Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Quiet Time

In spite of the squally winter storms and frozen water pipes, this is a keeper's (and wife's) favourite time of year. Shoot season is over, but we haven't started catching up our laying hens yet. We have fewer responsibilities than any other time of the year, so it's our annual two week holiday. Work resumes on 14th February with our traditional Valentine's evening spent eating takeout while making wire tunnels for the pheasant catching pens.

The end of the season comes with its own ritual and tasks. I wash the dog coats and leashes, and drop off our tweeds to the Margaret at the feed store. She does a weekly run to the dry cleaners for those of us living out of town. It's so convenient and I can pick up sheep nuts and pig oil at the same time. Margaret used to keep the Queen's goat when he wasn't on duty, and still cares for a menagerie of rescued horses and donkeys. We have a quick chat, comparing notes on our animals and sharing treatment advice. Along with my tweeds, I drop off a few pheasant carcases as Margaret likes to feed a buzzard and a red kite that live in the area.

All the working dogs get an end-of-season refurbishment: bathed, nails clipped, wormed and flea-treated and a health check. At the moment we have one case of ear mites, one ear infection, one case of conjunctivitis, another of dandruff, two overweight dogs, and two underweight ones. And poor Dakota had a mild stroke a few days ago. She's recovered with no lasting effects. My morning routine now includes ear drops, eye drops, wipes, and stuffing pills into reluctant dogs, all before coffee.

The dogs go back to school now. I took Tinker and Molly to the dog trainer yesterday. Tinker did a few days' work at the end of the season. She's been a late bloomer, so we've taken it steady. She excelled at the trainer's yesterday.

On a shoot day, Tinker stands on Spud to get a better look

Molly is at the very beginning of her training, which is all done around her food: whistle to come in, whistle to sit, wait, command to eat. That, plus a couple of retrieves a day, is all she'll do for the next eight weeks. The rest of her time is spent playing or sleeping. The others will accompany me on walks in the Welsh hills.

Pip and Molly has devised a Stacking System for making best use of the couch

It's a pleasure to see all the birds that deftly avoided the guns now strutting about the estate. The cock pheasants are fighting and preening. The ducks are starting to pair up. We still keep the feeders full with wheat and maize to see them through the winter. Pigeons will start coming in to feed on farmers' crops and we'll try and put some of those pests in the freezer.

The boys are tackling our fox population, and I will make time to bag a couple of deer. This estate produces woodland products so deer are a nuisance. Deer and hare also attract poachers. Mike caught a poacher's dog but not the owners. He brought it home and put it in our kennels where it howled a protest all night long. He hoped the owners would claim it but they didn't so he handed it over to the police. Deer prices have doubled and there is a lot of rural poverty, so poaching is rife.

The hunt also came though this week. Kitty wasn't fit enough for a day's hunting, so we went on foot and waved off the field (ie the people on horseback).

Also Kitty, who lives out, is not quite as smartly turned out as the other horses -

Tomorrow's job is to gather up the pregnant ewes and give them their annual vaccine and a dose of wormer, and trim any overgrown feet. I want them ready and comfortable for motherhood. The farrier will drop in to do Kitty's feet at the same time. There's also wood to be split and stacked. We were so preoccupied with shooting that we let the heating oil run out, so we only have the wood stove and a little space heater, and no hot water until Monday.

Yup, this is our quiet time.