February Fill Dyke on my January smallholding

February Fill Dyke Except it’s still January. The ground is absolutely sodden and it has rained heavily, really meaning it, all day today.

I rarely keep the ponies indoors for a day but today there seemed little point in putting them out to stand forlornly by the gate waiting to come in again. So I took the opportunity to worm them, something neither I nor they enjoy.

I have one chance only with my Exmoor stallion, one chance to get the syringe into his mealy mouth and pull the plunger before he has climbed the wall of his box with me on the end of the lead rope.

Over the years I have become surprisingly quick at this as a result. I’m going to get some worm counts done later on in the year as I think it is important to know whether you need to worm and which ponies might be showing signs of resistance to wormers. (Hopefully none!)

As I write this I can hear that wild cry of swans. Here in Fenland we do swans in quantity and the potato field adjacent to our smallholding is full of eerily white bodies looming out of the murky day. There is no sound like that of a hundred or more swans honking.

They are eating the rotten potatoes that are left in the ground and they also love the sugar beet fields. I often think that Fenland farmers should be credited for even growing sugar beet and potatoes as these crops support the migrant swans over winter.

Swans are a big part of Fenland and a wild, impressive sight that tells you winter is still here. It’s an honour to have them so close to the smallholding.

They come as families, the white adults with one, two or even more grey babies, all making the journey from far away.

Did anyone watch Channel 4 “My Dream Farm? It’s on Thursday’s at 8pm and Monty Don helps would be farmers in their projects.

My only gripe is that it never seems to be wet or miserable in these programmes but always high summer or if it is winter, a nice crisp day (and you never see the problems with frozen water and burst pipes).

There are five more in the series which include, I believe, alpacas. Sometimes I do wonder where the participants find all their energy, by the time I have fed everyone in the morning on my smallholding and done whatever designated task I have set myself that day (sow seeds, sort out greenhouse, clear up yard, feed shed, clean out poultry – yep there’s no real end to the list) I am feeling somewhat weary and that’s before I take to my office chair.

It’s as well people that phone me during the day cannot see me (please don’t bring in web cameras). For a start at this time of the year I am less than clean, a bit grubby and usually there are some mud splashes somewhere.

I forget to comb my hair and I’m a bit short of mirrors so I probably look a bit wild. Needless to say there is no makeup (although moisturizer, if I don’t want my skin to fall off is a must) and there is a rather eclectic set of clothes depending on what I am going to do for the day.

Cleaning out poultry involves a really grim collection of very old, faded, sweat shirts from tweety pie to rocky horror for example.

Riding means a bright blue pair of jodhpurs which unsurprisingly were cheap in a sale and going to a meeting means a nice stretchy short skirt jumper with straw stuck to my tights that I usually notice mid-meeting.

The skirts were not expensive and the great plus point is that they are quite smart but they also move with you so when you climb over a gate they don’t rip and just blend to your body. Fantastic. I do remember to exchange the wellies for reasonably clean shoes when I get to the meeting. Yesterday I went to LAMMA – a huge machinery exhibition on the Newark and Notts Showground.

It was vast yet retained that very friendly way of being managed. Everything from the car parking to the catering was so well done but in a friendly manner. There were a lot of large machinery stands but also quite a lot relevant to the smallholder including vintage and veteran tractors. English Nature were present, giving a very clear introduction to their entry level scheme (ELS) and were very helpful as we have some rented land we would like to put into this. I’m sure other smallholders would find it worthwhile exploring this option as well.

There was also a lot of machinery relevant to smallholders from compact tractors, atvs to handy sized harrows and hay cutters. The whole event was free and I shall make it a permanent date in my diary for January.

Just another reminder about the Big Garden Birdwatch 30th and 31st January – more details in January Smallholder magazine although the phone number should be 01767 693680 and not as printed and on the RSPB website. It gives me enormous pleasure that we have a family of long tailed tits feeding through the winter. Liz Wright is re-reading So Long and Thanks for All the Fish (the fourth book in the Hitchhikers trilogy by Douglas Adams and Build it with Pallets by Joe Jacobs from the Good Life Press. She is watching Logging with horses, oxen and mules from Old Pond and cannot believe how well the oxen behave .

Liz is not going anywhere this weekend but hopes to actually get on her welsh cob which due to work and weather has not been ridden since before Christmas!!

22/1/10

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