The Aftermath

Finally, we are slowly beginning to get back to some degree of normality. I refuse to say the “new normal” or use any of these dreadful phrases that have become synonymous with this whole disastrous episode in my lifetime.

Perfect imperfection

Life, apart from human life, carried on and nature bloomed and survived and even bettered. It was noticeable early on that there were more insects, even bees about. Somehow the air seemed cleaner. The weather obliged and we pretty much had sunny days since the end of March with little or no rain and now drought conditions.

Bantam and her Silkie chicks

The hormones were flying and both my little bantam and the new Silkie hen went broody. One of the ducks followed suit a few days later. Unfortunately the bantam is notoriously secretive about where she lays her eggs. Even leaving one in a nest is not enough to make her keep using it. She had vanished again and I’d assumed she’d gone broody rather than been taken by a fox. But I had quickly forgotten about her when my daughter appeared at my door back (from Australia) as a surprise. I couldn’t say much at the time because of the outrage that would have caused. She flew from Sydney to Hong Kong to London to Dublin and then came down to visit me. No one died and we had a nice time catching up. But unfortunately I had no idea how long the bantam was missing and it took me ages to find her.

Often they are lying in plain sight but you’d be hard-pressed to see them. This was the case with her. One day when she had hopped off the nest to perform her ablutions, I checked the eggs. They hadn’t been fertilised. How did I know? I shook them and I could hear the liquid swishing about inside. I removed them thinking she’d give up but she stayed put so I got a brainwave and put the Silkie’s eggs under her. I didn’t think for a minute she’d stay another three weeks but as luck would have it the duck went broody so I could pop the eggs under her if she gave up. She was sitting on six. Then the Silkie went broody so I put the remaining four under her.

The bantam stayed the course and hatched five out of the six and two days later the Silkie hatched two. I had broken one accidentally lifting out a rogue egg laid by another hen.

Under perennial cover

I was so thrilled that the little bantam was finally a mother after seven long weeks and what a mother she has turned out to be. In fact they both are. It’s humbling to watch them care for and teach the chicks. Nature really is marvellous.

My poor goat Bad Lola then appeared to develop mastitis and was miserable. I had noticed a couple of days before she wasn’t interested in her feed and seemed hunched and listless. Then I saw her “elder” as they say in these parts. It was engorged and red looking and she had difficulty walking. (Her elder is her udder). I rang the vet and they gave me an antibiotic which had no effect. It was around the time Honky had got sick so I have to say she didn’t get as much attention as she would have done normally. I had assumed it was mastitis. But when the antibiotic didn’t work they gave me another. When I got the second vet out for Honky, I asked him to have a look at her. He told me “to milk all the poison out of her” and showed me how to. It was the first time I’ve ever milked anything but I got the hang of it pretty quickly and it seemed to give her huge relief.

I’m not sure but I said to the vet this looks and smells like milk, not poison but heck I’m not a vet so who am I to argue? The next day I decided it most certainly was milk and the more I milked her the more she’d produce so I stopped. She seemed to get better but to this day still has a huge elder. My son’s girlfriend asked if there were mares and foals nearby. Apparently goats regularly have phantom pregnancies. Not only were there mares and foals beside me but there was a pony in foal in the field with her.

Poor bad Lola

Because I was so wrapped up with Honky I really neglected all my seedlings in the tunnel and they either died from lack of water or damped off. I also planted peas out before a cold snap and they perished. Even the newly emerging potatoes were zapped by frost. The irony being we’d only had a handful of frosts all winter. I also had really really poor germination across a range of seeds. I re-sowed a lot but still nothing. Very frustrating. As a result I’m behind with beans, tomatoes and cucumbers.

Peas and beans

The hens have got in a few times and caused major destruction. The wind blew the doors open one morning I was out walking. Another time the door probably wasn’t bolted properly. Earlier on the ducks got in and savaged all my lettuces and got drunk on the beer in the slug trap. You couldn’t actually make that up.

The lettuce I picked up on the beach just before they shut the country down is still providing. A group of gougers as my dad would have called them had a bbq and left all their rubbish behind them. I picked up one of those “grow in the bag” ones they’d chucked and planted it. It survived the drunken duck attack too so it obviously is the lettuce equivalent of a cat!

I got two new piglets. Pedigree Oxford Sandy and Blacks or OSB for short. They’re tiny. But they’re the best electric fence trained piglets I’ve ever bought in. People selling will always tell you they’re used to electric fencing. But they almost never are. Thank goodness they’re not like the pair of curabucs I had last year. I had enough stress to be dealing with so I went and bought some plastic mesh netting and surrounded the electric fencing with it. It worked a treat but I don’t think they were going to dive through the fencing like all the others did. I only increased their area last weekend and it took them most of the day to venture into it.

Meeting HRH

I decided not to get sheep this year. I still have a freezer full of lamb. I think the Zwartbles breed, although lovely sheep are just too big for me and too lean. The meat hasn’t a scrap of fat on it. I do miss having them though. Maybe next year I’ll go for a smaller rare breed like Jacobs.

And finally after SEVEN, long stressful weeks it looks like Honky is on the mend. I’m almost afraid to type that but I have to have hope that all the effort, time and money I’ve spent won’t have been in vain. I got her portrait sent to me as I saw that the framers was opening after being closed for weeks. It’s absolutely her, The artist, Rachel Dubber captured her essence from a photograph. I left it in last weekend to be framed. I can’t wait to see it.

It’s almost the longest day of the year. Hopefully the second half won’t be as miserable as the first and now we realise what’s important. I can’t wait to start cooking for friends and family again. I can’t wait for people to act normally again and stop looking fearfully at you as you pass. I can’t wait for us to start being human again.

The Lock in

Won’t see this again for a while

As of last Saturday (March 28th) we’ve been on lock in (or lockdown as they say in America). The Friday before, I walked the beach twice. Little did I know it would be the last time for a while. In the morning it was empty as usual and it was glorious. I took the above photo of teenage girls running in and out, laughing and shrieking at the cold.

Then later that afternoon my Scottish neighbour asked would I go with him for his last walk before returning to locked in Glasgow. It had transformed and was jammed with weekenders. Cars were parked on it. A real bugbear of mine. Really can’t understand why they allow this. Duncannon is (was) one of the most beautiful beaches in the country with the fabulous Fort at one end and unspoilt Ballystraw at the other. Between the cars, atrocious planning and really ugly development it has been ruined.

(Incidentally I discovered ancestors with the same name as my own, had lived and owned a lot of the land around Ballystraw. A complete coincidence I ended up living here. It is an unusual name -Kinchela, and one that doesn’t seem to exist in Ireland anymore. There are a lot in Australia, all distantly related to me.)

However I digress, I said to my neighbour it was like a bank holiday weekend in mid-July and was hard to believe we were in a pandemic and people were supposed to be observing strict social distancing. Even the playground locked and with a big Covid-19 notice on the gate had kids in it; who’d obviously climbed over.

Hardly any wonder then, that they were left with little option but to ban people moving about. Now you are not allowed to go more than 2km from your house for exercise. I’m 4km from the beach so that is the end of beach walks for a while and it has seriously affected my mood. I love the beach and it was the main reason I moved to Wexford. Not being able to go is absolutely killing me.

Duncannon Fort in distance

I finally made the decision to get rid of Cedric the cock. In truth, I’d only kept him as long as I did because I knew he annoyed my neighbours (the ones who made up all the lies about Nelly.) I think the final straw was finding three hens with almost every feather ripped out of their backs and it was freezing. I briefly contemplated buying chicken saddles on line but the only place you can buy them seemed to be from UK or China through eBay or Amazon. I refuse to buy anything else from UK sellers because they have a “snail mail” category that takes as long as it would to walk from there to here. There is Parcel Motel but if I’ve to schlep into New Ross 17km away to collect, what’s the point in that?

I was out feeding and watering one evening when I looked up to see him roughly having his way with the poor hen who’s broken leg I’d fixed last summer and who was actually red and sore from him. I picked up a stone to chuck at him and missed, hitting the new polytunnel. Of course it made a hole in it. I saw red and phoned the poultry guy I deal with and booked him in.

Cedric’s last journey

The following day I went back to collect him “oven ready”. The the youngest son carried him out to me half-plucked and not gutted. I looked at him and said no way. I don’t have any decent knives here anymore and I’ve been meaning to go and buy some but as an aunt of mine had on a mug – I never got “aroundtoit”.

They told me wait ten minutes and they’d be back with him. They were and barely an hour later he was in a big pot to slow cook. So far I’ve got loads of glorious stock from him, made a big pie and have two bags of meat in the freezer. The dogs got the rest minus the bones. Alas, poor Cedric, we knew you well.

The same day I rang to book him in, my poultry man said when he heard my voice he was delighted because he had a Silkie hen for me but he’d lost my number. He told me he had bought 10 the previous weekend and he’d only 2 left (at €25 a pop). There’s good money in them! I brought home Mrs Thomas for Silken Thomas (my little Silkie cock) and another hen on point of lay because I don’t like bringing in a single new hen to face the posse here and their pecking order. There’s a reason it’s called “pecking” order! I was hoping he’d have had two Silkie hens but no, he only had a pair left and I definitely didn’t need another male.

I keep new hens in for a week but I’ve devised a series of gates so they have access outside to a confined area. It’s a bit of a pain because when it comes time for the rest to roost you’ve to try get the older ones in without the new ones shooting out in horror. But the new Silkie hen seemed desperate to get out and Silken Thomas was gazing forlornly in through the wire door at her. I opened the gate and she strutted out, with him in abject admiration behind her. He hasn’t let her out of his sight since. It’s very heartwarming because when I first got him, he was the same with his first missus until Nelly killed her. Then he took up with my old broody, Aunty Bessie. The fox got her and he was dejected. I bought a couple of bantams for him next but they didn’t gel at all. Then finally he seemed to pair up with a Bluebell hen but it was very much a one-sided affair and she seemed to play him off against Cedric. The tramp.

Silken Thomas and Mrs Top Knot Thomas

My little bantam is “clockin” as they used say up in Meath. That means broody to you and me. I only discovered where yesterday. She’s really secretive where she lays and anytime I’ve found her clutch, she’s moved on, even if I leave a couple of eggs in it. Still, it makes a change from under the eaves of my old stone shed in the middle of November like last year where the fledglings would’ve needed a parachute when they hatched……

I’ve been transferring tomato seedlings out into the tunnel and sowing more out there because I literally have no space in the house for trays and very limited light (small sash windows). But, although it’s been lovely and sunny there’s a bitterly cold north wind that’s not helping the temperature.

I ordered seed potatoes on line and hopefully will get them planted in the next few days. I also ordered saddle soap and neatsfoot oil to finish off the sheepskins. They’re almost dry. They went through a bit of a stinky stage as the instructions I’m following said they would. They’re hanging up in the roof of my patio/deck area. They seem to have shrunk sideways so are long and narrow and I’m a bit concerned some of the wool appears to pull out very easily. They may end up being dog beds yet.

So that’s all the news for now from the locked in Three Paddocks here in South county Wexford. As of yesterday there were 12 confirmed cases in the county but they say you can add another 100 to each of the 12. Seems a very small number for such drastic measures but who am I to argue. Hopefully and it’s a slim hope I think, this will be short-lived.

The Deadline

For most of the last two weeks it’s been a race. A race to get stuff done that should have been done or at least organised weeks ago.

The sheep should have been long gone but finally the withdrawal period was up and I rang the abattoir to book them in. I got asked could I bring them in that evening because they had an inspection on their normal killing day.

I had to jump to it, hook up the trailer, get it into the field, lock up the nosy goats etc etc. Except when I went out to the fields there was no sign of goats or sheep or pigs.

I found the goats lying down in the middle paddock with the pigs but no sign of the sheep. I called them. Nothing. Bear in mind the sheep have never gone missing, ever. Panic began to well. I ran around like a mad woman calling them. Then went to check the third paddock where they were only ever let into. Low and behold they ambled up to the gate followed by a stray pony….. The relief.

Did they have some sixth sense? I don’t know because I didn’t even know they were going. But for a couple of weeks beforehand they’d become a right pain. This always happens with pigs and pig keepers often use it as justification to make the deed easier. But, they were constantly knocking me over when I went to feed them or getting in my way and I was beginning to lose patience with them.

Anyway I got them back and locked the goats in and was just about to try and get them into the trailer when my neighbour pulled up at my field gate to have a chat with a passing tractor. I called him to ask would he give me a hand. Luckily I did because otherwise it would have taken me ages to get them in. We had them loaded in a few minutes.

I had my shiny new triplicate Dept of Ag. sheep movement book and it needed ear tag numbers which are about 24 letters and digits. How the hell do you hold a sheep long enough to read that melee? I told the abattoir I couldn’t manage this on my own and they said don’t worry they’d read them there.

When I arrived they opened a pen for me and two men helped me unload them and then calmly and gently held each one so we could get the numbers. I have to say I was really impressed at how gentle they were. The sheep were relaxed and were occupied looking at a couple of pigs in the pen beside them. THE most important thing to me is that animals I rear are not stressed or badly treated at the end. If they are it totally undoes all my work.

I had to drive back up the next day for the skins. I had decided I would get them back and send them to a tannery in Wales. I made several phone calls to the veterinary department in Wexford and they were helpful but, what they wanted me to do was beyond ridiculous. Pack them effectively in a coffin sealed for no leakages. Traipse back to the abattoir with them in said coffin for them to open and inspect and slap a Category 3 label on it to scare the bejaysus out of a courier who had to collect them from there and take them to Wales.

I thought to myself what a load of nonsense. I know they have to be careful but honestly they go so over the top here they drive people underground so it utterly defeats the purpose.

I decided to ask my Scottish neighbours to take them over and send them by courier from Glasgow but on my way home began to think about doing them myself.

I started today by salting them and removing some of the fat and tissue.

Then as luck would have it got sent a video which makes it seem unbelievably easy. I just had to order oxalic acid on line which I’ve done on ebay.

Honestly all this sort of stuff was done years ago by every small farmer before Internet or YouTube so how difficult can it be? Well I’ll soon find out.

I asked the abattoir to send me the weights because yesterday Betty, the owner took me into the chiller to show me the carcasses. She was amazed at how big they were but yet not a scrap of fat. She told me a very good weight for a lamb is 29kgs. Mine were 36.6 and 36.7kg respectively. She didn’t believe that they had never had a single sheep nut.

New trees

Before this I’d actually done what I’d been procrastinating about for over a year and ordered some trees from Future Forests for planting in my third paddock. I planted 28 native whips including birch, hornbeam, willow, oak, crab apple, hawthorn, hazel and cherry. I was so thrilled when literally every sod I turned had at least one earthworm and some several. A sign of really healthy soil.

Then I ordered fruit trees from Heritage Nurseries and today planted 5 different apple varieties, 2 different plum and 2 pear varieties. It’s so easy now ordering trees from these sites and Heritage in particular I found really brilliant to deal with. He rang me and asked me all about my location then sent me a list of suggestions of species suitable for wind.

I also ordered a proper polytunnel. So no more Mickey Mouse tunnel which had my heart in my mouth every time there was wind which is basically 350 days a year here. I had to put him off until February 12th because I wanted to get posts put in for a fence first. The posts are in now and then my neighbour who had been promising horse manure all last summer arrived this evening and dumped several loads by tractor. So I am all set now for when they come to put up the tunnel.

I sowed some tomatoes, cucumber, chilli and spring salad yesterday. I can’t wait to get growing and there is already a real feel of spring in the air.

In a couple of weeks I’ll have my lamb back. Believe it or not they are still considered lamb because they are under one year of age, just.