The blacksmith reckons he hasn’t seen a horse with such big feet as Last Thyme in a very long while.   Now, this is a worry – Last Thyme turns nineteen months old next week!   The blacksmith reckons that, when I start to shoe him, I’ll be able to use his old shoes for garden arches!

I try to make sure Last Thyme has a lesson on something new each week and this week it was having his feet tapped with the shoeing hammer.   He is very good about picking his feet up for me and standing patiently while I pick half a bucket of stuff out of each hoof, but I need to make sure that he will not be a bother when it comes to putting shoes on.   Give him another year and, if he decides he wants to stay barefoot, there won’t be much any blacksmith could do about it.   I don’t think he will be a problem though, as my blacksmith has trimmed his feet on a regular basis, and also sorted out a nasty stone bruise last year, without any hassle.   Yet I don’t like leaving anything to chance.   Up came his great big paw, the blacksmith held it firmly and started to tap, tap, tap.   The only reaction was a bemused look that seemed to say, “I am home, you know … you can come in!”

Several weeks ago was the ELECTRIC-TAPE lesson.   With Luke to keep him company, a pile of lush grass and me sitting on the letterbox with a book to keep an eye on things, he had a lesson in GRAZING-THE-LONG-ACRE.   Well! The electric tape had absolutely no effect on his furry winter coat and through he went (mainly to see if I had anything tasty in my pockets) and I quickly realised lesson number 43 was a complete waste of time and that lesson number 57 was going to have to become lesson number 43 instead.   He was clipped!   Back to the electric tape … and he discovered it a bit!   “No problem,” he says.   “I have Luke to keep me company and a pile of lush grass,” and I was able to leave him to it and head off to do other things.  Two days later, while continuing the lesson, I heard some cyclists coming down the road and rushed out to see Last Thyme deciding that following them would be good fun.   Remembering that the tape bit, he popped clean over the top and trotted off down the road six inches behind a terrified cyclist.  Fortunately, when both Luke and I yelled out together, he turned and trotted all the way back leaving a much-relieved bike rider to continue on down the hill.   The electric fence lesson has now been dispensed with!

A couple of things happened this week which have made me think about security.   The first was a friend who made a tiny mistake and is now in the Burns Unit at Hutt Hospital, and the second was a nightmare I had about mud.  Not that it’s very difficult to have a nightmare about the mud at the moment, but I dreamt I had got my gumboots stuck in the pig paddock, had fallen flat on my back and was unable to move.   All I could see was Mr Pig leaning over me.   Not a nice thought!    It made me realize, though, that I have a responsibility to ensure that there would be someone else to run the place if anything untoward happened to me.

Writing out a daily routine list and putting it on the cowshed wall was a start.   I have identified all of the animals (ear tags/colour of halters etc), given an indication of their food requirements, and have also set out the night and morning procedures. It was quite an interesting exercise as I tried to simplify everything as much as possible without compromising the well-being of my charges, and I found the easiest way was to create a central chart for the ‘core’ animals (cows/pigs/horses) and to add sub-charts according to the current state of affairs (i.e. no Mr Pig/five black babies/piglets over at the neighbour’s piggery etc).   It reads rather like a “How-To” manual and should do the trick if I am suddenly indisposed.   It will need to be updated on a regular basis to keep it useful.

With the weekend being so wet I’ve had a wonderful time in the office catching up on paperwork, and one major job was to update the animal health records.   With the new regulations now in place, any animal being sold should have a health declaration sheet go with it and, I believe, this will soon apply to sheep as well.   After having a good chat about this with a TB testing technician a couple of years ago, I started to keep a health record for every animal in my care.   It’s a simple affair.   I make up an annual, spreadsheet calendar on the computer (similar to the one in the inside cover of most diaries) and print out one for each animal.   Cream Cheese’s page for this year shows when she was drenched (and what with), her butter fat counts for February and April, when she was ear tagged, pregnancy tested, lost her horn, dried off etc etc.    When it comes time to sell something it's an easy matter to pull that animal’s annual health calendar out of the filing cabinet and give it to the new owner, or to the stock agent.

Each animal at Middelmost has one except for Albert, although I’ve a good mind to start one for him – he is not my favourite cat at the moment.  There have been two beautifully fat thrushes hopping across the lawn every morning and yesterday there was only one. I think Albert has something to do with it!

The mud around here is horrendous.   The ground is sodden and any area which has to be walked on is plain dangerous.   Taking little strides is the safest way of keeping your gumboots under your feet and I am now carrying an electric fence pigtail with me to give support through some of the really sticky bits.   Using the same principle as the civic-minded authorities that provide umbrellas in stands for pedestrians to use when crossing the street, I have pigtails jammed in the ground at the necessary points on the property.

Using an electric tape fence I have confined the cows to one area when they come in from next door to the milking shed and, at the moment, this piece resembles a roughly ploughed paddock.   As soon as the water table drops sufficiently for it to be raked, I am going to throw every leftover seed I have at it, cover it with a thin layer of compost and see what happens.  Last summer I collected a lot of weed seeds and they will go in as well because I want to create a self-help pharmacy for the cows.   I got the idea when Cream Cheese went down with milk fever once and just wasn’t interested in any of her usual food treats.   My FRIEND-OF –MANY-YEARS suggested an amble along the side of the road would tempt her and it was fascinating to watch Cream Cheese search for, and nip out, certain parts of inedible-looking weeds.   Little Cream Cheese knew what would help her and I didn’t argue. At different times of the year, docks will be delicious, or the purple heads of thistles.   Chickweed, chicory, dandelion, and parsley will all become tasty according to the season or the browser’s needs.   Along with the weed seeds will go herbs, leftover vegetable seeds and a good lashing of barley and oats.   If nothing else, it will create a good covering for a very damaged piece of ground.