Friday, 25 May 2007

If you're Hoppy and you know it...

We saw a fox on the school run this morning (we were on the school run, not the fox!) It was thin, unkempt and, alarmingly, when I stopped the car it made as if to come towards me. This is alarming for two reasons: 1. it could be a dumped urban fox, in which case it is out of its comfort zone and could get into mischief, and 2. we’ve just ordered six fwuffy ducklings and I don’t really want them to become Mr Fox’s dinner.

The ducks are to help tackle the slug problem (well, that’s the official line; unofficially I’ve been after getting some more ducks for ages!) The last time we had ducks was 22 years ago when we moved here. There were six of them, all Khaki Campbells, picked off one by one by the indigenous fox population – all except one. ‘Hoppy’, as she became known, had a close encounter with a fox while we were still living in rural Worcestershire. The ducks were penned in at night, but there was a gap underneath big enough for a fox. The silly snoring ducks used to dangle their flippers through the bottom of the pen.

So, imagine the scenario: Foxy, out for dinner, sniffs out yummy ducks. He has a quick peek under the duck pen and lo! Lots of ducky feet sticking out. He grabs one, and pulls. Lots of quacking, in fact a whole “quackophany” of panic. Humans emerge sleepily from house, fox dashes of with dinner – but only part of dinner. Oh dear, poor duck. (And, perhaps, poor Mr Fox. Can you imagine the reception Mrs Fox and the cubs gave him when he returned home with dinner? Mr Fox, laying down a duck’s webbed foot: “Here you are, dear.” Mrs Fox: “What do you call that?! How do you expect me to feed us all with that? You useless waste of space! Mother always said you were no good…” etc)

But, these particular humans are soft, so duck is taken to the vet, given painkillers and stitched. It was actually a very clean wound, and the duck wasn’t terribly distressed. So, one-legged duck is returned to the pen, the pen is modified and the ducks live on happily continuing their daily routine of waddling out to the pond, followed by the hapless Hoppy. She managed well on one leg, but tended to swim in circles and she laid wonky eggs.

Then we moved to Pembrokeshire (on Live Aid day, July 13th 1985 and I’ll never forgive my parents for making me miss U2 – but that’s another story). The ducks went to live with friends of ours in Lawrenny (South Pembrokeshire, in the English bit below the Landsker line) and were really well cared for by their daughter Judith who had what is now called ‘learning difficulties’ but was – still is, presumably – a delightful person. She looked after the ‘clack clacks’ until we had their new home ready on the Preseli Hills. Then we moved the ducks up here and the local foxes joyfully took them, one by one, all except Hoppy, who lived on to a ripe old age. Hoppy knew a thing or two about foxes – it’s a pity she didn’t educate her mates!

So we have ordered six new ducks, this time a mix of Silver Appleyard call ducks and mallard. Brian is building Fort Knox to house them at night and they will not be able to dangle their feet. Perhaps ordering them is a triumph of hope over experience, perhaps we have had an urban fox dumped here, but I’m not getting into the rights or wrongs of that argument in this blog!

PS: Maisie, the Exmoor pony, is doing fine. No more mischief or damage to herself or others – yet!

Friday, 18 May 2007

Pony performs back flip with double twist

Disaster has struck! Beautiful Maisie, the Exmoor pony, has had an accident!

The poor thing “fell” from one field into another, aided and abetted by a high Pembrokeshire hedgebank. Our native little Welsh ponies know all about banks and not falling off the top of them. Exmoors, it seems, don’t. (Well this one didn’t, but it does now).

She landed on the top of the fence in the field below, complete with barbed wire, breaking the fence post in the process. We found her standing in the middle of the (wrong) field looking very sorry, dangling a leg.

Blood ran cold.

We approached, trying not to panic. Maisie shifted and dangled the other leg. Phew! They can’t both be broken. A quick inspection revealed blood running from numerous scratches, scrapes and puncture wounds. Poor Maisie was definitely in shock and, being a baby, decided she was too sore to move, and therefore wouldn’t.

We added the other two ponies to the field, before they could do any damage to themselves by following her over the fence.

Now Maisie is one very lucky Exmoor pony. Her owner Jo is a vet, as is Jo’s husband Shaun. Jo, who had called over to visit Maisie when the accident happened, used to specialise in treating horses, so she gave Maisie a quick examination, then summoned Shaun and the contents of the horse medicine cupboard at work.

Lucky Maisie got a painkilling injection so she could walk from the field to the yard, then a bucket of food laced with anti-biotic powder and an anti-toxin injection. They had consulted their colleague who is the best horse vet in the area who warned that puncture wounds high up on the leg would cause the most pain. Sure enough, she had a wound on what on a human would be the shin bone. No wonder she looked so sorry for herself! But, all in all, she wasn’t too badly hurt.

She remains on the “wrong” field, under the assumption that it may be easy to fall into, but less easy to fall out of, being lower than the other field and not having any handy banks off which to perform equine gymnastics.

All three ponies are looking smug, because that particular field is regarded as five star accommodation and I have added a fistful of new grey hairs to the existing ones caused by my children.

But we should have known something like this would happen. Maisie has already broken the fence and at her previous field she hauled a huge metal gate off its hinges using her neck.

Jo and Shaun have sensibly no gone on holiday to Cornwall leaving us to nurse the patient and administer a bucket of food with anti-biotics once a day. The patient, meanwhile, has bounced back (literally!)

Monday, 14 May 2007

Mouse convicted of seed pilfering

The rain has stopped! There was a brief window of sunshine here today in which to pop out and marvel at how much the grass has grown over the past week. Other marvels include my courgettes and lettuces which have really been working hard at adding lovely succulent leaves.

Maisie the Exmoor pony has settled in well. She is adorable. Bullseye, my Section A Welsh pony has taken to licking her (starting at the back toes, working upwards, don’t get too high - squeak!). Perhaps, since she is brown, he thinks she is made of chocolate? If so I might have a lick too!

They ended the rodeo of meeting each other by crashing into the fence, snapping the wire and breaking a fence post. Brian discovered the crime and the three perpetrators who were whistling and looking the other way, feigning innocence. There was not a mark on any one of them, of course.

They have now moved from their posh quarters in the big field where there was rather too much grass for three fat ponies, to a much smaller and less grassy field. It boasts an old green lane, now a bridle path, so that should provide plenty of interest for the inquisitive Maisie. She has already encountered Mum and Polly dog on the path. Sniffing of noses ensued (dog and pony only, not Mum!) and Polly licked Maisie on the nose. Awww!

But it might be a little too much of a sociable situation for some of the walkers that come through, so I think we’ll have to put a bit of horse leccy fence along the lane to protect hapless ramblers from an over familiar Exmoor pony.

On Saturday Cylch Meithrin held its fundraising car wash in the village which was, as usual, both fun and lucrative. We raised £123.50 after washing about 25 cars and two mountain bikes. We offered to wash the hunky bikers’ muddy legs too – but they wouldn’t let us! Three people paid us not to wash their cars. Perhaps they were customers from previous years, or maybe they spotted a three-year-old scrubbing at filthy paintwork with a kitchen brush and thought better of it. I can tell you, from experience, that Audis are the easiest to wash and Citroens the worst. The mountain bikes were the fiddliest, but, thanks to strategic Lycra on the owners, the most fun!

In the garden I have been flat out weeding, planting, weeding and weeding. War has been waged against massed ranks of slugs and a little brown mouse. The former were lured to a happy end with the offer of unlimited beer, the latter (not our friend from Y Mochyn Drwg over the hill) was given the option of a traditional snap trap or a comfy humane live trap, baited with parmesan. Unsurprisingly the mouse shunned the snap kill and opted instead for a cheesy snack and a night of cooling its toes behind bars. The following morning it appeared before a kangaroo court where it pleaded guilty to several counts of seed pilfering (sweetcorn, pea and bean, having a 100% success rate in the sweetcorn). Judge Brian donned his black cap and was about to sentence poor brown mouse to death, but the convict was rescued by the three soppy females in the jury who insisted it should be deported. “Don’t you dare kill it!” bellowed the jury. Mousie was taken to the hay meadow and released on to one of the banks. She’s probably on her way back now, to her nice, warm polytunnel.

Slugs should learn from the above. I have no compunction about stomping on a slug shouting ‘take that you b*****d!’, but mousies get more lenient treatment because they are so darned cute. If there was such a thing as a cute slug I wouldn’t show it the bottom of my wellie, but they are such odious creatures even soppy old me has no trouble dispatching them.

Talking of wildlife I heard my first cuckoo on Thursday 10th May and the following night I encountered a toad on the path outside the front door. I was letting the dog out for a pee at the time and he hurtled down the path and disappeared into the dark. Silence fell, apart from ‘pat, pat, pat’. What was that? I fetched torch and camera and found a little toad with an ‘uh oh, I’m toast’ look on his face. But I told him how beautiful he was and that he was welcome at any time in the garden. Plenty of slugs, I informed him - so long as they are not all in the ‘pub’ drinking the free beer that is!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

A bit of Exmoor on the Preselis

A bit of Exmoor has arrived in the Preseli Hills! A four-legged bit to be precise, in the form of Maisy, a two-year-old Exmoor pony.

Maisy needed to be separated from her mother and Jo, her owner, felt she would benefit from learning a few herd manners from my Welsh ponies.

She arrived this evening, all feisty hooves and squawking neighs. We gave her a short time on her own to work out the lie of the land then added Pippin and Bullseye to the field. They spotted the little brown interloper and immediately gave chase. Think Robbie Williams pursued by two avid teenagers – fast, wild-eyed and furious!

But that was too much hard work and soon the three settled down to snatch a few mouthfuls of grass and pull faces at each other.

Pippin, as the oldest mare, immediately assumed the role of herd leader, keeping Bullseye and Maisy apart. Bullseye, as the only boy, just wanted to flirt and play with the pretty, beige eye-shadowed teeny girl pony. Maisy meanwhile, looked adoringly at Pippin, like a hero-worshipping schoolgirl, asking: “Please can I be in your gang?”

Pippin has obviously read all the Monty Roberts books as she immediately sent the upstart packing with an evil, ears back, head-tossing glare. It was all fascinating and was exactly as Monty describes.

Night has fallen now, so they have to protect each other. Tomorrow morning they’ll surely be best friends. It’s always worrying introducing new ponies to each other, especially as we don’t do it very often. Ponies have so much ammunition, with hooves and teeth, but I don’t think they really mean to do damage; it’s all posturing. But no doubt, as soon as it’s light, I’ll be out to check them!