Apr 13 2006

Rain at last

Spring 2006

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Rain at last; that sweet veil of soft weather glides sideways past my window and enfolds the valley. The wind has suddenly swung round to the welcome, familiar south west, so much kinder than the swingeing north easterly we’ve suffered for months. It brings with it the soft, salty, earthy smell of spring… I had forgotten how much I love it.  Suddenly the daffodils, in limbo for so long, glow in the dampness, drinking in the welcome wetness softly landing on their upturned petals. Raindrops hang like skeins of tiny pearls on the roses by the back door. At last, at last the air is damp, the earth turns dark chocolate again and the birds shout out for joy.

The fat ewes stand expectantly in Sunday Orchard wool glistening as water dances on lanolin. Emerging insects flee marauding chickens. Like magic the fields turn green as grass begins to grow. The rain brings life back to the valley.

It’s been the bleakest, driest winter I can remember, day after day of icy, drying wind, black skies, dark days. How I love this returning sideways rain! But it’s not the same for everyone…..

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And then suddenly as if celebrating the changing weather lambing begins; fine Jacob triplets to an old timer, twins to a big strong Whiteface. More and more are born, night and morning. Tiny “Fly” is not so lucky; his mother collapsed with exhaustion, his twin did not survive. So once again I am surrogate ewe, feeding him every four hours. He’s a sturdy little fighter with a terrific will to live despite his minute size, I’m cautiously optimistic.

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Lack of sleep dominates our lives now; each day is dictated by the same rigid routine.

Six a.m.

up to the yard, check all ewes, pen new mothers with their lambs, spray umbilical cord, make sure lambs are feeding, feed ewe with shreds, hay and water. Feed Fly, tend his mother, feed any ewes in the nursery. Let all remaining ewes into the field. Scrape yard, feed donkeys, let them out too for a while, rationing sugar rich grass. Clean stables. As the sun comes over the hill, open up the chickens making sure all foxes and badgers have turned in for the day. Grade, stamp and box the eggs, label and date each box ready for delivery. Wash all equipment, wash the Clean Room floor.

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Walk home across the top fields, over the hill to check the ewes and lambs gently grazing the new sweet grass. Home for breakfast.

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Phone calls and paper work follow, then back to the yard to feed Fly again. If it’s not raining too hard, cup of coffee and into the garden digging and planting for the new season. If it’s pouring, then it’s into the poly tunnel. So it goes on until evening when the ewes come in for tea, donkeys are fed and stabled and chickens shut up for the night. Relax briefly, a glass of wine, cook supper, eat quickly then back to feed Fly. Sit down till

midnight

then back to see who has started to lamb…. Eventually to bed. And so it goes on until the last lamb is born. I find it hard to remember that once I had another life in the city. It feels like a bad dream disturbing brief sleep!

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No time for complicated meals while lambing; a slow cooked casserole in the bottom of the range, beef or venison, ready to eat with a baked potato and salad when we stop briefly in the evening. Maybe a stir fry, some pasta, or a quick Smoked Fish Pie.

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Skin and dice a piece of undyed smoked haddock. Chop a shallot. Melt a little butter and olive oil in wok and quickly stir fry. Add a blanched a chopped leek and two chopped hard boil two eggs. Make a modern light béchamel sauce with olive oil, flour and skimmed milk. Stir into the fish mixture. Crème Fraiche would do instead and is even quicker. Place mixture into an oven proof dish. Make the topping by blitzing breadcrumbs, garlic, a thick slice of lemon, parsley, salt and pepper with butter or olive oil. Spread on top of the fish mixture and bake till crisp in a hot oven. Serve with salad and fresh bread.

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