The Sheeps

Sheltering from the rain under a may bush

The day finally came after much procrastination, “I’m going to get sheep. ” It was time to collect them. Having said that I’ve been saying I’m going to get Dexters, a parrot and a chihuahua for years. The chihuahua has been on the list the longest. Years ago when we were small children my dad’s youngest sister had one. She went off on holiday somewhere and we were asked to mind it. My mother, never a big animal lover wasn’t impressed when he cuddled up with us in bed. Dad just laughed. He adored dogs. To this day I remember that dog and the absolute heartbreak when he was taken away. I’ve said for years I’m going to get one and I will.

There are people up the road who breed parrots and I’m avoiding them like the plague because I know what I’m like.

So I finally got around to applying to the Department of Ag. for a sheep herd number. After the fiasco with my pig herd number I was dreading having to deal with them again. My application had hardly hit the mat when I got a call from a man wanting to come to do an inspection. “Ahhh, I’ve got visitors at the moment can you leave it for a week or so?” He replied no, he was going on holiday the week after and it would only take 20 minutes. I almost fell out of my standing. The pig one lasted well over an hour. I said yes.

He landed and didn’t even bother putting on boots. Yer man who did the pig one did and the ground was like a rock after weeks with no rain. I thought to myself I might be onto a winner here. All he seemed interested in was getting my bank account details. For payments. Don’t make me laugh. I asked did he want to see the sheep accommodation. “Ah no, I can see you’ve loads…….”

Then being the cheeky git I am while he was merrily ticking boxes I asked if he could include a cow(s) on the application. He said yes, but you’ll need a crush but just send me a text when you have one. Yahoo!

Actually a crush is high on the list because they are damn useful for pigs too.

So then I waited. And waited. The Zwartbles lambs were ready for collection at end of May. Mid-May I rang and got the usual civil servant spiel……. staff off sick/on holiday/backlog/under-worked/over-paid…… the last two are mine. They told me to ring next week. I did. And then lo and behold, Enda the postman staggered in with numerous heavy brown envelopes. Then for several days after he arrived with more. I’ve a swanky shiny herd book, duplicate books, record books, official letters, a big long herd number for TWO sheep and n’er a cow yet. Don’t be fooled, all this is to keep people employed and has a small bit to do with traceability.

I left here at 10am to be in Bennettsbridge at 11. I had to stop for diesel, get a slow puncture pumped and to pee. But I arrived close to 11. I assumed my sheep would be separated and it would just be a question of loading them and off I’d go. But when I arrived Suzanna said you can select your own. So we rounded the entire herd of lambs up and I got a brief lesson. Which were the cross breeds/the pure breeds/the wethers (neutered males)/tail less or with tails. Was a lot to take in. Then she discovered some had scald (a foot infection) so I got a lesson in separating sheep and treating them. The whole thing took 2.5 hours. I was exhausted and actually needed a drink (alcoholic) at the end of it all. Talk about baptism by fire. I actually think I could work with sheep now except there’s nothing to grab the feckers with. At least the goats have collars/horns.

My greatest fear with sheep was they live to kill themselves.

I put them in the small pigs’ shed. I had rung my neighbour on my way home to ask if he’d give me a hand to unload them. Honestly you can’t beat country folk who don’t bat an eyelid at such requests and indeed take them in their stride. He helped me then I realised I’d forgotten to get some hay from Suzanna. He said he’d give me some and arrived down with a huge wheel barrow load. The goats were thrilled.

cof

I really have great neighbours. I know they think I’m spectacularly batty but they humour me and I think they actually enjoy the distraction.

So next day I decided to open the door and let them out into the fenced paddock. The goats had been in and headbutted them. Then when I went off to leave them to their own devices, the ponies (belong to my neighbour) decided to chase them around the paddock. I arrived back to see them plough through the electric fencing to get away into the pigs’ field. The weedy field full of dock and ragwort. There they met the pigs who greeted them civilly by touching noses and then went about their business. I could see the lambs relax visibly. To date they haven’t budged from this field. It is weedy but it’s full of varied grasses and herbs and flowers and they seem very happy browsing. So much so that they have absolutely no interest in me and my bucket of barley. But at least now the one with the white bib lets me scratch his head, His brother is much more wary.

Pig greetings

I love watching them. They seem very relaxed. When it’s windy or raining they shelter under the hedge of hawthorn and are warm and dry. They’ve even dug a bank to lie against. They are super cool with the pigs. The little pigs charge up to them to say hello in the morning. I always knew that pigs are socially very advanced but to observe their interactions with the sheep really confirms this.

The more I observe animals the more they fascinate me and the more respect I have for them. We could learn a lot from them and we need to.

The Dilemma

Every year it gets harder. This year I’m already dreading October. The reason? The Tamworth Two. It’s difficult to convey the joy they fill me with – watching them run, play, cavort around the fields and then flop down as if dead when they tire; reminiscent of toddlers who are found face down in lego.

They are joy, they are fun, they are mischief, cheekiness and bravado. They don’t learn. They get snapped at, snarled at and chased by the big pigs and they don’t give a damn. They come back for more. When I kneel down to take a photo of them they nibble at my feet, my jeans. If my phone is in my back pocket they do their best to get it out.

Last year’s pigs never moved in to the hayshed to sleep with the big pigs. These did off their own bat. Now that I’m getting sheep and I need their shed, it suits me but I never intended moving them. I moved the fencing but they just took a deep breath and darted under it: into the goats.

Yesterday having spent the entire day on my feet getting organised to collect the sheep: raise and test fencing, clean out their shed, drive into Wellingtonbridge to get the trailer washed inside and out, then fortify the hayshed to stop the hens getting through it into the field to the waiting family of hungry foxes. I had just poured a glass of wine to sit and enjoy the evening sunshine when I glanced over at the gate I had earlier reinforced against goat incursion. I did a double take because I’m not used to seeing pigs there.

In the past I’d have dropped everything and run out to get them back in. But with experience comes wisdom and a certain amount of laziness. I knew that when it got cold or there was another heavy shower they’d dart back. I hadn’t factored in the goats. I saw the black one with the horns lower her head to get the angle of the puck just right and then I waited. Squeal. Then the white one added her two and fourpence. Suffice to say there was no further sighting, at the gate, of the pigs.

Later I went out to check and they were snuggled up with the others and the little Silkie cock hiding from Cedric the big cock who is a monumental bully.

I know that they will have a great summer. I know they will have had an infinitely better life than the vast majority of pigs on this planet but it really doesn’t make it any easier. The other day I thought as they twined themselves around my legs looking for a belly rub how like puppies they are. And we would never even contemplate eating dogs. Having more pigs probably would make it easier because you don’t get to know them so well. But at the back of my mind the whole time is what sort of personalities do factory-raised pigs have? The chances are they would be just as full of joie de vivre as these guys, full of playfulness, full of cheek – if they only got the chance. But we never give them that chance. Instead they lead miserable, unnatural lives confined indoors and not even able to express their normal behaviours.

To be a meat eater is a struggle. It’s an even bigger struggle when you raise the animal, when you feed it, when you almost fall in love with it. Believe me it’s much easier to go to a supermarket or a butcher and buy a piece of flesh. You can detach yourself to the extent that you don’t even think. But maybe we need to start thinking and stop detaching. Maybe if we did, we’d stop factory farming. And maybe a lot more of us would become vegetarian.

These are just my random thoughts. I don’t think it should be easy but I never thought it would keep getting harder!

The Fox

The final straw in a long line of stolen hens (and my last duck); the bastard took Mrs. Mazel Topf the araucana. I was really upset by this. I loved watching her strutting past my window with her fascinator bobbing. I also loved her blue green eggs. It’s always the hens you love that they take.

Bluey Green eggs

The hens had been getting out behind my fence into next door which is a 7 acre field. At the top of the field there are 3 bungalows and the narrow field lane running between my place and these houses holds no end of fascination for them. Plus the houses only have sheep wire around their gardens so the hens are getting into the gardens as well. Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence for hens too.

The fox had been seen a few times in this field and when the hens were out there they were sitting ducks (well hens really). When Mrs Mazel Topf was taken I got a brainwave and put a radio out on the fence. It kept him away for a few days but he wasn’t going to be fooled for long. I finally did what I should have done long ago and went and got a couple of rolls of chicken wire, tying wire and a thingamyjig for cutting it and twisting it.

Between myself and the woofer we blocked all the gaps. Then we let the hens out. They paced up and down trying to figure a way out but we had them stumped.

The chap who did the fencing around my veg garden is coming back in a couple of weeks to fence the rest properly for me. We had decided on sheep wire until I realised the hens were able to squeeze through it. The object is to keep them on my property as I really don’t think the fox is brazen enough to come in with 4 dogs here. So he has suggested using up some old fencing panels he had and as it’s not going to be very visible I agreed.

Veg garden fencing

He put up this picket fence in an afternoon and it’s a really decent job. The area in front I’ve already started planting up to give a cottage garden border effect. Having had no garden for a year and a half it’s been a joy designing it. In a previous existence I was a landscape designer. But that was sitting in an office on a drawing board. This was actually laying it out and selecting the colours and textures I wanted, then digging into old roots from the trees that were removed. I think I’ll be digging out roots for a long time to come. I put some new topsoil here as well.

On the veg garden side I’m just waiting for the seedlings in the tunnel to get big enough to plant out. It’s still a bit cold at night so I want to harden them off first. The strawberry plants are in and some herbs and a horse radish. I had intended planting the herbs in the fruit garden but until the hens are fenced out that’s not possible. They demolished a fennel plant on me and they’ve even had a go at some of the perennials in the flower border.

The Mickey Mouse tunnel

The grass seed I planted at the back of the house is beginning to grow. Although now the hens are confined in the yard, they’re not helping matters. The area in the first paddock that had been cleared had to be harrowed so that I could seed it. I asked my neighbour to do it for me. He has his mares and foals in my third paddock so it’s a fair swap.

Harrowing

I decided to dig out the docks by hand and spent the next day at it. It’s a backbreaking job not helped by a load of curious onlookers. Just when I had the wheel barrow full the goats would jump into it, knocking it over. They can clear the electric fencing like grade A showjumpers.

curious onlookers
help……..

The excess grass seed mix that was sent to me includes perennial rye grass as well as fescues, timothy, cocksfoot, chicory, forage herb, clovers and birds foot trefoil. I’m looking forward to seeing it once germinated. I hope the sheep will enjoy it.

Speaking of sheep I’m still waiting to get my herd number from the Department of Ag. despite being inspected at the beginning of April. It was the same with my pig herd number. I doubt there are many new number applications in Co. Wexford so not sure why it’s taking them so long. When I ring I get the usual excuses – backlog, staff on holiday/sick/leave etc. It’s very frustrating.

Old shed gable end whitewashed

While the woofer was here we got the old shed completely whitewashed including the gable end that we didn’t get around to last year. Unbeknownst to me she took on to white wash the big shed that we painted last year. I was out in the field pulling the docks and didn’t see what she was doing. It looks great but it’s a total waste of the lime putty I had to get couriered here from the Natural Lime Company, not to mention a waste of money. Plus it will probably run off in heavy rain.

I also got a new tin of the lime green paint. I thought I had saved the code but it had vanished. Luckily the place I bought it were able to check back how many tins they had mixed this time last year so I knew it was the correct shade.

I got some lovely compliments recently, one from a couple I was speaking to in Duncannon. They asked was I living here and where. When I told them where I was they said “you have done such a fantastic job with the place.” The chap who did the fencing told me he remembers this place as a child and it was like a chocolate box cover with whitewashed sheds and a beautiful garden. He said he was delighted to see it being restored to its former glory.

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.