Monday, 21 November 2016

Angus Arrives

I didn't realise how much time has passed between posts. Autumn is almost over and winter is creeping up behind. We're being battered by storm Angus, which is why I'm in the house on the computer. The rain has stopped play on outdoor work, other than essential chores. The drains are full and there's a bit of flooding, but really it's no more than an inconvenience so I'm not going to complain. And I have an excuse to sit by the fire and finish knitting this winter's cardigan! I've only completed the back, and half of two sleeves so far.

The leaves are still beautiful, bright yellow and russet red. Mostly on the ground now instead of the trees. I found a chestnut tree with huge nuts and spent an afternoon toasting and storing a couple of pounds of chestnut meat for use through the winter. I also made marrons glac├ęs, then ate far too many by myself.

Huge nuts!

The pantry is re-stocked with chutney and jams too, and half a freezer is full of the best summer goat's milk.

The goats are still giving milk now, and resist all my efforts to dry them back. I'm getting pretty good at making goat's milk mozzarella and ricotta cheeses. Mike had a goat milking stand made for my birthday and the goats were quick to learn how to use it -

One goat has already been to the buck to be served (that's fancy talk for impregnated). I swapped ram services (our Dorset ram) for goat services with a local farmer. I left my doe with his two Sanaan bucks for 24 hours.

When I picked her up the next morning, she had been thoroughly covered in buck scent. Not only is the smell eye-watering, but it's made up of urine and sticky gland secretions. It clings to everything, including the goat handler. I had to work at the pub only a few hours later and figured a shower and some perfume would be enough. My perfume? Yeah, it's called Chanel no. Nope I Still Smell like Goat.

My own ewes are in with a ram now.  I'm a little late this year; the ewes took longer than usual to bounce back from lambing. Other farmers suffered the same problem, but I've pinpointed mine to lack of good grazing. All flesh is grass and my overused grazing cost me flesh - £15 of it per lamb at market. As soon as the rain stops, I have autumn fertiliser to spread on all the fields, which will boost the root system. Feed the soil, feed the grass, feed the sheep.

Alongside the regular pre-tupping routine (worming, clipping the wool around the tail, trimming feet) every sheep got a long-acting vitamin bolus about the size of a shotgun cartridge plunged down its throat.

Yeah. That was as much fun to administer as it sounds.

Still, the ewes and ewe lambs look lots better already. Necessary, but it was another £140 spent in supplements because of poor grazing.

My trimming skills never improve, but the job always gets done.

I'll skip posting the sheep shaving photos (you've seen it all before). Instead, here's one of Podge who came along for the ewe-prepping party. She isn't bothered with sheep but she found my electric shears case and its foam packing made an excellent place to nap -

An experienced working dog knows to conserve energy.

 Plus, Podge thinks sheep are boring.

I borrowed a Beltex ram to service my ewes this time. We have enough Dorset ewe lambs to replace old ewes so this season I'll be breeding meat lambs for market. The Beltex ram will produce the kind of carcase buyers request (we get a newsletter every sale outlining what buyers are looking for) and Dorset mothers will provide plenty of milk and good mothering to help them grow. If I can provide improved grazing, we should do better this year.

Seven ewes were officially retired from lambing, too old and thin to withstand any more baby-making nonsense.
Officially out to pasture

They would make good money at market but Kitty likes their company, so she now shares her shelter and her hay rations with these old ladies. Unfortunately one of the old ewes had teeth too worn down and she couldn't eat enough to survive. I shot her rather than see her suffer, and butchered her up for the dogs, who ate well for days.

This year's meagre lamb profits did contribute to purchasing some new farm machinery -

Chickens sold separately

It's old but reliable, and cheap to fix. A definite upgrade from the quad bike. Now I can mow my own fields, spread fertiliser, and split lots of wood. I can if the weather gets better, that is.

We did have some late babies: in mid-September, I hatched a small number of turkey chicks in an incubator, then managed to convince a broody chicken to do the hard work of raising them for me -

Of course, the Turkchicken family lives in a dog kennel.

The hen started with seven chicks. Two took a nap face down in their water drinker at a day old.

Then there were five.

The first time I let them free range in their mother hen's care, one ran straight into a dog kennel (with dogs in it) and got eaten.

Now there are four, but they have managed to outlive their siblings by at least two months. I could use another hen turkey or two in our flock. Boys get a trip to ice camp, but not this Thanksgiving. They're still only nugget-sized

It's also shooting season. We've shot seven days so far and it's going well. A dash of cold weather has kept the pheasants at home where we can find them on shoot days. We're shooting tomorrow and I'm in the middle of cooking beef stew for 30 people, butternut squash soup and sausage rolls for Elevenses. I'm alternating writing and stirring, writing and straining, writing and chopping. Running up and down stairs is keeping me warm though.

Quincy and Spud are thrilled to be back to work retrieving pheasants.

Found it!

Molly joined them for her first day last week, She's a sensitive dog and bit shy of the gun noise, but the excitement of finding birds to retrieve takes her mind off it. Her leg is healed but she still carries it some, maybe out of habit.

Pip, a usually well mannered and laid back dog, pushed past me one shoot morning and made a bee-line for the Land Rover, hopping about and begging to come to work picking up with the team. She let me know she wasn't ready for the scrap heap, even if said scrap heap was on the sofa in front of a warm wood stove. I let her do half a day once a week, if the weather is not too harsh.

Gertie and Hadley are wonderful - happy, attentive, full of fun. Mike has given Hadley a nickname: Bubbles. I really hope it doesn't stick. I can't face the thought of shouting "Spud!" and "Bubbles!" in front of a team of straight-laced shooting gentlemen.

Pip & "Bubbles" - Is it tea time yet??

Again, my apologies for the long break between posts. I lost track of time. Although I can't promise poetry or epic tales of adventure three times a week like clockwork, I can at least put up a few thoughts and photos more regularly. Actually, if it keeps raining like it is, I may have time to write an entire book.