We had a month-long spell of hot, dry weather – an actual summer! I’m sporting a farmer’s tan, horsefly bites, and I’m itching from the dried grass that finds its way into my bra during haymaking. Thanks to a great deal done with neighbouring farmers, our hay and straw is now stacked in the barn, insurance that our livestock will have food and dry beds even if this winter comes early and stays late. A full barn goes a long way to alleviating my worries. That is, until I turn and look at our completely empty woodshed and coal bunker. We burned just about every stick and nugget to stave off last winter. It will take a lot of (wo)man hours to replenish our fire wood supply, the next job that needs my attention.
Our “people” winter food supply is looking good also-
One freezer is full of lamb, and the rest have been butchered and sold, so even my bank account is more like the hay barn than the woodshed. Fraggle accompanied me on my lamb delivery rounds, harnessed into the front of the Land Rover. She likes riding in the car and visiting new people, but the harness isn't her choice -
It was a kind gift from a client, and comes from a fancy pet store in London. I told Fraggle to enjoy the small luxuries when she can. (To her, a luxury is finding a turkey feather in the garden.)
Thirty day-old meat chickens arrived last week-
I re-jigged the puppy pen and a spare kennel, and wired in a heat lamp to keep them warm until they’re feathered up and ready to venture out onto grass. If we get an Indian summer, these chicks could be in the freezer before shooting season starts, though not before lambing in mid-September.
Last week the sheep scanner man came to Dorset, and the local shepherd let me tag my 14 pregnant ewes onto his flock as part of our hay-making deal. The ram did us proud; we’re expecting 25 lambs! Ewe 5 is empty, Ewes 2 and 7 are having singles, Eudora is my only set of triplets, and everyone else is having twins.
Between now and lambing, I need to move the girls to new pasture and begin their prenatal feeding and vaccination regime. Their current pasture - below the partridge sheds – had good grazing but no shade. When the hot weather came, I raided my bed linens and knocked up a Bedouin-style tent with sheets and hurdles-
OK, more shanty town than sheik, but they all made use of the shade it provided. And I needed some new sheets anyway.
The dogs have had their pre-shoot vet checks. Dulcie came up lame, and we worried she would need her other cruciate ligament repaired, but x-rays showed nothing sinister. What a relief. Dakota is having back spasms, but with anti-inflammatories and a course of acupuncture, her prognosis is good too. On our last visit, the vet gave me an ice cream for the ride home. “I bought them as a treat for the staff. We keep them in the dead freezer. Have one.” I've lived in the country long enough that I found nothing odd about that sentence. Anyway, nothing puts me off free ice cream.
Jazz is now in her new home with Hazel. I still miss her on our morning walks, but she’s a house dog now with teenage boys who adore her, and another spaniel her own age that she lived with for years. It’s a better retirement for her, an opportunity for more companionship, which Jazz thrives on more than retrieving pheasants.
Speaking of opportunities, filming for the Thomas Hardy film starts soon. None of us have caught the acting bug yet, but after receiving a little brown envelope from the BBC for Mike’s day filming, we realised that it’s an opportunity not to be missed. We've offered to be extras in the background scenes where needed. The guys have been told to start growing their hair and beards. The local shepherd’s horned sheep have been contracted, and I'm going to offer Trevor the turkey and his ladies for background shots too. We've had to leave some of the paddocks of grass long, so it can be used in a “cutting hay” scene, and scenery building has started already.
The thing is, it’s not much different than what we would be doing in a normal day anyway. OK, it may be out of season, and I’ll have to wear a smock and bonnet instead of jeans and wellies, but not a lot else will change. I’ll simply get paid twice for the same work, and filmed doing it. I'm already spending the money in my head: replacing the living room curtains that are still stained from the Great Jam-making Incident of ’11, purchasing that longed-for meat grinder, or maybe just a new set of sheets.