Shaving carrots

Shaving carrots

I really was at a loss as how best approach the Daily Prompt today. My musical tastes tend to brand me a crank and there were few songs that I felt I could share without seriously damaging my reputation. I had spent much of the morning mulling over this problem when the solution came to me through the airwaves. I was sitting shaving carrots when the 10cc hit from 1976, “The things we do for love came on the air. This was the first hit that 10cc had made since Godley and Crème had left the band and it transported me back to my days as a student and the misery that was my romantic life at that time. But perhaps I should stick to the point and explain why I was shaving carrots !

Spring is our busiest season, the world starts to come alive after the winter hibernation and the new lives start to appear on the smallholding. We have had a very successful year with our ewes and lambs and our goats are also proving to be fecund as well. It is during this season that I often find myself thinking about vegetarians. I can understand many of the moral arguments for vegetarianism and also think that in terms of  efficiency, and from a green perspective, there are probably good reasons to support their decision (Although, in temperate climates, there may be a case for sustainable meat). But in their focus on the end of the animals life I fear that they fail to understand those of us who work with animals and develop warm and strong affectionate bonds with them.

During spring I will work harder than at any other time. Like any anxious parent I will be up many times a night, leaving my warm bed, to walk in the small hours (and usually the rain) to the barn to feed a weak lamb or to tend to a distressed ewe. The feed requirement of the animals is obviously much higher at this time of year, but the natural pasture for grazing has not yet arrived, so there are regular foraging and feeding expeditions. Conscious of the dangers of birth and the problems that can accompany delivery we need to check the animals round the clock, regardless of what other calls may be made on our time.

But this is also the best time. To see the new lambs at their mothers’ feet, or to watch them gambolling in the field, is a pleasure that little can surpass. The sense of achievement, and relief, when assisting successfully with a difficult birth is hard to explain but is one of the great pleasures one can experience.  Although dumb, animals do show their appreciation, and over the years they have clearly learnt to trust us. On occasion, when we lose a lamb, there is obviously the sadness which accompanies this but overall the emotional bonds that form between man and animal are felt best at this time of year and it is the reason to continue with this endeavour. To focus on the last minutes and to ignore all of the animals life misses the main point of animal husbandry.

It was an aspect of goat husbandry which chimed with me when I heard 10cc’s song. Our nanny goat gave birth to twins who were delivered awkwardly. The twins are doing fine and growing well. They did have a period when they would only nurse from one of their mother’s teats which left her lopsided and uncomfortable. This necessitated a 3 a.m. milking for a short period to balance her up, and avoid the risk of mastitis, until the kids improved their table manners. The nanny lost a lot of weight after the pregnancy and in addition to advice from the vet we are trying to build her up. We have bough her fancy ryegrass haylage, at which she has haughtily nibbled, but her favourite foods are banana skins and carrots. Unfortunately she does not like carrots whole or chopped, I think that there is too much chewing involved, she likes carrot peelings. That is the way she first encountered them when she was given the vegetable peelings from the kitchen. So now we buy 20kg sacks of carrots and peel them in 5kg batches. It is why I sit at the coffee break shaving carrots for my nanny goat. My wife complains that she does not get this degree of attention lavished upon her – but the goat needs building up – the things we do for love !




Ivy and Hangovers.

Ivy and Hangovers.

Over the last few days I read Ralph Waldo Emmerson’s essay “Self Reliance“.  I was attracted to it by its title and also because, I am ashamed to say,  I had never read any of his work.  Although I enjoyed it greatly I have reservations about recommending this book to others as I must confess that it is now rather dated. The language to the modern reader is rather inaccessible and many aspects of the vocabulary seem rather archaic. This having been said, I still think that the essay is worthy of your time and effort.

It may seem a little counter-intuitive but I have found that reading classic works like this on an e-reading platform, such as the kindle, is very valuable. It may, at first, seem unusual to suggest using our modern gadgets to access the literature of the ancients but there are two reasons I would recommend this.

Firstly, many of these classics are no longer hampered by copyright issues and are therefore available either freely or at very low prices.  While there are relatively cheap editions of the classics available in the traditional paper format (Dover Thrift Editions for example) but there is still an upfront cost however modest. This can be off-putting when taking a chance on literature which may prove dated and difficult to read.  E-books of the classics are usually available free of charge and this makes it much easier to take the chance and try something we might otherwise have missed. (The Project Gutenberg site is an excellent place to start looking for the classics, in a variety of e-book formats, epub, kindle, html and plain text.) In this manner, there is a whole world of literature and thought available to us at very little expense. These works have already been filtered and selected as they have stood the test of time : these are the works which were not fickle, nor were they unimportant, and the works  which still talk to us and our predicaments thousands of years after they were written.

Secondly, I have found that when I tackle these books I am much less cultured than were the original readers of these books. Though I consider myself well educated and fairly knowledgeable it is clear that a wider, better awareness of The Classics was presumed by these writers. Indeed, it was previously felt that a study of the classics, and the humanities, was one of the cornerstones of a well rounded education. I do not have this so many references are lost on me. For example, Emmerson bemoans that he has “no Lethe” to help him in this essay. This reference, like many others, initially meant nothing to me until, with the help of wikipedia on the e-reader, I discovered that the Lethe was the river of forgetfulness and oblivion which flowed in Hades. With this knowledge everything made sense.

Though I was drawn to this essay by its title; this is an essay on personal, mental or spiritual self-reliance, not self-reliance in the quotidian, material sense. This is an essay promoting individualism and self-reliance of the soul. In this he urges us to be true to our own thoughts and opinions, not to be shackled by unnecessary attempts to be consistent :-

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. “Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.” Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? .. .. To be great is to be misunderstood.

He reminds us that institutions are the consequence of individual’s thoughts :-

An institution is the lengthened shadow of one man; as, Monachism, of the Hermit Antony; the Reformation, of Luther; Quakerism, of Fox; Methodism, of Wesley; Abolition, of Clarkson.

and that change likewise starts with the individual :-

Every revolution was first a thought in one man’s mind, and when the same thought occurs to another man, it is the key to that era. Every reform was once a private opinion, and when it shall be a private opinion again, it will solve the problem of the age.

He is clearly of the opinion that discontentment and unhappiness arise from failures in self-reliance and dishonesty with oneself. It is an interesting essay which, I’d venture, gives a useful other strand to aiming for autarky or self-sufficiency – a valuable mental self reliance which helps when one has to cope with adversity or hardship. Those looking for advice on how to be more self-contained and resilient will find much of value in this short essay.

Returning the more prosaic aspects of self-reliance; I found that I needed to deal with some poor hedges and trees this winter. These were heavy with ivy and I needed to co-opt the goats into the job. At this time of year there is little greenery for the sheep and goats to browse and they are therefore very grateful to see the leaves of the holly, ivy and brambles.  I find when clearing ivy it is useful to let the goats at it first. They strip every green leaf and make the movement of the branches much lighter and easier. Also, at this time of year, it is useful winter fodder and saves on out hay usage (both for the goats and sheep).  In this way we make a crop out of weed.

The Billy goat and nannies also providedrinking-bacchus.jpg!HD pleasant company during what is an annoying job. I like to see them eating and enjoy knowing that I have saved some hay rations (especially as we had a poor hay harvest this year). I feel rather guilty that we don’t make more use of the ivy wood as it feels wasteful to throw it away. It does not burn green and is quite difficult to stack , because of the differing shapes, to dry well enough to make kindling. It also seems to take an age to dry properly.

I have looked for other uses for it but have had relatively little success. One option seems to be to make wreaths of ivy. According to folklore wearing wreaths of ivy protects against the effects of alcohol. This is the reason Bacchus, the Roman god of inebriation, wore ivy wreaths to prevent him getting drunk. Sprigs of ivy can also help with marital fidelity, hence ivy is often included in wedding bouquets. Unfortunately, neither of these two uses will consume the amount of wood that I have to deal with and now that Hogmanay is passed I have little need for either. So I remain on the lookout for other, probably more productive, uses for Hedera Helix wood though I think I will cut a very dashing impression next time I am in the pub.

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.