Monday, 28 April 2008

My best guess.. not for those of a sensitive disposition

I'd said on Friday that I wondered what I'd find the next day...
Well. Here it is. On the huge rotting engine beam that has been taken out of the round house as part of the barn restoration and put in the ram's paddock. The big patch on the right is about six inches high.
First thought: "the ram's been sick".
Second thought (polite version): "the ram has ejaculated".
Third thought: "It could be some sort of fungus?".
I don't think I'm congenitally suited to being an ecologist. Too dirty-minded. Well, it was Saturday morning.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Farm craft 2

Following my fanciful forays into farm pyrography, I thought I should try my wobbly hand at something else. The entrance to the farm is a pair of ugly breeze block and concrete pillars, cracked and weathered, from which a cattle gate hangs, vital for keeping the livestock and dogs in.
Attached attractively to the gate by cable ties is (was) a plastic laminate-on-ply sign asking that people keep the gate closed at all times; well, they can open it to get in and out, of course...
I had promised myself that when the barns were finished, posts of old stone would replace the current stanchions, but as their worst is covered in ivy that might be something that never gets done. Either way, it was about time I sorted out the gate sign and produced a farm sign to match.
So I nicked a couple of slates that had come off the old barn roof and sat and sucked my pencil end whilst I worked out dimensions, spaces, fonts and so on. Hoorah for computers; I printed out various font sizes 'til it looked ok and then started to copy the lettering in pencil before painting them in with the eggshell left in the linhay by the previous owners.
I'm not one for perfection or patience, so it's kind of uneven. But I like it.

Friday, 25 April 2008

Slow, slow worm

There it was, minding its own business when someone (me) came along and picked up a few stones to make sure the mower wouldn't crash and burn later in the year.
This is the first slow worm I've seen on the farm. It was all knotted up like a Celtic tribute. It eyed me as an interfering force, so I put the stone back and left it to its curled comfort.
I love how there is so much going on around us and that just sometimes we catch a glimpse of what is there. It was new and exciting to me, but to the slow worm it was just another minute in its day.
What might I find tomorrow?
(If you click to enlarge you can see its eye and nostril at the bottom of the photo).

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Hedgerow life

So many wonderful things to be seen if you walk rather than drive. Yesterday I found an early-purple orchid on the verge as I walked the outer boundary of the farm, and today I spotted a bright blue egg in a hedge, tucked behind gorse. I think it belongs to a song thrush. And then I noticed that a lot of the ferns are starting to unfurl; they look like ammonites.
What did you see today that gave you a thrill?

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Protection racket

For 31 days one of the geese has been sitting on a clutch of eggs and yesterday just three out of about ten, hatched. Whilst she has sat she has eaten practically nothing, although I put a bowl of fresh corn by her nest each morning. She gets off the nest once a day to grab a mouthful of water and a snatch of grass, and she is back to the job in hand.
Geese lose an enormous amount of weight during this period; their fat reserves gone, their feathers go dry and brittle, and there is none of the usual chubbily overfilled nappy effect dangling between their legs.
Two other geese have also been laying eggs in the same hut, but have not started to sit as yet; they might if the new births don't distract them permanently.
Today, the goslings came out of the hut, down what for them must be an Everest of a ramp, and onto the grass which they pick at in curiosity. The sitting goose is surprisingly not central to the outing; she is off, heading for food, like the starving animal she is. Instead, the eldest goose seems to have taken charge - that's her, tattered head, sitting proudly as matriarch. The tattered head is the result of amorous gander behaviour; he's obviously keen on the old lady as her battle scars are worse than those of the younger geese.
But now the goslings are here, the gander will forsake fornication and take up position as prime protector. Each time the goslings wandered through the stock fencing he nudged them back with his beak. I couldn't get any nearer without risking a major pecking and a blast of ear-drum shattering honking , so the image is taken from a distance.
The extended family of the goose is something to admire; a whole army of aunts and dad to keep you safe, and the hand that brings the chick crumbs and fresh water at bay, or at a safe distance. I suspect the rest of the eggs will go to waste as the excitement and duty rota created by the new babes takes precedence. But at this young age, I'm not counting my goslings; even with the best protection racket in the animal kingdom, there may be none left by the end of next week.

Thursday, 17 April 2008

The Sorcerer's Apprentice

Enough of lambing and spring. Let's leave the pastoral red in tooth and claw world for some rat race sneering.
I don't know anyone like the competitors on The Apprentice. I have no idea if they are actors or one-offs or clichés of a group that I just haven't come across (other than in the zoo perhaps). They lie without compunction (have they forgotten that they are being filmed, watched and noted?), have the kind of bitter rows I've only ever seen within families, and are, each and every one, vile on a surfeit of ego.
Can you imagine announcing to anyone let alone to the whole BBC viewing public, that you have a high IQ? Serious chips on shoulders and inferiority complexes going on there. Or perhaps you'd feel happier emphasising some part of a self-perceived brilliance? No. The narcissism is of truly Greek proportions.
It makes for extraordinary viewing and tells you everything you need to know about how not to manage people. Not one of the current crop is a simply nice, intelligent person with good or interesting ideas; they are all deeply flawed humans. They will all be fired because of their hubris, human frailties and the will of the gods - aka Siralan (is that one word or two?).
I wonder how they would fare being put in charge of the lambing shed? How would they divvy up the shifts, make sure they had the right equipment and skills, collaborate in a life or death situation, ensure cleanliness and good husbandry? If they can't run a pub grub night effectively (otherwise known as a piss-up in a brewery), they wouldn't stand a chance.
Horrid tykes the lot of them. I watch it through spreadeagled fingers; it's almost unbearable.

Monday, 14 April 2008


You learn something new every day. Have you ever heard of a Tyrolean flicker gun? Yes? Well it's a first on me. What with the Bernese Mountain Dogs and tools more familiar with lederhosen than American workwear, this is turning into mini Switzerland; all it needs is edelweiss and cuckoo clocks to complete the cliché.
Splat, splat, splat they've gone all day, coating the external cob with lime render, smoothing (not too carefully, the base isn't MDF ) the splats so that the limewash will take.
And there may not be edelweiss, but there are marsh marigolds and wood anemones dangling at the waters edge. But I do have a cowbell hanging from a hook in the kitchen that gets shaken to call the workers in for refreshment.

Thursday, 10 April 2008


There are times (like now) when you can have enough of sheep. Two ewes are left to lamb, one of which is more a shipping container than a mere box of frogs. It is completely wild, and has no concept that the sheep is a domesticated animal, bred for centuries to be farmed. No. This sheep is a wolf, a piranha, and as I discovered this morning, a battering (ewe) ram.
My left tit (ok, TMI) is all purple bruise where this particular nutter took a flying leap at me, having given itself a considerable run up first, and launched into me full tilt like a bowling ball at a skittle. I managed to stand my ground, but only just, and the pain!
I know that a flock can have its flighty moments, but I've never known anything quite like this, particular at lambing time when my close and constant presence is at its most acceptable. The old girls positively welcome me helping out if they are having a little trouble and will come up to me if I'm sat on my stool observing, to give my hand a sniff. They crowd round me when I have a bucket of feed, and just a glance of me has them trotting over to see if there might be something good on offer. But not the flying ewe. I hope this one lambs on her own and needs no assistance; the consequences of having to help her could mean serious injury... to me!
So, to take my mind off sheepy things, and in line with the remaining quality of brain I have left, I have buried myself in fluff. I'm not recommending the Jilly Cooper romances for anything other than helping you drift off to sleep on those occasions when counting sheep is more likely to send you into an anti-farming frenzy, but Bella, Imogen, Prudence, Emily, Harriet and Octavia, although not bearing any literary examination, have kept my head quiet, a fictional morphine if you will, over the last couple of weeks. Jilly makes me chortle. It may be hogwash, but sometimes a hog can help you forget a sheep, bruises or no bruises.

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Families and solitude

At 6.30am feeding time, all the sheep and their lambs rush alongside me to get noses first into the feed troughs. It's loud, it's fast, it's physical, it's a race. Two hours later, having finished my other animal duties, I come back to check all is as it should be and the scene could not be more different. With full stomachs requiring most of their energy, all are now sitting or lying in lone parent groupings, chewing the cud companionably as if they were at a Gingerbread meeting. The lambs have given up their games of group chase and snooze next to or on top of their mothers. Siblings rest together. It's a wonderful, peaceful scene and a chance for me to check that each family group has bonded as it should and that no lamb has been abandoned or is in trouble.
In the next field the llama looks morose, and sulks, if a llama can sulk, disliking his solitary situation. In a few days all the sheep will join him and he will nose each lamb, adding them to his stock of extended family smells.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

A big (barn) day

Yesterday was a big day, barn wise. Although there is much to do still on the cob barn, the main roof is now on and looking gorgeous; reclaimed local rag slate and hip and ridge tiles were used, so there is nothing new or shiny about it - it just looks in good shape for an ancient building.
It makes sense to swap effort to the threshing barn to get its roof on too, and then all the joinery and finishing can take place on both barns knowing that the structures are secured and weatherproof. Finishing sounds posher than it is - external lime render and limewash is the sum total of that; these are barns, not holiday homes.
So it was back to demolition mode again, removing the treacherous stone that sat above the huge rotted beam that originally supported the horse engine in the attached roundhouse, and taking down the areas of failed cob. But new cob blocks also went up, so destruction to construction in one day.

Sunday, 6 April 2008


Out bleary-eyed at 6.30am to find small polystyrene pellets clinging to my hair. I find a beautiful pair of big ewe lambs have been born since the last check, the first birth I think that has gone unattended; the ewe must have gone from nought to sixty swiftly and easily.
I feed and water everything accompanied by excitable bleating. Now the majority of the ewes have lambed and are outside, they bellow at me to get a move on as I walk through them to the feed troughs. They try to get their noses into the bucket as I move fast to avoid being tripped up by their eagerness. I iodine the new lambs, feed the llama, let out the geese and the ducks and fill a haynet for the ram. The polystyrene balls are turning to flakes, thick and heavy, and start to settle. I grab my camera and as the sun comes out to melt the snow, take a record of the morning's chilly beauty.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Box of frogs

Mad as a box of frogs is a choice description that my neighbour generously contributed to my vocabulary. Box of frogs is now the name for any of the first-timer Torwens who don't realise they are lambing, drop their burden from a standing start and run off, relieved that the tum and bum pains have finally stopped. You have to corner these skippity creatures and herd them into a pen where their wet lamb is waiting to be licked into the world. The bonding is fine once the ewe gets her first sniff and taste; the problem is getting them to realise that the pain and the lamb are in any way connected. Expecting them to appreciate that they are in lamb at all and therefore shouldn't be leaping over feed troughs, straw bales and each other is an unwinnable battle, and the older ewes just look at them with disdain: "keep your strength for later, young'un".

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Deadheading the farm

The dogs are desperate to be taken for a decent walk, so today as the unlambed ewes seemed intent on retaining their burdens for some while, I indulged us all and walked the hedgelines with Mopsa and Fenn to check on spring.
Notwithstanding my fears that all the chopping, laying, banking, coppicing, fencing and general mauling about would lay the place to waste, spring has made long bacon at me and burgeoned regardless.
It seems that a farm is not dissimilar to a rose; you hack it back with some care, and it will burst out with new growth, knowing better than I that it will survive and thrive on drastic treatment.