Hill Farming, seasons, Wales

Before the Storm

It’s a misty autumn morning with dew on the pasture where Aby is getting to know her new companion.

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The other sheep (including her old friend Twts) have gone to meet the ram.  Aby, who had retired from lambing, has a new friend to keep her company  — no sheep is happy to be alone (although this particular, hand reared one might well prefer to be back in the kitchen with the dog and me).

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That’s why she looks so grumpy — to top it all, the new friend (who is very undersized) is getting extra rations which is very irritating to Aby who is on a diet!  New ewe lamb who is from a neighbour’s farm, is still nameless but was an orphan like Aby, so is very bold with humans but still not at ease with Pedro, the dog.  She stamps her feet in an unfriendly way when he comes near — it’s early days.

As the sun appears over the hill the whole area is bathed in amber light reflected from the dying bracken.

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The woods are glowing with new colors.

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and dew, on spider silk, drapes the dead stalks of yarrow in gossamer.

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and polishes the mellowing bramble.

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SONY DSCEven the dead wood on the compost heap is looking its best.

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Doggy, Hill Farming, Humour, Literature, Wales, Wendy Wigley

Iolo’s Revenge

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‘They’ll do!  They are the ones I want’, said the old farmhouse, probably in Welsh, and the couple (the ones the old place wanted) were drawn into the life of the place — inspired by its beauty, its creatures, its moods and its stories.

My book, Iolo’s Revenge, Sheep Farming by Happy Accident in Mid-Wales, is published later this week by Logaston Press.  It tells of the abduction of an orderly, retired couple from Northampton to the heart of Wales.

They accidentally buy a derelict farmhouse and almost immediately are adopted by Pedro, a wayward hound.  They had been winding down for a quiet life when suddenly they are climbing on the roof in the midst of a terrible storm, grappling with a homicidal, mechanical digger and wrestling with a huge pregnant ewe in a freezing stream in the middle of the night.

They had never had any inclination to move to Wales or practice extreme farming, nor try to learn Welsh –yet life just takes over and before they know it they have discovered a sense of belonging and community lost since childhood.

 

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Iolo’s Revenge is illustrated by Wendy Wigley, a local artist who shares our love of the Trannon Valley and it’s often incongruous images!

SONY DSC Iolo’s Revenge ISBN 978-1-910839-24-9 £7.99 Available from Fircone Books, The Holme, Church Rd, Eardisley,  HR3 6NJ, United Kingdom.   Tel:+44(0)1544 327182

Buy today on-line from:Logaston Press

 

 

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Humour, Sheep farming

Mothers and daughters — strong bonds, weak fences

We have weaned our 2015 lambs, and sorted them — with much baaing, a lacerated hand, a butted head, exposure to organophosphates (or similar), marital disharmony, horse-fly attack (despite aforementioned insecticide) and general fouling with mud and excrement — and that was just me..

Now the ewes are in one field and the ram lambs are happily in the boys-field. The ewe lambs are very unhappily in the girls-field. This is bound to lead me to extrapolate extravagantly upon the nature of the mother-daughter bond. The ewe lambs are screaming hysterically and throwing themselves against the double wire fence that separates them from their mums. The mums are lying down taking a well-earned rest and trying not to listen, you can see then clenching their teeth and staring into the middle distance.

Close to the fence but trying not to listen -- the mothers

Close to the fence but trying not to listen — the mothers

As night falls the baaing does not diminish and shortly after 2 a.m. there is a great crescendo and from the house I can hear the lower tones of the adult ewes joining in. I wait, it does not diminish, so I get dressed, grabbing the first garments to come to hand, the torch battery is flat — I stumble out into the starless night (where are all those shooting stars?)

When I get to the source of the din, all the female sheep are gathered around a crisis, all offering an opinion. Two ewe lambs are stuck fast between the two fences that separate lambs from mums; there is an old tree growing there that has pinned them down, resolute in its dimly remembered hedge-duty of separation.

I climb over into the narrow wire cage, ripping my new trousers on the barbed wire and pull the first lamb out backwards by its kicking feet and hug it tight then I carefully hook the lamb’s flailing front limbs over the top wire of the fence avoiding the barbs more successfully than I did with my own bottom (we’re talking 30 wriggling kilograms – the lamb, that is) then I heave. Amazingly it lands like an SAS parachutist, rolling like a pro, regains its feet and in a single movement disappears into the night. The ewes are impressed.

The second lamb is huge and heavy, I apply the same technique and deliver it as a breech from the womb of the old tree but, despite all the huffing and puffing, my strength then fails me. I do not let go; I shout for my assistant… No reply, not even from the dog. The louder I shout, the louder the sheep join in, and the denser is the silence emanating from the sleeping house.

Nothing is more motivating than having no other options, after a little rest, I hook its feet over the top wire and with all my might I heave and the second lamb disappears into the night.

Next morning at first light a morning chorus of ovine distress startles me from slumber but strangely not my spouse. Exploration, slowly as I am strangely stiff, reveals another lamb grabbed by the panicky old hedge. As I approach, the lamb butts at the base of an old fence post which, having rotted in the ground, slides to one side creating a hole and the lamb escapes.

Ewe-lamb trapped between two fences and (bottom right) escape route

Ewe-lamb trapped between two fences and (bottom right) escape route

In the light of day the problem is clear: the newer of the two fences is fine but the old one which it replaced is, though upright, not up to the sudden and unaccustomed onslaught of the mother-daughter bond. Hurling themselves randomly against it the girls have found all the weak spots. It will have to be removed as soon as possible.

Twelve hours later the last roll of liberated fencing wire is rolled towards the barn.

Recycling fence wire - the old will last longer than the new!

Recycling fence wire – the old will last longer than the new!

Remember Gladys ( our ‘should have been left for dead’ lamb — the one with economy ears but huge determination to survive)?  Well, on our final trip to the barn she passes us,  heading after the others, away from the scene and up the hill, far away from the mother’s field, tossing her head as if to say, ‘We’re grown up now — we’re off up the top!’

Gladys -- all weaned and grown-up

Gladys — all weaned and grown-up

My husband turned to me, ‘Did you notice anything odd about those ewe-lambs.’

‘No.’

‘One of them seemed to have testicles…’

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Ecology, Nature Photography

New Worlds above the Flood

It’s been raining quite a lot.  Between storms I’ve been having a new look at the world.

The stream is swollen and down the valley they complain that the drumming of the river keeps them awake at night.

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We’ve moved our flock to higher ground to keep their feet dry and when the low winter sun comes out, which it has been doing quite often, every sheep has a silver lining:

?????????????????????????????We’ve been making the most of the sunny periods by cutting back the hedge rows so that the grass can grow with more light although we still need shelter for the beasts and privacy for lambing; behind the hedges we’re cutting back  the low branches and brambles that will whip us in the eye and snag us as we give assistance in the spring.

Winter working reveals aspects of the wildlife with which we share this land that are overshadowed or covered at other times of the year. Hover over these pictures for details:

Today I have been looking in a bit more detail at the moulds and fungi that surround us, if any of you recognise the species I’d love to hear from you – leave a comment.

Here are some mosses and lichen.   After the fall, some of the hawthorn and damson trees reveal so much lichen that they seem to be in blossom!

A whole world can exist on the top of a gatepost!

Gatepost with mini rain-forest

Gatepost with mini rain-forest of lichens and moss

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Hill Farming

Abi’s Odyssey

What an adventure: today she has led the daughters of the chosen out of peril,  defied a mighty king, travelled the length of the known world, faced alien hordes, unperturbed, and tasted the fruits of a promised land and it’s not even lunchtime.

Everything is relative.

Seven years ago (a biblical period) I probably wouldn’t even have noticed, I wouldn’t have spotted those white dots on the farthest hill, wouldn’t have wondered about the gender of the dots.  Wouldn’t have rushed up the valley, binoculars in hand.

But as I approach our boundary I need no binoculars to see that our neighbour’s tenant has loosed a ram and 20 breeding ewes into the adjacent field; the one with the dodgy fence posts that falter and play dead when challenged.  Through that very fence his randy tup is sniffing at our precocious theave lamb (see Raddle-Dazzle); she makes me think of Anne Boleyn, she is running daintily up and down by the fence baa-ing prettily but surprisingly loudly and each time as she turns, she stamps her little feet, the old king, on the far side of the fence is transfixed — enchanted.  Meanwhile his ladies gather around his number-one-wife, the dominant ewe and whisper, looking accusingly at that Boleyn girl ( she has a streak of mud on her back, they are questioning her virginity — well, perhaps not)).

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I run back to the house. opening and shutting various gates on the way and fetch my magic bucket which has mysteriously been tampered with; it has been used for chain-saw oil, which smells bad; its power lies in its mystical maltiness; I chant appropriate expletives as I clean it and refresh its ewe-nut rattle and scent.  A moment later I have my sergeant at arms, my witch’s peculiar, my familiar; she hurtles to my call, not a swooping, weaving bat, nor an owl, blinking in the light of day, but a clomping old ewe who is trained to my bidding and I to hers, we set off, Abi and I and the dog, armour glinting in the morning light.

Odyssey

Ten minutes later and two of us breathing heavily, we have reached the farthest outpost of our kingdom, it has not yet laid down under the weight of conjugal bliss, I rattle my magic bucket, Anne Boleyn tosses a dismissive glance over her shoulder but her maids come and have a sniff and when the sergeant and I turn and walk away they follow.  Anne looks at us, then at the king, then back at us, she is deserted by all her people…  She fears nothing more than being alone, she is, after all, a sheep.  It’s too much, she turns away from the king and runs down the field and we all walk steadily back towards the farmstead.

As we draw farther away the foolish virgins look back, I know that with every step we take the pull of the king is less so we keep walking but then there is a scream on the opposite bank, a hollering and the unmistakable call of a hunting horn (really — not just another escaped metaphor),  there is baying of hounds directly ahead.  My foolish virgins stop dead, so does the sergeant at arms, they start to turn, I shake the bucket, the sergeant advances towards it, Good Old Abi.  Our dog who has been following aimlessly sniffing for rabbits, suddenly hears the threat and runs to take up a position at the head of our column, as he overtakes the sheep he turns them and provides a little push and they again follow us.

We stomp on confidently; they follow nervously.  I close the last gate behind them as the baying abates.  Typical!   We haven’t heard hounds for a year, hunting is illegal, and they don’t exist but they pass through the cutting by our gate just as we are moving timid sheep.

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