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The Crush, the Pond and the Hothouse

Phase 1 of Operation Crush Training is now complete.

The hard standing is down, the fence and gate erected and the cattle crush in place. Next, it’s time for the girls to come through, lured as usual with their favourite thing – food. I close the gate, leaving them behind it and a pile of hay in the new corral. The only thing which separates them from their hearts desire is the crush. After some nervous sniffing they gingerly step onto the boards. It all goes very well and I’m relieved. Now they are like old hands at coming in and out of the crush.

Next phase…trapping them inside it… gulp. I will keep you posted.

Traditional English Hereford Heifers d

The Slow Approach

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush

Mary Rose keenest (on hay)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush

Next is Belita (surprisingly)

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush

Come on Lucy

Traditional English Hereford & Cattle Crush

That’s it good girl

Traditional English Hereford &

Very happy

And just to show you how much they really like hay…

Traditional Eglish Herefords

Tucking into T’s hay which he is transporting home

Traditional English Hereford

Yes, caught you!

Phase 1 of Pond Rehabilitation is now complete.

We had the pond dug out with a digger a few years ago. It doesn’t have a liner but fluctuates with the water table. While I was moaning about the relentless rain here I happened to go on Twitter (yes, I’m doing that) and found out that yesterday it was World Water Day so I tried to think of all the people and places in the world who have no access to clean water and are suffering terrible drought. It did help.

I think I mentioned that digging the pond had somewhat cured our damp problem in the house. Somewhat…. Our plan is to attract as much wildlife as possible and the pond really helps with this. The birds love to bathe and drink and there are hundreds of creatures in there. Periodically it does need a clear out and I did this a couple of weeks ago. My, that weed is HEAVY. There were a few casualties but I’m afraid that is the price which has to be paid – but the starlings and the blackbirds had themselves a good feed.

Natural Pond

The pond when it was first dug – very brave very pale man

Wildlife Pond www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comPond Weed Clearing

Wildlife Pond in Rain

The pond on World Water Day 22 March 2013

Starlings in Winter

Not sure when the starlings will fly back – it’s pretty cold in Russia and Northern Europe right now

Phase 1 of Getting Excited about Spring is now complete.

Despite the still wintry weather there is a gleam in the eye of springs’ arrival. The equinox has passed and the buds are waking and breaking. Last week on a bitter day I went with my mother and stepfather to the RHS garden at Wisley. To be honest the majority of our time was spent in one of the cafés and the gift shop where they have ACRES of lovely enticing books on horticulture, design, nature and landscape.

I bought a book called Edgelands written by two poets, Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts which I’m really looking forward to – it forms, according to the back cover

a critique of what we value as wild, and allows our allotments, railways, motorways, wasteland and water a presence in the world, and a strange beauty all of their own

If you want to read about a walk in the edgelands Gerry has done one here called ‘Along the Garston Shore’ which I think is great – and tells you a bit more about the book and when the phrase was first coined.

Anyway, we also went to the warm glass houses where the orchids and other amazing flowers and cacti were an uplifting treat.

MarchA2013 033compressed MarchA2013 011compressed MarchA2013 014compressed MarchA2013 024compressed MarchA2013 027compressed MarchA2013 031compressed MarchA2013 010compressed MarchA2013 008compressed Glass House RHS Wisley www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMarchA2013 036compressed MarchA2013 035compressed

It only needs the jet stream to shift a little and some of that spring warmth to awaken the beast!


Jobs Getting Done Frogs Getting Busy

There’s always a slow period in winter when necessary renewal needs to occur at a fundamental level. A kind of hibernation. I find that living close to the land it’s easier to get a sense of this.

Does anyone else feel like this dormouse?   (No, not you, you southern hemispherans…)


But jobs still need to be done.

The incredible amount of rain we’ve experienced over the last year has not made things easy.

Drip on branch

Very drippy.

However, in the last couple of weeks a few projects have started to get underway.


Digging out the corral and filling with crushed stone to make hard standing instead of quagmire.

Cattle corrall near completion

The small gap to the left of the gate is where the crush will go.

Hedge cutting winter 2013

Hedge cutting before the nesting season. We cut ours every two years to allow the animals and birds a chance.

I also move the cows to the Triangle Field to graze down the grass there. It’s only just across from the Cow Field so I hope it’s going to be pretty straightforward. I get some sheep hurdles at our local farmers shop which provide, along with a couple of cars, a corridor to the Triangle Field.

They follow the bale of hay quite obediently (I make sure there is a long interval since their last feed) until H’s dog gives an excited little bark which sends Belita (the nervy shy one) careering back into the Cow Field. She then becomes very distressed at being separated from the others and runs up and down the boundary on the other side. H rounds her up and I keep the other two from escaping while calling her name at the same time.

Gratifyingly, she is following the sound of my voice and then H says I should show my face to her (she’s a vet so she knows the ways of animals well) so I leave the gate closed on the others and go towards her. As soon as she sees me she comes running and lets me guide her into the new field. And very glad to be reunited with Lucy and Mary-Rose.

They are all quite excited by the abundance of grass and after a few high kicks get down to munching, moving excitedly from place to place as if they both can’t quite believe it or get enough, snatching mouthfuls from each sweet patch. This is before they realise that there is no shelter in this field. They have now been out in the open for a couple of weeks. They really don’t like the rain on their backs.

But I am very pleased that Belita trusted me enough to come with me. This is definitely progress.

H manages to capture the moment on her phone

H manages to capture the moment on her phone

Traditional Hereford Heifers Lying Down

The girls taking advantage of some morning sun after a hard night

Traditional Hereford Heifers in Hedge

This is where they try and shelter from the rain.

I also went over to T & N’s where I was able to catch up with Herald, our bull. Unfortunately he got lice, possibly brought with him from the other farm, which has left him a bit patchy but it’s all been treated now. T says he is very good natured and doesn’t mind a stroke.

Moose, their gentle shire horse whom they rescued when they found her in very bad shape in a field not far from them a few years ago, towers above all the others. She is definitely the top four-legged-hooved-animal in the pecking order here.

Shire horse with cows

Moose, Daisy & Herald (looking very small!)

Traditional Hereford eating Hay

They really like hay

Traditional Hereford Bull

Aw look at that face…

Shire Horse with Yurt

Moose leads the way

Before this current sweep of arctic air the temperature was unseasonably warm for a few days ( = more rain). This has confused the frogs and the tulips. There was much croaking from the pond and when I went out in the middle of the night there were lots of frogs congregating for a bout of procreating. The pond is now full of spawn.  The tulips are poking their heads out too.

Frogs mating in pond

Frog spawn

New Tulip Shoots

I only hope it doesn’t freeze in the next couple of months.

Rhythm and Ritual, Feeding Cows & Birds & Humans made this

It’s been almost a fortnight since the pastry was all rolled out, the decorations put back in their box and the festival holly crackled its last breath in the fire. Eager footsteps to the postbox have been replaced with a slow trudge in anticipation of the tax return demand, bank statements and catalogues for work wear.

While of immense significance to us, our celebratory feasts and festivals have absolutely no impact on the cycle of daily life for the cows. For them, the sun rises and sets in what I imagine is part of a reliably certain chain of events which mark their time. And usually at roughly the same point on this light changing scale, someone will come and give them some hay. So they come to know the routine and are found waiting and lingering near the hay shed just before sundown.

And the ritual of feeding them has brought a steady rhythm to my days too. Usually I look forward to it but sometimes I might think I’m in a hurry, my schedule is tight, or I’ve got too much to do or the mud is too sticky or it’s raining too hard. Then I have to dredge deep to find some enthusiasm for the chore.

Muddy Lane Cornwall

I walk up the road towards the cow field which is on the opposite side of our lane, head down, hood up, hands in pockets, waterproofs rustling, eyes squinting. I open the gate. I hear the snap of the clip on the chain and see the curve of the iron hook which keeps the gate in place. By now resistance to the chore is receding of its own accord.

This is what I do.

I feed the cows.

Gate Hook Cornwall

The smell of summer is tightly packed into the slender dry stalks as I shake the hay free from its pink stringed prison, grassily sweet as I release the stiff segments. I can almost feel the buzz and heaviness of those brief days of heat back in August, the rows of cut grass, deep and still moist underneath, the sweat underneath my straw hat as I turn it with a pitchfork at the edges of the field where the tractor has missed.

But reflections quickly fade as the cows come running, jostling around in excitement before settling down to a steady munching. For me this is the best time and I stand around talking to them, all other concerns temporarily suspended. Both Lucy and Mary-Rose are easy to approach now and don’t mind a stroke, though Lucy is by far the most tolerant and dare I say it, may even like my attentions. Belita is still incredibly nervous though yesterday she didn’t run away entirely as I reached out to her shoulder, preferring instead an irritated shrug and a mistrustful glare.

Traditional Herefords eating hay

By the time I leave them I always feel calmer and wonder what my hurry or hungry intentions were all about. It takes me out of myself and lands me in the present moment, and reminds me that it is the rituals of everyday life which are the balm and rhythm of the soul.

Something else to be savoured is watching the birds on the feeders and round about. To date we’ve seen Long Tailed Tits, Coal Tits, Robins, Blackbirds, Song Thrush, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Nuthatch, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Jackdaw, Wren, Blue Tits, Great Tits, Sparrows, Bullfinch and Starlings. I also found a dead Goldcrest in the barn during the cold snap, it was extremely small.

My favourite is the Nuthatch with its neat compact body of grey and pink and its upside down wanderings along the peanut feeder. Most of my pictures have been rubbish so I’m borrowing one.



Bird Feeding Station

The Feeding Station – a lot more birds normally!

Every day at sundown while the cows are being fed, the starlings fly down the valley in large groups and sometimes settle in the trees nearby on a temporary stop before they make their way to the huge roost on Bodmin Moor. This spectacle is worth a post in itself so I will get up there soon.

Starlings in Winter trees

Starlings in Flight


And then there’s the regular appearance of the vegetable box.

Which doesn’t fill me with quite as much joy as the other things. I try, I really do. But after all, just what are you going to do with a whole lot more carrots, cauliflower and parsnips – those seasonal wonders of rooty and brassical loveliness?

I did a job the other day…

In amongst moments like…

Our friend M welding the gate hinge which has been broken for years. Thank you. Hurrah.

Farm Gate Hinge

Through the Farm Gate www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comOur friend R bringing round some cucumbers from his polytunnel. Thank you. Yum, raita, tzatziki.

Cucumbers on Board

Seeing for the first time the cows using their shelter. Happy.

Traditional Herefords in Shed

Admiring the recycled rubber tyre feeders I bought from the farm shop. Threes, I love them.

Recycled Rubber Tyre Feeders

Traditional English Herefords Feeding  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comWondering when we’ll ever get that chestnut fencing done. One day.

Chestnut Fencing Stakes

Feeling sorry for a grasshopper who was desperate to get warm on the front step. Life and death.

Grasshopper on Slate

And just revelling in this shaft of sunlight that fell on the hay. Beautiful.

Shaft of Sunlight on Hay

…I did actually mend the blockhouse roof. It’s called the blockhouse because it’s built from concrete blocks. There are quite a few farm buildings and a clear naming delineation is crucial – otherwise you can find yourself run ragged looking for that piece of wire mesh, remember? (no)

It’s attached to the shippen (Cornish name for a cow barn) and is really very ugly. I had plans for its demise until we realised that any dry space is essential. You’ve got to remember that we live in a place where you get a fine coating of mould on a leather bag if you leave it in the corner of a room for longer than a month or two – and that’s in the house.

Anyway, time to introduce you to Farmers Friend – tar paint. We discovered a while back that painting strips of newspaper with it and layering it like papier mache created a totally waterproof skin. This was when we were living in the bale house during renovations – a straw bale box, clad in plywood, attached to a caravan. To link the two B used this method and it was brilliant. It allowed for a bit of movement between the two structures and we only had to replenish it in one place in eight years.

The blockhouse has had some holes in the corrugated iron roof for a while but now we want to make it more watertight as we are clearing out the shippen for the cows and some of the accumulated stuff will live in here. Very excited that the shippen will be used for its traditional purpose once again.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

All set

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

Paint area, cover with newspaper strip.

Mending Roof with Tar Paint

Paint over with Tar Paint

Roof mended with Tar Paint and Newspaper


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