Monday, 30 September 2013

Reluctant Working Sheepdog

Since moving into the house we have rarely ventured into the sunken garden - pictured above.  Mike suggested recently that it would be good to have a patio area at the front of the house which faces our lovely view, so we thought it would be an idea to turn the back garden into a walled vegetable and fruit garden.
We cannot put containers out front because the area is constantly grazed by chicken-guarding alpacas, so they can be used on the small patio which we will retain as a sitting/reclining area and the wooden ones which Mike made will make ideal areas for "bringing on" plants.  Well that is my plan anyway!!  In the meantime we will still make our weekly trek to town or the farm shop.

This was mainly brought on by some statistics I read in a book about a small farm.   The constant demand for lots of cheap food means that even potatoes are treated with a minimum of about six sprays of various sorts.  This obviously applies to most of our store-bought fruit and vegetables.  I was also horrified to find out that ham, for example, can be a year old by the time it reaches the supermarket shelves but when you open the packet it is considered "fresh".   Obviously there are complicated storage and preservation issues and the meat is probably perfectly safe.  I know this is old hat and we all really knew it was going on, but at least now we have downsized the alpaca herd there will be more time to experiment with other aspects of the smallholding.

Who says we don't get up early!!   This was a recent stunning sky early in the morning.  Worth taking the time to stop and stare.

Dolly (dog) is brilliant and helping put the chickens to bed and  herding alpacas but she seems to be having some problems lately.   Two of the alpacas (both black) one female and one male have decided to stand up to her and it is only when I walk towards them that they back off and allow Dolly to move them on.   I realised that I may have been asking her to run before she can walk.   She will run ahead a long way but tends to run round the herd instead of getting behind and moving them forward.

I think I have assumed that because she will go a long way ahead, she knows what to do.  I have gone back to basics and will work with her close to the herd and gradually back off once she is back on track with what I want her to do.  I suspected also that if the sheep were separated from the alpacas she would not know what to do, so I set up a pen in the race and used it to send her Bye and away round the sheep who were contained within the pen.  This was fine but once the sheep were let out again after our training session she was quite nervous of them.  I made her lie down in front of the sheep once the pen was open and she was obviously not happy but she held her ground and did not move until I released her.

Once we got them moving off towards their field, she ran behind them more confidently.  She is a quick learner and as well as the normal whistle to come to me, she will drop into the down position on the whistle.  Next step is to get her going left and right to the whistle and then hopefully when she is a long way away she will still understand that I am asking her to do.  That and a bit of confidence building should do the trick.  Whatever the outcome, she is a lovely dog to work with and she can never have enough work (she says)!

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Shorn the Sheep and Horny Goats

The sheep and goats seem to have survived the removal of their warm woolly coats.  Percy (the little goat) was really shivering yesterday and I was worried this morning when he was missing.  I checked the big shelter which was empty and then went to check Alario's old shelter.  I approached in trepidation - half expecting to find a dead or sickly goat,  but no, he had obviously found it nice and cosy in the smaller shelter and jumped up in quite a lively manner when I looked in through the door.  Later he was to be seen sun bathing in front of  it.  The two old bucks took it all their stride and just carried on as usual. The sheep returned to their alpaca friends and did not even bother to go into the shelter.   Their fleece was absolutely perfect and Cedric made a really good job of shearing them.

It looks as though it is raining mushrooms.   We keep thinking that they are coming to an end when another crop pops up.  These days I try not to go shopping until the 'fridge and all the cupboards are nearly bare.  It works well and I have to be creative when using up the last bits and pieces and it definitely prevents any wastage.  Last night I used a picking of mushrooms with the penultimate vegetable in the 'fridge, a marrow.  I tossed them in butter and added some quorn, spices and tomato ketchup to make a lovely sauce and served it all with rice.  It was really

Sunday, 22 September 2013


Cedric, the goat shearer, came this afternoon and deftly removed the fleece from our Gotland Sheep and  the last three remaining Angora Goats.

We put them in shelters last night in case of rain.   It is very mild and I think they all seem more lively now they have lost their thick coats.

We have decided to hold another Christmas Market this year and most of the stall holders that we invited back have accepted.  It is on 1st December (the same date as last year but it falls on a Sunday this time).

Pam and I are knitting as much as possible and there will be a few new items to add to the stock which we hope will sell well.   Refreshments will be dispensed from the porch of the house, and provided the weather is kind we hope it will be as successful as last year.

We really are living the good life now.    We have always had one or two mushrooms in August but this year we have had loads and they are still appearing daily.   Presumably it is due to a better summer making the conditions perfect for the tasty fungus.  Mike is the chief mushroom picker and as well as keeping us well supplied he has given bags away to our neighbours, the local farmer who supplies our hay and straw, friends and family from Salisbury.  As always we are enjoying our constant supply of eggs from our free range hens and tonight we are having mushroom omelettes, and  blackberries from around the perimeter of the fields.

We are even considering growing some vegetables but that it is still under discussion at the moment.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Deathwish 2013

Mike is still working on clearing up the debris from the barn building last year.   The chickens love it and we are fully expecting a funeral for the cockerel soon.   He dices with death every time the digger starts up.   He ducks and dives around the bucket, presumably searching for worms.   Several of the others are just as excited but not quite as stupid.  When Mike drives off with the trailer he is often pursued by a few of them, presumably hoping he is going to do some more digging somewhere else.

It might be a co-incidence but since we heard shots in the field next door, together with men's voices and revving engines and we saw flashing lights (lamping?) there have been few traces of Mr Fox's visits.   The shooting took place for about three nights in a row, so maybe they scared the foxes, or maybe they  shot them.  I am sure it would have been an unintended consequence if they have, because I would assume they were shooting rabbits or deer.   We did not feel inclined to interview the gentlemen concerned!!

Thursday, 12 September 2013


As part of our grand clear out we are selling anything that is not nailed down and has not been used recently.  A few years ago we bought a PDQ caravan awning based on the abbreviation being Pretty Darned Quick to erect!!  There was a short video declaring and demonstrating that one man could erect it in two minutes.  Even armed with that we found it almost impossible to erect in less that about 15 minutes and much stretching and clenched teeth, not to mention torn arm muscles  when the wind caught the canvas.  It was very frustrating and was finally re-homed in the attic.

The gazebo which we take to fetes and fairs gave up the ghost last summer and Mike had the bright idea of adapting the awning (which had lain neglected and despised for a couple of years) to hitch on to the side of the van.  He spent quite a lot of time and effort devising a rail and a way of attaching it, but it did not work.

I would ask him why so that I could include that riveting piece of information but I am reluctant to bring the subject up!!

Good old Ebay - we thought.  Having taken the awning out of its packaging we realised that actually it was very smart and a useful size and so I suggested that we had one more go at trying to put it up and pack it away.   The original attraction was that supposedly you can just roll it up into a special bag which stays on the side of the caravan ready for use at the next stop.

I found a demonstration on You Tube which was loads better than the original one and we watched and re-watched the bits which we had found tricky.  Eventually we decided to have one last go and, despite high winds which suddenly sprung up (of course) we were quite successful and have decided to keep it as a caravan awning after all.   As you can see from the photo we need to work on our pitching technique, but that is the least of our worries.

As well as being foxed by the awning we think we are being invaded by foxes.   We keep the paddocks clean and I clean up around the house and barn every day.   As well as the usual deposits left by the dogs and alpacas, foxes are joining in.  We are sure it must be more than one but so far we have not had a sighting.   They seem to be in almost every paddock including the goats'. When we let the dogs out last thing at night Jake often goes out at full speed and barking his head off, so we think he either smells or sees the enemy.  The others join it but I doubt if they really know why.

Dolly and I put the hens away at tea time and make sure they are secure in their runs in case the foxes are brave enough to attack when we have gone indoors for the day.

We hear quite a lot of shooting going on at the moment, especially after dark, but of course we do not know what the target is.

I have just finished hosing off three of the dogs who seem to adore fox perfume!!

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Constructive Tidying
It was Nick's day for helping Mike and they made a very impressive start on moving the stones, debris and earth that was left behind when they stripped out the barn which is now our house.  They spent nearly all day digging out the pile and transporting first the hard core and then the earth down to the winter paddocks.   The plan is to make a track round the edge of the field which will be firm underneath but will then grow over with grass so that it does not spoil the scenery or detract from the amount of land that can be grazed.  It will allow tractors and other farm vehicles access to some areas which are now too boggy to navigate.

When they had nearly finished for the day I took Dolly down to put the hens away.  This is her favourite job of the day and she now seems to know which hens belong in which run without me telling her.   She wanted to go into the run where the newbies live and I tried to stop her because I did not want her to chase them outside.   She insisted and when I went to investigate I found that our young cockerel was in there.  Of course she was right and when I told her it was OK she rounded him up and chased him, protesting loudly, back to his righful home.

In passing Nick and Mike told me that I needed to look at one of the hens as her spur claw had caught in her leg ring.   Nick went home and Mike went indoors leaving me to it!  I quickly identified the hen in question and she certainly had a painful looking swollen claw.  I caught her and her claw had been partially the ring which she had somehow managed to get tangled in.  I managed to get it off and carried her up to the barn and sprayed it with some antibacterial foot spray that we sometimes use on the goats or alpacas.  Of course I managed to spray my fingers too.

I am now crossing my fingers and hoping that it does not get infected and that the circulation was not cut off for too long before I rescued her.  I threw the ring away.  It is meant to identify the age of different batches of hens, but since neither me nor Mike are likely to be ringing the necks of any chickens who are too old to lay eggs, we do not really need to know their ages.  I expect one day we will have a flock of  geriatric hens who just get fed and enjoy life.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Autumn Leaves

After spending most of the summer in the home paddocks we have moved all but three stud males down to the winter paddocks which have been rested all summer.  The good weather has produced some really lush grass and we hope it will help to prepare them for the winter to come.  The three remaining boys are charged with guarding the chickens and keeping the grass down in the barn area and round the house.

We took four young male alpacas on Saturday and three on Sunday to the River cottage Autumn Fair.  Our pitch was near one of the main entrances so the alpacas were the first thing that many visitors saw.   The children were very excited and could not wait to come and meet them.   We had the same pitch as last year but a very rustic and well built lambing shed had been built where we had our tent before.  Luckily it had a big overhang on the roof and so we were able to display our products under it.  There was even an abandoned farmhouse dresser which made an attractive display unit for some of our knitwear.  As always alpaca socks were one of the most popular item followed by our hand made beanie hats and mittens.  We were very grateful for the solid roof when we have a bit of a cloudburst as were several passing visitors.

We even took orders for Christmas presents, so Pam and I need to get knitting.  My machine knitting lady, Jean, made two sample double rib alpaca scarves  which were ready for me to collect on Friday evening.  When I arrived home at about 7 p.m. I settled down to make the fringes, with Mike's help.   He measured and cut the wool so that I could thread the strands at both end of the finished scarves.   They were lovely and soft and very cosy looking. They both sold within the first hour, so they will definitely be added to our Christmas stock.

This afternoon we unpacked the truck and took all the summer furniture out of the summer house in the top paddock ready to turn it back into a shop ready for the pre-Christmas trade.

Lacking green fingers, I seem to be doing quite well at keeping the containers of geraniums and busy lizzy alive and well and have even planted a bed of strawberries - my very favourite fruit.  Pam has a beautiful garden including a pristine vegetable patch.  She kindly gave me 18 plants which I am keen to keep healthy so that we can enjoy a yummy crop next year