Abe – Amazing Days!

The last two days have been All About Abe – much to George’s disgruntlement.

Friday afternoon was the date scheduled for Lynn to come round and help me back him, so Friday morning started with long reining practice:

A little choppy because I stitched together 15-second chunks off the trail cams, but we spent about 15 minutes trailing around the yard and back like this.

He was great with the long-reins, so I undressed him and let him graze in the yard for a while. After an hour or two off, we did some in-hand work at the mounting block. He often has trouble understanding exactly where I want him to stand, so I tried a new training tactic – I put my hand on the exact spot on his back which I want right by me when it’s time to mount, then reinforced that feeling for him with loads of clicks and treats. When I moved my hand off again, I stopped clicking and treating, just let my hand rest on his wither. He thought about it a bit, juggled himself back and for a little and then worked out exactly where to stand so my hand slid to that exact spot on his back – and bingo, the treat dispenser was ON! He now has it nailed completely!

He had another couple of hours off after that, and then a final session in-hand with the saddle, making sure he could transfer the feel of my hand on his bare back to the same hand on top of the pad, which he could, and doing a few final flops over his back, hand-feeding him from that position so he had to turn his head right round to reach and could see where I was. He was completely chilled about all that, so away he went to graze on the lawn with the bunnies again.

Finally, at 3pm, Lynn arrived, I caught Abe up again and we did a last little test of the hang-over-his-back, which was fine, before I scrambled (ungracefully) into the saddle (in my defence, it’s been a long time, I’ve never sat on that saddle on a horse before, I didn’t want to leap on him and make him jump and there’s no stirrups!)

He put his head up a little and slanted his ears back, but only in a mildly ‘what the heck is she doing now?’ kind of way, and waited politely for treats. He got them, of course, and lots of pats and praise! He waited while I got myself rather better arranged in the saddle, then Lynn walked him a few steps. We stopped to give him more pats, praise and treats, and so progressed in little sections around the yard before I dismounted and that was that – I’d rather have 5 good minutes than an hour of mediocre from a young horse and he was brilliant!

Today started with another very short ride – but alone, this time. He was an absolute gem and after spending a minute fussing around the mounting block, he suddenly decided he had the perfect spot and turned into a lovely statue while I mounted (slightly less ungracefully, this time!) and arranged ourselves, then I asked him to walk on. He looked slightly mulish and didn’t move. I asked again. Eventually he decided he did know what it meant and wasn’t going to be offended about me squeezing his ribs with my legs, and we were off… slowly. He’s still learning how to balance himself under me so straight lines tend to meander and corners need to be taken wide and slow, but he answers voice and rein aids well and is starting to connect the dots between ‘walk on’ and ‘leg squeeze’, which is very good on only his second ride. We walked up to the gate, turned a few very eccentric nowhere-near-circles and then walked back to the feed room, where I got off and gave him tons of praise and treats! For some reason my phone turned itself off before we got moving forward, but at least the whole performance around the mounting block has been captured for posterity! Talk about fussy Arabs…

This afternoon I tried him with something completely different – the first steps towards becoming a driving horse! Normally this is the horse learning how to drag a tyre or a plank around, and I happened to have an old tyre knocking about, so I lashed it up with some baler twine (breaks easily, just in case!) and the wooden trace spreader I made for George’s great-great-grandmother when she was learning to pull a plank, then brought Abe in after his dinner and walked him up and down and round the yard while I hauled the tyre along after me by the attached traces. He was a little worried at first – ‘this thing is stalking us, have you noticed?’ – but decided after a while that it was probably ok if I was ok, and he’d just keep me between it and him anyway. I tied him up and put his harness on, then we went and did some more of the same, with me pulling the tyre along behind us while he walked. He was completely happy about straight lines by then, though rather leery of it catching up on corners, so I buckled the traces to his collar and coaxed him gently forward one step. He’s never had to push his chest against a weight like that and after one step he stopped, concerned. Tons of praise and encouragement later, he took another step…. and another…. and towed the tyre all the way up the yard. I took the traces off there, hauled the tyre down to the bottom again and we did it again, then I took his harness off, told him what a star he is and turned him out again.

We’ll have another little ride to the gate and back tomorrow, and then drag the tyre again the day after. If I can do one or the other each day, he should make rapid strides in both disciplines – but I will keep our sessions short and end on high notes, make sure he enjoys lavish praise and loads of treats all the way.

In other news, Hannibal is now wandering the yard alone, because Lucy is clamped to her eggs in the barn. Yarrow the ferret is now eating meat – as I discovered when I picked her up this morning and she licked me, then tried to eat my hand! I gave her a piece of chicken, which she engulfed happily, then Ivy discovered I’d meep-napped her baby and carried Yarrow firmly back to the nest! She and Holly are both taking their fresh meat to their nests and putting it by the kits, which is excellent.

Nightshade’s kits are right live-wires – if I open the nest box door too wide they race around and risk falling out, and one attacked me this morning, stamped on my fingers! They have their eyes wide open and are regular miniature bunnies now, at nearly 3 weeks old.

Chicks and ducklings are all fine.

Bobbing Along…

Mother Duck and her brood

I picked up a little yellow duckling the morning after they hatched – he must have slipped out of the nest, not been able to find his way back in and died of exposure. Holly Ferret did disposal duty for me.

Yesterday the 5 surviving ducklings were bobbing about in Mother Duck’s water tray when I went out, so I cleared the unhatched eggs. 3 exploded when I cracked them to check (just as well I always crack eggs on the far side of the garden wall! – that way the revolting green sulphurous contents go elsewhere, not on me!), 4 had dead chicks and the last one cheeped at me, so I popped it hurriedly back in the nest. When I checked a couple of hours later Mother Duck had moved to cover her brood, leaving the half-hatched chick to chill. I picked it up again, took it inside and warmed it up, then noted the membranes inside the shell had dried, which means they shrink… so the poor duckling was effectively shrink wrapped.

I did a bit of careful damping of the membranes to get them loose, picked off all the shell and put the cheeper in the incubator to get nice and warm. That gave him the chance to shed the shell, and a little more careful wiping with a damp cotton bud cleared the last stuck-on bits of membrane. He spent the night inside in a cardboard box on a towel-wrapped hot water bottle under my second electric hen and looked chirpy this morning, so I decided to see if Mother Duck would take him.

She did, straight off. I popped him down, she squeaked, he squeaked, she squeaked, then lifted herself up and herded him, with her beak, into the warmth under her wings with his siblings. As you can see from the video at the top of this post, he’s a bit smaller than the others but looks fine.

I have no doubt Mother Duck is much better at raising ducklings than I am, so this is excellent!

I also braved Lucy this morning – she’s definitely sitting in the big dairy shed, so I took her previous eggs back to her. I popped a feed bucket upside down on Hannibal’s head, which kept him occupied while I carefully dodged Lucy’s beak and put her eggs on the end of her nest. She hooked them in, swearing at me in Hiss the whole time, so I beat a retreat, liberating a very cross Hannibal as I went!

Ducklings!

Day 37 of her mammoth Sitting experience and Mother Duck has ducklings this morning! I’ve glimpsed a few, removed a few vacated shells and noted a few more definitely still chipping, so I don’t expect her to hop off the nest and want to take her brood outside quite yet.

In other news, I’ve had a thorough look at Holly’s litter and she has two boys and two girls. One of the jills appears to be an albino, going by the pale eyes, and one of the hobs is quite dark so I expect he’ll be a poley. I’m not sure about the other two! All the same, I can start considering names for them now I know if they’re Clytemnestras or Agamemnons.

Catching Up Again

I’m being erratic in my blogging again. Apologies!

Abe’s operation went well on Thursday – he was a bit leery of the syringe for the sedative but I cupped my hand behind his eye so he couldn’t see it coming and he relaxed straight off, didn’t feel the needle going on and was shortly so dopey I had to hold his head up for a bit in case it pulled the rest of him sideways! The vet waited a minute or so until gravity won over the relaxed tummy muscles and then applied local anaesthetic and snipped the growth off smartly, put in three little self-dissolving stitches, gave Abe an anti-inflammatory shot and another of antibiotics, then handed me packets of pain killers and took the growth away to be examined by the lab. All done in 45 minutes! We should have results at the end of next week – and once we know what the thing was, the vet can decide what the appropriate next step is, from ‘do nothing’ to ‘seek specialist advice’! Abe was a bit dopey for the rest of the afternoon but was totally fine and haring around the field with the others the following day, which was George’s 4th Birthday!

George coming for his Birthday Hugs!

I walked out to the field to say happy birthday, where the three youngsters were lying down, and George hoisted himself up and came to get his hug – and he actually allowed me to give him a hug, too, which is unusual! – while the others stayed down. Poppy watched in the distance (she’s right off at the far end of the field, to the left of George in the pic).

I now have 4 goose eggs in the pantry, waiting to see if Lucy plans on going broody. If she does, I’ll slip them back under her – hopefully without Hannibal killing me in the process.

Mother Duck is still sitting, she just gives me beady looks when I ask if she has ducklings yet so I’ll have to wait and see! Patchy Girl pops in daily for food and water then disappears back to her nest – this morning she walked up to me and made ‘feed me!’ signs, opening and closing her beak while looking piteously at me, so I spent five minutes sitting in the yard in the mizzle holding a scoop of layers’ pellets for her! The chickens were trying to muscle in and needed to be fended off. Black Duck reappeared on Friday and has popped in daily since, so I’ve been able to track her back to her nest – she’s round the far side of the farmer’s barn, tucked just inside between two round straw bales and very snug. They both have good safe nest spots with plenty of down to snug the eggs into, so I’ll just keep an eye on them and once they have ducklings, try to bring them into the yard safely so they won’t get run over or stolen by rats.

I’ve been doing quite a lot of air pistol practice in the big dairy/workshop – when the horses are out – as the rat population is growing again. I’m nearly up to being able to hit a sitting rat at 5m now, so I shall start putting bait out in a suitable spot. Once they’re used to going to that spot for food, I’ll be able to sit in ambush and pot them humanely. I’ll also put out the live-trap – again, once it’s baited and they’re used to it, I should be able to catch a few before they wise up.

Holly seems to have a mixed litter of meeps – some may be starting to go dark, I think one might be an albino and there’s another I’m not sure what it’s doing; the coat seems pale still but the eyes look dark, although of course none of them have their eyes open yet. Yarrow is going beautifully dark with white front mitts, like her dad Rambo!

Nightshade’s litter of baby bunnies have their eyes open now and are getting quite determined about hopping out of my fingers and back into their nest when I go poking about in there! The bunnies have had a couple of days without grazing as the strong winds blew their pens over on Friday and I had to chase them all over to get them safely incarcerated again! Looking at the weather forecasts, we might be okay to put the pens back up this afternoon.

A Photo Post

I’ve not been taking many photos recently and I’m trying to remind myself to do more! I also have the trail cams set up in new positions as I keep hoping to find out where Black Duck got to, but no sign yet.

It does mean I have more pix, anyway.

Like this one of Abe doing a little training session the other day – he’d almost forgotten how to long-rein, poor lad!

Ignore the date on trail cam – it was actually the 17th May 2020!

It was as well I was wearing the skull cap – in the process of him trying to remember how to stand next to the mounting block a little later, he experimented with pawing the ground, climbing up the block after me and bonking me on the head with his nose several times. Eventually he worked out the correct answer – stand quietly parallel to block and allow silly human to jump up and down, lean over, pat, thump and shake saddle – and was rewarded with lots of nuggets as a result.

While we’re still on the subject of Abe, when Odette visited to trim hooves she remarked on an ‘odd growth’ on his undercarriage. Of course I was twelve feet away and couldn’t see and Abe’s a very private-minded chap on the subject of his privates, so it’s taken me all this time to get a glance for myself. That happened in the evening of the 17th, so first thing on the 18th I phoned the vet to discuss. Last night while feeding him I managed to insinuate my phone under his tum and snapped a few pix of the offending object, which the vet will be removing on Thursday afternoon.

Ugh. Poor Abe!

Interestingly, while eating in solitary splendour in the field, Abe was being escorted front and rear by cockerels. Snowball helped by picking up bits of dropped feed:

Helpful Silky Cockerel…

Al was just behind with one of the chocolate girls (the two Araucana cross hens look so similar I can’t tell them apart!)

What a magnificent tail, Sir!

I found this stunning dawn on a north facing trail cam (!) this morning:

We’re a good way up from the Equator but it always startles me when dawn arrives in the north!

I found this gem on the other trail cam, which covers the north paddock entrance:

I say, do you have a signed release form for this thing?

Also on this camera overnight, though much hardly to find, is Boojum, the feral cat!

Or at least her tail.

Look carefully in the centre, there’s a tabby-striped tail just ‘softly and silently vanishing away’ behind a tuft of grass….

And finally, here’s Daffodil and Snowdrop enjoying the grass in front of the lounge windows, together with escorting flotilla of assorted chickens!

Bunnies and Chooks – from left to right, one of the hybrids, Al, another hybrid, Mahogany, Daffodil and Snowdrop, and Pompom the silky cross.

Those Pesky Fowl

For those who are finding my various birds slightly confusing…

Starting with the smallest:

I have 10 quail – 5 adults from last year and 5 chicks from this year. They’re all in the barn now and doing quite happily there. None of them have names since I can’t tell them apart! The cock birds have reddish-coloured heads and the hens don’t, but beyond that they have me foxed. I just call them all ‘the quail’. Quail take 17 day to hatch and 6 weeks from hatching to laying their first egg.

Next size up, the chickens. I have 4 cockerels; Snowball is a white silky and looks like a high-speed fluffy white pompom, usually in hot pursuit of a female. Charlie is a little taller and basically black, while Angel is smaller and definitely black. Al is a totally different kind of beast, he’s a sleek and handsome black and golden-red rooster with a lovely arched tail. There are also 10 rescue hens, who all look the same so they don’t have names. There are also 5 hens with names – two are called chocolate because they’re very similar and a light milk-chocolate colour, they’re Araucana crosses and lay big blue eggs. Mahogany is a beautiful black hen with reddish highlights, she lays a brown egg. Hamburg is a Pencilled Hamburg and lays a white egg, and Pompom is a silky-cross who is small, black, sleek and has (oddly enough…) a feathery head that looks like a black pompom. She lays a smaller blue egg, so there’s Araucana in the mix! I also have 4 chicks in the lounge, who are still in their chick fluff – three are black with paler bits (including one with a white bottom!) and one is stripy. I’m looking forward to seeing how they turn out when they have their adult feathers! Hens take 21 days to hatch and then 16 weeks to reach first egg, give or take a bit (silkies are usually slower).

Getting into the big ones, there are the Muscovy ducks. I have 5 ducks, who are moderately decent-sized for ducks and 3 drakes, who are massive, about 2-3 times the size of the ducks. Blondie is basically a white drake, Lavender Boy is mostly grey with a white head and Patchy Boy has more white and less grey. In the ducks, there’s Mother Duck, who’s the oldest and parented all the others last year when they hatched; she’s white with a black patch on her back and a black tail. Little Madam looks rather like her but with a smaller black patch and only the middle of her tail is black. Patchy Girl is mostly white with a grey back, while Lavender Girl is mostly grey with a white head. Finally, Black Duck is black with a white head. Muscovies take 35 days to hatch and about 5 months to mature.

The geese are the biggest; Lucy is mostly white with a grey back and Hannibal is almost entirely white with a black patch on the back of his neck. Goose eggs take 28 days to incubate and geese then need about a year to reach full size, 2 years to first egg and usually 3 years to decide they’re ready to raise goslings.

Hopefully that sorts things out!

Introducing…. Yarrow!

Yarrow, 8 days old today!

Ivy’s Meep is now officially called Yarrow. She’s a fine, fat little lady, her white fur beginning to darken (not surprising, Ivy’s a sable-coloured ferret, black all over bar her white face markings) and Ivy’s being a good mum, keeping her meep cuddled and snuggled warmly in the nest with herself except when she pops out to say hi, grab food or relieve herself.

Holly was nesting last night and this afternoon I heard squeaking in her nest while she was at the food dish! I shall have to wait a few more days to find out how many she has and what genders.

Ajax has settled with Fido for company, Rambo being in with Angus, and both sets of boys seem to get on okay so there’s no more screaming and biting. Ferrets are not shy of letting you know when they’re cross and for a fairly small animal they can produce a fearsome volume of scream!

The ducks are being a bit exasperating at the moment – Mother Duck is doing fine, still sitting determinedly on her eggs in their bucket, but the younger ones are being a bit tricky.

First Black Duck started disappearing at night and being around through the day – but squeaking if anyone went near. She didn’t show up at all yesterday and I can’t find her anywhere. Patchy Girl was squeaking yesterday and today she’s vanished! I’ve seen Lavender Girl this morning but not Little Madam yet… my fingers are firmly crossed that they’ve decided to go broody and just settled in a hedge or inside the farmer’s barns next door. If so, they’ll reappear with ducklings in due course…

Here’s hoping – and if they are planning on that, I need to register my mixed flock with DEFRA before they put me well over the 50-bird legal limit for unregistered flocks! Including the chicks I’m at 43 just now and Mother Duck’s eggs are due to hatch on the 23rd (provided their various nest-collapses didn’t chill the poor things too badly!) so it’s going to be tight.

The chicken chicks are doing well, getting quite animated about scratching, pecking and dashing about their cage. The quail chicks have developed a strategy for being deprived of their brooder a bit early, which is stacking up on top of each other at night.

Nightshade has had a little of 3 little black bunnies, which means Sage is a proven buck. Mistletoe isn’t showing signs of nesting at the moment so I won’t separate them for a couple more weeks, but then he’d better go into a cage by himself. The other pair, Snowdrop and Daffodil (the buck) are also not showing signs of nests. All the bunnies (except the babies, of course!) are now going into a pen on the grass for a couple of hours a day in three shifts and loving it; they’re doing a grand job of eating docks and mowing the grass, too.