Gaeaf Glas wna Fynwent Fras.

We had a cold start to the day this morning and we have more promised to come. Though I was not too keen on this first thing today, when I had to break all the ice from the animals’ water troughs, I am generally glad to see the season behaving more like a normal winter. The cold snap reminded me that, while I had cut and collected enough timber for fuel, I have not split enough logs nor prepared enough kindling. So now I have my weekend planned.

I saw in the agricultural diary, when I was writing our log, that the Welsh proverb of the week is “Gaeaf Glas wna Fynwent Fras“.  This can be translated as a harsh or cold winter will lead to full cemeteries. It reflects early awareness, of now scientific knowledge, that winter is the most dangerous season. Indeed the 7th of January is the day of the year on which  more people die than any other. Possibly reflecting two factors : the first is the winter season itself,  and the second may be the ability of people to hold on or persevere until after the Christmas period – slipping off the mortal coil at a more timely point.

Gaeaf Glas literally means a blue or green winter. Although now ‘glas’ is used to mean ‘blue’, earlier the celtic languages didn’t distinguish in words between blue and green and used ‘glas’ for both colours.  This is why the “dear green place is called “Glasgow”.  Now, in  Cymraeg (welsh) we use glas for blue and gwyrdd for green and I am not sure that this is a step forward. Sometimes I think the prior situation may have been better.

At the moment we are trying to renovate our holiday let’s kitchen and this entails choosing the colour of the doors of the cabinets. You might imagine that this is an easy task. Think of a colour you like, blue, or green, or red, and decide on that colour. But unfortunately this does not work. I have now discovered that there are bluey-greens and greeny-blues, as well as greens that are too greeny. I have been asked to look at  cards and select between sage green, pale verdigris green (which is gray), soft pastel mint green or soft duck egg green (which is blue). Once we have selected an apt green for the cabinets we can then open the big book of paint colours for the splash back. I think there are over 20 blues and greens in here.

I really have no hope of contributingcolor_differences to this debate. Indeed I don’t know why I bother, my wife will make the decision anyway. Not only can I not distinguish between these imperceptible shade differences (Imagine being asked which you prefer “magnolia” or “almond white” or “cream” ! They are all the same). But also there is the mystery of matching to come – “Do you think this brown picks up the brown in the carpet ? Or is it too reddy brown ? I have no hope of playing this game. I don’t know the rules and I am also wired wrongly. Studies have shown that men and women differ in what colour differences they can perceive and as a consequence men and women have different colour categories and nouns.

In this area I think expansion of categories is a hindrance rather than a boon and we should start a campaign for real colours. We would permit red, blue, green, yellow, purple and orange but suggest that all the other colours are simple figments of the home-decorating and furnishing industry and banned as fraudulent advertising. Although of a libertarian inclination this is one area in which I could support some increased legislation. Think of the marital disharmony it would prevent and the number of divorces that would be avoided. Think of the errors that could be avoided day-to-day – no longer could somebody be asked to get the taupe cardigan and make a mistake and get the gray one. Bliss.

 

 

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

No icicles yet, unfortunately.

Strangely I found myself reciting Shakespeare while I fed the chickens and milked the goat this morning. I was happily reminded of this piece as I broke the ice that had formed overnight on the water trough.

When icicles hang by the wall,
and Dick the shepherd blows his nail,
and Tom bears logs into the hall,
and milk comes frozen home in pail,
When blood is nipped, and ways be foul,
the nightly sings the staring Owl,
  To-whoo;
To-whit, to-whoo, a merry note,
while greasy Joan doth keel the pot.

William Shakespeare, Love’s Labour’s Lost

There is very little Shakespeare that I can remember from my schooldays, even less if I limit myself to verses I can recite from memory. But I am still able to recall the first verse of this poem from ‘Love’s labour’s Lost’. I think it spoke to me in those days before central heating and supermarket shopping. Waking to the ferns of ice on the bedroom windows, puffing to see the mist of your breath, fighting with your brother to stand in front of the fan heater while dressing and finding it impossible to pour the milk over your cereal as the cream had frozen and was pushed out of the top of the bottle. I think I first met this poem on a cold morning in primary school and suddenly understood the authors description of blood being ‘nipped‘, needing to ‘blow your nail‘ and later “Marian’s nose looks red and raw“. I thought then, Shakespeare knew winters as I knew winters  and they hadn’t changed much.

The last few morning have been cold. Cold enough to freeze and cold enough to be uncomfortable without gloves. There has been heavy frost but it has not yet been cold enough for icicles. It is nice to get back indoors having done the animals and to stand by the range to warm up. I am so relieved to see this cold weather, I had started to give up hope of getting a good cold spell again.  It is difficult to express how happy I am that the weather has turned. I was so happy that it had me reciting poetry to the goat (She thought is was excellen!)

Though the cold is uncomfortable it is a vital part of the season. Each season has its appropriate weather and the cyclical changes we see are the base on which we organise all our agricultural activities. What we grow, where we grow and when we grow it all depends on the seasonal cycles.  This includes the colds of autumn and winter. This change is very bit as vital as the warmth that starts in spring. The temperature changes  lets the trees know to prepare for autumn. The produce of many plants is produced when the drop in temperature warns the plant of oncoming winter. Further, and very importantly, increasing cold puts an end to the life cycle of a number of bugs.

One of these bugs which is killed is the blowfly. These are the greenbottles, blackbottles and bluebottles  which we commonly see through the summer. (The name ‘bottle’ in this case refers to their being ‘bot flies’, and a “bot” is a maggot). These love warm damp weather and proliferate in this. The problem associated with them is that they lay their eggs in the fleece of sheep, these hatch as maggots, which then eat the animal and lay more eggs, which then go on the repeat the cycle. An animal with this is termed “fly struck”. It is a serious, and sometimes, fatal condition. The greenbottles are the primary culprit in this condition, bluebottles only affect animals already struck.

A knowledge of the seasons allows us to prepare for this and to dip or spray our animals with insecticides to protect them from flies during the summer months. But I and many of my neighbours have been caught out this year. Normally our regime works by protecting the animal  until the cold wintry months start when the flies have died or are dormant. But this year our disrupted seasons have witnessed unseasonably warm weather right up until to November. This has been associated with damp conditions and the ideal scenario for fly strike. So I and others have found animals  attacked by maggots and have had to re-dose animals with insecticides much later in the year than ever before.

We have been warned that, as a consequence of global warming, we would see changes to our seasons. Namely, that in the UK, things would be warmer and wetter. We now see that this warning was accurate In the spring we had droughts, in the summer the sun scorched the fields, hay has become scarce and its price risen, and in late autumn sheep are being troubled by flies that should have passed. These small changes are starting to wreak large and damaging effects. Obviously we will try and deal with these by adapting to them but it is also important that we try and stop them worsening.

Although there may be arguments about what underpins these changes and how much is man-made, the simple fact is that we can only change the things we can change. We can only pull the levers that we have. So it does not matter how we got into this mess it can only be man-made actions that might get us out of it. Unless we patiently wait for a miracle and I don’t think our present behaviour would suggest we deserve one of those.

Now over half of the world’s population live in urban areas where issues such as food production, warmth and shelter  are issues related to markets and services rather than nature. This means over half of us will not see the very real changes that are happening to our world. If the changes are seen then the significance of them might be missed. The failure of the cold weather to come and kill greenbottles might not be seen as a problem. It might even be thought of a bonus. But anyone who has seen a animal eaten alive by maggots knows otherwise and that this is a very, very bad omen indeed.

 

 

Isn’t it wonderful weather we are having ?

I don’t know how many conversations I have had in the last month about how wonderful our recent weather has been. Probably every time I venture out of the smallholding I meet someone who is enjoying our present heatwave. In the evening, on the television, reporters wax lyrical that we are enjoying higher temperature than ever (even higher than the last record summer in 1976) and illustrate their reports with film of happy sunbathers enjoying ice-creams or sunbathing. But I can’t share the joy.

I can’t share the joy even though I have DSC_3368-EFFECTSgone swimming in the sea twice a week recently (and I can assure you swimming in the sea is not something one is able to do often off the coast of North Wales). I can not join in the bonhomie despite the fact that many of the garden flowers are looking spectacularly good this summer and the smells in the garden are wonderful. I can’t get happy despite the schadenfreude that comes form seeing the difference in electricity production between our solar scheme and our neighbours hydro system. Even the recognition that I sheared the sheep just in time doesn’t cheer me. No, despite all these benefits I stay resolutely downhearted. Why ?

I am concerned because this heatwave is a growing problem. For those on mains water, and those living and working in the town, then dry hot weather is no great problem. It is even a boon to their recreation time. The occasional hose-pipe ban may interfere with gardening but the downsides are fairly minor.  Those of us who rely on springs for our water and who have to tend for animals, or grow crops, see things very differently.

DSC_3360Our spring emerges from a hill about a mile from the main farm. It supplies us and our neighbours’s stable and cattle. Though the spring still works it has become a shadow of its former self and is now little more than a trickle. As the flow is so slow some of the pipes have become clogged up with silt and we have had to clean them through. The flow is so slow that we have had to avoid using the source. We did explore the area around and looked for alternative sources but there were none. Many of the streams and smaller rivers have dried up. The main brook that runs through our meadows is also very weak. Previously four or five feet wide and about a foot deep it is now no more than 2 feet wide and 6 inches in depth. However, using a petrol water pump it is our main source of water for the foreseeable future. We pump the water from here up to water butts at the farm and then disperse the water.

Now each day starts and ends by shifting water to the animals around the farm. This lets one become painfully aware of the “weight of water” and quickly remember the information from school that 1 litre of water weighs 1 kilogram. Our smaller animals drink about 10 litres a day each and the cattle and horses much more. This is a lot of water to move in buckets.  As humans we drink less but consume even more as we like to flush toilets, cook, wash dishes and take showers. So there is a large component of shifting water for ourselves also. In addition to this we need to water the vegetables and the greenhouse if we are to see any crops this year. The only members of the smallholding not calling on us in this time of difficulty are the bees who seem to be enjoying this wonderful weather that has brought so many flowers out in force.

I should perhaps clarify a statement that I made above. This is the question of showers. We no longer take showers at home. The reason we go swimming in the sea is for hygiene rather than pleasure (the jelly fish make sure of that) and if this weather goes on I think there might be a market for shower gel that works well with sea water. This has also been the reason for our visits to the leisure centre as swimming and showers are free to the elderly in the parish

I know that this weather will not persist for ever. Unless this is the beginning of Armageddon then I know we will see rain again. It is impossible to think of North Wales without thinking of rain. But I do fear that these variations in climate are becoming commoner and more worrisome. Extremes in weather were predicted by the models of climate change (though it was also predicted to be wetter on average) and we are going to have to find ways to live with these as well as finding ways to stop them worsening.

Anyway, back to moving water from place to place. I had only intended to write a short note to apologise that I had neglected my blog over the last two weeks. Hopefully, it is now clear that I was neither resting or enjoying this wonderful weather.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Coron drogennod

Coron drogennod

Whatever the cause of the climate change we are witnessing it is very clear that over the last decade our seasons have altered. One clear aspect is that, here on the west, it is generally wetter and possibility warmer (though there seems also to be more variability in temperature than before). While this may not be to the benefit of farmers and growers, without altering crops and patterns of management, it is not a disadvantage to everyone. This weather favours some of the insect life which has been much more prolific.

As it is warmer the winters are not as cold, and it seems not cold enough, to kill off the flies and larva as usual. Over the past years we have seen flies in the air right through the winter period and it has felt very strange in December or January to see them still flying about. It was for this reason that we have been much more concerned about fly-strike and our sheep and the reason I was collecting everyone yesterday for their medication. The season where one could expect fly-strike or head fly is now much longer than before.

This is a considerable source of worry. Fly strike, or maggots, is an awful thing to happen to sheep. They are literally eaten alive by maggots. The common risk factors are warm humid weather which favours the flies and the sheep having some scouring (diarrhoea) often associated with the spring grass. The flies lay their eggs on the skin and they hatch out into maggots which then eat the animal causing holes in the flesh which become infected. This process can be extremely fast, a sheep can become seriously ill, and even die, within a day of a fly laying its eggs. It is for this reason that government guidance, and good advice, is to check your sheep daily so as to catch this problem before it becomes severe.

Last year we had a lamb who got maggots in her tail. It first I thought it was just a swelling or bruise on her tail but when I caught her and examined it I was horrified to find maggots. As I parted the cut on her tail it is no exaggeration to say that hundreds of maggots tumbled out. It was like a scene in a David Cronenberg horror film. I debrided the area then cleaned it with antiseptic spray and gave her a shot of long acting antibiotic. I then covered the wound with Stockholm Tar. This is tar made from pine wood (also called archangel tar). It is a thick, black sticky paste which covers an area acting as a flexible and antiseptic bandage. It also had a wonderful medicinal smell. We kept her in the barn for two days during which time she had extra rations to give her strength. Thankfully following this, and much to my surprise, she recovered fully and even regrew hair on that area of her tail eventually.

Another group of insects who enjoy, and benefit from, this warmer wetter weather are the ticks. These arachnids have been getting more of a problem year on year. Though I am aware that, through Lyme Disease and other illnesses, ticks can cause problems for humans, I am more concerned about their effects on animals. The dogs and cats come in most days now with ticks in their fur and now our evenings start with the ceremony of de-ticking and trying to rid the pets of their unwelcome visitors.

My attention to this increase in ticks was piqued this morning when out on my regular ‘Walk rather than die of diabetes and obesity‘ walk this morning. I had slowed down to talk to a neighbour in the lane. Then we both noticed something rather odd. It seemed to be a mouse wearing a hat or tiara.

coron
Coron Drogennod

On closer inspection we found out it was a crowd of ticks on its head like some tortuous crown. About 8 or so hard bodied ticks were sucking and engorged on its head. We dislodged the ticks and liberated the mouse to go on its way. I thought I had done my good deed for the day but later read up about ticks and mice. Mice are common hosts to ticks and indeed are a major vector for tick based illness. However, a long scientific study, conducted over 16 years, has found that ticks are really not that damaging to mice for some reason. Indeed, male mice with high tick burdens live longer than males carrying less ticks !

I am sure the mouse was glad to see the back of its bloodsucking visitors and it did serve to remind me to check the animals tonight and to keep checking the sheep.