Monday, 24 April 2017

Ahhh Spring!

Since I last posted, spring has come to England. The thorn hedges are covered in white blossom and grass fields are covered in white lambs. I've heard a cuckoo in the copse of trees behind the house, my favourite indicator of spring. There are blackbird fledglings in the garden. Mike and I have been productive too, and here's what happening on the farm-

We are halfway through lambing and kidding -

We have 11 lambs so far. I didn't scan the ewes this year - we lambed so late the scanner man had already left the area when our ewes were far enough along for scanning. So, I'm flying a bit blind this season. Six of the seven ewes that have already lambed had twins. Grumpy hasn't lambed yet; she only ever produces a single. She doesn't like to put herself out too much. However, she's still motivated enough to give me the stinkeye when I check the ewes -

Grumpy's favourite hang out - by the food trough

The dry weather has been ideal for lambing, but it's not been a perfect season. One ewe has mastitis. A few of the girls are suffering with twin lambs disease, which is essentially keitosis brought on by a nutritional imbalance. I keep the newly lambed ewes and babies in the garden, on lush grass and close by so I can watch for signs and treat them immediately. Two lambs have died, but in novel ways: one died as the birth sac didn't break so he never took a breath. A dopey ewe laid on another one and killed it. These are common enough occurrences, just new to my lambing repertoire.

Another not-so-thrilling addition to my repertoire this year: reading glasses. I had to put reading glasses in my lambing kit for the first time! All the instructions on the medicine bottles are so small and my arms are only so long. Getting old is an arse ache.

The smaller doe goat kidded on Friday night -

Both kids are bucks, so don't get too attached.

Kidding is much less fraught than lambing. Goats don't suffer with anything like the same problems at birthing as sheep do. And goats eat up the brambles as fast as they can grow. They are clearing the paddock of weeds and allowing the grass to recover, benefiting the sheep and saving me the hassle of mulching or spraying. Golds stars for the goats!

On the poultry front, the three turkey hens are laying now. Last year's stag turkeys have gone in the freezer. Enrique sadly came to the end of his breeding life. He was too old to eat or keep, so he had a respectful burial. He has been superseded by Enrique Jr.

Day old partridge chicks arrive next week. Mike's first hatch of pheasant eggs - 10,000 of them! - is due to hatch two weeks from tomorrow. We had so many trays of eggs prepared that we ran out of room to store them before they went into the incubators -

Out of desperation, some trays were stored under the tables. At dog feeding height. One morning the door to the hatching room was left open and the pack ate about 100 eggs between them before we stopped their raiding party. (The kennels took some cleaning that evening!)

Bird flu is still a concern, but no new cases have been reported in some time. Vets tell us that the warmer weather kills off the virus responsible, but we remain vigilant. We've curtailed the free-ranging poultry in our garden. The turkeys are allowed to range free during the day, but Mike built me a large chicken pen to contain the chickens' wanderings and to protect this year's vegetable patch -

We reused the gate from our old lockup tool cage. Mike built the pen over a derelict area in the garden, full of nettles and once used as a refuse pile. The chickens' activity is disturbing the roots of the weeds so they can't grow; their scratching is dislodging bits of rubbish which we can pick up and dispose of. (They even uncovered an old half pint milk jug, which makes a great little flower vase.) The pen can be taken down and moved later, when the chickens have cleared the area and deposited their special fertiliser, and used to grow vegetables in the future.

Gold stars for the useful chickens too, then!

I managed to find a second hand greenhouse last year, so now I can finally grow my own tomatoes and peppers. I dismantled it over winter, removing the glass but leaving the metal frame intact, which I moved whole -

I guess I must have dismantled it on laundry day, as I seem to be wearing a dress with riding trousers.

I've rebuilt greenhouses before, and learned some hard lessons. So, here are my top greenhouse tips for you: Use a Sharpie marker to label the glass before you remove it. It makes reassembly so much easier. I numbered the side panes and lettered the roof panes (A-Z), left to right and top to bottom.

Pick a system that works for you. Include the broken or missing panes in your numbering system so you can organise replacements before you rebuild your greenhouse. Write these things down, (though maybe use a more sophisticated method than I did -)

Well, I already had the Sharpie marker to hand...

Once all the parts were in my garden, I built some footings for the greenhouse. It's aluminium and light, so compacted soil and recycled railroad sleepers are enough to support it -

Once the base was level all ways, I trimmed the ends to fit with my chainsaw. Then, I popped the glass back in and gave it a clean -

Ready to grow tomatoes!

I also borrowed a mini-digger from the builders working on the estate. I don't have a trailer big enough to tow it, so had to drive the digger 2 miles back to the house. At the digger's top speed of two miles an hour, of course.

But, with a digger, I managed to remove old stumps, turn the compost, level a new area of vegetable patch, and fill a trailer with the goat muck heap and spread it on a field to be ploughed in as a soil enhancement. In one afternoon!

I saved my back and a couple days' work, and all it cost was a paltry sum, a couple dozen eggs, and two hours' of my time on a scenic digger ride via the estate logging tracks.

My off-farm work has changed a bit. I've taken on a job for the forestry department, running a trap line to control the grey squirrels on the estate.

One of my traps, with occupant

It takes a couple hours a day to check all the traps, but pays a lot better than pub work, and I can take a dog with me for a bit of training at the same time. This estate produces wood for commercial sale and squirrels affect replanting. The government pays the estate to control the grey squirrels.

I still do one shift at the pub on a Sunday, because my co workers are lovely and I need to retain some social skills. Plus, the kitchen lets me take home all the leftover meat and potatoes on Sunday, which feeds all the dogs for at least their next two meals. They sure love roast potatoes!

If it sounds like I'm working hard, let me come clean and say that I took a two week vacation to visit my sister in San Francisco, just before lambing started. She thoroughly spoiled me and we did not a jot of manual labour.

When I returned, my husband had a surprise waiting for me -

Yes, Of course it was a German Shepherd puppy.

I've called her Cheyenne - Chi for short. No, we didn't need another dog and no, she can't replace my old Dakota but she is a lovely girl in her own right. Molly the spaniel is back on nanny duties and all the others are helping with Chi's socialising.

Spring is a time for babies, so what's one more in the grand scheme of things? Those roast potatoes just have to stretch a little farther now. 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

New Post on the Way

Sorry, guys. We have had an exceptionally warm, dry spell of spring weather and we're working like the dickens to take advantage of it. So, I haven't been indoors on my computer blogging; I've been outside on a mini-digger, eh..digging. And lambing of course-

We have 7 so far: 6 girls and a boy. There are only 8 more ewes to lamb. And both the goats still to kid.

I promise to put up a longer post, with lots of photos and updates, before the week is out. Thanks for hanging in there with me!