Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Our horses, Kitty & Sam

How about an update on the horses? You know Kitty, but you haven't met Sam.

Sam the day I brought him home, hairy and dusty, just off the mountain.

I bought Sam last February. A Welsh Trekking centre closed down and was selling its trail riding horses. Sam is 23 years old, which is pretty senior for a horse, but about the same age as Kitty. He's still fit and sound after his trekking work, but ready for a quieter retirement. I felt Kitty should have a companion and Sam seemed a good choice.

Sam four months later after a little extra TLC

Sam is great under saddle and, being a little shorter than Kitty, it's easier for me to hop on and off on a ride to open gates or move logs blocking a path. I'm also getting a bit senior and my flexibility isn't what it was. He's a hardy native breed - a Fell cross - and his passported name is Black Sam, though the years have turned his face and neck grey. Grey hair is just something else we have in common.

Like all native horses, he can be cheeky. We saddled up for our first ride - Kitty and Mike, Sam and me. I stood on a mounting block and got ready to throw my leg over Sam. He quietly stepped sideways out of reach, looked at me, and just pushed me ever so gently with his nose off the mounting block! All I could do was laugh. It was kind of endearing. The second try I mounted without a problem but I took his comment on board. We had a pleasant walk in the woods suitable for a retiree.

Saddled up for our first ride

As a trekking horse in a commercial situation, Sam had to pull his weight and there wasn't always extra funds for vet visits. He came to me with a bad case of leg mites, and thrush in his hind feet. His teeth are worn where he's had to graze whatever he can find at times. With the vets' and the farrier's help, we are on top of these problems and he's feeling much better. It will take some time to get one of his hind feet back into a proper length and shape, but remedial trimming should have it fixed by summer.

Sam's only issue is that he doesn't like having his feet picked up, which makes it difficult to examine and trim his feet. The vets sedated him in order to carry out a good investigation of his foot.. We now know that Sam needs a lower dose next time

The vets were already visitng to check on Kitty's progress and take another scan of her knee.

Just before Christmas, I went to feed the horses their grain. Kitty was reluctant to move and, when she did, she snorted and bunny-hopped in a panic. Of course this was a Sunday night, in a field with no lights or buildings, and it was getting dark. I called the out-of-hours emergency vet. We needed to get her heart rate down and relieve the pain as a first step.

The emergency vet did as best an assessment as possible under the circumstances. We loaded her with painkillers and sedatives, and covered her in a warm horse blanket to see her though the night.

After a few vet visits, x-rays and MRI scans of her stifle (back leg, knee joint), the vets could find nothing obvious except for some arthritis. The vets feel there was some "trauma", possibly slipping in mud, or taking a corner at a canter wrong. "Nothing catastrophic" in her joint was the final assessment. But poor Kitty was still lame, and guarding her stifle. All we could do was support her own ability to heal with anti-inflammatories, time, and patience.

I'm happy to report that she has come almost totally sound now, and the vets predict she will be rideable again. During her healing, I found her often lying down with Sam grazing nearby. She never laid down when she was on her own, which can be a sign of insecurity. It was one of the reasons I looked for a companion for her. She deserves to nap in her dotage. I think Sam came at just the right time. Of course it may have been the fact that the two of them career around the field and play that caused the initial trauma!

The vets struggled to get a good picture of Kitty's stifle joint because she has "fat knees". Poor Kitty. That is just adding insult to injury.

Kitty weathers her sedatives well, relaxing and sometimes having a little snore while the vets repeat the MRI scan -

She's muddy and hairy from a winter off, and will have the spring to continue recovering, grazing fresh grass and getting fatter knees.

Sam had his sedation and exam after Kitty. It took the two vets and me to keep him from falling over while they examined his feet. He was 900lbs of roofied horse, listing like a small boat in a storm. Kitty stood by Sam while he came out of his sedation, keeping watch and giving him a bit of comfort.

Sam stood like that for nearly an hour!

I think they're good for each other..

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Some Nice Things About Small Town Life

When I go to the village hairdresser, I can bring Miss Betty. While I wait for the hair dye to work on my greys, Faith gives Miss Betty her haircut-

A little off the top

Happy to lay on her back and have her belly trimmed

That was all me!

Mike and all the underkeepers go to Faith for their group haircuts en masse, after summer is over and it's time to look smart for the shooting season. Even the bosses have their hair cut by Faith.

When Faith was looking for another dog, we found her a pup. She owns Hadley Bubbles brother, Oscar.

There's some nice things about living in a small town.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

Under Construction

This time last year, we were still shovelling ourselves out from under a record snowfall. This year we've had record high temperatures and a couple weeks without much rainfall. Our heavy clay soil is dry enough to get big machines and tractors on it, and to start some bigger projects.

Project no 1:  Mike's new poly tunnels-

Gertie is looking for the pheasants already 

Mike and six helpers with a telescopic handling machine put them up in a couple of days. I was surprised how straightforward they are to put up.

We acquired them from local fruit farmers when they upgraded their equipment. The tunnels are getting a new lease of life as a pheasant shelter. It will help protect the laying hens against extreme weather and rain while we keep them penned in and collect their eggs.

We're trialling it on the coldest, wettest part of the laying field. If it is successful, we will cover the rest of the pens next year.

Project no 2: The estate has also put some stone and hardcore around our barns on the laying field. The big trucks were getting stuck in the mud trying to deliver pheasant food. Now there's hard standing, a clean path to the pheasant sheds and plumbed in water - no more buckets!!

The work was done by a proper construction company but, as it's a small village, the guys in charge of the construction work are also in my shooting syndicate and drink at the pub where I work. I know their wives and they know what I look like in my pyjamas ( I wasn't getting dressed just to bring them a cup of coffee!)

The photo is of the "before" and I did a little video of the "after" this morning.

When I refer to "sheds" I mean the broody huts we use to raise young pheasants under heat

Project no 3: While the construction guys were here, they kindly levelled my old pig enclosure for me.

Oh yes, last year we got our first pigs (Spoiler Alert - they are already in the freezer)

We bought six 12 week old weaners: Mangalitza x Gloucester Old Spot. We wanted them to root up and kill (or at least weaken) an ever-expanding patch of bamboo. Then we wanted to eat them.

We didn't have a pig ark but went to a local food factory and picked up a giant plastic barrel used to ship concentrated orange juice. It's there in the background of the photo. It worked great filled with straw bedding as a temporary pig house.

The six pigs were owned cooperatively; Mike and I bought one, and other workers and families on the estate bought the others to share. Each paid the cost of the weaner, one sixth of the feed, and one sixth of the slaughter and butchery charges. We fed and cared for them while they proceeded to decimate the invasive bamboo in our garden. And everyone ended up with plenty of outdoor-reared delicious pork for their freezers.

Oh yes, so, the construction guys levelled the now rooted and mostly bamboo-free pig area with their machines and added some top soil for good measure -

Instant garden!

I checked with our agronomist and I can go ahead and plant straight into the soil, no worries about illness or disease from the pigs. I'll be using half of the area this season to grow my courgettes, pumpkins, and some cut flowers. It's doubled the size of my vegetable plot so now my squashes can run wild and unhampered. Well, unhampered if I can keep the dogs and rabbits from eating them.

I've already bought most of my seeds for this season and drawn up a rough plan, which I can expand to fill the new space.

Mike just told me that rain and strong winds are on their way tomorrow. I let the horned ewe and baby out of the barn and into a grass pen in the garden, just after I made the video, to get them both grazing.

I think that they will be going back into the barn later, until the worst of it passes.

It feels like spring but it's not. Not yet.