Sunday, October 21, 2012

Behind closed doors

So that birds, bees and even sheep, have babies, mummy and daddy have a special cuddle. Thankfully, this is usually done out of sight and so that, when trying to forecast a flocks fecundity, a raddle harness with coloured crayon is attached to the ram. When daddy and mummy sheep emerge from their 'bedroom', we can see if he’s been about his business because she will have a coloured mark on her back.

After he’s had an opportunity to service all the mummy sheep, the colour is changed. No more colours should mean that she’s pregnant and doesn’t appreciate further attention. If not, then she should receive another coloured mark. This continues through several colour changes until we surmise that all the ewes are served.

On the scale we do things on our three-acre permaculture smallholding, this is a set of equipment and a sophistication we don’t have. However, as you can see, he wastes no time: within less than a minute of being (re) introduced to his harem this autumn, he turns on the charm. No need for a raddle harness to indicate his enthusiasm. In five years, he’s never missed one.

We’ve put the ram to the ewes slightly later this year. Ewes have a gestation of around 147 days and I referred to a table in Tim Tyne’s book, TheSheep Book for Smallholders, so we can start to expect lambs from March onwards.

A new livestock disease—Schmallenberg virus—that affects cattle, sheep and goats, has come to town. The disease first appeared in cattle in the Netherlands and Germany in August 2011. Our vet, Hammadi, told me that he’s seen evidence of the disease locally. Although adult animals recover after several days, the virus has also been associated with reports of miscarriages and stillbirths associated with congenital abnormalities. 
One of our sheep gurus, Renée has suggested a couple of tactics: leave tupping (the ram going about his duties) later in the year, when the colder weather has reduced the flying insect population and avoid putting this year’s female lambs to the ram. The aim is to avoid ewes being infected around the moment of conception or to give time for the ewes to get bitten by infected insects so that they build up immunity before they get pregnant. This is the latest we’ve put the ram in, so we shall see what that gives in terms of lambing dates and their health next spring.

In print again: 

I’ve written a two part feature on “The Permaculture Smallholding” for Country Smallholding Magazine. The first part is in the current (November) edition, available in your newsagents now, with the second part in the December edition available from October 26th. (They publish a Christmas edition, 13 editions in year, hence the early publication date.)

This blog:
I started blogging to keep me sane. We had so much to do when we began that I felt like Sisyphus, rolling a stone up a hill, only to have to do it all again … and again … I set myself unreasonable daily targets which I inevitably failed to achieve and so was expending all my energy without seeing much progress. As soon as I started recording what we got up to on the blog, it rebalanced things as the sore bones at the end of each day related to an online record of a load of achievements, plain for me to see.

Titled as a “permaculture blog”, it became successful, Google-wise, and I thought of trying to record stuff that would benefit other permaculturalists. There’s a lot of blogs out there that better serve this purpose. Without any specific intent, it evolved once more into a tale of our daily lives in support of our holiday cottage business. The blog has also developed (through practice) my writing skills and I’ve had many articles published. 

I’ve recently looked at the ‘hits’ on the blog and the majority are people searching for images so I’m now wondering to whom and to what end I’m blogging. Am I just hollering into the void? Gabrielle has set up a Facebook page for our gite and we think that this is the best medium to promote our holiday cottage and I can contribute blog-style content to it. All of this is to say that I’m going to stop publishing here but please do visit us on Facebook and our gîte website. Even better, come and visit us in person: rent the gîte, or offer to volunteer.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Trash bugs – a minute walking dustbin

My mum’s been to visit and we went for a walk together in our woods yesterday. We were identifying different trees and I handed Mum leaves from an ash, hornbeam, sweet chestnut and hazel. When we came out into the sunshine, she had a closer look and saw a scrap of dust … that moved.

Not having a magnifying glass to hand, I took a photo on the macro setting for later analysis—not easy as it kept moving. Downloaded and blown up, we were still none the wiser. We knew it was a living thing as it moved and was too small to contain batteries. Someone or something had taken a tiny little bug, spread glue all over, then emptied the contents of a miniature dustbin on top of it.

We couldn’t find it by flicking through our identification books, nor by following the keys, so tried the Internet. But what terms should I try? “Insect covered by detritus”, then “debris” and then I found it. Sometimes referred to on American sites as a “trash bug” it seems that it is a lacewing larva.

Having identified the bug and now wanting to furnish as many useful facts about the lacewing, I turn to Bugs Britannica  (by Peter Marren and Richard Mabey) and am horrified to find that the “lacewing larvae lack a functioning anus”. Whether you believe in God or evolution or both, you have to admit this is a serious oversight. Open-mouthed in astonishment, I read on, “so they store up their body waste until the moment when, after changing skin one last time, the void it all in one go. Apparently, some lacewings can be identified by the shape of this single enormous dropping.”

They are sometimes known as ‘stink-flies”, as they use this disability in aggressive fashion, excreting if handled. If your now seriously doubting this stinking-trash-bug has any endearing features, I will immediately disabuse you of that notion by saying that a single lacewing larva could consume between 1000 to 10,000 aphids during its “lifetime” before it metamorphoses.

Reckoning that one lacewing mummy and daddy might produce 300 eggs, that’s a lot of aphids that won’t be bothering your broad beans; "you do the math", as an American gardener might say.

Here’s a few of the websites that were helpful: