Things haven’t gone well this week. Another stray sheep has eaten all my budding strawberries. They’re quite clinical in their munching. Not a single fruit or flower is left. A sharp frost has affected some of my seedlings, I guess I might have to think about running some power to the greenhouse for next year. And on top of all that I dropped a tray of plants when moving them yesterday. Young aubergine plants and compost all over the place. Nightmare!
The greenhouse is looking quite green at the moment. Louise was getting a little fed up of my propagator on the kitchen windowsill so I’ve now transplanted most of my seedlings into individual pots in the greenhouse. They include aubergines, chilly peppers, sweet peppers, sprouts and tomatoes. The only ones who suffered from this are the cucumbers. They drooped a bit after transplanting, but my new bible ‘The Vegetable and Heb Expert’ did warn me that might happen. I’ve also learnt to favor Thompson & Morgan for seeds. All their seeds seem to sprout without exception which also means I need to learn to sow a little more thinly in future.
We’ve been busy lambing again. It’s been a bit cold and wet for the lambs again this year, but they’re a hardy bunch and seam to be doing ok. The sheep tend to wander a bit more when they have lambs to feed so unfortunately the tulips have already been eaten by some athletic ewes who are able to leap the cattle grid at the end of our lane. I wonder if we could enter them into the Beijing Olympics.
I can wait no longer. Despite the continuing cold weather I’ve decided to plant my first ever vegetable seeds. I’m going for the traditional sprouts and tomatoes as well as some chilly peppers and sweet peppers. Because i like them as much as anything. I’ve bought some seeding compost, which I feel a little guilty about, as I’m trying to be as self sufficient as possible. But my home made compost just didn’t look fine and crumbly enough. So the ‘root training’ box bought for my at Christmas (not quite the Playstation3 I was hopeing for) is now pride of place on the kitchen window sill. I can almost taste those sprouts already.
I’ve read that when training a young dog it’s useful to have some sheep which are comfortable with staying at the shepherd’s feet. Our welsh mountain sheep are the opposite of this so I’ve penned six old ewes in the ‘gadlas’ (a small field used to monitor sick animals) and started to give them some dried food every morning. Hopefully they’ll get a little calmer near me and a little more used to having a dog in the field.
I’ve created a bit of a problem by using the ducks to train Del as she now stalks them almost continuously when I’m not around. I have to say, Will (the drake) doesn’t help as he seems to seek out Del and challenge her to a fight on occasion. If I rap on the window for example Del will sit obediently facing me but the duck will continue to peck away at the back of her head. I’m at a bit of a loss what to do.
We’ve been muck spreading in the fields near the house. It’s not the nicest job on the farm, but we try and do it before the holiday season starts to spare our guests the somewhat pungent aroma. But as far as the fields are concerned the smellier the better and it certainly helps reduce the need for chemical fertilizers.
So Del and I have been working on some basic obedience training. She sits and stays on command pretty well and comes back to me when called. We’re having a bit of a problem with her chewing everything however. Do date we’re one pair of slippers, one pair of child’s school shoes and numerous toilet rolls down. She also pines a little at night despite doing all I can to make the shed outside as comfy as possible.
Every body has advised me that I shouldn’t introduce Del to sheep until she is at least 6 months old. She may get bullied by the sheep whilst small and be permanently but off apparently. So, being as impatient as ever, I’ve been trying to teach Del to round up our two Indian Runner ducks in a small fenced off area next to the house. She seems to be doing ok, and certainly has the right body position so I’m encouraged.
We put some young heifers indoors to winter this month. Encouraging young calves to get into their bay is a difficult task the first time of asking. But with a mixture of some tempting food and a little brute force we eventually managed to get them in their place. The heifers soon get used to the winter routine and find their correct bay without any difficulty. Unfortunately we lost a calf this month. ‘Pant’ one of our older cows had some difficulty giving birth. The Vet was called and a cesarean section was performed but the calf was still born. We have however, been successful in persuading ‘Pant’ to adopt another calf bought from a neighbour of ours. This is a common practise where the dead calf is replaced by one from a set of twins to prevent the cow contracting Mastitis from having excess milk. We remain a little concerned about ‘Pant’ but will keep her as comfortable as possible.
Another project I’ve started over the winter is an attempt at growing some of our own vegetables. To this end I’ve built two raised beds using some old scaffolding planks nailed together with a baton at each corner. I persuaded the JCB driver working on my parent’s house to clear the topsoil from a small patch of field next to the house before placing the frames in place. I backfilled them with some of the cleared topsoil before covering the surrounding ground with some local slate chippings. Which I think looks really nice. I think my biggest problem will be keeping the sheep out if I ever get anything to grow.
Just before Christmas we decided to buy a border collie puppy. We’ve been considering this for some time. I had romantic ideas of herding distant flocks of sheep on the remote slopes of the Rhinog mountains. I even learnt to whistle with my fingers and everything. So on the 19th of December Del joined our growing menagerie of domestic animals. I should explain, del means pretty in welsh and has nothing to do with the computer manufacturer. We bought her from Llwyngiffry a nearby farm for £50. Her mum and dad are both good working dogs and she has a black mouth palate, which is a good sign apparently. So I guess if she doesn’t shape up it’ll probably be my fault. Oh, and I’ve bought a book, Herding Dogs: Progressive Training by Vergil S Holland