Well On The Way

We’ve been keeping pretty busy over the past couple of weeks, nice and steady so we’ve not been overrun with new lambs but enough to keep the days filled. We now have 54 lambs and about a dozen ewes left to lamb. It’s all gone a bit quiet, no lambs for 2 days so we’re all having a breather!

Considering it’s our first year and we’ve been finding our feet really, having no experience of lambing outside, we’ve not done too badly. We’ve lost our fair share of lambs, some being born dead or not surviving the first few hours, and more recently we lost 3 to a fox. Unfortunately death comes hand in hand with life, and you see a lot more of it at lambing time than any other time of year. Sadly we lost a ewe the other day, so we have decided to hand rear this little guy.

He is about 3 days old and we have called him Eric. The littlest scatterbrain loves bottle feeding him. We have just acquired a friend for him as it’s not fair for him to be on his own, so this little girl has come to join us from another farm.

We’ll keep them in the garden for the next few weeks until they’re old enough to graze and rejoin the flock.

Spring is still taking her time to arrive, we have a beautiful warm, sunny day where we sit in the field and watch a ewe giving birth, or the lambs playing in the evening, and then we have days where it rains and the wind comes in sideways and you really hope there’s not much going on in the field so you don’t have to spend ages out in the cold and wet. The grass is growing, the hedges are full and green, and the tractors are busy out in the fields so things are drying up and improving. The little one is a proper outdoors boy, and throws a tantrum when we make him come in, so I am really looking forward to the days when we can just leave the door open and he can spend as much time in the garden as he likes.

In other news, this is waiting to go in the oven for our tea tonight.

Our own leg of mutton. Can’t wait to taste it, and will try to get the results posted here before too long!!

It All Kicks Off

We are due to start lambing tomorrow. However, we have had a few little early surprises.

On Wednesday morning this little lady had already made her entrance into the world by the time we got the the field.

This might look like a pretty tiny, cute thing but it is a huge thing for us. She is our first ever lamb. The past 10 months of spending what feels like shedloads of money, spending time working with the ewes and on 2 occasions watching them die and being unable to do anything all boils down to this. We finally have something to show for it all. Mr Scatterbrain has announced that we are keeping her. Luckily, being a she, she has a long future ahead of her but I think she will always have a special place for us.

The next morning we came out to this –

Even more of a surprise, triplets! They are 2 days old now and doing really well, their mum is looking after them perfectly and thankfully has enough milk for them all. Triplets generally aren’t good news for shepherds as sheep are really only designed to rear 2 lambs, but on this occasion I think we’ll be able to leave them all with their mother. We are keeping a pretty close eye on them to make sure they stay strong and well-fed and if it becomes necessary we will hand-rear one, but mum’s always best.

This is always my favourite time of year, the weather is getting warmer, the days are getting longer, the sky is blue and the grass green, and everywhere you look there is new life. After many months of seeing dry, brown, skeletal hedges along every roadside, it is a welcome sight to see them filling out with fresh green buds. The birds sing as they nest, the lambs play in the fields and the first few cows are being turned out to graze. After surviving a cold, wet, muddy winter, this feels like the reward for hanging on. It makes me glad to be a country girl.

Waiting

Winter is slowly turning into spring here. Lambs are gambolling in the fields, snowdrops, crocuses and daffodils are beginning to poke their heads out of their warm winter beds and the birds are becoming more active as they plan to start their new families. We still have about 6 weeks before our ewes start to lamb, and we are ticking off the days, beginning preparations such as making sure we have all the necessary drugs and supplies, getting all the ewes vaccinated so that they and the lambs stay healthy, and working out which fields each group is going to go to! I am also waiting to find out what’s wrong with my knee. I had the MRI scan last night, so hopefully we will get some answers in about 2 weeks. Whether the news will turn out to be good or bad remains to be seen, but at least we will know what’s actually going on and hopefully have an end in sight.

To keep busy, I’ve started making my own bread. I’d tried in the past and never had a huge amount of success, but after the bread we normally buy went up by 5p a loaf we decided it would be cheaper to make our own. My husband was talking about getting a breadmaker, but I’v had my heart set on a stand mixer for a long time and as they cost about the same (2nd hand) and have far more uses, I persuaded him that was the way to go. I quickly found on, fairly locally, on a preloved selling site, at a decent price and with a huge number of attachments, which appear to be unused and in their original boxes. A few days later, armed with my new mixer and the necessary ingredients, I set about making my first loaf of bread. It had been my birthday recently, the mixer being a sort of birthday present, and my parents had bought me a new set of scales, the type with a dial on the front that weighs in kg and lbs, and a dish that sits on top to hold the ingredients. I put all the ingredients in the mixer bowl and set it going. ‘It shouldn’t be this wet’ I remarked to DH, watching it slop around in the bowl. ‘There’s no way it will be handle-able, maybe the recipe was written down wrong or I shouldn’t have put all the water in’. ‘Just dump some more flour in’, he helpfully replied. I poured in enough extra flour to make the dough at least bind together and hoped we’d get something edible as the result. It rose quite nicely, but by the time it was baked it was about 3 inches high, the flattest loaf of bread I’d ever seen. Despite being more crumpet-like in appearance, with large air holes in every slice, it tasted so much better than the shop-bought loaf. I decided to try again in a day or two but with a difference recipe.

As I sat at the table enjoying a hot cup of tea and reflecting on the bread making experience, I was idly looking at the scales on the table in front of me and thinking that there was a slight design flaw. The kg are marked around the outside and the lbs are marked on the inside of the dial. The needle that points to the weight is fairly wide at the middle and narrows down to a point by the time it hits the kg markings. The only problem is that it is still a bit wide where it points to the lb markings, and it can be hard to see exactly where it is pointing. ‘Well that shouldn’t have been an issue today’, I thought. ‘The weights were all in kg’. A pause, and then, ‘No, I can’t have been that stupid!’. I stared at the scales, thought a moment, then grabbed the half-used bag of flour and weighed it. That confirmed my suspicions. I WAS that stupid. Instead of using a kg of flour, I had used a lb. No wonder it was so wet!

I tried again once we had eaten all the crumpet-loaf, making sure to use the correct amounts this time, and got some sensible, normal bread. I still maintain that my underweighed bread tasted better! We are still in the trialling stage at the moment, but all the bread has been perfectly edible, tasty in fact. The little one actually eats more of the home-made bread than he ever did of the bought stuff. It will take a lot of saved 5p’s to pay for the mixer, but long term I think we’re on to a winner.

Winter

Winter is slowly passing, and the time is ticking by. It’s the time of year when everything slows down as you wait for spring. Tupping went well, but we won’t know just how well until the lambs start appearing, so I guess it’s best not to count our chickens (or lambs) just yet.20161207_132953

There are a few jobs to be done over the winter, sorting some fencing out being one of them. This winter has been quite damp, but a couple of weeks ago we got a spell of dry, cold weather. As we had a day free from paid work, we loaded up and headed down to one of the fields we rent to get some fencing done. The field is surrounded by hedges so in the summer it’s hard to see just what state the original fencing is in. With it all having died back a bit, we can access most of the existing fence and shore it up. It was a chilly but bright day, so we took soup, tea and sandwiches with us and had a bit of a picnic down there too. Despite the fact that we were working, it was nice to be together as a family, enjoying the sunshine.

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Daddy & T admiring our handiwork

Last week we were gathering the sheep to move a few to some new grazing when one of the biggest ewes ran into the side of my knee, knocking me over. I was rolling about in the mud holding my knee as my husband and the dog hovered worriedly over me. I went to hospital the next to have it x-rayed, and there was no break, but I was referred to an orthopedic consultant who has booked an MRI scan of my knee. He suspects a torn ligament. I am currently sporting a hi-tech knee brace and am off work until we find out what’s going on. It could be another 4 weeks before I get the scan and the results. We are counting down the weeks to lambing time… It could be a baptism of fire for my inexperienced husband. Best way to learn I suppose, being thrown in at the deep end!

 

The Start of the Breeding Year

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Paddy

This is our new dog, Paddy. He’s from working stock and has plenty of natural enthusiasm, but he’s a work in progress right now. Hopefully at some point in the future he will be able to round up and move our sheep for us, but right now we’re still having to do most of the work ourselves.

On Wednesday we put our tups in with the ewes. This is pretty much the most important event in the sheep farmer’s calendar. If they don’t do well now, due to the tups not performing, or fertility issues with the sheep, then you won’t get many lambs, which affects your profits when it comes to selling them all. Once the job was done and we stood watching one of the boys meeting his girls for the first time, we felt quite a sense of excitement. This is where is all starts, any successes or failures in the next year hinge on the next few weeks. So I’ll walk you through what we were doing on Wednesday.

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Our flock

With a bit of help and a lot of hindrance from Paddy, we penned up our ewes. We have two tups, so we needed to sort out which ewes were going with which tup. Some were staying here, the rest were going to a new field, so we had to load them into the trailer and take them to their new home.

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Foot trimming

One of them was a bit lame so I turned it over and trimmed it’s hoof back. A few of the ewes are a bit overweight, but on the whole they’re looking fit and healthy, which is what we need at this time of year. The boys are pretty big too, but they tend to loose a lot of weight during tupping, as they have more important things to be doing than eating.

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Teddy

Once the ewes were moved, we went to fetch the boys from their summer grazing. We loaded them in the trailer and spread raddle, a coloured paste, all over their chests. When they mount the ewes they spread it all over their backsides, so if a ewe has a brightly coloured bottom we know they’ve been served, and can hope it will result in lambs! This is Teddy, sporting some lovely yellow raddle. He’s an Easycare, as are some of our ewes, so we hope to breed some pure lambs from him.He took a couple of days to settle in, but this morning we found 3 yellow bottoms, so the girls have obviously accepted him.

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Max

This is Max, our Texel tup. He’s a big lad, and his hormones have been getting the better of him recently so he’s been a bit nasty. He was raring to go though, and he had already tupped one ewe before we’d even left the field! He’s also tupped 3 so far, so we’re getting off to a nice steady start.

The raddle rubs off over a few days, so we have to keep re-applying it. We did both tups this morning, and next week we’ll change colour so it’s easier to keep track of which ewes have been newly tupped. Hopefully, by the beginning of April, we should have some lambs gamboling about. We’re expectant and excited to see how they do, and it’ll be good to see some actual results from all the money and work we’ve spent so far. As they say, ‘the future’s bright, the future’s … erm… yellow?’

 

Catching Sheep (part 2)

As we were eating our lunch, my Dad and sister turned up. My sister was home for a week before heading back down south to start her 3rd and final year of university, and wanted to see her nephew before she went. She had agreed to babysit for us and Dad very kindly offered to help us with the sheep. We headed out and after much pointing, discussion and use of string, we had a handling race and pens set up. Then we had to get all the dosing guns set up and calibrated, and we were ready to start. The job was to catch a sheep, put her in the weigh crate and record her ear tag number and weight. Then she needed 2 abortion vaccines, a worming drench and a fluke drench, with a green spot sprayed on the back of her head to show that she’d been done. We got a bit of a system going and things went fairly smoothly, with DH catching, me dosing and Dad recording and spray marking.

For any readers who don’t know my Dad, I’ll try and describe him for you. He is a tall, good-looking man in his 50’s. He is patient and kind, and always has a listening ear and will help you in any way he can. He doesn’t like sheep much, having done his share of sheep-wrestling about 20 years ago. He runs a business as an IT consultant, which is fairly sedentary and suits him just right as he’s not keen on physical exertion, but I believe he does sometimes have to crawl around under desks or mess about up ladders when installing computing systems for some of his clients. Even though he was out helping us he was still ‘on call’, and had several phone calls while he was with us. It was quite comical really, my Dad standing in the middle of a barn, wearing wellies and his gardening clothes, a notebook in one hand and his phone in the other, calmly informing his caller that he was out of the office and would have to look into whatever the issue was later, all with a lot of bleating and clanging of gates in the background. What his clients thought I do not know! The only problem is that he would wander off with the notebook or some other essential piece of equipment and we’d have to run after him to snatch it back. We greatly appreciated his help though, and we got regaled with plenty of ‘dad jokes’ and awful puns, which kept us entertained. I think DH may had to restrain himself from throwing something in his direction every now and then!

After 6 hours of gathering up sheep, we got them all sorted in 2.5 hours, which was much better progress. Unfortunately I had to go out milking so DH and Dad had to load the sheep up and take them to their new homes. Aunty had had a great time playing with Mr T, and when I went in to get changed for work they were busy playing with a drum. I didn’t get home from work until 7pm, and came home to find him out cold on the sofa, he was that worn out. DH suggested fish and chips for tea, so I went out for some and when I came back T was still asleep. We sat on the floor of the living room watching The Great British Bake Off, our bodies aching as we were both used to milking cows, which only really works the upper body, whereas sheep handling affects your legs and back quite a lot. I tried to wake T up to give him something to eat, but the poor little boy was so tired he sat up, looked confused, and fell asleep again bolt upright! It was an early night for all of us that night, but we were happy that we’d got all the sheep dosed and moved at long last. They are now split into two groups, one half a mile down the road, the other a 15 minute walk up the fields behind our house, so daily checks are so much easier now, and if anything was to go wrong and we needed to move or catch any sheep, it will be easy enough to run back home for equipment or a trailer.

The next big job will be sorting them all by size and breed ready for tupping (mating) season, but that won’t be until early November so we have time to let them settle and make our plans for that!

Catching Sheep

Thursday was the big day, all due to two reasons. Reason one was that one of the vaccines had a use by date of Friday. Reason two, I wasn’t working until 4pm on Thursday. We had our trailer up and running again, so all we had to do was round up all our sheep, transport them back to a barn on our property, work our way through them and put them all back into their new fields. Simples.

One group of sheep was in a paddock surrounded by other paddocks, which were inhabited by horses during daylight hours. This meant that we could only move them in the evening, which was fine in July, not so fine in late September. We needed to get them moved on Wednesday night ready for bringing in the following morning. We set off as soon as I finished work on Wednesday, getting there just after 7pm, as it was beginning to get dark. DH set up the trailer and some hurdles and I set off across the fields with a bucket of feed, hoping, very naively, to entice them to the tailgate of the trailer, where we could then pen them up and drive them in. In the gloom, they took one look at the figure heading towards them, took fright and bunched up. I shook the bucket and called them, and a few braver souls came towards me. Once they realised who I was and that I had food, I had no trouble leading them out of the furthest field and into the field where we had the trailer waiting. They soon got distracted by the new grass, and the fact that they were following a bucket but no food appeared to be forthcoming. To cut a very long story short, we spent the next hour and a half chasing, shouting, enticing, cajoling and fuming, all to no avail. As it neared 9pm, was pretty much fully dark, and we were still getting no closer to getting the sheep anywhere near the trailer, let alone in it, we gave up. We were also getting quite concerned about the fact that someone could call the police on us, and we’d end up getting arresting for attempting to rustle our own sheep. Thankfully, the littlest shepherd had slept soundly throughout the whole ordeal, so we made our way home and to bed, setting our alarms for 5am (on the one morning I had a chance to have a lie in!) with the intention of trying again in the morning, in daylight.

We got up early the next morning and set off just as it was starting to get light. We parked up again, took a bucket of feed and went to collect them. I led them right up to the gateway where the trailer was parked, they took one look at the trailer and shot off. We could not entice or herd them anywhere near after that, despite a good half-hour of trying. Finally, we opted for cunning and blatant disregard of the state of the field. We drove across the field (carefully, doing as little damage as possible) and parked up in the next gateway. We made a funnel of hurdles between 2 gateways, which were both in the corner of one field. The idea was that we would drive the sheep through their gate, they would turn the corner and, voilĂ , there was the trailer, they were penned in and we were right behind shutting the gate on them. Once cornered, the game was up and we could send them into the trailer. First attempt was a partial success. They went into the funnel, then panicked. One leapt into a water trough in a bid for freedom, and another flattened our hurdles, leading the rest to scatter across the field. We improved our design and tried again, this time with success. Once they realised we had them beaten they trotted into the trailer like the well-behaved lambkins they most definitely weren’t. We gathered up all our hurdles, troughs and other bits and pieces and got away before anyone turned up to see what we were up to. We drove home, deposited group number one in the barn and set out to group number two.

This second field was a 20 minute drive away, and we had 31 sheep plus the majority of our hurdle collection to bring back, so we planned 2 trips. These sheep had given us the run-around in the past, but after asking a friend to bring her dog and teach them a lesson, they’d generally been easier to handle. Today however, they decided to mess about a bit. Half went in the pen, while the other half ran straight past the entrance. We sent them round and tried again, to pretty much the same effect. Cunning had to come into play again, so we secured the sheep already caught by putting them in a smaller pen at the back of the main pen. We sent the loose sheep around again, got a couple more in the main pen, added them to the small pen, and repeated until all sheep were penned. Thankfully it was a beautiful sunny day so running about chasing sheep wasn’t such a hardship. We loaded half the sheep, as many hurdles as we could spare, and carted them home, hoping that the remaining sheep wouldn’t escape while we were gone. Back again for the rest, which were thankfully where we had left them, and we had to load up all the hurdles. In the process of loading them into the trailer I smacked myself in the face with one, and still have a greenish bruise near my eye as testament of how hard I hit myself! Home yet again, and we were nearly done. Just one final group of sheep left and we’d have them all in.

The last group was the newest group, and we’d only had them a week. They were pretty calm and biddable, so we weren’t expecting too much hassle from them. We backed the trailer into the gateway, herded them towards it and they walked straight in and up the ramp, not even the slightest hesitation. We were quite shocked at how easy it was, and wished all the rest had been that simple, but it was, at long last, job done. We’d only been on the job for six hours…

61 sheep, all penned up in the barn. Stage one complete, and we were all ready for a break and something to eat. It had been a long morning!