Sunday, 22 March 2015

Spring Equinox

Mike and I celebrated the first day of spring by watching the solar eclipse. It was a cloudless morning and the eclipse was perfect viewed through my welding helmet.

Mike has a new Halloween costume

It's still cold but sunny. I can hang the laundry outside to dry. We have a clothesline in the orchard strung between two gnarled old fruit trees. This is the best time of year for outdoor drying: before the bird cherries ripen, the birds eat the cherries, and deposit cherry-infused poops on my laundry.

In the house I celebrated by taking the flannel sheets off my bed, and the insulating plastic from over the old wooden windows and opening them for the first time this year. Now I will be able to hear the morning chorus when the birds start to celebrate, and listen for the sounds of sheep getting ready to give birth. Early last Sunday, I walked my ewes from the paddock they shared with Kitty at the end of the lane, to a new paddock close to the house where I can monitor the flock from any window upstairs. That is when I'm not in the field with them, watching their sides flutter and undulate with almost-born lambs.

The new gates from my garden to the sheep field

The ewes are pregnant but I'm the one nesting. I've been compelled to clean the house, Even the kennels got scrubbed down and de-cobwebbed. And I've been knitting every spare moment of the day. (I have to knit and sew before it goes dark now. My eyes are officially old.) I've checked and re-checked my lambing essentials, and recharged the flashlights and head torches that I will need for those inevitable pre-dawn births.

Big fat ewes!

Ewes with twins and triplets will be penned in the orchard (next to the drying laundry!) after the lambs are born, until the lambs are big enough to be ignored by foxes. There is a fox den in the nearby woods. I know it's still an active threat because Quincy and Spud have retrieved parts of other farmers' lambs on our walks there. While penned, I can feed each ewe a special grain diet, and I can pick the kale crops (used to hide pheasants last season) and feed the ewes. Kale helps to up their milk production.

Big fat ewes sunbathing

Of course, where there's livestock there's dead stock. It was the Christmas Easter turkeys' turn. Better late than never. I sold two breeding pairs, and gave a pair as a tithe to the big house . The rest of the females joined Enrique's flock and the boys went to Ice Camp. As turkeys are too big to run over our plucking machine, they had to be plucked by hand. So it was a trip to Ice Camp via the Plucking Log-

It's a long old job, so what's the point in standing when you can sit and pluck in relative comfort, in beautiful surroundings? We ate the weakling stag turkey the following evening and it was delicious! So delicious that it totally made up for the blisters I got from plucking. I will definitely hatch and raise more for the freezer. I might even cut some cup holders into that log, and invite friends over for a cider and plucking party next time. 

Mike is busy too. Besides being gamekeeper, he is also a water bailiff for the estate's fly fishing lakes. (There are no weird uniform requirements for a water bailiff.) The season opens soon and the fishing club wished to stock the pond with trout. However, carp have been slowly taking over and they both muddy the pond by feeding, and take up space and oxygen in the lake. Last Friday a specialist company came to remove the carp.

The carp is a crop like the pheasants, and the estate was able to sell its surplus carp to a carp fishing club, to restock their lakes. Our lake was drained, and the carp netted and placed in buckets. Mike helped ferry the buckets to a truck with a tank on the back and the fish were checked for condition and counted in. The carp will go into quarantine and be fully health checked before release.

Buckets of Carp

From bucket to tank, ready for transport

Fish are not my department. I only get close enough to take photos and ask questions. The chap in charge showed me some of the carps' tails, which had been bitten off squarely. It means an otter is working the lakes, probably feeding young. Otters bite the tails off of fish in order to disable the fish so their pups can practice hunting and catching fish. I have seen the evidence of adult otter kills on the big lake: a large carp with its scales pulled off and scattered, and only the middle of the fish has been eaten. I hope I get to see the otter one day too.

We have finished gathering the pheasants into laying pens. We will feed and shelter them in these pens for the next couple months in order to collect and hatch their eggs. When we have enough eggs for this year, the laying hens and breeding cocks are released back into the woods. Mike found the first few eggs already and we will start collecting eggs after Easter, and our dinner of Easter turkey. (It's a thing now. Tell you friends.)

Molly the new puppy is doing great. She's smart and energetic, aside from power naps she takes in the truck -

Spring,'s all the same when you're young.


Anonymous said...


Seester said...

Ooh, looking forward to otter pictures!
I hate that you work so much and so hard, but I love how your blog reminds me that we shouldn't take the eating of meat as casually as we do in the States. I've reduced my animal consumption to one meal per day, because I don't "earn" my meat like you do. (And I can get most of my calories from cookies and bagels -- not healthier by any means!) But I feel like it is one thing to let a few lemons go moldy compared to letting a chicken breast go bad and not eating it. I'd be curious to know how much wasted meat there is in the U.S.
I would imagine that if people had to spend as much time and pain to have a turkey dinner as you do, none of it would ever be wasted.

Anonymous said...

I just adore your entries - there is always something new, something old and something funny.


Colette said...

Hello my dear. You sound like you need to take a leaf out of my book and knit by head torch!! Did you get my email? Xx

Nan said...

Yay, you're back. Glad you got to see the eclipse, what a disappointment for the places where clouds covered it up.

Hope that lambing goes smoothly for everyone. Can't wait to see lamb photos.

And that puppy! So sweet. My Goldens are napping by me right now, it's one of their favorite pastimes too. ;-)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful lambs! This past Saturday we took a drive and noticed so many newborns in the fields. It was a lovely sight to see (Kentucky). Enjoy your blog!