Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Warming up

It feels as though I have spent the last week or so doing nothing but feed things and deliver water to replace the last lot of water that froze.
And trying to keep warm, of course.

It takes a few days to get habituated to the snow and develop a new routine.
It is the same every year. I always forget just how cold this house can be with its rubble-filled stone walls and undersized boiler, or at least until the wood stove and central heating have been going full-blast for a few hours and the benefits of the large thermal mass eventually start to make themselves felt. R had some incredibly unfeasible ideas about how to insulate the house, most of which were vetoed by me on the grounds of a) cost, b) loss of internal floor space or c) general bizarreness. On the other hand, when I think back to our first couple of winters here and how uncomfortable they were, I am very grateful for most of the improvements he did organise, like the beautiful new windows or the rather more prosaic repointing of the stonework so the walls no longer run with condensation in the cold weather.

But despite the improvements, it is still a cold house and I forget how many clothes I need to wear when the temperature drops below zero; for the first few days I am constantly cold with even more frigid feet. Then more and more garments are gradually added until I reach a balance between staving off hypothermia and actually being able to move.

Having reached this balance, it was a small surprise when the temperature rose drastically on Saturday and a short thaw set in.
That gave me an opportunity to get over to see my Mum and take her to do a bit of shopping. The negotiations of the Summer sadly came to nothing, and she has decided that she doesn't want to move for the time being. Which is entirely her decision, of course, but does make life difficult for both her and the rest of the family as she is now dependent on infrequent public transport after giving up her car earlier this year. It also doesn't help when she tells me that she fell over in the road while going to visit a friend a few days ago. Fortunately she got away with a sore wrist and bruised hip, but it could have been so much worse.
At what point do we take over the baton from our parents and start worrying about them, rather than the other way around?

The slightly warmer weather also allowed me to get a few jobs done outside on Sunday, like cleaning out the henhouses and sorting out the woodpile. I also needed to ear tag the two ram lambs prior to taking them to the You Know Where today. The lambs are still quite small, having only been born in June, so I decided to keep the ewe lambs until next spring. The boys had to go, however, as they were still intact and I am unable to keep them separate from the ewes. I want to give the ewes a rest next year and not put them to the ram again as they were still lactating up to a couple of months ago, and it doesn't seem fair to get them in lamb again so soon afterwards.

This is an ongoing problem I have with the male lambs.

***Look away now if you are at all squeamish***

It is not the first issue that comes to mind when you start keeping sheep, but eventually if you are going to have lambs, then at some point you have to think about castrating the rams! There are essentially three choices. Do it within the first week using a delightfully-named Elastrator, which applies a rubber band to the scrotum so that the testicles eventually wither away and drop off - just like the tail does if you decide to dock (which I don't, as I don't seem to have a lot of problems with flystrike up here). I haven't yet managed to use this device successfully, and R was never any help as all he would do was to hold the lambs with his eyes shut, refusing to look until it was all over! This year, faced with a wiggly ram lamb and no one to help, I completely chickened out and decided to worry about the problem later.

Or you can do the deed just before puberty using the rather mediaeval-sounding "irons", as my neighbour calls them. Only he only offered to show R how to do this and, as is probably obvious from the Elastrator fiasco, his heart wasn't exactly in it, and he never took the neighbour up on the offer. To tell the truth, I was quite relieved as I didn't fancy the idea much myself.

The third alternative is separation. When the lambs come off their mothers, move the boys to a separate field. Which I do not have. And my third little ewe is the result of the unnatural son-and-mother action that was the inevitable outcome of my abject failure to complete any of the above steps successfully!

So this year's ram lambs had to go, and two fewer mouths to feed will make my hay supply last a bit longer.

***It is safe to look again***

After I had finished all my outside chores, it was time to take Moose for a walk. He was in need of a good stretch of the legs, so we went up the road towards the moors, passing the Widow's House on the way. The poor little cottage looks even more desolate and lonely in the snow. Nothing has been done to it for a couple of years now, and I suspect it will just be left to rot. Which is so very sad.

The weekend was a pleasant respite from the cold, but the temperature has dropped ten degrees once more.
Back to chipping out blocks of ice from the water bowls and nursing my chilblains!


  1. Poor J! You seem quite matter of fact about the cold but it must be difficult.

  2. I am fine really, Rose. To tell the truth I am better in the cold than heat. Just fancied a bit of a whinge! At least I don't have to get to work in the mornings - that would really make life difficult.

  3. I enjoy reading your posts as it brings back funny memories here as well. I look after the sheep. They are my "babies", Dearest will have nothing to do with them. I Elastrator my rams and Dearest doesn't watch. Our calves however are castrated, something My husband could never do.It is done when they are about 8 months old, (just weened), with their heads in the metal clamps. It has become my job and Dearest can't do it without crossing his legs! I use the metal crunchers.Once the crunch noise hits he his doubled over in pain for the beasts. I have learned to do it without him. Better all way around. Now polling a cow.........another story all together. I am in Canada, -22C this morning with Tundra winds. Adaption for everyone. And yes looking after aged parents is a chore. We are looking after four generations at present.

    Blessings Marlyn

  4. LOL Marlyn. It seems that it is the standard male reaction!