Archive for March, 2009

Dig it baby, dig it!

Yesterday was a tough day, as my aching muscles are only too willing to attest this morning. It was a lovely day: the sun was shining, the sky was blue and a cool breeze refreshed and regenerated: a perfect start to spring even if I was barely aware of the fact until I caught up on my blog reading last night!

I managed to talk Jennie into spending the day with me at the farm and had forgotten how much pleasure can be gained from doing one’s usual routine in the company of a wonderful friend.

We spent the morning getting the chores done and then planned to spend the afternoon in the orchard, where I would continue digging the vegetable garden and Jennie would sit back and enjoy the sunshine, get some fresh air into her lungs to beat her lurgy, groom Snipe, who is moulting by the bucket at the moment, and attempt to repair my trousers, which have decided to fall to pieces for no apparent reason: maybe an attempt to get out of digging?

But when we went to the orchard, the previous day’s efforts looked somewhat lacking:

The veg garden after Day 1 - 21 March 2009

The veg garden after Day 1

With the rest of that patch to dig, plus another of a similar size, we decided to call in the reinforcements:

The weaners on the vegetable garden - 21 March 2009

The weaners on the vegetable garden

With those four working on the second patch, I carried on with the first. Progress was, however, slow. My arms and back simply did not want to co-operate and it took me a long time to warm my muscles up and get them to do anything useful. And then, typically, just after Jennie joined me in the digging and we got into a routine, we came across a very large stone:

Jennie finds the boulder

Jennie finds the boulder

It took us a v.e.r.y l.o.n.g t.i.m.e to dig that wretched stone out of the ground, though we entertained ourselves with stories of buried treasure and Roman coins.

Jennie and the boulder - 21 March 2009

Jennie and the boulder

Being March, the hours of daylight available for digging were still limited and with the weaners to return to their enclosure, and all the pigs and chickens to feed, we were forced to call it a day.

It really didn’t seem like anything had changed!

The vegetable garden after Day 2 - 21 March 2009

The vegetable garden after Day 2

Still, at least the weaners had fun and I’m hoping that a second session today will, if nothing else, get rid of the grass, which will make things a lot easier!

The weaners on the vegetable garden - the results! 21 March 2009

The weaners on the vegetable garden - the results!

Things are looking up, however, as the weather forecast for the next couple of days has changed and it might not be raining on Monday after all, which means I get a bit more time to dig. Maybe!

Don’t suppose anyone fancies a day in the sunshine, working on their muscles and fitness?

Nah, didn’t think so!!!!

Busy, busy, busy!

Bailey, Tia and the dogs - 19 March 2009

Bailey, Tia and the dogs - 19 March 2009

While these guys have been relaxing and chilling in the sunshine, I’ve been digging. And digging. And digging. And yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve achieved very much!

It looks as though it’s going to rain on Monday so I’ll be spending the weekend with a fork in hand so please forgive my likely online absence over the next couple of days. But, if you’re like me, you’ll be outside yourselves during this spell of good weather and won’t be reading this until it rains anyway…!

Enjoying the sun

Well, hasn’t this week been a contrast to last week’s deluge? The field is almost dry enough to abandon my wellies though I’m not risking it as my leather boots are departing from the sole and I like having dry feet… Hmm, really must dig out my new pair!

Photographic evidence of the bright blue skies! Very odd seeing that backdrop for the winter-esque trees!

Photographic evidence of the bright blue skies! Very odd seeing that backdrop for the winter-esque trees!

Anyway, I’ve been spending most of my time outside, enjoying the feeling of the sun on my back as I’ve been doing those jobs I either couldn’t do because of the weather – or didn’t feel like doing because of the weather! I’ve moved Scrumpy and Brini’s enclosure, giving them a large amount of untouched ground, though I left the ark where it was, and also gave the weaners some fresh ground, which they are doing a great job of clearing. Bye bye, reeds and brambles!

The chickens’ Eglu and Cube have been well and truly scrubbed out and I’m making an effort to stop being so lazy and have been cleaning out their poo every day, though I’ll stick to scrubbing it out on a weekly basis. I will, however, be realistic and admit here and now that it’s quite unlikely that the poo trays will be emptied on days when it’s tipping it down… I also moved the chickens off the veg patch and onto fresh ground, ahead of tomorrow’s digging efforts. Jennie and her boys are coming to break ground with me, which will be lots of fun. It’s one thing doing all this on your own, but it’s something different altogether when you have company.

I’ve cleaned out the shipping container where I keep the animals’ feed. Well, I’ve cleaned half of it, but I’m also in the middle of scrubbing out all the feed bins as well. Now that the temperature’s warmed up, it’s become quite evident that I need better storage for things like rubbish so I have fiddled and faddled and come up with different ways of storing everything. When it’s finished, I should have lots more room and will hopefully know where everything is!!

What else?

What have they heard? Evidently *not* me calling them so they'd look at the camera!!

What have they heard? Evidently *not* me calling them so they'd look at the camera!!

I’ve enjoyed the company of the dogs and have been walking them down to the river where Midge happily follows the scents of animal trails and Snipe leaps in and out of the water, fetching sticks and just generally having fun. I really must find out when the spring/summer dog ban on the beaches comes into force and if there’s still time, take them one more time. Maybe that would be a fun way to end tomorrow’s day with Jennie and boys? Work hard digging and then celebrate with the beach and maybe an ice cream?!

Finally, I must not forget the pigs and since they drop to the ground and snore like roaring dragons the second they get a hint of sunshine, I have spent many a happy hour sharing their sun-worship. This is what life is all about!

Me and my man!!! 15 March 2009

Me and my man!!! 15 March 2009

The to-do list is, however, ever-growing and I still have to plot out the veg patch (made complicated by the fact that it’s a large circle, quartered by wide paths: great for a 4-year crop rotation but not so great as only one quarter was used last year, but it was quartered again so I don’t know what I should and shouldn’t plant in it. Another quarter was used for the lasagne garden, but only a third of that has composted properly! Hmm.

One soggy doggy, waiting for permission to leap back into the river!

One soggy doggy, waiting for permission to leap back into the river!

I also need to finish cleaning the shipping container and feed bins etc and sort something out for rubbish, recycling and the fruit and veg I get for the pigs, otherwise I’ll be experiencing a very stinky summer!

Finally, I also need to rake up all the long grass that the chickens have helpfully scratched out of the ground (a) so it doesn’t kill the new grass trying to grow underneath it, and (b) so I can use it on the lasagne garden.

A busy couple of days ahead: can’t wait!

Sunset

Sunset

Desert Island MP3s

I like music but I’m not a an aficionado. Most of the time, I hear a tune or a song and think to myself about how much I like it, but I couldn’t tell you who sang it or what it was called, and I can generally only remember one or two lines – and I often mishear them or get them wrong in some other way.

So, when Jennie tagged me to take part in her version of Desert Island Discs (or MP3s, as she calls it, coz she’s young, hip and happening, unlike me, an old fogey), I panicked slightly as while there’s lots of music I love, how on earth would I describe it? That song by the singer with short hair that goes “dum dum dum” somewhere in the middle… Think she’s a red head. Could be brown, though…

Still, with only five songs (these modern versions are rubbish! Should be 8!!!) I couldn’t go too far wrong! And I even managed to resist the urge to pick albums, even though I got permission!

  1. Livin’ on a Prayer by Bon Jovi
  2. Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen
  3. Do you Hear the People Sing? from Les Mis
  4. Respect by Aretha Franklin
  5. I’m a bit rubbish when it comes to classical music but as a recent convert to Classic FM (I’ve given up on Radio 2 other than Sarah Kennedy, Terry Wogan, Chris Evans and Mo Dutta), I’m slowly becoming a big, if uneducated, fan. So, for my fifth and final choice, all I can say is this: A classical piece. Something with the full orchestra. The type of thing that makes you want to jump up on your feet and do something. The classical equivalent to a rock anthem!

My book would be the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and while I like the idea of a wireless laptop and a broadband connection, in truth, my luxury item would have to be my dogs.

Passing it on people, passing it on. Ye all be tagged!

Animal-tastic

Another round of photos from last year when we lived at mum’s:

The view from Mum's yard gate - 17 March 2008

The view from Mum's yard gate - 17 March 2008

Ted meets the Kune Kunes - 17 March 2008

Ted meets the Kune Kunes - 17 March 2008

Mac - 17 March 2008

Mac - 17 March 2008

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

Albert and Victoria - 17 March 2008

For all our sakes, learn to ride!

As I may have mentioned, the field I rent for the pigs is bordered by a small country lane, frequently used by people walking their dogs and riders from the livery stable just up the road.

The dog walkers (and just walkers!) are lovely and generally stop for a quick chat with the pigs, who have cottoned on to the fact that if they stand by the fence, they’ll get some attention.

But the riders are, in my mind anyway, split in two groups.

You’d think it would be those whose horses don’t mind the pigs and those that do but it’s actually the riders who can ride, and those that can’t, regardless of what their horses think of the pigs.

In order to be in complete control of your horse, you need to sit so that you’re completely balanced and to keep your horse “on the bit” with “two thirds in front of your leg, one third behind”. In other words, your horse needs to balanced, controlled, responsive and willing to let you make the decisions. This is a big leap for a horse as the herd leader isn’t normally on its back but that’s what you need to be: the herd leader.

Unfortunately, there are more horse owners than good riders and I am dreading the day someone inevitably falls off when their horse spooks at the pigs – and then blames the pigs (ie me) and/or their horse, instead of the real culprit: his or herself.

What generally happens is that the horse is walking or trotting down the road and gets a whiff of the pigs. Horses don’t generally like pigs, probably a left over reaction from the days of wild boars and tusks at the perfect height to rip open a horse’s belly, leaving it helpless to attacks from predators or, the worst case scenario, leading to all sorts of infections and a slow, lingering and painful death, abandoned by the herd as it won’t be able to keep up.

A horse’s natural instinct is flight and it’s up to the rider to ensure that this does happen. If you’re not in control, if you’re sitting badly in the saddle, if you’ve got no contact with the horse’s mouth, the horse gets to put its head up in the air, making it extremely difficult for you to prevent the inevitable. The horse will also start jogging and because you’re sitting badly, you’ll pitch forward in the saddle, yanking at the reins in a ridiculous effort to stop the jogging and sideways bouncing. But leaning forward encourages the horse to go faster and the yanking at its mouth, probably accompanied by frenzied swearing and shouting will simply put one thought in the horse’s mind: it’s scared of something and the boss is clearly scared as well. Better get out here, fast.

I see this several times a week and it doesn’t matter how hard the rider yanks on the reins or how loudly they shout, the horse never comes back under the rider’s control until the horse has passed the pigs.

This is obviously dangerous as the rider could fall off onto the road, the horse could slip and fall, possibly trapping the rider under its heavy weight, or they could get hit by one of the cars that drives extremely fast along the road, never mind the blind corners and the fact that it’s too narrow for two cars to pass one another.

But if it does happen, and they blame me, I’ll say to them what I’ve said here: if they rode properly, the horse wouldn’t have bolted in the first place. And I’ll place money on the certainty that if a good rider were to ride the same horse down the lane past the pigs, the horse might flare its nostrils, but it would recognise that a strong and capable rider was in the saddle and would trust the gentle hands and guiding legs and would walk calmly past the pigs.

I know, because I’ve seen it. A few months ago, one woman was having real problems with her young horse, who was terrified of the pigs and was doing his best to turn round and get the hell away from the pigs, as fast as possible. It took her over half an hour to get him past the pigs, but she managed it, staying calm but firm, never letting him make the decisions. She never raised her voice, but kept murmuring to him. Eventually, she made it – and then turned him around and made him walk past them again. She spent two hours walking him up and down the road until he eventually got the message that when she said he had nothing to fear, she meant it. He finally relaxed and walked calmly past the pigs, his head hanging low on a long rein: the classic sign of a relaxed horse. This rider never flinched or panicked, and never raised her voice, never grabbed at the reins, never pitched forward or moved her legs away from the girth.

I’ve seen her ride past many time since that day and her horse hasn’t spooked once in all that time, even when the pigs have been bickering or calling for their food. He was scared and his rider came through for him. I wish all riders were like her: horses wouldn’t just be happier, they’d be safer.

A typical March day

Gray skies and gloomy atmosphere that hint at heavy rain that’s been but will be back and yet, in a startlingly contrast to the same conditions throughout the winter, there’s a sudden fresh greenness in the fields, a sense of hope and renewal.

The view from Mum's yard gate - 14 March 2008

The view from Mum's yard gate - 14 March 2008

That’s how it looked last year and I don’t suppose it looks any different this year.

March is so predictable, and yet I get taken by surprise every time. I swear there’s more mud in the pigs’ field now than there was at any point during the winter!!

Hopefully, we’ve got some sunshine for the next few days to dry things out as I want to dig my veggie garden!!!!

Identifying the eggs!

I’ve been trying to work out which hen lays which egg but never seemed to be in the right place at the right time. But I got lucky yesterday and found Speckle, the Warren x Buff Orpington who hatched last July, in the nest box. She hadn’t laid yet but I kept popping back and eventually struck a yolky gold! Irene (Dorking x Light Sussex) was leaving the nest box when I arrived the second time but I already know what her eggs look like – and hers was sitting next to what had to be Speckle’s. I popped back a while later, just on the off chance, and caught both Dawn (Buff x ?) and Willow (one of our two older Buff Orpington hens) in the nest box. I kept an eye on the girls and Dawn left first so I put my hand under an indignant Willow and removed my prize. A huffy Will popped hers out a short while later and I know now which eggs are laid by the bigger hens! Buffy didn’t lay yesterday but as she’s also a Buff Orpington, hers shouldn’t look any different to Willow’s, though she is laying very big at the moment.

L-R: Speckle, Irene, Dawn, Willow

L-R: Speckle, Irene, Dawn, Willow

From the back, L-R: Buffy and ? (11th), Speckle, Irene, Dawn, Willow

From the back, L-R: Buffy and ? (11th), Speckle, Irene, Dawn, Willow

This is great news as I can now keep Speckle, who was sired (is that the right term for chickens?) by Fat Boy, our resident Buff Orpington cockerel, without worrying that I’ll put one of her eggs, fertilised by Fat Boy, under a broody hen. Hurrah!

She’s broody, broody, broody, broody!

On Saturday morning, B said she thought Mama Silkie was going broody again as she had settled herself into the Eglu nest box, even though there were no eggs under her. However when I fed in the afternoon, she was out and about with the others. This pattern continued until Tuesday when she simply stayed in the nest box! Not bad for a hen who hatched some chicks in November and has been laying quite happily in the past month!

Broody Mama Silkie - 11 March 2009

Broody Mama Silkie - 11 March 2009

Her timing was, however, terrible as I was in a hurry to get everything finished so I could meet Jennie for our night out at the cinema and a curry but I managed to get the broody ark ready for her. I wish I could afford another Eglu as the broody ark is a shambles. It leaks like a sieve, so needs to be covered with a tarpaulin, it’s falling apart, and although the house part is lovely and big, the run is tiny. I loved having her and her chicks in the Eglu over the winter but unless I can find homes for the three chicks in the next couple of weeks so I can put the remaining Bantams and Silly Silkie in with the big chickens, they’ll have to keep the Eglu and Mama will just have to cope. Maybe I can build an extension for the run. Or … the others can have the wooden ark as they’ll be out and about during the day and the chicks can be safely shut up in the Eglu and its 1m run until they’re big enough to go out with the adults and stop looking like a tasty treat to our resident crows and magpies.

Does anyone want a couple of Silkie x Pekin Bantam pullets (1M, 1F) and a pure Pekin (F)? I’ll happily swap the lot for a couple of bantam pullets! I’ve also got a Buff x pullet who hatched in July and is laying quite happily that I’d love to swap for a dual purpose pullet of the same age…!

Marley and Me

Last night I did something for the time in ages: I went to the cinema! I say “ages” because the last films I saw in the cinema were Transformers, Harry Potter, The History Boys and Brokeback Mountain…!

But, thanks to some dodgy deal that Jennie did over the internet, not only did I get to spend a great evening with herself and her parents, but we also got free tickets to the film about every dog owner’s worst nightmare: Marley and Me.

A young Marley and the remains of the garage

A young Marley and the remains of the garage

If you don’t like spoilers, stop reading now!

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