Hill Farming, Wales

Deep and Crisp and Even!

“Mark my footsteps, good my page
Tread thou in them boldly
Thou shall find the winter’s rage
Freeze thy blood less coldly.”

From the Christmas Carol –Good King Wenceslas

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Aby, our oxymoron, a ten year old orphan lamb — now retired, and her companion, Twts (Titch in Welsh) coming down off the hill to the safety of the yard.

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Pedro — impatiently leading the way — what’s holding you up?

 

 

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adventure, Hill Farming, lifestyle

Diminished Responsibility!

 

 

Today we wanted an adventure so we set off to test the roads and our new off-road tyres.

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So far so good!

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Up the cwm and into town — the Co-op shelves were almost empty — their lorry was missing, presumed lost — come to think of it we saw a lorry stuck on the hill.  We got our pills and enough ginger wine to last until spring and sped homeward.

We thought we’d avoid our dangerously steep cwm with its sheer drop one side and all the inconveniently placed oak trees, unyielding in a slippery situation.

We went the other way — we were trying to be responsible.

It was odd that there were no tyre marks into our turning — just beautiful virgin snow (powder, if you are a skier) about a foot deep.  We chose this route as it has steep banks (quite a lot of roads here are narrow tarmac strips suspended between precipice and ditch) — we could see which way the road went.  As we drove higher we could see the drifting — ridges of white dunes crossed our path from bank to bank — deeper and deeper as we got higher and higher.  Now we remembered seeing the drifting starting two days ago, before the 20cm of last night’s dump.  There are no houses up here and no lights — just white drifting snow and wind.

‘Shall we go back?’

‘Not yet!’

The technique was — drive as hard as you can until the drift stops you, then reverse and do it again.  Each time we got a little further using our makeshift bulldozer — back and forth — higher and higher — deeper and deeper!

Amazingly we reached the crest and it became slightly easier as we descended into the dip — into the unknown.  We turned at the bottom and could see the tracks where a quad bike, coming the other way, had given up, and turned for home.  That cheered me up.  I was being very quiet and brave! We followed in it’s tracks.

Now we had about half a mile of a straight, steep rise which Alan took at speed (relatively) drifting and sliding, sometimes almost travelling sideways but keeping going, then suddenly we had crested the hill and could feel the road, solid again , under our wheels.

Downhill for a couple of miles, and we could see where our young neighbour had come out of his track and headed down our way –‘hope to God we don’t meet him coming back!’  We did not.

It’s going to be minus 15’C tonight and maybe snow some more — where shall we go tomorrow?

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Climate, Hill Farming, Sheep farming

White Wales

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No longer wet and green, where we live is suddenly white and crisp.

Today we went to inspect the moors above our home on the untreated roads.

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There is an amber alert for heavy snow overnight and cautious farmers were driving their sheep to land nearer home.

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Like us they were slithering a bit but seemed pleased to be heading home.

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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!

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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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