Small Holding, Spooky, Thoughtful

Spooky?

We live in a place that is forever asserting itself, whether via its climate or its wildlife, or by knocking over trees or blocking culverts.  The place has its own agenda, its own friends and relations (they often arrive unannounced for tea) and it is quite possessive.

Recently we were celebrating a sacrament (coffee and biscuits) with a friend on Sunday morning when there was a knock at the door.   Outside, in the drizzle was a young woman we had never seen before.  She was waving a long cardboard tube.

‘You don’t know me but I’ve come on an adventure!’

She wasn’t after out souls or even trying to sell us something.

She was just another one of the people that our cottage-holding had sent for (it’s happened before!)

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Deborah is an artist, and buys strange things at auctions that inspire her — she cuts them up and stitches them.  She had bought the map of our place — 1901 Ordinance Survey, at a sale in Leek, Staffordshire.  She’d bought it years ago but could never quite bring herself to cut it up.  It was personal to the house, you see; it had all the field names pencilled in, in Welsh, and even had the new well marked (circa 1980).

She couldn’t use it, and was passing within ten miles, so had brought the map home.  She couldn’t explain it and felt it was rather an odd thing to want to do but we didn’t — we know our home.  It doesn’t like to let go of things or people.  So we will hang the map, once framed, next to the horse brasses, the dresser, the polished pump-nozzle, the wooden rake and the photographs of past residents and their New-World descendants, who have visited  — all things that this sentimental old homestead has collected or reassembled since its original scant contents were dispersed at a farm sale in 2005.

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animal psychology, poultry, Small Holding

High-Rise Chickens!

High-rise Chickens — My very good friend is married to the Chicken Whisperer. Their smallholding is Paradise on Earth for world weary hens, and some ducks and geese. They live in a woodland glade with a babbling brook and ponds that can be emptied and refilled at the turn of a stop-cock. Everywhere is cottage garden and orchards with tumbling verdura and magic, mossy, stone walls sprouting ferns and navelwort. Here is the ultimate gated community with little houses for the various feathered cohorts, groups of birds with special bonds of species, family or long association.

They all return to their own homes at dusk to be locked securely in until dawn, when they are free to potter in the gardens and browse on nature’s bounty or feed from the bowls of delicious and varied porridges that my friend prepares under instruction from the Whisperer and which cater for their special dietary needs.

A few weeks ago a hen disappeared. Searches were instituted. The ground was scanned for feathers. Every nook and cranny was probed – no hen was found. Security was reviewed; electric fences and nocturnal patrols were discussed. Then she re-appeared!

She was not alone; behind her marched seven chicks, brooded in secret and now displayed to the world. But every night, just before dusk, they disappeared again.

My friend and her husband hid in the bushes, peeped around trees and skulked in the lane but could not find their hiding place.

Every morning in trepidation they counted the chicks. Every morning there were seven – now almost as big as their mother. The Whisperer and his wife were wan with sleeplessly anxiety about this stubborn mother hen and her at-risk offspring out in the night to be smelled out by a fox.

‘What they need is a new house – their own place!’ Timber was purchased, and roofing felt and dowelling for perches, door furniture and hundreds more nails and screws than were actually needed (that’s hardware retail for you these days). Digging and levelling, sawing and hammering ensued. It took a couple of weeks in the rain and wind, dodging falling branches as Hurricane Ophelia came and went. Still every morning seven chicks would appear and march in step past the work in progress.

Then humane traps were constructed and baited deliciously (these chicks were not stupid) and the Whisperer knew that it had to be all or nothing –  mother hen and every single chick or no-one. To leave one or two chicks alone in the wild night was unthinkable. Catching them all took enormous concentration and time (two whole days) and lots and lots of treats. But Bingo! They were all caught and decanted into their beautiful new home. They were shut in for two days and two nights (a lot in chicken-time). ‘That should be enough,’ said the Whisperer, confident that now they would return each night to their secure and luxurious new accommodation..

However, they did not.  On the third day, at dusk, their coop was empty: no mother hen, no chicks!

But hey, what’s this?  Upwardly mobile chickens!   Not very clear photos, but they are all up in one of the tallest trees. That’s right, you can see the top of a telegraph pole which gives away their altitude and the falling leaves have denuded their cover.

Arboreal Chickens – what next?

 

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Ecology

The Mysterious Case of the Missing Fish

If you stand on a bridge for long enough around here someone will come past who will stop to bemoan the passing of the fish.  They will tell you about the trout they tickled in childhood and the salmon their grandfathers netted when times were hard.  They may also tell you how they outwitted the game keeper in their youth.

The only trout we’ve seen in our stream, that was more than an inch long, arrived in a bucket taken from the boot of a car, caught elsewhere by a friend’s grandson and rehomed in our stream, never to be seen again.

Accepted wisdom blames acid rain, too many pine trees, insecticides washing off the backs of the sheep, the reduced use of lime on the fields, too much sewage running into the water, not enough sewage running into the water, over fishing, weirs, flooding and sheep dip.

Now, we’ve just acquired a trail camera which we’ve placed by the stream in an isolated open area (most of our stream has cover) and guess what the first thing we spotted was — not an otter (sadly)

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European Otters

but a mink who appeared to be (guess what?)…  Fishing!

Monk by jsutcliffe

Mink!  by jsutcliffe (CC BY- NC-SA 2.0)

The following day, shortly after dawn, we spied a heron patrolling the same stretch of water. What are they up to, if there are no fish?  I know they do eat frogs.  Or are they the reason that there are no fish?

Lots of the streams in this area have pasture right down to the water’s edge so that any fish that there might be have no cover from overhanging vegetation which is what they need to hide from these dastardly predators.

The problem is what to do about it.  Bring back the game-keeper?  I know what he’d do!

The predators that the game-keepers used to kill are perhaps more common than we thought — we just don’t get up early enough these days to see them.

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animal psychology, Humour, Neurophysiology, Sheep

Why don’t sheep laugh?

When I fell over in the snow the sheep didn’t fall about laughing, they were just perplexed — couldn’t work it out.  They know, you see, that humans are vertical creatures (everyone knows that!)  Horizontal humans just don’t make sense — it’s unthinkable.

When we humans have our preconceived notions challenged, when a paragon of respectability is caught with his trousers down or a judge is spotted slumped in a corner with a glass in his hand and his wig skew-wiff, we giggle and move on.  A sense of humour helps us think the unthinkable, it is great, it helps us accept the apparently unacceptable and we enjoy it.  I think that’s part of what it’s all about — broadening our minds!

Poor sheep: no sense of humour and they still can’t get their heads around it.

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Literature

The Windrush Babies

The Windrush Babies is a new book written under the pen-name CB – and yes, it does ring a bell! The Empire Windrush was that boat that brought the first Caribbean immigrants to the UK in 1948 – you’ve seen it on newsreel clips.

I discovered it when I sat next to CB on a long distance bus recently – National Express is a marvellous institution for broadening one’s experience, unlike trains, people talk on buses!

We talked all the way to Birmingham (pity the man behind, trying to sleep) – what an interesting young person (not the man behind). Just before getting off, for the connection to Chester, CB mentioned the book – “it was in my head and I just had to write it – but it’s written now and I’ve put it up on Kindle and we’ll just have to see what happens!”

No launches, real or virtual. No interviews on local radio, no Facebook campaign but it’s out there – on Kindle, which is much easier than I thought – it seemed to be free but I don’t have a Kindle but it didn’t seem to matter – I paid my money (£7) and got a link to the Kindle Cloud on which I clicked and it took me to the right page and I read – simple!

And it’s a simple story, The Windrush Babies, but with a complex and powerful emotional punch. It’s anecdotal, light, amusing but builds to an awful truth. It’s a child’s view, a study of the human cost of migration and never has it been more relevant. Don’t be sniffy about the odd formatting idiosyncrasy or stray comma – feel the narrative.

It is full of contrasts – written with Jamaican dialogue and a scholarly vocabulary. There is blind selfishness rubbing shoulders with the ultimate in self-sacrifice. It is a celebration of family and of mother-love, riddled with foreboding – you really should read it. I would hate it to go un-noticed!

 

 

Thanks to UlyssesThirtyOne for the header image entitled ‘When the World is Against You’. (CC BY 2.0)
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Medical, Sheep

The Mystery of the Missing Ears

Our friend Tony told me about the flock of sheep fed on oil-seed rape, when it first became a popular crop in Britain. (It might have been in 1976 that famously hot dry summer.) The sheep gained weight like never before but lost their ears! It was a mystery.

oil seed rape field

Oil seed rape field curtesy of Bayer Crop Science UK  CC BY 2.0

 

Photo-toxicity is something I learned about in another life when a lady gardener showed me the livid, blistered scalds on her arms, as if she had been whipped with a red hot flail. In fact she had been lightly brushed by the cut, sappy ends of giant hog weed, angelica and cow parsley that had taken root and flourished amongst her parsnips that hot summer and which she had been cutting down.

Phototoxic chemicals, which occur in all these plants, increase the reactivity of the skin to ultra-violet and sometimes visible light – they are the opposite of sun screen and can produce the most bizarre patterns of sunburn. You can get them onto your skin directly, like the sap, or be effected by eating them, as with the light sensitivity that can occur with certain drugs.

Bergamot oil is another phototoxic agent, giving a puzzling blistered burn on the neck of a very smart but distressed lady who did no more than spray herself with expensive perfume on a sunny day.

I think that the sheep with the missing ears got such bad sunburn on their ears (their least woolly part) after eating or brushing through oil seed rape that they ultimately lost the tips of their ears– like our lamb here.

SONY DSCTwo of our triplets this year seem to be effected. They are the small ones who have had less milk and, early on, foraged more widely, nibbling in the hedgerow and tasting all sorts of plants at an earlier age than usual, when their hair was thin and their skin sensitive. The bigger one has gained weight but has lost his ears!

 

The little one has done better, now we have worked it out, and she has had treatment and gets my sun screen (factor 20) liberally applied on sunny days!

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Twts (they never have names!) She’s better with antibiotic, steroid and sun-screen

Whatever next?

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Doggy, Hill Farming, Humour

Pedro’s Summer (do)Glog!

 

The sheep are sheared and drenched, the lambs are all injected and sprayed for blow fly and lice, and Maa’s been done for horse fly and midgy (she tastes most peculiar) and she’s finished the paperwork (boring), so we’re off out — it must be Summer.

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Keeping Cool!SONY DSC

Posing in the sunshine!

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Walks now limited by bovine population explosion.

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So we’re going to dig another pond with Alan’s new little helper…

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Who is quieter and less temperamental than the old one who had to be taken away.  Driven onto the lorry with much slipping, sliding, huffing and puffing of blue smoke — Alan was sad.

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But the topper has broken so, while Alan mends it, Maa and I have got to cut all the thistles by hand — that’s why I’ve got to do the blog — Maa’s too stiff!.

Cheers all!

043Ped closeup

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