Last time I posted, summer was coming in, and the meadows were full of flowers. Now it’s fading, and the flowers are giving way to berries, though not quite the glorious crop we had last year.
We’ve seen our indefatigable volunteer, Ieuan, establish himself almost overnight as a kind of French-speaking, tea-making sweary farm installation, only to depart again last month (for the best of reasons, and we’ll be seeing more of him anon.)
We bought three more ducks, Doonsilla, Daenerys and Dorrie. They’re White Campbells (privately I will henceforth be thinking of them as ‘Astounding Ducks!’ thanks to this recent good news.) They’ve settled in well.
Fifteen quail were brought into the flock in two tranches, the second being necessitated by the failure of the first ten to be an all-girl flock as we had specifically requested (ask Jo to regale you with the story of the mendacious quail seller some time.) And we lost a quail on the first day. We’d counted them into the boxes, two boxes of five, and we counted them out, but in the morning there were only nine. No obvious escape routes and no sign of attack. We chalked that up as misadventure and got some more quail. A few days later we gave four of the six or seven males remaining (seriously, Quail Boy, we said we wanted GIRLS) away to another local smallholding as they were too much for the poor outnumbered hen quail. Ciao, chaps.
Following Ollie’s adoption we were definitely not going to get any more dogs. We had enough dogs, for sure. Then there was this young lady. ‘Amber’ (not her real name) needed a home with plenty of activity and open space, as her people were having to move into an upstairs flat. She came up on a local smallholders group, and she was so pretty I was sure someone would want her. I therefore felt fairly safe saying ‘if nobody else takes her we could think about it…’ Five days later she was sploshing around in our sump pond on her trial visit and flat out refused to go back with the rescue lady, so that was that.
Amber is a star. She squabbles with the other dogs and barks in the car, is hopelessly addicted to fetch and could pee for Britain, but she’s fabulous and funny and we love her.
Last month, Carrie and Mrs Cake chicken got sick, lost a lot of weight and had loose poo. We isolated them and fed them cat food, and Mrs Cake made a full recovery. She’s now the fattest chicken of the lot. Carrie declined until she was just a feathery skeleton, and when she stopped trying to move we had to admit defeat. We’d tried massaging her crop and feeding her a special liquid feed through a syringe, which kept her going for a week or so, but she just couldn’t chicken in the end. A more experienced friend came over to show Jo how to kill her cleanly. Shortly before she died, we’d lost another quail, grabbed, killed and eaten through the bars of their coop by a rat or weasel. I found the grisly, headless remains and dropped them into the compost bin. We couldn’t be so casual about Carrie, who we’d nursed for weeks. Jo and I gave her a brief funeral and left her in the grass for the badgers to take. The hypocrisy of a couple of meat-eaters getting misty eyed over a chicken wasn’t lost on us, but goes to prove that relationships are everything. It’s hard to love what you don’t know. Our chickens came to us an anonymous birds, nervous and skittery, hard to tell apart, except for Ceridwen, who was always the feisty one. Now they are individuals, and they recognise us as friends and providers. They will peck us on the backs of the legs and follow us everywhere in their endless quest for food. They let us pick them up with a minimum of bother, though Constance remains a little edgy. The quail however remain faceless and not-quite-nameless. We made a list of names but there was nothing to differentiate the birds so they all became ‘Esme’. Last week another one died, after it escaped and was mistaken by Ollie for a cute feathery ball. He didn’t kill it, it just died for no good reason, like some kind of avian Puccini heroine. And yesterday we lost another one, just gone like the first, no sign of her.
All these comings and goings; the ebb and flow of life, and lives, on the farm. One thing about nature is that it’s never static, and just when you think you’ve got a handle on things being one way, the world turns, things change, and you have to adapt. Maybe we’re not cut out for quail keeping. Maybe the meadows are less beautiful than in June, and winter will blow in without the bucketfuls of compensatory blackberries this year. But there are unanticipated grapes on a vine in the back garden at the house, growing out of a mess of broken glass and 1980’s Pot Noodle pots. Carrie’s gone but Mrs Cake is thriving. And Amber is as lovely a ray of sunshine as the cat I not-real-named her after when she died. Farewell, friends. Hello, friends.