The Countryside About Us November 1998

posted 29 Nov 2018, 08:37 by Chris Hoare   [ updated 29 Nov 2018, 08:46 ]
Enthusiasm for any particular activity is much to be admired, and even envied! Such was the case recently. I had the opportunity to visit someone within our parish whose particular enthusiasm is for Shetland sheep. Probably half the size of our County breed, the Suffolk, they are a hardy breed by virtue of their origins in the Northern islands which are on the same latitude as Norway. They are adept at thriving on very little food. This means they require little more than grazing and some hay in the winter time to feed them. Another benefit of this breed is that because their tails are short they do not require “docking” which is the routine for most other breeds. They produce quality wool, which is “pulled” and not “clipped”. As they mature slowly their meat is very “toothsome”! In these worrying times when lambs are being exported live from England to places all over Europe, it was exceedingly good to see the care and expertise devoted to this small flock. At the same time it has kept in focus the purpose of wool and meat production. This year’s lambing time, in April, produced several sets of twins, with mostly the ewe lambs being retained for breeding, and the ram lambs for meat production. My visit to see and admire this small flock on a lovely autumn morning was an occasion to file away in the “library” of my country memories.

On pasture that receives no attention from chemical sprays and especially where selective grazing animals, like horses, spend their time, thistles thrive. Such fields border the river Ken. Large patches of spear thistles, aptly named I think, provide an attractive sea of light purple in late summer. Once the flower heads go to seed, what a feast the seed heads provide for that most attractive bird, the goldfinch. Quite large flocks are invariably found feeding there in October. When they are disturbed they “bounce away” into the nearest tree, only to rapidly settle back on to the thistle heads when the commotion has passed by.

No friend of any nesting birds is the grey squirrel. They seem to be increasing in numbers and are predators of eggs during the nesting season. They are sometimes referred too as “tree rats”, which I think rather an unfair description. One cannot help but admire their attractive antics and appearance. Perhaps their propensity to being run over by cars will prevent them from becoming too numerous!

Roger Sykes

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