Friday 10 August 2007

Painted ladies, farmers and pet lambs

We seem to be in the midst of what, if it weren’t so delightful, could almost be called a ‘plague’ of butterflies here on the Muddy Island. Woke up a couple of days ago and stepped outside the back door to find myself standing in a cloud of painted lady butterflies. I have never seen so many all at once – there is a buddleia bush in a neighbouring garden, but these seemed to be ignoring it, happily fluttering around in the bright sunshine just for the sheer joy of it. It seems to be an island-wide phenomenon, and was recorded later the same day on the Mersea Wildlife site, and is the subject of much of today’s posting by our Country Park ranger too.

From butterflies to Butterfly Lodge Farm, a few miles inland on the Colchester Road – home to a herd of charming goats who provide milk for the excellent Caprilatte ice cream, to which I and my children have recently become fairly addicted. Not everyone appreciates the flavour of goats’ milk. I happen to like it very much, and in any case I don’t think it comes through very strongly in this ice cream, owing to the 36 mouthwateringly delicious flavours – amongst them Honeymoon Pie, Tiramisu, Belgian Chocolate, Funoffee Delight, Strawberry Crush – the mere naming of which has been enough to make me need to rush urgently to the freezer (but I will hang on a few moments more while I finish today’s musing/rambling/half-meaningless waffle). Caprilatte ice cream won farmer Warren Gough the Farmers Guardian Best Young Farmer Producer Award at the 2007 Waitrose Small Producers Awards.

Desperately worrying times now for farmers just now, of course, given the current foot-and-mouth scare, though it seems from today’s latest news that it is being contained in Surrey. Let’s hope so. The thought all those Butterfly Farm goats . . . ugh, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

From goats to sheep, and a visit to the Sheep Poo Paper website to stock up on their greetings cards, made from . . . yep, that’s right, sheep droppings, gathered in the foothills of Snowdonia, which are then sterilised, washed and turned into paper. No trees of any kind are harmed in the slightest way in the manufacture of a sheep poo paper card, and, honestly, you can’t smell a thing. For the environmentally aware, as well as for people who, like me, find the concept of sending their aunt a birthday card made from poo deeply, childishly hilarious . . . these are just the ticket. (Hey, that’s an idea - sheep poo tickets - you saw it here first © me.)

While I fully appreciate that grown-up goats are more charming and intelligent in every way than silly grown-up sheep, there is nothing quite like a baby lamb. When I was about 6, on a springtime family holiday in Grasmere, I ‘adopted’ a newborn lamb. He was very, very sweet, and the only grey one in the field. I visited him every day and named him (ahem, well I was only 6, remember) ‘Woolly’.

My grandparents kept goats and I have always meant to get a couple myself, when I’m ‘grown up’ (so not long to go now, then . . .). But I still like the idea of finding a successor to Woolly one day, too, and I’m clearly not alone in this little hankering. For those who fancy adopting their very own pet lamb (with none of the hassle, or all that raw material for greetings cards lying about the place), then visit this amusing site. Not only can you adopt a real lamb (choose from thousands of photos!), you can play SwapLambWar, send a free Lamb Postcard, and even paint a real sheep pink or blue by donating £1 on the Paint My Sheep Pink page. You can also, should you wish, send a lamb on holiday . . .

Hmm, well, I think that’s quite enough of that.

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