Friday, 26 February 2016

Tomorrow We Hunt

The local hunt - hunting on horseback - comes through the estate. Though hunting foxes is outlawed, it's perfectly OK to let the hounds follow a scent trail laid down by the huntsman. This benefits the riders too, as a purposely-laid trail takes in nice scenery, easy canters, and a series of log jumps. The fox is less interested in providing a nice day's ride for his pursuers.

Tomorrow the hunt is meeting at this estate, and Mike and I have not only been invited by the MFH (Master of Foxhounds) but loaned two fit hunting horses. Mike will be riding Bruce, from the MFH's stables, and I will be riding Dai, a small Welsh Section D. He belongs to Mike's employers. I rode Dai out yesterday as per request of the groom. I think she wanted to assess my riding ability, and I can't blame her. I guess I passed because I'm riding him tomorrow.

Riding isn't the problem; cobbling together a hunting suit was the issue. There are serious dress requirements for a day "in the field" but the very basics are: beige jodhpurs, white collared shirt / tie, and hacking jacket. I have some beige jodpurs, but they are plain. Essentially stretch pants with knee patches. The only white shirt I can find in my cupboard is linen, but it has a collar and with a bit of starch, it should pass. I found my 20 year old showing tie at the bottom of my steamer truck full of tack and horse sundries. It's brown with pictures of jumping horses. It was never in fashion, so it can never go out, right?

The only tweed jacket that's suitable is a hand-me-down from my sister, Ralph Lauren collection circa 1990. The jacket has got tighter with age and my spreading farm muscles. The moths have also taken their cut of the cloth, but I darned the worst holes. It will look fine as long as I'm galloping by anyone looking at it.

My black showing boots have been re-soled so many times that they no longer fit my feet, so I have to wear my brown workaday ones. Mike's only has his wellies, and he had to borrow a riding helmet.

My boots are polished and my clothing laid out. I have made sure that I laid out mismatching underwear because, as everyone knows, you can't go to hospital unless you have clean, matching underwear. Therefore, I cannot get hurt because I cannot go to the hospital. With mismatching underwear..

It makes sense.

No, really.

Monday, 8 February 2016

End of the Shoot Season and New Babies Arrive

Dakota inspects the game cart

Shooting season has ended for another year. We had the Beaters' Days last Saturday and Monday - a chance to say thank you to the staff that work on the shoot. They bring guns, or young dogs in training, or old retired dogs whose minds are willing but can only cope with a slow walk in the woods these days. The quarry is pheasant cocks only, as we will be catching up the hens to lay eggs for next season. Lots of birds came over my head but only three birds fell to my 28 bore. They went in my freezer. After the shooting is over and the dogs are dry and warm in their beds, we ate and drank and cultivated hangovers we could regret the next morning.

In theory, these next two weeks are a rest period, limbo between the end of the shoot season and the start of catching up season when we build pens with one-way tunnels in to catch pheasants for our laying pens. (The caught birds lay eggs for the next 4 months or so, and when we're done collecting and hatching eggs, the parent birds are released back into the woods.) In theory, it's a fortnight holiday for the keeper and his wife.

But not really.

My Christmas presents have lambed. One ewe has produced an enormous ram lamb on Burns' Night -

We call him HEED (which is "Head" in a bad Scottish accent). He's got potential as a future breeding ram on the farm, so only his tail gets ringed. I told him so, I guess that's why he's smiling in the photo.

The other ewe produced two nice polled (hornless) ram lambs-

The storms that hit New England are battering us now, so I made lambing pens in Mike's egg washing shed. It's one of my better makeshift animal houses. At the moment, the flood water is rising and threatens to soak the lambing shed.

If that happens I will transfer the ewes and lambs to the horse trailer for dry safekeeping. I can park that on higher ground.

The scan man came to scan the rest of my flock, due to lamb in April. He tows a trailer kitted out with an untrasound machine. The ewes line up and they're marched through swinging gates. The scan man checks the sheep and counts the number of water bags with his ultrasound, then shouts out "Single!" or "Twin!" above the howling wind and I mark the sheep on their backs - one dot for one, two dots for twins -

Accurate scanning is an art form. My job is neither skilled nor difficult. 

My job just requires warm clothes and a spray can of coloured paint.

And the grand total? 12 twins, 7 singles, and two barreners (no lambs). It's about a 140% return. We are down on last year but no triplets means no lambs to bottle feed. That's one less job come spring.

Speaking of babies, we have added another dog to the pack. Meet Gertie -

She is Molly's niece (Molly's brother is her father). Molly's luxating patella has become progressively worse, so she will have an operation to correct it soon. However, prognosis is unknown. If she can't work, Molly will be Mike's companion and truck dog. She will be trained to walk to heel and sit steady when birds are flying. Right now Molly spends her days in the truck with Mike, and evenings playing with Gertie. She's cool with life. -

It's how I roll...

In case Molly can't work, Gertie will be my next picking up dog, and Dulcie's (now 12 years old) eventual replacement. Gertie is still small enough to ride around in my boiler suit while I do my morning chores to meet the other animals on the farm. -

Tinker did her first season this year, out of necessity rather than readiness. She's not as steady as she needs to be, and working only encourages her over excitement.  She's also not built for the outdoors: she has a thin coat that isn't weatherproof, and she won't put on weight easily. She's so fast, even in the thick brambles, that I had to buy her some dog armour because the thorns were tearing her up -

The pink stuff on the inside of her legs is goat teat cream. If I slather it on thick enough it stops some of the sharp thorns from penetrating her skin, and it's antiseptic for good measure. None of these measures stopped her slicing her toe pad open last week, which put her out of the working line up for the end of the season. If I can't slow her down, she's in danger of really hurting herself. Short of tying an old tire to her, it will just take patience and more training to steady her. 

Our dear friends Fergus and Theresa in Cornwall fell in love with Tinker when they stayed in the summer and want to adopt another spaniel. They have a sprocker called Ruby, which was our present to Fergus for being the best man at our wedding. We may let Tinker live as a pet and do cuddling for a living in Cornwall, instead of hard work.

The winds and rain won't let up, and I have to do my rounds to feed and check that no animals are floating away. There's a home grown chicken in the oven, a loaf of fresh bread cooling on the sideboard, and a batch of goat's cheese in the fridge. After my chores, I think I will put on my slippers and spend the evening knitting in front of the fire  -

With two spaniel pups in the house treating everything as a toy, I can't find a pair of matching slippers. but I have found a right and a left, so that will do.