This is the first year of being a keeper's wife that I know enough to run on autopilot. Dogs got fit, socks got mended, cooking for staff got done alongside daily chores and gardening jobs. The night before our first shoot day, Mike realised his keeper's tweeds no longer fit him. A new suit has been ordered and, in the meantime, he's wearing my breeks and a mismatched plaid waistcoat, which seems to be the height of fashion in the field anyway. Sometimes it pays to simply adapt and fly by the seat of one's pants.
A few new additions arrived while we were muddling through our shoot preparations -
Three very inquisitive and charming turkeys. Unfortunately, one has met a curious and unusual death, hanging itself in the poultry netting put up to protect them from predators. So now we are two, a hen and a stag by the looks of them, which means they will probably survive becoming Christmas dinner to become parents in next spring.
The two hens squabbling over a nest of eggs both abandoned their duties, but our little chocolate hen, Mrs Cadbury, hatched a single chick in the corner of her nestbox -
We've called him (or her) Chip.
We've also had relatives and friends to visit us this month. All were good sports and got stuck into the chores du jour from sheep wrangling, to worming, to chicken judging. My aunt Meg helped me to select the best Orpington cockerel to keep for breeding, and the others went to ice camp a couple of days ago. She even answered the call with me when our neighbours needed help with their in-lamb ewes. They are lambing in a purpose-built barn, and much more organised than I've ever been at lambing time. I smiled to read their bulletin board with all their lambing records posted underneath the title: "Lambing 2012. Our Motto is 'Help or Shut Up'".
My own lambing starts this Saturday. On paper anyway - as with all babies, they will come when they come. My mornings now start before sun up with a trip across the road, while still in my pyjamas, to check the mums-to-be. Then it's coffee, chores, and shooting or work, before finishing with supper for all of us, and late evening livestock checks - again, in the dark.
But I love this time of year. Shoot days are the culmination of months of hard work. And I love the cast of characters that come shooting. On the first day we had Mrs H. and her new labrador pup. The pup's parentage is in question as Mrs H let her husband's (rather friendly) terrier Pepper keep her old labrador company the night before she went off to the stud dog. The resulting pup is slighter than a labrador and, when sat next to Pepper, the resemblance is hard to miss.
The pup is slightly gun shy, too - nervous of the loud banging when shots are fired. Mrs. H tells me her solution is to stuff cotton wool in the pup's ears. It's certainly helped with the gun shy problem, and gives the pup a great excuse to ignore Mrs. blowing her whistle to come back. Still, both the pup and Mrs. H seem satisfied with the arrangements, unconcerned by dubious parentage or lackadaisical recall.
Quincy had her first day in the field too, chaperoned by Pip. I was impressed by both my girls' work. As she gains experience in the field, Quincy is going to be a superb gun dog.
I love shooting season.