Monday, 24 September 2012


I believe the Buddhists are right about living in the present and being mindful. I tried to learn meditation (is that an oxymoron?) after reading my share of Thich Nhat Hanh books at college, but I was a poor student of Buddhism (especially the "no intoxicants" precept) and could never quiet my mind. At my core I'm a planner, and a list maker, and that means I live perpetually in the future, making preparations.

I'm preparing for relatives visiting tomorrow. There aren't many of us in my family, a dozen or so, and we're spread out all over - we seem pre-programmed to continue the diaspora our ancestors began, though thankfully not driven by potato famines or civil unrest anymore. Now it's curiosity and better job offers. My family stops in England on their way to different European destinations, and I lumber them with my daily chores, which they gamely accept and even enjoy. I have some sheep moving lined up for my uncle this week, and some poultry grading for my aunt in a fortnight's time. She was a renowned poultry judge in the US, and I plan to exploit her expertise on my crop of roosters: which to keep and which to eat.

Mike is preparing for his nearly-grown partridge to arrive tomorrow. We have stocked a pond in a wild area on the estate with some duck too, for our rough shooting clients, and continue to keep the ducks there with a daily feed. Partridge and duck season started 1st September, but we don't host our first guests until 13th October, which is very late for us. Weather and the economy have both had a hand in our late start.

I am preparing for the change is seasons, and celebrated the last of the dry weather and the first day of autumn by camping out overnight. Some dogs came with me to celebrate, at least the ones that could fit in the back of the Land Rover -

I'm also preparing for lambing which starts - officially - on 20th October. However, looking at Gregor, one of my ewes with triplets, I can't see her making it a whole month without either giving birth or exploding -

She's so fat that she sits up like a dog. Like a dog that's eaten another really fat dog -

Needless to say, she's not getting supplementary barley or oats at this juncture.

It appears that it's not just baby lambs I need to prepare for -

The lavender pekin was the original sitter, but the big buff hen decided to join in. They may end up sharing the brood. It's not common but we had two old brown hens who shared a brood of chicks very successfully. I'm never prepared for the diversity of behaviours displayed by individuals in a flock or pack, but I welcome them and the chance to observe such variety. In fact, if there's ever a time when I feel do "in the moment", it's watching the animals being themselves.

Mike and I finished our preparations with enough time to enjoy a ride to the local pub on our horses. There's a small field where we can "park" them while we have a glass of cider. 

The ride back is a very relaxed occasion, and I'm grateful that our horses are slow and steady, and know their way home.

Intellectually I know that one can never be prepared for all eventualities, and my compulsive list making - although deeply satisfying - will never change the course of the universe. But, no one can fault a little bit of forward planning. My house will be sort of cleaned in time for guests, I have a stock of colostrum and prolapse harnesses for lambing ewes (just in case), and a spare broody house for chicks and hen(s). The only thing that died this week was the washing machine, and the only thing that would really improve my quality of life is socks that wouldn't slip down into my welly boots when I walk up hills.

Other that that, I think we're doing OK.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Ewe news

After last week's hay and goat-no goat debacle, I was feeling less than positive about my tasks for today: worm counts for horses, deliver bantam chicks to their new home, and get ewes scanned to see if they're in lamb. If the universe was still against me, today could be disheartening.

There are two ways to cope with worms in horses. You can administer an all-purpose, just-in-case wormer. Simply squeeze the anthelmintic paste into your horse's mouth, catch what falls out, try and push it back into the corners while your free hand maintains a death grip on the halter, give up when you're physically lifted off the ground and half of the paste has soaked into your sleeve. Experienced horse owners compensate by giving an extra third on top of the recommended dosage. Alternatively you can get a faecal sample to the vets that they will look at under a microscope to identify which, if any, worms are present.

More poop.

And it must be fresh poop. And, if you have more than one horse, you must be sure which horse produced the sample. A watched horse never poops. I spent 1 hour and 41 minutes waiting for Kitty and Alan to produce the goods while I sat in the Land Rover knitting, and Dakota laid under the Land Rover waiting for something more exciting to happen.

I dropped off the samples on the way to deliver our five bantam chicks to Nurse Chris, Mike's home help nurse. It was her twice-daily visits that allowed Mike to leave the hospital and recuperate at home. When she wants chickens, she gets first pick. I could only find an empty mineral lick bucket with lid to contain the flighty chicks for transport, so Nurse Chris got Chickens in a Bucket.

Her lone hen instantly gathered up the chicks and mothered them. When Chris's kitten got too close, the hen defended her new brood from the hairy interloper. Hormones are a funny thing.

By now I was running late. I still had to collect my trailer, hope I could gather up the sheep and separate just the pregnant ewes, and load those ewes into the trailer and drive to the mobile scanner guy, who was visiting a farm up the road. The trailer didn't have a flat, the sheep were semi-cooperative (even my grumpy ewe), the ewes fit into trailer and the breeze kept them cool, and I turned up just in time for my turn.

Scanner Guy only needed ten seconds per ewe. The farmer called out the ear tag number, Scanner Guy shouted out the number of lambs inside, the scribe wrote it down, and a helper marked the sheep appropriately: orange dot for singles, green dot for twins, purple dot for triplets, none if a ewe isn't in lamb.

We have: two purples, one green, and four oranges. One ewe is empty. That's potentially twelve lambs for eight ewes put to ram; a return of 150%. That's a great result. A good shepherd would be happy with that. I'm thrilled that we're expecting babies. You may remember N1125 (Gregor) who was on her back, too fat to roll out of a tractor rut? She's got a purple dot. No wonder she's so big, making room for three babies.

On my way home from the scan, the horse vets called to say that both horses were free from worms. So, a crop of new babies, a pair of worm-free horses, and a high pressure system over our part of England giving us dry and sun and ripe tomatoes at least for the next few days.

This week is definitely better than last week.