Tuesday, 26 March 2013

We're expecting!

We just returned from the vets who confirmed that Podge the cocker spaniel is expecting. The scan showed five tiny Podgelets, a perfect-sized litter for our little girl.

She's due around the 16th April, so she's on her prenatal care plan now. She only just started filling out a few days ago, so I doubted her pregnancy until the scan confirmed it. I should have know by the expression on her face -

That confused and uncomfortable look can only come from having a bellyful of babies.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Horse care on a shoestring (and duct tape) budget

I'm updating you from inside the bunker, i.e. my living room with the wood stove blazing, in a full set of long johns plus thermal trousers, with a heat pad stuffed down my top. I'm also clutching a cup of hot tea, but that's simply a psychological salve.

The weather is not only bad, it's unrelenting. Day after day of rain, followed by another week of easterly wind that burns exposed fingers and faces. It's cold enough to freeze the pheasants' water system and break the plastic joins, requiring constant repair, but not cold enough to freeze the mud solid. There's no sun to offer any warmth, and every chore feels like an epic quest.

Wet ground has meant wet feet, with all the associated problems for our livestock. A couple of the sheep have footrot, which is responding to treatment. Then Kitty - Mike's horse - pulled up lame on a ride.

I called the vet who diagnosed an abscess in her sole. He says he's seeing a lot of this: the wet ground makes the hoof soft and allows a sharp stone to cut its way in and lodge in the hole. Stand foot with hole in mud for a few days and hey, presto, infection.

As Kitty lives outdoors, keeping her foot clean and dry is one of those "epic quest" chores I mentioned earlier. She needs her foot soaked and poulticed to draw out the infection, then bandaged to keep it clean and dry. This needs to be done daily until the infection is cleared.

Instead of an expensive, proprietary poultice boot, Kitty got the "Backyard Special" boot that all horse owners will be familiar with: a dry poultice, wrapped with clingfilm, covered with Vetrap, and taped over with half a roll of duct tape.

Look at those conditions underfoot, and that's on the hardcore track. 

Did I mention the mud won't freeze?

The duct tape boot wasn't tough enough for ankle-deep mud, so I used an old trick with the inner tube from our ATV and fashioned Kitty a horse-sized wellie boot -

With an average sized horse, the tube just slides over and ties up at the bottom. As Kitty has feet the size of manhole covers, she got the split-front model with baling twine laces. It's working great, and with all that feathering as protection, the twine doesn't rub her skin.

Still, she looks as fed up as the rest of us. I hope she's on the road to a speedy recovery so we can get back out on the trail.

However, I draw the line at fashioning 104 sheep-sized boots.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Windy blues

The weather has been so hostile and uncooperative - days of continuous Arctic winds yet still muddy underfoot - that I give up and go indoors immediately after checking livestock, walking dogs, and breaking open frozen water troughs. Over the past few days, I've managed to knit a pair of summer weight socks as an excuse to stay put in front of the wood stove, while still feigning productivity-

I guess that knitting summer socks means I'm optimistic that we're going to get a summer this year.

For those of you also troubled by bad weather, let me leave you with a few cute puppy photos to cheer you up. Underkeeper Ian has adopted his first working dog. This is Scrumpy -

She's a seven week old Jack Russell terrier, and still small enough to fit inside Dakota's dinner bowl.

She's cute now, but I dread the underkeepers' terrier phases. Or rather, my chickens dread the terrier phase. Each successive terrier has at least one chicken death under its belt...er.. collar. There's a reason we nickname this breed the Jack Russell Terrorist. 

I'm sure Ian will train her well, and she will grow up to be a personable and valuable member of the team. 

Monday, 11 March 2013

Dummies for dummies

This past weekend was the local Gamekeepers' Fair, sort of a trade show with assorted 'keeper necessities all in one place. As a rule, gamekeepers are solitary creatures averse to shopping and to leaving their pheasants alone too long. However, if you sell guns and duck burgers alongside shirts, coats, and shoes, you can lure keepers out of their winter dens, at least for a day.

Mike buys his tattersall shirts for each year's shoot season here. Then last year's best shirts become this year's work shirts - all will have L-shaped barbed wire tears, torn sleeves, half their original buttons, and frayed collar by July. I needed a new bone saw for butchering (its predecessor was weak and succumbed to metal fatigue), and a day away from the estate - I got both. We watched ferreting demonstrations, and the working gun dog parade. I had hoped to replace a couple of dinner plates we broke since last year - of course we get our dishes at the game fair! - but our supplier wasn't there.

This only gives Mike an excuse to continue eating his dinner straight out of the pan it was cooked in.

Mike needed to replace his canvas waistcoat this year. It survived two hard seasons admirably; the zipper was missing teeth, the pockets had no bottoms left, but the canvas was sturdy and hard wearing. I hate throwing anything away so I used the heavy canvas to make a couple of dog training dummies:

Handmade (top) vs store bought (bottom)

I whipped up three dummies - a 2lb, a 1lb, and a puppy dummy - on my sewing machine while I drank my coffee. The heavy dummies are filled with wheat I scooped out of the chicken feeder, and the grey strap was filched from a worn-out horse rug. I used the waistcoat's quilted lining to stuff the puppy dummy, so it's light and has good mouth-feel to encourage retrieving.

Handmade (L) and store bought (R)

The dummies were so simple to make: two seams, a bit of filling, then sew in a strap if you like. I'm not skilled enough to sew dog coats, and rely on my Aunt and my sister for that sort of quality, technical sewing, but it felt good to re-use what I had, instead of simply ditching it. And, the money I saved will pay for us to attend next year's gamekeeper fair. 

I just hope Mike's waterproof overtrousers can last that long.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

All flesh is grass

I'm desperate for spring to hurry up and get here, just so the soil will warm up and the grass will grow. The horses are grazing between the apple trees in a nearby orchard, because their paddock is exhausted-

I let them out late morning, and lure them back home with a bucket of feed in the afternoon, just before going home to make our dinner. I paid a local farmer to roll the paddock. It cost me the same as a fancy bottle of that hair goo that makes my frizz into curls, so I'll do without the goo and wear a hat. Good grass is everything.

My uncle Bernard stopped in this past weekend to visit, on his way to Germany. He brought me this hostess gift: a floating pheasant dummy from the Las Vegas SHOT show, modelled here by Quincy-

My family are great gift givers.

I returned the kindness by making him re-roof the horse shelter with me. If he'd stayed one more day, he would have been milking sheep, because I made a blunder: I weaned the lambs, but moved their mothers to rich grass instead of the lambs.

I knew it was wrong after I'd done it, and called my friends to double-check. Now I had ewes on good grass with no lambs to suckle the bounty of milk I'd just created. And, without the milk and only tired ley to feed them, the lambs would go backwards.

Stupid, stupid, stupid...

After berating myself for a bit, I chalked it up to inexperience and set about swapping mothers and babies. First I had to find the flock in this fog -

Then catch the flock, pen them and separate out the lambs. Again. -

I trailered the lambs to their new field on the estate. They are grazing a small enclosure in preparation for Mike's new rearing sheds to go up, so the lambs are fattening and earning their keep as picturesque lawnmowers. I sent L815 and Grumpy ewe along with the lambs as chaperones. Both - if pregnant - are due to give birth late April / early May, so need some good forage.

I had penned and trailered the lambs' mothers back to Milkweed the night before, and left them in the sheds. I milked the ewes before letting them out to prevent mastitis, and even saved the milk to make a cheese culture. It was a small recompense for my mistake.

C'mon Spring!