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?

 

 

The Winter

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The pigs pushed their way out of the shed on day 2

All the dire warnings and predictions came true. It was relatively benign up to Christmas apart from epic rain which obviously managed to seep into my old well and the water turned brown. It took me a few days to notice and when I did it was in the toilet. The worrying thing was I’d been drinking it and hadn’t noticed.

There had been horrendous rain a few days before. I was out checking the pigs one evening and could hear all this water. I walked down to the gate and the water was pouring out of the field opposite and running down the road. My big shed looked like it was floating.

When I realised my water was affected I rang Wexford County Council. To this day I remain impressed at how speedily they reacted. It was coming up to Christmas and one day there was a knock at the door. It was the guy in charge of this area. He told me I lived on the Low Road (who knew?). He also said they’d be out in the next couple of days to put in a drain at my gate. They were and it worked.

The run off from the field opposite is because a lot of the land around is leased to agricultural contractors who farm intensively. They removed all the stones in the soil for growing carrots and between that and compaction from heavy machinery and the fact they couldn’t care less about the land means the drainage is minimal. It still pours out but at least not into mine. I later found out that my yard and house had flooded from it in the past.

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So grim and grey in this picture

The builder who had renovated my house came out to talk to me about a possible extension and opening up the west facing wall to some light. He promised he would be here after Christmas when he was quiet, to make a start. He arrived in February. I’ll never forget one of his workers telling me the warnings about the predicted snow were right. He said if they say it’s coming from the east we always get it here. Storm Emma was coming up from the Azores and they were predicting Armageddon if she met the cold east winds now named The Beast from the East, but at this stage I was still sceptical.

However, I stocked up on animal feed just in case. I remember the poor man in my local Agri was really flustered because the place was mayhem. Tractors with trailers, jeeps with trailers and cars all waited patiently as they were loaded up with feed. He told me he hadn’t stopped since 8am to even get a cup of tea and it was now 2pm. I got double what I would normally then went into Wellingtonbridge to the SuperValu. I couldn’t believe my eyes, the entire wall where the sliced pans are normally stacked was empty. The milk section was as well. I was okay because I make my own bread and I had plenty of milk in the freezer.

But back to the buliding. I had decided I didn’t want to do a room but instead a partially covered patio/deck area. They were going to knock an old alcove out in the dining room and put in a window and knock out the kitchen wall for double patio doors. But first they had started on the roof. The roofers had got the felt on and were heading off for the weekend. I asked if we get snow will it hold up and they said of course. I really hoped they were right.

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It did hold up, impressively. And there was a mountain of snow on it. I was terrified if it slid off on top of me walking out from under it, I’d be buried in an avalanche. The roof was a godsend though because I was finally able to leave wellies, wet gear, buckets, gloves etc outside rather than dragging them into the house.

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We had some of the worst snow in the country. The worst in 72 years. My neighbours said it was all my fault for moving to the “sunny southeast”. But they were great. They called in to see if I was okay or if I needed anything. We took turns to go to the shop (“walking” actually crawling through snowdrifts in places) and luckily I was able to bail out two of them with milk when the local shop was cleared out and couldn’t get deliveries. Everyone I met on the road informed me the shop had no milk. All I was worried about was if they still had wine. I did get some strange looks when I said this.  Walking to the shop was lovely because everyone you passed had time for a chat. I thought to myself this must have been like what it was like in the old days when people had time for each other.

By now farmers and my neighbour who has a JCB were out clearing the roads. It was the same story all over the county. It was farmers who cleared roads probably because the council just didn’t have the manpower.

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There’s an old saying apparently that if snow is lying on the ground in March, you’ll have more before the year is out. It was hard to believe that we could ever get more but we did. Thankfully not a lot. But the cold and the grey and the rain was never ending. It seemed like it would never get warm again. My builder friend said he had heard it was going to be like this until June. Thankfully he was wrong and it began to improve at the end of April.

I was by now 6 months in my new house and I was itching to get out and make a start on the outside.

The Straw

I knew from the previous year that small square bales of straw would be difficult to come by and didn’t want to risk moving the animals here and face the prospect of trying to buy. Of course this meant a lot of slagging, from my son and from various friends (all men). My son had a point except he didn’t really. It wasn’t logical to buy straw and transport it the length of the country normally but in this case it turned out to be very logical. Another friend gave me some amount of slagging over my “golden currency”.

Anyway I stuck to my guns and persuaded my son to borrow a van from his father to transport my “golden currency” along with my plants in containers from the garden. I had told the removal company I only wanted them to move what was in the house. We had earmarked a weekend when there wasn’t a rugby match on and when his girlfriend was working. On the way down I got “the lecture” that I had been getting for weeks at this stage. “Why you had to pick somewhere so far away” (read that as far from Dublin not Meath), why you have to be so illogical not to get the removal company to do this (last time I checked house removal companies aren’t too fond of moving agricultural commodities), what would you have done if you hadn’t me? (probably be a lot wealthier, with a high flying career and getting significantly less grief). You know the drill. Anyway he shut up when I took him for food (fish) in the local. Having lived in Meath for so many years it is particularly mind-blowing how damn good the food in pubs and restaurants is here.

Not long after we arrived with the load my phone rang and it was my house hunting friends who were in the area at a school open day (Newtown in Waterford). I said why don’t you hop on the ferry which crosses between Passage East and Ballyhack and come over meet us for lunch. They did and then of course my friend’s husband (the builder) had a field day with my son slagging me about the “golden currency”. “Should you hook up the house alarm to the shed in case it gets stolen etc. etc?” Hilarious.

I can tell you I wasn’t laughing during that long winter of 2017-2018 when Wexford was hit with the worst snow in 72 years and I had plenty of straw for my animals. I used the same amount of straw as would normally last me a full year.

I just had had an inkling I would need it.