We are now three weeks into November. The guests have gone. So have the puppies and the sheep. Most of the leaves have come down in the last storm. How things have changed in such a short time.The Christmas lights are up and sparkling in South Molton and driving home in the dark last night was spectacular. It is still a month until the turkey goes into the oven but Christmas shopping mania is in full swing. Trace’ , who has just started driving again, went to Barnstaple yesterday but was so daunted by the traffic that she turned around and came home, empty handed. It was Saturday so it might be less busy in the middle of the week. Hmmm……… still, it’s good news for shopkeepers, and bank managers – and the Treasury.

Having no sheep on the farm is very odd. They have been part of my daily routine for so long I feel a bit like the children have just left home. Misty, our Border Collie, hasn’t quite worked it out yet. She always knew where they were and why I was asking her to collect them. If I said ‘go on back’, ( which was an intentionally ambiguous instruction ) she would work out for herself where they were, the best way to herd them together and where to take them. Most working dogs are incredibly aware of what is happening now, what is planned for the immediate future, and what their role is in making things happen. Misty is totally conversant with the words ‘sheep’, ‘ducks’, ‘geese’, ‘ponies’ and ‘chickens’, and knows where to go and what to do if I mention them ! This can obviously lead to some problems developing. For example, we could be sitting in the kitchen on a Monday, having lunch and I might say ‘ I’m going to get the sheep in and footbath them’………..( at which point the dog-flap crashes open as Misty, who was lying in bed in the boot-room, listening, leaps into action )……’on Wednesday afternoon’ etc,etc. Half an hour later I could walk down to the workshop and find all the sheep standing in the shed next to the footbath, with Misty  lying patiently in the doorway. Rosie, our Patterdale terrier, is just as bad. We simply mustn’t use words like ‘walk’, ‘rat’ or ‘squirrel’ in everyday conversations because she will start chasing her tail around the kitchen island. If I go to get the car keys out of the key box and accidentally jingle the keys to the gun-cabinet, both dogs leap into action and presume we are going walking/shooting/ratting, which are their three most favourite activities ever. I remember reading an article by Tim Rodber, when he was England captain. If he put his wellies on, his two gun-dogs became highly excited. If he picked up his rugby boots they would lie in bed and sulk. One day, when he was off to play for England, he couldn’t find his rugby boots. They were eventually located, buried in the garden !

Balti, our Billy-goat, has a new playmate. We managed to locate a similar bachelor goat, called Snowy, who was ‘surplus to requirements’, and the two of them have become firm friends. Snowy, who is a Sanaan X Anglo-Nubian, is very partial to bramble leaves. He is adept at forcing his way in to the middle of bramble patches to nibble the last remaining leaves and it is only a matter of time before he gets completely stuck. Half-grown lambs were notorious for getting ensnared in brambles and have been known to die as the vicious, clinging tendrils became entangled in their longish fleeces. One of Misty’s many duties was to find them and ‘glare’ them out. I’m not sure if that would happen with a goat because they have very different predator/prey responses to sheep. However, Snowy is probably the noisiest goat in the parish and wouldn’t be difficult to find, although it could become a major rescue mission to cut him free.

As the weather becomes more wintry and the days get shorter, the ponies coats get longer and thicker. Indigenous/ moorland ponies have evolved to survive harsh winters on high ground with little shelter. On our sheltered, lowland farm their coats become quite a liability. Before they become dirty and matted it’s a good idea to clip the hair off their bellies and necks to keep them cool, clean and comfortable. If that sounds simple I have to presume that you have never tried to clip a miniature Shetland pony. Moo is very biddable and obviously loves attention but persuading him to clamber up onto three pallets and stand still while I tickle his nether regions with a noisy and potentially dangerous piece of machinery is quite an ask. Eventually, all three ponies were separated from their belly and neck hair and judging by the way Moo canters and bucks and kicks his way around the field in the morning when I go to check them they are all relatively happy with their ‘cool’ new Winter coats. If we end up with three feet of snow and prolonged sub-zero temperatures they might not be so happy……

Well, I’m going to light the fire and watch the rugby,so Cheers, farmer Chris.