Mar 10 2019

Goodbye February!

Gale force winds, torrential rain, mud and still more rain chased us through February taunting us, every now and then, with bursts of brilliant sunshine!  The north wind ripped across the hills driving south from distant Dartmoor. Sometimes I found it almost impossible to stay on my feet as I struggled to fill troughs for hungry sheep. I was so pleased with my old wonder-waterproofs to keep me warm and dry in the deluge!

And now suddenly everything has changed. The hills are turning green at last, as grass begins to grow. The valley is awash with flowers. Daffodils, primroses, hellebores, leucojum, celandine all carpet the hillside. Camellias just go from strength to strength, the best for years.

Birds are in full throttle, shouting above the wind, as they race skywards through the swelling branches going about their business. But rain, sunshine, strong winds and an erratic weather forecast keep us on our toes. As we are greeted with this milder weather, memories of last year’s March snow make us all more than a little wary.  Will this sun stay with us or will everything be knocked back again once more?

We put our ram in with our pedigree Whiteface ewes later than usual last autumn, intending to lamb at the end of March. But, alas, our neighbour’s big boy climbed a huge fence and a very thick hedge to admire our girls. And, although his stay was very brief, we wonder now what to expect as we wait anxiously for early lambs of uncertain parentage!

The wet winter has taken its toll on the donkey’s feet. These desert animals are not cut out for mud. Their feet are porous and old Nutmeg, in particular, has suffered badly. Keeping them all in their big barn has been the only option. But at last, as the ground begins to drain and firm up, they are thrilled to go out to stretch their legs even if this does mean a regular evening pedicure!

It was time for the equine dentist visit in February. Gemma comes once a year to do a dental check and clean and file down rough teeth where necessary, particularly important with older donkeys. Last summer she arrived as planned only to find me standing in the yard in shock having just found my dear old Luke dead in the barn with a bemused Nutmeg standing beside him. We cancelled all thoughts of dentistry and concentrated on caring for Nutmeg hoping she would not go into shock too, which in donkeys, can cause hyperlipaemia, a fatal condition. The vet’s verdict on cause of Luke’s death was old age. But it was so sudden we were all taken by surprise. He was such a gentle, stoical, funny old boy.

So six months on it was time to check Nutmeg’s teeth and give the new boys a once over too. Christof was good as gold but Tiny Freddie wasn’t so keen. He doesn’t like the farrier much either, or the vet or even wearing a head collar at all: a bit of a handful despite being a sweet gentle chap the rest of the time! But all was well and teeth are good for another year.

The equine ‘flu epidemic has brought a visit from the vet recently too. We don’t see many other equines here but the virus is air born so we must be vigilant and make sure they all have vaccine boosters for protection.

So it’s up to the yard again now to bring in the Ladies in Waiting for the night and give them tea. The donkeys will have their feet cleaned and eat their bowl of Mollychaff and I daresay I will have to search for a wayward chicken or two after our recent visit from a fox. We found two piles of feathers recently: food for early cubs maybe or just a hungry loner. Sad though it was, we must share the valley.

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Jan 10 2019

January 2019 Arrives!

January 2019 arrives………….

……………….and the Boxing Day snowdrops did not disappoint!

White camellias, delicate winter cherry blossom, tiny hellebores all swiftly followed, each opening coyly beneath a leaden sky; surely a sign that spring will return once more. As I trudged through the December mud, head down in the relentless rain, I was in danger of losing the faith! But just as the New Year has dawned so the rain has stopped. The sun returns, the hillside slowly drains, grass begins to grow and gradually the daylight hours lengthen minute by minute.

The ewes graze quietly on the hilltop, Dartmoor misty in the distance, the River Dart drifting by quietly beneath them. We hope young Hercules has done his duty and in time strong, healthy lambs will be greeted by spring sunshine.

Meanwhile right now the yearlings, feisty youngsters, are intent on eating anything just out of reach through their boundary fence, despite having plenty of grass in their own field.  Sweet blackberry leaves seem favourite. Time after time, in the last two days, Milly and I have found a little girl with her head firmly stuck through the stock wire as she tries to reach that tasty morsel.  Panicking as she finds herself trapped, she pushes back and forth dancing manically.  We must look a funny sight as I straddle her back in an effort to hold her still between my knees, then push her nose up and tip her head back through the wire to freedom. She gives herself a big shake then bounces back to her pals as I stand panting looking round for Milly. I spot her a few yards away sitting very still watching me intently with her head on one side in that particular Labrador pose which seems to say “What’s up?”  “It’s OK, Mill,” I gasp as I stagger on across the fields!

This New Year brings with it other things too, global anxieties, uncertainty across the world. Here in the UK we are totally consumed with Brexit and our future relationship with Europe. We all have our view; we are all bombarded by Press speculation and opinion. But none of us can do anything but wait for our politicians to stop squabbling and come to some sort of consensus that is truly in our countries interest with, hopefully, Europe in support of their decision. Meanwhile Mrs May soldiers on. We, the public, seem strangely powerless within our own democracy.

Across the ocean Mr Trump is intent on having his own way too, shutting down the US government as he demands funding for his Wall and withdrawing troops needed to promote peace across the world: all is turmoil and chaos.

Feeling helpless in this global mayhem we walk across the hills with our dogs, tend our sheep, enjoy dear funny donkeys.

We prepare for lambing, sweep the yard, mend fences, cut hedges, clean out sheds, service tractors. We plant seed, take cuttings, make plans for the charity summer garden openings. We prune and tidy, sweep and clean.

We rejoice in our dear family and many , many friends and try to hold the faith that some sort of world sanity will eventually return!

Let us hope 2019 will be better than we fear!

Happy New Year from Christos & Tiny Freddy

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