The last few days have been quite pleasant. During the day I have been busy reclaiming the lower meadow so that we can keep the billy goats here (away from any female temptresses). It is now fenced, more or less, cleared and only awaits gates and a shelter. The goats had cleared much of the bramble that bedevilled this field before when, during last autumn, they were tethered here. When speaking to a neighbour, who has lived in the valley for over 80 years, she recalled this meadow, and the adjoining one, being quite productive in terms of hay and grazing. If I am to reclaim the other one we will need to remove a fair few trees but this could be the winter’s project while the sap is low. Waiting until the end of autumn will also be best for the bird life.
This work has been quite laborious and made all the more tiring by the sun and heat. It has been in the 80’s all week. As this meadow is bounded by a stream it is also heavy with gnats and horseflies so in the early evening you start to be eaten alive. This labour, in conjunction with the need for early starts for milking, mean my evenings have been very quiet and lazy. Little time to look at the blog and sometimes not even enough to consider cooking. This has meant that a few times we have just jumped in the car with one or other of the dogs and made the short trip to the seaside. Here a café will provide tea (with more than enough calories to replace the deficit) and the dogs get to run on the beach and play in the sea. All I need to do is sit, ache and watch.
I have taken up fencing today, I had little alternative. It was only a matter of time following the birth of the billy goat kids. This is not some form of self-defence, there is no cut and parry nor clever swordsmanship, this simply the need to fence the old lower meadow as somewhere for them to stay. Goats mature sexually very young, as we know from experience, and I don’t want this to happen while the boys are living with their mother, aunty or sister. I need some good fences and distance between them.
One of the important things about fencing, as with many agricultural tasks, is having the right tools for the job. My wife believes the right tools for fencing are the business card of a professional fencer and telephone. It is true that the professionals with tractors and post drivers will do a better job and that you will end up with taut, plumb straight fences but you will have to pay them. Fencing, basic stock fencing at least, is not that difficult and it is quite enjoyable to do. There is quite a sense of achievement to look at the end of day’s work and to see that you have actually altered the geography of a place.
The correct tools you need are :-
as well as stock fencing, post and staples. The posts you will need for basic stock fencing are 5′ 6″ long, 3 1/2″ diameter, rough hewn posts. These are reasonably priced in most farmers’ marts. The staples are bought by the kilogram and 30mm (by 3.3mm) galvanised staples are your best bet.
Once you have decided where your fence is going to go then get all your tools, and enough of your materials to the start point. Then clear the line of your proposed fence with a brush cutter. Try to keep to straight lines as far as practicable. I could not today as the edge of the meadow is a meandering river, so I needed to follow its curves.
Firstly use the crowbar to make a hole. This need not be too wide. It is best about 1 1/2 to 2 inches wide – as the post goes down it will create its path and we want a tight fit. We don’t want to disturb more earth than necessary. While the width of the hole doesn’t matter the depth does. The hole should be at least 2 1/2 feet deep. This is where the strength comes from and it is wise to work get at least this depth. Once you have the hole, roughly insert the fence post into place.
Now use the post rammer. This is one place where the right tool helps. You could use a sledgehammer for this task. That is, you could use a sledgehammer if your spouse has fingers to spare, an undoubting loyalty to you and no sense of fear whatsoever. If you use a sledgehammer you need somebody to hold the pole while you hammer it in. Or if you are really brave you can hole the pole while someone tries to hit it with a large metal hammer. If you use the post rammer you can work alone. Check after the first couple of strikes that you have the post vertical as if you try and correct later on it can ber very difficult. It you do manage to dislodge and re-align the fence post you will often leave that post wobbly which you do not want.
Next you need the fence tensioner. This is a long bar that can grip one of the horizontal wires on the fencing. You can then use it as a lever to pull the fence taught before hitting in the staples. It is important to get the fence as tight as you can or else it will sag and start to become a liability. A loose fence is poor at keeping animals in (or out, depending on what you want). You can put all your body weight against the long arm of the tensioner to get a good tension going and then, stand leaning against it, while you use both hands to get the staples knocked. Or you can ask your spouse to keep the tension while you hammer. They should be happy to do this after you have told them you abandoned your plans with the sledgehammer !
When knocking in the staples don’t be too stingy with them. At least 4 for each post. Always one on the uppermost and one on the lowermost wires, and two (and preferably three) in between them. It is useful to hammer the staples in on the oblique, slightly slanted. If you insert them vertically with the pins going in one directly above the other there is a tendency to create a fissure, or crack, in the fence post between them. Over time this widens and your staples will risk falling out.
This is another time when the correct tool will help you. A fencing tool is your best bet for this part of the job. Certainly you can use a hammer but you will also need pliers to bend wires and a bendy thingimmy to extract old or misplaced staples. You can also be sure that when you are standing holding the pole and fence in position and holding the hammer you will actually need the bendy thingimmy, or if you have the pliers you will need the hammer. Having all of them in one tool is invaluable. I would also suggest getting a pair in bright colours. I regret buying my blue handled pair. You will spend an annoyingly long time looking in the grass for this tool. You have a better chance of seeing it if it is bright red or yellow – avoid black and green like the plague.
Once you have done all of this work you will be able to look back and admire your handiwork. There is now only one last thing you need to do. You can now tear up your gym membership card; if you manage this you never need to see the inside of a gym, or look at an exercise machine, let alone consider wearing lycra.
Whatever the cause of the climate change we are witnessing it is very clear that over the last decade our seasons have altered. One clear aspect is that, here on the west, it is generally wetter and possibility warmer (though there seems also to be more variability in temperature than before). While this may not be to the benefit of farmers and growers, without altering crops and patterns of management, it is not a disadvantage to everyone. This weather favours some of the insect life which has been much more prolific.
As it is warmer the winters are not as cold, and it seems not cold enough, to kill off the flies and larva as usual. Over the past years we have seen flies in the air right through the winter period and it has felt very strange in December or January to see them still flying about. It was for this reason that we have been much more concerned about fly-strike and our sheep and the reason I was collecting everyone yesterday for their medication. The season where one could expect fly-strike or head fly is now much longer than before.
This is a considerable source of worry. Fly strike, or maggots, is an awful thing to happen to sheep. They are literally eaten alive by maggots. The common risk factors are warm humid weather which favours the flies and the sheep having some scouring (diarrhoea) often associated with the spring grass. The flies lay their eggs on the skin and they hatch out into maggots which then eat the animal causing holes in the flesh which become infected. This process can be extremely fast, a sheep can become seriously ill, and even die, within a day of a fly laying its eggs. It is for this reason that government guidance, and good advice, is to check your sheep daily so as to catch this problem before it becomes severe.
Last year we had a lamb who got maggots in her tail. It first I thought it was just a swelling or bruise on her tail but when I caught her and examined it I was horrified to find maggots. As I parted the cut on her tail it is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of maggots tumbled out. It was like a scene in a David Cronenberg horror film. I debrided the area then cleaned it with antiseptic spray and gave her a shot of long acting antibiotic. I then covered the wound with Stockholm Tar. This is tar made from pine wood (also called archangel tar). It is a thick, black sticky paste which covers an area acting as a flexible and antiseptic bandage. It also had a wonderful medicinal smell. We kept her in the barn for two days during which time she had extra rations to give her strength. Thankfully following this, and much to my surprise, she recovered fully and even regrew hair on that area of her tail eventually.
Another group of insects who enjoy, and benefit from, this warmer wetter weather are the ticks. These arachnids have been getting more of a problem year on year. Though I am aware that, through Lyme Disease and other illnesses, ticks can cause problems for humans, I am more concerned about their effects on animals. The dogs and cats come in most days now with ticks in their fur and now our evenings start with the ceremony of de-ticking and trying to rid the pets of their unwelcome visitors.
My attention to this increase in ticks was piqued this morning when out on my regular ‘Walk rather than die of diabetes and obesity‘ walk this morning. I had slowed down to talk to a neighbour in the lane. Then we both noticed something rather odd. It seemed to be a mouse wearing a hat or tiara.
On closer inspection we found out it was a crowd of ticks on its head like some tortuous crown. About 8 or so hard bodied ticks were sucking and engorged on its head. We dislodged the ticks and liberated the mouse to go on its way. I thought I had done my good deed for the day but later read up about ticks and mice. Mice are common hosts to ticks and indeed are a major vector for tick based illness. However, a long scientific study, conducted over 16 years, has found that ticks are really not that damaging to mice for some reason. Indeed, male mice with high tick burdens live longer than males carrying less ticks !
I am sure the mouse was glad to see the back of its bloodsucking visitors and it did serve to remind me to check the animals tonight and to keep checking the sheep.
Over the recent months I have discovered that one of my favourite morning walks is the meander to Pwll Y Gele. This is a gentle stroll of just over three miles with no difficult terrain being largely on the road or good footpaths. The time of day, nor the weather, really matters much for this walk, as it always holds interest. On the outward leg you have open vistas looking towards Cader Idris and Foel Offerwm and on the return journey there is Aran Faddwy to fill your view.
If the weather is poor it is still worth the walk to see the clouds and winds whipped up like an impressionist painting over the mountains and the rain will soon fill the streams and waterfalls to make them interesting. On a pleasant morning, like today, the sun and its warmth will have brought out the birdsong which changes as you proceed through different birds areas. Although this morning the woodpecker and his tapping seemed to be everywhere
On a pleasant day there is much to be seen which will repay proceeding slowly. This is a meander, or stroll, not a walk to be taken quickly and earnestly. There are many reminders of older agricultural and industrial practices if one is careful to look and not press on by. There are the oblong raised mounds which are the remains of the domestic rabbit warrens from the days when rabbit was a staple meat. These are termed cony-garths or conegars which is not a great deviation from the Welsh word for a rabbit warren of cwningar. The spelling is a little different but the pronunciation is largely the same. The old dry-stone walls show a pattern of farming quite different to that of today with many more smaller active farms. Here are there, there are the reminders of older practices such as the beacon towers used to pass information across long distances in the days before electronic communications.
Other mounds represent reminders of the old charcoal industry which was itself part of the iron industry which was important in these parts. It seems that on the edge of every hill there are the adits, looking like caves, which are the entrances into the many mineral mines in the area. One of the biggest reminders of these changes in industry is Pwll y Gele itself. Those who understand Welsh will immediately have a clue as to this areas importance in history, as Pwll Y Gele translates to The Leeches Pond. Indeed, a few hundred years ago Wales was the centre of the industry breeding leeches for medical use in Europe (In the Victorian days 42,000,000 leeches a year were used medicinally in Britain). Pwll Y Gele was one of the pools used for breeding such leeches. The leeches are no longer here but the area is still a wonderful site to see bird, animal and insect life.
Names, such as Pwll Y Gele, are valuable links to our past and there is a problem in Wales that sometimes these names are being lost. Names, which carry historical information, are sometimes changed by new owners of properties to something that they feel more pleasant on the ear. Thus Bwthyn Y Gof, the Blacksmith’s cottage, is bought and renamed Ashview or similar. People who do not know the meaning of these names, or who find the names difficult in their mouths, often change the names to modern English versions. Sometimes there is an attempt to preserve the historical link but often it is lost and another pleasant but anodyne name replaces an informative name which was part of the history of the area.
Some have suggested laws to prevent this occurring which is not a strategy I’d support People have the right to change the names of their houses as they see fit. It may well be that new names are, in fact required, as time progresses. If I open a church or sanctuary I may wish to rename my property to reflect this and we should not make the mistake of confusing heritage with culture. Out heritage and past do help create us, but our culture is hopefully always developing as we adjust to, and cope with, new challenges.
However, our links to the past are important and we shouldn’t discard them unthinkingly. People who move into an area need to recognise these links and learn from them, so that they too can benefit from the knowledge they impart. They also need to recognise that when they rename, for example, Y Hufenfa to The Old Creamery while they may have managed to preserve some information in the name (Hufenfa is Welsh for Creamery) they appear dismiss the indigenous language and to cast it aside. This looks and feels like colonialism ! In changing an established name they run the risk of looking too aloof to learn new words, or seeming supercilious in their avoidance of contact with the local tongue. If one wishes to settle in an area it is usually because the culture and history of the area appeal to you. This being the case, it would be anticipated that you would engage with the culture and the local life. If you convert your little bit of Wales into your little bit of England (Or Scotland) then don’t be surprised if you are thought of as more an occupier or invader than a neighbour. In small communities society is strong and welcoming but you have to want to take part.
Perhaps there is one caveat I’d add before taking this stroll, that is – Go with quiet companions. I much prefer this walk with the older dog. With the young dog; he is too excited by the sights and smells to behave sensibly, and 45 kg of excited dog bounding through undergrowth does not make for a relaxing and quiet walk. The same caveat applies to grandchildren. A three and six year old will be keen to have brought their bikes and scooters, the noisy toy that they just bought, and will want answers to all the questions of the day – “Why is the sky blue ?”, “What is that mountain called ?”, “Why is it Cader Idris and not Cadair Idris ?”, “What’s a leech ?”, “Could a lot of leeches eat a whole sheep ?”, “Are we nearly there yet ?”. This noise will precede you and act as a warning for all the more timid wildlife who can then hide. This is unfortunate, as this walk goes through land which has a large deer population, and if one walks quietly (especially in the morning or at dusk) one is almost guaranteed to meet them as I did today.
However, my grandchildren and going to have to mature for a few more years until they are going to be able to share this experience. Meanwhile they are happy enough with the rabbits, squirrels and the dragonflies by the lake who seem less susceptible to the din.