On Saturday morning, I was on a midge-killing mission, having witnessed the distress of FatHorse and the chocolate sheep the previous evening at the hands (or mouths) of the massed midge swarms that were filling every last cm of the night-time air here at the Sparrowholding.
Judging by the number of the wee blighters that were flying around, there must have been heaps of hatchings – possibly due to the one uncharacteristically hot day (also known as ‘summer’ in these parts) earlier in the week. Whatever the reason, the biting beasties were making life extremely uncomfortable for our girls, and I was determined to find something to thwart them.
The slight problem, in the pony’s case, is that she has a huge aversion to the smell of one of the ingredients that seems to be used in almost every insect repellent known to man: the unmistakably lemon scent of citronella. At some point in her past, she’s obviously been sprayed with citronella and it’s given her a fright, because if I even venture to the side of the fence bearing a rag that has the faintest whiff of the substance, our normally placid Highland gentlewoman is transformed into a rearing, runaway wreck.
This being the case, I was desperately seeking a substance that smelt different and worked my way painstakingly along the shelf, sniffing surreptitiously at the nozzle or lid of each bottle or jar – indeed, if I’ve been caught on CCTV, I’ll probably be on my way to an institution for deranged stockwomen as you are reading this.
Eventually, I found a couple of flying-insect repellents that didn’t seem to exude too much lemoniness, and marched purposefully towards the till. However, as I was stomping in my wellies (the one-day summer having giving way to relentless rain) past the sheep and cattle aisle, my eye was caught by an array of showing-related lotions and potions of all colours and persuasions.
I stopped and stared in awe. Lined up for what seemed to be miles along each shelf were a panoply of pampering products with names that promised tantalising transformation.
If I were a Cheviot sheep, I could make my fleece radiant with powders of virtually any shade under the (now non-existent) sun.
Or if my hair was “unmanageable” – which it often is, according to Farmpa – there was a spray that could fix that, too.
The cornucopia of sheep spa and bovine beauty products was simply breath-taking. Of course, I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, the Scottish agricultural show season is currently in full swing, and indeed it’s only a couple of weeks until the wonderful Kinross Show takes place just along the road at the RSPB’s Vane Farm nature reserve. If you live in or around Kinross-shire, hope to see you there. And you can bet my hair is going to be looking gooooood…
PS: Just to whet your appetite for show day, read this blog post about my visit to Kinross Show last year – complete with photographs of ferrets!
And suddenly it was spring! Since 2016 began, life here at The Sparrowholding seems to have been one long, relentless stint of soil sampling and spreader testing (HunterGatherer) or tutoring pupils plus proofreading hundreds of thousands of words (Yours Truly). Our only respite during these four months was a snatched escape at the end of January, which comprised lunch at the rightly renowned The Peat Inn Restaurant in Fife (subject of a future blog post so watch this space!) followed by a rare and relaxing overnight stay at the Dunkeld House Hotel, during which we enjoyed strolling together at leisure along an extremely full, more-grey-than-silvery Tay.
Since that bijou break, it’s been flat out for February, March and April, so it’s quite a relief to see this frenetic period of our respective freelance years coming to an end. The farmers have eagerly returned to working the land (meaning that HunterGatherer now assumes his spring/summer guise of welder/mender of agricultural machinery), and the Scottish exam diet has begun (meaning that my tutoring commitments have reduced dramatically – for a few months at least!).
While we’ve been busy, our Shetland ewes haven’t exactly been idle either… All winter long they’ve been cultivating their own “crop” of bonnie, bouncing lambs, and with lambing now over breakfast time in the feeding area is a guddle of bleating babies and anxious mums, each trying to find the other after all the Ewe-lac nuts and JustGrass Blox (courtesy of FarmerBruv) have been gobbled up. During the day, the 24 lambs split their time between sleeping and playing – just as you’d expect of any self-respecting bambino (or perhaps that should be 'lambino'!).
Here's a mini-video plus a few photos of what our mini woolly jumpers have been up to during the past weeks...
I've often been asked which is my favourite season, and the truth is that I cannot ever pick one season over the other. Each has her own beauties, with the result that as soon as the new season arrives, I am immediately smitten. So at the time of typing, I am relishing the kaleidoscope of colours that abound in woodlands and hedgerows, munching Victoria plums to my heart's content and opening conker shells with the excited anticipation of a five-year-old.
The only aspect of autumn that I dread is the selling of this year's crop of lambs. But before you ask the inevitable question ("What about Pickle?"), let me reassure you...
Being a farmer's daughter, I should be resilient, nay impervious, to the annual partings inherent in rearing livestock. However, there are sometimes exceptional situations when one has to break the rules. And Pickle is one of those "exceptions".
Having fed him in the wee sma' hours for weeks, watched him trotting round the kitchen while I prepared his bottle and become accustomed to hearing his unique, high-pitched bleat bellowing from the field every time I venture into the garden, there is simply no way that I can load him into the wagon and send him off to market, and nor can HunterGatherer.
So Pickle will stay – most likely as a winter companion to FatHorse, a summer companion to our new tup Ivan (of whom more another time...) and, most importantly, a year-round companion to Yours Truly.
As you'll see from the photos below, our wee woolly warrior has grown somewhat from the early days. And here he is in all his autumnal glory...
Pickle is not the only living thing that's been thriving here at the Sparrowholding: there have been rich autumn pickings from Victoria our plum tree, who has excelled herself this year. Meanwhile, in the polytunnel, various other veggy goodies have been growing and Vinny the vine has been hard at work creating myriad bunches of tiny green grapes... Ah yes, there is much to love about autumn!