Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Pastoral Quiet of...Bleating Lambs!

Love that curly tailed one on the left... and a nice "family group" here...

If you've never been to Wales you owe yourself a visit to this land and right about now is a good time to visit. The hedges and trees are in bloom, the birds are busying themselves with nest-building, kittens are screeching around the farmyards and radiant flowers of yellow, purple/blue and white dot the roads and verges with spring splendour. Spring is early this year and the farmers around here are glad, glad, as it has made for a very easy lambing time. Still, lambing means a lot of long hard hours, sleep deprivation and maybe even the occasional grouchy countenance. Never mind. A few weeks and those lambs will be on their own and coping well...

The narrow lanes are well, challenging, to drive this time of the year as farmers busy themselves with dropping off truckloads of lambs and go about ploughing, spraying, fertilizing and working down their ground, at least for a person such as I who is accustomed to wide and relatively straight roads. But I admit I love the challenge and excitement of driving around rural Radnorshire.
On a Saturday morning walk I was greeted on both sides of the "deep" and narrow lane by natural bouquets of primroses (photo above; the primroses are actually a very pale yellow), celendine, and dainty white flowers of assorted varieties as well as enjoying the occasional wild bluebell blooming along the roadside. This must indeed be an old lane as there are steep banks on each side with hedges at the top. In places where farmers haven't tidied their hedges the shoots reach across and form a sort of natural canopy. It isn't like the sugar maple canopies I so enjoy on country roads in the mountains of New England, but it's very nice nevertheless.
Look closely at the photo above of a ewe and her two lambs and you may notice that there are different colors of "paint" on the back of the ewe. If you could see the sides of the lambs you'd see corresponding numbers on each of them. I may go into this later, but as ewes are about to lamb (note on many farms around here there are hundreds if not thousands of lambs being born each spring) they are put in individual pens and after the lambs have been born and the ewes have licked away the afterbirth and all that someone comes around and sprays numbers on each ewe and her lambs. Occasionally ewes may have as many as four lambs but more often it's one, two, or three. I suppose the ideal number is two since the ewe only has two teats to feed her lambs and those babies are hungry all the time.
Now this could get into a very long drawn-out explanation and I really am not qualified to write on this subject at all. So just enjoy the photos of the lambs and know that the numbers and splodges of color on the rumps of the ewes do signify something!!! When a ewe "loses" a lamb to disease (or the occasional hungry fox) if caught early enough the dead lamb will be skinned and its skin TIED onto an orphan lamb (yeah, sometimes ewes die like when they have a prolapsed uterus, gee this is getting too complicated and I am not qualified here) so if you see a lamb running around in sheep's clothing, well, there's a method to the madness. If that lamb has the same smell (because of wearing its skin) as the lamb that died often the ewe will "adopt" this orphaned lamb and treat it as her own. A ewe typically WON'T let any other lamb suckle her. Isn't this all brilliant? So the ewe above with the two lambs, there are numbers on her (a big purple 41) and a big blue splodge on her rump that identifies (I think) which farmer owns her. And her two lambs, I assure you, also bear the purple 41. This helps keep things sorted! Now the orphaned lambs who haven't got a ewe to suckle are called "tiddlins" (not sure if I spelled that right) and they are fed, much like human orphans, from formula-filled bottles with nipples. Normally the tiddlins don't fare very well but they are ever so much fun to feed and love on!
If you're up on the moorland like where I like to walk you'll see sort of free range sheep all around and they bear different markings and splodges of color, identifying to whom they belong. On the "common" land (usually poor land in an area where mostly reeds and heather and gorse grow) to which certain farmers in a given area have rights to graze "x" number of sheep, cattle, or horses, you'll see what I'm talking about. Then ask someone who really knows, this is just sheep markings for dummies here. Hopefully I got it about right.
Now for that job with the Welsh tourist board!

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Motherly Love

Toward the end of the walk whilst out on Painscastle Hill with a local Ramblers group, we came across a herd of wild(?) well, not-so-wild, ponies who decided my camera and I were quite interesting. I hung out with them for awhile, enjoying the sight of this mother and foal, the fresh spring air and the earthy colors of this lovely hill near a placed called "Ireland." The rest of the group went on to the cars, but I hung back and spent an hour or more in the very pleasant company of these two and a dozen other ponies.

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Hound Haven, Mavis and Betty...and Rain!

K and L at their lodges. Yes, these girls are mostly silly.
So yesterday L and K came over for our usual Sunday morning walk. The hounds normally accompany us on these walks (they're the reason the walks began in the first place) but with so many lambs about in nearly every field, the hounds, now close to a year old, are quite a liability, so they were left to romp in the garden. These days we spend more time with all the pampered cats around the farm...they are well-fed!
Kitty with "attitude"
Yeah, the cats around here seem to have very large heads and small bodies...

We took along our gardening gloves and headed for the upper wood, site of K's fort "Hound Haven." The hounds do love it there! Since we'd previously worked on L's fort ("Leaping Hound Lodge") it was time to tidy up Hound Haven. On the way to the wood we were walking down a little farm lane that passes by what's known as the "sheep shed" (but no sheep in there these days) and we heard a thunderstorm of young cattle roaring out the far end of the shed headed for, well, greener pastures. We continued to talk among ourselves as we went down the lane, climbed some old metal hurdles across the lane and headed across the pasture. Down in the far corner near the upper wood is a gate and we could see it was open. Most of the cattle had passed through the gate but three, still a long way from us, were down in the corner near the wood. Suddenly the first one lunged over the fence! Now this is no short fence, it's what is used for holding in sheep and must be 40 inches or more high. Top that with a strand of barbed wire on the bottom and one on the top as well as a bit of distance above the was high. And these cattle are I'd say less than one year old. We were quite alarmed, but what could we do? About 30 feet from where these cattle decided to practice their steeplechase routine from standing still in a boggy place was the open gate! I thought cattle were smarter than that. We were still a good distance from them, so we posed no immediate threat. The second and third cleared the fence as well though I can't say they did it flawlessly. Somewhere along the way the barbed wire in that segment of fence was yanked loose but apparently the cattle suffered no injuries. I'd heard before about cattle jumping gates and fences from a standstill, but this was my first eyewitness experience!

With the cattle now down the lane and out of the way we climbed the stile into the wood and began our work. I had some big loppers and began clearing a bit of a path through the laurel and things that had grown up since last spring's tidy-up. Several trees had succumbed to the ravages of age or weather and we did our best to drag their limbs out of the way. Many laurel branches later we made our way into the rear entrance of Hound Haven (the official sign is at the upper end) and began picking up fallen branches and debris, tossing it into designated piles. L busied herself with trimming back some holly while I worked on the laurel and K supervised our efforts (well, it is her fort, after all) as well as working on clearing away the stuff we were trimming. We worked steadily for over an hour and results were dramatic! K has several laurels which she calls "koala trees" since she likes to climb in them and hang down. Very cute! So we made a real difference in Hound Haven and were pleased with our results.

Later I went to visit my friends Beryl and Philip (along with some other friends they'd invited over) and we spent a most enjoyable afternoon out in the wilds somewhere near Painscastle sipping wine, sleeveless and barefoot, in the (hot) sunshine followed by a wonderful traditional British meal of roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes, peas, mashed potatoes, gravy, and a few other items (a very nice leeks and carrots in cream sauce dish) follwed up by yummy raspberry crumble with custard or cream. Hungry yet? Not long after we'd adjourned to the lounge and patio the thunder started rolling and most of us were glad since we haven't had a drop of rain around here since I don't know when (several weeks anyway). It did eventually drizzle a bit but nothing to run for cover for! Down in the valley where I stay, though, they had quite a storm around teatime and on the way home there were a couple of places on the little old road where flashing lights warned of mudslides from some of the hillside ploughed ground that had done a runner into the road.

Now Beryl and Phil have two cute new Bassett (sp?) hound puppies named Mavis and Betty. Is there anything sadder-looking than a Bassett hound? Well, you can judge for yourself but I don't hardly think so. After the other guests had gone Phil and I chased those girls around the garden while I tried to get some photos (it ain't easy photographing two energetic puppies in low light but I do love
Puppy love - Mavis and Betty

a challenge). The light was lovely and Betty and Mavis are, of course, beautiful. It was funny when they both decided they should have this crushed Diet Coke can. The growling and biting that ensued!

I returned to the valley with a big smile feeling much richer for having spent a happy day in Hound Haven followed by a lovely meal and a visit with some friends and a good ole romp with two adorable puppies.

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