Alexandra's Animals: making hay while the sun shines
PUBLISHED: 13:21 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013
Alexandra Bastedo, actress and custodian of the ABC Animal Sanctuary, near Pulborough, muses over the appetite of horses and tips on smallholding
For the ABC Animal Sanctuary June and July were most alarming. Why? To get in hay farmers need five days without rain and that did not happen until the very end of July. By the end of August the morning dews start and it becomes difficult to dry the hay so there is a very short span of time in which to cut it.
One year we did take in some damp hay and it proved to be very dangerous. Damp hay can become so hot that it can combust and set fire to a barn. We were forced to pile it on pallets outside and cover it with plastic sheeting until it dried out. Even so when we cut open each bale it was like having a facial sauna as the hot moisture was released.
Our rescued horses and donkeys munch their way through a minimum of 30 bales of hay a week so the availability and price of hay is a matter of major concern. In 2010 after the snow and drought conditions hay was very expensive and made life at the animal charity very difficult. This year, hopefully, it will be more affordable.
The other downside of the wet conditions according to our vet was a lot of hoof problems. Hutch, our brown donkey, had problems with two hoofs and treating both of them proved to be an interesting experience. The only way to succeed was to put his face in a bowl of his favourite food, thereby distracting him from the matter in hand.
I was asked to give a lecture at Parham House on smallholding and although at the sanctuary we are in the business of rescuing animals and not breeding or fattening up for table, with 30 years experience I was able to give tips on keeping a variety of animals, including pigs, sheep, goats and of course poultry.
Poultry-keeping is a lot more involved than you might think with scaly leg, bumble foot, red mite, lice, rats and foxes to contend with. One of my tips for lice removal is to put the hen or cockerel into a sturdy plastic bag with the louse powder inside and the birds head out of the top. You can then rub the powder in through the plastic without wastage or indeed getting more over you than the chicken.
For scaly leg, Vaseline works a treat and rat-proof and fox-proof enclosures require a lot of research as a fox will jump over just one electric wire without getting zapped - you need two wires in order to earth him and ordinary concrete is not sufficient as rats can burrow up through it.
Poison? Poor rats unlike tame rats the wild ones can spread disease so my answer is to mix the poison with hot chocolate to make it more attractive.
Meanwhile, at the ABC Animal Sanctuary the charity is doing its best for the huge numbers of unwanted domestic animals. There are vast numbers of cats and kittens needing to come into rescue centres. And without our help they face an uncertain future. Please help to persuade people to get their animals neutered and if you can offer one a home or help sponsor one please call 07967 046068 or contact us at www.abcanimalsanctuary.co.uk
Volunteers with animal experience are always needed.