Home & Shop Companion #0088
letter from a small corner of far away
Dear Lynn, dear Everyone,
When I got to the field yesterday morning, Lucy was out, not properly out in the lane or someone else’s field, but not where she should be. After dropping Molly’s feed into her feed bucket, I went for the halter and put Lucy back, in a relatively small area near the barn where she has been recently grazing in the daytime, but last night was the first night she had been there. Even when I put her back, she was not happy, charging up and down, so I ignored her, then while I was in the hay loft forking hay down a few days’ worth of hay for Molly, Lucy burst through again. Even now, my first inclination is to shout and swear because such behaviour is a real pain, but I know better, so instead I ran the strickle stone along the edge of the hayknife, cut off another slice of hay and forked it down. Once Molly had her morning’s hay, I picked up the halter, reinstated the electric fence and ambled, eyes down, towards Lucy. As I got near, she moved away – ‘oh, she’s going to play that game, is she?’ She continued to move with the air of escape, so I faced her full on and slightly increased my speed towards her, still hoping I wouldn’t have to push her away continually through the long grass, where she would move much more freely than me. After no more than ten paces, I thought I would try and see how much she was in escape mode and how much she would pay attention to me, so I stopped, turned away, lowered my head and averted my eyes so I could only see her in my peripheral vision. She stopped instantly, turned her head slightly towards me, and without a word and without looking at her, I went up and put on her halter.
It is a long time since I have needed to do this because she is usually happy to be caught and always lowers her head after I put the halter over her nose as I reach for the poll strap, but this pushing away business was the foundation, the first phase of her training, before I introduced her to ‘whoa’ as I crossed over the round pen to cause her path to be blocked, before roping out, harnessing and all that stuff. But I still do push her away if on occasion she doesn’t want to be caught, until she stops and turns towards me, and then sometimes I just go and give her a rub and leave her alone, just to confound her expectation of being caught, or I might go and tidy something for five minutes and then come back.
It might not have helped that I haven’t worked Lucy for ages, in fact not at all during September. This is an unusual occurrence, but I was away for half the month and since coming back I haven’t needed to do the most pressing task, taking water to the field, though there are jobs I need to do, moving hedge trimmings, chain harrowing where she has been grazing and lifting the potatoes. Although September was dry, this week it seems to have rained whenever I have had a free moment, and I still need to reweld a runner on the sledge before I can do much of anything.
In the interim, the green manure sown in August has grown like mad, not surprising with the warmth of September; according to the Meteorological Office the third warmest in England since records began. Of the two green manure mixes, the one where I will grow vegetables next year is luxuriant, but it is mostly the mustard that makes it look so, though underneath there is a good stand of grass and clover.
The other mix which will be in place for 18 months looks different, the biggest plant being the less competitive fodder radish, so the grasses and clovers are getting a bit more light and moisture. In a week or two the mustard will be in full flower, so next door’s bees will gain the benefit with some late nectar, but I will have to decide whether to mow it before it sets seed or let it die back when the frost comes, and face self-sown mustard in amongst the vegetables next year.
For the last couple of months Molly has been under a slightly different regime from usual. Her bouts of laminitis years ago caused me to change her diet to hay all year, to make the track round the outside of the field so she has shelter and space to move, but where there is little grass to be found. Because they benefit from being together, I like Lucy to spend some time with Molly, so she is also on the track for part of the day. In winter it is easy, because both horses are on the track in the daytime and Lucy comes in at night. For the other eight months, Lucy gets between two and six hours with Molly, and otherwise grazes, getting a new small area of mature grass behind an electric fence which is moved twice a day. With this regime I can keep Lucy from putting on too much weight, and keep Molly free from laminitis, but it is time consuming. This year, however, I have struggled to keep enough weight on Molly. So in August I started to allow her access to small patch of long grass with Lucy for part of the day. She certainly seems keen to get there when I open the spring gate in the electric fence, and I think she has put on a little weight, but not enough really, so last night I also allowed her access to the grass near the barn, whilst I kept Lucy where she was. This morning, Lucy was where she should be, and Molly had scarcely touched the hay and had obviously been eating grass. Whether I am doing the right thing, I am not sure, so I will keep an eye on her, and reduce her grass intake again when the grass stops growing and the sugars increase.
William Castle is a violin maker, farmer & SFJ contributor who lives in Shropshire, England.