Thursday, 8 October 2015

Autumn Harvests, Goat Magic, and Miss Socks

It's autumn in the Welsh Marches. Our fruit trees are groaning under the weight of apples and pears -

var. "Cissy" - I used a local Pomona to identify some of the apples in our orchard

There are light frosts in the morning. The Mandarin ducks have returned to overwinter in the pond, and Kitty is growing her thick coat. All the poultry have finished their moult. The soil is warm so I'm still mowing grass, but the mower also picks up all the turkey and chicken feathers, and slices the windfall apples at the same time creating an edible feast for the poultry and wild birds.

It's cold enough that I put hand warmers on the seat of the Land Rover now, to prevent CBS (cold butt syndrome). I can use the "Landy" to do all my errands in autumn because I can leave Dakota the German Shepherd in the car while I'm in the shops or in town. The Landy doesn't lock and it's very steal-able, but Dakota is an excellent deterrent. It's too hot even in our British summer to expect her to sit in there.

Our first shoot day is two weeks away and, as is every year, I'm completely unprepared. No, really. The dogs aren't fit yet as my pub job means I'm not home to chase birds back with the dogs - my normal "get fit" routine. I'm still sorting through farm chores that need to be done before shooting, and before the first bout of winter weather hits us. These are the farm chores I've ticked off the To Do list:

1) Stock up on animal feed -

A friend of mine works in a feed store, and he saves me all the broken bags and nearly expired animal food, which I buy at a hugely discounted price. I fill the truck once a month for £75, instead of over £200, It's reassuring to have extra stores in place, too.

2) Harvest the bulk of this year's spring lambs -

Fourteen lambs went to market on Monday. Even though the price of lamb is down, my lambs were good and held their own in the sales ring. These are "fat" lambs, or finished lambs, ready for the UK market. They had gone a bit thin, hence didn't go to market last trip. It wasn't for lack of feeding; they simply needed a dose of worm medicine to enable their systems to use the extra feed I was giving them. Another lesson learned. 

I have three smaller lambs that I've held back to finish. One will go in our freezer, one to our underkeeper as payment for his shepherding help, and one for sale to two customers who like my lamb. There's also Di the goatling to put in the freezer soon. I think I've sold half of that to the local gastropub. We're already supplying them with oven-ready partridge - raised by us but shot on another estate.

3) Goats & goatlings -

I've sold the doe goatling to a friend's daughter. She collected her yesterday, and re-christened her Agnes. Agnes will live with their sheep and pigs in a small orchard. The daughter rushed home from school today to start teaching her new goatling to walk on a lead. I expect I will see Agnes at a local show, being led by a beaming new owner.

Since the goatling went, I've gained an extra litre of milk from her mother Blodwyn at each milking. This morning Blodwyn put her foot in the milk again. No worries - I simply save "foot milk" as lamb replacement milk, instead of milk for human consumption. I traded an ex-goat keeper some of my home-made chutney stash for her leftover milking pail with filter, and sealable bags -

These bags are great, and I can seal them with my vac-packing machine. That way I can freeze a supply now for any bottle-fed lambs next spring. 

I used some of yesterday's fresh milk to make Leche Quemada - Mexican goat's milk fudge-

The pears need to soften; the fudge needs to harden

When life gives you goat's milk, make goat's milk fudge. That's a saying, right? Mike asked if I could teach the nanny goats to use the trampoline so he could have milkshakes.


I have moved on from buying trampolines to buying goat amulets. When I visited Turkey, I saw many herds of goats, and some of the goats were wearing a blue "eye" symbol. I saw a goat bell with the eye in a local market and was told that it is a nazar and protected the livestock from evil and sickness. Well, who am I to argue with centuries of Turkish goatherders? I purchased that nazar in the market and it hangs in my office. I purchased two new ones for the nanny goats from the sacred internets -

This is Blodwyn modelling hers. I think she feels empowered..

4) Find a home for Miss Socks

We also have a new, though temporary, addition to the farm -

Mike calls her Miss Socks, as she has whites toes on all four legs and looks like she's wearing ankle socks. She's probably collie x lurcher, under a year old. She was seen running loose on the estate for a few days before maintenance staff coaxed her into their van. They brought her to us as we already have eight dogs, I guess they figured what's one more. They're right, of course. We checked with local vets for missing dogs (none), and this morning I took her into the vets to check for a microchip (none), and get her health-checked. She's timid, but healthy. A poacher probably dumped her or abandoned her instead of getting caught by the gamekeeper.

The story has a happy ending. The mother of our young land agent has been looking for just such a dog to adopt. She's coming over tomorrow night to meet Miss Socks ( I hope she's also re-christened by her new owner). Miss Socks is a cuddler and with those eyes, I've no doubt she'll have a new home, her own couch, and plenty of affection. 

5) Flush ewes ready for new ram.

(P)Rick the ram will be put to my ewes a month from today. 

He's maturing into a handsome tup, and he has stopped trying to head-butt me though I never turn my back on him in case he changes his mind.

The ewes need to be fit and a healthy weight to "flush" at least two eggs for fertilising. They are getting a daily feed plus a vitamin and mineral lick. My oldest ewe I left to run with pRick when he arrived, and it looks like she's in lamb. She will be due to lamb as the others are getting pregnant; not ideal but a good test run to see what kind of lambs he throws. And I have replacement milk ready on hand, just in case. 

Friday, 25 September 2015

We've Passed!

The results are in from the vets - our new nanny goats are TB free, and free from Johne's Disease, CAE, and CLA. 

We're all very relieved and happy at the news. 

Now we are out of quarantine and moved into our new house, complete with an ivy-insulated roof and soft rubber mats on the floor with lots of fresh straw for bedding. It was once used for cider pressing before its goat-house makeover.

The little paddock is a handling yard where we can be milked, groomed, and checked by vets. Most importantly, it's where we get breakfast and lunch delivered. Besides sweet grain and alfalfa, we are partial to apple peelings and bread crusts-

Our grazing paddock is HUGE and we've already been caught climbing trees and chasing pheasants for entertainment. We didn't think much of the trampoline. Mostly we just pooped on it and chewed the vinyl cover.

Monday, 24 August 2015

White Gold

After a few days of bribing the goats with grain and with a little help from Mike to steady the front end, I have collected my very first harvest of goat's milk -

Ok maybe "harvest" is too grand a word. I had milked nearly a pint when the goat stuck her poo-ridden back foot straight into the jug. I had to throw that milk out, grab a clean jug, and start all over again. I don't want to take too much milk as her baby needs first dibs. I just want her to get comfortable with the milking process, and the bonus is enough milk for my daily tea and coffee intake.

It doesn't taste "goaty" like store-bought goat's milk. Except for being less creamy than cow's milk, there isn't a whole lot of difference. I filter it, but I don't pasteurise it. I practice basic milking hygiene and cool the milk quickly, that's about it.

The vet comes in a week to give the goats a thorough check-up and some blood tests. If they pass, they can move from their pheasant pen quarantine to the new goat enclosure. The goat pen is already finished, I just need to put some rubber matting in the goat shed for their comfort.

I put a section of rubber matting in their temporary shelter, and the kids immediately started leaping and springing on it. I found myself on second-hand websites looking for a small, cheap trampoline just to see what the kids would make of it. I think it sounds like a fun idea; Mike thinks it sounds like evidence to be given at my future sanity hearing.

I forgot to give you all an update on J the jay fledgeling. We released him a few weeks ago and he hung around the garden for a few days. He's since expanded his territory, but we see him around. He's easy to identify as his tail feathers are ragged from being in a cage. When he moults and grows new feathers, he will melt into the general jay population. J was never domesticated, or even tame. As soon as he could feed himself, he wanted to move on.

I miss him though.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Little gifts

It's late summer now. The hay in the field is baled, and the combines have started bringing in the corn. The partridge pairs have formed the coveys, many with wild-raised chicks, that will be their winter social group until they break off into pairs again next spring. The second hatch of swallows has finally fledged from my freezer room, early enough and strong enough to face their great migration to Africa.

The dogs know it's nearly autumn too. Most of this year's pheasants are in their woodland pens. On overcast days, the pheasant wander looking for the sun. Spud and Quincy know that means it's time to chase them back home. As soon as they finish their breakfast, they jump in the buggy ready for work-

It's not ideal to take my best picking up dogs out to chase birds, but that's the rub when you have working dogs. You have to ask them to understand the complexities of different jobs and trust them to do it. Pip and Dakota are still willing, but physically not up to the job any more.Tinker and Molly aren't mentally strong enough or matured enough to cope with the extra work. Mike uses Podge and Dulcie to do his rounds. Even with eight dogs, we haven't got enough for the work load.

Then, we had a week of dog accidents. Spud found the jar of peanut butter I use to bait rat traps (I long ago stopped using poison after too many inquisitive dogs ended up at the vets having their stomachs pumped). I must have hit it when I was mowing and the glass shattered. Broken glass isn't enough to stop Spud from eating, so she retrieved the jagged, part-consumed jar of peanut butter to me, mouth cut up and bloody but still smiling that dopey flatcoat smile. I had to find EVERY piece of the jar to be sure she hadn't swallowed any.

The next morning Dulcie came stumbling out of her kennel, head tilted to one side, unsteady on her feet. Her eyes were unfocused. I later found out it's called a vestibular incident, but it looked for all the world like a stroke. I raced down to the vets as fast as my old Land Rover would go (50 mph in case you wondered) and with medical intervention she's recovered and is about 95% back to her old self. I need her to work over winter this year, but I will have to be extra vigilant and make sure she doesn't suffer another episode. She has pills to take twice daily. I added her to my chalkboard list of "Who has What Medication When".

I'm going to need a bigger chalkboard.

I've started on Pip's hydrotherapy but she's a terrible physio patient. With the life jacket and me to support her, she half-heartedly paddles her front legs and lets her back legs stick out like a frog's. Even when she sits, she uses her bad leg like a kickstand -

Not only is she lazy, but she's now a trip hazard. The vets say she is healing fine. 

We've had some nice surprises too. I found these in Wales looking for a home, and of course I took them on -

Two female Golden Guernsey x Saanen goats. They came with one month old kids at foot: a little buck -

We called him Dai, because he's going to.

The bigger nanny has a little doe, which I've called Rhiannon -

As the goats came from Wales, I figured they should have Welsh names. I haven't got names for the nannies yet, as my Welsh is pretty limited and I've already exhausted the words I know. Unless I want to call them Heddlu (police) and Croeso (Welcome).

The goats are ready for me to milk, except they have not really been handled much. When I collected them, they were just tied to a fence, the kids playing loose in a field. I will have to earn their trust before I can have the milk. There was already a collar on the small nanny goat; when we got the goats home, I scrounged through my box of dog sundries and grabbed a nice camouflage collar that Mike found left behind by poachers he chased off the estate. It fit the big nanny goat perfectly.

I've quarantined the goats in Mike's pheasant rearing field, with a shed for protection from the elements. This is their temporary home while I get a vet to come out and health check them, and while our fencer finishes building them a suitable paddock around a disused brick shed I found in my sheep field. Kitty can see the quarantined goats from her paddock, and seems to like the new company very much. I feed them by hand twice a day and hope they will respond to that ultimate bribery: sweetened grain.

I found my second little gift this morning. As I lifted the lid on our nest boxes, I saw the determined broody hen who has been sat since forever. Even when I took away the clutches of eggs, she would just steal more and sit tighter. I lifted her up to clean out this new nest of eggs and found a surprise-

Bless you, you stubborn old hen. I guess determination pays off sometimes. I've left her current clutch of eggs alone, and will chec again tomorrow for another little gift.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Babies Day Out

Today, my old Buff Orpington hen took her brood of 6 foster turkey chicks for their first walk outside.

She looks as proud as any new mother, and is careful to keep her chicks nearby and call them in for small tidbits she scratches up in the grass.

At first the turkey chicks didn't really understand the hen's different noises for food, safety, and such. They have since worked out a turkey-hen Esperanto. Both hen and chicks seem to be flourishing. Everyone - animals included - does better with a mother's care and attention, and it doesn't matter if the mother is biological or not.


Tina, the turkey with one chick, wants in on the new brood of turkey chicks in the garden. The hen won't let her mother them, so she does the next best thing and protects them, in this case from a non-existent threat who has shown zero interest in the chicks: Brian the cockerel. Brian and Tina are arch enemies anyway, and Tina loosed all her rage and maternal hormones on Brian. I broke up two fights, and finally put Tina in the sin bin for a time out. Brian is beaten and bloody, but OK.

Brian is still able to patrol the garden and watch his ladies. Tina will stay in time out while I'm at work, as there will be no referee here to break up any fights. 

Enrique stays out of the situation altogether. He tells me he's a lover, not a fighter. 

Friday, 31 July 2015

Greener Grass

It's moving day for the ewes, who have been sharing Kitty's paddock. The sheep eat the excess grass in her paddock, which helps Kitty stick to her diet and prevents laminitis. The new grazing is only a mile away so we can walk there along the quiet lanes -

It's a warm sunny evening, perfect for a walk.

The ewes sample the tasty plants in the hedgerow as we pass by. Ian follows behind in the ATV, to move any stragglers that would rather eat than walk. Mike is at the other end of the lane, blocking traffic. A farmer can stop traffic up to fifteen minutes in order to move livestock. I'm walking with the sheep, shaking a bucket of sheep nuts to keep the ewes moving.

We arrive at the new grass in no time, and I walk them straight into a pen, so I can treat any lame sheep and give the ewes a quick check over before leaving them to their supper.

They are good girls.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Summer Work

It's been a busy summer, but a good one overall. Here's a quick run down so far:

Mike and Ian put about 60,000 eggs through the incubators, and produced about 45,000 pheasant and partridge chicks. Our breeding pheasants are back in the woods living their lives. Some have even hatched their own chicks, and we've seen moms trailing strings of cute fluffies. A partridge family took up residence in the garden and yes, of course I called the mother Shirley.

I also adopted J -


He's a jay bird that fledged too early in a thunder storm. Mike rescued him, cold and wet after crash landing in a puddle. I warmed him up and I hand fed him on meal worms and cat food. His feathers have finally grown in and I give him free run, er..flight, of the conservatory to strengthen his muscles. I have to cover the kitchen table with newspapers for easy clean up. On the other hand, J has eaten all the dead flies from the ledges so I'd call it an even trade, cleaning-wise. He's ready to be released when the next bout of good weather arrives. If he hangs around, I will keep feeding him. It's been a pleasure to care for him.

There are other wild chicks in the garden: the swallows are on their second brood in the lean-to porch, and the parents attack me every time I try and sneak in to get food out of the freezer. The blue tit family chicks fledged from the bird house in the cherry tree. We have no chicken chicks this year, but Tina the turkey hatched one single turkey chick, and I fostered another 6 turkey chicks from a neighbour under a very old, very broody, Buff Orpington hen.

Hen and foster chicks are happy together. I put together a little maternity unit in - where else? - an empty dog kennel.

The dogs are another story. Pip ruptured her cruciate ligament and had an operation to remove her knee cartilage, and break and reset the bone with a screw, to negate the need for the ligament. She should make a full recovery, but will suffer from arthritis in her later years. So Pip is sidelined for any summer dog work, and likely most of this winter.

Just out from her operation and still a happy girl.

Molly the new springer pup is a dream to train. However, she's developed a luxating patella, so her kneecap slips in and out of position. No operation is needed but both Pip and Molly would benefit from hydrotherapy to build muscle to support their joints. There's no centre near us so I'm improvising with a cattle trough and dog flotation aids I bought though the internet. Hey presto - Hillbilly hydrotherapy. I will of course post pictures as soon as I start their treatments.

Pip modelling her new lifejacket and post-op shave

I've been focused on the sheep side of the business. I took my first lot of lambs to market in Wales.

I love that all our signs are in English and Welsh. Just don't ask me how to pronounce it.

In fact, it was my first time to market too. Some friends who are Welsh sheep farmers not only held my hand though the process, but used their influence on the big buyers to bid on my sheep. Like everything in this world, it's who you know that helps! The lambs got a good price - second best for mid-weight lambs - and I was mentioned in the auction round-up leaflet. That's great for my business.

Sheep unloaded onto the weigh platform. An average of their weights classifies them. I had heavy and mid weight pens

My lambs penned and awaiting sale. By law they all have electronic ear tags that can be read by computer. 
My midweight lambs are being checked and logged. Heavy weight lambs in front.

It also turns out that sheep farmers in the UK are indebted to the ethnic communities for keeping us solvent. Light lambs, and cull ewes are preferred by the ethnic communities whose culinary traditions have relied on old and thinner meat animals. In these cultures, the meat is the final by-product from animals which have produced lambs, milk, and wool for human consumption over many years. Only when the ewes are too old to produce is the whole animal eaten. When fat lamb prices are down (the kind of lambs that the white European market prefers) the cull ewe prices remain steady. And light lambs can be sold rather than kept and fed expensive grain, while the farmer watches the market price for lamb go down weekly.

So my experiment using a Charolais ram worked well for me economically. I've sold half this year's lambs and already made a profit from those. I have half again left to take to market and the slowest growers will go in my freezer. I was concerned that the lambs would be stressed in a market environment. You can see by the photos that they're not worried. I was also worried how far they would travel, but found out they go from market to abbatoir in under two hours.

Going to market with a hybrid meat lamb was more profitable overall than direct customer selling of my purebreds.

Saying that, I just bought my very own Dorset ram.

I bought him from a Dorset farm, sight unseen, for his bloodlines, and it took two big farmers to wrestle him into the back of my pickup. I collected him while waiting for Pip to have her operation. Our friend and favourite vet Terry did Pip's op in his surgery in Dorset at a hugely discounted price, which left me money for the ram. I drove both a recovering Pip and the ram home to Hereford.

The big farmers weren't there to help me unload the new ram, and he was having none of it. I had to crawl in the back of the truck with the ram and try to get a rope around his neck to drag him out. He kept charging and trying to head butt me. I just kept thinking of how more people are killed by rams than by bulls. So, initially his name was "Stop head butting me, you asshole" but at my sister's suggestion I've shortened it to Rick - the "P" is silent.

I will use (P)Rick to cover my best Dorset ewes, and keep the best ewe lambs as replacement stock. The ewes that aren't good examples of the breed I'll put back to my neighbour's Charolais, and take the lambs to market. When those ewes are too old to breed, they can go to market as cull ewes. Who am I kidding? If their teeth and weight are good, they will be retired and left to graze away their old age.

And, for the first time, my check from the wool board for my sheeps' fleeces actually covered the cost of the shearer, with a leftover profit of £25! The profits from this year's sheep operation have helped keep the wolf from the door.

Saying that, we can't live on sheep and game bird profits alone. Certainly not when dogs require expensive operations. So, I've got a new job as deputy manager at a lovely local gastropub. I manage to cram in 30 hours a week at the pub, and the bonus is the pub will buy all our partridge, some pheasant, and any lambs or hogget I wish to sell.

And because I still seemed to have a few spare hours, I am working towards my APDT qualification. It's a way to give the dog training work I do every day some accreditation. I hope to specialise in gun dogs eventually.

Here's to shorter days and fuller bank accounts. And healthy stock. And no head butting.