Birds, Ecology, Wales

Happytat Creation

Here’s something to cure election fever!

Something new and glorious and full of hope!  It’s something we’ve discovered 50 yards from our back door — a pair of nesting Barn Owls!

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Here is the male (I think) who is paler and here is his mate with her buff coloured chest

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and dark spots on her flank.

Best of all, there are three chicks which I hope to show you in a couple of weeks when they will be ringed and meet the public.

All this and the photos are courtesy of the Species Habitat Protection Group who erected the nesting box and have been monitoring it for 3 years.  Last year there was just one tell-tail Barn Owl feather, so we knew someone had been house-hunting, but we had no idea that they had moved in this year and started a family.  Thank you Jon, Jan, Roger and Brian and the other volunteers.

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Hill Farming, Humour, Lambing, Rugby, Welsh culture

Catch a flying sheep!

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Have you ever wondered why the Welsh and the New Zealanders are so good at rugby football – its because they both keep lots of sheep. Sheep-keeping and Rugby have a great deal in common. To do either successfully you must be fearless and have absolutely no hesitation. You must be strong, agile and fast. Also you must enjoy physical contact (have I said too much?).

Sheep keeping is athletic and heroic – no more so than at lambing time which is why lady shepherds attend their daughters’ weddings with black eyes and are frequently seen rolling down hillsides in the tight embrace of a frightened ewe while extracting a lamb with a pop (like little Jack Horner, pulling the plum out of the pie) – oh, what a good boy am I!

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Thanks to Phil_Heck for the picture CC/BY/2.0

Last week I rugby tackled a lamb. I did more than that – I proceeded to score a dramatic try with it! I resisted the temptation to throw it triumphantly into the air (sheep don’t right themselves like cats). I didn’t even bounce it on the field and I certainly didn’t try to convert it! I did what I always do and held on tight! I felt heroic and athletic as I sprayed its cord and wrote its number on its side – you can be number 10 like your mum – you can be fly-half!

Then in the glow of pride at my own agility (you know I have a bad back), I noticed it – the finger – the one that types the “P”s, the dashes and the punctuation, the one that wears the ring on my right hand – it was strangely deformed.

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Mallet Finger!  If you are American: Baseball Finger (how silly). I have an athlete’s injury (the orthopaedic website says so – so there!) – I have ruptured a little but very important typing tendon and Alan has splinted it (are there no limits to his talent?)  Slight blueness is due to sheep marker — not insipient gangrene! I have Rugby Finger!

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Hill Farming, Lambing

Triplets!

 

SONY DSCOur hardy Welsh Mountain Sheep aren’t really made for triplets — in ten years we’ve only had three sets.  The first three were all born dead and the mother sadly also succumbed — our biggest ever lambing disaster!

We aren’t technological — we don’t scan, with less than thirty ewes it’s difficult and we don’t have the economy of scale.  We know them all and if they are losing condition we just feed them more. It’s quite exciting seeing what we get — like Christmas!

The second set of triplets were born last year — I watched the first two, large, healthy lambs cavorting around in my torchlight and so retired to bed with a self-satisfied glow only to learn an important lesson in the morning —  the third triplet, equally large and cleaned to a dazzling white was cold and dead on the grass.

This year we noticed the huge, strangely translucent, pink udder but this year we knew what it meant.  It meant we had to watch out for a third lamb.

This year ‘Number 32’ has produced three healthy lambs, though the third didn’t breath immediately and had completely escaped his mother’s attention and would have perished like last year’s — remember sheep can usually only count up to two!

Fortunately, learning from my mistakes, I  sat and watched all afternoon while the first two were meticulously cleaned and properly fed, then Bingo!  Number three arrived, not breathing and with very soggy sounding lungs but nothing a traditional swing or two and some frantic chest compressions would not sort out — amazing!  The swinging really does seem to shift the fluid — I had never really believed it.

Then of course I had to wait till he’d been cleaned and slowly fed, and then some more — we don’t intend to be caught out by our first quads!

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Hill Farming, Lambing

Miracle!

You remember the sad little orphan texel-cross lamb who came to be adopted.

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He put on the mantle of a much loved but non-functional welsh lamb and confirmed our friend David’s reputation (at least with one ewe) as a miracle worker.

Three days later (and considerably less smelly) his magic overcoat has been removed.

Yippee!

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And his Maa is very proud.

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

A Bad Start!

This ewe gives no hint that she is labouring until the last few minutes.  This morning she pushed out a large ram lamb just as I was feeding the others — I could see the lamb moving but by the time I got there things were not looking good — I pulled a great wadge of membranes from his throat but he did not react.  I swung him and pressed rhythmically on his chest.  I blew in his nose.  I even gave him mouth-to-nose ventilation (I really shouldn’t do that) but he was dead.

What a waste!  What a blow!  Fifteen seconds earlier, half a minute perhaps and it would all have been different.

I started to take the dead lamb away and the ewe wailed — I put it down again and thought, I wished she could have a live lamb…  Then I remembered!

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Here she is a few hours later with her new lamb. (Can you spot the deliberate mistake!) He’s wearing a sheepskin overcoat!

Thanks to two neighbours this little orphan lamb now has a healthy young mum with lots of milk and the ewe, well, she is none the wiser.  Her lamb that would not move, nor baa, nor feed, that lay in the pen unresponsive to her pawing was taken away for a moment by the big man who comes in the red truck and the next minute her lamb was right as rain — so right, he has two tails!

A little deception and the application of an old country skill and the dead lamb was skinned and the skin with all its associated love is transferred to the orphan (acquired from the other neighbour) and everyone is happy.

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Pink rinse from being rubbed with placenta and mud from earlier pawing.

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Bereavement, Things my mother did for me

Weeds

Dirt is just stuff in the wrong place. Weeds are just plants in the wrong place. Context is everything.

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My Mum loved me and wanted to please me (I think). She loved gardening and bright cheerful flowers. She filled every available receptacle with colourful annuals – pansies, busy-lizzies, lobelia, alyssum, salvias, verbena, primulas, snap-dragons and begonias (I hate begonias!).

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I love wild places. When we lived together at the end of her life she had a garden and I had a paddock and a wild area. But big lolloping red tulips would pop up mysteriously amongst the wild crocuses in my natural area and brightly coloured primulas appear mysteriously in the hedgerow of the paddock. She was incorrigible! Feral cultivated hyacinths were insinuated into the bluebell wood, people would give them to her and she never could stand their smell in the house (reminded her of incontinence).

After she died we moved to a really wild place where God does nearly all the gardening and where even rhododendrons are banned. But by the kitchen door there is an old sink where I have planted primulas.

Yesterday, when I was feeding the ewes, the sun came out and I noticed the first yellow star of ranunculus on the bank and two dandelions by the shed and they lifted my spirits (we’ve had a difficult few months) and in the sink by the door, peeping out from last year’s leaf litter, like a prayer, are Mum’s primulas, bright and new.

 

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Farm engineering, Hill Farming, Welsh History

Another one bites the dust!

There is an ancient lorry trap where we live.  It used to trap carts but it has never stopped. It is the reason why the old drovers took the high road — some say it is a portal to the underworld.

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It’s dusk now and the ingenuity of the Welsh farmer is bought to play — he always has a few railway sleepers about his person.  The tractor-pull has failed. The two-tractor-pull has failed — the chain has failed, fired like a mediaeval weapon into a field, but on this occasion no one is killed.  Eventually with a little modern help from the biggest jack in the world the sleepers are inserted and the spell is broken.

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What happens here repeatedly is that a right angle bend, on a 1:10 rising to 1:5 hill, arrests the vehicle.  It backs down, thinking it will take the alternate route, the driver turns the wheel clockwise. “Left hand down!” I scream as I hurtle across the field (Alan has told me to do this) but it is all too late.  There is a thud as the heavily loaded grain lorry slumps against the bank.  Sadly,  think our sheep (who have seen it all before) nothing is spilled, carts were much better!

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