing down on them. And the dawn chorus which has been amazing, though the closing act is a bit of a let-down: our little bantam cockerel crowing his high-pitched squeak.

Partridge are pairing up. Hares are moving too; the phrase ‘mad as a march hare’ refers to their boxing competition for breeding rights. Our hare population is so small, there appears to be room for everybody, so no fighting is necessary.

Our pheasants have started laying too - 3,000 of them. We picked up eggs for the first time today, and we’ll set our first hatch on the 30th. Egg collecting causes a kind of madness. Seven days a week, rain or shine, for the next three months. Mike has already poured me a large gin and tonic to help ease my trauma

It’s not just the animals that are pairing up. Our young underkeeper has a new girlfriend. The local farmer-oracle summed it up: “T’will pull a man farther than gunpowder will blow ‘im”.

I finished digging over the vegetable patch this morning, and then joined the throngs of gardeners at the feed store to buy my seeds and compost. We’ve used up all our overwintered onions, and have only a few potatoes left which are edible but starting to sprout. Home-grown vegetables are off the menu now until my early lettuces are ready. Dinner tonight is a leg of our home-produced lamb, and swedes which I stole harvested from a farmer friend’s field. He plants it to feed his sheep, but a few find their way into our kitchen. The same farmer has helped me solve Eudora’s chronic foot problem, and looked over all this year's lambs for me. I traded him a dozen eggs for his services, but between the shepherding help and the root vegetables, I think I at least owe him a cake.

This is Meaty. He's going to Ice Camp.

Eudora's daughter, Matilda, who I raised by hand. She's grown on fine, and is doing great.

Besides egg picking, the other spring chore on the gamekeeper’s calendar is vermin control. We have traps set for magpies, moles, crows, rats, grey squirrels, and foxes. I have a personal vendetta against the rats. Rats ate my entire garlic harvest last year and a good percentage of my potato harvest straight out of the garden. B*stards. They snack with impunity out of our chicken feeders and, most unforgivably, they have eaten the clutch of blackbird eggs out of the nest in our log pile.

This caught magpie is going to another trap, to lure in yet more magpies

Now I am on an unstoppable, one-woman rat annihilation mission: poison, rat traps, shovelling in holes. I even had a .410 laid out on the picnic table while I was digging over my vegetable garden because a rat kept peeking out from beneath a hedge. I got a shot at it and missed, though I think I scared an extra dozen eggs out of the chickens with the noise.

Gotcha! One down, about a bajillion to go...

Mike is trying to teach me to set snares for foxes. Snares are legal as long as they haven't got a self-locking mechanism. That way, if something harmless finds its way into the snare, it's easy to loose the wire and let it go. Podge the cocker spaniel can attest to this.

A fox in a snare has to be shot. Last Sunday morning I was in the shower when the phone rang. I answered it in case it was Mike. It was. He needed a shot gun to dispatch a fox. I got out of the shower, still wet, and pulled on the nearest clothing - flannel pyjama bottoms with cartoon reindeer on them and a fleece from our feed merchant with FLUBENVET embroidered in big letters on the front. A woolly hat on my head completed the look, and I drove up to the field, shot the fox, came home, put the gun in the cabinet, and got back in the shower to wash soap out of my hair.

What do I have to do to get one civilised Sunday morning with croissants and a newspaper?! Not be married to a gamekeeper, that's what. Although, now I have the unique distinction of having shot a fox in my underwear AND in my pyjamas. How they got in there, I'll never know...(aaaand rim shot! Thank you, Groucho.). It's March madness I tell you.


SavvyChristine said...

Do you have cats, and if so do they make a discernible difference in your rodent population? For some reason I think of cats as the magic answer to everything rodent, but I have no evidence to back this up. A serious flaw in my logic, I know.

Jennifer Montero said...

SavvyChristine - There are a lot of neighbourhood cats and they visit our gardens, but they don't seem to make a dent in the rat population. Perhaps they're all too well-fed in loving homes!

Hazel said...

Sorry to hear about your blackbirds eggs. At least there's enough time for them to try again, perhaps somewhere a bit higher up this time!

We have 3 cats (no blackbirds nesting in logpiles here!) and 2 of them will catch anything small and furry or feathery (we've had songbirds, pigeons, voles, mice, shrews, baby rabbits and moles, but no rats) and the other has never caught a thing in her life. The bird and rodent catchers are the offspring of 2 pet cats and the one that hides in the house so she doesn't have to go outside was one of a feral litter that we adopted through a charity. Not sure how she'd have done if she'd had to have hunted for a living.

Glad to see Matilda looking so fine! And posing so obligingly for the picture! My Matilda asks if I know how she is occasionally, she'll be pleased to see the photo.

megan said...

rats! Oh how I newly hate them. Mine seem to be dispatched and dispersed with the rat poison, and with the absence of chicken food (absence of chickens, too). Cheeky bastards. Does Dakota do any rat control?

And - you are reading doris lessing! I don't think I've read that one.

Seester said...

Why is Meaty a different color than the others? Is he a different breed or is that just a natural variance? Or is it dirt?
And do you worry about putting rat poison out when you have so many other animals around?
Nice bum shot with the magpie, by the way.
You are more than welcome to come visit me in San Francisco for a civilized break from the madness. We will eat croissants and drink coffee and have time to read the entire paper AND do the crossword puzzle!

Jennifer Montero said...

Hazel - Cats are a complete mystery to me, I have no experience of them, so I like reading owners' descriptions of what they do. Cats seem to vary greatly in their desire to hunt - either killers or couch potatoes. Is that true?

Matilda is officially a teenager. She's caught up size-wise with the other lambs, and she no longer comes running to greet me or endures a pat. She is an independent sheep now, which makes me feel I've done a good job as a surrogate-ewe parent.

Jennifer Montero said...

Megan - Dakota and Pip do a sneak attack on the field boundaries first thing every morning, trying to surprise and take down any rats. Now the poison's working, they are catching a few of the dopey ones. Neither dog eats rats so it's not a worry, though a gun dog shouldn't technically be encouraged to bite to kill - it can make them hard-mouthed.

This is my first Doris Lessing, good so far. Any titles you would suggest?

Jennifer Montero said...

Seester - Yes, Meaty is a charollais x something - I forget. Bred for the meat trade to produce a square, lower fat carcase. Meaty's name is ironic as he's the scrawniest of the flock. I feed him up and when he sticks his little foot through the fence it feels just like a, wait, that's Hansel and Gretel....

Prepare for a visit when you get back from Italy. Croissants and crosswords (and scrabble?) sounds like heaven.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I think it says that I've come a long way from Manhattan that I love your picture of the dead rat. The only good rat, in my opinion. Although I think rats are smart and can be good company (I've known some excellent pet rats), down on the farm they're nothing but trouble.

Good luck with vermin control and your spring chores! And think about a cat ...

megan said...

I really like her science fiction - "the marriage of zones 3, 4, and 5", I think, is the title of one of them; it's a series ~ canopus in argos. In interesting though relatively useless news, Lessing left Marxism in favor of Sufism.

Teri said...

We have cockatoos, which live out in the garage (noise control--they don't seem to get on well with the macaws). And so, we have rats in the garage. It's getting to the point where I can barely stand to go out there and am having rather violent urges towards them. I have rat traps which I haven't set yet, but I'm gonna have to get in there and do it.

Rat control said...

Rat box trap is most useful for controlling rat infestation. Poison bait is also useful but, it requires lots of precaution. Because, kids and pets are in the house.