Friday 16 February 2024

The Field over The River

Not to be confused with Hemingway's Italian war stories in Across the River and Into the Trees. The FotR of the Post Title is the 1 ha. meadow which runs East from The Ringstone to a cliff surmounted by a stone wall which hangs over the Aughnabrisky River. The name came with the property. One of my loyal readers (I cherish you both!) expressed a liking for my Aggie posts. I daresay they were, like me, brought up on the BBC's soap The Archers - an everyday story of country folk. Walter Gabriel, the feckless wurzel was killed off in 1988, so I no longer had any interest. But read on - it's a coloour supplement with many pics . . .

Last year was a National Disaster for fodder. Th early Summer was bone dry for weeks and then rain set from July through to Christmas. We run the four biggest fields son a regime of traditional hay-meadow and get a few shillings by holding off cutting the grass until July - after the supposed time of flowering and seed-set among the plants which aren't Lolium perenne, perennial rye-grass. For years, rye-grass (as much as poss) has been Dept Ag policy; so the abrupt volte-face to encourage anything but is 'disconcerting' to regular farmers just trying to make an honest living from their 'umble patrimony. As a large part of their income comes from filling in forms and obeying The Man, being wrong-footed like this is a real [no shoes for the kids] cost.

We didn't get the grass 'knocked' until October in a brief 4-day window between the relentless rain storms. Knocked, baled and wrapped and plunked in rows at the top of three of the four fields. When all the tractor clanking stopped, I went down to count the bales and was infuriated bemused to find the grass in the FotR still standing. The tractor of our neighbour who has the cutting these last several years had blown a gasket and he'd subcontracted the cutting to the neighbour who never asks AITA. Between the two of them they agreed that, because deer had been rutting in that field it was not fit for sheep fodder and so they'd walked away from the cutting. I've never heard that excuse before but maybe it's about Pasteurellosis?? whc Prev. Whatevs, we had a field, partly chewed up by cavorting deer and partly a tufty tussocky mess of standing dead grass. The last of the hay bales went off site only the week before Christmas. But we'd already run our 60-legs + 15-heads of sheep unto that half of the farrrm.

The Beloved thought it might be a good idea to embrace the Pasteurellosis and/or ignore any nameless fears of two neighbours and corral the flock into the buckety un-mowed field and give the rest of the meadows . . . a rest. Our fully colleged farming consultant-and-mentor from up the Wicklow/Wexford borrrder concurred. Accordingly, at the very end of January, BobTheFarmhand schlepped down the fields; resurrected a six-bar gate from the brambles; druv in two new stakes and tied gate and stakes into the gap in the Northface of the FotR:

. . . said gate's hinge-post had rotted out several years ago and not put back because there had been no reason to prevent sheep wandering at will - until now. The other gap in the walls surrounding that field is at The Ringstone. That gap is (12 ft = 3.6 m) wide, so two of our super-handy and multi-purpose 2.0 m sheep-hurdles and two more new stakes sufficed to block it:

Sorted, so far. It's a bit of a PITA because FotR is the furthest from the house and beyond the reach of a hose. Accordingly I had to lug a couple of water buckets down there. But I don't resent the walk down to visit a tuthree times a day. If it's sunny it's life-affirming; and if it's pissing rain then I usually jog the downhill stretch which is a token touch of cardio - always good for old buffers. Usually, because Ireland, it is  neither of these extremes  but it's good anyway.

The main task is to count the sheep. This is why starting them all in the same field is a boon. It limits the number of thickets, grykes, fences and bushes which have to be investigated to find the last 1 or 2 members of the flock. Try it counting the white blobs. But sheep don't, in my experience, ignore gates. No sirree, they get up close-and-personal and scrunch up against them - it's The Itch; although we got them dosed for that in November. But 60kg of sheep and resonance can work knots and posts loose until the whole barrier collapses. Two days after installation, therefore, I went down with my saw, felled out a few branches of gorse / whin / furze / Ulex europeaus, and threaded them back through the gate to discourage scratching.

The sheep can barely see the gate now, let alone shove it. Although The Red Hill looks rather fine in the late afternoon sun, no?

Answer-time for sheep-tally. There should be (and are) N = 15. It helps if a) it's IRL and they are shifting about b) it's a better quality photo c) The Hand includes a helpful hint Blow Up of a central detail [R]. There are 3 sheep under the mountain ash - count the arses. Almost half the time I go to count the sheep, I come up with 14 the first time. I then walk slowly towards the leftmost sheep making encouraging sounds - in Latin because that's all that Ovis aries understands. The flock gathers together to face me off or all run away in the same direction. Inevitably the missing sheep will struggle out of whichever bush it was lurking in and gallop, all red-faced, to join her pals. 

It's always a relief when roll-call is complete. The FotR, as well as being furthest from the house, is also about 30m lower down. Loading a dead sheep into the wheel-barrow for the Fallen Animal Guy is hard enough. Whatever the joys of jogging downhill, I'm not sure if I have the puff anymore to push a dead weight of 60kg uphill for 250m. But what kills not fattens, and life is full of small delights, like finding a cluster of green ovals in a corner of a frosty field just after sunrise and thereby deducing where the ewes spent the previous night:

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