Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Happy campers

The swallows have hatched, there are three altogether, but
there are only pictures of two at any one time
 Sorry the blog is late, as I mentioned, we were stacking and re-stacking bales. Trying to find ways of stacking the rather soft bales we have this year. We don't know if it is just the lack of long stalks in the hay this year or something wrong with the baler or combination of the two. We still have one field left to cut but we need to wait again for a good forecast. The weather's not bad, just not enough dry days in a row and they still keep changing their minds. Baling has been a long winded affair this year and at least round three is now complete. We had to quickly get all the stuff under some sort of cover before the rain - sounds familiar? The heat was dreadful though and with high humidity - it was 35C (95F), 48C (118F) in the sun. At least this baling has meant i have now dropped about 6lbs or close to 3kg. Don't worry I have been drinking plenty, but you should see me shift a 30kg bale of hay these days. Sometimes I just felt too tired to lift them, but towards the end I was throwing them up into the trailer, because I just wanted to get the job done and I think I must have been running on adrenaline. One of the ways I have been keeping my temperature down is to dunk my shirt in the pond and let the evaporation cool me down. At least I know when it was getting critical and made sure I at least wet my head with water if necessary, as well as drinking plenty, rather than over cook. Also slow and steady means I can keep going for a long time.
Looking a little worse for a night out on the razzle I think 
Our official or not quite so official campsite
We had few visitors this week and the village fair to spice up life. Our first visitors camped for a couple of days. When my friend first mentioned camping I said yes and thought "fine, we have plenty of grass", but when it came down to it, we have plenty of grass, but not much is on the flat. In the end we put them next to the greenhouse, as that area has been levelled. Some areas are flat, but haven't been cut, are too exposed, or prone to being inexplicably damp. Must think about that for future reference, as it will be great to have visitors camping out. It was rather hot during the day though and so part of the day was spent chasing the shadow around the caravan to stay cool. We still had work to do with the hay, but it was nice to come back to a bit of company and one night we had a barbecue.
Having tractor driving instructions before turning a bit of
hay for us
Our happy camper Pene picking red
Another visitor was my supervisor/friend. He came to see the village fair with his wife and was greatly amused that I introduced him as my supervisor, but then that is what I call him when I am talking about my studies to my friends and so now people can put a face to the person. It is difficult to know how to introduce someone who I knew before I started studying in Tartu anyway. I was a little hesitant when he rang to arrange to come and see us, as we still had to collect bales of hay. We decided to at least show our faces at the fair, to at least appear sociable, but then planned on being busy in the afternoon and so I felt a little torn between entertaining visitors and getting jobs done. He made the job easier and said he would help. We got some stuff done, but it was so hot, we didn't get all the bales collected. Being from farming stock though was useful, he explained how they stacked round bales and we are giving it a try, well sort of. He suggested arranging them in a circle, but we don't have enough or a big enough tarp for a full circle, but we used an arc of bales to hopefully make the stacks a little more secure than they have been. When we started building it though, it reminded me of a yurt and set my mind thinking. Maybe we could build a temporary hay house? The other job he helped us with was shearing one of the sheep, the other two though did their customary getting over the fence job and escaped. No amount of enticing them got them back in. I am thinking of putting these sheep, or at least the worst culprit in the freezer, after they have produced some well behaved lambs. I can hope! It does help to see how someone does it, as it is the handling we weren't sure about.
I picked this little lot off our kale. The caterpillars started
hatching out this week too. I guess we have got away lightly
so far this year on the pest front.
Another surprise visitor and this one saw us heading for the
internet to find out what it was. It looks lethal. It's about
ten centimetres long, so not a little fella. We think it is
some kind of diving beetle nymph. We have some quite
large diving beetles in the pond and so that would seem to
make sense. Sometimes these things can be top predators in
a pond and I can see why.
We had another visitor today, a rather unexpected one. Ian was out on his own today and heard a commotion amongst the chickens. They were running everywhere for cover, some into the forest, some into the chicken house and he thought he saw one of the chickens sitting by the alpaca house. Ian got out of the caravan and went down to take a look. He heard some noise in the alpaca house and so Ian crept down and stood in the doorway, one chicken was still inside and making a bit of a noise, next thing Ian knew was an osprey flew out of the door and over his head. He instinctively reached up to grab it, fortunately he didn't get it, he was laughing later that he wouldn't have known what to do with it if he had caught it as he was wearing a t-shirt and no thick gloves to handle birds of prey. He thinks it must be a young one as it didn't seem as big as some that fly around. Ian shut the chickens in the chicken house, but one of our chickens has wanderlust and wasn't there unbeknown to him. We moved another chicken down to the chicken house recently, because she seemed to be getting broody and putting the other chickens in her ark off laying and we put another cockerel in there to see if he would be any good at protecting the hens - he isn't, but it does mean that Ian has lost count with how many should have been in there. About half an hour later as Ian was getting ready to put the animals away one of the chickens we call Black tail was by chicken house, and he saw her run into the alpaca house, a few minutes later the alpacas ran out of the alpaca house, next thing Ian sees is the osprey flying out from around the door, he can't be sure if it was inside with the alpacas or not but it does prove those boys are not very good guard alpacas. It does mean the chickens will be shut inside again for a few days. Good job it is a big airy house for 8 chickens.
Agnese is about two months now and still cute
Sorry I don''t know what this one is
called, so if you know, then please
post a comment
Over the last month we've had small but regular damage from the wild boar and of course it is always a worry, as my regular followers will know, when it comes to autumn and the boar move onto the pasture with a vengeance and chew up the pasture where our animals are eating, so we have made contact with the hunter, to let him know the situation. The hunters will be rather twitchy at the moment as the African Swine Fever outbreak is spreading and our area has too many wild boar, which of course increases the risk of the disease. That means they will be rather anxious to deal with the problem and it will help to know where they are. At least that is the theory I'm working on. Must admit as well, the wild boar was another reason for getting our friends to pitch their camp next to the greenhouse as we've never had pig damage there. I do assume that wild boar will avoid any campers, as their sense of smell is good, but I wouldn't like to test the theory on anyone.
I didn't get a photo of eight of them following the tractor
but here are some local storks who were looking for a snack
of frogs, moles and mice disturbed by the hay turner

At last a plant I do know the name of, Scabious. Not a
pretty name for a pretty plant that I spent so many
fruitless years trying to grow in the UK. 
Last week I mentioned that I had blogged on another blog site about farmers needing to have a conversation with scientists and this week a publication by some scientists using statistics is a classic example. It was an article on the BBC called "Beef environment cost 10 times that of other livestock" (what a dreadful headline, it doesn't even make sense). I feel it was a poor piece of research with far too many assumptions made and I wasn't the only one to think that. A re-post on the Farming Futures site that I had posted to the other week highlighted the more nuanced situation of the beef industry in the UK. Not all meat is produced in feeding lots, more is grass fed there. It certainly is around here in Latvia. If there are any industrial style farms they are more likely to be much further south of me. The research suggested that beef fed on supplements in beef holding lots are more environmentally damaging than any other source of protein. Probably correct. There was no accounting for the waste products they produce and what happens to that waste product though. Does that contribute to their pollution or feed into a biogas unit and has that been taken into account. Was the beef grass fed? Is the beef from cows that have been properly rotated through fields that are not suitable for arable? Have the cows been integrated into a system to build up soil quality, because if they have, then the amount of carbon the soil will absorb increases significantly. In other words these scientists need to stop making conclusions based on statistics and get out into the fields and see what actually happens and talk to the farmers from different areas and types of farming. Farming is not just one system, it has many expressions.
The old sheep shelter still stands. It looks rather romantic
amongst the trees there

Monday, 28 July 2014

Baled out

Sorry I was stacking and re-stacking hay today in 35C (95F) heat and high humidity, so I'm too bushed to post much. I will promise to update tomorrow, but here is a picture of a flower from our land to compensate. I'm not sure what it is called yet, so if you know then please leave a comment..

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
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
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