Well, here we are in the last week of January, already. Doesn’t time fly. The weather is very mild for the time of year and the days are drawing out noticeably. We were ice-bound for three days earlier in the week, which is almost a novelty nowadays. In fact, Trace’ was off to the Bell for a ‘meeting’ one evening and asked if we had any de-Icer ! I found some in the tool-box of my trusty pick-up, which was all rusted up on the outside – it probably hadn’t seen day-light for years and would have been past its ‘best-before’ date – but it served its purpose. Anyway, a week later it is now warm and wet again, which isn’t ideal but at least we can get in and out in a car. We have been discussing replacing Trace’s old Subaru Forester with a government incentivised electric or hybrid vehicle. Having our own daytime generation PV system means we could almost run one for free. However,  despite its age, the Subaru suddenly became indispensable. Both of our access roads have constant surface water flowing across them from side to side, which freezes over on frosty nights and because the sun can’t get over or through the hedges it can take days to thaw out. All-wheel-drive and traction-control suddenly makes more sense than an Eco-friendly vehicle that doesn’t perform well in sub-zero weather. Somehow that conversation has now morphed into a ‘newer’ car and a new kitchen and a Jacuzzi ……….I’m not sure, but……..have I just been ‘stitched-up’…….

 

Samson has survived a couple of hectic months of the hunting season. His foot has recovered but does have a nasty looking hole/fracture in the sole. We put another leather pad on between his hoof and shoe last time he was shod but, needless-to-say, he managed to pull it off galloping around in the field with Matey. We discovered that as we were getting ready to go hunting yesterday morning. I managed to find a suitable old shoe and do some DIY maintenance to keep us going. Now we have to go paddling around in the muddiest parts of the horses field to try and find the missing shoe and pad. The words ‘needle’ and ‘haystack’ spring to mind….! It was probably just as well that the fog was so thick that having lost the whole pack of hounds for nearly half an hour we decided to pack up and go home early. Matey and Sampson are usually very happy to get back to the box after a good days hunting and can’t wait to get in, with a warm rug and net full of hay. They were very reluctant to load up at Two O’clock, having hardly even warmed up and not said ‘hello’ to most of their mates. At least the temporary shoe served its purpose.

 

The geese are getting more and more adventurous and wandering further and further in search of grass. They were no-where to be seen one day last week when I went to check and feed them and the ponies. Usually, Misty the sheep-dog can be relied on to ‘go on back’ and find them. She can usually hear or smell them even when they are completely invisible to me. On this occasion she kept going around in circles as if to say ‘I’ve no idea where to start’ ! A few days previously, when I went down to check them a bit later than usual, they ran across the field honking and flapping their wings so angrily that with the aid of a good head wind they all took off and started flying. I’m not sure who was the most surprised……me or them! The three white ones came down with a degree of elegance in the field that they started in. Unfortunately, Griselda ( the grey English Toulouse, and lightest of the four ) suddenly found herself ten feet up in the air and still climbing into the wind. She panicked and banked as hard as she could to the right, which took her over the first lane hedge, only to crash-land into the second hedge in a flurry of feathers and broken branches. Rosie, who had stayed in the lane to avoid the geese, started to bark indignantly. The ponies galloped over to the hedge to watch as if to say ‘this doesn’t usually happen’. The other three geese were flapping around and honking furiously and I had to rescue Griselda, who was upside down in a bramble trap. Pandemonium ruled. The point of this last paragraph being……..had the missing geese decided to jump ship by experimenting with their new-found flying skills ? As it was exercise day for the horses I decided to turn that into a goose search party. No sign of them within a half mile radius of the house so I went on to ride the horses out for an hour. When I returned I managed to spot them in the distance, ‘goose-stepping’ their way out of the gamekeepers game-plot of maize, where they had probably managed to liberate some tasty cobs. Having confirmed their ongoing existence I decided to leave them to their own devices and low-and-behold just before dark they appeared back in their own field. All’s well that ends well.

 

With many things in our poultry system being a bit awry at the moment it’s not surprising to say that we had a broody hen in the run-up to Christmas. Trying to defy nature I kept turfing her out of the nesting-box and hoping she would see sense and revert to eating and drinking normally. Sadly…….no……..she was broody and nothing I could do or say was going to change her mind. So, begrudgingly, I issued her with four fertile eggs (as opposed to the China-egg she had been sitting on for two weeks ) and put her into a broody box and she hatched out four chicks in the first week of January. At this time of year, because it is wetter and darker than usual and there is little food for rats to forage on in the woods and hedges, they invade farm buildings and take their chances with the dogs and cats and traps and other hazards. An easy source of food for them is to crawl under mother hens in the dark and steal chicks. The first one went last night so now I have to put a new system of protection in place before tonight. Until they can get high enough to ‘roost’ at night they are at the mercy of predators.

 

At last, next weekend is the first weekend of my favourite sporting tournament of the year. The Six Nations. Last year I said at this stage that Scotland were the ones to watch and look what happened. This year I have no idea. Eddie Jones has big plans to develop the ‘best rugby team in history’ and has brought in several young players who may turn into stars…..or not. Ollie Thorly being my ‘one to watch’ tip. Unless Alex Dombrandt gets picked later on. At least four more of our own home grown Exeter boys will hopefully make appearances at some stage. It’s always good to see ‘our lads’ playing for England but I expect Baxter will already be planning contingencies for the Premiership and European finals. Looks like being a hectic four months.

 

Elsewhere on the farm things are reasonably under control. Winter maintenance is progressing well but will inevitably end in a mad rush before we open again in early March. Enquiries have been coming in thick and fast since the election. Hopefully other businesses are all benefitting now that the Brexit upheaval is nearly over. Onwards and upwards then….. must go now…… two showers to recommission.

 

Cheers for now, Farmer Chris.