Thursday, 22 October 2015

First Day

Well, sort of first day. Our shoot season officially starts on Saturday, but we always have a stir-up day, a sort of full dress rehearsal, a few days before the first proper shoot day (i.e. day that clients have paid for). Today is the day, and it's not going exactly as planned for me.

I had a 12 hour shift at the pub yesterday. It is really difficult to find an extra 35 hours in a week, but the regular pay check has been a great incentive. As I wasn't home until midnight, Mike and underkeeper Ian kindly made the venison stew for the stir-up day staff. The recipe is in my head, so the boys had to improvise. They used a proprietary gravy powder - apparently a good couple kilos of the stuff - and covered the meat and baked it in the oven. When it cooled they were amazed to find that they could turn the 8 litre pots upside down and the hardened sludge wouldn't fall out.

It will be slices of stew for lunch then.

I woke up as early as possible. Did I mention I have a cold? Well, as our family saying goes, it's a long way from my heart so I'll probably live, though it made 12 hours of waitressing rather tedious. (And, who doesn't prefer a waitress with a racking cough and runny nose touching their food?) By this morning my eyes were stuck shut, and I felt like warmed death, but I didn't want to miss a shoot day, even a stir-up one.

I found time to lay out all the dog necessities last week, but never got around to sorting my own shoot day stuff. I prised my eyes open and scrounged for a pair of breeks that would fit. See, I have fat breeks for the start of the season, and thin breeks for the end of the season when all the walking and staying warm in the cold drizzle has helped me lose a few pounds. Fat breeks on: check.

I found some long shooting socks in Mike's closet, a bit big for my feet so the toes will bunch up in the front of my boots, but I can live with that. I had to root around the junk drawer to find my elastic sock holder-upper things, which I dumped in there at the end of last season. My eyes were sticking together again and I still needed to find a warm sweater.

I grabbed a comfortable old orange rollneck, suitably autumn-coloured. Maybe less suitably I have darned moth holes in it, and the sleeves edges were raggedy. I picked off the few dead wool moths still attached and put it on and looked in the mirror.


With my runny eyes, unbrushed hair, baggy breeks and darned sweater I looked awful. For our clients it is acceptable, even desirable, to wear breeks and wool shooting coats handed down from fathers, and lovingly darned by laundry staff in the big house. Hell, even Prince Charles sports an old Barbour jacket that's more mend than Barbour.

From the Daily Telegraph newspaper

When I do it, I look equal parts homeless and contagious.

I pulled on my wellie boots, which I had accidentally left outside in the rain and were still damp inside. Never mind, I thought, my balled sock toes will absorb the excess moisture.  I started my morning round of chores: milk the goats, check on Kitty, feed the dogs. I downed a big spoonful of the only cold medicine in the cupboard -Nyquil that is four years out of date - while the dogs ate their kibble, then took them for a quick walk.

I came in and laid down on the sofa, boots and all, where I still am now.

I'm not going shooting.

The dogs are disappointed that they have to wait two more days to get back to work, except for Pip. Today is her first official day of retirement -

I think she's OK with it.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Autumn Harvests, Goat Magic, and Miss Socks

It's autumn in the Welsh Marches. Our fruit trees are groaning under the weight of apples and pears -

var. "Cissy" - I used a local Pomona to identify some of the apples in our orchard

There are light frosts in the morning. The Mandarin ducks have returned to overwinter in the pond, and Kitty is growing her thick coat. All the poultry have finished their moult. The soil is warm so I'm still mowing grass, but the mower also picks up all the turkey and chicken feathers, and slices the windfall apples at the same time creating an edible feast for the poultry and wild birds.

It's cold enough that I put hand warmers on the seat of the Land Rover now, to prevent CBS (cold butt syndrome). I can use the "Landy" to do all my errands in autumn because I can leave Dakota the German Shepherd in the car while I'm in the shops or in town. The Landy doesn't lock and it's very steal-able, but Dakota is an excellent deterrent. It's too hot even in our British summer to expect her to sit in there.

Our first shoot day is two weeks away and, as is every year, I'm completely unprepared. No, really. The dogs aren't fit yet as my pub job means I'm not home to chase birds back with the dogs - my normal "get fit" routine. I'm still sorting through farm chores that need to be done before shooting, and before the first bout of winter weather hits us. These are the farm chores I've ticked off the To Do list:

1) Stock up on animal feed -

A friend of mine works in a feed store, and he saves me all the broken bags and nearly expired animal food, which I buy at a hugely discounted price. I fill the truck once a month for £75, instead of over £200, It's reassuring to have extra stores in place, too.

2) Harvest the bulk of this year's spring lambs -

Fourteen lambs went to market on Monday. Even though the price of lamb is down, my lambs were good and held their own in the sales ring. These are "fat" lambs, or finished lambs, ready for the UK market. They had gone a bit thin, hence didn't go to market last trip. It wasn't for lack of feeding; they simply needed a dose of worm medicine to enable their systems to use the extra feed I was giving them. Another lesson learned. 

I have three smaller lambs that I've held back to finish. One will go in our freezer, one to our underkeeper as payment for his shepherding help, and one for sale to two customers who like my lamb. There's also Di the goatling to put in the freezer soon. I think I've sold half of that to the local gastropub. We're already supplying them with oven-ready partridge - raised by us but shot on another estate.

3) Goats & goatlings -

I've sold the doe goatling to a friend's daughter. She collected her yesterday, and re-christened her Agnes. Agnes will live with their sheep and pigs in a small orchard. The daughter rushed home from school today to start teaching her new goatling to walk on a lead. I expect I will see Agnes at a local show, being led by a beaming new owner.

Since the goatling went, I've gained an extra litre of milk from her mother Blodwyn at each milking. This morning Blodwyn put her foot in the milk again. No worries - I simply save "foot milk" as lamb replacement milk, instead of milk for human consumption. I traded an ex-goat keeper some of my home-made chutney stash for her leftover milking pail with filter, and sealable bags -

These bags are great, and I can seal them with my vac-packing machine. That way I can freeze a supply now for any bottle-fed lambs next spring. 

I used some of yesterday's fresh milk to make Leche Quemada - Mexican goat's milk fudge-

The pears need to soften; the fudge needs to harden

When life gives you goat's milk, make goat's milk fudge. That's a saying, right? Mike asked if I could teach the nanny goats to use the trampoline so he could have milkshakes.


I have moved on from buying trampolines to buying goat amulets. When I visited Turkey, I saw many herds of goats, and some of the goats were wearing a blue "eye" symbol. I saw a goat bell with the eye in a local market and was told that it is a nazar and protected the livestock from evil and sickness. Well, who am I to argue with centuries of Turkish goatherders? I purchased that nazar in the market and it hangs in my office. I purchased two new ones for the nanny goats from the sacred internets -

This is Blodwyn modelling hers. I think she feels empowered..

4) Find a home for Miss Socks

We also have a new, though temporary, addition to the farm -

Mike calls her Miss Socks, as she has whites toes on all four legs and looks like she's wearing ankle socks. She's probably collie x lurcher, under a year old. She was seen running loose on the estate for a few days before maintenance staff coaxed her into their van. They brought her to us as we already have eight dogs, I guess they figured what's one more. They're right, of course. We checked with local vets for missing dogs (none), and this morning I took her into the vets to check for a microchip (none), and get her health-checked. She's timid, but healthy. A poacher probably dumped her or abandoned her instead of getting caught by the gamekeeper.

The story has a happy ending. The mother of our young land agent has been looking for just such a dog to adopt. She's coming over tomorrow night to meet Miss Socks ( I hope she's also re-christened by her new owner). Miss Socks is a cuddler and with those eyes, I've no doubt she'll have a new home, her own couch, and plenty of affection. 

5) Flush ewes ready for new ram.

(P)Rick the ram will be put to my ewes a month from today. 

He's maturing into a handsome tup, and he has stopped trying to head-butt me though I never turn my back on him in case he changes his mind.

The ewes need to be fit and a healthy weight to "flush" at least two eggs for fertilising. They are getting a daily feed plus a vitamin and mineral lick. My oldest ewe I left to run with pRick when he arrived, and it looks like she's in lamb. She will be due to lamb as the others are getting pregnant; not ideal but a good test run to see what kind of lambs he throws. And I have replacement milk ready on hand, just in case.