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
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


  1. It is so difficult to keep free ranging chickens safe from predators. I just found one of our hens, killed by a hawk. We have to deal with foxes too. Good luck going forward.

    1. So sorry to hear of your loss Bill. We do have some chickens that are in arks and that makes it easier to stop the problem of predators, but then they need more feed. The free range hens can feed themselves practically during the main part of the year and so it is pros and cons of having them free range.


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