Coals to Newcastle….by Donkey

Phew, what a frenetic day.

It started early as usual; & on opening the cottage door we discovered it was bitterly cold outside, certainly well below freezing but with the chill of the bitter east wind making it feel even colder still.  Scotland suffered the brunt of the bad weather with several inches of snow whipped into a blizzard by the raw breezes; & even Lincolnshire has been temporarily crippled by the winter freeze.

Tony bravely ventured into the cold with his fleece ‘tea cosy’ hat pulled firmly down over his ears, as I tackled the warmer washing up after then (to me) doing the even more unpalatable job of calling local firewood merchants to order in a stock of cut timber; as we are rapidly running out, far more rapidly than we’d anticipated in fact: & with the threat of another cold snap upon us, loathe to run out as the woodburners are our only form of heating (other than the Rayburn) downstairs. 

With eleven acres of woodland on the doorstep we really should have been more prepared, especially as a neighbour has kindly offered us some ready-cut logs (albeit damp, as we haven’t yet managed to collect them & they’ve been outside during the Autumn); plus Tony cut up a fallen tree in Parc Dyffryn back in the Spring which sadly, is still where it fell (not to mention another fallen tree in the Lower Leat Field which needs urgent attention).

However we were lulled into a false sense of security by the seemingly vast stock of uncut logs in the Long Barn; especially as last Winter we hardly seemed to scratch their substantial oaken surface.  2006 proved generally mild; although we made the mistake of not keeping the home fires burning over wet periods to ensure that the West wall of the house (which bears the brunt of the weather) remained acceptably dry – not, that at the time, we were aware there was a problem: until it proved too late, that is.  

So this year, on the advice of neighbours & builder friends Kev & John we decided to keep the fire stoked high from October onwards, even when the weather was just peppered with heavy showers.  Whilst the Long Barn bays which were filled with logs had previously seemed to last well, said store was now depleting at an alarming rate.  And the bays containing branches of uncut wood (whilst they too appeared satisfyingly full) once broken by the bite of Tony’s determined chainsawing, proved to be a lot less substantial than we’d originally appreciated. 

After making a fair few calls I opted to buy a consignment of wood from a rather unusual purveyor in Kidwelly – although not the cheapest, he must be by far the most environmentally-friendly wood merchant; as after working in managed woodland to either thin or cut down dead trees, he uses his mature donkeys to haul the cut timber out of the forest on small carts, thus reducing harmful vehicle emissions & keeping peripheral trackway damage to a bare minimum. 

And the donkeys really love to work: it helps to keep them fit & healthy during the winter months when they’re not employed on the beach at Llanelli.  In fact for owner & carer Mike, it’s not just a conscious effort on his behalf for his wonderful donkeys, whom he clearly adores & with whom he shares a magical empathy.  Diagonosed with lymph gland cancer back in 2000, Mike was warned by his doctor that he needed to radically change his sedentary lifestyle – or face the bitter health consequences. 

His eldest son had always wanted a donkey; & from the moment Dad granted Rhys’ dearest wish, Mike’s own life changed immeasurably – & he certainly hasn’t looked back.  Mike started his highly successful beach donkey business back  in 2006; & the following year, was delighted that one of his superb string – the delightful Dennis – had rightfully won the accolade of Britain’s Best Beach Donkey 2007, beating 1,000 other competitors & being the first donkey to take the title home to Wales. 

These marvellous animals are a tribute to him, & unsurprisingly all his efforts are fully supported by Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary.  In addition to beach, forestry & promotional work Mike also takes his donkeys to Special Needs & Residential Care Homes as well as to Inner City Schools so that everyone from the most frail & elderly patients to children of all ages who tragically have the most deprived or disabled physico-educational needs, can transform their own uniquely inspirational lives by learning how to care for these gentle, loving creatures. 

In short, all I can say is, Mike is an absolute wonder (& incidentally has a truly beautiful, rare gift with animals – I’ve never seen my goats have their hearts stolen by anyone, as by him) – so please click the link in my ‘Local Area’ section & do enjoy his website, as this amazingly compassionate man is well worth knowing & supporting.

Meanwhile I discovered to my dismay that one of our own equines was not faring too well: I looked out of the kitchen window whilst making the breakfast to see Darwin looking decidedly uncomfortable.  Literally dropping everything I hurried outside where Tony was feeding our goat herd, & hastened into the field to find out what could be the matter.

It was immediately apparent poor Darwin was favouring his nearside hind leg; not even able to put his foot firmly to the floor.  We hurriedly prepared a stable for said sorry horse & whilst Tony furnished it with a comfortable layer of shavings over the stablemats, a haynet & a bucket of fresh, clean water, I anxiously called the vet.  We gently led Darwin into the stable & although I carefully examined him, it wasn’t an easy job to pinpoint the problem as he really did not want to put any weight on the affected limb.  To my eyes it seemed he must have simply strained a leg, slipping on the frozen grass whilst all the ponies enjoyed one of their typically cheeky, vigorous winter ‘chase-me’ games.

AnnaMarie, our wonderful practitioner from Castle House, arrived soon after our call; & was relieved to discover her patient wasn’t Shetland pony Sabe – as he really does not like vets, at all & spends the majority of any examination on his hind legs!  On painstakingly examining Darwin however, as I’d also discovered with my apologetically amateur experience, it proved unusually difficult to determine the exact nature of his lameness: there was some heat in the foot which could suggest an abcess coming through; but there was also heat higher up the leg, suggestive of either a strain or a knock/kick injury.  So we concluded the best treatment would be to cover all eventualities, poulticing the foot for four days to draw out any infection whilst at the same time monitoring the heat in, & position of, the injured leg.  Darwin was given an intravenous painkiller as he was quite ‘tucked up’, indicating distress; & we’ve a further course of phenylbutazone to administer over the next few days to gently reduce the pain & swelling.  Meanwhile I’m sure Darwin heard Tony mention that he fancied a riding lesson as soon as the weather was sufficiently dry; but didn’t want to have to work so soon after the New Year!

Regardless, poor Tony had to drive hurriedly to St Clears after lunch to pick up some plastic pipe we need to sort out the drainage along the side of the lambing shed.  Whilst he was out Boo called round with a lovely bouquet of flowers for me; & I gave her a beautiful goatskin (poor, pretty little Arvel, our youngest boy) to make into a handbag; along with an accounts book for small businesses as her & Carl’s ‘practical’ Christmas present.  Meanwhile we caught up on what we’d each been up to, over the festive season:  she, busy with guests & me, run ragged with the Ffarm, of course.

Tony reappeared briefly to drop off the substantial coils of pipework he’d collected before heading off into Carmarthen to replenish our feed stocks, as the weather forecast for tomorrow may threaten some snow.  Much of the rest of the UK has severe weather warnings issued although we’re keeping our fingers crossed that we’ll get off lightly.  Gone are the days, I’m afraid, when we dream of a white Christmas: pretty though it might be, it is very hard work: struggling through several inches of unforgiving snow up steep inclines, the blizzard stinging your freezing face & your back aching either with the weight of hay you’re carrying or from pulling on the reins of a protesting pony who’s grumpy at being dragged from his stable to carry the hay for feeding his fellow quadrupeds.

Then comes those few, blissful hours, of magical stillness: when the sun comes out & all is transformed into pristine, ice-encrusted beauty; before the thaw reduces the picturesque scene to an unwelcome, muddily foul slush that causes you to slide miserably everywhere & which coats our poor animals in a filthy plasterwork that drenches their fragile feet & despite our very best efforts, inevitably can crack their already-sodden skin.

Meanwhile Mike arrived with our firewood; after dropping off a substantial load of seasoned logs we had a chat whilst visiting the goat herd.  Hopefully he may be able to help Tony next year with managing our own little stretch of woodland – & housing some donkeys here to help do some work in the more inaccessible parts of our valley – as well as providing us with enough valuable firewood to sustain us, next Winter. 

Tony arrived home a little while after dusk, as I fed the goats & put the poultry to bed as well as tending to poor Darwin who was still in evident discomfort despite the painkillers.  Tony then transferred the firewood into the Long Barn whilst I stoked up the woodburner & cooked the supper before the lights went out on another long & typically eventful day on our little Ffarm.



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, Environment, Equine, January 2008, Life, Livestock, Local Area, Smallholding. Bookmark the permalink.

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