Pheasants and Brambles

The last days of autumn are with us and the snow on the hilltops suggest winter is not far away. The work on the smallholding has changed accordingly. It is this gently changing rhythm that makes life so pleasant. I recall my days working; when each day was similar to the last, the same challenges faced day after day, the same routines whether it was winter or summer, Monday or Friday.

However, one task I coulDSC_0006.jpgd happily avoid is the freeing of sheep from the briar patches. At this time of year one of the few sources of greenery for the sheep is the bramble. They love bramble leaves, almost as much as ivy leaves, but unfortunately as it is the end of the year they are also wearing their thick coats. While the sheep pushes itself into the briar patch its fleece acts as armour to protect it from thorns. However, this spurs them on to go deeper into the thicket when they them get stuck as the tendrils of the brambles get caught up in their wool. They get stuck sound, unable to move, and at risk of dying from thirst and starvation.

At this time of year we need to do four checks a day and to be armed with secateurs and thick gloves every time. We will try and clear these patches and the goats are great allies in this. They too like eating brambles but are more agile than sheep and don’t carry the thick fleece which causes them to be trapped. By the end of the month, after everyone’s work, we should be out of the woods as far as this problem is concerned.

Diet also changes with the season.DSC_0007.jpg Not just in the concerning seasonal fruits and vegetables but also our meats.  It is always this time of year that we have a flurry of pheasant meals. Usually shot by ourselves but today courtesy of someone who enjoys the shoot but not the product. I can understand why some people are not keen on pheasant. The first few times we ate it I was decidedly unimpressed. I think the problem is that roast pheasant can often be a dry meat and sometimes quite bitter as well.

However, having tasted pheasant and other fowl in casseroles I have been converted and now it is something I start to look forward to in October, knowing in November and December there will be a surfeit of game fowl. The best recipe is probably the simplest and uses root vegetables and cider as described below :-

 

  • Skin the pheasants and take the breast and leg meat. Don’t bother trying to pluck them as this is unnecessary work and adds little to the final meal.
  • Brown the meat in a casserole dish.
  • Add whatever vegetables you have to hand. We usually use celery, turnip, parsnip, celeriac, leek and onion. Fry these with the meat to soften the leeks and onions. If you have any cooking apples add a couple.
  • Season with salt, pepper, thyme, parsley, and marjoram.
  • Add a can of cheap cooking cider and water to cover the whole things
  • Slow cook in a low oven until everything is ready.
  • Serve with creamy potato mash and cabbage

 

A perfect autumn or winter meal, warming after an afternoon in the cold pulling sheep out of the briars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Animal Passions

Animal Passions

I never really gave it much thought, when I dropped out 5 years ago, that I would be responsible for securing the sexual satisfaction of my animal charges. I had always known I’d keep sheep, chickens and goats but hadn’t, at first, given much thought to keeping rams, cockerels and billy goats. I had recollections from my youth of the tales of the birds and the bees but I had rather naively just imagined that it would all just happen naturally and by accident, as it did with my own offspring. I had never really though that I would have to be the procurer of male company for them all, nor had I considered just how ornery and cussed these males could be.

Last year we dried off our two milking goats. They had given us a good run of milking and had been very productive. One of them being equally productive following a cloudburst, or phantom, pregnancy. But eventually the frozen milk ran out and we need to get them pregnant again so we can resume milking next spring. We really have missed the milk, yoghurt and cheese, and I also miss the rhythmBilly goat kid of daily milking. Starting the day early, in the byre, with just the animals for company is great for the spirits and the schedule of the milkings twice a day gives a structure to the days and is a bit like the heartbeat of the farm.

After a search we found a billy kid locally. A pretty alpine-saanen cross who was, thankfully intact. Unfortunately he had not been disbudded and thus has a pair of impressive horns. It is too late to dehorn him as this would be risky and unpleasant for him so we will have to cope with this. It perhaps makes me at risk of breaking my cardinal rule of animal husbandry – “Don’t have any animals you can’t beat in a fair fight!” as I fear, when bigger,  I may be no match for him.

When we got him back to the homestead it was clear from the attitude of the two girls that we had made a good choice. Pamela leapt to greet him and within half an hour of arriving they had mated. Pookie kept her reserve overnight and  looked rather disdainfully at her sister and her antics. However, the following morning it was she and he who were making all the noise and action while Pamela looked on with a bored expression.DSC07179

We will know in three or four weeks if the girls go back into season again or whether our first few days will prove productive. It seem likely that we may be able to expect kids in the middle of March 2018 and resume dairy production shortly thereafter.

I was surprised at how early boy goats become sexually mature. It seems that they are ready to ‘work‘ at around three months and this young boy was only a little over four months old. It has been almost surreal to watch this infant, who is all testicles and hormones, trying to mount the dams in the yard as if he were some pocket Casanova. But despite his youth he seems adequately mature, so finger crossed as we wait for spring.

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Chantrelles

Chantrelles

I think that Autumn is my favourite season; the hard work of summer is over, the fruits of the spring are ready to be collected and the harshness of winter is still a while away. This is particularly so this year, after what has been a disappointing summer. Mostly warm and wet, it has caused us problems with the sheep and meant we have been unable to take hay. Twice we have had sheep who have had fly strike. Though they have survived, by dint of debridement and Stockholm tar, this was a terrible experience for both them and us. And, barring a miraculous Indian summer (or Haf bach Mihangel  as we say around here) in October we will have to buy hay this winter. So, I am keen to see October arrive and know that the damned flies, and risk of fly strike, will soon be gone.

However, perhaps the main reason for enjoying this season is because it is the time you can enjoy the fruits of your labours and sometimes fruits without any labour at all.  This time of the year we usually get a good crop of chantrelle mushrooms in the wood and this year has been no exception. They provided us with a few meals which required nothing more than what we can make on our own plot of land. My favourite was the chantrelle soup the recipe for which is below. This is a luxurious soup, warm, smooth and filling and better than any mass produced soup you may buy. Wonderful when its cost is measured in pennies !


Chantrelle Soup

  • Large bag of chantrelle mushrooms_20170925_143707
  • 2 Onions
  • 3 Cloves of garlic
  • Pint Chicken stock
  • Pint Keffir
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons of butter
  • Flour

Soften the onions and garlic by frying gently for 5 minutes in the butter. Add the mushrooms and continue to fry gently for a further 8  minutes. Add the flour and mix to  a smooth consistency. Add the milk and stock and simmer for 20 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste.


 

 

Soup Carton Cloches

A very handy way to recycle the plastic containers is to use them as temporary cloches. When the cauliflower have 3 or 4 real leaves they are ready to be planted out.  However   they could still benefit from some protection and these containers are ideal. All that you need to do is to fit a hold in the base to allow air to circulate. They are also good protection against chicken attacks.  Normally the chickens are helpful in the vegetable garden as they eat the wire worms, leather jackets and other nasty visitors. But sometimes,  just out of badness, they will go for the seedlings and this is a handy defence.

Potatoes

The first potatoes went in today.  I have gone for Desiree which were very successful last year.  It have opened up a new strip in the vegetable garden as I needed a new area so as not to repeat potatoes in the same patch this year (so far we have avoided potato blight). Unfortunately it is another area with a very heavy clay soil. 

Harrowing Times

Harrowing Times

I am always keen to recycle as much as I can, especially when this also saves me money or sorts a problem. I need to do some work on the pasture this year, to clear the thatch that has built up, and as a consequence need to use something like a tine harrow on the fields. I had mulled over many possible plans but always come back to the problem of the tines. Nothing seemed an easy and cheap solution to this problem until I was clearing up after we re-roofed the barn. As I was taking down the old guttering I discovered my tines !

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The old supporting brackets were clearly almost ideal tines and there were serendipitously enough for my project. They would only need to be removed from the wall and a minor modification.

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The tines needed a small hole (4mm) drilled in the metal head to allow me to screw these into the frame in a way that they would resist the tendency to rotate.

dsc_1827The times were then mounted onto two bars. They were sited 16cm apart and offset between the two bars. These were then set in a frame with a long-enough handle to allow me space to walk along with the two-wheeled tractor without my feet getting fouled up.

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I discovered that I needed side struts to brace the two bars against the tendency to rotate round. I have kept the heads of the brackets in place as they add to the weight of the harrow and give me, if needed, somewhere to add extra weight (I can run metal bars along these hooks).  As a temporary measure I have pressed an old copper pipe into use as the mechanism to attach to the tractor. This gives adequate flexibility to allow the harrow and tractor to move freely but I have my reservations about whether this will be strong enough in the long term.

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Over the next week we can see if this will sort my problem or whether I need to go to my second plan (which involves an old gate and a lot of welding !

Ovine Troubles

Storm Doris arrived this morning but we seemed to miss most of the damage. A lot of branches were down and strewn over the road but only a couple of old trees in the wood were actually down. Doris must have brought down some power lines as we lost the electricity. However,  as we have the woodburners and the range, we had heat, hot water and the ability to cook. The addition of a battery powered radio meant we thought we had a quiet relaxing day ahead of us. Unfortunately the sheep had other plans for us.

While checking the fences I noticed one ewe who was keeping herself apart from the flock. I thought she might  be starting to labour but could not see any signs she had begun. On checking, a bit later, it was clear she was much worse. She was down and unable to rise and was not aware of her surroundings. I thought she had twin lamb disease and gave her the high energy drink. This had only partial effect and we decided on a trip to the vets.

She had decided to take unwell half a mile from the road and we would have to lug her to the pick-up. This was no easy task (she weighs around 9 stores) but I found that a builder’s sack made this manageable with a mixture of lifting and dragging. I am now going to keep a couple of builders’ bags ready for emergency stretcher use.

Sick ewe in a builder’s sack

The vet agreed with us and it was clear that she was beginning to respond to the drink. She gave some subcutaneous calcium and with the combination of the two she made good headway and we started for home.

En route home we noticed that a sheep, we had seen on the town journey, was stuck in an awkward position an hour later. After climbing up a wall, crossing a small river (engorged by storm Doris) I was able to get to her.  She was trapped but easily freed.

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Stuck sheep balanced on tip toes

By the time we got home and returned the ewe to her flock  she was much improved. We moved her and her fellows into the top field where there is hopefully more browse. She was back on her legs and moving well. Now all we have to do is wait for the lambing to start next week.

Back on her feet