Amongst all the everyday life at Highclere, the events, the office administration, meetings, marketing, accounts work, farm, gardens and diary organization, are the animals; a growing collection of horses, dogs, sheep, chickens and now pigs. I have been re-reading Charles Dickens who wrote in the very aptly named ‘Great Expectations’: “It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
This weekend has reflected such March days, which the Anglo-Saxons called hreð-mónaþ – hréðe, an adjective means savage, rough and it is a month in which the wind, rain and fast moving skies can charge at us.
This spring, following tradition, we have already enjoyed varying strong and rough weather but are looking forward, in no particular order, to foals, lambs and piglets but, to my husband’s huge relief, definitely no puppies! Last year’s puppies are still barely full grown and Geordie feels we have quite enough dogs to be going on with. He is not quite sure, in fact, how there are quite so many dogs…
Last Wednesday night, the first foal was born. It was late, so we had more broken nights than I feel is strictly necessary at my age waiting for it, but finally the foal began to make its way out of an increasingly restless and uncomfortable mare. He was, and is, quite a large foal and it took a huge, tiring effort to push him out. My husband said “is this normal?” Maggie and I both said “yes” looking at each other and Maggie helped straighten a leg whilst we also called the Phil the vet for back up (not in the end needed). We spent a further two hours with mother and son until the foal had not only managed to stand but had latched on to drink. That is a fabulous noise, his pink tongue very visible and the milk running. Nicknamed Rocky, as he wobbled back and forth on his long legs, he was just three hours old, when we left mare and foal together, both exhausted, Rocky now collapsed onto a thick bed of banked up straw with his mother proudly standing guard, nuzzling him. Thank you Maggie for all your care!
Despite the lack of sleep, it is always a magical experience watching a birth and one I will never tire of. Meanwhile, the lambs are not really due until later in the month, although we do already have four lambs. In another ten days it will be full on for the shepherd and team and Geordie and I tend to turn out later in the evening to lend a hand if needed. We can at least fill the water buckets.
It is the first time, however, to experience a pig farrowing and I think that may be at the end of March so I hope Thelma and Louise will cope themselves but I am sure Simon the farm manager will be a great team leader for this enterprise. I am still so excited about our two pigs and what they have achieved in terms of bringing the old orchard area back to life. The stream is running well with the land draining well and the soil turned. I have read that they could have 12 to 14 piglets each and my instinct says I need to find more fields for them to work over. Of course, technically it is not a herd of pigs but a “drift or drove of pigs” if they are youngish pigs whilst a group of older pigs is a “sounder of swine” which is a fabulous collective noun.
In the meantime we have births of a different sort as the bulbs come up all over the parkland in the glorious sunshine we have been enjoying here. My husband is not quite so joyful however because some very expensive bulbs he planted in the White Garden seem to have been eaten – probably by the squirrels but they definitely are not happening which means there are now gaps in the border. Elsewhere other bulbs, carefully planted by Paul and his team, have gone overboard and instead of waiting until Easter and our Spring opening, which is what they were supposed to do, have decided to spring into glorious bloom now.
For once I think he believes the animals are being distinctly better behaved than the gardens although I think the puppies have dug a few enthusiastic holes in the lawn which I might not admit to on their behalf…