Please be careful if you’re wanting to cut down a patch of nettles at this time of year as you never know what is hiding in there. Having come across a disturbed nest of pheasant chicks the day before, I brought home the 10 eggs to see if anything could be done. 24 hours later, and a bit of careful ‘peeling’ to the ones already damaged and a hot water bottle for the ones still intact, 6 little souls survived. Delighted to say they are now being looked after by the youngsters at a local Care Farm
Judging by the bags under my eyes, it’s fair to say the Food Festival season has well and truly started. At the moment I could get away with 10 items or less but by November, they will be able to carry a full trolley! It’s not all food, I Compere at the odd Gardening event, quite a few Countryside Shows and special one offs and have to say wherever I am, it’s always nice to meet stall holders and producers and a lot of them become pals, well that was until yesterday. Don’t you just love it when you ask a civilised question, only to have a tirade of verbal abuse as the reply and in front of their very young children too. I think the question was ‘excuse me, how long will you be please?’ (their van was in the way of our Landrover) The reply definitely was ‘it’ll take as heffin long as it heffin takes’ although the very enthusiastic woman didn’t use the word heffin. She then carried on exercising her vocabulary range which have to say, didn’t bear any resemblance to a rational human being and seeing as she looked like she had previously taken on a few other poor unsuspecting souls, there was no point trying to communicate so we let her get on with it.
Have you noticed the increase in applications for Solar Farms? There’s a lot around us in South Shropshire and have to say it does concern me. They’re so ugly and a real blot on the landscape and can’t understand why we’re taking precious land out of the food equation, surely there is enough roof space on industrial sites to be utilised but then I’m guessing it’s not environmental sustainability landowners are looking for. Farming is hard labour and graft and certainly the Dairy industry has been let down with it costing more to produce a litre of milk than what they receive. The rules and regulations that all Farmers have to jump through for Europe are ridiculous, especially when you know it’s not a level playing field but Farmers and Landowners – please remember, you are the Caretakers of our countryside.
At Hedgebottom Home at the moment, there’s a lot of grass so every time you see the sheep – they’re eating. The hens we still have to keep penned when we’re not at home due to the resident fox and the stress of the earlier attacks have opened them up to lice sadly, we’ve never had it so bad. I think we’ve got on top of it now thanks to copious amounts of Petroleum Jelly.
Another Food Festival this weekend so adding to the ‘bag’ volume and waistline no doubt. We did manage to get away for a week before the season started which was wonderful, all be it the airport incident where I can honestly say, don’t wear a Marks and Sparks Minimiser bra through security and the Russian lady who through some bizarre translation issues, thought I was a Prostitute! Long story ……
Fair to say, it’s not been the best of starts to the year. Following on from our spate of fox attacks on the hens, the biggest shock of all was losing our gorgeous Golden Retriever ‘Libby.’ She was fine, loving her food, enjoying walks and having fun, just that that night, when she was asleep on her side, I noticed her breathing was a little shallow. Rang the vet the following morning and got her in, he did all the usual checks, listened to her heart – fine. Lungs – fine. Body – fine. Temperature was a little high so thought maybe an infection, and because she wasn’t spayed, wanted to rule out Pymetra so took a blood sample and we left. Couple of hours later, phone rang and yes her bloods had a high white cell count so took her back in at 2pm as he wanted to do an X ray before surgery, still going with Pymetra theory. At 2.45pm he rang and I knew that was way too soon. He’d opened her up and there was a massive tumour situated between her liver and spleen, something he had never seen before in all his 30 plus years. There was nothing he could do, the x ray also revealed fluid build up around the lungs, the kindest thing was to let her go, and that’s what we did. At 7 years old, we lost the most beautiful girl – the kindest, sweetest, loyal soul that was Libby. We loved her to bits and have been in bits with her sudden passing, but what a privilege it was to be able to share such unconditional love and she knew we loved her just as much as she loved us.
Who’d have thought we’d lose Libby before dear old Tess at 14 and a half. It certainly knocked her for six too which resulted in a bacterial infection brought on by stress – for those that think animals don’t feel – they’re wrong.
I’ve always had Golden Retrievers, even bred 2 generations and all my girls bar the last two lived well into their teens but reading the statistics on the breed now, they reveal that 60% of them will develop cancer – twice the average for other breeds – how on earth has that been allowed to happen – that’s dreadful.
I know on both the occasions I chose to breed, my girls had their eyes tested and their hips scored and if at any stage they didn’t pass, I wouldn’t have let them continue. As it was, they were good and with the help of a local breeder, I then researched the stud dog, paying close attention to his offspring. Looking back, cancer wasn’t even thought about as it wasn’t an issue, but it obviously is now and just hope something is being done about it. Just like us humans, the cancer gene must run in canine famililes too and if it is known to be in either the bitch or sire, then those animals should not be breeding.
I know Libby didn’t suffer, she was playing right up to the day she died, but she shouldn’t have died – she was too bl**dy young. I really don’t know if I’ll have another Golden, if I do, I’ll be wanting to know alot more than eyes and hips, that’s for sure.
Having a pair of foxes treat your garden as their territory is not an easy thing to live with, and it got to the stage where the attacks on our hens became almost a daily occurence and in broad daylight every time. They weren’t always successful, but then one particular killing made me realise, we were dealing with an unnatural invader – a released town fox, had to be.
Now I have lived in the countryside all my adult life. I love nature, I love my wildlife and when keeping livestock you do your upmost to keep them safe but when you’re up against something that doesn’t belong there, the natural balance of the area is thrown.
Never in my life did I think I would witness a fox kill a cockerel right in front of me, but that’s exactly what happened. I’d let the ‘girls’ and Stan out for a run as I was there with them. Half past one in the afternoon it was, in our garden with me just a couple of feet away from him. You’d think a screaming woman with arms flailing would do the trick, but no and then came an image which will stay with me for a very long time.
I had been in touch with the local farmer but it’s difficult to come out in the day when you’ve got work to do, but the next day the vixen was back this time, again in the garden. No hens out and me by a phone which saw the farmer come round in 10 minutes, and within another 10, vixen was shot and killed.
Where the dog fox is I don’t know, possibly gone to look for another mate, we’ll wait and see but following a few enquiries, it appears that farmer friends have had similar happenings, including one in the summer who had a fox go for him in his yard. Going back to his house to get his gun, on return it went for him again and once dead, my pal could see how skinny it was and then the shocker – poor creature only had three legs, the other one had been professionally amputated! The animal wouldn’t have stood a chance of survival, who in their right mind had done that? Also another friend was telling me about a hired gun who had shot a dog fox, only to find he’d been castrated!
If town foxes are being caught and then released in the countryside then it is immoral, cruel, wrong, going against nature, irresponsible – the list goes on. My thoughts for the short term are with the lambs which are due, they won’t stand a chance against a fox with no fear and that’s the problem – they should be scared, that’s how the balance of nature works.
The people and organisations who think they’re doing good – they haven’t a ruddy clue.
Well he’s been, and in broad daylight too. Killed one, traumatised another and if anyone asks if hens remember – judging by the response of the one that I mentioned in the previous post, then yes they do. I really do not like foxes. Fortunately I was able to run and yell at the same time (perhaps I’m not that unfit then!) which saved the others. One hen’s reaction surprised me, she was standing on the fence, brave as you like, looking in the direction of where her pal had been taken, clucking away as if she was telling him off.
We’ve certainly had snow overnight, fair few inches too so I’ll be looking out for his footprints.
Speaking of the white stuff, yet again I see milk prices in the news yet still nothing seems to be done about it. Way we’re going we’ll have no dairy farms left, and our milk will be imported and believe me, a fair few manufacturers have been attempting this for several years, fortunately with no success, but you just know it’ll happen.
I began my career in dairy farming, including 2 stints at Agricultural College with the second in Dairy Herd Management. I worked hard, it was cold, it was hot, I smelt, I didn’t go out in the evening other than to check my cows, I got up very early in the morning, worked 72 hours a week, sometimes I’d have every other weekend off but living on the farm I’d still be checking the girls at night. I took pride in how clean our milk was produced, I loved the close bond that develops with each cow, I got kicked at when a new heifer came into the parlour but she’d be a calf I reared 2 years ago so we’d soon work it out. I cried many times when saying goodbye be it ill health or age. I loved ‘turn out’ when they’d head back into the fields having been indoors for winter and see them all excited and then remember to dodge their change of diet poo in the parlour! I watched them, I knew them, I cared for them, each had their own personality and Dairy Farmers do this day in day out – and because of all of the above. When I milked cows from 1982 to 1996, we were receiving more for our milk than they do today, how can that be possible, then again, how can bottled mineral water be more expensive than milk?!
Times like this I do wish I was still on the wireless, just to lend a voice – but then when I was, I remember the topic coming up several times yet still nothing is being done. If you can, please buy local milk as there are quite a few that bottle their own. The trusty Milkman, bring him back or if you want to contact your local superstore, do it and tell family and friends to join in too. Farmers are custodians of our countryside, please don’t let the supermarkets dictate the lactate!
Hard to comprehend the recent events in Paris, my thoughts and prayers certainly with them and humanity as a whole and judging by the scenes of all those people at the march yesterday, humanity definitely won.
I’m not sure how it happened, but we’re nearly at the mid way point of January and as yet, I don’t feel I’ve got going! All the Christmas ‘friends’ were put away on time (other than the odd one that you seem to find a good 2 weeks later), the weather hasn’t been that bad and the phone is still ringing for work which is always comforting. It might have something to do with the start of the year when it was greeted in by Libby our Retriever being struck down with a rather nasty bug and for the first time in years, I ended up spending the night on the settee with her – glad to report she is now back to normal and an order has been put in for a new settee!
It’s that time of year to keep extra vigilent if you’ve got hens as foxes are pairing up now, and already our neighbour has lost all but one of hers. Out of the 6 killed, only 2 bodies were taken which makes me think she was visited by a pair and they carried away one each. I struggle with foxes, if they’re hungry then I can understand the killing and eating of one bird, but but they don’t stop at that, they slaughter the others, almost for fun which I hate and having witnessed one in torch light circling a new born calf as she was suckling her Mum, I really do not like to see them anywhere near my stock.
I had a close encounter just before Christmas when I heard one of my hens in distress, heading down the garden and there she was running towards me with said fox right behind her and only 2 feet away from me, not sure who was more surprised.
Our snowdrops are just beginning to emerge and I’ve even seen the bud of a daffodil. We seem to have an even larger population of Goldfinches at the moment and glad to see the return of the Nuthatch.
We’ve had a bit of snow, I suspect we’ll get hit with it over the next few weeks – as long as they can deliver my settee, I’ll be happy!
Hope you’re having a good Christmas – we were doing okay until our track rod fell off on Saturday night whilst on the way to dinner with pals (well it was cold)! Nothing quite as sorry as seeing your car being put on the back of a trailer. Great way to meet people though when you’re in their way, but happy to report the festival spirit was still evident to see. Never got to eat the fantastic fayre which was on offer sadly, but a lesson was learnt that night – always carry a box of ‘thank you’ chocolates so you can eat them whilst waiting the hour and a half to be rescued.
Staying with calories, we’re nearly there. Just a box of posh biscuits to finish off, a Thorntons Reindeer and what’s left of the ridiculously small ‘plastic’ tin of Quality Street which yet again contains far too many fudge, orange and strawberry creams.
Not sure where this year has gone and news wise, I can’t remember such a run of horrendous stories, sadly it seems a few of our fellow human beings have lost the human part of their wiring, and not that I wish anyone harm but why is it when something so awful as the Glasgow lorry crash happens, it’s always the ‘good’ ones that are lost. There’s never a right time to lose anyone close to you, but at Christmas you do tend to feel it a little more keenly. Sixteen years ago on Boxing Day we lost Dad, and I can remember it vividly.
Livestock wise at Hedgebottom, still have the Collie, Retriever, 2 farm cats, 14 hens, couple of cockerels, flock of 5 Boreray Sheep and 1 tame Ouessant Wether.
Work wise, no longer doing any radio work as our business ‘Wots Cooking’ has been full on this year but guess still behind a microphone with me Compering.
Haven’t done any writing since Worcestershire, Shropshire, Herefordshire and Warwickshire Life ceased printing and I do miss that, so must say thanks to Duncan Barkes for tweeting recently about my lack of blogs – just what I needed to get going again.
2015 is creeping up and no doubt will have a few surprises to throw at us. Whatever they are, here’s to being well prepared, so don’t forget your box of ‘thank you’ chocolates just in case!
That’s the Hercules as opposed to Ella the kettle. This has been our view most of today whilst setting up for Cosford Food & Drink Festival – should be a good un
After having watched closed doors for over 40 minutes last night I must admit to feeling a little disappointed when I went to put the hens away that there wasn’t a crowd waiting for me and a huge cheer when I opened ours! What a gorgeous little chap the new Prince is, and I sounded just like my Mum when I said out loud ‘long fingers, he’ll play the piano!’
Come November there’ll be similar scenes, well maybe a little quieter, as one of my pals is due to have her daughter. Have to say we’re all excited and I keep finding myself looking at all things baby, as long as I don’t get asked if I’m the Grandparent I’ll be happy – memories of Tenbury Applefest last year still run deep!
Also happening in our world is that’s we’re full on with Food & Drink Festivals with our Cookery Theatres which is wonderful and it’s great to have livestock back on the bank again. I hadn’t realised just how much I have missed having something furry or hairy to play with.
I’m working at the first ever Cosford Food Festival this weekend whilst Glyn is over in Lampeter for theirs so a busy one ahead, good job those doors opened when they did then.
When Herefordshire, Shropshire, Warwickshire & Worcestershire Life Magazines ceased printing at the end of June it meant that my July column was never printed, so here it is (with slight change to the County extras) and it’s all about fish!
I feel very proud at the moment and it’s all because something has been named after me. At this point you may be thinking animal, perhaps a friend’s baby, if not then a sweet pea or rose? Well, none of the above, my name has been linked to cheese – a fermenting Cheddar to be precise called Katie 3 & 4, carefully crafted by Head Cheese maker Dudley Martin at Ludlow Food Centre when he used the milk from the weekends I relief milked for the Earl of Plymouth Estates – how lovely is that.
Summer is well and truly with us then, although I’ve only just removed the electric blanket from our bed and must admit to keeping a Kagool within easy reach. I reckon it stems from being brought up on the east coast in Grimsby, once the busiest fishing port in the UK.
I do wonder if I overdosed on fish as a child as I have to admit it doesn’t regularly feature in my diet. Apparently we should aim to eat two portions a week yet, four out of five households are more likely to eat fish only once a month with Salmon, Cod, Haddock, Tuna and Prawns being our favourites but we need to be looking at other species such as Saithe, Hake, Ling and Gurnard which sound more like members of the Swedish version of ‘Take That’ to me.
When fish is the topic of a cookery demonstration at festivals, you can always guarantee a large audience and alongside learning tips and hints on preparation and eating, you also hear about fishing practices. You’d think the same standards of care and attention is taken with fish as we do our farm animals, but sadly that’s not always the case. Some fish are being taken out of the sea faster than they can replenish themselves, and it isn’t just how many fish are being caught, it’s how we catch them. Something I can’t believe is legal is the use of dredgers on the seabed, dragging everything in their path destroying the habitat as it goes – horrific. There have been EU talks discussing the disgraceful dumping of unwanted fish so that’s a start, but a lot more needs to be done.
There are ways we can help and it’s down to the fish we buy although labelling is under scrutiny too. The only official requirement is for species name, approximate catch area and whether it was caught or farmed in fresh or seawater. Use your local Fishmonger if you’re lucky enough to have one and if you want to know which fish to eat and which to avoid, there’s the website of Marine Conservation Society based in Ross on Wye.
When you think Shropshire is the largest landlocked county in England it is blessed with experts when it comes to fish. For instance Fish House in Ludlow owned by Andy and third generation Fishmonger Louise Hackney and Fiona Asson who founded Fish in a Box and now runs Fiona on Fish with cookery courses and underground supper clubs. Fiona will be demonstrating as part of the very first RAF Cosford Food Festival this month and all being well with the weather, it will also feature the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Flypast.
One chap who knows his stuff is Tom Court from The Granary Restaurant at Shenstone near Kidderminster in Worcestershire. He’ll be taking part in the Five Chefs event celebrating the best of the county at the end of the month and we’ve just booked him to do a demo for Tenbury Countryside Show 3 August. Then there’s Martyn Emson who brought fish to the attention whilst chef patron at The Jolly Frog at Leintwardine and now runs Ludlow Traditional Smoke House from his home at Wigmore in Herefordshire and when he’s not doing that, he and Fishmonger Tony Wilkes from The Fish House in Ludlow run courses at the local college.
Things I have also learnt about fish whilst writing this column – most of them have taste buds all over their body which means they can taste without opening their mouths, and flat fish aren’t born flat, they begin life shaped round whereas I seem to have gone in the opposite direction – maybe it’s too much cheese!