Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Hard Decisions

I know I often say "Where's there's livestock there's dead stock", and that's true. What I forget to mention is overstock. There are always inherent limits on the amount of livestock one can keep. Sometimes you have a good year and produce enough females to replenish your breeding stock, and have extras to sell. Sometimes you suffer a bad year and the weather means you lose your entire hay crop, and you can't manage to feed surplus stock through the winter. Gaining or losing grazing affects stocking rates. The price of a finished lamb will push profits up or down, and influence your decision to breed more or less for next year.

You get the picture.

This year's hay crop on the ground, with days of sunshine forecast to dry it out before baling!

The horses, Kitty and Alan, count as livestock, but they don't have any earning potential. Both are purely a luxury item we have in place of big vacations. Mike and I used to get more time to ride together, but his workload has become crushing. He has exactly zero days off a week. After losing our hay crop last year, we are in arrears - at least in the fodder and bedding departments. This year's hay crop has just been cut and looks to be a safe bet "in the barn", but the possibility of another hard winter combined with an expanding sheep flock, and Mike's time constraints, led me to make a difficult decision.

I have sold Alan.

The first person to see him bought him, and it softened the blow that his new owner is a local lady. Alan's only down the road at a neighbouring (very fancy!) yard. I tacked him up for the last time on Sunday for his new owner, who hacked him straight out of the yard and 5 miles home. That traitorous lout never even looked back! As soon as the happy couple were out of sight, I sat down in the field and cried my heart out. It felt like breaking up with my first boyfriend. Worse than that.

My tears have finally dried, and with a few days' perspective I know it was the right choice. Alan clicked with his new owner immediately, and she's planning on taking him to shows and competing him. Alan is a do-er, and a social butterfly. He will enjoy a more active life.

Kitty is still here, and always will be. She's stoic about Alan's absence and, once the hay is baled, she can visit her horse friends in the neighbouring field so she won't be lonely. With only one horse to ride, I'm already getting out more. I've ridden more this week than I have the whole of the past month. Kitty and I will both benefit from the increased exercise. My bank balance will benefit from halving our horse stock.

Kitty eats her evening meal in peace now

Still, I miss my big, fat Alan - even if he doesn't miss me.

We finished hatching chicks last Tuesday, for the first batch of poults (half-grown birds) to be delivered on the Thursday. Initially the poults are placed in protective pens while they learn to where to roost and to feed, and how to avoid being fodder for hungry predators. The night before delivery, our dogs work through the pens and make sure there are no unwanted guests in the pen; particularly deer, which get trapped and then beat their way out. This is the start of our dogs' fitness programme. Shooting season is only a few months away.

This is also the time to assess the dogs for next season: how did they do in the field last year, what training problems are they having, any health problems, that sort of thing. Most working dogs love their jobs, and will work in spite of pain or an injury. It's up to us to protect these dogs from themselves with rest or medication, and monitor any changes in behaviour that can indicate improvement or deterioration.

Some dogs lose the will or ability to work. Often it's age related. Last year, Jazz our 8 year old black and white springer, started to show signs of confusion: losing her way even over ground she knows well, preferring to stay with me instead of working away to find lost birds. Her heart wasn't in the hunt. I had her checked over by the vets, and there is no obvious health issue.

We have made another hard decision: to retire Jazz, sooner than expected.

I'm happy for Jazz to live indoors as a pet with us, but we have friends who would like another retired spaniel to love. Do you remember Hazel? The family who adopted her love her so much that they've asked if they can have Jazz too. Mike's agreed. So, yet more tears from me.

Never mind forage, I'm going to be spending all my money on boxes of tissues.

Jazz is affectionate and personable, so I know she'll benefit from living as a pet in a spaniel-friendly family. She deserves the best retirement we can provide.

The last 'sold' puppy was taken home yesterday, too. In total, the five puppies went to three gamekeepers, one land agent, and one gardener. With all her litter mates settled in their new homes, Fraggle and I can begin her puppy training programme. We're starting simple: mastering toilet training and the 'sit' command. Fraggle's retrieving instincts are coming to the surface even at this age, and she loves carrying the turkey feathers that she finds in the garden, and - less helpfully - retrieving teabags from the compost pile. And her favourite toy?

A prolapse harness for a ewe.

Well, at least she's easy to entertain.

Fraggle will be living in the house for at least the next six months with Dakota, who's very tolerant of youthful exuberance, and Pip who most definitely is not. Pip will spend the next six months sulking in my bed, looking betrayed and put-upon until the pup gets a little older.

I know there will be more hard decisions to make in the future. Every year brings its own challenges and opportunities. The trick seems to be recognising them. For the moment, the sun has come out, and we are taking advantage of that rare opportunity. I treated the sheep for their assortment of summer pests this afternoon, planted more salad leaves in the garden, and enjoyed long morning walks with the dogs. My first chili peppers are ready to harvest. We have some new buff Orpington chicks running alongside foster mothers in the yard, including two chicks hatched and being mothered in partnership by the blind chicken and turkey hen -

Celebrating the overturning of DOMA through poultry

There's also a delivery of meat chickens on the way, and our ram lambs are ready to go camping.

Red dots - all aboard the bus to Ice Camp!

So, I guess my heart feels empty but my freezer will be full. That's farming for you.


janice bendixen said...

Oh Jenn, I'm so sorry about Alan. But at least you get to visit him, the soulless bastard! Kitty would never be so insensitive. Just love on Fraggle and her kin and your soul will mend. Here's me sending prayers and loving thoughts to fill that big heart of yours.

Pam said...

Ugh...the downside of life on a farm. Reading this, I am just struck by how fortunate you were to be able to send Alan and Jazz on to loving new owners. I would STILL be sitting in the field crying my eyes out, but they have happy lives ahead of them, and that is a huge deal. And Fraggle...hey, never underestimate the value of a prolapse harness. What a love she is-give her a kiss and cuddle for me. Good luck on the hay-making.

Kris said...

Thankfully it looks like your little flock of birds never even knew about DOMA. Yay for them. Although I must admit I've never seen a blind hen with a service turkey before. Sorry for your stock losses but happy they are in fine situations. Chin up, dear.

seafordwoman said...

I do admire you doing the right thing for Alan and Jazz, but symapthize with your tears. I think you walk that delicate balance between practicality and sentiment really well with your animals.
Well done!

Jennifer Montero said...

I stopped at the horse vets yesterday and the secretary is also Alan's new owner's riding instructor. She had nothing but praise for Alan. I still felt like a proud mum. These ladies are so kind to keep me updated. Alan still doesn't miss me on iota. Fraggle is giving me lots of comforting hugs. She's a cuddler.

Jennifer Montero said...

Pam - We're lucky that we could afford NOT to send on Alan and Jazz, that we could afford to keep them financially. As you know from your own experiences with livestock, it's matching them with the most appropriate home, and sadly for me, that's with other people in their cases. We were unbelievably lucky that the right people came calling, and so quickly!

Hay is baled and in the barn! I did a great deal this year and swapped some for straw so my bedding needs at lambing are sorted. Phew.

Jennifer Montero said...

Kris - Writing it all out and reading the comments from you sensible, smart readers is the best catharsis I know. Chin is firmly up. And the blind hen/service turkey is a new one on me too. The chicks are still thriving.

Jennifer Montero said...

Seafordwoman - I'm not usually a big crier, but when it comes to the animals , well, I have a lot of feelings for my livestock even the ones I know end up in the freezer. Thanks for the kind words.

janice bendixen said...

Jenn, your comment about "protecting them from themselves" resonates today. Cherni Girl, Airedale who hates the water, has limped for a month but I'm lacking the financial background to take her to the vet, only to be told to continue what I've been doing (anti-inflamatories, keep her quiet, etc.). But when Daddy starts throwing the ball, the limp disappears somehow! I'm emailing you more Alaska Nature Porn to cheer and entice you.

me said...

You are an excellent animal-mommy; which often means doing what's right for them despite how much it hurts you. Of COURSE Alan misses you but they live in the moment and he's probably too busy working, eating, and being fussed over to wallow in it.

You know what they say, one door closes, another opens...

Jennifer Montero said...

Janice - I know only too well the curse of the disappearing limp. My dogs seem to make a miraculous recovery when I'm about to leave them behind on a walk, or when I drive the five miles to the vets. We must pass through some healing forcefield on the vet trip, and as soon as the vet looks at the dog, there's no sign of a limp and I look like a mental case.

Let me know how Cherni gets on and I will look forward to those Alaska photos

Jennifer Montero said...

Me - I still can't pass the advertisement board in the feed store without looking at the horse ads. But, dreaming about and actually buying another horse are two different things!

I get weekly Alan updates and it was definitely the right decision from his point of view, which is ultimately the point of view that matters most. And Kitty's getting ridden three times a week now, which is much better for us too.