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I haven’t dropped off the edge. I’m not shirking or dodging or avoiding. I’m not even suffering from virtual overload or writer’s block (in fact I’ve been itching to write). What I have been doing these last few weeks is getting ready; preparing.

This Wednesday I’m having my knee operated on – anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction – and I’ll be out of action…for some time…so they say. In my life there’s never, ever going to be a good time to be ‘legless’.

Over the last few weeks I’ve revelled, enjoyed, embraced, slogged, worn-out and appreciated the extraordinary aptitude and freedom (normally taken entirely for granted) my two legginess gives me. From the domesticity of making marmalade…

for the marmalade addict in our household...70 jars! (and I must be co-dependant)

…to the exhaustion of hedge laying;

Finished! the massive double hedge between Square Field and Out Across

in the summer we'll clean out the ditch and cast up the bank

from mucking out the cow palace…

cows in temporary accommodation during mucking out of the Cow Palace in preparation for calving

Cow Palace...clean, ready and waiting for the cows return

…and crutching the ewes prior to lambing to walking the dogs;

alert and ready

'Can you see a movement over there...?'

…driving the car (NO driving for SIX weeks!), handling the bobcat and the tractor…bringing in wood…gardening…doing housework…the cooking…going to work…! Even finding the first dump of frog spawn…

First frog spawn found 4th february

First frog spawn found 4th february

…and seeing pussy willow bursting its buds at the top of our lane..

Pussy willow peeping out...

I expect you’ll be hearing a lot from me in the coming weeks of my enforced incarceration!

With skewed flat hat-hair, a permanently leaking nose and fragile, papery onion-skin lips I bundle myself into layers of garments, old and threadbare from years of daily use. Thinning thermal vests and once ‘super-active’ (from New Zealand) merino leggings and tops; socks, no longer luxuriously thick and downy-soft but rather a shabby shadow of their former glory are pulled on over goat bed-socks for added insulation. The whole eclectic creation is zipped into overalls, topped with a matted fleece, a poundland hat, waterproof gloves and worn-down neoprene lined wellies (luckily kept for visitors at the back of the cupboard). All set, I go outside. It’s six thirty in the morning.

My boots squeak-crunch satisfyingly, compressing fresh fallen snow into the thick layer of ice. The dogs scrabble and bark at their door unused to this new sound. I let them out and they explode in an excited flurry of static-crackling white-grey fur; bounding, barking, snapping, slipping and sliding around my unsteady legs.

We make our way down to the yard, though still dark the snow and frost, moon and stars illuminate the countryside with bleached lightness. I walk tentatively. Ice, hidden by snow, covers every inch of the ground. The last twenty yards is the most lethal, here the ice has been polished to glass-like smoothness by bobcat and tractor, I slide-walk across to the massive double doors. The smell of frozen cow shed hits me…it’s an evocative mix! Overriding the spicy warmth of cattle and the cloying sweetness of frozen dung and urine is the acerbic black, old-fag reek of freezing metal and concrete.

The cows stir, coughing, belching and farting…clouds of white vapour pooling around them; fresh dung steams moistly before freezing. Too cold, too dry for the spangle of condensation along the flanks of the cattle, instead their deep chestnut-red bodies give the impression of dark spaces in the ice-crystal air.

Water troughs are frozen sculptures. Around their edges jagged spears of ice-enamelled forage fall to the floor where their drips and trickles have frozen to form a network of icy veins and arteries across the concrete ground.

We chip and chisel, muck out, brush and sweep. Heave armfuls of forage, sacks of grain, pitchforks of straw and bucket upon bucket of slushy crushed ice water. Soon our cheeks are rosy red, our fingers and toes thaw with excruciating intensity and a musky fug oozes from around our necks.

The morning lightens with blue greyness and crystals of feathery frost glint and spark as I trundle down the icy slope of the lane wheeling a barrow heaped with forage (incongruously summer-scented), nuts and water for the sheep. I turn up the lumpy track to Turkey Shed; the sheep alerted start to clamour and run, bizarre snowy baubles bounce and swing around their necks. Manic, ravenous, they barge and shove in a feeding frenzy knocking me sideways…I almost lose my footing.

I tramp back up the lane, dogs haring ahead exuberantly. Frantic birds follow my progress, calling and whistling, egging me on faster, desperate for a life-giving breakfast of fat, sweet, soft apple, seeds, grain and nuts.

All is done. I kick snow from my boots and peel off an outer layer of clothing putting it by the fire to dry and warm. With cheeks already flaming and toes and fingers burning I make my way to the kitchen and a mug of steaming hot tea.

ice and water

ice and water

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Willow - taken by a friend on an escape-the-work visit to the coast.

Ahh – Willow. Willow-willow-willow!

Recently several of you have asked about Willow and how she is. Is she still as gorgeous? Is she still as wonderful?

Well, yes actually, she is and we are still quite smitten!

As you’ve probably gathered, even if you’re fairly new to my blog, I have a large rambling family and have looked after animals – humans (of all ages), livestock and other sundry organic life forms – for many, many years. There’s not an inkling of a doubt that I’m extraordinarily passionate about their mental and physical welfare but I’m not given to sentimentality or anthropomorphism.

My dogs, whether working or not, have always been brought up with clear, defined boundaries. They are treated fairly but firmly and they’ve thrived. Then came Willow.

I believed the ‘ahhh’ factor would diminish as she got older; the cuddle factor would wane as she became more robust; and the indulgence shown to her would decrease in proportion to the number of socks and loo-rolls she ruined. But no, her charm still has us in its thrall.

Maybe it was my age? The lack of small needy creatures? Age possibly, needy creature…nah. But then I realised that Olly was just as bad. So I ruled out age too. And my stiff-upper-lip-don’t-smile-we’re-english husband is similarly affected; I’ve become used to hearing him muttering sweet nothings to her as they lounge on the sofa together.

My other dogs? Jealous? No. Tolerant to the point of stupidity ‘Tick her off’ I admonish ‘if you’ve had enough tell her. Let her know!’ But they give me woefully long-suffering looks and let her continue to harass them.

Strangers pass her by without a glance until something compels them to look and then they’re captivated ‘But she’s sooo sweeet’ they coo ‘What is she?’

‘Oh, a lucher, just a lurcher.’ I say as I watch them melt.

‘Is she? Really? But she’s…oh, just…’ and they trail off with more cochie-couchie-cooing.

‘Yes, a lappet (lap-whippet), a pocket lurcher…’ I reply, tongue in cheek (you see she’s forgotten to grow).

‘Of course’ they murmur without looking up ‘Of course’.

It’s quite hopeless really. Robert’s naturally researched the condition and has reached the conclusion that she oozes oxytocins– the cuddle factor (it just can’t be us – going soft in the head).

Willow is very okay!

Willow

Willow

Jo, from LittleFfarm Dairy, wrote this comment after reading the various posts about the injured deer. I thought it  a wonderful tale, poignant and thought provoking. I asked if she would mind if I posted it on my front page as I felt it was somewhat hidden as a comment and deserved to be read. She happily agreed. Thanks Jo!

I visited a Theravada (Forest Tradition) Buddhist Monastery near Bodh Gaya in India (where the Buddha was said to have attained enlightenment) a few years ago.   Whilst there a deer suddenly burst out from a thicket of trees at the edge of the forest, hotly pursued by an excited dog.  The monks watched impassively as we stared in horror at the inevitability that the dog would surely bring down the young deer….

…..and then, extraordinarily, just as it seemed the dog would make his move, the deer pirouetted abruptly and started chasing the dog!  The pair ran into the central compound of the Monastery around which a modest cluster of Kutis (living quarters) and a Meditation Hall were grouped, the only other sound the regular swish-swish-swish of a broom as a young novice deftly flicked dust from the warm courtyard floor, not even raising his eyes as the clatter of cloven hooves and the patter of paws puffed up fresh clouds of dust, deep in the meditation of his task.  The dog flopped to the floor, tongue lolling, and rolled onto his back.  The deer danced up for a second, pawed tentatively at the dog, and then flopped down companionably, beside his unlikely friend.

We were dumbfounded; the monks, mildly amused.  The monks radiated serenity, especially the Abbot who as we soon learned, was accompanied everywhere by the dog and the deer; themselves inseparable companions.  The Abbot explained this was a place where no living being need fear another; all was harmony.  Even the mosquitoes seemed subdued!  It certainly was an incredible, unforgettable place: an oasis of calm and compassion, deep in the quiet forest.

I often think of that beautiful young deer and his canine companion, seeing them as a beacon of hope, that nothing is impossible; and that true peace can exist.

When all around me seems turbulent and chaotic, I close my eyes and take myself back to that aura of peace; and all is well.’

jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo say's the dog is in the background, but not, unfortunately in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo sent me this photo of the Abbot with the deer...Jo said the dog was in the background but not, unfortunately, in the photo. 'I just think' says Jo 'that this photo radiates such harmony, calmness and tranquility...'

Jo and her husband Tony left high profile careers in the RAF to pursue a dream. After many ups and downs they now successfully run a herd of dairy British Toggenburg goats and make wonderful ice cream. They have just been awarded a Great Taste Gold Award for their Lovespoon Honeycomb Gelato –  as Jo says ‘Not bad for their first year in business!’ To find out more about their struggles and successes follow LittleFfarm Dairy.

Ness skittered past the bird feeder issuing a volley of warning barks.

A guttural belligerent string of abuse rose from behind the hedge.

As the shouting became more aggressive and frenzied the barks intensified, turning hostile and anxious.

I called at Ness out of the window to no effect. I ran down the stairs and outside commanding Ness to come immediately and saw to my horror a man hitting out at her violently with a stick whilst hollering abuse. Luckily Ness heard me and came, visibly shaken.

Calming Ness I apologised to the man, albeit rather tight lipped, and pointed out that hitting and shouting at the dog would most probably antagonises it furthur. Whereupon he turned his verbal attack on me.

We have a public footpath that runs down our lane and along the front and side of our house.

Now I’m a believer in the freedom to roam (without which our wonderful walking holidays in Scotland wouldn’t be possible) and feel privileged that I can explore new parts of glorious countryside through the footpath network. But I feel uncomfortable and intrusive if a footpath takes me alongside a dwelling that’s obviously lived in. I will give it a wide berth if I’m able, if not I try to respect people’s privacy and lives at the very least. And if there’s a dog looking after its boundary? I attempt to appear harmless, non aggressive and reassure the animal that I’m not interested in challenging it.

I’m glad people can appreciate and enjoy our beautiful farm through the footpath. The majority of folk who use it are sensitively aware they’re walking through someone’s home and a working farm. The minority unfortunately appear to be exercising their right (not their freedom) to roam and appear surly and arrogant if you come across them.

My dilemma. Ness, as I think you realise, is hardwired into feral or wild dog behaviour. She naturally reacts as a pack animal; 110% loyal and trustworthy to her pack and protective of her pack territory. She’s not tolerant of interlopers. It’s taken me three years of work to help her understand domestic dog behaviour. She’s learnt well, but in moments of stress she can revert to her instinctive nature. And her anxiety increases if she suspects the energy of the threat is negative, as in those more difficult walkers!

Now as a guard dog her  behaviour would be commended; especially if she apprehended a burglar or prevented some violent attack. She would, no doubt, be heralded a hero. But this same behaviour is deemed unacceptable in law governing public rights of way.

How, tell me, does a dog know the difference?

ness

ness

Here she is!

Willow's first day at Loks Park Farm

Willow's first day at Locks Park Farm

Robert has asked me to formally introduce you to Willow Lark Thylacine…‘Umm? What?’ I can here you thinking. Let me explain.

We were being indecisive between the choice of Willow and Lark (elegant, graceful, dainty. swift, fluid, alive). As the suitability of each was being tossed backward and forward between the family, Robert, in a world of his own, was staring at her quizzically. “I’ve got it.” He suddenly exclaimed “I know exactly. She reminds me of a Thylacine.” (You, of course, are totally familiar with the extinct Tasmanian Tiger? In fact, I’m sure it’s just what you were thinking too…) “Thylacine. That’s what we should call her, Thylacine!” He rushed off to get his mammal book for those who were looking more than a little perplexed.

taking it all in

taking it all in

In the meantime ‘puppy’ was getting a little fed up with what she thought was a quite obvious choice, and decided to make it abundantly clear to us the next time ‘her’ name was called. So with instant recognition,  a bound onto my lap and  a million little licks,  she was, she informed us …Willow!

Robert, a little put out that we hadn’t rapturously agreed on his choice, thought, in those obviously formal situations (?), she should be known by her full name of Willow Lark Thylacine…

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

a wee bit sleepy - but I shan't give in...

She’s a delight. She’s bright, alert and quite enchanting. A definite people person she has won over the hearts of the whole family.  Not a collie though, not a collie at all. Instead of finding the draftiest, most inhospitable spot in which to fall asleep, she actively searches for downy comfy-warm softness (fleecy snug-basket in front of aga)! Bright as a new penny, she’s already sussed out the characters of Skye and Ness, who, surprisingly, are not as put out as I thought they might be. She asks to go out for a wee or poo and has good recall of the house and immediate surrounds, knowing how to get both out and in – a cat flap for her present size would be perfect.

I will keep you fully informed of her progress!

'hunting dogs' my copy of an engraving by Edwin Landseer published in 1839

'hunting dogs' my copy of an engraving by Edwin Landseer published in 1839

I need your help and imagination for a name.

I’m getting a lucher pup. An impulse buy. Well, not really. Not really really.

I have a thing about sight-hounds; their elegance, their gracefulness and their extraordinary fluid beauty when  moving.

I fell in love with, and chose to have, Deerhounds many years back. My last one, Duna, died about thirteen years ago and I always vowed I’d get another one day. Circumstances change. The farm and business took up all my time as did my working collies. Every now and again when looking through old photographs or at one of our longdog/lurcher prints I wistfully reminisce about deerhounds.

The other Saturday I was in Hatherleigh and picked up a couple of local papers to read and then to use as fire lighting (we’d run out of easy-burning fire paper, nothing is as good as newspaper to start a fire with!). There, on the same page, were deerhound and lurcher pups for sale. The lucher being a cross of deerhound, saluki, bedlington, greyhound/whippet and collie (all dogs I love!).

I went to see them both. I agonised. I sort family opinion. ‘Oh, go for the deerhound.’ Was the general consensus.

Then Will came up with a very pertinent point “One thing to think about mum. On your walks, just round the farm even, when you check stock and whatnot. The dogs, they always go through small gaps, under the gates and hedges, through brambles and things. I don’t think a deerhound would manage. Just the sheer size of her. And you couldn’t leave her behind, could you?”

A point I hadn’t even thought of and yes, it’s very true. So that kind of tipped the balance. Well, for the moment anyway.

So little lurcher it is. She tiny, just five weeks old, a silver-blue brindle with dark blue eyes. She’s a very gentle soul, dainty and adorably sweet. What should we call her? Elf is a favourite and Iona (but not suitable for calling). Of course there are all those wonderful lurcher names too; Gypsy, Lady, Lark and Queenie or the plant ones; Flax, Willow, Aspen and Rowan.

What are your suggestions?

Locks Park Farm

Thanks for visiting my blog. All entries are presented in chronological order.

I have a small organic farm on the Culm grasslands near Hatherleigh in Devon, with sheep and beef cattle. I've been farming in the county for more than 30 years. I've set up this blog to share views on farming and the countryside - please do give your thoughts.

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The Campaign to Protect Rural England has helped set up this blog. We want farming to thrive in England, and believe that it is essential that people understand farming and farmers better in order for that to happen. Paula's views expressed here are her own and we won't necessarily share all of them, but we're happy to have helped give her a voice.

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