“Another action packed week flies by! Annie took a team to Broadlands, Romsey, while I braved the M25 and travelled to Hatfield House, Hertfordshire. The Shooting School is busy and we spend every waking hour working with clients and their dogs.
Because Hatfield Show has all manner of livestock on show, there is a Stockman’s Tent. The Stockman’s Tent is the most fantastic place, every stockman, exhibitor and demonstrator can be found in this den of inequity. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and of course an evening of alcohol fuelled socialising, singing and dancing make this unique meeting place compulsory for any self-respecting dog trainer. Of course, I was only there as a quiet spectator. Yeah, right.
Before the evenings really got going there was plenty of time to sit and chat with my fellow demonstrators. Two sheep farmers, a dairy farmer and I represented a group of ex-livestock farmers who were now using their countryside upbringing and animal knowledge at country shows.
We all spend a lot of our time demonstrating to the public the things that we get up to out here in the shires. Some might argue that this is a perfect example of how the countryside is turning into a great big leisure park, and hopefully there is some truth in this argument. I believe if we can balance leisure with shooting, agriculture and general country life then everyone will benefit.
Our weekly gundog training class has reached its fourth week; week two was difficult for all of the handlers on the course, as I deliberately applied the pressure. We methodically looked at the weak areas in each individual handler, not to belittle or undermine their confidence, but simply for one or two to wake up and smell the coffee. “If we are going to improve our handling skills over the next seven weeks, we need to apply ourselves, accept that we need to improve, stop blaming the dog and everyone else around us and start to think like a professional dog handler,” was the message I delivered to the group. This is teacher speak for get your finger out.
My tactics were a conscious decision, and it could have gone either way. There was a strong possibility that I would be stood on the training field on my own next week. No chance! Congratulations to the Wednesday group: a lively, interactive, forward thinking group of handlers have emerged. The depth of experience and knowledge in this group is awesome. The dog handling skills have leapt forward and I look forward to working with these guys next week.”
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“At the beginning of August, the fallow buck season joined the roe buck season, which began on 1 April. This heralds the full swing of the deer season, with the fallow and roe does coming in later in November.
I picked up a new rifle this season and I need to sight up my scope. Making sure a rifle is sighted properly is important when buying or changing scopes or even changing the ammunition. I drove up to Houghton Hall to meet my friend, Head Deer Stalker Julian Stoyles and Assistant Deer Stalker Jeremy Elliott. Julian was away working so Jeremy and I took the rifle out to sight up on targets at 100 and 200 yards. This did not take long and soon after we went out on a stalk.
Houghton’s deer management programme works on the basis of always looking to keep the most well-proportioned animals. These animals will produce the strongest bloodlines and therefore insure a healthy herd. The surplus animals are harvested for the Venison market giving us a good supply of good quality venison. This form of good deer management always insures that Houghton has the correct number of deer the estate can comfortably sustain.
Jeremy and I were looking for young roebucks or young fallow bucks on our stalk. Walking through the woods we saw many fallow does (females) but no bucks (males), but then we came upon a field of fodder beet. As we scanned the beet I spotted a roebuck feeding about 350 to 400 yards away. As the deer lifted his head both Jeremy and I caught a fleeting glance of the bucks antlers before he quickly lowered his head and continued feeding. From the angle we were looking at the buck, it looked like a young one or two-year-old which could be taken. We moved further along the edge of the wood to get a better and closer look. Again we stopped, the roebuck lifted his head and looked over his shoulder in our general direction. This is when we saw him in all his slender a six point adult buck this was prime breeding animal in fantastic condition.
I put the gun down and we both spent 15 to 20 minutes watching him feed until he got wind of us and made off crossing a track 50 yards in front of us. Norfolk is not an area known for good quality roebucks, but this animal was a very good example of a good quality animal and therefore an animal that will produce good offspring. This is testament to the selection and management Houghton practices on all its deer.
We continued working our way back into the woods; here we spotted two fallow bucks. A prickett (which is a young one to two-year-old) and a sorrel (which is a two to three-year-old). Jeremy had a better view than I and we both held our breaths as I moved into position. Both animals held for a few moments, but then seemed to merge quietly into the gloominess of the dense woodland. For the next hour and a half we saw many deer but all out of season does, until we came upon a group of some 15 to 20 animals on the edge of a wood. The way the animals where situated meant that we had to pass by them at a distance and then double back along the edge of the wood to come in view of two bucks that were feeding in a field of barley. This took us some time and the light was drawing away from us to be able to see and have a safe shot.
As we neared the edge of the wood both Jeremy and I laid down and crawled through the grass holding our breaths in a desperate bid to keep quiet from the 40 or so pairs of ears that were around the corner. Just then, a young fallow doe popped out of the wood about 20 yards in front of us; we both froze laying down in the wet grass to conceal ourselves. She looked right at where we lay and then turned back into the wood. I turned to Jeremy and breathed a sign of relief saying, “I think we got away with that.” Seconds later, the doe reappeared. This time she did not only look at us, but barked a warning cry to the rest of the herd and they were off!
Such is the game of stalking and hunting deer in their natural environment using as much skill as we are capable of. Even though we were not successful that evening, it was great to see these healthy herds of well-managed animals and the highlight for me was the fantastic roebuck that we had seen earlier. My thanks to Jeremy, Julian and the Houghton Estate for a great evening. I hope to have better luck next time.”
“You know, I’ve fished Norfolk’s small, meandering River Wensum for 40-odd years and I’ve hardly ever seen canoes on it. Then, come the Griff Rhys Jones series and canoes are everywhere.
Now, I’m not one to deny anybody pleasure at the waterside, but some rivers are designed for canoes and others are not. Whilst canoes are a pest on the River Wye, for example, the water is big enough to take them. On a tiny stream like the Wensum, canoes spell a huge amount of disruption.
The swans are petrified of them. The river is just too narrow for them to ease past a canoe and what happens is that whole groups of swans are flushed downstream in front of the canoes. They’re simply too afraid to stand their ground and they end up miles away from their original feeding and nesting point.
Weed is disturbed. Chub shoals flee quarter of a mile in panic. Moorhens are disturbed.
In short, these tiny streams are just not a canoe-friendly habitat. As ever, I suspect, nothing will be done and once again nature will lose out to whatever the ‘in’ thinking is at the moment.
On a separate note, we’ve got a great idea for a film. The idea is that a group of friends assemble to clear a long-forgotten fishing beat. Years ago it was famous when the salmon ran the river in flotillas but now it’s fallen into neglect. It would be great to show the good that anglers do by opening up dark and lifeless riverbanks. It will also be exciting to uncover relics from a bygone age, from a sporting time that was dominated by salmon. Hopefully, we’ll be able even to interview older fishermen that remember these golden years.
Then, work done, there’s all the excitement of fishing a new beat. This is really what gets an angler’s blood pulsing. New water is like new breath, new life. Will we catch? Will we see fish? How do you set about pioneering new territory? Watch, and hopefully, learn!”
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“It feels distinctly autumnal this week. The light has changed and it's cooler; the leaves on the trees have barely started to change, but it feels different.
I love autumn - it's my favourite time of year. I hope we get some good weather, since our barbeque summer didn't quite happen. It's been lovely today (Monday), especially when the breeze dropped. It was the kind of day when you just HAD to be outside, putting things in order.
Dan cut the grass in the garden, the vegetable garden and the orchard - hopefully that will do it this year, since we bring the sheep on to it in the winter. I've been weeding and brushing up - our garden looks almost respectable, for once. I might buy some bedding plants tomorrow and really go for it and fill some pots and tubs for early colour. That's the easy bit - keeping the hens off it is the challenge!
We brought our new coloured Ryeland lambs home today. They are half sisters to our own three and are called Lucy and Luna. They seem to have settled in OK.
Lucy is a triplet, but she's huge, with a great back end. If I ever get round to getting them halter trained, I might show her next year.
I think our two cheeps might be hens. That would be good and unusually lucky for us. I'm pretty sure they are both the same sex and they look too fine to be cockerels. Fingers crossed. They also look like Light Sussex; the cockerel was Light Sussex and the hen either Light Sussex or ex battery, but I suspect the former. They're only six-weeks-old, so will be in their run for a while yet.
We lifted the garlic, onions and shallots today. The garlic was planted late but has done well; the onions are poor - "something" got under the netting and took off all the foliage quite early on; the shallots are pretty good.
We lifted the remains of the broad beans and gave them to the pigs, who loved them. We're not growing them next year - we don't like them much. We've grown French beans this year and we do like them a lot, so we'll grow more next year. We'll need to pick the last of them and freeze them in the next few days before they get too coarse. The peas are finished and need to come out. The runner beans are still in full production! I'd like to get a green manure in, if possible, so I’ve brought to seed box in for a recce.
Two of the apple trees are groaning; in fact one has split its trunk so Dan's having to do some repairs. The Egremont Russet is poorer this year, but Sunset and Dumelow's Seedling have done really well.
The Victoria plums are ripening; I picked some today and plan to make Old Dowerhouse Chutney this week. Dan's dad gave us a tree from his garden, where it was fan trained on a fence; in our orchard, it's a 2-D tree. I think it will need some prudent pruning to make it look ‘normal’.”
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“I am really excited about being a new Horse and Country blogger! I am Natasha, a 19 year old Para Dressage rider from Middlesex.
Currently I am competing Wald Minor, who was formally ridden at Inter I by Ulrik Molgaard and owned by Jean Scharf, however, he is unfortunately not getting any younger! This year he is 20 so as a result we needed to look for a younger horse to run along side “Woody” who will hopefully be a future medal winner.
We brought Lazardo or “Ludo” in January 2008 from Ulrik as a hopeful for the Beijing Paralympics, however, horses being horses, he had an injury and therefore has been off and will hopefully be back in full work at the beginning of 2010. Fortunately we have found a new young horse Cabral or “JP”. He is a Polish, seven year old brown gelding that we brought from Christian Landolt. He has been home with us for two weeks, has settled in incredibly well and is a complete angel, so we have very high hopes for him.
Paralympic Dressage is divided into four categories depending on the level of disability. I compete at Grade two. After an illness at 14 months old, I was left with permanent nerve damage in my legs. When I ride I can't use my legs to ride the horse forward, so we have trained the horses to respond to my voice and seat.
I have been asked to do a demonstration at the European Championships at Windsor as part of the Gala evening on Friday. I will be riding a Pas De Deux with my friend Erin Orford (also a Para Grade two rider) to the music “It Takes Two”. I feel extremely honoured and excited to be part of such an amazing evening but also a little apprehensive as Woody can get rather excited on big occasions! I will be giving regular blog updates for the build up and during my time at the Championships and if you are going, please come and say hi!”
“As well as being a Puppy Socialiser, I am also a Temporary Boarder for the charity, which means that I offer a temporary home to a dog in training for those times when one of the other Socialisers goes away for a night or two.
Usually we look after a dog that I may have seen once or twice at the Training Centre, but last weekend I had the absolute pleasure of providing temporary boarding for Winnie, the first dog I had ever socialised.
Ruby and Winnie had not met before, and they got on like a house on fire! My own two Labradors barely got a look-in as the two females ran around in the garden - Winnie picking-up the old toys she always used to play with, and Ruby desperately trying to share other, newer toys with her.
Needless to say, all the dogs slept very well that weekend!
After returning Winnie to the Centre on the Monday, I carried on into town and walked around the precinct with Ruby. There is a large-scale pedestrianisation project taking place, so I thought it was a good opportunity for Ruby to experience the noises from diggers, drills and machinery.
I was really pleased that nothing surprised or bothered her, and the only guidance that was needed was to ensure that she walked to heel alongside me. Every now and again she started to come around the front of me, so I gently and positively enticed her back to heel and then carried on walking. By the end of the walk she had stopped ‘wandering’ and was stepping along beautifully.
Later in the week, Ruby clocked up another new experience – her first bath!
Whilst out walking in a field near home, Ruby discovered something not so fragrant left by a fox and instinct immediately took over! She rolled to and fro, only stopping when she’d covered herself! So, home-time meant bath-time, and she was not overly impressed with my determination to remove her new-found essence!
Duly cleaned and smelling of Labrador puppy again, Ruby attended the monthly Puppy Class at the Training Centre. The other attendees included two of her siblings, Raffles and Reuben, and they all performed admirably in demonstrating their recall and down-stays. In addition, simple retrieve and pull games were introduced as a fun way to start to develop the skills needed for their future partnerships, such as retrieving dropped keys or books, opening doors or pulling off socks.”
Nigel is a professional farrier and keen competitor
"The ‘summer’ is flying by and whilst the weather hasn’t been as bad as previous years, it certainly hasn’t made life as simple as it could be! The really bad weather has made fields extremely wet, making it very difficult to get to customers with no hard standing – not what you would expect in July and August. Feet haven’t been quite as cracked as they have been in very dry summers, but the damp conditions has kept bacteria happy in their warm moist environments leaving some horses particularly prone to seedy toe and whiteline disease. Laminitis has also kept a constant presence; traditionally we have seen a rise and fall from spring through summer to autumn.
The last few weeks we have taken on a number of new clients – some from quite far away. In all cases these clients have presented us with horses, not necessarily with ‘bad’ feet, but that have been shod below what I feel is an acceptable standard. I always find it disheartening to see horses shod poorly, whilst it is always good to see a horse walk away happier and more comfortable it would be great if they hadn’t got into that situation in the first place.
Similarly we have had call-outs to horses and ponies whose feet have been neglected and in an atrocious state purely due to infrequent trimming and shoeing. These are cases of neglect but also in some instances of ignorance. One farrier friend charges per hour for cases such as these as the time taken to properly trim a foot is considerably more than if the foot had been cared for frequently – therefore there is no cost saving in not caring for equine feet regularly.
Mike, our first apprentice, has delighted us by passing his final exams with flying colours, gaining ‘honours’ in his theory paper. Mike will graduate in early September but will stay with us for the time being on a part-time basis. This will help to ensure that we continue to stay on top of work as it comes in and can provide a quick response to those that have unfortunately ‘lost’ a shoe! Robbie will officially start his apprenticeship in September having completed his probationary period and Harry will soon enter his third year of the four year and two month apprenticeship.
The farriery competition season is beginning to slow a little. Next week is the ‘Internationals’ - a team shoeing competition organised by the National Association and held at The Forge, Stoneleigh alongside the Town & Country Festival. 14 countries will be represented this year which should make for an exciting competition. I will be Reserve for the Welsh Team once more having narrowly been beaten by Grant Moon (six times winner of the World Championships!) at the trials by just 0.4 of a mark. My other team mates will include Billy Crothers, Andy Martin and Jim Blurton. This year will be the first year that the Apprentices compete at the Internationals – Harry will be competing so he has lots of practising to do too!
Forge & Farrier has been really busy and will celebrate it’s second birthday on the 23rd August. We now have over 5,500 individual users from 72 different countries which is fantastic considering the farriery industry is a relatively small one. Farriers Pages is well under construction and will hopefully be live middle to end of September."
“Well, we’ve seen the end of an era here this week. Our old Rhode Island Red hen finally fell off the perch, literally. We bought her as part of a batch of eight point of lay pullets in 2003 and she was the only one left. She did look old, but she was fine right up until the end, except she couldn’t manage to get up on the roosting perches the night she died. Dan found her in the morning, stiff as a board. We’ll miss her – although she wasn’t really tame, she knew that hanging round the kitchen door was good way to get any treats going. She was also Hector’s “enforcer” and could put all the younger hens in their place.
Dickie seems to be fine after his operation. We checked him again this week and he seems to have healed completely. Juno needed dagging – removing soiled wool from around her back end to prevent fly strike – so that was a rare treat for us all. We’ll check her again later in the week. I’ll do a worm egg count and review our worming strategy.
We’ve weaned the two male lambs. Naturally, it wasn’t without incident. We decided to put the ewes in the rented field across the road and leave the lambs on new grass in the top half of the orchard, where there are no fruit trees for them to eat, using the electric fence. The moves went smoothly but when I went out about 15-minutes later, Dickie and Jura were back in the orchard. Dickie was munching on plums, not having any of his own anymore!
So, we put them all back in the river field and started again, after adding a strand to the electric fence. If they can clear that, they’re going to Hickstead! The lambs and ewes can see each other and there was some nose touching through the fence yesterday but, to be honest, the lambs don’t care – it’s the ewes doing the bleating. I thought they would be glad to see the back of them, but apparently not.
We’ve left Lyra, Jura’s ewe lamb, with the ewes – she’s the youngest and Jura the most troublesome, so we’ll let the boys and their mothers settle, then move Lyra. She needs to get her second dose of Heptavac P Plus this week anyway.
I’ve bought two more ewe lambs and will pick them up next weekend. They are half sisters to Lyra, which will make finding an unrelated tup easier, when the time comes. Both are registered – but we’ll have to choose names for them, starting with the letter “L”.
I am taking up a post next month as Project Co-ordinator for Forth Valley Countryside Initiative, working for the Royal Highland Education Trust. I will be working with schools and farmers to improve links to the countryside including organising school visits to farms and farmer visits to schools. It’s initially for one year and I’m really looking forward to it.
It was the Central Scotland Smallholders’ Association annual barbeque on Saturday. Our secretary and her husband hosted the event at their smallholding in Fife. It stayed dry but was very windy, especially on their hilltop site. A good afternoon was enjoyed by everyone – Graham had organized a “Show what you grow” event, including classes for best nettle, best dock and best thistle, so we all had a chance to compete, regardless of our gardening skill. Dan won the “Best Rude Vegetable” with his “bottomato”. I don’t know if he’ll be able to repeat that success next year!”
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“The game shooting season is now well and truly under way with the first grouse being shot on the 12th August. Unfortunately, driven grouse shooting is an extremely expensive sport so we held the poor man’s version here at Lains - a simulated grouse shooting day involving twelve guns and loads of clays thrown to simulate grouse drives. Make no mistake, we don’t claim to be able to truly recreate the thrill of being on the moor, but boy did we have a good time.
The guns had so much shooting that several of them ran out of cartridges. For those of you that are not familiar with formal driven game shooting, this is one of those etiquette whoopsies that you should do everything to avoid. The first person to empty his pockets was a very good friend of mine: Peter Stagg who is Head Keeper of the Beaulieau Estate and should the boot have been on the other foot I would have been liable to public humiliation.
This is where my blog returns to the subject of dog training. On site we have the most obedient, loyal and beautifully trained German Shepherd dog called Tommy. Tommy is here to work as a security dog and it is very important that he gets regular man work. This involves a stooge putting on a bite suit and acting out the role of an intruder. Bite suit or not, the first time 45kgs of German Shepherd tears across the field with one intention and one intention only, to bite you, you will definitely feel your heart rate increase a lot.
Peter’s cartridge misdemeanor meant that he was the perfect candidate for man work and all credit to him, he unwillingly put on the bite suit and played his part in Tommy’s weekly training session all under the careful eye of one of our professional dog trainers who made absolutely certain that every thing was carried out professionally and safely.
Tommy needs regular training exactly the same as any other dog; heel, sit, stay, speak and fetch are taught in almost the same way as we would teach and train a gundog. The obvious difference is that when he is sent to retrieve, his target is slightly different. As it happens, Tommy is the most excellent retriever and his speed is more than a match for any retriever. The downside is that the dummy comes back with teeth marks in it; you guessed - he is hard mouthed.
In last weeks blog, I chuntered on about peoples’ misconception of country people and Tommy suffers the same prejudice. Right up until the moment that I click him up into work mode, Tommy is no more dangerous than any other dog. German Shepherds are one man/lady dogs and they thrive on human contact. With the correct input they become the best friend you could ever ask for.
Some people are surprised to hear that the German Shepherd is my favorite breed; this breed has the stature, presence, aggression and bite power to be the most popular guard breed in the world. As a companion he is trustworthy, loyal, highly trainable and extremely affectionate. Add all of those qualities together and all of the money in the world will not buy you a friend like my Tommy.”
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“Yes, it’s that time of year again when the bounty of our countryside’s larder throws open its doors and allows us to sample one of its best commodities.
I’m talking about the game season, which kicked off on 12th August with the start of the grouse season. These illusive birds that live in the highlands of Scotland and in Yorkshire are the first of the small game species to get the ball rolling. Grouse are incredible birds that choose to make their home in some of the most beautiful yet inhospitable places in the country, living on the highlands where the snow is a frequent guest that will come to stay throughout the year.
These birds live on a nearly exclusive diet of heather, a hardy plant that grows at altitude and, as I was told once by my good friend Nick HM, has the nutritional value of Astroturf. Not many animals live on heather as it is hard to digest. The only competition that the grouse have for the heather is blue hare, which also have guts of iron to be able to digest it and live in the same areas.
At the moment reports are sketchy on the numbers of grouse this year. A friend of mine was on the west of Scotland last week and reported good numbers with large covies being driven up, but on the east coast the weather seems to have put a delay to any numbers being seen even though this area had an abundance of these famous game birds last year.
In shooting and falconry, grouse are the panicle of the sport. Grouse fly high, fast and seem to have the ability to dodge shots which makes them a good test for any gun. Over the next few weeks, we will see grouse on the menu; done well it has what I can only describe as a taste of the moor as the heather flavours the meat. So go try some grouse.”
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