Monday, 26 September 2016

Autumn Watchlist
As Autumn and the start of university loom, I find myself looking forward to those cosy nights in, snuggled up under my favourite blanket, a hot cuppa in my hands and an episode or three of my favourite TV shows. I know, am I middle aged already or what? Hey, we've all been there.

Just in case you find yourself sat inside on a cold blustery night with nothing to watch (could there be anything worse?!), I thought I'd share a few of the shows on my watchlist for these upcoming months, some new and some old favourites.

1. Cold Feet

Cold Feet is a British drama set in Manchester that originally aired for 5 seasons from 1997-2003 and has recently been rebooted as a continuation of the original story, 13 years later. The show follows the lives of Adam (James Nesbitt), Jenny (Fay Ripley), Pete (John Thompson), Karen (Hermione Norris) and David (Robert Bathurst), their friendship, their families and all the sweet and sour moments in between. It is such a heartwarming and relatable programme, showcasing a large range of real and sometimes taboo problems. The 6th series is absolutely incredible so far. For anyone who didn't watch the original series, I urge you to go and watch it, but if you can't for any reason, you can pick up without having seen it first.

2. This Is Us

I just watched the first episode of this new series on NBC and it's safe to say that I am hooked. Here's the official trailer for you to see for yourselves.

3. Grey's Anatomy

It's no secret that I love Grey's Anatomy, but I could probably put my hands up and say that this show is my all time favourite (sorry Veronica Mars). I've grown up with this series and I've always, always found something or someone I could relate to. Despite its cast changes *sobs quietly into pillow* this show is one of the only shows that has managed to keep relevant and keep fresh. It has something for everyone. It has its adrenaline filled episodes, its fair share of drama, its funny moments, its heartbreaking scenes, it has friendship, it has love, and yes, death... But most of all it has a lot of heart. Plus a lot of medical terminology. So technically it could be called studying #definitelynotageographystudent. I watch Grey's Anatomy when I need an emotional outlet and boy, does it always deliver.

4. Great British Bake Off

If you like food and a bit of competition and fun, this is the show for you. And if you don't, this is still the show for you. Currently on it's third series, I'm amazed I never watched it before. It's currently on BBC One and available online at BBC iPlayer if you have a TV License.

5. Our Girl
Our Girl is another BBC show, but this time it's a drama about the life of two female medics in the British Army. The first series follows a medic called Molly and the second follows a medic called Georgie, pictured above. Of all the shows on this list, this is the most action packed (sorry Mary Berry) and I absolutely adore it! Currently airing on BBC One after Bake Off.

And there you have it, what I'll be watching over the next few months.

Happy Autumn!



Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Fersness Farm, Eday, Orkney (Part One)

Heifers on The Point, Fersness, Eday
Part One: Discovering WWOOF 
A couple of years ago, smack bang in the middle of my exams, I spent an afternoon procrastinating using my favourite form of escapism: planning for and dreaming of the end of the misery and the start of the summer. Working on a farm has always been a little dream of mine and so I decided to use my trusty friend Google and look at summer farming opportunities. At some point on this search trail, I stumbled across an organisation called WWOOF which stands for World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms. With a little bit of research I discovered that WWOOF is a network of farming hosts and volunteers across the world, whereby farms offer room and board in exchange for volunteer labour. This provides individuals with a way of travelling to new places, experiencing a different way of life and learning new skills whilst in return, lightening the tough load that comes with running a farm or smallholding of any kind. Each country involved has its own WWOOF organisation that works on a national basis and my experience so far is with WWOOF UK, although there are so many other countries you can get involved with.

Walking around the Point, Fersness, Eday

Membership was £20 for a year so I thought to myself, why not? And started looking at different hosts. The ones that interested me the most were larger farms with livestock, as I'd had no real experience with working with cattle and sheep and was eager to learn. I limited my area of search to North and Central Scotland and more explicitly, to the Islands around Scotland including the Inner and Outer Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. I did this because I'd never been to any of these areas of the UK before and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to visit these areas and experience their beauty while at the same time doing something different and learning new things. As I was set to work in the USA that summer and with moving to Canada for their earlier start to Semester, I didn't have enough time to dedicate so instead, I only looked and saved a few listings that I liked the look of to get in touch with at a later date.

Sunset and Silhouettes, Fersness, Eday

Part Two: Making Contact
So in December/January time, I logged back into WWOOF UK and started contacting a few hosts. There were three farms/smallholdings in total. One on Skye, one in Lossiemouth and one on Eday. I heard back from two of them, a smallholding on Skye and Fersness Farm on Eday. There was no competition in deciding which I wanted to accept. I was completely taken with Fersness Farm, but when I'd applied, I hadn't thought anything would come of it considering my complete lack of livestock experience. Over the next few months, with the help of my most amazing hosts Mark and Lou, I planned and booked my travel up to Orkney to embark on one of the most amazing learning experiences I've had in my life to date.

Hatson Ferry Terminal, Kirkwall - 11pm

Part Three: Travelling to Eday
Travelling up to Eday from Essex wasn't the most easy or straightforward journey, and it's probably one of the most tiring journeys I've had to make. The first time I went up was in June, and I travelled by train up to Elgin to stay with family, and then made my way to Aberdeen the next day to get the Ferry up to Kirkwall (the most populated town on the mainland of Orkney). I did this for several reasons,

1. To see my family.
2. To break up the long journey.
3. To be able to get a much cheaper train ticket.

I found it difficult to travel cheaply by train from Essex to Aberdeen in time for the ferry (Operated by Northlink Ferries) to Kirkwall at 5pm. Most tickets were ridiculously expensive so instead I found far cheaper tickets that took me to my Brothers home in Elgin for a fraction of the price, and it was only an hour and a half away from Aberdeen to catch the ferry the next day, meaning I got to spend a bit of time with my nieces and nephew: a bonus! My favourite sites for finding cheap tickets and booking trains are Virgin Trains and Trainline

Tip: Depending on the time of year you go, and on the day of the week, train tickets fluctuate in price. I find that Tuesdays and Thursdays are the cheapest days to travel on.

Tip: If you're under 26 years of age, I wholeheartedly recommend investing in a 16-25 railcard. If you're travelling by train over a long distance, you will likely pay for your railcard in one journey. It has been one of my most valuable treasures over the past 4 years. I would say that by now, I've paid for my railcard at least 25 times over, probably more, as trains have been my most common form of transport. If you're a UK student, you can get a 4 year railcard for free with Santander if you sign up for their student current account - extremely worth it in my opinion.

Map of Orkney in respect to Mainland Scotland
Unfortunately, Northlink ferries only operate a ferry that arrives into Kirkwall at 11pm at night, therefore too late for the last boat to Eday. Therefore you need to find a place to stay overnight. Unless you want to wait for 10 hours at the ferry port in the cold, which I would not recommend doing. Both times I've been to Eday, I've stayed at the Kirkwall Peedie Hostel and it is awesome. I don't know if I'd want to try anywhere else now. It is such good value for money, and very cosy. I love it. It's easy to get to both from the Northlink Ferry terminal when you dock at 11pm (ask the bus driver on the X10 bus at the terminal to drop you at the Peedie Hostel), and to the ferry terminal for the boat to Eday (operated by Orkney Ferries).

Note: You can also get to Orkney via the ferry from Scrabster on mainland Scotland to Stromness (the second most populated town in Orkney), and then get a bus to Kirkwall. It depends on which is the easiest option for you.

So, anyway, enough about travel arrangements. I arrived to Eday on the ferry and was met at the pier by one of my lovely hosts Lou. I was pretty nervous initially, but Lou was absolutely wonderful and calmed my nerves with her warm welcoming chatter.

View from Kirkwall Peedie Hostel upon arrival - 11:25pm

Part Four: The Farm
As soon as I arrived at Fersness, I was catapulted into hectic farm life. I'd come at the tail end of calving and lambing, in time for Artificial Insemination (hereafter termed AI). The first few days, before AI began, were especially crazy, with adjusting to farm life, getting to know everyone, lots of new things to learn and a mixture of allsorts to do. That first day I arrived, I had lunch and then immediately was taken over to Pharay, an uninhabited island North of West Eday where they keep sheep. We went over by boat, an orange rib which looked like an old lifeboat. The reason for the trip over to Pharay was to check for newborn lambs and to see if any lambs were separated from their mothers. We found two lambs looking poorly with no mothers in sight. One particular lamb, the one that made a big impression on me, was a newborn, who was curled up almost out of sight next to the ruins of an old croft house and he had this green goo splattered all over his face, which I soon learned was Fulmar spit. Fulmars are seabirds that project a foul smelling and sticky substance when feeling threatened. It's a defence mechanism used by the chicks as they are otherwise defenceless. I got off the quadbike (the preferred use of transport on Pharay as there are no roads) and went and picked him up. The first lamb I'd ever held. He was so light and fluffy in my arms, and was so poorly he didn't even try to resist me. I felt a wave of sadness as I looked down at him. We returned to base and Marks brother, had found a ewe (pronounced Yow in Orkney, instead of Yew) and lamb that needed to be taken back also. So in total, we had 4 sheep to transport back on the rib. I didn't know until that day, that if a sheep is on its back it cannot, or at least finds it extremely difficult to, get back up again. And when sheep have a full coat of wool and it rains, they begin to get an irritation on their backs and roll over, and then remain stuck sometimes, which is something else that needs to be looked out for and monitored on Pharay, as visits are few and far between.
View from the Farm
We returned and put the most poorly lamb in the polycrub after giving him some glucose and ephadryl as it was warmer in there. We checked on him an hour or so later and he'd passed away. I felt my throat get tight and tears sprang to my eyes but I didn't want to make a fool out of myself in front of Mark and Lou who had probably seen hundreds of animals die over the years. It was a big moment for me truthfully and I think I'll always remember that poor little lamb. On a more positive note though, the other little lamb we rescued from Pharay, who we named Purple Dot, began to thrive and I couldn't get him to stop drinking milk, and I can tell you now that he continued to grow and do well.
Pharay in the distance

First day over, I started my daily duties. These included:

1. Feeding three cows that were to be sent to the abattoir (slaughterhouse). They were fed 2 scoops of barley, 2 scoops of maize and 1 scoop of mixed feed, twice a day.
2. Making up ewe milk for the 27 caddie (orphaned) lambs. The lambs were separated into two pens depending on size. They were fed three times a day from a milk bucket with teats. I had to make up 40 litres of milk a day, in batches of 8 litres, which gets very tiresome, very quickly. This involves putting 2 kilos of Shine formula into 6 litres of hot water, and then 2 litres of cold water is added after thoroughly mixing the formula. In addition to the milk, the lambs were given creep feed 2 or 3 times a day depending on how much they ate, hay, and their water was changed every day.
3. Feeding and watering the ducklings three times a day.

Making up formula
Although my least favourite job was making up the milk, my favourite part of the day was spending time with my young lambs, and there were several favourites. Some of the youngest lambs hadn't quite got the hang of drinking from the teat so I had to hold them and help them to suckle. This was my favourite job because when you succeed, it is the best feeling. One little lamb, who was particularly fluffy hence the name Fluffy, could not get the hang of the teat, no matter how much I tried and I sometimes had to be quite forceful with him but for several days he refused to drink from the bucket and would only accept a bottle. So eventually I decided to stop his bottle and he got so hungry that he started bleating at me for food and would run up to me everytime I went past or entered the pen. After he'd missed a couple of meals, I took him to the bucket and he drank and drank and drank. I was so happy and relieved and proud. For a long while afterwards, Fluffy refused to drink from the bucket unless I was there, holding him, which was very cute.

Fluffy finally drinking from the bucket!
In between these daily duties, the first week brought with it a lot of other work. I mentioned earlier that we'd given the poorly lamb glucose. This is administered by putting a tube down into the lambs stomach, I learnt how to do this and check to make sure that I hadn't put the tube down a lambs windpipe by accident. It was quite scary but extremely exhilarating. Other things we did during that week were herding and moving sheep, herding and moving cattle, artificially inseminating cattle (I'll go into waaaaay more detail next blog post), clearing out boxes (stables for cattle), pressure washing the barn to prepare for shearing/clipping, driving the Gator (a John Deere vehicle).

One amazing, amazing thing I got to witness, which was hands down the most incredible experience I had, was a caesarean on a cow. The vet had to cut through so many thick layers of skin, and the the womb and all of a sudden there were these two legs popping out and they pulled out the legs and there was a big, alive, calf! It was incredible. I was completely gobsmacked by the whole thing. It was covered in gunk and kept wheezing but that's normal. The vet then proceeded to stitch the cow back up, which I got a photo of. Apologies to those with weak stomachs.

I didn't expect this post to get so long! I intended to write about all of my Eday experience so far in this one post but I fear it will get way too long. So, until the next time... where I'll tell you all about cattle. AI, Bulls, Calves, Nutrition, Medicine and Dehorning...

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