Thursday, 23 February 2012

More Miserable News ...

With the exception of an odd day, the weather here has been pretty miserable recently.  It felt quite surreal to drive in lashing rain which turned the roads into rivers, while listening to news reports about drought in eastern England and the home counties.

I went out last Saturday to pick up a couple of balls of cream yarn, to start pulling my colour play crochet throw together.  I'd intended to use navy, but couldn't find enough balls of one which was not too blackish.  As most of the colours are fairly light or bright, a cream ground will probably be okay.  I did a few squares to test it out, and it does seem to have a lovely light, unifying effect.

A friend shut the chickens away on Saturday evening and let them out Sunday morning, coming back in for breakfast to break the news that she couldn't find Sweeper, my favourite of my 3 cockerels.  Also, that there were fresh white feathers in the barn, but she was sure that we still had both light sussex hens.  Oh dear.  I went out and found that they were indeed light sussex feathers, and I called my hens into the barn to do a head count. All present except for Sweeper, but Shirl had a nasty bite wound on one side and a number of wing and tail feathers missing.  No sign of Sweeper, no answer to my calls.  On walking down the yard, I started to find Sweeper's hackle and then wing feathers in great wet clumps.  Another attack, this time probably on the previous day, when I had been out.  Generally if foxes come up during the day, it's in May-July, when the vixens have cubs and they can hide in the longer grass.  In some mud at the bottom of the yard, I found some prints, bigger and rounder than I would have expected.  Muttering and cursing about big, rogue dog foxes and what I would do to it if I caught it, I wandered into the silage barn.  When I found Sweeper's tail feathers under the ATV, I couldn't stop the tears streaming down my face.

I called him Sweeper because his tail feathers were about 16" long and swept the floor.  One day when he was still a young bird (and I thought he was a she!), I found him quite poorly and dejected with an impacted crop.  I took him into the house, made up a mix of warm water, Greek yoghurt and olive oil and fed him a little at a time, using a pipette.  Much to the annoyance of XP, I sat in the living room watching TV, cuddling Sweeper while I gently massaged his crop, stroked and rocked him until he dozed off.  He slept in a box in my workroom that night and the following morning, he was a lot better.  By the afternoon, his crop was empty again and he couldn't wait to rejoin the rest of the flock.

A further attack and the mystery is solved ...
On Monday morning, there was a terrific rumpus from the chickens, so I bolted outside to sort it out.  I ran through the shed, wrenching my knee and arrived down in the yard; keening with pain, in time to see XP chasing the miscreant - not a fox, but one of our next-door-neighbour's beagles, flying past on its way to get back over the fence, having had a wonderful time, what fun!  It had been in the garden with the head cockerel, Red, in its mouth.  There were Red's tail, wing and hackle feathers in clumps, but no Red.  I went back through the barn, calling the rest of the flock and found Red limping toward me, short of feathers and looking terrified.  I could see more white feathers on my way up to the first field and found Shyannie, also terrified and missing back and rump feathers, hiding in a corner.  XP went up to the veg patch and found several other members of the flock.  There were still a couple of hens missing and I could not find them.  Once Red recovered his composure a bit and started to crow, they found their way back from wherever they were hiding and by early afternoon, all were together again.

My neighbour has apologised and swears that the dog is not going to be allowed to roam loose again.  With lambing underway here, it's just as well.  I just hope my knee is better in time to dance at Majma at the beginning of March.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Trouble With Foxes

We seem to have quite a few foxes on the farm and I have heard a lot of barking at night over the past month.  I try to take a live-and-let-live attitude; it's fine providing they stay down in the woods, feasting on bunnies and any small squeekies they can find. Unfortunately, the foxes don't play by the same rules.  That's the thing about wildlife.

I went away last weekend for a couple of days (of which more later) and came back to the sad news that a fox had taken my favourite gander, Agamemnon.  Normally the geese manage to stay out of the way, sitting in the middle of the pond during the night if need be.  This time, it looks like Aggie got cornered in the cow pen.  The remaining two are evidently traumatised by the attack and have become very aggressive through fear, starting at every movement they see.  It doesn't help that the remaining two have never really liked each other and now have to put up with each other's company.  They'll be better guard-geese for a while, but I have to resort to crooning songs and whistling gently to calm them down enough to eat and preen while I stand guard for them, instead of attempting to peck my legs.

Aggie was the only one of the three who would let me stroke his gorgeously soft back feathers in return for food.  He used to love stretching his wings to show off the white tips.  I'll miss him.

Here are the geese a fortnight ago, as a rainbow appeared ... and Aggie showing off his wings as the sun came out and the rainbow disappeared.

Colour Play Crochet

When I bought the yarn for the baby all-in-one I made, there were only a couple of shades available. The next time I went into the shop, the rack was full of different shades, mostly pastel or bright.  Ooh, colours!  I want to play!  Inspired by granny square blankets, I decided that having a go at making a crochet afghan would be the next project.

I learned to crochet with raffia, with the idea of making a raffia bag (all the rage in 1970).  I learned the basic stitches, but never made the bag.  Crochet blankets seemed to be everywhere in the '70s.  Made with traditional granny squares, they are an ideal stash-buster, as you can crochet in any old odds and ends of similar weight yarn to produce something warm and lovely.  However, in strange, clashing or muddy shades of beige, grey, sage green, puce, orange, dusky pink,  mustard, heather, cream, blue and brown, my lasting impression was that they looked holey, and drab, rather than lacey and colourful.  The rgb colours available here (sorry, couldn't resist it) don't seem to convey the greyness of my memories, which are admittedly coloured by dark, boarding school dormitories - especially during the 3 day week in '74, when the house had no heating or electricity at night from January to March.  It rather put me off, and I never did make one. On the other hand, I dislike random, clashing colours and to avoid that, you need a goodly stash of yarn, which I didn't have.

Back to the present, I was invited away for Christmas, and told that I was to come and relax. (In fact, I was spoiled rotten and very lovely it was, too!).  So I thought starting a crochet afghan would be an ideal project as I would be able to chat and watch TV at the same time.  I don't much like acrylic yarn, but it knitted up well for the baby suit and was so much cheaper than anything else. I could afford to buy 16 balls, all different shades, avoiding the most muted or garish colours, in a colourful rainbow of orange-yellows, greens, blues, purples & pinks.  3 rounds in 3 toning shades would give 6 permutations. 20 sets of 6 = 120 squares, enough for a throw of 10x12 squares.

I looked up a few styles of crochet squares. Over the past several years, most of the crochet I've done is to make doormats from recycled baling twine.  I wanted something basic but denser than the traditional granny square.   After a few false starts where I relearned how to join in different colours and how to do dc, I found I could knock off half a dozen squares in no time at all.   Under the relaxing influence of caring friends and family, my initially tight tension relaxed.

I thought perhaps repeating the same crochet square would get boring, but I've been enjoying it far more than I thought I would and have done quite a few so far ... tidying the ends might prove a bit tedious!

The resulting squares are about 3", so would only make a small throw.  A 4th round in a background colour would give a 4" square, not quite as stiff, and a better size for a throw.  Navy blue would make the colours pop out, but there was no navy available.  I shall consider my next move while finishing the squares, hoping that I don't burn out on the project before then (no more UFOs, remember!).