Saturday, 20 May 2017

Fire - It's a Handy Servant but a Fearful Master

When I met Mike, I was working as the head gardener on Parnham House estate in Dorset. Sadly, the house suffered a devastating fire last month. You can read all the details here:

I don't normally write about places or families I work for in any detail. Discretion and respect for others' privacy is important. However, as this story is national news, I'm not sharing anything that isn't public knowledge already.

It's been confirmed that the fire was deliberately started, but it's not yet been proved by whom. Thankfully no one was hurt. The apartment I lived in was attached to the house and completely gutted by fire. I've already experienced enough fire for one lifetime.

They were kind employers and my heart goes out to the family for the huge loss of their home. It's also a terrible loss for architectural and garden history. If there is no home, the gardens will be lost to the encroachment of nature. Formal gardens are time-consuming to maintain and take lots of man (and woman!) power. I dread to think how many hours I spent mowing lawns alone.

I don't think this story is over. I'm hoping for a happy ending.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

From Lambing to Hatching

Spring lambing is over. Ten out of the thirteen ewes put to the ram last November produced 15 healthy lambs -

None of the ewes died, and we achieved a 150% on live birth lambs. I'm calling that a win. Grumpy ewe was the last to lamb, producing her usual giant single ram lamb.

The ewes are recovering and the lambs are growing well -

I used a terminal sire, which means that the lambs are a cross between my Dorsets and a Beltex, a meaty but unattractive Belgian breed of sheep -

Image courtesy Paul Slater Beltex Texel sheep

Not a looker, but check out the muscles!

All the lambs are destined for the meat trade this year. I use a terminal sire in the years that I don't need to breed any pure Dorset replacement ewes. I have last year's lambs - now shearlings - to replace any ewes that are too old or, like the ewe that got mastitis, no longer fit for breeding.

But even some of the pure Dorset shearling ewes will go for meat, either into our freezer or for sale as high quality hoggett to pubs and people who prefer a more flavourful meat. The ewes I select for meat have serious conformation flaws. I'm sending four to Ice Camp that were too small or have "parrot mouths" - basically a sheep overbite. I kept a ewe two years ago with a parrot mouth and she passed this trait onto her offspring. It's not just that it looks bad; it stops the lambs grazing efficiently and results in a slow grower.

The three ewes who didn't lamb this spring have gone back to my Dorset rams, and I hope I'll have a few extra lambs come September. One of the empty ewes is no 42, the one I kept from the 2014/5 season to improve our breeding stock. If she's infertile, it will be a blow. But, such is life and livestock.

The other goat - Nanny Brambles - kidded last week. She snuck her kid out and I didn't find it until morning, tucked up and hungry because it couldn't feed properly. Her mother was so full of milk that the kid couldn't latch on. I immediately fed a very hungry kid some colostrum I milked from Nanny Brambles and from my stash in the freezer. I hope she - yes, it's a she-goat! - got enough in time to give her a good immune system for the future.

Poor Nanny B came down with a uterine infection a few days later. I called the vet out because 1) vets have access to way better drugs than me and 2) a sick goat is no joke. The saying goes that "A sick goat is a dead goat." Sheep will malinger, then get better. Goats get sick and die. Faster than that. They getsickanddie.

We threw everything at her, also know as the "Hail Mary Pass": antibiotics, calcium injections, pain killer, glucose and vitamin drenches. She wouldn't get up or eat for three days. I rolled her, moved her, injected her, and pushed the goat equivalent of Flintstones Vitamins down her throat twice a day. I even drove to the store and bought her tortilla chips -her very favouritest food- and hand fed her.

I was so relieved when she greeted me at the gate of her stable on day four and ate her grain, while baby nibbled mum's ear -

Oh, I had baby de-horned while the vet was visiting, hence the blue dots on her head

Nanny B has developed mastitis and I have to hand strip her sore teat every day and give her shots of pain killer, but it looks like she will survive. And with only one baby to feed, she can manage with one functioning teat. However, the mastitis means it is her last go-round with motherhood. She's given us her relacement, so now she can just live out her life eating the brambles she so loves and that earned her the nickname Nanny Brambles.

Almost to the day that I finished lambing and kidding, the pheasant chicks started hatching. Last Tuesday we hatched 6,400 chicks. Today we hatched another 7,200 chicks. There was a village-wide power cut planned for today, which would have meant our incubators and hatchers would be down for 6 hours, killing the chicks. The Electric Company sent us a huge generator to keep things working while the power was out -

The engineer left in charge of the generator even came in the hatching room and was put to work helping partly hatched chicks out of their shell, and came to the rescue when we ran out of teabags - he had a whole box in his truck! Yes, of course I emailed the company and praised the whole team for their great work.

We're filling pheasant sheds as fast as we can put them up, even though half the hatches have already gone to other shoots. Panels for their outdoor runs get delivered, and I managed to pull the cushy job: unloading them from the truck with the telehandler -

Once again, Thanks to my dad for teaching me to drive all sorts of things when I was a kid!

The guys will assemble them up when they get a few spare hours.

I'm still trapping squirrels and, between mid April and today, I've caught 160 squirrels so far. In one patch of woodland alone! I average about 4 per day and it's not slowing down. The guys are trapping the other side of the estate.

The dogs are back in training, too. This photo of Molly sitting on the kitchen table just about sums up our progress -

She taught herself to jump from the floor straight on to the table. You have to admire her athleticism. In her defense, she does this when she needs a break from Cheyenne, the German Shepherd pup. She's a very patient nanny, but even Molly needs a break sometimes and this is how she tells us.

Gun dogs are too smart and it can be a challenge to out think them. Sometimes prevention is as good as training. They all love retrieving, and shoes are great for retrieving and leaving dispersed around the house or even outdoors. It's tiresome but I don't wish to discourage their enthusiasm. Then Mike came across this old filing cabinet in a skip -

It fits perfectly inside the door, so when I get home I just open a drawer and toss my shoes inside. Boots have to go in the trug next to it but are usually too unwieldy to make good retrieving toys anyway. However, it won't surprise me if Molly and the others figure out how to open the drawers. It won't surprise me one bit. 

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Beavis & Head Butt

The goat boys are very playful and, like all boys, enjoy some rough housing -

I keep them occupied while mom has her breakfast. It's all part of the service.