Monday, 21 July 2014

Still making hay, while the sun shines! Sort of!

Little tractor in a big field. This is our neighbours field
and it is actually steeper than it looked
 The weather is still proving unpredictable, an absolute nightmare for farmers. Once the hay harvest is in, it will be time to relax, as that means winter feed and bedding is sorted. I didn't realise before embarking on this lark, how stressful bringing in the hay could be. It is not so bad if everyone else has managed to get some hay in and we are the only ones not to, then there would be the possibility to buy some, but when it was looking fairly uncertain prior to this week that anyone will get some hay then you know the price is going to be high. Silage was possible, but alpacas don't eat silage and we haven't got the facilities for wrapping the bales for it anyway. I have been reading up though, that it is possible to just put silage material in ordinary plastic bin bags, the sort for garden waste and then squeeze as much air out of it as possible. That would give us feed for the sheep and chickens, but I don't like the idea of lots of plastic bags to deal with. We are going to experiment this year with a spare plastic bin as a possible recyclable container. The idea is we jam in the chopped up grass from the mulcher and then weight it down. If that works then a we can buy bins to keep the silage in and store them in the forest or at least at the forest edge, until winter when they can then be transferred to the greenhouse. If it reduces the winter feed costs for the chickens then we will be onto a winner, as silage we can make anytime. We don't really want to invest in the costs for a wrapping attachment, not just because we don't want plastic wrapping material to deal with, but because our main focus is the alpacas and we just don't need to wrap the bales for them, just under some sort of cover.
The poppies are pretty and I haven't even planted these seeds
Weeds can be so pretty. Not sure if my
neighbouring gardener is as
appreciative though
Anyway this week round two of the haymaking harvest was completed. It was hard work, but we are
so grateful for good neighbours. Our neighbours daughter helped us again and we loaded up one load at a reasonably leisurely pace, unloaded it and stacked it into our neighbours barn then had a cup of tea to rest. When we went down to start loading the next thirty bales we noticed unexpected dark clouds bubbling up and so started a race against time, no rests till we finished now. The third load of the day was loaded onto the trailer when our neighbour and her son arrived back home and our neighbour realised we might need help to get the bales in before the rain and so put on her gloves, cajouled her son and marched into the barn to help us off-load the bales. They then came down with us to get the last load. We got it all in and stacked with just a few spots of rain, but a couple of hours later and the heavens opened. All I could think is that at least all those bales were well and truly under cover. Our neighbour had been up since around 2am that morning baking for the Saturday market, where she sells her produce every week, but being a farmer she knew what needed doing and dug deep to help.
The bees are busy in one of the neighbours garden. A riot
of colour of marigolds and these borage plants
The storm!
This weekend saw two of the gulley making storms. It was incredible seeing the volume of water pouring down out of the sky. At times there wasn't a clear view across the field it was that heavy and we ended up with a cascade running down the road again. There needs to be some re-modelling done to prevent the water from washing the roadway down to the barn away again. There are hardly any woodchips left to wash away. Ian spent part of today fixing the damage to the road way and sorting out the alpaca houses. The rain poured down the bank straight into the boys alpaca house and so Ian cleared the bedding out and put in some more drains. The girls bedding is wet too and so Ian has piled more dry stuff on the top, clearing out that alpaca house would have taken him too long to sort out, so a thicker layer on the top will help. He then started round three of the hay cutting saga.
It was running underneath the caravan
We had white water rapids down the road
In between helping Ian with the baling, I have been doing some weeding, some work on the paper I have to write and being a guest author on a blog for farmers. The blog is called Farming futures and aims to bring the latest developments to farmers with the aim of helping farmers meet the future challenges, such as climate change. I sent in a comment to one blog and was asked if I would consider writing a blog post about my comments. As I was writing, another idea came to mind and so both got published. I was even asked to contribute again, if I had any further ideas. If you want to read them they are here and here.
And this is why, the water was too much
for the little drain
Ian out digging channels after checking on the
animals
I had a walk around our village today, I had got errands to do to, but it was nice just to be out and about and I took a few little detours and even ate an ice-cream on the way around. It was hot! It was nice just to tootle too, buying plastic freezer bags ready for the new batch of produce, posting a letter and then a long walk to take a letter to my local heating and water company to complain about the charges they have put on the bill that are totally random and with no explanation as to what they are for. I think they just put them in there and hope people won't notice, as they are kind of just slotted in and varying in amounts. There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason to them.
The water filled the ditch and
over flowed into the greenhouse
Flooding in the middle of the
greenhouse
It flowed into the barn too
I read a blog this last week that really resonated with me, it was entitled "Lost?? Or just not sure where I am." I'm not lost, but I sure do feel like I am not quite sure of where I am or where I'm heading. It's a strange feeling, but it does go along with one of the stories that gets resurrected every now and again between Ian and I. We were on our first trip abroad together and were driving through France when Ian said "Where exactly are we?" That was the wrong question. I could have fobbed him off with something vague, but that isn't quite my style. He had asked a direct question and so I felt it needed a direct answer. The problem was that I didn't know exactly where we were, just approximately and so my response was "I'm not quite sure, I'm a little perplexed. Just give me a few minutes and I will know." My navigation skills are pretty good and I knew we were heading in the right kind of direction, but where that was in relation to the map was just a little unclear as not all the roads were on the map. Give me a nice Ordnance Survey map any day. It wasn't much further on and I was able to say with confidence that I knew exactly where we were now and all was fine, but it was a little unsettling at the time. This is kind of the position I'm in at the moment. I know we are heading in the right direction, but things are just not certain and I'm not sure all the roads ahead are marked. What I do know though, is that we got through that and with God's help we'll get through similar challenges again.
So Ian had to pump it out
The overflow pool
Oh the stuff that goes on in my head. I wonder if I have too much to think about or maybe I just think too much. Not quite sure which. Folks often make the comment that they wonder how I fit everything in and the truth is I don't. My house is a tip - well it is a bit better today, I did a quick clean around and we won't mention the weeds. I meant to take some photos, but I forgot. So yes, I get stuff done after some procrastination but much doesn't that I would like to get done. I do procrastinate rather a lot, but I think that is part of my brain just trying to process something and not quite knowing where to start. Once I get on a roll things don't take me too much time.
Part of the field where the sheep were was flooded. Don't
worry their feet were dry, they were sheltering under a tree
that stands on a bit of a rise. Perhaps not the safest of places in
a thunderstorm, but they don't know that.
The storm passing over
There has been a lot in the news about Gaza and the Malaysian airplane disaster, shocking horrible stuff, but there is a disaster looming of far greater proportions than either of those and yet it seems to be going unreported. A rather wordy article published by UNHCR, the UN's refugee council are considering cutting refugee rations in camps by 60%. That looks mind boggling enough but what that actually works out to is a diet consisting of 850 calories a day. This means malnutrition and all the assorted illnesses that go along with that. Finding the Malaysian airplane that was lost somewhere in the Indian Ocean and carrying 239 people on board has already cost the Australian government US$39million and the UNHCR to feed 800,000 people requires US$39million for nutrition support and US$186million to restore full rations. I do wonder why we can't find the necessary money just to feed people who are alive, when we can find money for those who unfortunately died.
The field flooded again. I think this flood
was the last straw (no pun intended) for the
barley. It looks like it may have rust now

Our own black and brown river. The brown
is from the road, as the run off goes down
a drain under our land

I said it was a gulley washing storm

Monday, 14 July 2014

Baling at last!

Half our ski hill, cleared of hay
It has been a bit of struggle to get motivated this week, we are both tired, but we didn't have a choice. The weather held off and we got half the ski hill, turned and baled within 32 hours. Not that we worked for 32 hours but the drying time was very short due to the hot sun and a good drying wind. It is not good to leave it out in the sun for longer than necessary, otherwise it just cooks. We only finished the baling at 10pm and we ate rather late, with Ian watering the greenhouse while I cooked a real greasy café meal of fried pork and egg with fried potatoes. We needed it, even if we were eating at eleven at night. We didn't do the whole ski hill, although we possibly could have, as the weather forecast was variable for the Thursday and we didn't want to risk rain while baling. I think this issue of will it or won't it rain has been as tiring as the actual work. Just in case you are wondering, the reason we call it a ski hill is that in the Soviet times, that is what it was. There are still the odd electric light slowly disintegrating in places.
Stacking the hay bales this year has been really hard. The
grass is not as tall this year and there is not as much stringy
stuff to bind the bales tight and so they are soft and squashy.
Well that's the theory we are working on. This stack was
stacked three times and still we had to add some support.
We have also ensured that the stack has a point on it this
time and not level. No place for water to rest and leak in.
It also has a sacrificial layer of hay on the outside.
We would like it to be thicker and so may add to it as we
get some more bedding type hay cut. How we will get it to stop on will be the next challenge.
Ian has also cleared a space in the barn to add some bales
but it might mean that some stuff doesn't get stored in the
barn over winter. We already need a second barn.
Our neighbour took a look at what we had cut and thought it didn't seem like a lot of bales this year and so she offered us another field to cut, as she doesn't use it. It is twice as big as our ski hill with a good flat section. Some of it is steep with a lot of weeds in it, but there is still a lot of grass in there. It is looking like a race against time though as some of the grass is beginning to turn and so less and less nutritious as days go by, fortunately it also has a lot of clover and vetch in, which is still green, and even so it is still useful for bedding which we really need. She even offered us her barn to store some bales in, which will be very helpful. We are wondering about coming to an agreement about the field, for future use, as there are weeds that are coming across into our field. If we can manage the two fields together, there will be enough to cut and enough to let our field go fallow in places for a year too, which will do it better in the long run. Now all we need is another good week of weather and we will be set to go, only the weather is proving as unpredictable as last week too. So the will it, won't it rain, hassle continues.
An infestation of daises, but they do look pretty
The swallow is sitting on eggs in the alpaca house, at least
some birds don't think it is autumn yet.
Egg production has started to go back up after the dismal showing with the lack of sunshine the other week, but I swear that some of our chickens think it is autumn already. In their little minds eye, we've had the summer then there was all that rain and low light levels and so we must be in autumn now! Right? No wonder as the early part of July has been the coldest in meteorological records here in Latvia.
Our first tomatoes of the year. They were sharp and tangy.
We also had our first broad beans. Last nights meal was
pasta with goats cheese, rocket, spinach, mizuna, lettuce
peas, broad beans, tomatoes and strawberries. In other words,
whatever I could find to throw in a salad.
Yesterday the rain rolled in again and this is a picture of
the thunderstorm we had. It made putting the animals
away quite exciting.
I'm trying to think what I've done all week. I know that I tried to write a blog post for a farming website after a request and found that harder than I thought it would be. I keep falling into the same trap of trying to cram too much information in, when really folks won't be interested in all the details. I know I have done some emergency gardening - the sort that attempts to rediscover there are plants in there somewhere and not just weeds. At least I have managed to keep on top of our orchard plot, but I think that is a combination of two things, firstly having a bed of wood chippings and secondly the weeds haven't been so fast to grow this year. Seeds I have planted nearly two months ago are only just germinating in some cases. It is quite weird to see bean plants that germinated shortly after planting and are reasonable sized plants and others still coming through. We have pictures from the previous year
of squashes growing  and this year the plants are barely hanging on in there and only just beginning to flower. Not sure if we will get any at the moment.
Oh yes! We now have the internet out on the land. It means
Ian can now watch the rain on the radar and satellite pictures.
He found the best signal was achieved by putting the dongle
into a plastic margarine tub on top of what used to be a pipe
for the aerial. The tub has also been covered in duct tape.
Not quite sure what we do in a thunderstorm though. The dongle
reception was a bit hit and miss in the caravan itself. When it
worked with the wind in the right direction, it was great, but
otherwise it kept dropping the signal. The good news is that the
signal is good at the height of the hill where we plan to build
a house - when it gets built that is.
Two of the three chicks. Their feathers are starting
to grow quite fast now. They seem to be cream
coloured and so does that mean they are from
one of the brown hens or are they really big bird's
our white hen? The brown hens are far too small
to have such large eggs though, surely!  
I have also planted more peas, they will at least take the cooler weather at the end of the year and maybe we will get a second crop. If not the plants will be eaten by the sheep or the chickens.Other jobs included following the tractor round picking up the stuff that wasn't turned or reducing piles where it had got too thick for the baler. I also followed the baler round to turn bales on the steep sections and picking up large amounts of grass that had been missed. I've stacked hay and fed the troops, well Ian and our helper. Yes we actually had help this year. Our neighbour's daughter who offered the field was translating for her Mum and when we told her we were stacking hay the next day, she said she was free to help. She was certainly a good worker and wouldn't accept any payment either. Payment enough was avoiding having to do the weeding for her Mum I think. I also slept for an hour and a half on Sunday afternoon. That all looks a lot written down, but it has kind of passed in a blur and gone over far too fast. It also helps that I don't have a regular job to do, nor do we have a television, although we can waste hours on the internet - all in the name of research you understand.

Monday, 7 July 2014

After the rain? More rain

The radar for Tuesday July 1st. More rain
A certain song has been going around my head just lately

"I beg your pardon I never promised you a rose garden
Along with the  rain there's gotta be a little sunshine sometime"

 - wait shouldn't that be the other way around? Shouldn't it be "along with the sunshine there's gotta be a little rain sometime"? Indeed it should. The rain just kept on coming, as you can see from the picture and we didn't get the worst of it. There has been a change though recently, a yellow ball like object appeared above with a cloak of blue. We checked the ancient manuscripts and the yellow ball is called the sun and the blue is the sky. The only problem is that the forecasts are still not entirely settled and on days forecast to be dry, we've still had some showers, even though at least we did see some sun. The last two days have been dry and now the ground is not covered with a layer of water and we can think about haymaking. The problem is that to do the ski hill we need five straight days of dry weather to cut, turn, bale and collect the hay, four at a push or just a short shower when they are baled with good sunshine afterwards before stacking. Too much to ask for? It's looking that way at the moment.

Finally a day of sun. This was taken about 9:30pm
The rain has meant that Ian has been confined to the land, because he was worried about leaking roofs and collapsing plastic that he tacked up to try and keep the animals dry. He managed to sort out the girls roof, but so much water was running off the roofs, it was just running straight under their accommodation and saturating the thin layer of bedding. It hadn't been built up after the clear out due to the mite infection and we are rather lacking dry bedding as we are on the last few bales. We still have enough for feed, but dry bedding is proving a headache. The boys, ironically for being at the bottom of a slope and the leakiest roof have the driest accommodation, partly because Ian has dug a channel to divert the rain away at the front door and another in the alpaca house itself to drain away behind the shed. The girls are on a flatter piece of land, but at the top of the hill and so it would be expected to drain by itself - but no!

We have three new chicks. These ones are hatched from
some large eggs that we collected from the chicken house,
so we are assuming that they are progeny from the chicken
we named Big Bird, our large white broiler chicken. They
are definitely the progeny of the cockerel and so it will
be interesting to see what they will turn out like
The respite in the weather though meant a chance for a much needed trip to the big town to deal with paperwork. I text a translator who lives in the big town to see if he was free and he was, so we organised to meet at the land office after we had put the trailer through its technical. Of course there was a long queue at the technical centre and a trainee on duty, but at least it passed and we weren't horrendously late for our meeting, not by Latvian standards anyway. We had gone to get our buildings registered on the land book finally and asked the lady about transferring the land into our name while we were there. For those who don't know, it has not been possible to buy land here in Latvia, unless you are a Latvian citizen, but that exclusion ran out on May 1st. The land was still in the name of a friend of ours and we just had power of attorney to do what we liked on the place. I knew the government were, or had, amended the law to make it more difficult to buy agricultural land and I wasn't sure if we qualified or not. As we talked she said if we wanted the land, we should buy it or have it donated to us on that day and not leave it and then she explained what we needed to do. Apparently the following day the government were voting on the new law and she wasn't sure when it would come into effect.

The father of the chicks
As you can imagine, that caused all sorts of difficulties. First we had to decide if our friend was going to sell or donate the land to us, she had given it to us anyway as she was unable to look after it and that is why we had the power of attorney. Whatever we did had to be the least hassle to her and not cost us more than it needed to. In the end we decided on a donation to Ian. I represented our friend and signed it over to him and he will have to declare his "income" at the tax office and pay the 24% tax on it. Fortunately cadastral prices (prices of land as assessed by the government) are pretty low and so it won't cost us lots of money in the grand scheme of things, but still it is money. To set the whole process in motion we had to have a notary agree to write a contract of donation, then we had to run home - a journey of 90km - and pay the remaining land tax that hadn't been paid earlier on in the year, back to the notary to have the papers drawn up, back home again as it was getting late and back to the land office in the morning. Within 24 hours we had the land in Ian's name and no further worries about any decisions that the government would make later on in the day.

Not sure if you will be able to see, but
the little chick at the end of the tray
has feathers on its legs. The father
doesn't and so not sure where that comes
from. Ian also showed one of them to
our granddaughter on Skype and she
tried to stroke its nose. Sweet! 
We did find out later that the new law was agreed and meant that either a person had to have more than three years farming experience - and that could be difficult to prove for some, or an agricultural qualification with attendance of more than 160 hours on a course in a relevant subject (I wasn't sure if  Masters in Rural Development was classed as relevant or not). There would also be a requirement to show a return of some sort of income after one year and no individual or company can buy more than 2000 ha to stop massive buying up by agricultural companies or rich individuals. It was also only due to come into force on November 1st I think, but that doesn't sound so dramatic. One of the humorous points about the whole episode was a statement that if we didn't show enough gratitude for the gift, it could be demanded back by our friend, her children or her grandchildren. This caused much merriment and I sent off a suitably grateful email to our friend to let her know the land was now officially in Ian's name and not hers, she now feels rather over appreciated.


Hopefully this is their mother. She looks a bit cross here,
but she is a gentle soul and will even let us stroke her. I
think this is partly because she is so big and can't escape so
easily. She is quite old for a broiler chicken, besides the fact
that most end up on the plate, it is rare for them to live
past the age of 18 months because they either get to big
for their legs or die of heart attacks. She is not so good on
her legs and limps a bit, but still seems able to get around
As we had gone to the big town we also got some feed in for the animals. We had to fit that in between seeing the notary and going home, but Ian didn't have enough time to store it away while I paid the tax at the local government office. On our way home that evening there were places that looked rather wet and dark clouds ahead. In fact it was raining rather heavily when we got to the land and exhausted and thirsty though we were, we had to swing into action to get the bags under cover, they were wet but not saturated. Fortunately we think they survived, but definitely not something we want to repeat.

A close up of the swallows nest in the alpaca house
The following day after our trip back to the big town to finish off the paperwork we took a bed, that belongs to some American friends of ours that had been residing in our other apartment, to Sigulda where they will be staying when they visit Latvia again. That meant catching our three cockerels that have been living in the horse box and putting them in a cardboard box while we were away. The cardboard box was put into the tractor trailer, but I was a little worried about the sun overheating them, so I rigged up a tarpaulin to keep the sun off and then off we went. We got the bed to its destination no problem and then went to collect an old Soviet cast iron piece of machinery for another of our friends. All went fine and Ian and the owner managed to get the machine into the horse box, but as Ian fastened up the horse box, he felt his back twinge. The horse box was then taken to the next house to fill up with bee keeping equipment, also for the same destination. We stopped for some home-made bread and a cup of tea and then set off to make the next delivery. This supposedly dry day, also turned out to be showery, fortunately not while the bed was in the horse box as it leaks a bit. It was getting late in day, but we delivered the iron piece of machinery and after some false starts and with a bit of teamwork, eventually we managed to work out how to get it out using the tractor and pieces of wood to slide the machine on. Our poor friend at the other end though had to wait until we had gone before she could milk her goats and she has a long enough day as it is. We did get a couple of rounds of goats cheese and some milk for Agnese.

If you saw the blog last week, you will
know that our neighbour downstairs
reported a leak that he thought was
coming from us. This is the mess we
have after checking to find out it wasn't
us at all. There has been a lot of noise
coming from the roof space this week
and so we think our suspicions are correct
 that actually it was running through gaps down to him.
When we got to the land at a rather late hour we could see it had been raining and to greet us we could see three small heads in the tractor trailer. The cardboard box had obviously collapsed in the rain and under the weight of the logs that Ian had used to make sure the cockerels could not escape from the box. We decided that since they hadn't got away to leave them in there, but strapped the tarpaulin more tightly across the top to try and ensure they didn't make a break for it in the night. We put the animals away and crawled into bed in the caravan. We are so grateful for that caravan, it was one of the best investments we have made. The next morning we dropped the tarpaulin down onto the cockerels and caught them and put them back in the horse box. We determined then they had to go and decided Sunday would be the best day. It didn't happen, neither of us felt well enough to go through the hassle of boiling up the water, removing feathers and then gutting them. Ian's back was still twingeing and I came down with a virus. Fortunately we are both feeling better, but something we could have done without.

Agnese growing up, she is not always around her mum now
On a completely different note, Sofie, one of our cats came up to Ian this week and dropped a live mouse in front of him and backed off. This live mouse, also had a baby hanging on with its teeth. Of course they then ran off and Ian and Sofie then tried to catch them. We were laughing as this is the kind of action of a mother cat with her young to try and teach them to hunt. We now know that Ian is a failed cat! You can almost hear her say "Stupid boy! Can't even catch a mouse!" Wonder how she will continue on with the training?

There are plenty of grapes on the grapevines this year
It may have escaped your notice, well some of you anyway, but a certain rather large cycle race set off from Yorkshire this last week. Ian loves to watch the Tour de France and nothing gets in the way of the final day or the stage where they tackle the alp d'huez, unless it is a done deal anyway and this year he made a point of watching the stage going into Sheffield. He would like to watch more but it is a bit complicated at times to manage it. I glimpsed at the race a few times and it was lovely to see all the well-remembered scenery, after all we lived in Sheffield for five years and about 10 miles south of it for 15 years and so we know the area well. There was one point where the cycle route crossed his old route to work and in his mind's eye he was heading once more into the Northern General hospital along that familiar route. He was rather surprised at the end to see a face he knew, one of the guys who he used to chat to about the Tour when it was on, is now the nutritionist for the Sky Team.
All out and ready to start cutting hay tomorrow. We both
had the brain wave that if we cut only half the ski hill, we
might be able to get it done before the forecasted rain on
Thursday. 

Monday, 30 June 2014

Missing? Or are they?


The new improved divider. High enough for Estelle not to
jump it, in fact even Snowdrop our largest alpaca wouldn't
be able to get over, even in her younger days - at least we
hope that is the case.
Well the first thing that went missing just lately is our free range cockerel. I didn't report his loss last week, just in case he reappeared and had just wandered off, which we suspected he hadn't. One day the cockerel was making a horrendous noise in the gateway of the boys alpaca paddock. All the hens were huddled around him and we couldn't work out what the problem was. Normally if they sound the alarm, the chickens go into hiding, but this time they were well and truly out in the open. When we went up to the ladies alpaca house to do something, I can't remember what we were doing now, I noticed that the cockerel had missing tail feathers. We weren't sure though, with their behaviour, whether he had been attacked or got stuck somewhere. We fastened them away anyway and then let them out again the next day and this time he just disappeared. We assume he was got by a fox and it must have approached from the woods where the vegetation has grown up amongst the trees. Ian went in and cut the stuff back so the chickens could see if anything was coming, but since the little brown ones just wandered into the forest after him, he decided that they were safer inside their hut.

The poultry netting up around the chicken house. Hmmph!
We then tried putting the poultry netting around the chicken hut to confine them, but the chickens just went straight through. We found out from the internet afterwards that it is more to keep things out, than chickens in and they need to be a certain size before it restrains them. Hmmph! That isn't much good then, our free range ones are mainly on the small size, expect our one broiler chicken, who definitely could not get through the fence. The chickens then spent about three days inside, for their own safety and also while we decided what to do. In the end we decided to add one of the cockerels that is used to confinement and doesn't pick on the hens to guard them and see what happens. We know now that it is far better to confine them for at least half a day then let them out for a few hours to eat what they want , that way they feed themselves and lay eggs in the chicken house. It is quite a dilemma, as our confined chickens haven't been laying so well and so we really could do with the eggs from the free range ones.

Is this tasty? Agnese is on and off with bottles, sometimes
she will take a bottle and sometimes she won't. 
We have been trying to work out exactly what is wrong with the confined ones, they look healthy enough but we did notice a lot of feathers. We thought it might be the cockerels that are in the two arks, as they seem to be getting bad tempered with the ladies and picking on them. So in the process of moving one of the cockerels down to the chicken house, we moved the two cockerels out of the arks and placed them with the remaining cockerel in the horse box (don't worry they don't seem to be fighting, apart from the initial spat where they were deciding where in the pecking order they were). Two will definitely be dispatched. I know! I know! I've been saying that for weeks, but the weather has been awful. The plan was to boil up water on the stove outside, so that we can dispatch, gut and clean the chickens while still out on the land. To do that we need a fine evening, on a day when I am free. That hasn't been happening. If it is fine, we have been doing other things, such as sorting out the mite problem on our alpacas, that has meant coating the places with signs of mite infestation with oil or giving them injections or we have been staying overnight, that means the chickens won't get into the freezer till the next evening. Anyway back to the laying, or not as the case maybe, chickens, we have come to conclusion that maybe they think autumn has set in, with the low light levels (yes it really has been that bad), plus they are in a more exposed place and sometimes it has been raining into their arks. They'll live, but the result is less eggs. Well that's the current theory, I guess we will find out next week when hopefully the sun returns.

But as you can see, she still has loads of energy and does
like a good charge around the paddock areas
So back to the missing things. The next thing to go missing was a stick, not just any old stick, but THE stick that marked the position where we hope to dig a well. First thing to happen to the stick was that Herkules, one of our alpacas managed to break it when the electric fence was put up around the area of the stick. Ian quickly moved the fence but left the stick on the ground. At least it still marked the right area. One day Ian mentioned that he had lost a stick that the had thrown in the direction of the chickens to encourage them not to come up close to the greenhouse; well as I was doing some jobs I saw a stick lying on the floor in the long grass and thought "Oh! That's the stick Ian lost. Better pick it up and take it back." Bad move! It wasn't the lost stick, as Ian said, "it knew exactly where it was and it was meant to be there." Whoops! Ian was preparing to get the lawnmower out to cut the grass so he could find the remnant of the stick that had broke and had a brainwave. He looked on his computer to find pictures of the stick and from those worked out the area where it should be. A quick look around and he found the stub. There are now new sticks and longer sticks to mark all the points where the line of water is supposed to run and as I am constantly reminded, "They are not lost! They know exactly where they are!" In other words, "don't move them!"

Ian spent ages standing still by the greenhouse to take a
photo of the pied flycatcher at the nest on the side of the
barn. So meet Mr Pied Flycatcher
I got my own back a little while later though. The next items to go missing were my wellies. They had been sitting by the door for quite a while as they were used quite often (had I mentioned the weather has been dreadful?). One day I went to put them on, no wellies! Now it is quite common for me to wear them out to the land and forget to bring them home, so I just assumed that was what happened. When it turned out they weren't in the caravan, then the next place it was assumed where they would be was our other apartment. Nope! Not there either. Ian suggested they might be in the cupboard by the door, a fairly obvious place to look, but not where I would normally put them. In there was a green pair of wellies, not mine though! So where were mine? On Ian's feet. He had been complaining that his wellies were a little tight and couldn't understand it at all. Now we know. I was in hysterics, I just couldn't believe he could wear my wellies for three days without realising. I have size 37 or 38 (European size) feet, although my wellies are a size 39 to accommodate extra pairs of socks when necessary and Ian takes a size 42 minimum. No wonder they were tight, especially when he wore them with a pair of sealskin socks over his normal socks to keep his feet dry.

And Mrs Pied Flycatcher
We also had a near calamity with our sink unit when the U-bend fell off. Fortunately I heard the thud and realised what the noise was and reacted immediately before we had a flood in the cupboard. I am getting a little tired of plumbing issues at the moment, with the recent floods from the apartment above us at our other place to the slightly leaking loo. I took the U bend off the pipe and placed a bucket under the sink. I was in the process of trying to clean the pipes when Ian came back and he finished off the job and cleaned out the pipe to the main stack pipe too. It was pretty grotty and ready for a clean out anyway. We also fixed the loo, or at least it seems to be fixed anyway. As for the results of the recent flood, the apartment is drying out. There is still one section where the laminate flooring is raised up and we are not sure if that will go back down once dry or not. We'll see. At least we managed to sort out some sort of an agreement with the upstairs neighbours, who feel dreadful about the episode and they will pay our house management fees there for the next year, which will certainly cover the paint to repaint the kitchen and electric for running the dehumidifier for the last few weeks.

The swallows on the other hand have decided to build their
own in the ladies alpaca house
It has been a pretty frustrating time of late and seems like one thing after another. The dry one day followed by rain for the next three hasn't been helping. It is not as if it has rained constantly all day, just nearly all day. The gardens are just about weeded, not perfectly, but they will do, but that is only because the weeds aren't even growing that fast either. I still have one really bad bed to weed, in front of our other apartment, it does look bad, but I figured that the veg was more important at the moment and I only had so many dry hours to do any weeding. At the beginning of the year I felt that what was sown this year, would be really important for what we reap at the end of the year. Obvious really, but I felt we would be leaving a time when we were living on reserves and this would take us in good shape into the next year. When the seeds didn't seem to germinate, first because of the drought and then too much rain and not enough heat or light, I was beginning to get very frustrated. I then realised it would be easy to sow many seeds of despair and depression, instead I need to sow seeds of trust, faith and hope into our future. Even though I have known God's goodness over the years, I find that my faith still needs to increase some more. So we will have to see where those thoughts take me over the year.
No not a ghastly mess from our alpacas, that is the start of a
swallow nest in the boys alpaca house, but we are pleased
they abandoned that one. We weren't sure whether the plastic
would hold the weight of the nest and the boys house is less
accessible than the girls. We might actually make it more
accessible next year, before the swallows return.

I have told you the weather has been awful, haven't I :),
well here's the proof. Dark skies as a back drop for the
swallow
Talking of faith, we had a lovely day of "church" on Sunday too. My young wacky friend was going to a camp nearby and contacted me to say she will be in the area and so we arranged to see her sometime. Turns out it was a little earlier than we planned, as for some reason there was no one at the bus stop to pick her up, so we toddled out to see her and make sure she got to where she needed to be. The next day she text me to ask if she could come and visit as she didn't want to go to the service with all the others, as she doesn't like visiting new churches. She is from a family of missionaries and so is used to traipsing off to new places all the time and was a little tired of that, can't blame her really. Anyway she was the excuse we needed to really dial back, that and the poor forecast again. She also helped us with translating for our neighbours with regards to the flooded apartment and we spent the rest of the time talking about faith and life. To end the lovely day, we had scones and strawberries with cups of tea - so English.

Mustn't neglect the perennial visitor, the Pied Wagtail
Just to finish off with, Ian heard some surprising news on the radio, well snippets of news. He heard the Latvian for wild boar (mežacūkas) and compensation (kompensācija) and so intrigued I looked on the internet for news. For those following this blog for a long time, you will know we have had many a problem with the darling animals. They often descend on us in autumn and make a mess of our pasture, despite us having a contract with a hunting organisation. We just have too many around us and it doesn't take a lot of them to make a big mess in a short period of time either. I also spent a year studying the issue of the conflict over the management of them in the area for a Masters project, so I know a little about the issue. The government haven't really applied themselves to dealing with it, until now that is.

The Oak Tree, a bit closer this time. No idea how old this
tree is, but a few hundred maybe. It will have seen some
battles that's for sure
They did make an amendment to the law, but it didn't really solve the problem for local people, as there really needed to be some mediation between certain hunters and local farmers and that wasn't happening. Anyway they have now been galvanised into action due to the threat of African Swine Fever. This threatens the pig industry and since it is a major export to Russia, then there is a now apparently reason to act. Russia and Belarus have already said they are banning the import of pig products, which is a bit bizarre really as the actual disease has come in from the Belarus border and there are incidents of the disease already in Russia. It is also bizarre that this galvanises the Latvian Government when they have been calling for more restrictions on Russia due to the Ukraine crisis too, but I guess that is why I'm not in politics.

I think this is Russian knapweed. Just seen it is considered
a noxious weed in Dakota. We have had a problem with
weeds this year, the latest being the yellow hawksbeard
and have no desire for this gracious looking plant becoming
 a problem. It is a real pain as they are absolutely
gorgeous plants.
To try and prevent any further restrictions they have also decided that the wild boar population needs to be reduced by 90%, similar to the Lithuanian declaration a while ago. The Lithuanians already have detected the disease in their country. The Latvian government said the cull, would take the numbers down to the level which stopped the Classical Swine Fever outbreak back in the mid-90s. Not sure it stopped the disease spread, so much as that is the number that were left after the fever swept through. I must admit to highlighting the problem of high numbers as a disease risk in my thesis and my report did go to the ministry about two years ago. Obviously it did not have an effect, as it took an incidence of the outbreak to stimulate action. It also highlights what motivates the government. The small farmers around here do not earn much, but keep their communities alive, that is not enough to stimulate action in itself, the threat of court at the European Court of Human Rights level was enough to stimulate changing the law, but not to tackling the numbers of wild boar. It takes the threat to major exports to stimulate that.

Just because you can't have too many pictures of gorgeous
alpacas, especially when there is a cria (baby) around.
Here are all four girls, from left to right, Agnese, Estelle
(often treated as Agnese's playmate since she is only two),
Snowdrop and Veronica
Just another couple of snippets of news. The draft report I finished last week has been finalised and folks are very happy with it. Such a relief. It is the first report I have had to put together for real and not for an assignment, so it is nice that it has gone down well. Since it was written in English, but for Latvians, I tried to make sure it was as simple as possible, without sounding condescending and I think I got the right balance.

Poor Herkules, he has really struggled to get back on form
after his eye infection. His skin looks rather a mess, but it at
least we have got rid of most of the crusty skin and giving
the rest of his skin a chance to heal now. Unfortunately he
started with these nasty pustules on his ears recently, but
the treatment for mites and the oil I think is having an effect.
They were much better in the last few days
Finally just had a visit from our neighbour downstairs, we are leaking into his bathroom, he said. I quickly went downstairs with him to look, then dashed back upstairs to get Ian to look at our plumbing, especially after this weekends near calamity. Ian checked the sink area, nothing, he then started taking the plasterboard off the service area, nothing, completely dry. He went downstairs to have a look himself, still leaking. We thought the neighbour was thinking maybe it is going under the floor, but we know the floor is sealed and all pipework is above the sealed floor, precisely because we don't trust the components. The current theory is it is either coming in from the roof and due to the not so good construction and offset blocks that make up our homes, the water is reaching his place and not affecting us, or it is our neighbour on the other side who has a leak, but he isn't at home at the moment. Oh boy!  Doesn't help that we need to get our friend to talk to him at rather a late hour to try and explain.
A close up of the ear. Like I said, it is getting better. We do
need to find a good way of boosting his immune system
though