Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Spring Happenings

It is so good to see the Spring action kicking off in the garden, woods and fields.  The birds are all of a flutter. The male pheasant is driving the females mad by chasing them all over the place and then circling them with one wing dropped saying, "Look at me.. I am sooo can you resist" but unfortunately the females don't seem very impressed, as yet.  My friendly male blackbird has been more successful though and now has a wife in tow. They are busy gathering ridiculously large beak fulls of nesting material and disappearing into the thick ivy climbing up an old garden wall but the male still comes for his breakfast when I ring my little bell and still enjoys a daily bath to keep his feathers in trim..with such clean habits, no wonder he bagged a female so quickly:)

At the weekend I escaped the noisy rugby that my husband and son were watching on the TV, climbed over the fence and went for a walk in the fields behind us.  The sun was out, the Sky larks were up, a few butterflies fluttered by, the birds were singing in the woods adjoining the fields and Aconites, Primroses and two of my favourites flowers, Violets and Coltsfoot, were all adding a nice splash of colour.  My mother's middle name is Violet and when I was a child she used to make up wonderfully exciting stories about Violet Fairies rescuing bees, bugs and butterflies:))  It is easy to see why I believed the stories when one looks at the pretty petals:)

My other favourite, Coltsfoot, is regarded by many as a weed but I think it is beautiful so I was pleased to discover a large area of it growing not far from our garden.  Culpeper describes its virtues as good for coughs and also good to take away, '...the burning heat of piles...'  so if anyone is suffering you now know where you can get some:)

The nicer weather has made the volunteer work we do with the Downland Project's conservation grazing animals even more pleasant.  I always enjoy the tasks; the company is good and there is nearly always something that happens that I find amusing, although, I rarely let on when I find something funny (unless it's something silly that I've done) as I'm am not sure the others share my sense of humour and I don't want to embarrass anyone. Having said that I thought I would recount something my husband did recently  as he was complaining that I don't mention him in my blog.

We were at a site called Park Ham, near Caterham, on top of the North Downs and the sheep had been penned so we could trim their hooves. To do this we turn the sheep onto their backs and hold them in a sitting position, with their feet sticking out for trimming.  It sounds uncomfortable but strangely most sheep seem to find it very restful and often become quite sleepy.

The sheep are turned onto their back by aligning them sideways in front of ones legs; one hand then turns the sheep's head away and round towards its back end which makes it lean onto your legs, while the other hand pushes the sheep's side to reinforce the pressure of the lean. Then you move backwards and the sheep falls gently to the ground, where it can be easily manoeuvred into the sitting position.  However, for it to work, it is important to keep ones legs together.

My husband, being male, is not used to keeping his legs together, so he forgot this important bit! As a consequence, when he attempted to turn his sheep on its back, instead of the sheep going down, it ended up, still standing, but between hubby's legs with him straddling it (not actually sitting on it...thank goodness). The sheep, then very confused as it wasn't expecting that, started to walk off, but my husband didn't want to let it go, so a funny few seconds ensued while they both went stomping around the pen like some kind of sheepy rodeo until my husband managed to get it out from between his legs.  I found it very amusing, especially when it happened a second time, but as no one else made any comments, I thought I had better not laugh:))) 

It was great, therefore, when on another day, the Grazing Officer brought his 11 month old son to the farm to watch the ewes being scanned as, being a baby, he had no inhibitions about showing his true feelings and just the sight of a volunteer had him chuckling loudly. He really seemed to enjoy his morning at the farm and didn't cry once...sort of child I like.

The ewes are scanned to see how many lambs they are carrying (or not).  It is not 100% accurate but gives a good indication which is useful to foresee any problems that may occur before, during or after labour.  The images of the unborn lambs are displayed on on a screen in the goggles that the person doing the scanning is wearing.  He then calls out what the ewes are carrying and they are sprayed with different coloured dots to show if it's a single, twins or triplets.

After the scan, the ewes were returned to their pasture and because the lambs inside them are now growing very fast, they are given extra food in the form of sheep nuts.  At first when I went out with the nuts, they all turned the other way, saying that no way were they going to be caught again for more scanning, but when they realised I had a bucket of nuts, they came running over enthusiastically nearly knocking me over in the rush:)

It is not long until lambing now.  We have 12 ewes that we are lambing for someone else at the beginning of April, then the Project's 30 ewes should starts delivering anytime from the 10th April onwards and hopefully, if all goes to plan, we will get around 45 new little conservation grazers:)

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Mud, Mud, Glorious Mud

People seem to gauge the arrival of Spring by different things. For some it is the arrival of Crocus flowers in the garden...

or Bluebells in the woods....

For others it may be the arrival of new born animals...

But for me it is  all about the MUD.  Having been a rather feral child that could spend many hours happily playing with mud (great for my parents who didn't need to buy me expensive toys:)) I have the dubious pleasure of knowing mud quite intimately and as a child it fascinated me that, when Spring  arrived, the mud changed its consistency even if it had been raining for days.  It is something I still look out for each year, although, this year it hasn't been so dramatically obvious as, with the dry, mostly mild weather the South East has had, there hasn't been the glorious, boot gobbling type of mud that we usually get in the youngest son, (who was also a bit feral) was always loosing his little red wellies in boot gobbling mud but would carry on playing regardless, frequently loosing his socks as well!  Over the last couple of weeks there has been a change in the mud so, in my book, Spring has Sprung..Hooray!!!!

So here's a little celebratory ditty that my dad used to sing to me, his little Mud-Lark.  Actually it's not about a Lark, it's about a Hippo which is more appropriate as his nickname for me was Pudding:)...

From The Hippopotomus Song
Flanders and Swan

Mud, mud, glorious mud,
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood,
So follow me follow. down to the hollow,
And there let me wallow in glorious mud.

Is it any wonder that I grew up playing in mud after having songs like that sung to me!!

Unfortunately, each Spring, I suffer the affliction of terrible restlessness...I want to do something life-altering like moving to the other side of the country or travelling the world.  If I go for a walk I have an urge to just keep walking and never go home; if I am horse riding I want to gallop forever; if we are driving somewhere I want to buy a new car.  My long suffering husband and family (who are always included in my plans) usually manage to keep my feet on the ground and curb some of my more extreme ideas, but over the years this Spring Bug has motivated us to do lots of things that we probably wouldn't have otherwise done. We've been rock climbing, white water kayaking, white water rafting, climbed mountains, walked a few long distance footpaths, built a big house extension, redesigned the garden several times over and visited quite a few interesting countries.  Last year it was re-doing the bathroom and my poor husband is still struggling with the many problems this has thrown up but we do now have a lovely new bath and toilet and hopefully the sink will go in this week.  So what am I going to do this year?  I haven't a clue but I am going to explode soon if I don't think of something. With my dear old mum needing a lot of attention, I feel my wings have been clipped, which is a frustrating... I wonder if this is how our hens felt when we clipped their wings...hmmm...there's an idea...maybe I could keeps hens again.

As I have to stay at home and as spare time is short, I am trying very hard to direct my restlessness to the many useful things that need doing around the bungalow and garden but they don't really inspire me with enthusiasm.  I could take up painting again as there are boxes of my half finished bird paintings in the loft...I only ever managed to complete one, The Barn Owl, because I was recuperating after surgery but it could be quite nice to complete the others.

Thankfully the build up to lambing is starting soon with lots of jobs to be done in preparation so maybe that will exhaust some of my pent up restlessness.