Thursday, 26 February 2009

From mega to micro

We move from the megaspawn to the mini egg. Not of the chocolate kind, but of the duck sort. On the left, modelling the natural look of this season, is Mrs Aylesbury duck egg. It covers the palm of my hand; small hands I may have, but these eggs are considerably larger than the one from the chicken you more likely chomp with your toast soldiers.
On the right is also an Aylesbury duck egg. It's the first egg this duck has ever laid and she's working up to the fully fledged bonanza.
It was about an inch and a smidgen from top to toe and she'd forgotten to include the yolk.
That was yesterday. Today, all the eggs were of normal size. Quick learners, my ducks.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Mega spawn

Now these are amazing photos of this year's frog spawn and reminded me that it's about time to go on the jelly hunt. But I didn't expect to find megaspawn.
I counted eight separate nuclei in one bonkersly over-sized egg. What's that all about then? Conjoined froglets? Octuplet amphibians? All I could think of was the immense relief that Mama frog must have felt dumping that lot in the water.

The image of the moment

From time to time I find myself linking unexpectedly to a popular image. It might be the most adorable thing to pop up when you Google "sharpei", say, or the most spectacular of the many birds of paradise. It could be a snap of a badger, a nod to super bunny, or a reference to a dodgy moustache.
And then the numbers of visitors to this blog quadruple, leaping from an average fifty hits a day to over two hundred, and it can last for many weeks, until some other blogger or linker takes hold, or the item in question falls off the media radar.
If you had real nouse it would be possible to create a popular blog simply by inserting the zeitgeist image. But the images of the moment are not those that normally interest me. The one I've been trying to catch for weeks and failing to do so is of a pied wagtail. They fly off every time I reach for the camera, and although they are happy to bob about the yard, refuse to pose. This puny effort is the best so far; I will persevere.

Saturday, 21 February 2009


Off to the theatre last night to see the first performance of Cobbo by Theatre Alibi.
We chortled and laughed and giggled and snorted and gasped. The full house audience wriggled with pleasure at this short, simple, effective, fantastical piece. It was particularly warming seeing a play based in the place we were in, with references to the Devon County Library, the Quay, the river and the draining of the waters from the moor down to the city.
The story of love between a woman and a swan inevitably played on mythical ties to Leda and the Swan, the young woman in the play dreaming that her mother had hatched her from an enormous egg, but although we had to firmly suspend our disbelief, the play was rooted in the here and now, not some ancient past. The supermarket checkout girl, psychoanalysing every purchase as she pushed it through the bar code reader; the prevalence and loneliness of singledom. What is timeless is the portrait of self hatred and frustration that turns into mindless violence towards the vulnerable, and the determined lack of self-knowledge and understanding beyond one's own immediate realm that ultimately makes people unlovable.
The abiding big-grin image that I have taken away from the piece is that of the swan wrapped in big women's underpants, stuffed with panty liners (with wings, of course) to deal with his guacamole-like involuntary excretions. That and the cheese biscuit swans and chocolate eggs nestled in white feathers we were served along with the booze at the end of the play (first night pleasures - oh joy).
And as I drove away from Exeter, full of sadness at unfulfilled love, there at the side of the road was a couple deep in discussion, when the woman put her arms across her face in utter despair. Oh god.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Please sir, can I have some more?

When I saw this on the news I couldn't believe it. Farmers queueing for grants, first come first served, with no reference to levels of need or strategic use of sparse funding where it would have most impact.
What next? First come first served pensions? Egg and spoon races to determine child benefits? Begging bowls for incapacity benefit and disability living allowances?
If this is how we deal with government finances, why do we need civil servants or politicians, or democratic decision-making processes? Let's just have a free-for-all; the market place has gone entirely mad.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

The full cycle

Ok, I know you can't see their faces, but they are rummaging in their new indoor quarters. A great big farrowing pen has been built in the cob barn in anticipation of bringing home a Berkshire breeding sow, but for now, five new weaners have taken residence for a couple of weeks until the ground has dried out a little and they can romp as usual outside.
It's been some months since there were pigs, rather than pork, on the farm, but once the sow arrives pigs should be in permanent residence.
The pen is a massive construction of box steel frame and galvanised tin, concrete floor and inbuilt drainage. There is nothing (I hope) that a pig can get its nose underneath - the strength in those snouts is unbelievable. Once the weaners are permanently outdoors, this pen will have a creep area built in so that future piglets can get away from their mother's monstrous bulk if she threatens, inadvertently, to squash her young.
Getting home from picking up the new weaners, I rush round feeding the sheep and putting away the geese and ducks before heading back to ear tag the weaners and put them in their new pen. But there, in the duck pen is an immaculate but rather flat looking duck. Dead as a dodo.
My guess is that as this was the beginning of the laying season and we've had, as everyone knows, a cold spell, that she was egg bound. She looked fine this morning. I never thought about picking up each duck to see if they were overheated...they all looked so well.
So, new movements both on and off the farm. Spring and all its excitements of life and death is announcing that it's very nearly here.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

It's a scan

Yesterday, for the first time ever, the pregnant ewes were scanned. I know, god-like, how many offspring each ewe is due to produce.
There was much rejoicing at the news that just one experienced ewe was having triplets. None of this bonkers multiple birth stuff that happened last year, then.
Lots of doubles for the more mature gels and almost all singles for the first-timers, which is just how it should be.
Those with singles have been split into a separate field from the doubles and triplet bearing mums, so the latter can receive a bit more grub.
Now I know exactly how many lambs could be born, I feel increased pressure to do whatever I can to see them through to life, but there are no guarantees. At least I won't have to poke about wondering if a ewe has dropped her full load. But of course, these things aren't failsafe.

A whole month since I saw snowdrops in London, they have finally bloomed in Devon

Monday, 9 February 2009

The minister of silly thoughts

This is utterly irresistible. You couldn't make it up.
There's this Minister of the Environment who's banned this ad because he doesn't believe in man-made climate change.
Now, if he was minister for transport, or minister for using as much electricity as possible, or minister for self-indulgent ideas, or minister with absolutely no portfolio, or minister for irony, or minister for stirring things up by saying truly daft things, or minister with the most inappropriate qualifications for his job ever, or minister for denial, or minister for sticking his head in a pillow case and then in the sand, or minister for having his cake and eating it, or minister of pillocks, or minister of laughing stocks, or...
Come on, suggestions please. What job would you give him?

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Snow damage

It's weighty stuff, snow. Look what it's done to the roof of the old cow pen. And there was me thinking I'd done worrying about roofs for a few years.
Anyway, I'm too busy laughing at a letter in this Saturday's Guardian Weekend to fret.
To quote: "It's so annoying. There is Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall with a lovely recipe for pheasant and bean soup (Slurp Happy, 31 January), and I've just used up all the leftover pheasant to feed the estate workers and have nothing but swan on my hands".
I'm not going to get all snotty of Tunbridge Wells about this, but it was a wonderful illustration of different worlds on one tiny island. Pheasant is cheap, local, and plentiful to many people living in the country, and I don't remember letters of disapproval heading to the paper from them when sushi ingredients, passion fruit or even the ubiquitous but far flung banana appear on the recipe pages, all of which are no doubt regular must-haves for someone.
I've just carved the breasts and legs off two braces of pheasant and jammed them in a casserole with leek, celery, butternut squash, carrot, cider and thyme. The carcases are steaming in the stockpot for soup. And there isn't an estate worker in sight, never mind a swan. Not that I could tell if there was one floundering about in this weather.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Needs must...

Well, when vehicles are out and wheelbarrows are just not making the grade, imagination takes hold. In less than twenty minutes a makeshift sledge was ready and hay could be taken (slowly, laboriously, one bale at a time) to the sheep.
This new snow fall is very different from the last - wet and heavy, slushy beneath the gorgeous surface, and a good six or more inches deep.
The farm looks wonderful, but I'm grateful that we are still eight weeks off lambing. Walking across the farm to check on the livestock is exhilarating but exhausting.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

It's a white out

8 am. Poor pregnant ewes, facing off the elements, noses in troughs, building up whatever fat reserves they can to keep warm in biting weather. The black ewes are almost as white as the ones meant to be that colour.
But as the sun rises higher, the wind drops and the blizzards clear, it's glorious. The snow is perfect sparkling soft powder, about three inches thick, creaking under wellybooted foot. There are robins all over the place. Anyone would think it's Christmas.