Sunday, 18 September 2011

Boring, Boring, Boring

I like to live harmoniously with animals whether wild or domesticated and over the years I have found it essential to stay calm when handling or training them as they pick up on stress, tension, fear and irritation sooo fast causing them to become over-anxious and hard to manage.

Unfortunately not everyone sees it like that and I have seen people who, having themselves created this reaction in animals, to see it as deliberate disobedience whereupon they have become angry and aggressive with the animal. It is then a viscous circle until the animal ends up being labeled unmanageable and is often destroyed. Very sad and unnecessary and makes me VERY annoyed.

One of the biggest ways animals can pick up on emotions is by the way we breathe...when we are tense we take shorter breaths. I used to find it very hard to slow my breathing down and relax until, at a Kelly Marks (Intelligent Horsemanship) demonstration she mentioned a pupil of hers with the same problem who overcame it by saying to herself, on one long outward breath, "Boring..boring..boring." It works brilliantly every time and I've used it lots of other situations too like dealing with difficult people who are stressing me:) Try it.

In general I don't like to tame wild animals as I feel they are safer keeping away from humans, however, I make the exception for the pheasants that visit the garden as by feeding them they stay over my side of the valley where no shoots take place. My little group of friendly pheasants now stay close to the garden all the time which is just as well as pheasant shooting starts on 1st October:( One funny little female pheasant has become extra friendly and given the choice prefers to eat out of my hand rather than eat the same food off of the ground. She really seems to enjoy the interaction.

I do of course put food out for all the birds, however, we have recently had a Sparrowhawk that has taken to resting in our tree, right by the bird feeder, so I have felt it unsafe to refill it for a while. It has been interesting to see how close I can get to the hawk by moving slowly and using the 'boring' technique..only just close enough to take this photo so far.

Another recent occasion when I have needed to use the 'boring' technique was while getting the Downland Project's two Dartmoor ponies used to being handled again and having their feet picked up ready for a visit by the farrier prior to a move to another conservation grazing site. The ponies have minimal handling so that they will stay away from humans as some sites have footpaths running through them. This makes it safer for them and for the public (although some idiots still try to feed them despite the notices telling them not to...grrrr)

The picture below is of Rufus having his feet done back in April. He behaved perfectly then but when the farrier visited this time Rufus managed to plant a sharp kick on the farrier's leg..whoops.. I obviously wasn't thinking bored thoughts...sorry farrier:)

Thankfully the ponies behaved very well when they were moved, a great improvement from the first time which apparently took 3 hours! I wasn't there for that (thank goodness) and since then the grazing officer has spent a long time patiently getting them to feel happy about the trailer which has obviously paid off.

I will miss our visits to check the ponies even though they used to frequently find it funny to do a runner just as we were trying to look them over...

I will also miss their company when we are over at Saltbox pulling ragwort, checking the reptile refuges or photographing things as then they become very nosey wanting to know what we are up to. We can't even take a rest without them inspecting us. This is Rufus investigating my husband's big boots which usually smell strongly of sheep:)

And this is Tavey making sure that he is the only good looking chap in my photograph..after all he is rather handsome and he knows it:)

Hope they will be happy at their new site.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Obliging Sheep

I am beginning to get really very fond of sheep. At the weekend my husband and I were helping with the annual Countryside Day. Our job was to promote the project's new sponsorship scheme for our conservation grazing animals and to answer questions about the grazing side of the project. To help with this we had the project's 19 Herdwick sheep. The wind blew the tents around right by them, people walked past them with dogs and children lent over to pet them but they remained calm and composed for the whole day and I think that is quite amazing.

There are around 900 different breeds of sheep in the world and each has different qualities. The Herdwicks, originating from Cumbria, are extremely hardy with coarse, dense fleeces high in kemp and lanolin to keep them dry and warm. They do well on poor quality forage and will happily eat regrowth of scrub, coarse grasses, coarse herbs and other invasive weeds so are useful in conservation grazing. Recently our Herdwicks were put in to graze a small orchard that was full of stinging nettles, brambles, Rosebay Willowherb etc. As the picture below shows, when they first went in we could hardly see them as the weeds towered above them.....

...but within a few days they had just about cleared the site (pic below) and were moved on to another overgrown orchard.

Nearly perfect little grazers, although, I did notice a bit of scrumping going on...but who could blame them:))

At the first orchard, just as we were about to have our lunch after having settled the sheep in, we noticed a rather battered Red Admiral butterfly laying on the ground by the gate, an obvious casualty of a lot of sheepy hooves. My husband carefully picked it up, straightened its wings out with a bit of grass and put it on a leaf to recover. Another volunteer mixed up a sugar solution and dropped it down on the leaf and the butterfly was soon tucking in..

Within a short time it was feeling much better and started sunning itself..Ahhhhh

My grandson has just walked in and on seeing I was writing about sheep (again!) started reeling off some sheep jokes...

Q: What did the cloned sheep say to the other sheep? A: I am ewe.

Q: Where do sheep get their hair cut? A: At the Baa-Baa's shop.

Q: How do sheep know the price of apples? A: By reading the Baaa-code.

I can sense a big groan from everyone but I found them quite amusing:))

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Ragwort Pulling

One advantage of having a parent with Alzheimers is that they like to reminisce so I am getting to hear a lot of tales about my Great Grandfather. He was a royal game keeper and lived in a cottage in Great Windsor Park. Although a game keeper, he also had a great affinity with all animals and wildlife, and for this reason I have always been told that I take after him. I am not sure he enjoyed his job as apparently didn't like the birds being shot and frequently complained to my mother about the 'toffs that killed his birds for fun.' He would also make up many tales to do with the countryside; when my mother was small and frightened by the noise of the rutting deer, he said that they were, 'just having a lovely party,' and to stop her from trampling on the crops in corn fields, he told her that if she did the, 'black spots of the Fluellen flower would jump out and stick to her!' For this reason I was particularly pleased to come across some Round Leaved Fluellen while Ragwort pulling on Saltbox SSSI as I had never seen it before..I can now see why my mother was always so particular about not trampling on even one blade of corn and it also might account for why, when I annoyed my big brother, he would threaten to 'put the black spot on me' which would result in running in terror and hiding under my bed:)

There has been a lot of Ragwort around this year and because it is very toxic to grazing animals, much of the summer has been spent removing it. It is back breaking work but has some advantages too as one notices things previously overlooked. Again on Saltbox SSSI we recently came across this lovely white Scabious amongst all the usual pale lilac ones...

...and a couple of weeks previously (same site and still Ragworting) we found several clumps of white Marjoram amongst the usual purple Marjoram.

Around the same time I also found, what I am guessing, was an albino slow worm under one of the reptile refuges we have there. It was a very pale, creamy, grey and totally devoid of stripes (annoyingly I didn't have my camera with me). It reminded me that we used to have an albino badger that regularly visited our garden, one of several that frequented the area, especially around Saltbox. It wasn't completely white but a very light cream colour. Unfortunately, since our neighbours got three Rottweilers and a Jack Russel Terrier, the badgers no longer visit us so I don't know if this strain still exist amongst our local badger population.