Spring 2016

It's been soooo wet this winter, but we are emerging from the damp hopefully and have started experimenting with ploughing. A few weeks back we tried hitching the new one-horse plough to the quad bike. We stopped when the quad overheadted! Today we hitched up to Jasper for the first time. Getting all the setting right to plough to the right depth in our Culm grass is going to be a long lesson, but getting Jasper used to walking up and down, standing still and hauling his kit back to base at the end of the session all went very well. Thanks to Michelle and Adam for their muscles and patience. We've also just been on a great networking event at Tinkers Bubble and met with people across the area working their land with horses 

Autumn 2015

Emma's been on a Horse Logging course at Courage Copse, North Devon with Kate Mobbs-Morgan's Rowan Working Horses. This was a great confidence boost and means she's catching up with Jon's self taught experience. The weekend was full of learning and trying, from dragging logs with the swingle tree to experimenting with the logging arch. The high light of the weekend was long reigning the beautiful pair of horses around the yard. Some great contacts were made and after the course it led contacting a fabulously brave woman local to the farm who helped with Emma's first attempt at harrowing with Jasper. A quarter of an acre of wheat has now been hand sown and harrowed in.  Thank you Zoe! 

It's now February 2015

We have frog spawn in the pond by the garden but they've forsaken the little pond by the swing. This was a favourite spot in the past but got raided a couple of years running by the ducks. Which, despite their waddling, quacking sillyness can eradicate a pondful of tadpoles with a mechanical efficiency. 

We also have troupe (there's probably a collective noun out there) of long tailed tits going through the bare oaks. They work their way along the treeline chattering to each other. They remind me of monkeys. 


This year thus far

It's early summer. A couple of weeks ago, Meg; a cousin of the big kids came up for a couple of days to help us with the horses; she mentioned bringing a friend who turned out to be, Lucy, a petite mixed race girl from London. Not the sort of girl that immediately springs to mind when one thinks of horses. And yet, after brushing Alfie for half an hour she said she reckoned she could ride him. Now I've spent a fare amount of time working with young people and generally take such statements with a pinch of salt especially as Alfie had proved very difficult to back. So saying, without a saddle, she jumped up. Alfie bucked around a little but she grabbed a handful of mane and hung on, and that was it. He walked up and down the lane; took his saddle, trotted in the wood and generally stunned us all. During the next couple of days she repeated the procedure with both Marmite and Jasper. In order to put this achievement in perspective it might be good to know that I was planning to spend this summer slowly sorting out this problem. Jasper was already really sorted but both Marmite and Alfie were my summer projects. So, to Lucy, I think we will continue to raise a glass for quite a while yet.
James and Claire who came and Woofed for us last year are staying in the caravan until Christmas as they experiment with this lifestyle and we have the start of a small community which is something we have wanted to do for a long time.
Last summer we sold off our flock of 13 sheep for £850. We had decided that lambing, worming, shearing, foot trimming and treating and dealing with the grim reality of fly strike was just not worth it for us. The new and improved system for getting good quality lamb into the freezer is to buy orphan lambs. So we have bought 4 for £10 each and filled them with around £80 of lamlac, a powdered milk substitute, we started them on lamb creep and now they are too big for the fox we have put them in Little Hill, which is one of our smallest and better fenced fields.
The mice are in the polytunnel again, their party trick this year is tunneling under the strawberry plants and killing them; so the annual mouse cull has just kicked in. We use the little snapper traps. The magpies are in a minority and when they are around the swallows harass them. The ash was well into leaf before the oak, so according to the old rhyme which I can't quite remember, that means we're in for a soak. But the other side of the rhyme is oak before ash in for a splash, it's a pity neither ash or oak rhymed with sunny. Like; see a bunny, it's going to be sunny! made that last one up.
The two sitting geese hatched prodigious amounts of little fluffy, yellow goslings, we started off with 12 off just one of them and within a week were down to three, most probably on account of the neighbours cat, now its two. The behavior of the gander is quite incredible. The day before the goslings started hatching he positioned himself next to the next and wouldn't be moved. Then as the goslings started to hatch over the next couple of days, and it the goose left the nest, he would stretch his neck over the goslings and honk, warningly, to anyone who came near. As soon as they started to leave the nest he went with them and if anything is more attentive to them than the goose.
We went around Malcolm's to pick up a load of feed. He had some genuinely scary pigs. They looked like someone had crossed them with a dog. They had great, long legs and ears sticking right out of their heads like pointy dinner plates. Their snouts were long and lumpy and their backs to long that they hunched their back legs under them. You just couldn't help but stare and they just stood there, silently staring back with oddly predatory eyes. We have three ordinary, thank God, common or garden pigs. They were only £15 each and had been cross bred with so many traditional breeds that they have almost worked their way back to wild boar status. They picked up some lice somewhere which crawled all over them and made you itch. We bought come traditional powder that smells lemony and you shake over them. It seems to be doing the job but you can still see the one one so we're keeping it going. We have set up a small section of electric fence so they can get used to it before they go out. Occasionally as you pass you can hear them squeal as they check to see if it's still on. They'll go outside pretty soon, which is better for them. I want to see if they can clear a parcel of land for me.

The year before this one

It was our tenth wedding anniversary this year and to get the whole event of with a bang we had the mother of all fall outs. As always its cause blindsided us until we found ourselves awash with accusation and counter accusation and thinking, where the hell did this come from? Just an hour ago everything was as it should be and now our world was a snow globe and it was about to snow.

But, and this is the good bit, it didn’t last and we spent a night at the Lewtrenchard Manor Hotel. It was frightfully posh and very tasteful. We had to dress for dinner and in between courses we enjoyed little specialities which the chef had knocked up including a parsnip mouse, we even got a little “fish foam” on one dish; I think that might be a first and a last, not that it wasn’t nice, it just didn’t do a great job at selling itself.

The morning before we went on our above mentioned culinary, sartorial and, don’t-know-the-word-for-staying-somewhere adventure, we went horse riding on Dartmoor. Emma had never been horse riding before, however, I had had some lessons which I might have mentioned once or twice as I stylishly  traversed a rocky path; wending my way between the heather and the gorse. I did give her some useful tips but I don’t think she heard me.



I have been remise and have gone the whole summer without putting pen to paper. In my defence, however, I would like to state that the summer was far too lovely to be indoors telling of what had been done, or said, or made when we were in the midst of much doing, making and merriment. But now the door is closing, the swallows have flown off. The evenings, like the tide, comes closer and closer to the business of the day and leaves skitter on the breeze.

The Ceps are growing on the banks in the wood and along the road. I’ve picked several but unless you eat them straight away you either need to dry them – which is quite a lot of work unless the wood burners in, or, we’ve discovered, you can fry them up and freeze them. Unfortunately Ceps are prone to maggots and after one incident involving the kitchen and maggots – two words which Emma would never happily utter in the same sentence, I’ve learned to check them very carefully before bringing them in the house. The Chanterelle aren’t here yet but there’s quite a few of The Miller around. I’ve never tasted them as they look a lot like an iffy species. Whilst we’re on the subject of experiences with dubious outcomes; we’ve taken the car for its MOT this week; always an exciting experience. I’ve just seen a flock of gold finches, they come together at this time of year and burst out of the rough grass like tossed leaves that have taken wing.

So, to the Summer. It all started with a constant wind from the North, bringing cold and dry weather and pushing winter hard up against the first buds of spring, they, not wanting to be seen hanging out with the wrong crowd, put summer on hold and the farmers into a panic. So, when summer did come we were all shocked to discover that it was a golden hued, honey laden, stonker - a joy to wake up to and a waste to fall asleep in. It was, after the catastrophe of 2012, lovely, lovely, lovely and I loved it.

The first Woofer to arrive was Liz, a Canadian who came a couple of weeks early, whilst our cold spell was still with us. And a week later Anna from Germany came. Together we built a roof garden for the toilet block, a cold frame, which I am cunningly going to put composting manure into in order to heat up some early seeds. They built an extra bed in the garden, chopped wood, drove the quad, taught us German and Canadian. (gumi shtifler, zonshine, auskerzichnent, awesome and shtben – all my own spelling).  Introduced us to Graham crackers and genuine Maple Syrup and salty liquorice (don’t try it it’s grim) Oh, and of course Melissa was here for one week a trainee OT who brought her own brand of sunshine.

Then we had Alex and Capucine who along with James and Clare, built a stable, chopped, burnt and transported a mountain of wood, played music, worked with the horses, taught us French – sacre bleu, zut allors – that sort of thing, drank beer with us and cooked crepes; or at least Capucine did, Alex fell asleep.

Etien, who described himself as the fly in the ointment but was actually the cherry on the cake. Who I hope will live a thrilling and wonderful life, because anything else would be a waste for him and probably not good for the rest of us.

Then in September came David from Sweden and Kendra from Germany.  David was full of youthful enthusiasm, energy and a love of possibilities and Kendra who was  accomplished (sang opera)  was great with the horses and kind. Together they trained the horses, collected wood and worked in the garden.

And finally Sarah, the New Zealand girl friend of Emma’s cousin. She had broken her own horses in New Zealand and seeing as she had no work in the UK offered to come and help us break ours. After all the work that Liz, Capucine and Kendra had done with them over the year I was hopeful that we might actually get one backed. But first let me explain how she did it because, for me at least, this was a revelation.

How to back a horse

I have of course read Parelli who talks about the horse giving to pressure but I hadn’t previously made the jump in recognising that what you are doing with your hand on the ground in imitating what your feet would do when you are on the horse. So using your hand to encourage the horse to flex (give in to pressure) on all four corners and encouraging the horse to flex his head around are vital skills the horse needs before you get on him. Once this had been established the part I particularly liked was where the trainer – Sarah or me, stood on a block and kept walking the horse, backing it up and moving it until he was in the correct place to be mounted. Once the horse was where you wanted him then you would slowly, over a period of a few days, apply more pressure and movement onto his back until eventually you were laying across him and then sitting on him. And in this way Jasper has been backed and we can now ride him although both me and Emma need to become better riders.


These were the people we were fortunate enough to spend our summer with.


At the height of the summer we were in the constant company of a sky full of swallows (technically it’s a gulp of swallows; not really sure why they have this connection to the mouth) All day long they were swooping above us or sitting on wires twittering away. My workshop and the stables had nests in, and the nests were packed, like vases, with a bouquet of orange beaks and agitated parent birds flying back and forth, made uncertain by our presence. We were even visited by a hobby, which is a small bird of prey that catches the swallows on the wing. It would seem that suddenly the whole sky was full of twittering swallows, all risen from secluded nests to band together and warn the world that a hobby was on the wing, and then as quickly as it started it was over and the scimitar winged raider would flap away with its prize trailing in its claws.

Some of the swallows managed to get two broods in before the summer was over but the second lot were cutting it fine and two weeks, into October, after all the other swallows had left, we had half a dozen stragglers , still slicing the sky, still swallows on the wing, but they seemed melancholy. A swallow in spring brings joy with it, a swallow left behind in a vacant October sky seems terribly sad to me. Fortunately they have all gone now, so bon voyage.

The ground, which had been so wet in 2012, has been dry all year. We have been able to get around on it without constantly slipping and squelching. Tom ran his cows on it for the best part of the summer. In return he did us a hay cut in Long Ditch which netted us 9 large round bales. They’re all stacked in the barn along with some smaller bales which we bought off Jude for £2.50 each, they were on the trailer and caught in the rain so we got them cheap as they were pretty wet, but we stacked them in such a way as to let plenty of air through and they seem to be alright.

With the help of the Woofers we have built a new arrangement for the horses. The stables which we built for them never really worked as the horses hate being separated and I hate mucking out so we made a yard arrangement for them which meant that they have access to  two of the stable and the part of the drive in the front, but it wasn’t ideal so this year we’re going to make use of the cattle handling system, which is of course redundant in winter as we have no cattle here anymore and as long as I have breath in my body our winters will stay cattle free.






 Lambing 2013

The sheep have lambed so we now have 4 rather sweet little lambs skipping about and 3 proud mothers. Doris would have seriously upped the anti as she was packing triplets but never being one to go by the rule book, she gave birth to them still born and then popped her own clogs  She will be fondly remembered for being intensely dense, bog eyed ugly and always getting foot infections, yes she was a sheep to remember, but for all the wrong reasons. However, now that she's gone even those have an endearing quality. 

Lily's birthday.
Lily is now 6, being an organised child she approached this momentous occasion with due diligence and completed all five of the preceding years in the correct order and down to the last minute. And so, with the cracking of the dawn, arrived in our room and ripped into the festivities. She: opened presents; had chocolate brioche for breakfast; had a very deep bath; played with presents; went to the Okey Cokey with a friend; had dinner; came back and watched Ice Age 3 (a present); had specially chosen pizza and birthday cake for tea; played card games and is now in bed. Quite a day. 
Was it Einstein who said that time was elastic? Or was it a lyric out of an Ian Dury song? Anyway a year, or five, or 10 years, or in my case six years, in the life of your child never equates to the same amount of time in your own life. She may have been on the planet for six years and I have been there for all of them. But six years have never passed in mine, perhaps three but it can't be any more than that. But that's parenting, they're born and then they leave home and you're left with the feeling that you've been robbed, that you were looking in the wrong direction, that you forgot to take the lens cap off. The days go slow but the years zip along with fibre optic rapidity. However, this day has been caught and put in a bottle and will emit a gentle glow for a while to come.

Ballet for beginners

Emma does ballet, nothing very spectacular, but a little trickier than the Macarena. On occasion when the   evening is longer than our telly watching capacity we turn to various forms of entertainment. A family staple is little interpretive ballet. Emma caries it off with a rather captivating elegance; Lily spends the majority of the time finding just the right outfit. (tonight she not only dressed for the event but packed a bag) she then spoils us with a variety of moves, which range from elegant spinning  to hysterical wiggling, to telling us all what to do, P bounces on the chair and I favour the Haka, not intentionally you understand  it's just the way the the flag unfurls. Tonight we're giving Leonard Cohen a polish and a pas de deux.

 I should also say, in fairness to Emma, that she does look lovely when she dances, not sure if its the moves or the place dancing takes her to. For my part I would rather watch than join in, but she gets self conscious, so I move in order to allay suspicion. 

Alder burns brightly

Alder is a rather despised wood, it grows on damp land (here) and according to several sources, including a rather pithy poem concerning the burning qualities of various woods, is - and I'm not sure if this is verbatim  but goes something like:
Dum, de dum, de dop, 
Alder burns like a soggy mop.

When Ash is fresh cut it has a quite attractive pink colour but Alder goes a deep orange and the wood, when it's seasoned is a little orange. I seasoned mine for two years and it's not crap at all, in fact it's doing a sterling job keeping us all warm and toasty. 
So let's raise a festive glass to Alder and all the under-sung heroes who have been maligned over the years. 

Marmite enacts plan B

Having considered his options Marmite has decided that being sat on isn't such a great idea. Paul sat on him again, which was fine, until he sat upright. Marmite then started stepping along rather sprightly. I was holding on to the lead reign and offering a range of speed options, when he started to buck; Paul made a rapid exit stage left and landed on his bum, quickly followed by Marmite who slipped over and looked rather shocked; I was still holding the lead rope. So anyway, having taken the proverbial three steps forward, we've now back-tracked and established a base camp a fair way down the rocky slopes of Mount Marmite and we're teaching him to stand when approached from the side.

Mystery Ram Murder !!!!!!

We needed to swap/sell our ram, Freddie, as he was the father of our ewe lambs. So we swapped him with a neighbour who was in a similar situation except that their ram, Rambo, hadn't fathered anything, so we weren't sure if he was firing blanks. In order to guard against a "none runner" we borrowed two rams, a sort of belt and braces approach. This situation worked wonderfully. In order to keep an eye on the ewes and clock when they were served we had them in Little Hill, which is a 1 acre paddock. (you use raddle, which is a paint, or crayon on the rams chest that rubs off on the ewe when they are tupped, so you know who was done when) Afterwards we gave them the run of the larger fields. A week ago Freddie was returned to us and, having decided to keep Rambo, only the spare was going to be returned. This is when the story gets a bit PG (parental guidance) you see the ram leaving us could hardly stand and had lost a lot of weight; all in one week. Anyway he left and Freddie joined the flock looking fit and strong. That was on Saturday. By Monday Freddie was dead. Like a big woolly Dodo. All the ewes and the other ram were fine.
Were the two incidents connected? And who had most to gain by the two incidents  That's right, Rambo! I know I can't prove anything but I have my suspicions.     

This is our new porch. I got the windows at auction for £6 and the wood is our own oak and ash. Ideally it should have been all oak but I ran out so used ash as well. I built most if it last year but the weather kept getting in so added the stable door and the two side window sections. The advantages of this are: the chickens can no longer crap in our wellies; the dog can be kept in the porch when she's too muddy to come into the house and it's dry!!! - yeah, dry, dry ,dry - who's the Daddy!?
Do people still say that? Out here idioms have a longer shelf life than they do elsewhere. For all we know dreckly, ell of a maid and me lover may have fallen by the wayside in the big, wide world, whilst down here they form the backbone of any informed debate. 
I've just tried uploading a video clip of me and Paul from next door backing Marmite but it wont load. Anyway me and Paul have backed Marmite. We took him over the forest all saddled up and with a pair of combat trousers, with the legs full of wet sand, in the saddle. They were pretty heavy, but he didn't seem too bothered. So when we got back I laid across him, no worries, and then Paul had a go and I took Marmite for a little walk and then I had a go.

Parsnip says it all! (Emma's just informed me, it's a carrot, woops!)
Summer 2012

Marmite turns up trumps

Perran, who is three, likes to wait for the last possible moment before going for a wee. It's not that he can't hear natures call, it's just that the lure of lego is too strong for him to drag himself off and stand idly by as his bladder gently tinkles itself away to absolution. He's more of a doer than a goer and consequently the bearings on the washing machine are developing a gentle whine.
So this was the plan; if he was dry for three consecutive days  we would buy a horsebox (highly desired, it goes with his land rover). We ordered the horse box from Amazon and Perran dutifully refused to be drawn down the soggy road of legomania. He had clocked up a heady five dry days, and still no horsebox, when we got a call from a neighbour to say that the horsebox had been delivered to their house, but they were going out and would leave it at the top of the lane. It was a sunny day and we decided to walk up to get it and take Marmite, whom I am teaching to long reign. He, being a star, carried the horsebox and our coats back, so it was his first real day working - "get-on."

Taking the cattle to market 
One of the problems with having only four cattle is that you need a bull in order for your cattle to reproduce but it's just not worth owning a bull for four animals, especially as only two of my four are old enough to reproduce. So instead of having a bull you get the AI (artificial insemination) man in and he gets the cows pregnant. All I have to do is call him in at the right time. There is a one day window of opportunity. The cows should bring the situation to your attention by: bellowing, standing to be mounted and producing bulling string (not to be confused with baler twine). At least that's the theory, and whilst it worked well for one of our cows, the other played her cards too close to her chest for a novice like me to spot the twinkle in her eye. 
There was also the psychotic heifer who refused to be herded, somehow got through fences and tried to kick you. But the deciding factor was the thought of having to go through another winter having to feed, water and bed these four, morning and night, without let up and without being able to ever get away. I balanced these factors up (sell, sell, and erm...sell) so decided, to cash in my chips. I had been offered £1800 for all four by a local farmer, but thought I could get more. In the end I just took three to market as the pregnant cow was due any moment. 
They had all been TB tested and I had a sixty day window to sell them. I insured the landy for the week (it's off road, long story) arranged to borrow a trailer, dug out their passports, got a replacement ear tag, roped in Mel and Alex (two Aussie Wwoofers) and off we went. I found the selling process pretty stressful, I had to hang around ring side in case any of them didn't meet the reserves I had set, and I would have to either decide to sell at the price or take them back home. However, all three sold for just under a total of £1500 and seeing as I bought the four of them for £1600 a year ago I think that's pretty good. The cow and calf combo I've kept should be worth at least £800.
So I'm off to buy a 4x4 quad as it's the only thing that can get on to our land without trashing it after all this rain. But best and most exciting of all is we are going to be able to go away for the odd weekend this winter.
Narinda, the cow, has now had a bull calf and I've agree to sell the pair to a neighbour for £900. They're both pedigree Devons.

The unfeasibly large testicle.
It wasn't the knocking on the door that woke me but the dog barking at the knocking at the door. And so, thinking that I was going downstairs to deal with another "doggy dilemma" I arrived in the lobby in a less than suitable frame of mind to deal with a distraught Dutch girl telling me, above the noise of the dog, that Figo (not his real name) had an unfeasabily large testicle and was in some discomfort and I needed to come straight away. I carefully considered my options whilst tightening the belt on my dressing gown, it tends to come loose in moments of stress. Should I Google this before I headed off into the dawn? Should I take provisions? Should I go back to bed and hope it went away? 
"I'll go and get dressed" I said.
It was clearly evident that Figo was in some discomfort, however I couldn't vouch for the size of the testicle, on account of the fact that I managed to hurdle the language barrier with room to spare when he started removing his trousers. 
I decided to phone NHS direct. The first person I spoke to hadn't quite worked out what why they bothered turning up for work, and seemed slightly more confused at the nature of my query's than boded well for a speedy resolution. So she put me through to a nurse whose "official advice" was that I take him to an hospital outpatients. "No worries" I said "where is this wonderful, problem negating establishment?"
 "Plymouth" she said. 
"Plymouth?" I squealed "That's 40 miles away"
"It's 27 miles according to the computer"
"The computer knows a shortcut across Dartmoor,does it?
"That's what it says here"

I am not very good at dealing with officialdom, it might have something to do with the fact that I feel annoyed simply by virtue of having to dial an 0845 number. And then knowing that, in this case, the helpline treads the thin line between saving the NHS money and not leaving itself open to being sued. The net result, of course, is that it is no more helpful than a banker in a banking crisis. 

I took him to the doctors where he came out with a course of antibiotics and the phone number for an STD clinic. "I need go" he said pointing at the phone number. It was in Barnstaple, there was no public transport, it was 30 miles away, and did he even know what STD meant? And how would I explain? Fortunately and thank God, I phoned the nurse at the STD clinic who said they couldn't do anymore than what the Doctor had done and to wait and see if the symptoms cleared up.
So the Dutch girl went to Bude for the day and Figo was left to his own devices.

The ducks run out of luck
We were formerly the proud owners of four Khaki Campbell ducks. One gander and three ducks, they looked a little like mallards and would travel, in a line, from wherever they were to wherever they were going. Waddling and quacking, and - if they had got lucky - with tendrils of slime hanging out of the sides of their beaks from eating slugs, and with their crops so full that they looked likely to upend. They used to lay porcelain white eggs with mechanical regularity except in mid-winter when they shut down manufacturing in order to carry out maintenance. In Autumn they used to eat so many acorns that the yolks of the eggs would go green - it's difficult to extol the healthy virtues of free range eggs when they have an olive green yolk. Two days ago the wind came and seems to have blown them to a mysterious fate, not a single one returned to their shed and we've not seen hide or hair of them since. Having experienced this sort of thing before we have been sporting our fox goggles ever since. But the rest of the birds are all present and the dog hasn't been acting up so if it was a fox, it probably was, then it's gone and left us poorer for its passing. 

Still in June
Still wet
We have a light sussex hen that has three adopted goslings (we lost one), we also have a goose which is currently sitting on a clutch of eggs and we have a gander who is feeling neglected. Those are the principle characters in the drama that I am about to relay. 
Okay, the chicken, who is out with her adopted gosling brood, is sidled up to by the goose who has taken a break from sitting on her eggs; she was taking a little eggsersize! And the goose looks at the chicken and then the goslings and you can see something isn't quite adding up. She's thinking I can see the goslings but I can't see the goose, hang on a minute I'm a goose, hay they must be mine. So she starts following the goslings around who are following the chicken, who is feeling a little intimidated. The gander then wanders up, having spotted his lady wife from afar, and lo and behold she's got some goslings but they don't look anything like him. He is none to happy about this state of affairs and gets after the Mrs to sort things out, who is following the goslings, who are following the chicken who is trotting along pretty sharpish. It was at this point that I went out and intervened and they all stood around looking awkward, I have never seen animals looking unsure before but that is exactly what they looked. I ushered the goose back to her nest as she tried to circumvent my efforts and get back to the goslings. The gander stood around making lots of noise and the chicken gave the goslings a little chat about stranger danger.

It's six days off the longest day and we lit the fire yesterday. Lily said that it reminded her of Christmas, and although I too enjoyed the heat and the flames, the idea of having to light a fire in mid June is deeply depressing. 
Summers carry a promise, a fair exchange for enduring the dark and cold or winter. They have an obligation, and I know it's not an argument that would hold up in court, but it's a deal that mother nature seems to have a cosy working relationship with. The whole shebang is predicated on the premise that summers are supposed to be summery. Is it any wonder then that I, along with the bees and the flowers, am not flourishing in this damp, cold environment? I am typing this in my house with my coat on. The fire went out over night, and lighting it for two days in a row is a little too close to accepting that summer is not arriving - that I've been blown-out by the perfect date and it's going to take me months to get over it.

Spring 2012
Naughty Mice

The mice have been at the strawberries in the polytunnel - we know it's them because they looked guilty and you could smell them on their breath. So we've peppered the strawberry plants with mouse traps spiked with peanut butter. 

There is no better spread
if you like your mice dead.

As the traditional saying goes. And those old boys certainly knew their stuff, the body count is up in double figures and the strawberries are delicious. 

Super Chicken 
We're managed to hatch a couple of gosling eggs under a broody hen. Which was good news because for some reason the eggs in the incubator all failed bar two and the goose which was sitting didn't manage to hatch any. We think they may not have been fertile as we introduced her to a new gander too late in the  year - we should have started in the winter. 
So I'm absent mindedly gazing out of the window and trying to see the new clucky mum when my eyes settle on a large brown thing, on top of a pallet of breeze blocks, sitting in the middle of the yard, and I realise i'm looking at a buzzard. It's sitting like a tawny sentry right in the middle to the yard. Crap! I throw open the window shouting and waving and it lazy flaps off over the gate. I found the chicken and her brood very happily in the small hen house. I decided to move her before the buzzard returned and set her up in an empty stable. I also decided to put in the two chicks which had hatched a week earlier and i had under a heat lamp. I checked later and the chicken had adopted them as well allowing all four goslings to nestle under her. Mind you i once found a chicken sitting in the hen house with a little tail sticking out from under her. i got the air rifle and gently lifted her up to find a baby rat grabbing forty winks. So, although I was very impressed with my chickens general affection for the world and its orphans the evidence would suggest that chickens aren't always very discerning.

Last Christmas Lily got given a small bird box with some paints to decorate it with. This we did and then fixed it in a beech tree and soon enough we had some blue tits flying in and out. However, we hadn't seen them for a little while so I thought I would take a closed look. Something had managed to rip the entrance whole to twice its original size and the base the of the box had been ripped off. Needless to say the blue tits are seeking legal representation.

Summer 2011
Cuckoo Lambs

Last year we were given 4 sheep. Four year old ewes who had never been put to the ram. So we borrowed a ram from a farmer when he was redundant and 145 days later (i.e. one week ago) we became the proud owners of 3 lambs: Bertie, Tillie, and Freddie! 

Tillie                                        Bertie

Bertie and Tillie came first, they were born at home without medical intervention however they were what is known as 'dopey' lambs! And whilst they found their way out into the world with out any trouble, beyond that was a mountain they struggled to climb. A ewe's teats have a wax seal so lambs sometimes find it hard to suckle initially; our first 2 had given up. They need to feed within 4 hours of birth to get colostrum inside them so Jon, myself and our wwoofers held down the ewes; milked them and stomach tube fed the lambs. After this wobbly start Bertie is now suckling normally but Tillie is being bottle fed as she didn't get enough sustenance from her mother. 

A couple of days later Freddie's nose and 2 front feet entered the world and stayed that way for longer than was good for him. I had to help him out as he was quite a big lamb and we discovered later this is a position they can get stuck in. Freddie's a lovely strong lamb and has had no trouble apart from a 'rolled in' eye lid which is quite common and is fixed by massaging the eye.



Wwoofers (willing workers on organic farms)

We have had wwoofers staying with us for the last few months. They come, they eat and - last but not least - they graft. For six whole hours every day they make my life easier and i love them for it. I have become a   
passionate advocate of Wwoofing. Just now we have an English secondary school teacher and a German student, training the horses for me. Both Alfie and Jasper are now being long reined and all three horses are picking their feet up. 
They have also sheared the last two sheep (me and Candice did the first two). It's tricky getting a professional in to shear just four sheep, and a proper sheering kit costs hundreds of pounds. However, hand sheers; as used by medieval peasants, can be had for less than twenty quid. So what follows is a description of how to sheer a sheep using 'traditional' methods: 
catch a sheep,
get it on its side and get some one to sit/recline upon it
snip, snip, snip for a good hour.
apply iodine
turn the sheep over
continue snipping
apply more iodine
let the sheep go
don't let anyone see the sheep for a while

Emma Middleton,
3 Jun 2012, 02:28