Saturday, 23 April 2016

Wetter winters, drier summers

I am a typical Scot, totally obsessed by the weather. But just in case you share my interest, here is a trend:

April Showers
This graph compares 2006-2008 (three years, inclusive) with 2013-15. It shows how much wetter or drier it was in the later period by comparing the same six month periods in each three year group, ending in the month shown on the graph. I hope you are following at the back of the class because there will be a test later.

In simpler language: in the three six months periods from July to January 2006, 2007 and 2008 we had an average total 404mm of rain over those six month periods. But in the three six month periods from July to January 2013, 2014 and 2015 we had just 338 mm. In other words the late summer and autumn 2013-15 was a bit drier than the late summer and autumn 2006-8. The difference was that the later period was 16% drier, so the first point on the graph is below the zero line. But the six month periods ending in April (i.e. November-April) were much wetter in the later (2013-15) period. In fact the later period was 42% wetter than the earlier. Geddit? 

This data does not include the very dry winter we had this year.

There could be many explanations for this shift in the weather (which is consistent, by the way, whichever pair of three year periods you use). Whatever the cause, winters and springs have been much wetter at the Croft during 2013-15 than they were 2006-8, and summers and autumns are much drier. Overall rainfall in the two periods has not varied much; total rainfall 2013-15 is only 3% lower than 2006-8.

There you are. The weather is a wonderful topic for conversations, a subject for hours of debate...

Thursday, 31 March 2016

Spring has Sprung

Walking in the mountains above the Croft today we came across these beautiful Hepatica nobilis, flowering at 1100 metres.

A Noble Liver, indeed

Spring is here, and the bees are getting busy. When I opened a hive this past weekend I found bee larvae in various stages of development, on the top bars of the hive. I am now on constant swarm-patrol, watching out for signs of queen cells...

Who took the roof off?

Friday, 19 February 2016

Spring Nectar

The bees are out. 

Green flower power

It's the early flowering in this unusually early spring, as our Mediterranean Buckthorn (Rhamnus alaternus) produces its anonymous wee green flowers. 

The Buckthorns are buzzing with bees - my wee black bees, and big bumble bees. Spring has sprung.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Donkey Tears

Arran the donkey has a swollen eye.

A week ago, the swelling completely closed the eye, and he looked very dejected. We started washing it with a tea made from thyme (the local treatment for eye infections) and called Vicenç the donkey vet. By then, Laialuing had also developed a similarly swollen eye.

With the help of Vicenç we managed to get the swelling down so that he could use fluorescent eye drops to look for injury in the eye. He found a tiny spine. This means that the probable cause of the swelling is the falling spines from Pine Processionary (Thaumetopoea pityocampa) larvae. These spines have a barbed end like a wee harpoon, and cause stinging and a rash. Perhaps because of the mild winter we have a serious outbreak of Pine Processionary nests across the Croft and neighbouring land, so the donkeys can easily be infected. 

We are looking into ways of controlling the Processionary population but the blighters live at the top of our tallest pine trees so they are hard to reach...

Friday, 29 January 2016

Whither the weather?

Writing about the weather is one step more Scottish than our infamous tendency to talk, endlessly, about it. So I'll keep this short:

It is dry. Very, very dry.
Since 1st December 2015 we have had a total of 4mm of rain. Average rainfall over that period is 74mm, so we are 95% down.

It is too warm, for January.
Here at the Croft - we are 300m above sea level - we have barely had frost all winter; just a handful of sub-zero nights. In normal winters we get many frozen nights and a few pipe-bursters that drop below -8ºC.

As a consequence we have mosquitoes active in January (the frost would normally kill most of them off), and bees that are awake and about but can't find nectar.

And now there are concerns over forest fires - something we worry about in July, but not (normally) in January. Here is the February rain forecast from the European Forest Fire Information System: the beige areas mean lower than average rainfall is forecast, and thus higher than average fire risk.

You still not sure about global climate change? Really?

Monday, 12 October 2015

Breast is best

We have had a couple of cases of mastitis recently, and so have had to bottle feed two or three lambs. In some cases this is complete substitution (the mother had no milk) and in others it has been an addition to their diet.

I compared the live weight of lambs with the meat weight - i.e. the carcass processed by the butcher. The carcass includes just the bone and muscle structure, not the internal organs, skin or contents of the body cavity.

Here is the result:


Date Live Weight at Slaughter (kg) Meat weight (kg) % Meat /Live Bottle Fed
31/10/2015 23.5 9.2 39.15% Yes
03/05/2015 21.1 9.8 46.45% Yes
31/03/2015 27 15.1 55.93% No
17/08/2015 19.2 8.8 45.83% No
17/08/2015 21 10.99 52.33% No

The ratio of meat to live weight seems - this is a very, very small sample - to be higher in the lambs that fed naturally. Naturally feeding lambs had an average 51.4% meat:live weight ratio, while bottle fed lambs had an average 42.8%.

There are some published papers on this, for example this paper on milk source and body weight [1] but none, that I know of, on Ripollesa sheep.

Time for more research, methinks!

Joaquim Casellas at the Autonomous University of Barcelona has confirmed that there are no studies of this issue in Ripollesas. He has pointed me to this useful study on goats which shows that maternal milk vs milk powder does cause differences in fatty acid composition. 

This leads me to think that one possible explanation of the differences in meat weight:live weight is that bottle fed lambs may build up more body cavity fat (which is discarded in the butchering process) than ewe-fed.

1 Hernández-Castellano, L. E., I. Moreno-Indias, A. Morales-delaNuez, D. Sánchez-Macías, A. Torres, J. Capote, A. Argüello, and N. Castro. ‘The Effect of Milk Source on Body Weight and Immune Status of Lambs’. Livestock Science 175 (May 2015): 70–76. doi:10.1016/j.livsci.2015.02.011.

Micro Mammal Murder Mystery

I just found this wee chap dead on a leaf.

Leafing life

It is an Etruscan Shrew (Suncus etruscus), the world's smallest mammal.

A mystery, Mr Holmes?
 But what happened to her? Her neck has been opened by something, but who would do that and then not eat her? She was lying on a melon- plant leaf about 60cm from ground level, so was she caught, killed and then dropped? It's a mystery...