Burnt offerings

We produce our first pizza…

After many years on the back burner (no pun intended) our clay/pizza oven is finally operational. Hoorah!

Earlier this month, with great trepidation, we scraped out the sand from the centre, keeping our fingers crossed that the whole thing wouldn’t collapse.

It didn’t and we fired it up.

We were so impatient that we failed to let it heat up long enough before we slid in our first pizza.  It took an age to cook and then the base wasn’t crisp but very doughy.

We learned two things – we needed to allow more time for it to reach optimum cooking temperature, and the pizza base should be thinner.

On the second firing, we lit it at 9am and put the first pizza in at 12 noon.  It was done in minutes, the edges charcoaled and the pizza stone cracked in half!  Not quite what we had in mind.

Number 3, we let it heat up for 2 hours, then pushed the embers aside and kept them alight by feeding in small sticks.  We also used a pizza crisper tray rather than a stone.  This time the base was perfect but we took our eye off the top for a few mintues too long and still ended up with a charcoal rim!

It’s obviously a work in progress and we will continue to strive for the perfect pizza.

Now the oven is finished, our next project is a bench for the garden so that we can sit comfortably and enjoy that “perfect pizza”!

The clay oven

It’s been a long time coming…

Way back in 2011, after attending a clay oven workshop and filled with enthusiasm, we embarked on our own clay oven building project in the garden.

We constructed the base and then left it to dry.  In fact we left it for several years!!!  It has been a bit of an eyesore in the garden ever since, covered in plastic weighted down with bags of clay that we dug from the ground.

Since the weather had been so good, we decided to finally finish the job and set about building the oven itself.  Inside the bags, the clay had grown a covering of moss but was surprisingly still usable when mixed with water to become pliable.  We made a dome of sand in the centre of the base, spread newspaper over the top, then set about covering it in the wet clay.  It was a case of slapping it on with our hands.  The second layer applied a week later was a mixture of clay mixed with sawdust and straw to insulate, and then finally the following weekend we put on the top layer (just clay), which was a bit wetter and threatened to slide off!

So, do we now have our clay oven?  Not quite.  It has to dry inside and out and we are nervous about raking out the sand, in case the whole thing collapses.

It will be a while yet before we cook our first pizza in there, but hopefully we’re talking weeks not years!

Toby Pup’s Marathon

Toby Pup enjoys a (KONG) Marathon play session!

With Toby Pup’s episodes of high energy occurring at regular intervals, he really benefits from having something to focus it on. Thankfully, the KONG Company’s range of Marathon toys play right into his paws!

These fun rubber toys have a recess in the side that is shaped specifically to hold a Marathon treat firmly in place. The treat is mostly beneath the surface of the toy, and whilst Toby can still reach and taste it, it is deliberately difficult for him to get a good hold on it. Also, as he does manage to wear the treat down, it goes deeper into the toy and becomes harder to reach.

One added bonus we found is that the toys are hollow, allowing for small additional treats to be hidden inside as an extra incentive!

Toby has used his Kong Marathon Ball several times now, and although he has obviously got better at it, it still keeps him very well occupied.

Here he is in action:

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Wet, wet, wet!

Toby becomes a water baby…

This month has been particularly wet here and pretty warm too.  Sadly frosty mornings, where the dogs come home dry, seem to be a thing of the past. At the end of every walk, the “dog-o-matic”, otherwise known as a watering can, comes out and they all get a cold shower.  Soaking wet towels, litter the porch and we can’t dry them fast enough.  The hayfield has developed a couple of large puddles or mini-lakes and we discovered that Toby loves them, he’s a real water baby!  The others avoid paddling but he rushes in with such enthusiasm and sprays us all in his wake.  Unfortunately, he’s quite partial to a mud bath too!

Because of the poor weather conditions the ewes and lambs are still inside as we don’t want to risk letting them out into the sodden fields.  However, they are all in one large pen together so the babies have lots of friends to play with.

Toby finished his puppy classes with flying colours.  He performed his “Bang Bang” trick at the end of term party in front of everyone.  We were worried that he would be too excited to go through with it on the night, but he did us proud.

Next month he starts Junior classes and we are looking forward to continuing his clicker training as he is doing so well.  Notwithstanding the fact that the journey too and fro is a bit of a nightmare, as there have been so many road closures with diversions of up to 20 miles along winding roads.  This has caused poor Toby to be sick on the long drive there.  Thankfully, on the way home, he’s usually so exhausted, he sleeps all the way!

His relationship with Jack, our Border Collie has improved 100%.  They are now best friends and wrestle together for hours, albeit rather noisily!

See Toby’s water antics in the video below:

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Toby Pup and the Treat Ringer Orb

Toby Pup tries out a Treat Ringer Orb from Starmark

Toby loves trying out new toys for us, and today we introduce him to the Treat Ringer Orb from Starmark.

Starmark’s Treat Ringer toys are made of firm plastic and they have a wide outer with a hard to reach rail inside.  Edible Treat Rings are pushed onto this inner rail for your dog to try and remove. Not easy!

The Ringers are supplied with some treat rings, but they are available separately too for when you need to refill.

For most dogs it can be quite a challenging toy at first and during Toby’s initial 20 minute session he did not manage to remove one singe ring. However, during play the rings do become softer and easier to work.  Plus, as with most toys, dogs become more adept over time so in subsequent sessions he does manage to remove the treats eventually.

A couple of months on, and Toby still loves it!

See how he got on in our video below:

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Lambing begins and ends

We experience a pain-free month of lambing, although the ewes may disagree…

Lambing began unexpectedly at the begining of the month with the first ewe giving birth without our intervention.  She had two healthy boys with no problems at all.  As we hired a Suffolk tup this time, instead of the usual pure white lambs, we had a mixture of black and speckledy faces.  It pretty much continued in the same vein, with most of the ewes coping by themselves, which is just as well, as we couldn’t get the CCTV cameras working.

As a result, we haven’t had a single sleepless night!

The last one was due on 28th but she lambed two days early, so we are all done for this year.  We’ve never had such a quick and efficient lambing season!

We didn’t get as many as we hoped for and we also got more boys than usual, but we will certainly keep some of the girls for future breeding.

Toby’s training is coming along very well, although he can be a little demon in the evenings when we are all ready to sit down and relax in front of the TV.  He has other ideas and stalks around the lounge like a thug!

He is so bright and clever, it’s a real pleasure to teach him.  He missed one training class due to illness but quickly caught up with the rest of the group.

For his last session, there will be a party and every pup is expected to perform a trick.  We decided to teach him the Bang Bang trick with a variation: we ‘shoot’ him (or rather, we say ‘bang’) and he goes round in a circle and then falls flat to the floor.  He’s just about got it and you can see him demonstrating it in the video below.  Whether he will be willing to do it on the night in front of an audience is anyones guess!

The pup challenge

We experience the highs and lows of a new puppy

As the clock struck midnight on the New Year, instead of knocking back champers, we were wrapped up in bed with a Lemsip!  We had succumbed to the virus that seemed to be sweeping the nation and it made life with a lively puppy just that bit tougher.

Toby was, of course, adorable but on top of that he was hard work.  We have had many puppies in the past but as they grow, you quickly forget the bad bits!

Lack of sleep, they like to wake early, taking them outside (in bad weather) every half an hour, trying to stop them chewing, especially electric cables that you never noticed before and keeping those needle sharp teeth out of your flesh!  Not to mention the feeding four times a day!  It’s a full-time job and not for the faint hearted.

We are very lucky in that we work from home so we could be with him 24/7.  Heaven knows how people cope when they have to go out to work.

A dog crate was an essential piece of kit, especially for those much needed moments of respite and invaluable overnight.  Clicker training helped to calm him down and focus his mind for short periods, often leaving him needing a nap and us with some breathing space.  We tried out plenty of toys and he loved most of them, but not for long enough. His attention soon returned to chewing rugs, furniture or shoes, that someone had foolishly left lying around.

Two other problems we encountered were sheep poo, and Jack our Border Collie.  The field we walk them in has recently been vacated by our pregnant ewes and there was plenty to interest him.  We couldn’t get his nose off the ground and quickly taught him a “leave” command, which works about 30% of the time. Jack was a bigger challenge – whereas both Archie and Daisy have welcomed new pups before, this is Jack’s first one.  He didn’t react very well and although the 2 shepherds would tolerate Toby, Jack was very snappy.

We tried to work this through by taking them out to one of our large sheds and training them together.  Jack realised that being with Toby meant positive things rather than negative.

To a certain extent this has calmed the problem and Jack’s snapping seems to be much more ‘warning’ than intent. Toby does heed those messages when he isn’t hyper-excited, and more often than not, Jack prefers to move away rather than getting involved. We still have work to do, but we are happy with the progress so far.

Despite all of the above, Toby has been an absolute joy.  He is so bold, intelligent, quick to learn and entertaining and he’s certainly taught us a thing or two.  Last week he started his clicker class and we were very proud of him.  He behaved beautifully.  But we won’t be resting on our laurels, there is homework to be completed and we are well aware that once he gets comfortable in the new training environment, he may not be quite so polite and well mannered.

Pictured below are the items we found most useful for Toby:

Toby loves the Everlasting Treat Ball

The treat-filled Tuggy is a hit!

Toby with the Puller

Perfect for controlled walking

 

Toby Pup starts Clicker Training

Our new pup Toby takes to Clicker Training!

Toby pup joined us in early December, and he has certainly been a live wire!

Almost immediately, we introduced him to Clicker Training. We wanted to start on some early basics, but also to channel some his mental and physical energy.

As with most puppies, Toby swings from 0 to 100% activity very quickly and he has a very short attention span. In amongst the feeding, sleeping, and play, we introduced a number of very short training sessions.

The result? Once he had made the connection between click and treat (3-4 very short sessions) he really took to it! His attitude changed from mild interest to extremely attentive, and instead of the rising excitement that he experiences during play, he remains fairly calm.

As soon as he sees us wearing the treat bag or holding the clicker, he instantly goes into ‘training mode’.

It is such great fun to do, and watching him work out what is required is both amusing and fascinating in equal measure.

See how he is progressing in these two videos:

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Merry Christmas from the Team

Celebrations and chaos

 

Toby

We collected our new boy, Toby, at the beginning of December.  We were worried about his long journey home in the car, but thanks to some very good advice, we all arrived home unscathed.

He travelled on the back seat in a small crate in which we had put a very comfy bed with high sides so that he felt supported but could move around.  The door was open but we fitted a barrier so that we could put hands in to comfort him but he couldn’t get out.

After some initial fidgeting, he slept most of the way and wasn’t sick at all, which was our biggest concern.

He has settled in well, in fact you would think he’d always lived here!

Archie loves him, Daisy tolerates him but Jack is not very keen.

Whilst we’re waiting for him to have his second vaccination, we haven’t taken him into the big field to run with the others so socialisation hasn’t been easy in cramped conditions.  We are working hard to try to get them all to feel happy and relaxed together but the nippy little pup is proving to be a challenge.

We have, of course, started clicker training and he’s taken to it like a duck to water.  It’s truly amazing how quickly he picks things up.

Speaking of picking things up, he does seem to be rather obsessed with stones!  We’ll have to train him out of that before he starts swallowing them!

It’s going to be a busy Christmas here, with not much time for relaxing in front of the TV thanks to our new arrival.

Best wishes to everyone and we hope you have a peaceful and enjoyable Christmas with your four legged friends!

The new recruit

We meet the new member of the team

With the sad loss of our beloved Fin at the beginning of the year, we felt there was space in our home for another glorious German Shepherd so we have been on the lookout for a pup.  There were surprisingly few available in this corner of the country, but last week we got a call offering us a short coat, black and tan male and we didn’t have to think twice!  At the weekend we travelled over 100 miles to meet him.

At 5 weeks old, he was a tiny wee thing but his ears were up and he was very bold, not at all shy.  We met the parents who were lovely, friendly dogs, so of course we said yes!

We are collecting him at the beginning of December and are already making preparations for his long car journey home and puppy-proofing the house. Although we’ve had many pups over the years, you quickly forget how much looking after they take and chaos they cause!

Daisy, Archie and Jack will have to be introduced to him carefully, Jack being the only one who hasn’t encountered a new pup before.

We have him booked on a clicker training course in January and are looking forward to sharing all his adventures here in Tales from the Croft, and through Twitter and Facebook!

Here he is in action!