Each week the order of things change by a tweak; the routine is not as routine as one might think. Animal requirements alter with the season, livestock is moved from field to field, and post-abattoir some fields are left empty for a time.
On this first day of a sparkly new year I was more conscious than usual of the adaptations of my progress through the morning hour of feeding and watering the hordes.
First task is to tend to the indoor beasts. Cats and dogs sorted, I cover up with thick gloves, jacket, hat and neoprene lined wellies and cast myself into the frozen wastes of Devon. Animals closest to the house are next in line. I go through to Little Oaky where the last batch of 2008 lambs for meat are picking disconsolately at frozen grass. I cram a bale of hay into their hayrack, scatter a few nuts for their added inner warmth, and crash through the ice covering their water trough.
It was too cold last night to fill the rubber water buckets and skips; the hoses were frozen solid, so I have to go to the dog room and fill up buckets from there, carrying several loads for the Aylesbury and Black Indian Runner ducks. It's treacherous; the water the ducks spill in great abandon round the buckets has frozen into a slippy sheet and I try to take firm steps. I let the ducks out into their runs, give them their feed and admire the heap of ice bullets that emerged from the hosepipe yesterday.
I check on the cockerels being fattened; their run has been left open and a pair of them are pecking round on the barn floor, nibbling up strands of stray wheat heads. The surplus wheat straw from the roundhouse thatching is being steadily used up for poultry bedding and the cockerels spend hours denuding the wheat ears. I corner and pick up the birds, put them back in their run, add some more feed and refresh their water.
Up to the rams' paddock, I stuff fresh hay into the makeshift rack and whistle. They both come charging up to snatch at the hay, and I check them over for bumps and bruises. Catching up a length of scaffold pole I mash through the ice in their trough, which leaves my hands ringing.
I shovel out poultry corn and goat mix into a pair of scoops and go into the orchard. I trail an equitable line of corn on the ground for the geese and let them out of their hut, smashing the ice in their trough too. I stand and watch them for a while; Frankie the gander lords it about but is careful only to hiss at me once I've already moved off to check on the ewes in Long Lands. All ewes present and correct I put the goat mix in the llama's bucket out of sheep reach, crack the ice in their trough and check on the hay situation - they'll need more this morning. The old landrover is hooked up to the battery charger and is full of fencing tools so I stuff a couple of bales in the back of my car and take it up to the sheep by road, turfing the bales over the gate, ram the loosened bales in with foot and fist, so that I can make some attempt to close the lid of the hayrack.
I fill a barrow with logs and take it back to the house; time for my own breakfast and to salute the new year.