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Farlands Journal, November 2013 January 2, 2014

Posted by dawnshifter in Uncategorized.
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So glad to have this time-out at Farlands already planned. Although the notes have been sitting on the laptop, since getting back, they’ve had to take a back seat:

Sunday 17th – Bluetits for Breakfast

And chaffinches, robins, nuthatches. Then the great spotted woodpecker. The bird table is perfectly placed to watch from the dining table. This has to be the warmest, most comfortable, best-appointed hide I’ve ever spotted from. Not exactly taking turns, but establishing a pecking order – until the magpie came by. He soon took the hint though and left it for the smaller birds.SAM_0442

So far, the turkeys are proving more biddable than I expected: Four of them, and a decent sized paddock to spread themselves around, but they still go round as a group, weebling and obbling, and flapping their wings when they get agitated. That seems to be the key – keeping them calm and harnessing their pack instinct and curiosity, so that one moving in roughly the right direction persuades the rest to make for the coop at bedtime. And what a coop – made out of reclaimed materials, both windows are made from glass-paned hardwood doors, complete with stained glass and

letterbox. Their louvred front door provides ventilation and shelter from the elements.

In the morning, they come out stretching their wings and having a good shake to start the day. Then it’s a drink they’re after: heads down to sip a mouthful, then up to swallow it down, their long necks pulsing waves of peristalsis.

Turkey house from reclaimed materials

Stylish turkey house

The chickens are always welcoming, especially if you’ve interesting treats. They come running as soon as they spot me, and several are now happy to help themselves from my hand. I love the contented burps and burbles they make.

Not quite so keen to roost while there’s still a bit of light in the sky, they seem to have stronger minds of their own. Then the Warrens – the chunkier of the two breeds – seem to shuffle the smaller bantams along the perch, giving them less room than they would like. So a bantie will flap off the perch with a cackle, which will set off another one or two. Until from five in the coop and one to persuade in, now there’s only one inside and five to convince. But as the light goes, their instincts cut in and they want to be roosting above ground, safe from predators – which is why I’m trying to shut them up for the night. So at last, we’re on the same wavelength and as I lock them in for the night, they continue their comfortable clucks & chucks and shuffles as they settle.

Took my elevenses outside this morning – well wrapped up. The woodland around me is full of life – even as the leaves are falling. The Kinder river is out of sight, but noisier than in the summer. There’s more variety of colour now – reds in the small-leaved cotoneaster, yellows crisping to browns in the horse-chestnut, and across the valley, russets and gingers in bullion-stitch and French knot cushions.

Monday 18/11

For two days, the turkeys have been good as gold: coming running to greet me, and popping into the coop at bedtime with weebling half-hearted flutters. So I left them a little later this afternoon, and then the low cloud dropped even lower, bringing damp and darkness. The turkeys had put themselves to roost on a log-pile at the bottom of their paddock and didn’t like the idea of stepping out in the twilight, so took a little persuasion and it became just like rounding up silly sheep. Any move in roughly the right direction was good – especially if all four were making it. But there were the odd individual dashes for freedom, which on the whole, I redirected. They made straight up the incline towards the coop, rather than choosing the steps, but who cares – a shortcut is a shortcut, when all’s said and done, so I followed, until both feet slipped from under me. I dug in my staff and ended up flat on my face, muddy tracks up the length of me. – and four turkeys looking at me.

Well, after our extended exercise round the paddock, they finished with a lap round the coop, up the slope, and in.  Tarah!

After that, the chickens were easy – the dying light was their instinctual reminder to roost away from predators, so all they needed was the door shutting. So with mud peeling off me like falling leaves, and the temperature falling fast, it’s Turkeys 1, Julia 2.

Tues 19/11

Above the breakfasting birds, the sun is shining through a windbreak of light-starved pines, onto russet bracken-covered hillside – still sparkling with the last of the overnight frost. Every now and then, a short-lived gust finds its way into the valley – its path marked by a gentle spiralling shower of desiccated leaves.

small black horned sheep

Hebridean sheep?

stone cottages

Hill Houses hamlet

SAM_0465

hoar frost on peaks

Hoar Frost from Hill Houses

Into the afternoon and there’s still a clear blue sky, with little wind – is there more frost to come? The walk to  the hamlet of Hill Houses exposes more north-facing hills still covered in hoar frost.  And also a small herd of diminuitive black sheep with curved ribbed horns. Hebrideans, I think – although I thought their tails would be shorter.

Hill Houses is big enough to be on the ordnance survey map, but you wouldn’t find it on a road map. Almost untouched, one of the houses has a date stone – 1723. Some of the homes look as if they might have been longhouses – where family and livestock would have been under one roof – sharing warmth. As well as being stone buildings, the track is cobbled. Well looked after, it would be easy to imagine yourself travelled back in time.

Wed 20th

The forecast snow fell as biting, driving rain, leaning pliable plants and ripping others. I found 2 eggs in the hen house today – the biology’s clearly saying this isn’t the time to think of chicks.

Treecreeper or nuthatch? Both is the answer – with the sun behind them, the shape and size are similar, but a clear view shows the nuthatch to have much brighter plumage. The nuthatches often come to the bird-table too, but the treecreepers seem to stay on the trees that bit further away.

Then the gusting wind blew the clouds over, replacing them with golden couple of hours. Only for the  low cloud to seep back bringing early dusk. Heavy overcast sky properly threatening snow now – 1pm and the lights are on. Grey squirrel in pine stand is made courageous by the failing lights – flicking his tail as he skips in and out of sight.

Closing up the chickens in the sleet, they’re not daft, 5 are already in and perched, 1 out found a  chicken hidey hole under the coop. I develop another new skill – nudging chicken bottoms.  Helped her make her mind up.

Then by 7pm, I’m peering out at an icing sugar dusting of snow, glittering in the light from indoors – no other lights in the valley, to betray signs of civilisation. Wind’s funnelling up the side of the cottage. Indoors, a log fire, although it’s not really needed.

Thurs 21/11

Taking chickens their elevenses, I heard sheep being moved on the hillside above. A couple of men and a dog ‘Away! Away!’ Half a dozen sheep split off from main flock and fled down into the wrong valley at its most precipitous. Technical shepherding term rang across the valley: ‘Oh kin ell!’ Looked like an early lunch stop to see if wanderers would rejoin flock of their own accord. Sheets of rain and rainbow swept briefly over the top, to be replaced by fleecy cumulous clouds against cerulean sky

Friday evening: took the torch round the building after hearing a noise, hoping for some interesting wildlife, but finding only frost on car – the day I left off the screen cover.

Sat 23/11/13

Broke the ice to refill chickens’ and turkeys’ water bowls. Big bright jays are flicking around after acorns.

After the hardest frost of the year so far, I came across a dead sheep: already, scavengers have called  – tufts of wool are pulled out & fluttering.  Nature clearing up after itself.

I came across a field of rainbow sheep – near the Hill Houses Hebrideans: a single badger-face – coffee table of a sheep; several Jacobs, plus odds and ends of other breeds I didn’t recognise. Is this a pen for rare-breed rams that have already done their duty? While I was working out what I was looking at, a farmer rattled in with a ram for the Hebrideans – this late in the season? That would make an April lambing. That’s what Eva’s doing this year, as opposed to the usual February. Brings home how knife-edge farming and smallholding can be: lamb too early and the unpredictable weather kills your newborns, too late and the price at market goes down as the neighbouring farmers get their lamb to market before you.

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