Looking after the land – the land looking after us

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Today we were inspired by visiting some neighbours.  A retired couple – what do you do? Obvious. Buy up 43 acres of neglected farmland and manage  and care for it to let animals and plants thrive and expand. Now more bird, plant and tree species than you could imagine, the only located Goosander nest in Montgomeryshire, and visiting naturalists saying this is the best natural environment outside the Shetlands.  She leaps in her digger to carve out drainage channels; he will plant out hundreds of saplings to contour the woodland.

Our three and a half acres is less than a tenth of their custodianship but I trust the motivation is the same.

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Sexing chickens

OK, we need your help – or if you think you have no skills in this area we need your predictions.

The eggs hatch, the chicks are chicks, and then they start turning into grown-up chickens. But at what point can you tell if they will be hen or cockerel?

With this lot we have mixed hopes. Normally people want hens but we got the Speckled Sussex eggs as we want a cockerel and think this variety are friendly! We also have French Morans and one Australorp.

So have a close look at these pictures

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and make your predictions here

Ah, this is more like May

The A-road down in the valley is teeming with Bank Holiday traffic – caravans, roof boxes – people zooming off to somewhere they would rather be.  It is easy for us; we are already here.

The first day May feels properly like May

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The owl is moved on by blackbirds, leaving behind one feather

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and the house-bound look on with envy

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At last May has decided to sort itself out

The dry April passed on its showers to May who felt obliged to use them.  Maybe that quota is now fulfilled as the sun comes through the still chilly air.  The trees are responding; I don’t recall a landscape dominated by young oaks, along the hedgelines, sometimes in mid-field isolation but all shining with a penetrating yellow determination

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Our visiting arboretumist said this one was a red oak

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It is in the middle of the hen field and they are not very interested in it as it does not provide shade, shelter, food or dustbath opportunities.

The younger generations are getting restless.  As some kind of rooftop protest the pullets have taken to the top of their house

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from where, as always, they are plotting their escape route.

The Young ‘Uns are also restive in their cosy indoor brooder.  Much prefering to come out for a mealworm dance on the dining table

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An inbalanced coalition of the living

When we decide to take on responsibility for the care of a living thing it is a serious business.  We may give that creature the opportunity to exercise all its natural behaviours (can you tell I have just completed an online course on chicken behaviour and welfare?) but ultimately their life is in our hands.

It is also complex to unravel the role non-wild animals play in our lives.  Our farmer has 700 ewes each of which had two, or one, or three lambs last month.  Yet he talks about the emotional involvement of a breech birth, a lame lamb.  We have got to know neighbours who keep ponies, sheep, goats, alpacas… all without financial return but in some way the symbiosis enriches lives.

We first started caring for guinea pigs quite a few years ago.  The reason for doing so was not clear.  But having taken them in it was clear that our life was enriched. They made the journey, buried underneath the hens, in the back of an overfilled pickup.  They rejoiced, as did the hens and ourselves, in their new environment – limitless fresh grass to graze, new sights to see.

Their day-room was moved to new pastures each morning and then: something was wrong – listlessness, loss of appetite….

Quick research showed celandine=poison.

Guinea pigs are strange creatures.  Very social, multi-lingual, but reticent in their responses.  Mouth feeding of Supreme Science Recovery Feed, re-hydration, it took days and days for them to one by one give up the fight – a full week until Anna went:

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So, we had fed them poison (unknowingly – does that count in law?).  What do we do? Guilt. Despair. Mourning.

But then, the only way to honour their parting is to re-commit to a coalition with the species.

So thanks to Welshpool Pets we have

Fleur
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and Rose
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It is a responsibility caring for three generations

The special needs group of ewes and lambs which was using our field as an inclusion unit has now moved on to higher pastures.  We will miss them.

After thinking of willow warblers as elusive – heard but not seen – the breeding season imperatives overcome normal shyness: Mrs is gathering nesting material and will not be moved.  Mr arrives, wings outspread, obviously turned on by this bed making behaviour. She is not impressed – nest making comes first.  Obediently he helps gather the straw.

We now have to humour three generations of chickens.  The adults need individual attention.  June, for example, does like to be a bit by herself, but if a human appears she wants to be first for attention:

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The pullets are relishing their new grass experience and play chasing games:

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and the chicks know that all they have to do is look adorable:

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or slightly comical:

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in order to get all the mealworms and grapes they can handle.

Meanwhile the soil continues to push up magical shapes.  After waves of snowdrops and then daffodils, the wood is now adorned with bluebells and lady’s smock and elsewhere…

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