Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Crafty Moment of Geek

My sister's upcoming birthday was the perfect chance to let my geek flag fly, so I knitted this for her -

It's a Dr. Who 'Tardis' Kindle cover. It covers the full geek spectrum because:
a) It's based on a Sci-Fi show with a cult following
b) It's meta because a Kindle, like a Tardis, holds more on the inside than its small shape would belie
c) It's a cosy (OK, technically cosies are more nerd than geek. If you disagree, we could draw a Venn diagram and discuss the overlaps...)

And bonus: I got to use the word 'meta', which almost never happens in my line of work.

If you want to make one for yourself, or for a geeked-out Sci-nerd loved one, the FREE pattern by Stephanie Walls can be found here

Monday, 27 February 2012

Timing is Everything

Parsnips. Some for lunch - roasted - and some for soup - curried

I spent my Sunday morning digging up the last of our overwintered (read forgotten about) parsnips, treating one case of foot rot (sheep) and one case of seedy toe (horse), and helping Mike catch up pheasant hens for transport to a game farmer near London. Yesterday, I felt very envious of people who spend a civilised Sunday morning reading the paper over a kitchen table spread with coffee and croissants.

I'm holding Matilda, who's growing like a weed and keeping up with the other lambs now

We had a spring weather Sunday, which made the work easier, and a team of six to spread the work load. We had about 400 hens to catch, crate, and load on a trailer for their trip to London -

Talking through the Game Plan

To make our task easier, we built smaller 'catching' pens inside that large holding pen. A panel leaned against a corner to make a small A-frame works fine. Then we quietly walked the birds into it. Jasper the catcher demonstrates:

Yes, that's pretty quietly walked in, for a pheasant

Jasper hands the birds out to me, 5 at a time, to put in a crate. Each crate holds 15 hens. And they don't go in without a fight. Just look at Jasper's arms -

The wounds get so bad that the landlady at Jasper's local pub asked him discreetly if he was self-harming. No, it's purely bird-related trauma he assured her.

Once all the hens were crated, we loaded the crates onto a flatbed and put a tarp over the lot -

That's our Land Rover doing the towing. Their own Land Rover suffered a broken drive shaft just 200 yards short of the catching pen. We lent them ours, to get people and birds home safely.

Did I mention that we have to repeat the whole process over again next Sunday? With a repaired drive shaft, of course.

After a break for coffee and home-made cinnamon rolls (a very small thanks to the volunteer helpers), I intended to send our remaining two Buff Orpington cockerels to Ice Camp (a favourite euphemism for the freezer, borrowed from Kate at Living the Frugal Life blog). We were just divvying up the dregs from the coffee pot, minutes away from the Cone of Silence (this term courtesy of Tamar at Starving Off the Land blog). Then the dogs started howling and chickens were sounding the alarm. A neighbour's newly adopted greyhound got loose and was after Patches, our main Buff Orpington cockerel -


Although it looks bad, I'm glad to report that Patches escaped with his life. But not with his tail -

Poor Patches! (And his newly patchy bottom)

Our neighbours are great guys and responsible dog owners. It was a genuine accident. Patches made it through the night, so it looks good for his continued role as Top Cockerel of the flock. But, just in case, we've had to keep his two replacements. They got a stay of execution, at least until spring. Five minutes later, and we might have had a chick-less summer. Time is indeed everything.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Catching up

On this shoot, we grow our own pheasants every year. This means hatching eggs, which means finding eggs to hatch in the first place. Hunting for wild nests would be 'Needle in a Haystack' territory and wouldn't guarantee the volume we need. (We don't just hatch for ourselves, but provide birds for other local shoots too.) So, we catch up hens and cocks - the mums and dads - and keep them in laying pens for the next four months, in order to collect their eggs.

So how does one catch the hens and cocks? Build a pheasant catcher, of course -

Or in our case, many pheasant catchers. The process is simple: wherever pheasants are feeding out of a bin (like the blue one in the above picture), build a square around it out of four panels, and cover the square with a net. Each panel should have four or so pop holes like this one -

It's just a cone made out of chicken wire, with the wide end on the outside, funnelling pheasants into the catcher. The narrow end is inside, which confuses the pheasants. They can't figure out how to go out the way they came in. And they want to come in because that's where their feed bin is.

We empty the catchers at dawn and dusk, to keep the birds safe from foxes that could break into it. The catchers aren't a fortress; in fact, we make constant running repairs with anything to hand - zip ties, baling twine, hog rings - just to keep escape holes plugged.

That would make even a hardcore bodger cringe. (Eh. I've seen worse, and it won the Turner Prize*)

Anyhoo, the caught birds are put into crates -

Then released into large pens on our laying fields, 60 hens and 8 cocks to a pen -

I know, the laying pens look as shoddy as the catchers, but they're reinforced and ringed by electric fencing, to dissuade predators from digging under or climbing in. There's a low-tech drinker system (gravity-fed, made from a recycled tank and PVC pipes), and feed bins are filled manually, by humping bags of wheat and layers pellet in over your shoulder. Recycled tin A-frames give the hens somewhere to lay away from prying eyes, and a 'time out' area if they're getting too much male attention.

We've filled 21 pens already.

Other catching up - Mike is back home from the hospital now. His operations went very well, and he only stayed in for 5 days to recuperate. He's going to take a break from any more reconstructive surgeries for now and just focus on physiotherapy, which to him means working 7 days a week, and ignoring the pain. (I shout "Arbeit macht frei" at him when he leaves for work in the morning, but he dismisses my sarcasm.)

After 9 years with Mike, Underkeeper Pete has also moved on, to become Keeper Pete and head of his own shoot in Devon. We miss him already, and wish him the best. So, welcome Underkeeper Ian, who has just finished his final year at gamekeeping college. Of course, gamekeeper's wife Jen, is still here. I have to help with the catching up, after all.

*Actually, I'm a big fan of modern art and try to visit the Tate at least once a year.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The White Pheasant

Every year we notice at least one pure white pheasant living wild. This year it survived the entire shoot season, only to die from natural causes during our recent bout of cold weather. We found it stone dead in a hedge, no marks or injuries on it. Pip is "helping" me inspect the carcase:

CSI: Labrador

Every year we hatch a small percentage of white pheasants and very dark pheasants. The white is a form of albinism. The birds don't necessarily have red eyes; it depends on the genetic origin of the albinism . Unfortunately, the mutation seems to decrease its life expectancy. The dark pheasants' plumage is caused by melanism.

White animals are still seen as an anomaly. On an estate like this one with a healthy population of Fallow deer, we are often stopped and told by someone that he or she has see "The White Deer". White fallow are surprisingly common. It's a coat colour and not a form of albinism. I have seen 5 or so white animals in a single herd of wild Fallow, but I never have the heart to tell the visitor that his sighting was anything less than amazing. Or that we prefer not to shoot the white deer because we use those to help us spot the herds of darker fallow that blend better with their woodland surroundings.

Tuesday, 7 February 2012


We're having difficulties here at M&T - primarily technical. Our one computer died last week and it's being repaired, but I'm informed it will be another two weeks at least. I've popped into our local library to let you all know we'll be incommunicado for a short bit. And to say Mike's in for another operation tomorrow and will be recouperating in Wales for a week, while I hold down the fort here. I'll let you know how we all get on as soon as I can.