First Frost

As the sun crept over the woods in the first, flaxen flush of autumn dawn,

the ghostly halflight revealed a river of mist snaking down the valley, the chill air taking my breath away as I opened the cottage door. The window glass glittered with the first fragile diamonds of brittle frost, echoing the evening’s chill of yesterday.  With the Rayburn quietly, constantly furnishing background warmth inside the snug stone cottage, it is always a shivering surprise to be greeted by the biting rush of frigid breezes as we head out to care for our animals. 

But these are days to be welcomed: bright & brisk, they encourage vigorous activities such as digging the garden or moving muck; as well as providing the benefit of killing off the summer’s nasty intruders – slugs, hornets & (hopefully) the deadly Bluetongue-carrying midges we all so fear & dread.  Thus, long may such weather continue….

For me, after I’d completed the basic chores & Tony emerged to woo the ladies with his morning milking routine, it was an irresistible opportunity to take Nanuk out for a bracing, long walk to sort out her heelwork.  I popped her on the Halti (a facial halter for dogs which works along similar lines to a horse’s headstall, rather than the indirect control of a collar) & set off, slowly, up the drive, taking the opportunity to clear the liberal chunks of muck away which had fallen from the tyres of Lloyd’s tractor during his muck-spreading extravaganza, yesterday.  As I had to weave from one side of the drive to the other it kept Nanuk interested, as she didn’t have a clue where I was going next. 

I opted to walk along the little country lane at the to of the drive, for a while; pausing once to chat with a neighbour who passed in the car; unfortunately Nanuk did not want to stop & started to howl with loud impatience during our conversation, so I steadfastly ignored her.  Next time we go out for such a walk I shall remember to bring a small water pistol; if she does it again, she’ll get a jet of water to concentrate her mind!

A few yards further on I met another neighbour, Kev; who was just taking his two dogs out for a run in their field.  He suggested Nanuk & I join them.  Once in the field, I slipped off the Halti & she ran with the other dogs, although she stayed fairly close to me as a little wary of her new-found friends.  We then walked back down & through the garden which leads out to the road; which made me a little uneasy as Nanuk was still off the lead & was not willing to be caught.  At one point she came tearing across the road, just as a car came rushing round the corner.  Fortunately the car missed the dogs; but Nanuk then tore up the road at great speed, chasing the car.  

Unfortunately, despite the narrowness of the lane & the poor visibility owing to the height of the hedges, many people seem to assume that because the road is generally so quiet they can rush along it in their cars, as if it was a two-lane ‘A’ road – which is of course not the case; & there are many local hazards such as horses, tractors, dog walkers & bicycles; not to mention cattle heading in for milking, or the odd huddle of stray sheep to contend with!

Thankfully, Nanuk returned at my whistle & then came to sit next to me for a moment; before – much to my complete amazement & dismay – then turning on Kev’s dog who evidently got a bit too close to me, for Nanuk’s comfort.  It was only a harmless scuffle; but it surprised me as Nanuk is normally quite fearful of other dogs.  When she then plunged into the nearby brook I decided it was time to abandon the conversation & return home. 

Ironically she walked perfectly to heel, all the way back.  I took advantage of this good behaviour to do some further training on the farmyard, socialising her with the goats (although this had to be abandoned as Frog started headbutting the gate to attack her – not that she took any notice); but she met the hens & sheep & displayed surprisingly good self-control, sitting quietly & only occasionally letting out an excited, wistful whine.  I returned her to her kennel space, relieved that our adventures had at least concluded on a positive note.

Meanwhile the new Kennel Complex arrived, & Tony immediately set to work constructing it.  We want to give Nanuk her own unrestricted area, rather than having to be tied up as she is now; so we’ve bought her the very best – from a company who provide similar runs to the MoD, the Metropolitan Police & even for the Queen’s dogs at Sandringham.  So let’s hope she likes it…!!  There is a roofed run & a large, comfortable kennel with draft exclusion which should prove a snug winter retreat for her. 

Unfortunately however, erecting the run was not the simple task it at first appeared; as the concrete area has a significant slope & will need breeze blocks securing at the base because otherwise Nanuk can simply slip underneath it.  Tony worked on it until darkness fell but there is a long way to go before it will finally be finished & Nanuk’s doggy palace is ready for her to move into.

The day continued, cold but bright; I did some more muck moving until my back hinted it was time to stop so I did the evening chores whilst Tony tackled the thorny problem of assessing how to block potentially vulnerable exit points in Nanuk’s new run.  Kev visited briefly to check on an ongoing problem with our chimney; & I set to work in the house. 

The day’s travail was finally over; so Tony & I settled in front of the fire to discuss tomorrow’s business meeting regarding potential grant aid for our business, from the Welsh Assembly Government.   We also discussed the animals we currently have on the Ffarm; & about proportionate reduction in our general workload as the goat herd increases in size & we go into food production at last. 

To be honest I suspect we may no longer keep pigs, once these ladies have headed off for porky conversion;  I cannot see when we’ll have the opportunity to sort out the woodland & I’d rather not keep the pigs confined to their sty & run, if I can help it; comfortable & happy though they appear.  And after all, the main reason for keeping pigs, was to get rid of the whey from cheesemaking; but we’ve since discovered, that it can be fed back to the goats – & in fact it puts a lovely bloom on ther coats.  And we cannot even feed any vegetable scraps from the kitchen, to our pigs as it’s now illegal; so really – apart from the fine porky products they provide, they are not fulfilling any directly useful purpose.  And don’t be fooled into assuming that just because you raise your own pigs, their meat will work out cheaper than purchasing similar cuts from the supermarket or even Farmers’ Market – it won’t.

The same, unfortunately, also goes for the sheep; although this is something we will have to consider more carefully as they do keep our pastures trimmed over the winter.  However as the goat herd grows, we’ll need all the grazing & building space available, I should think.  The horses, too, are regrettably under-utilised & only poach the ground during wet weather despite being unshod; so we may have to find them new homes, as well.  I suspect we’ll always keep the Shetland ponies as they are essentially the reason we came here & they do provide a useful function in moving cut logs etc; but we appreciate we must tighten our belts even more, if our business is to succeed.  Life can be hard, & cruel; even when the sun shines.

So another stunning sunset; & time to close the door on another eventful day….


About LittleFfarm Dairy

The LittleFfarm Dairy Team: Jo - Goat farmer & Gelatiere Artigianale, plus General Dogsbody; Tony - Airline Pilot & part-time Herd Manager, Product Taster, Accounts Secretary, Handyman etc!
This entry was posted in Animals, Diary, Livestock, October 2007, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

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