Sunday, 30 March 2014


As a paid up member of the "I've recently moved house" clan, I can say officially that it sucked, and I hope I don't have to do that again soon. We didn't just move house, we moved farm and workplace with us as well. The logistics of moving your livestock to make sure it's in a place where someone can look after it is complicated. Our solution was to leave Mike in Dorset catching pheasants - fifteen hundred pheasants! - and send underkeeper Ian and me to Hereford to keeper them as they got delivered. In the interim, I had to move one horse, 43 sheep, 16 chickens, 2 turkeys, and 7 dogs, and 24 years' worth of Mike's accumulated possessions, two and a half hour's drive up the road.

Did I mention that the Land Rover, our towing vehicle, broke? It's still in Dorset now waiting for a new engine. The truck decided to follow suit when I was halfway to Hereford, loaded with all the dogs and guns. I managed to limp it here at exactly 56 miles per hour, fearing the alternative: convincing a tow truck driver to let me decant a pack of excited dogs, 60 lbs of dog food, and a small armoury of weapons into his cab.

I got a moving company to drive the contents of our house to Hereford. The stuff in the house was the least of my concerns. The movers get our stuff to this end, dump the boxes and run, but there's nothing to feed or water - unless you count the houseplants. While they loaded their vans, I organised a bank loan and bought a new truck. I drove to our new cottage and found it filled with boxes that, in hindsight, I should have labelled more clearly. Along with boxes, I found a visiting relative who dropped in for a week's stay on his way back from Germany. While I wrestled with the contents of the boxes, he made shims for all our furniture, as the floors of the new cottage are less than level -

Our Tim Burton-esque architecture - top of the stairs

Hell, I'd sag and sway too if I were a couple hundred years old.

At the same time, our house was full of workmen trying to rewire the incubator shed via the house. The electrics needed upgrading to run the six incubator and hatcher machines we'd brought from Dorset - well, the machines that a pair of specialist incubator service guys had dismantled, driven up, and reassembled in the shed.

The incubator room, pre-tidying! The hatching room is to the left.

My technical knowhow ran to brewing coffee and tea for the workmen, and cooking dinner for my visitor.

I also wished that I hadn't given up drinking for Lent.

As everyone worked furiously to get the electrics and machines working, the pheasant hens started to lay eggs. The first batches were too early, so I fed them to the dogs in a ginormous omelette mixed with out-of-date foods I found while unpacking. So, dogs' dinner was pheasants eggs with soba noodles one night, and cooked barley the next.

As of last night, we have two incubators up and running - enough to get the earliest eggs in and get the dogs back on dry food.

With our trucks out of commission, farmer friends stepped in with their trucks and trailers. Mike H towed Kitty in my horsebox, and Dominic and Bridget from Simply Dorset took time off during lambing to drive my flock up to Hereford. They now have our mobile high seat, a spare shed, and our unending gratitude, none of which is recompense enough for their help.

Unloading the top level of the trailer onto the new field

Towing a trailer full of livestock turns a 2+hour drive into 4 hours. One way. The sheep had a long ride in the trailer, carefully driven for their comfort by Dominic. They had been under Mike's haphazard shepherding care the week I was moving house, and he'd let poor Pumpkin go backwards. We almost lost Pumpkin from the stress of the move, but he toughed it out (after a dose of wormer and some TLC from me) and he's pulled though yet again. Man, I wish all my flock were as hardy as that ugly, runty Pumpkin.

They've hammered the paddock of fresh grass I rented, so I have to supplement with forage and ewe nuts until I can fence off our small orchard as a temporary stop gap. Bill the retired shepherd on the estate says when you start putting your hands in a bag to feed your sheep, you start putting your hand in your pocket too. I'm so glad that there's an experienced shepherd on our new doorstep.

The dogs settled quickly, and we're starting to explore the estate on daily walks. My little yellow hedonist has already claimed her new spot in the sun porch -

On reflection, the move could have been worse. Things can always be worse. Yes, we're all tired before we even start our busy time of year, my tendonitis is so bad at the moment that I can't even lift a tea kettle to pour water, and I'm fretting about how to pay for the new truck.

But, people and animals are all safe and housed, our sticky livestock problems were made un-sticky by great friends, and Mike has finally moved up for good this week. He seems OK about leaving his home and beloved pheasant ground of the last 24 years. Well, he's getting there anyway. There's no time to look back when the ground in front is covered in this year's pheasant eggs. The eggs are the potential, and the new start. We're moved in and moving on.

The start of this year's crop!

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Almost moved

I'm still here in Dorset, but Hereford bound this week. Our move was delayed by a month in total while the previous occupants of the cottage moved out and the estate very kindly refurbished the inside for us. In fact, I only had a full tour of the house for the first time yesterday. It's an old black and white house, the vernacular architecture of the area.

There are exposed wooden lintels holding up doorways, curvy plastered walls inside, and the floors slope in every conceivable direction. Basically your standard oldy-Englishy workman's cottage.

The owners added the sun room at a previous keeper's request. Another huge kindness on their part. Even the kennels are above standard: brick-built but lined inside. And heated.

Mike's incubator barn faces the kennel -

With under keeper and apprentice

It's conveniently right outside the house. Incubators in one room, then hatchers in the next, and the final room is where chicks are boxed and ready for transport, some to pens on this estate but most to other shoots in England. And the laying field is just across the lane -

The sheep will graze down the laying field when they arrive at the end of the week. We took Kitty up yesterday, a 3 hour ride in a horse trailer for her, but she's settling in fine.

The new place seems even more rural than our old place. A man in a horse and cart was the only vehicle that came down that lane all afternoon. The local shop sells milk, horse feed, and ammunition. And there's a working outhouse in the garden. That bit is quaint. The downside is our broadband speeds average 3 mb/s. The guy in the horse and cart could drive the data to my house faster than that. No fibre optics in Hereford.

The garden is enormous. I'm going to have to trade my push mower for a ride-on. There is a small orchard of perhaps a dozen fruit trees - with a crop of mistletoe in them! - at one end, and a neglected vegetable patch at the other. I won't be able to grow any vegetables this year, but the big house has a walled veg garden complete with gardener. I will offer my weeding services to him in trade for some produce this year. At least I know I won't be short of apples or mistletoe.

The extra month in Dorset was as busy as ever. Unable to move house, a two week visit from my sister turned into an unexpected holiday - if feeding sheep and walking dogs is your idea of a holiday. Lucky, it is for Kerry. 

The weather was all rain and howling winds so when we weren't caring for bedraggled animals, Kerry was beating the pants off of me at Scrabble, sometimes by candlelight when storms knocked out our power. Her reward was wine and puppies.

Something that's never in short supply here.

The weather has turned dry but the work continues: lambs to ice camp, giving the odd hand to friends who are spring lambing, working on my own flock of sheep in preparation for tupping (mating). The Land Rover broke again, the fields are still waterlogged, and the government needed all my forms filed for this year's farm payments. And I've been packing. 

Lord willing and the creek don't rise (anymore than it already is anyway!) I'll be a permanent resident in Hereford from Thursday.