Thursday, 22 March 2012

A muddy bath

This week has been so nice being outside in the sunshine, and I think the animals are appreciating the slightly warmer weather too. Yesterday I was out doing the monthly condition checks on the koniks, when they then decided to have a roll around in the water out on bakers!

As you can see by these pictures, the water is pretty grim for a roll in, but the koniks seemed to enjoy it and it cooled them off nicely.

Apart from the monthly checks on the koniks, the cattle checks were completed too. The final parts of preparation for Saturday's 'Careers with Animals' day was completed too, so we are almost all set for that. On our stall, we'll have general information about conservation grazing, Wicken Fen and the National Trust. We are also meant to take an 'entertaining activity' according to the CAW, so we are taking some poo analysis equipment. I'll collect some dung tomorrow from one of the koniks, and then we'll take all that we need to make a solution and look at some under the microscope for a worm count. I don't think 'entertaining' is the first word that comes into mind, but hopefully people will find it interesting!

Around the fen at the moment, there are definite signs of spring - everything seems to be coming to life a bit more, and the place seems to be filling up with birdsong and spring wildlife. I was out on Monday afternoon and this afternoon collecting some data for my project on the bulls, and although there was hardly any aggressive behaviour to record, it really makes a difference when you're standing for an hour in the sunshine rather than the cold! Over on Harrisons, there seems to be a couple of barn owls that are settling in one of the willows - I'm not sure if they will nest, but hopefully they'll stay around. If you walk down Harrisons drove towards Wicken Lode, you might catch sight of them - they're towards the reed beds (in compartments called Rothschild&Lapwing), about half way into the bulls' fields. Over in guinea hall, there are lots of skylarks busy singing away in the fields, and many will nest in the fields as it's ideal habitat for them out there.

Next week, I won't actually be working out on the fen. I have a week's work experience at a veterinary surgery in my home village, which I'm really looking forward to! I'm potentially thinking of veterinary nursing after my placement here, so next week will (I hope) help me decide whether I definitely do want to do this or not. So until I get back next time, thanks for reading!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A new addition!

This week there has been a new addition to the breeding herd of koniks - Yara, one of the mares in Charlie's harem has had a filly! She is so cute, I went out this morning with one of the lookers, Carole, and managed to get some pictures.

A couple of visitors around the fen managed to see her being born and then phoned the visitors centre to let us know about it. Carol and I went down straight away to check out how it was doing and stayed for a while until it looked like it was able to stand up. It's amazing how quickly they're able to stand and walk around - usually it's between 30 mins - 1 hour old when the foal is able to stand! Thankfully this filly seems healthy and happy. Her mum Yara seems to have bonded well with her and Charlie has been good so far at protecting them both from the other curious stallions who get a bit too close!.. Even though Yara is part of Charlie's harem, she only joined it last summer so chances are that this foal isn't actually Charlie's. Still, he's protecting them well!

Apart from then new addition, things with the grazing animals have been fairly quiet this week. The breeding herd of koniks are becoming more active as more mares are getting closer to foaling and then will come into season. The non-breeding herd on verralls have a totally relaxed, quiet life without the fuss of harems and fighting off other stallions from their girls. This summer, 8 of our cattle will be moving over onto verralls to form a small non-breeding herd. It will be strange seeing cattle out there! The individuals moving over have almost all been decided on, so there will be a mix of (castrated) bulls and cows. They'll affect the vegetation in different ways to the koniks that are already there, and hopefully they will help keep some of the scrub down, which is important for preventing succession going too far.

Anyway hope you have good weekends and thanks for reading!

Monday, 12 March 2012

A bit of prep and a few checks

Hope you had good weekends!

The mist this morning made it a bit of a challenge to find the cows and horses for their start of the week checks. However, eventually I they were found and checked! The girls in the breeding herd of koniks are definitely starting to look heavier and the foaling will begin within the next month, which I'm really looking forwards to. There's potentially 13 mares that will be foaling this year (I think for 2 of them, it'll be their first foal) and foaling tends to go from March-August time, though with some of them it's pretty hard to predict the date. One of the girls in the main harem, Gracie, is looking especially heavy so we will be keeping an eye of her and the others in the upcoming months - soon there will be new additions to the herd! Another telling sign when a mare is going to foal soon (though it is variable between each individual) is that their udder starts to fill and sometimes start leaking milk - this hasn't happened yet with any of the girls that I've seen, so there's still a bit of time to go.

The cows were very relaxed again this morning, and a few were having a good scratch at the trees alongside guinea hall near Monk's Lode. I'm heading out to the bulls this afternoon and am going to do a session of my project, so hopefully I'll see some interesting behaviour whilst I'm there! The other day, Isle was coming into season and Edmund was guarding her very closely - Norman (one of the small black bulls) was trying his hardest to get to Isle, but he didn't really stand any chance with Edmund so close by and so much bigger than he is!

Also today, I've been doing some prep work for a 'Careers With Animals' day thats happening on the 25th. It's being held in the College for Animal Welfare and is basically a chance for students and career-change people to come and have a look at a number of stands from different organisations, and see what different options they have. Wicken Fen are doing a stand there about conservation grazing, so I've just got to sort out the displays that we'll have - Maddie (who went last year) did a load of work printing out/laminating pictures so there's lots of useful stuff here already! I also know that Shepreth Wildlife Park are having a stand there, and that they usually bring along various creatures so hopefully will be able to go along to their stand and see some of those!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A bit of cake and volunteer chat

Hope you are all having a good week!

On Wednesday, Wicken Fen had a Volunteer's day, where most of the staff and volunteers had a day of talks, group sessions and general discussion. It was good to have everyone together and also for the volunteers to be given a chance to say how they felt about volunteering here at the fen and with the National Trust in general. There were so many faces I didn't recognise though, even after 6 months of being here! Lots of the volunteers in education and in the fen cottage only come in once a month or so, so I never cross over with them. It's good to now be familiar with a few more people. The food was also a highlight of the day, with tasty scones, cake and soup being eaten at various points!

Apart from that, this week has mainly been filled with checks, data entry, data collection and working on my own project for a bit. Yesterday I attempted to do some data collection for Carol's phD on the horses - it took me 2 hours to actually completed half of what she normally manages in an hour! I think it was still useful though, and it helped me with my ongoing IDing of the horses. I'm down to only a few bachelors now that I get muddled with and hopefully over the next few weeks I'll get those sorted in my head too. And then when foaling begins soon, there'll be another potential 13 to learn...

Today the herds were all pretty calm - the picture below shows 2 of the stallions of the main harem in the breeding group of koniks (this was after their rest period). One of the dominancy behaviours of stallions is to create 'dung piles'. Multiple stallions will dung in the same spot, sniffing the dung already there - the last konik to dung is meant to be the dominant one, although this isn't always the case that I've seen. Often though there will be groups of stallions standing around and sniffing/dunging and the whole process can sometimes start a few challenges and fights, so it's interesting to watch!

This picture is a nice one I thought of one of the cows (Rush) during a little rest period.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A month of snow and spring


Sorry that it has been so long since my last entry - I didn't realise that it had been quite as long as it has since I last posted on here! Since the start of February, I've seen the fen in snow, ice, rain, wind and spring sunshine. The spring weather seems to have disappeared again though, leaving the animals a bit miffed that they can't bask in the sunshine each day.

Over the past month or so, 4 of our horses here have fallen in various ditches, due to the ice we had a few weeks ago. There were 2 on Verralls (Percy and Tim) who fell in on separate days, and eventually were dragged out of the ditches using our RTV, strops and shackles. In the breeding herd, Gracie and Hanty were found in the ditch along by guinea hall - Gracie seemed to have given up at getting herself out, whereas Hanty seemed happy enough to jump in and out of the ditch, trying to herd up Gracie in the process. On this occassion 2 fire engines ended up being called out and helped us with hauling Gracie out. So after these multiple ditch-events, things have thankfully been alright with all 4 of the horses, and no-one else has fallen in!

Another 'happening' recentlly has been the decision of who to take on as a 9-month grazing placement here in the warden team. Heritage Lottery have funded about 10 of these placements around the country, and one of these will be based at Wicken Fen. During their 9 months here, they'll basically join Carol and I in the care and maintenance of the animals here on the fen, as well as gaining experience over at Wimpole too (which I'm hoping to tag along with!). We interviewed 4 people a few weeks ago and decided on a guy (Shaun) who will be starting at the beginning of April. It will be really good to have another member of the grazing team here!

More recently, things within the breeding herd of koniks have started to liven up a bit. The tension within the group has been increasing and the stallions have seemed to be more active, becoming more protective of their females and sparring more with each other. Today, I carried out checks on the cows, bulls and breeding herd - the picture below is of Wendy having a good browse around guinea hall ponds - she was tucked away so took a while to find!

Thanks for reading.