Goatlings

October is on the horizon, the leaves are turning to orange, gold and red. I can hardly believe it has almost been a month since the goatlings arrived.

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Bernie through her gap in the hedge

Goats were not my first choice of new addition to the farm. We have been looking into animals that could help turnover some ‘scrubland’ and make it more suitable for the creation of a micro wildflower meadow. Initially I had thought about getting some pigs .  I ummed and ahhed, read up on housing requirements ,worked out where they could root, and decided pigs probably weren’t right for us at the moment. All of the planning had sparked a desire to expand the number of species we kept here on the farm. A chance discussion with a friend lead to us discovering that C was probably intolerant to cows milk (ironically).We started on a trial of swapping to goats milk to see if it would improve things for her. Within 24 hours of making the change, C was a much happier child. Coincidence or not, the journey towards our own small herd of milking goats had begun.

Don’t get me wrong, this decision was not made lightly, and it certainly wasn’t a spur of the moment ‘lets- go-and-buy-a-goat’ whim. Research was done, books were read, websites consulted. It soon became apparent that having one goat was not an option. They are social creatures, and should be kept together in pairs. I also found out that different breeds produce different amounts of milk. Some will give you enough to fill your milk jug whereas others will give  enough to fill buckets! Toggenburgs seemed like the ideal breed for us. Friendly, amiable goats with an average potential milk production.

Within a few days of starting my hunt I’d found a pair that seemed to fit the bill.  A farmer upcountry was selling his herd of dairy goat , amongst which were two 18 month old goatlings. He was very patient with our various questions and queries, and we decided a trip to see them was in order (with trailer in tow, ‘just in case!’) .

The journey to fetch them went smoothly , although it seemed like it took forever to get there.  Eventually we met the farmer, and after a few extra questions, a quick ‘pre purchase’ examination and the obligatory paperwork we became the owners of our very own herd of dairy goats. As is often the way the return trip was much quicker, and we pulled back onto our yard before night fall. With out any bother we unloaded the goats and settled them in to their new quarters, leaving them in peace to tuck in to their tea.

Despite not having been handled for over 6 months, Amy and Bernadette have settled into life on the farm without any problems. In fact, if Monty Roberts were to see the three of us out and about he would probably agree we have already ‘joined up’. On walks around the fields, we travel in unison. I speed up, they speed up. I stop, they stop.

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join up

When they are grazing they form two points of an invisible triangle whilst I act as  the third. I no longer bother with lead ropes when on our sojourns, as I have learned how far they will go from me.

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Amy does ‘tricks’ for food. Bernie does not.

Ash and sycamore are favoured browse, bramble leaves are an ‘if we must’ snack. Apples are snaffled, and cereal mix is rationed as they would gorge on it if left to their own devices.

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If they could, they most definitely would. And then they’d regret it.

My favourite part of getting to know a new animal is watching their individual personalities unfurl. These two are like chalk and cheese. Amy is gregarious, happy to bask in human company and follows me around like a faithful Labrador. Bernie is fiercely independent. She’ll go, but only when she wants to. The other morning we walked the boundaries of the croft, a  large field above the farmhouse. Bernie found a gap in the hedge, and picked her way to it, snatching mouthfuls of browse as she went. I called her away, and she followed me as I continued the walk. We crossed through into the adjacent field, and Bernie shot off ahead of me, and bounded back through that gap. She knew exactly where it was, and she wanted to cross through it. No amount of cajoling or coaxing could get her back through. In the end I gave up, and started to walk into the middle of the field. Fortunately amy followed, and reluctantly bernied hopped back through the hedge, and joined our train.

Having said that, I do have my uses.As far as Bernie is concerned they are limited to  scratching anywhere she can’t reach and providing food that she can’t reach.

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One of my uses

The eventual goal is to get the girls to milk, which will require them to have kids. I have started looking for a suitable Billy to, erm, ‘enhance’ the herd, and I can’t wait for the pitter patter of yet more tiny hooves. It will mark an exciting new chapter in the farms future. Fresh, pasteurised goats milk anyone?! Not to mention cheese…and soap!!

ANIMALTALES

The state of Nature – A view from the ‘other’ side

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The  2016 State of Nature report, published last week, proved to be a very sobering read.The results clearly show that modern farming practice needs to change and it is in the interest of farmers to do so. If species continue to be lost, if soil continues to erode and rivers continue to flood then farmers will inevitably  do themselves out of a job. If there was a book titled ‘Farming for dummies’ i’m pretty sure they would be a section on how barren, unproductive, infertile soil is bad. Not only has the NFU formally acknowledged the need for change, many ordinary Farmers have taken to social media to show their willingness to implement new or different practices.

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In fact, many farmers are already mindful of protecting and conserving wildlife. Under EU regulations, subsidies have been paid to farmers  partaking in agri-environment schemes for quite some time.  Essentially tax payers have already been paying farmers to manage their land for the good of the environment. An example of one such sustainable land management schemes is Glastir,  which has over 7000 members. Any Welsh farmer that meets the entry requirements  can join up . The scope of the scheme ranges from incentives for Rhododendron removal through to grants for woodland creation, to turning land with an archaeological importance over to permanent grassland. Other similar schemes are already at work within the rest of the UK.

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Through this enviro-centric approach to farming many beneficial changes to the Welsh countryside have been made since the scheme started 4 years ago. These include the creation of over 310km of streamside corridor, the repair and creation of more than 260km of hedgerow as well as reductions in fertiliser and pesticide usage.

On paper these schemes seem to be an ideal solution, with measures that  aim to make managing farmland with nature in mind easy and beneficial to all concerned. So why are farmland species in such dire straits? The final uptake report for Glastir may hold some clues. According to one of its surveys the main reasons for farmers not participating were

a) They had no spare land left as all suitable areas had been used with previous schemes.

b) The application process was too complicated.

c) They were unaware of the scheme and the grants available.

d) They did not meet the eligibility criteria.

Food for thought for any future creation of environmentally friendly agricultural schemes. If its off putting from the get go, it will not work. If its easy and straightforward then it is a more attractive prospect.

Some farmers may also be wary of enrolling productive land in long term conservation management in case the scheme becomes obsolete. Once the land is taken out of farming, whether it is arable or grassland, and used for another purpose it cannot easily be returned to its previous use. For instance conifer plantations planted by UK farmers in the 50’s and 60’s are only now maturing, but are no longer encouraged by conservationists.

Another point to note may be the current financial situation faced by a large section of the farming community. Dairy farming has suffered over recent years, with many family farms being forced to make the ultimate decision of selling their animals, land and even their homes.  There are still bills to be paid -Veterinary bills, purchase of animal feed and medicines, paying staff, maintaining and updating equipment – it soon adds up. For people who are working extremely hard to produce something that is at present worth less than the cost of production concentrating on how to reintroduce newts to their farm pond may fall at the very bottom of their ‘to do’ list. Not necessarily because they don’t want to (although I’m not naïve enough to think all farmers are wildlife lovers) but because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day or money in the bank.

You could argue that ‘rewilding’ and agri-environment schemes will offer opportunities to increase the potential income of a farmer, and indeed paying a farmer to do something he or she probably knows will benefit themselves and the wider world seems like an ideal solution.But as we have seen with the Glastir scheme, this isn’t always a sufficient reason to sign up. Clearly voluntary subsidised schemes are not enough, and subsidised mandatory requirements  may be a better approach. I guess we will have to wait and see.

Another thing that is bothering me is the amount of blame being laid at the door of ordinary farmers. Again, farming practices may have caused some species to decline in number and in certain cases whole habitats (meadows) have been lost. Traditional farming practices, harking back to the days of horse and plough and Poldark-esque scything, were abandoned after the end of the second world war. Lets examine why. To put it simply, post war Europe was a very hungry place. In order to feed the masses of hungry mouths new and ‘improved’ farming techniques were implemented to make farming more efficient and productive. The slow trudge of man behind horse and plough was superseded by the speed and greater horse power of tractors. In the modernisation and mechanisation of agriculture man-made habitats such as Meadows were left behind, deemed inefficient practice by the powers that be. The policy makers of the day, along with subsequent generations of politicians , incentivised the mass production of cheap, affordable food, a legacy that remains today. Farmed produce, whether it is organic, extensive or intensively farmed is undervalued . Farming as a profession is overlooked and underpaid. As a result, nature has suffered.

 

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The values on this have changed recently, but farmers are still making a loss.

 

Most of the debate that has been fuelled by the publishing of this report has centred around  farmland habitats. However this was only a few pages of the report. It is undeniable that agriculture has been a major player in habitat and species loss but if we  only focusing on reshaping this habitat there will still be others that are suffering. 58% of species in Coastal habitats have declined, and 15% of coastal species are at risk of extinction. This is thought to be due to development  in these areas and degradation due to recreational activities (e.g loss of dunes to golf courses). 11% of woodland species are at risk of extinction as are 13% of freshwater and wetland species. It is clear that energy and discussion about our plan of attack needs to be directed across a range of habitats.thnfs9k6bl

Fortunately the report is not all doom and gloom, and there is more than a faint whiff of hope. Some species have flourished in recent years. Woodpigeons populations on farmland have increased due to changes in Autumnal crops. Creation of English and Welsh reedbeds have enabled bitterns to bounce back from 11 males in 1970 to 156 in 2015. Introduction of specific legislations have allowed some bat species to recover. Marine species have increased by 62% since the 70s. All of which are testament to the power of the armies of people dedicated to saving, protecting and restoring our natural world. It is with absolute certainty that farmers should take their place amongst the teams of people trying to turn the tide against species loss. After all, as Robin Milton, winner of the Farming and Wildlife Advisory groups’ Bronze otter award, said “hundreds of years’ worth of experience in management of the natural environment must be of some value”.

 

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Hopeful message from the BTO

 

 

 

Spiced Apple Chutney

We are definitely in ‘glut’ territory with late summer/Autumn fruits on the farm at the moment. There are apples everywhere! Yesterday a very kind, well meaning relative arrived at the kitchen door bearing gifts of…yet more apples! I smiled politely and took them, not wanting to offend, whilst thinking  ‘what on earth am I going to do with all of these?’ Of course, there is plenty to be done. For a start, chutney. The recipe I used was loosely based on that of the original Queen of cooking, Mrs Beeton. I made a few substitutions, and cut the quantities down. My version made 2 large jam jars worth.

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Ingredients:

500ml apple cider or pickling vinegar.

1kg peeled and cored apples

1 small white onion

250g sultanas

150g caster sugar (can use granulated)

150g soft brown sugar

Preferred spices – I used 1/2 tsp cumin, 1/2 tsp cinnamon, 1/2tsp ginger, 1/2 tsp spice mix.

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Other things to remember: Stainless steel pan, jars, wax lids, labels

Start by cleaning and sterilising the jars. I have a mix of ‘special’ preserving jars, and bog standard recycled jam jars. Wash in warm soapy water, rinse then place on a tray in the oven at 120C.

Next dice the apples and peel and chop the onion.

Place the apples, onions and sultanas into the pan.

Add the sugar and spice, along with the vinegar. Stir well and bring to the boil.

Allow to simmer on a medium heat for approx. 1 hour until reduced.

At this point you need to make sure you stir continuously to ensure the chutney doesn’t catch and burn.

Pour into the prepared jars.

If you are using wax sheets over the chutney, you can use more than one, overlapping to give a neat appearance.

Wipe around the inside of the jar with a damp cloth. This will remove any stray chutney and prevent the vinegar from reacting with the metal lid.

Stand back and admire your handywork!

Unfortunately, the chutney takes about a month to mature for around a month. You can eat it sooner if you really can’t wait, but it will taste much ‘mellower’ if it is left for a bit! Use within 6 months, but I doubt it will hang around much once you open the jar!

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In search of Choughs

This morning I had a whole hour to myself, in between nursery drop offs. I was at a loss as to what to do, which is usually what happens when I find myself alone without my mini sidekicks. The day seemed nice enough, and on a whim I decided to dash to Marloes. I figured I had just enough time to get there and have a quick scout about for Choughs before returning to pick up JoJo.

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I follow the road that leads west out from town , past the supermarket, along through the housing estates until the bungalows began to give way to countryside again. Eventually the road narrowed, as most Pembrokeshire coastal roads do, until it became a single track. As the fields whizzed past and the horizon became more sky and sea than land it began to feel a bit like I was driving to the ‘edge of the world’

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I paused by a gateway to let a tractor pass. Looking through I could see that only a few feet of arable land lay between me, the edge of the cliff tops and ultimately the sea crashing below.

The car park was already filling up, and being poor and on the dregs of maternity pay I couldn’t afford it anyway. I slipped past and continued down to the Fisherman’s cottage, tucking the car neatly behind a row of other penny pinchers.

A small party were waiting on the jetty for the boat to Skomer, and several tankers filled the bay. This is usually a sign of bad weather out to sea, and sure enough there were several black clouds hanging ominously far on the horizon.

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From the Fishermans cottage the coastal path crosses a small stream, and follows a gentle slope up hill. As a reward for this short climb, you are greeted by this view (and, on days like today, the full force of any wind blowing in land).

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Standing a few feet from the cliff edge you can watch the waves crashing against the  pebble beaches below. These little coves often serve as refuge for seals, and it is not unusual to spot a pup,  white fur gleaming against the grey rock, waiting for its mum to return from feeding. Today was not the day to lean over the precipice to take a closer look.The wind threatened to knock me clean off my feet, and the edges of the path look a lot more eroded than I remember them to be.

 

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Is there a pup in this photo??!

To me the Pembrokeshire coast line is quite a magical place. Here you can see the full power of Nature at her best and worst. The full force of the wind, unimpeded by land for thousands of miles, blows away any everyday worries. Everything mundane suddenly pales and shrinks against the backdrop of this great, unpredictable swirling body of water.

 

Turning right I headed back inland, hoping against hope to spy the glossy black feathers and unmistakeable bright red beak of the Chough. Today is not my day. The wind is fierce, and nothing much is flying, appart from some gulls riding the thermals.

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Trying not to feel too disappointed I focused my attention on the ground beneath my feet. The headland is covered in spongy grass and moss, which cushions my steps. Here and there prickles of gorse add height to the flora, whilst splashes of Purple heather add colour.

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I knelt to get a better look, and notice a small black ground beetle scurrying and scrambling amongst the grass stems.

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As I made my way back to the car something caught my ear. A shrill insistent ‘seep seep’ cuts across the sound of waves and wind, and a small flock of songbirds burst from  cover and rise above me, a flash of gold, red and green zipping through the air, before coming to land on a furze bush. Goldfinch? But they are too fast and too far away for me to tell for sure.

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I reached the kissing gate and made my way past another group getting ready for the trip out to sea. They are kitted out in t shirts and thin field trousers, with backpacks full to burst with necessities for an island stay. I smiled, slightly pleased to not be the only one still clinging on to a summer wardrobe. The Chough hunt will have to recommence another day, as I had precisely 10 minutes to make the 20 minute return journey to nursery!

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Tick Awareness

What are ticks?

Ticks are ectoparasites, which means they live on the outside of a host animal. They are ‘haematophages’; they like to eat blood. When it comes to finding a meal ticks aren’t particularily choosy, and will feed off dogs, cats, humans,livestock and wild animals.

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Once they have attached themselves to their host they feed until they are engorged and then drop off.

The Big Tick Awareness project was launched last year. Run by the University of Bristol this study enlisted  the help of veterinary clinics, owners and pets to shed light on the spread of ticks and tick borne disease in the UK. Of the thousands of dogs that participated, 1 in 3 dogs were found to be carrying a tick. They also produced a map showing the risk of ticks across the UK. The results are astounding -Ticks really are everywhere!

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      Map showing tick risk areas in the UK.               Picture credit : Big Tick Project

Traditionally ticks like to lurk in areas with bracken, long grass and woody areas. Urban dogs with little access to these areas were considered less likely to be at risk. The big tick project has shown this is no longer the case. Ticks are now widespread across the UK, with the study showing little difference between infestation risk in Urban or Rural pets. City parks

Why worry about ticks?

If you’ve ever had the misfortune to be bitten by a tick, you’ll know it isn’t a pleasant experience. Apart from the irritation factor and swelling around the bite site, ticks can also carry diseases which pose a risk to both human and animal health.

Tick borne diseases:

Lymes disease (also known as Boreliosis): This is a bacterial infection that can affect people and their dogs. In dogs signs of this illness include lameness, stiffness and swollen joints, fever, loss of appetite and lethargy. Sometimes it can even result in kidney failure.

The symptoms in humans include a fever and flu like aches and pains. It can also cause joint, heart and nerve damage.

Babesiosis is an emerging problem in the UK, with an outbreak occurring earlier this year in Harlow, Essex. It is caused by a protozoal parasite, Babesia canis. Signs of infection include red urine, pale gums, jaundice (yellowing of the whites of the eye), fever. It can be life threatening.

There are treatments available for these diseases, but recovery may be a long, slow process. As such, it is much better to try and avoid getting bitten by a tick in the first place.

How do I know if my dog has a tick?

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Tick’s swell after feeding and are much easier to spot. Photo from www.bigtickproject.co.uk

Examine your pet regularly. Start by  checking around your pet’s face, ears and legs for any lumps, before moving on to the rest of their body. This can take a while, especially if your dog is large or very hairy!

If you find a lump, have a closer inspection. It is important to distinguish between ticks and other lumps such as skin tags or warts. If you look really closely you will be able to see the ticks legs close to the skin.

Ticks are easier to spot when they are swollen after having a meal, and in the early stages may be as small as a poppy seed! Hopefully you won’t find any, other times there may be a single tick, or several. One dog in the 2015 Big Tick Project had 200 individuals removed!

What do I do if I find a tick?

Don’t panic!

You need to remove the tick ASAP, as transmission of disease from an infected tick may take place within the first 24-48 hours. If you feel confident in doing this, great! But don’t worry if you don’t, ask your vet or vet nurse for help. They will be happy to assist.

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Tick remover

The easiest, safest way to take a tick off is by using a tool specially made for the job. These can be found online, at your vets or pet shops. They are relatively cheap and designed to hook around the tick’s body and then detach the tick by twisting. This technique avoids leaving bits of the tick attached to your pet. Leaving mouthparts can result in painful swellings or infection.

Avoid using tweezers to grasp or squeeze the tick. This can cause it to release saliva  and potentially pass on any disease it is carrying to your pet. Likewise, don’t try to burn a tick or pull it off.

How do I prevent ticks from biting my dog?

As the saying goes ‘prevention is better than cure’!  Talk to your vet and get advice on which product will suit you and your dog. Thanks to the wonders of science there are many different tick prevention methods available, including spot on solutions, collars and chewable tablets. More information can also be found here and here.

 

 

Review: Kozi Kidz waterproofs

At the farm upon the hill we lead a very outdoor lifestyle. Come rain, sun, snow, whatever the weather C and JoJo usually go outside to play at least once a day. They behave better when they’ve had the chance to run,jump and scramble about in the fresh air. Living in Pembrokeshire also means we aren’t too far from the beach, and when the back garden gets a bit boring we can head off to one of our favourite sandy spots.

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The seeeeeeaaa!

 

This week we had an impromptu visit to Newgale.

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Newgale on a nice day!

 

The girls were super excited, but when we pulled into the car park my heart sank. The waves were massive and the wind was driving sea spray right up the beach. Not much fun when the girls were dressed for sunny, warm weather. Then I realised that the bag of new Wet Wednesday waterproof gear I’d bought at the Pembrokeshire show was still in the car.

JoJo had a berry coloured Kozi Kidz Nalle Softpile Fleece All in One. C had a new striped Kozi Kidz Koster Unlined Rain Jacket . I was thrilled to also receive a pair of Kozi Kidz Dungarees from the Wet Wednesdays to team with the new jacket I’d bought C .

I really love the clothing stocked by Wet Wednesdays. The Scandinavian designs are bright, fun and highly practical. They really do let kids enjoy the outdoors whatever the weather has to offer.As a farm vet, lover of nature and mum of one puddle jumper and one mud seeking baby I know the importance of good quality waterproofs. I also know how awkward they can be to get on a baby or toddler. This really isn’t the case with the Kozi Kidz range .

JoJo’s all in one had built in hand and feet covers so no fighting to get it on. It also means avoiding the need for gloves in cold weather, and  hands can come out to get stuck into play when necessary!

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C’s jacket suits her personality perfectly! She loved putting her hood up, and doing up the poppers.The dungarees are also excellent. They slipped on easily over C’s clothes, with plenty of room for extra layers if needed. They are fully adjustable, with extremely easy to use braces and side poppers ensuring a perfect fit. C was wearing size 3-4, with plenty of room to grow into them. I can see them lasting long enough for JoJo to use them too!

Once the girls were bundled up we headed down to the beach.JoJo began practising her crawling as soon as I put her down. The suit worked perfectly, no material trailing behind her, an issue we often have with onesies.

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C had a great time, building castles and collecting shells. No worrying about sitting in the sand, the Dunga’s kept her nice and clean!

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Next up- wave jumping!

2016_08_17_10.23.09__1471635989_30809__1471635989_12967.jpgThe waterproof’s did their job amazingly, and they didn’t restrict C’s movement at all. I later found out that this is probably due to their design – they have ‘4 way stretch’ and were originally made for forest schools in Scandinavia. Lets face it,what the Scandi’s don’t know about outdoor living isn’t worth knowing! These are definitely an essential item for my fierce little adventurers. I will be buying more!

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JoJo was nice and snug up on my back in her wrap. I wish I’d bought a Kozi Kidz All-in-one sooner, as they are ideal for Baby wearing. WetWednesday also stock leg warmers and all in one waterproofs which will work well for Baby wearers.

After about an hour we said goodbye to the beach and headed home. Just in time for the girls to help fetch the cows in for milking. C was very pleased, she loves helping her Dad on the farm. Once the cows were all in, C performed one final test on her outfit. The all important ‘jumping-in-muddy-puddles’ test. The results are in – Kozi Kidz jackets and dungarees are fully muddy puddle proof!

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All in all the new gear receives a big thumbs up from us.

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If you’re looking for some new waterproof attire for your little puddle jumper, mini adventurer, rock-pooler, mud kitchen cook, miniature farmer or beach baby then why not check out the Wet Wednesdays outdoor clothing range.

Here’s a quick summary of the essential points;

C wears Kozi Kidz mix and match waterproof dungarees (dark lilac) and Koster rain jacket (striped)

JoJo wears Kozi Kidz All in one snuggle fleece (berry)

Child Friendly features:

  • 100% waterproof
  • Comfy
  • Reflective stripes/spots to increase child visibility.

Mum Friendly features:

  • Affordable
  • Scandi design – cute but highly practical!
  • Machine washable (already been through our machine once, looking great still!)
  • Generous sizing
  • Integral name label.
  • Toddler and Baby proof

Day 23 – Mr Phes.

Down behind the cow shed, in amongst the tall grass and gorse bushes lives a pheasant and his mate. I have affectionately (and imaginatively) named them Mr and Mrs Phes.

Mr Phes is a loud and gaudy specimen. I have to admit, with a bright red wattle, bottle green head feathers and a white ‘collar’ he does look very fine. He struts and shouts across the fields, ‘chuck chucking’ and squawking as he patrols his territory. Mrs Phes is a much shyer creature, her subtle gold and brown plumage affording her excellent camouflage as she slinks amongst the grass.

 

Pheasants are quite common in the fields and woodland around us, and they are often to be found running along the country lanes, usually into the path of oncoming vehicles. I thought pheasants were a rather recent introduction to the UK, but it turns out that they came over with the Romans. Its ‘original’ homeland is 2000 miles away, in eastern Asia. Over the centuries they have spread across farmland and woodland habitats, becoming a ‘quintessential’ member of countryside fauna. Pheasants are also farmed for shoots, with necessary management practices playing a role in shaping the landscape.

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The RSPB illustrations for male and female pheasant.

 

Despite all his showiness my Mr Phes is rather camera shy. If I dare to get too close with my camera he explodes into the air in a flurry of feathers, madly beating his wings and clucking angrily until he can reach the safety of a hedge. Tonight, however, would be different. I had a cunning plan.

I decided to take a wander down to the cow shed in the evening, just as dusk was settling over the farm. I had planned on making a ‘surprise visit’ to Mr Phes, via the ‘back entrance’ to his abode. However, the large flock of wild pigeons that roost in one of the barns had other ideas. As soon as they saw me coming they rose into the air as one , and flew laps over the yard. They passed so close I could hear the whirring of their wing beats.

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The heifers in the shed were pleased to see me, and bounded over to the fence in an expectant fashion. Human means food. Once they realised I had nothing on me except my camera they went back to snoozing and mooching about in the straw.

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I sidled round the end of the shed, and paused, camera at the ready. Sure enough I could here a ‘chuck chuck chuck’ call  coming from the vegetation. Mr Phes had noticed me, and was trying to make a run for it. In pheasant terms, ‘making a run for it’ appears to mean ‘ walk as slowly as possible and pretend that everything is perfectly normal’.

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I followed Mr Phes at a respectful distance, as he retreated behind a trailer. He led me straight to his mate, who promptly shot into the undergrowth and disappeared from view. Mr Phes then continued his slow walk into the ‘Meadow’ field, where he stood crowing and beating his wings in a display of masculinity.  I decided to leave him to it. The dark was encroaching and the temperature was dropping, so I headed back into the farmhouse.

 

 

 

Day 13-B is for ….

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Tree bumblebee

Bumble bee! C has learnt the alphabet off by heart, back to front and probably sideways too. She loves finding words for each letter, and Bee is obviously the go to insect for B!

Since planting the patio ‘Pollinator Cafe’ I have become more aware of the presence of Bumblebees in our garden .I will confess I have needed a bit of help from the BBCT to decipher which species is which. The beautiful amethyst and white flowers of the Centaurea are visited most days by busy little ‘Bombus hypnorum‘ , or Tree bumblebees. The other pollinator friendly plants seem to be less favoured at present.Perhaps it isn’t the right time for their nectar just yet?!

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Bombus hypnorum

The foxgloves on the hedgerow behind the ‘meadow’ have just bloomed. I love Digitalis, it reminds me of Beatrix Potter tales and my childhood running wild in Ireland. The Garden bumblebees  (Bombus hortorum) seem to love it even more. These specimens are rather large, so much so that the other day I thought their was a bird or rodent moving in amongst the foxgloves. I went in for a closer look and was surprised to discover the commotion was being caused by this chap.

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Bombus hortorum.

I spent a good half an hour staring at the foxgloves, marvelling at the different adaptations that they have evolved to ensure pollination occurs. To start with, the purple colour of the petals acts as a beacon to any passing bees.The wide opening of the flower itself is a perfect landing spot with the spotty pattern acting as  natural ‘runway markers’,directing the bee onto the nectar. The bell shaped flower is a tight fit for the bee, and the foxgloves reproductive organs are suspended above the entrance. This is a clever mechanism for ensuring pollen brushes off from the stamen onto the bee.Pollen carried from other plants is also rubbed off the bee as it passes the stigma.The little translucent fronds within the entrance of each flower are guard hairs. They act as a mechanism to keep out small insects, which could hit the nectar without touching any pollen- all reward without any work!

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Looking at foxgloves and thinking about the detail has been one of the unexpected treasures of my 30 days wild.

Day 8 Seaside stroll

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Note to self -check tide times before making a trip to the beach. This morning I decided to head on to the beach after dropping C at nursery. I needed the sea. Unfortunately spontaneity never seems to work out, especially with a baby in tow!

We headed for Newgale, which is one of my favourite wild spots. I have to be honest, living in Pembrokeshire means I am spoilt for choice of beaches. This county has some seriously beautiful  stretches  of coastline. I love walking along them ‘off peak’, when frequently it is just me, the girls and the seabirds. Today would not be one of these days unfortunately, as the tide was right in, lapping at the shingle bank that separates the beach from the road. A quick check in my rearview showed JoJo to be asleep so I decided to head for Fishguard, about 20 minutes away. The Parrog, a causeway stretching out into the bay, is a good spot to walk whilst immersing yourself in the sounds of the sea. It is buggy friendly, although a big sign at the start of the walk tells you to venture forth at your own risk.

The sun was already burning through the mist and the sea was mill pond calm. I got JoJo settled in her buggy and we set off. The gentle lap lapping of the sea on the shoreline formed the baseline to the soundtrack of our walk. House Martin’s landed on the thin strip of beach  that lay exposed, taking beakfulls of sand to build their nests. A pied wagtail bounced on the grass in front of me, snapping at flying insects. As we made our way along the Partog, Painted ladies twirled and tumbled overhead. A smaller butterfly, a common blue perhaps, skittered in and out of view, well camouflaged against the background of grey blue water. The salty smell of the sea filled the air, mixed with a tang of oil from moored fishing boats. A trio of Oystercatchers shot over head, squealing as they made their way out to sea. We soon reached the end of the causeway, and spent a few moments watching in quiet anticipation. Maybe today would be a day for seals? I scanned the bay hopefully but didn’t spot any more marine life. I did find a suspicious looking plant, which JoJo tried to get acquainted with. Fortunately I was one step ahead of her, and bundled her back into the buggy before she could grab it.I also pocketed a length of fishing line. I have seen too many injuries to dogs and cats from discarded tackle, so always responsibly dispose of any I find when out and about.

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Deadly nightshade…no JoJo, you really cannot taste this plant!!!

The walk back always seems shorter, and I kept getting distracted by the insects. There were bees visiting the Sea Thrift and I spotted a beetle sunning itself on a Dog Daisy. I’m not sure what species it is*, so if you have any ideas please let me know!

In no time at all we were at the car. By now there was heat haze rising from the tarmac and I was more than glad to get back home to the cool, dark farmhouse.

*Thanks to ‘Bug Man Jones’ on Twitter, I now know this is a female Thick legged flower beetle!

Day 6 – Bird banquet

Just before we began the 30 Days Wild challenge I decided the garden could do with a bird table.  Birdsong filled the hedgerows and skies around the farm, but nothing ever seemed to come into the garden.

Luckily we had a load of timber lying about, ready for ‘upcycling’. F was quite enthuasistic about our ‘project’, and we got a little bit carried away with our creation .What I had envisaged as a neat little perch ended up as a rather large banqueting table. Go big or go home, I guess!

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As featured on my ‘Bioblitz’post.

 

It turned out to work in our advantage , as the table can attract larger birds. A pair of punctual collared doves now frequent the table on a daily basis. We also have a blackbird that likes to snack on leftover apples and pears.

The table started to look a bit lonely, so in a bid to entice smaller wild birds we spent the 6th day of our Wild challenge putting up feeders in some of the trees around the garden. C enjoyed filling them with Nyger seed and wild bird mix.  We also put out some mealworms and soaked raisins.

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C really enjoyed this simple activity. In fact, she enjoyed it a bit too much. ‘Please don’t eat the mealworm, your not a baby bird’ is not a sentence I thought I’d ever have to utter.

It didn’t take long for the birds to arrive.So far the feeders have gone down well with the smaller birds. We have seen chaffinches, Great tits, ChifChaff, and a Robin. There is also a Dunnock which comes to feast on the spillage.  DSC_0453

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I always thought feeding of wild birds should be done in Winter months only. The RSPB does advise feeding year round.Natural food sources can become scarce at anytime especially with odd weather patterns.

However it is important to be selective with what we offer on tables and feeders. During the Spring and Summer months it is important to avoid putting out foods that could pose a choking risk if parent birds take them back to feed chicks.

Potential hazards include:

  • loose peanuts
  • dry, hard foods
  • big chunks of bread
  • fat

Good foodstuffs include:

  • Black sunflower seeds
  • Oatmeal
  • Soaked sultanas
  • Grated cheese
  • mealworms
  • good seed mixtures without loose peanuts,
  • Soft pear/apple pieces.

Feeder choice is also important, follow the RSPB advice. Bottom line is to avoid mesh feeders that could result in birds becoming entangled.

We are really enjoying watching the sagas of wild bird life that are unfolding around the feeders on a daily basis. There is something special about getting to know the birds that keep coming back. My favourite is the cheeky robin which keeps perching closer. Today it landed on my laundry, but had the good sense to leave without any mess!

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Yes, I used this photo on the Bioblitz post too….but I love it!