The Progress

Sometimes it’s easy to get disheartened when things aren’t happening quickly enough, especially if you’re like me and have no patience.

Tree stumps and soil mound removed

When I moved in there was a huge mound in front of what had been the pig sty. They had obviously dug out for a septic tank and piled the soil high on either side. Three big trees had grown on the mound in front of the sty and one arched over the gate screening out the neighbour’s sheds. I had hoped to keep it and just prune it back but when the others were removed I was told it would be very unstable. So it had to come down as well.

This just left the mound which had some old shrubs in it and a lot of junk buried plus the stumps of the trees. Now it’s cleared and the area looks huge. They came back with topsoil at the weekend and drove the dumper into the septic tank. I wouldn’t mind but initially they had buried the tank. I said when they came back I wanted to be able to access it in the event of a blockage or some such. Their reply “ah sure we know where it is”……. “That’s a fat lot of use to me if I have a problem,” I replied. So I insisted they uncover it. Of course it was my fault he then forgot about it and drove across it.

They then rebuilt the lid with a raised manhole and gave me the number of a chap locally who fences in his spare time. I need to fence off an area in front of the mickey mouse tunnel for growing veg, away from the destructive chickens. I also need to fence animals out from my yard which means pulling out all the make shift fencing that the old farmer had put up. As my son would say he was a typical old rooter. A hodge podge of a barrier with any old scrap he had lying about. Over the years bits had collapsed and I found myself blocking the gaps with other crap. However the wily goats easily cleared it and now the piglets are in danger of figuring a way through.

The chap arrived last night and we decided posts with high tensile sheep wire. But the area in front of the old pig sty is very visble so I told him I want something that looks good there. In my mind I had a picket style fence that I could use as a support for creepers plus a gate to get into the veg patch. He told me that will be as expensive as all the rest of the fencing combined and looked at me as if I was slightly batty or maybe majorly batty (sometimes it’s hard to tell).

I’m already laying out in my mind a cottage garden full of flowering perennials. I can’t wait to get stuck in. I also have to find someone to neaten up the exposed side of the pig sty. The chap fencing told me he’d just drive a digger into it. Why? It might not be as old as the stone shed beside it but it’s part of the stamp of the place and I use it for my hens. The lack of any real empathy for our built heritage here is why we have littered the countryside with horrible houses and bungalows.

The fruit garden

Last weekend I finally planted my fruit bush cuttings (various currents and gooseberries) that I had brought with me from Moynalty. They’ve been sat in pots for a year and a half now. Last summer I nursed them through the 10 weeks of drought just about keeping them alive. I was so thrilled to finally be able to plant them I stood back to admire them for ages.

Last night when the fencer was here he said its a shame you’ve planted them. I said surely he could drive the tractor between the rows. He then muttered about the old apple tree. I told him I had a soft spot for it. He sighed and said “I thought you might”. It’s the only living thing that survived the house renovation and was only discovered when the trees choking it were cut down. It’s half dead but also half alive and I’m hoping now it’s got light it might revive.

Behind it is the fence line where I often have a chat with Honky. The pigs use that area as their toilet and if I happen to go out while they are there, I get a grunt of a greeting. I tipped all the old straw from the hayshed out there under an old bent conifer and they’ve taken to sleeping on it. That also warrants a grunt when I appear. I love the social aspect of their communication with me. It’s very civilised. It’s an acknowledgement of my presence and a hello.

Having this area totally enclosed from the chickens and any other animals means I can finally grow herbs. All my herbs to date are in pots on the patio. The chickens ate them all so I gave up planting them.

The goats got into the yard when I was away at a wedding (thanks to a gate not closed properly) and destroyed a fig, a wisteria and a Virginia creeper I was patiently coaxing to grow up my freezer sheds. I was so upset but last year they did the same to a rambling rose and it’s come back beautifully so fingers crossed they all do too.

The massive builders rubble mound at the back of the hayshed (from the house renovations) has been cleared as has the mound added to it from the yard. I discovered Honky sunning herself on it one day.

Happy as a pig in….



Then a few days later was driving down the road and the sight of it horrified me. It was like an image of Calcutta and I half expected to see a load of street urchins rummaging through it. Thankfully they landed out of the blue to remove it a few days later with a massive 23.5 tonne digger.

A tight squeeze

The levelled area is now fenced off and I got some grass seed mixes from a farmer who had some leftover. There was a chat on the Facebook page Regenerative Farming of which I’m a member and I said I’d love to seed it with something other than rye grass. He offered to send me some and it arrived yesterday. Hopefully the sheep coming at the end of the month will enjoy it when it grows.

The purple fence will soon be gone

I also got the dreaded Teram “weed control” and gravel pulled up. Weed control in inverted commas because it did nothing of the sort but that was probably because it wasn’t put down correctly. They were able to fill a soak hole we dug with the gravel to try to minimise the flooding in the yard after heavy rain and last night we had a lot of rain and most of today and it seems to be working. I scattered grass seed yesterday evening after raking all the stones up and the rain was very welcome. I’m looking forward to having a lawn again even if it will be very small.

So there has been a lot of progress really. I keep telling myself it’s a marathon not a sprint but I have this vision in my head and I want it done now.

At the end of the day you can only hope you will leave the place better than when you found it. That’s my aim.

The Tamworth Two

The horrors

Saturday when they came back to pull out the second massive stump, I had to head off to collect the piglets. I left them with my phone number, loaded the big dog crate into car (putting down the seats) and spreading a huge tarp underneath. I was only going to Clonroche but I may as well have been going to Mars. Every field in Wexford has a road around it. And the roads aren’t necessarily road worthy…….

R apparently denotes “rural”. I decided in reality it denotes “rubbish”. L denotes “local” but that should be “ludicrous”. We pay taxes for this……?

It took me 40 minutes to travel 29km or 15 miles. They obviously factor in being stuck behind the local farmer with no wing mirrors.

The piglets were in what looked like a lovely place. Two sows were stretched in the sun in a paddock with an arc. He had the weaners in a shed. He calmly went in and caught them insisting on sticking his tag in one ear and mine in the other. The only time in my 6 years of pig keeping I experienced this. So the poor little feckers were more tag than pig.

We put them in the cage with straw in but they still skidded and stressed the whole journey home. The men were engrossed in the big stump removal when I got back and my standing helplessly asking them for a hand to unload the piglets went ignored.

Eventually the elder came over and we lifted the cage out and coaxed them into their shed stuffed with straw, food and water.

I decided it would be better to keep them in a few days before letting them out. I’ve never had wilder piglets. They had obviously never been handled and were totally freaked anytime I even opened the door. I kept them in almost a week. Then let them out into a small fenced area. They approached the fence, got shocked and one promptly dived through. She happened to meet the big pigs coming back in for their post-breakfast siesta. I’m not sure who was more shocked.

The second stuck her snout on it. Ouchio.

For a few days they remained confined. Then I went to the vets to get a wormer and enquire why one was a bit bald. They told me I’d need to inject a wormer and a delouser sub-cutaneously. I’m always wary of introducing pigs into my place and I prefer to keep the new ones separate until I’ve treated them. I had never injected pigs before but Mary told me how to do it. She suggested asking my neighbour who had helped us with Honky. He happened to be driving out of his yard as I arrived back. We confined them easily and he held them while I injected them. One was no problem, the other wriggled just as I put needle in and half of the dose dribbled down her neck. Bugger.

I rang the vets and they made me up another dose. My neighbours said they’d collect it for me. Later that evening they arrived up with their bull mastiff and a French bulldog on leads. The neighbour who’d helped me earlier arrived as well. Needless to say the piglets were freaked and there wasn’t a chance in hell they were going to cooperate. They bolted. Through fencing.

For the next 20 minutes 4 adults were given the run around by two slippery piglets. We gave up. Peter took the dogs home. Larry the other neighbour had long gone so myself and Susan sat on the deck in evening sun with a glass of red and listened to the happy grunts of two escapee piglets. The woofer arrived out to close in the hens and vanished. Eventually she appeared at the gate to say she’d coaxed them back in with food. Success.

Next day the digger driver’s dad held the piglet and I injected her like a pro. However, they’d got a taste of freedom and that little paddock wasn’t going to confine them. Just as the digger man drove a fully laden dumper of topsoil over the septic tank and got stuck in it, they headed for the hills. I was running out to try to round them up when I heard the frustrated swearing. I came back to find his wheel in the tank and the concrete lid had disappeared.

Oops

I gave up chasing the piglets. Utterly pointless and instead lowered the electric fencing and reinforced gaps. Meanwhile the Diggerman pulled the dumper out with his digger. I resigned myself to feral piglets but when I went out later I found them finishing off the last of their feed and settling into their shed for the night. At least if they were going to be feral they knew their way home.

My neighbours with the dogs named them The Tamworth Two and the name rang a bell. I had a vague recollection of it so I googled it. I hadn’t realised they’d made a film about the pigs.

I often just sit and watch them, they fascinate me. These weaners are barely 8 weeks old and were just weaned when I got them. So far they’ve moved home, explored all around and still found their way back for bed and board. We really underestimate the intelligence and resilience of animals. How many human babies or even puppies could do that?

Pigs are truly amazing.

The Diggerman

Teleporter for second stump

The illusive and lesser-spotted diggerman finally made his appearance on Good Friday. So in every sense it was a “good” Friday. He had arrived the previous Saturday to look at the job. I had relatives visiting so couldn’t spend long with him. His parting words were “I’ll see you Friday. ” Then during the week I got a text from my neighbour who is a mate of his to say he’d be with me Saturday. I assumed he had asked my neighbour to pass the message on.

On Friday I was reclining in the bath contemplating a lazy day ahead when I heard a commotion outside. After a few minutes it dawned on me it sounded like a digger. I lurched out of said bath half drying myself, wrestling with underwear and giving up. I pulled up a tracksuit bottom and threw on a t-shirt and ran out in pink fluffy slippers to let him in……

The chap never batted an eyelid. He had no idea why my neighbour had told me Saturday. I then threw on a pair of clogs and ran to lock in the goats, shove the pigs into the middle paddock and close gate, switch off electric fencing, wrestle open the yard gate, drop electric fencing so he could drive over it to dump the stuff he dug up. Suffice it to say neighbour’s ears must have been doing some burning.

It fitted

The plan was to load dumper and drive out front gate and into field through field gate but I looked at the dumper and said I thought it would fit through the yard gate. Diggerman looked at me dubiously. Never, ever argue with a woman. He fitted. Enough said. We are not all spatially unaware!

He proceeded to remove mounds of stuff before tackling the tree stumps. The old pig sty which I now use as a henhouse had had a mound of soil dumped in front of it from when they dug out the septic tank. I knew there was plastic in it because last summer we tried to remove it and gave up. He dug away at it and then called me. He reckoned the wall would cave in if he went any further. I told him wall was sound from inside and to keep at it. He did and got the stumps out. What was revealed was the stone rubble base which will be left to dry out and we can hopefully repair.

Old pig sty

I couldn’t believe the space. The soil is really good as well – lovely friable loam. Well it would be after years of leaf mould.

Next he opened and moved the gates into the area beside the hay shed where the other pile of stuff had been dumped when they were digging the septic tank out. More plastic, rusty iron, glass, and an old plough. I just can’t get my head around the mentality. My dad always said the Irish were a filthy race. I’m inclined to agree even though I’m Irish and I would never, ever litter. It was ingrained in me from a child. I used be mortified when dad tackled people littering. Now I admire his courage.

He started on the sycamore that had seeded itself right beside the hayshed that I had cut down last year. I said to him please don’t damage the shed. He told me with tree stumps you just have to be patient and keep at them. He did and after over an hour got it out.

hayshed stump

Then he moved to behind my fridge/freezer sheds. These are probably built 70 years. The farmer’s wife used one as her dairy, so I’m told. The other has the dog’s name, Ross on the door and his bed was still in it when I moved in. I use it for coal and garden tools now.

There were two massive sycamores behind it. Last year they were cut down and the huge stumps were left behind. I was fed up asking people how I’d remove them. They all sucked in through their teeth and suggested injecting with weed killer (no bloody way), diesel, petrol, washing up liquid…….. I kid you not. I had reconciled myself to leaving them there and chopping down the shoots periodically.

He took into the first and started patiently and rhythmically rooting at it. His father arrived and directed him. It was like watching an opera. They kept at it then asked had I an axe. I had. They had got down to a massive root that was running under my sheds. It had already caused the huge crack in the wall. They hacked at it. They kept hacking at it until it split, then they began to loosen the stump.

stump behind small freezer shed

The stump came loose and they began to try to remove it with a digger that was way too small. The dad said to me “where there’s a will there’s a way.” They got it out.

Stump removed

Next day they arrived back to take the other one out. I had to leave to collect the new piglets. I was only going to outside Clonroache, 20 miles or so away but it would take me 40 mins. The roads around here are designated “R” rural or “L” local. R should stand for rubbish and L for ludicrous. When I got back what greeted me was the first photo here. They had got the second stump out but had to call a friend with a teleporter to remove it. It was so massive it was one third the size of my sheds. Do not allow sycamores to seed and grow near buildings. This had to be less than 70 years old. They hardly built the sheds on a sycamore…….

Today I went out to take stock and commune with the pigs, as I do. The mound added to the previous building rubble mound (from house renovations), stunned me but not because of the size – which is huge, but because of the plastic pollution in it.

Honky on plastic

The amount of plastic is staggering and it dawned on me that a lot of it is probably older than I am, and it’s still intact, albeit a bit crumbly. A good reminder that plastic is indestructible and not even slightly biodegradable.

Honky loved it. She pulled it out to lie on in the sun. Pigs aren’t stupid. She knew it would keep the still cold soil at bay.

In other news I’ve got new weaners. A pair of terrified Durocs. They’re not electric fence trained so fun and games ahead. For now they’re in the shed beside the annoying goats. Soon they will be out and about and probably in with the neighbour’s mares and foals. Which it’s why you always need to keep your neighbour sweet.

The Tree and The Hen

Alnus glutinosa

Last year I vowed I’d plant a line of trees to screen my neighbour and improve my view. But like a lot of vows, it never happened. I also intended planting a copse in my third paddock which is the biggest and borders a huge intensively-farmed field; regularly lashed with glyphosate. There is a deep gripe between us and I’d say the run off into it is toxic. It’s a crying shame that people care so little about the environment or their own health. But they don’t. The copse I plant will hopefully stop the drift into mine.

Of course it’s too late now; they need to be planted bare root. I wanted to scatter some of dad’s ashes under this copse as well. But there is always next autumn.

So I was delighted to get a root up the you know what from a tweet I sent about ideas to remember Matt. Matt Care was an Englishman who moved to live in the west of Ireland with his Irish wife. They set up a smallholding and had their own poultry, sheep and pigs. Matt also grew a lot of his own veg and was a great man to take on tasks the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. He did his own butchery (amongst other stuff). He was in our smallholder group and regularly updated his Twitter with tales of his smallholding life. He was always in good humour and willing to help in any way he could with advice, swapping recipes, methods, ways of doing stuff or just have a good moan with.

I sent him a horseradish root as a result of a conversation we had about same. He was tickled to hear it had originated in Mayo, brought to Dublin by my mother, transplanted to Meath by me then dug up and sent back to the “wesht” to him in Roscommon. In return he painted a sign for my pigs when I had admired the signs he had painted for his own pigs.

The sign finally put up

He told me to buy him a beer at our next smallholder gathering. Sadly he never came to the last event and now I’ll never get to buy him that beer. He died on the 7th of December last, suddenly. He had been unwell and was waiting heart surgery I think. It was a shock to the rest of us. We had all got used to his banter and regular posts.

I thought of him several times over Christmas because he always decorated his Christmas cakes to a theme and he would tweet about his home-cured “hang sangwiches.” He loved the local lingo and referred to cups of “tay” and talked about “The Old Boy” down the road who he seemed to have been butler, chauffeur and cook for. We all felt we knew him as well.

Anyway in response to my tweet a suggestion was made to plant a tree in his memory – a Twitter Wood as it were. A tree planted by the person who “knew” him for him. So like Twitter the trees would be scattered all over the world.

I loved this idea. I had already planted a tree in memory of Fat Kitty and I found it really therapeutic. It somehow perpetuates the circle of life. I had spoken to the man in the nursery the day I bought his (FK’s) tree, about planting a screen and told him I’d come back to buy the other trees later but in the normal course of events that would have been put on the long finger.

This morning I woke up to another beautiful blue sky. I jumped in the car and went to buy the trees I’d discussed with him. But they wouldn’t fit. He offered to deliver them. I managed to fit one in and planted it for Matt when I got home. It’s an alder which is a native tree. He delivered the rest of them this evening. I picked out a weeping birch for dad. The other alder I’m going to plant in memory of my martini-loving aunt who died in her 98th year.

The following day I planted the rest of the trees and as I was digging I started thinking about who will benefit from these trees, who will look at them, who will sit under their shade, who will wonder about who planted them. Am I the only one who looks at trees and thinks about stuff like this?

The new hens are allowed out now and are truly free range. In the first few days you always have a few hairy evenings getting them back in. But last weekend “bet all” as they used say in Meath. The araucana was missing. Typical in that she was the one that cost me the most. I closed in the rest and went walking around looking for her. My fields are bordered by a 7 acre field beside me which has thoroughbred mares on it. I told my neighbour who owns them he could graze my last paddock. He took me at my word to open a gap, except he bulldozed a gap…….I said to him don’t go complaining to me if my pigs get into yours. He won’t. But the people at the top of his field might.

Araucana

Anyway as I was walking down in the half light I could see a big bird wandering aimlessly in the distance. As I approached it didn’t fly away. It was the araucana. She was three fields away and in a neighbouring field. How she got down here on her own I’ll never know. Of course she wouldn’t let me hunt her back and flew into the ditch. So for the next 10 minutes she flew from one side to the other while I ran through the gap stumbling over big mucky tractor ruts. Then I got fed up and dived into the brambles hoping to grab her but missed. She seemed to settle in a shallow hole and stupidly instead of leaving her and making a note of where she was I tried to grab her. She scooted in further. She completely vanished. I rooted around for a while hoping she’d come shrieking out but no luck. I walked back to the house and a burnt pot. I’d only gone out to close the hens in.

I poured a glass of wine but then decided I’d go down one more time with a head torch. Lo and behold I could just about see her in the rabbit hole. Once it’s dark it is much easier to catch them as they are less likely to try and flee. I grabbed her by her tail feathers and hauled her out, much to her indignation. I have named her Mrs Mazel Topf (sic) and she reminds me of a mother in law at a wedding with stout ankles and a fascinator. She’s also the colour of a cuckoo maran that my son described as being like that of a static tv screen.

She began laying the other day and she actually does lay a bluish coloured egg. Well it’s a duck egg blue. The irony being that most ducks lay white eggs. It’s becoming fashionable now to have hens that lay different colour eggs not that it makes a “hapeworth” of difference to the taste.

Getting back to the trees. It’s a really nice idea to plant a tree in memory of someone you loved or even a beloved pet and let’s face it the environment needs more trees. Why don’t you plant a tree this weekend or if you don’t have the space for a tree – a bee friendly plant? As that horrible supermarket says “every little helps”.

In memory of Matt Care, Roscommon.

The Fat Cat

Always broody looking

The Fat cat aka Fat Kitty was put to sleep today 21st March 2019. I had him almost exactly 9 years. I found a photo of him from May 2010. We got him from a farm in Trim Co. Meath. He was pulled out from his nest between bales of straw by my daughter and her friend from pony club. She later read that when you take a kitten away from it’s mother too early it makes them very nervous. He was really, really odd. My brother called him The Enigma because he only ever got a glimpse of him. When strangers arrived he hid. In fact he hid under my bed when my daughter came home from university and then used sneak out and sit on the stairs observing her from a distance until he decided it was her. My son named him the Fat B*astard (he never stopped eating) and as he had mostly been called Kitty up to this, he became Fat Kitty. It suited him. And he knew his name.

Keeping watch over Honky robbing chicken food

He played with my first Jack Russell. He played with every kitten. He was gentle with the piglets that I raised (initially he was scared of them). He then slept out in the woodshed with Honky in my last place. He often lay on the ground in front of the pigs and had a roll. They would sniff him and he would jump up and hop off indignantly. My son described his run as a “big gay one” and it was.

When I decided to move here I actually had sleepless nights worrying about how he would cope. If he escaped he would be so freaked he would head for the hills. When he was outside he reverted to really weird and there was no way you could catch him. It was a major operation to fool him once the removal company had left. He knew something was up and was highly suspicious. I did manage to catch him and The Thug, my daughter’s cat who I was minding when she went off around the world. They both spent the night in the empty house and next morning were put into cages and travelled down here. Neither stopped complaining for 4 hours. They didn’t get on and had fought from the beginning. In fact FK had been to the vet a couple of times with injuries. The Thug was far more aggressive than he was and he always came off the worst.

I had to keep them in for a month. The Thug went out after 3 weeks and FK escaped one night when I opened the door to let the dogs in. I was distraught and figured that was last I’d ever see of him. But next morning he appeared out of the hay shed and when I opened the front door he shot back in. I think he slept with the pigs and realised if they were here, it was home. He didn’t go out for another few weeks. And then he was more relaxed than he’d ever been. He seemed to be much less freaked when strangers were around, and there was a lot with builders, plumbers, roofers etc. He loved the fields and used lie up on the ditches waiting for baby rabbits to appear. He lay under the hedge in the first paddock watching all the goings on out on the road and around the yard.

He was a different cat: until Nelly appeared. He wasn’t scared of her initially but when she grabbed him in her mouth and shook him, that really freaked him. He vanished for a day and a night. Once more I thought I’d never see him again. Once more he reappeared but he wouldn’t come near the house or the yard. It was about this time I began to feed him in the shed and put his bed out there. He spent the nights outside during the Beast from the East. He was actually quite cosy because he had a luxury dog bed on top of straw bales.

I thought he and The Thug had reached an entente cordiale as they seemed to just circle about each other all last summer. But I think now this abscess that ultimately killed him was from them fighting. The results came back as a round cell mass caused by his attack or defence cells fighting an infection. It was a type of lymphoma. He just couldn’t fight off the infection that set in after the surgery to remove the mass. He had 7 antibiotics, anti-inflamatories, steroids, two surgeries, a night on a drip, intensive care treatment here including from my son and his NICU nurse girlfriend when I went to my aunt’s funeral in Galway. He was almost put down twice but we gave him every fighting chance.

Relaxing in the sun on Paddy’s Day

This last week he was eating, drinking and seemed not to be in pain but only because he was still on the anti-inflamatories. Since he stopped them and went onto the steroids he virtually stopped eating and was pitifully thin. Last night before I went to bed I watched him wobble over to his litter box and realised the swelling on his neck was making him lame in his front shoulder. I made the decision I probably should have made a week ago.

I rang the vets first thing and asked if any of the vets were in the area would they call in. They rang me back to say Mary was. She treated both Honky and the weaner pig last summer. She sedated him first so he just went to sleep on his chair. Then when she administered the stuff he began to breath really roughly. I was very upset because it reminded me of when dad got his first morphine when he was dying.

I buried him in the field I kept promising him he would be out again in the summer when he got better. I’m going to plant a tree beside him soon, something that flowers now. And from now on I’ll think to myself Fat Kitty’s tree is flowering.

His grave

I went for a walk in Tintern at lunchtime. I cried the whole way around and God help anyone who said anything to me about Nelly not being on a lead. We only came across a couple and their young children who took one look at my tear stained face and said nothing. I picked some lesser celandine and ferns for his grave and there’s a small clump of primroses growing beside where he’s buried.

I told him to find dad and go sit on his knee and tell him how much I miss them both.

When I got back to the house his empty chair made me cry again.

He was just a cat; but he was my cat.

Be happy Fat Kitty.

The NWS

Tintern woods

The new woofing season has begun and all of a sudden I’m inundated with applicants. They all have waffley bullshit on their profiles, for the most part translated by Google and I quote ” I think I own a great spirit of collaboration and adaptation, coupled with a full application of everything I do……….” And they all love animals and sustainability and the countryside; until the reality hits and they have to get out of their pit to feed same animals – in the countryside – before they feed themselves!

But one chap decided he didn’t need any old Google help and just sent me his in Spanish. I replied that I had done one year of Spanish which amounted to: muchas gracias, como se llama, uno, dos, tres Cerveza, donde este etc. He then sent me muchas the sameas above.

I took a woofer for a week, a French lassie who was at a friend’s the previous week. I actually needed her for the following week but was hoping she would work out and stay but she told me she had her next place lined up in Bantry. She’s a graduate of some sort of environmental/sustainability degree – gawdelpus.

I’ve now decided to tell them all they can come for a week’s trial. I was really spoiled by the two I had last summer and suspect I will go a long time before I get half as good.

The sap is beginning to rise though and I’m itching to get stuff done again. I was able to look out the window in winter and just sigh. Funny how longer daylight and warmer temperatures change your perception. I was out with said woofer having decided that it was pointless looking for a “man with a digger” trying to level an area on the opposite side of the hayshed where I had the Mickey Mouse tunnel last year. My plan is to move the tunnel here where it will get almost as much sun but will be sheltered from the south and the south west. Every time there was a storm last summer I was up in the night squinting out the window to see was it still there or was it airborne over Cardiff. Larry the neighbour appeared on the ditch like the proverbial hurler and proceeded to lambaste me. He said phone Jack “he has a digger” and gave me his number.

I ran into the house and grabbed the phone. It’s a mobile but it spends that much time plugged into the wall it may as well be a landline. Jack answered and said “when do you want it done?”. I said cheekily “today”. He replied he’d be there in the morning at 9.30am. I couldn’t believe my luck. I raced off down to Dunphy’s of Campile. You’d want to see this place. Stuffed to the gills with everything from a needle to an anchor. You have to duck going in the door so as not to get whacked on the head by a colander. If there is a tradesman coming out, you’ve to turn sideways to protect your modesty and are full frontal into a line of paint cans. Then you’ve to stand and wait your turn while one of the taciturn brothers takes their time to serve the person in front. They go off looking for each item individually, including out back, answer the phone, take in deliveries, tot up bills, do the invoices. So it can be a long wait. A resident Englishman (there every single time I’ve been) turns around and informs new customers “you best not be in a hurry.”

I digress. I was there to buy a new spade. One of said taciturn brothers helpfully dug (no pun intended) me out a womany one. I also wanted fencing posts and wire. Do. Not. Ask. How. Much. anything is because then they have to go off to check and this adds another ten minutes. Stuff purchased so I had to drive around the back to get loaded up. Same brother came out to load me up while the line in the shop grew ever longer.

Next morning – no sign of the woofer crawling out of her pit so as I was awake at cock crow (literally), I was out like an idiot feeding the animals. Then grab some breakfast to be organised for the man with the digger, who was late. He appeared at the gate on a JCB. I couldn’t see what I assumed was a trailer behind with a mini digger. I ran over to open the gate for him. Then it dawned on me it was only him on his JCB. I told him he wouldn’t fit in. “Show me,” he says. Why do men never take your word? He agreed he wouldn’t fit.

So back to the drawing board. My son says hire one and he will come down and do it. But he needs to check his roster and I need to book a digger and don’t you know the digger will be booked up for weeks and then his roster will change.

What I have decided though is to wait a few weeks before agreeing to take anymore woofers. The weather is just still too unpredictable and after a day’s rain yesterday where we got absolutely nothing done apart from bake.

And the less of that the better.

Coffee cake

The Spring

          Post-breakfast snooze

The beginnings of spring were felt almost it seemed in mid-winter with buds on trees and daffodils in flower in January. I kept looking at them hoping we wouldn’t get more snow to bury them. So far we haven’t and we are in the middle of another mild spell after a brief cold one.

 

All the animals are out enjoying the mild winter and the pigs in particular have spent relatively few days in bed. Apart from a post-breakfast snooze if it’s cold, wet or windy.

 

Having barely had contact with the vets since I moved apart from the weaner who cut herself, I had that awful experience with Honky’s pedicure. And then one day I noticed the fat cat appeared very fat. He was always at the door inside the shed in the morning waiting for his breakfast so figured that was why.

I had installed a cat flap in the newly replaced windows that up to this had been propped open to allow the cats to get in and out. But one morning after a very vicious storm I opened the door to a soaking wet shed that seemed much brighter. The entire iron framed window had been blown into the field.

The shed is south facing on that side and most of the wind we get here is southerly or south easterly. I had had new glass put in in the summer and by some miracle it was still intact despite big stones that had been rooted up by the weaners. I decided I had better get the window closing properly and the cat flap was installed. Up to this the feral cats from the stable yard across the road had begun coming in for food. The cat flap stopped them for a while. It didn’t stop the goats though…….

The goats hear me in the shed with the cats and jump up on the window sill for a nosy and what better way to have a nosy than stick your head through the flap? Thankfully Freda Goaty McGoatface can’t manage this with her horns.

Anyway I noticed the fat cat had what appeared to be big jowls. But one morning whatever way I looked the jowl appeared lob sided. I felt it and he made a low growling noise. It dawned on me it was a massive abscess. I rang the vet and made an appointment. It was Thomas one of the vets who had treated Honky that day. He said yes it was an abscess and inserted a syringe to see if he could draw the fluid but nothing came. He gave me antibiotics and told me to see how he was in a few days.

Two days later it burst as I was trying to give him his antibiotic. Initially I thought he had got sick. It drained for well over a day. I assumed that would be the end of it. But a massive hole appeared in the skin and underneath you could see the fang marks into his flesh. It was horrific. He seemed very unwell and wasn’t eating. I took him back to the vet who said straight away it had developed into cellulitis probably caused by Pseudomonas and it definitely was a cat bite. He said cats are totally vicious when fighting and go for the jugular. They also have a lot of very nasty bacteria in their mouth.  He injected him with both a new antibiotic and a pain killer and told me to bring him back every day for the next three days.

 

He thought he would need surgery to remove or debride (I had to come home and Google that) all the infected tissue but couldn’t do anything until the infection was cleared. At the next check up he said he thought it might heal on its own and he wouldn’t need surgery. I was so relieved and he seemed better in himself. But then a couple of mornings later I noticed the area was very hot, inflamed and the skin seemed very taught so made an appointment. They decided to take him in. Thomas rang me at lunchtime to say he had cleared away a lot of necrotic and infected tissue and strangely enough, fat. Then stitched him up and put a drain in. He said it would need a lot of cleaning and care but I could pick him up later that evening.

When I collected him he was still very staggery so I left him in the cage. He wouldn’t eat or drink and kept making awful howling sounds. The effect of the sedation wearing off. I don’t know what sedation does to a brain but it really can’t be good. Looking at what Honky went through and knowing how I felt after I last had a general anaesthetic it’s no wonder that they try not to use them on elderly people or anyone with dementia or Parkinson’s.

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I spent the next few days dragging 5 litre bottles of sea water up from the beach, boiling and cooling it and bathing him in it. I also dripped honey into the wound and fed him kefir (antibiotics wipe out all bacteria including the beneficial ones and they need replacing). I also diluted Citricidal which is grapefruit seed extract and a powerful antimicrobial and used it for cleaning the wound. He had to go back the other day to have the drain removed and this time it was Mary who had also treated Honky and the weaner. She isn’t happy about it at all as the swelling is back so wants to have him in on Thursday to do a biopsy and possibly culture the pus to see what the bacteria is. He’s had four antibiotics already and they are not working. The sign of things to come with bacterial resistance? It’s not only humans who will be affected but animals as well.

It’s worrying because he’s an old cat. At 10 he’s the longest surviving cat I’ve ever had. When I lived in Meath, cats were regularly wiped out on the road as it was impossible to keep them in. He has only survived because he is so damn weird and nervy and afraid of his own shadow. He is also the gentlest cat and has played with every kitten who has passed through.

Meanwhile back on the ranch the goats continue to amuse and frustrate. I had to boost the electric fencing to three strands and for the moment it is working although they will still jump it or dive through it to follow me down the fields. I feel guilty restricting them so but until I get a fence erected to stop them getting in around house they have to be contained. They demolish plants and jump on or in everything including the car or a ladder if you happen to be up it or not. 

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A couple of weeks ago I was jarring up marmalade one evening when I heard a commotion at the gate and someone calling me. I went out to find Paddy who had cut the trees down in summer and another man. “I hear you’re looking for a pocán” says he. “I am” says I. “But I only want the lend of him.” He says straight away “a bit like a man?”.

Lots of laughter and innuendo later he gave me his phone number and we will do a deal. I asked him what he did with his goats and he said nothing, they were like his children. I get that. It’s funny both goats and pigs are highly entertaining, intelligent and thoroughly frustrating but you get to love them in a way I can’t imagine loving cattle or sheep or even horses of which I have experience. He reckons my goats are older than I thought they were so I will borrow his billy at the end of the month. The gestation is five months so that means kids around the beginning of August.

I wonder will motherhood calm them down any?