Shearing, and an announcement

We finally got our sheep clipped last week. After a few weeks of bad weather, it stayed dry enough for a week to get them done. The original plan last year was that I would do them myself, but as I am currently 8 months pregnant it was out of the question! We got a local contractor and his friend to come and clip them for us, and as we only had 40 that needed clipping it was all done in under 2 hours, and they did a good job.

Here is one of the guys in action. I think that particular ewe actually gave him quite a bit of grief, she decided to fight back!!

I think they were relieved to be rid of all that wool, it had been so hot that week, and they look much happier now (though it has rained for days since!) It was one of those jobs that’s weather dependent and we were waiting on someone else to have the free time to do it for us, hopefully next year we can do it ourselves when we want, which will take the pressure off a little.

With it being the middle of summer, the grass is growing like crazy and we now have too much, we’ve had to borrow a mower and ‘top’ a couple of the fields (basically mow it so there’s only a couple of inches of grass left on the field, instead of knee-high stalks!) just to try and keep it under control. What with the lambs and some more sheep that we’ve bought in, we have about 170 sheep in total, and we still can’t keep up with the grass growth. Come winter though, we’ll be paddling in mud and talking about buying in extra feed…. you can’t win!

Next month is just routine work really, basic health checks to make sure everything’s healthy and not having issues with lameness, as we’ve finally finished all the rounds of vaccinations. We’re also weighing the lambs every few weeks to keep track of their growth rate, and to see when they’ll be ready for market. The next big job is going to be weaning all the lambs at the beginning of August, to give the ewes a rest before it all starts again, with tupping in November and lambing again next April.

In other news, we finally have our website up and live. D&J Hay Mutton and Lamb We’re still tweaking it a bit but after months working on it, it’s great to finally have it running. Big thanks to my Dad for sorting it all out for us!!

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

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, voilà, 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!

The Saga of the Trailer Wheel

‘Why can’t things just be simple?’ I complained to my husband for what felt like the hundredth time this month. Our lives right now feel like a television drama. You know the sort; someone is murdered every week and you wonder how anyone even lives in the area any more. Or every villager has to get a gory injury or a weird tropical disease every single series just to keep the village doctor busy. In our case, something always has to happen, and when it does, it’s either 3 things at once, or one thing that is not that simple to sort out. Or three things, one of which is proving to be a pain. To catch up, read about our latest adventure here.

So to recap quickly, we have a 3-wheeled trailer and one totally knackered wheel. The wheel nuts were still firmly secured to the spindles on the hub, and the hub turned as I tried to loosen them, making it impossible to undo them. Over the weekend DH priced up a new wheel and some wheel nuts. The wheel came up at £117 and the wheel nuts at £3.50 each. As we were potentially looking at replacing all 20 wheel nuts, this was going to be an expensive job, and money’s a bit tight at the moment what with DH unable to work and his insurance hasn’t paid out yet. We headed up to a nearby industrial estate on Monday to try our luck at sourcing some second-hand parts. The vehicle scrap yard came up with a hub that looked like it should fit, he said we could take it away to try and if it fit come back to get the tyre swapped. Win! Next stop was the trailer specialist shop for wheel nuts. I went in and explained the issue, and he told me that there were about 8 choices when it came to wheel nuts and that I should bring one in if I could. We went home, tried the new hub and got a wheel nut off one of the other wheels. It appeared that proper wheel nuts were used on 3 wheels, and the missing wheel had normal nuts on, which is why it ripped off.

Next day, we went back, armed with the old wheel, the new hub, and a wheel nut. We got the tyre swapped to our new hub, and went on to the trailer shop for some nuts. He gave me 5 free of charge, and we headed home to regroup.

The nuts were the wrong size. It was Tuesday afternoon, I had to go to work, I had work on Wednesday morning, we were due to take the trailer to the garage to get them to take the old nuts off, and we needed a fully functional trailer for Thursday, as we have to gather all our sheep in, vaccinate and drench them and move them to new grazing. It was too late to do anything on the Tuesday, so we were wracking our brains trying to think of somewhere we could get wheel nuts that fit.

On Wednesday morning I asked my boss if he knew where we could get some wheel nuts, and he suggested trying a neighbour who runs a construction business, but also does bits of mechanics and tractor contracting. I took a wheel nut over after breakfast and spoke to his foreman. He found me some that looked similar, said I could try one and if it fitted, take the trailer over and he’d get the wheel changed. The nut wasn’t quite right, but close enough to fit, and we desperately needed it on the road for that evening. I took the trailer and the new wheel over, and he very kindly switched it over for me, breaking quite a sweat in the process. It turns out that none of the wheels are actually the correct ones, and now one wheels-worth of nuts are not the correct ones either. I think we’re going to have to save up and get a full set of dealer-approved wheels in the future.

Anyway, by late morning on Wednesday we were up and running again, which was just as well as we needed to go and gather up our first batch of sheep after work in the evening. ‘It’s all about the little victories’, as DH keeps reminding me every time I say ‘Why can’t life just be simple?’ That was our Wednesday victory, as little did we know at the time, but things were about go get far less simple. But that’s a story for another day!

Trailer Trouble

So sorry I haven’t posted for ages, but life has been crazy recently. To give you a bit of background info, DH & I both work as relief milkers, between us we work on 4 different farms. We juggle this with childcare, at the moment DH works mornings and weekends while I’m at home with T, and I work afternoons while DH has T. It’s a pretty good arrangement, as we both get time with T and we both get to go out and meet other humans. This in itself keeps us busy, what with a tearaway 10 month old. To add to our workload, we have decided to become farmers in our own right, and have spent the past few months buying in sheep and equipment and getting our heads around the horrendous paperwork that goes with it. We now have 60 ewes which we plan to lamb in April/May next year.

As if this wasn’t enough work, DH managed to break his foot playing football a couple of weeks ago, and has been unable to work, drive, or wash up. Ok, he can wash up, but complains bitterly about it. As we are both self-employed, there is nothing to fall back on if we can’t work, so he’s now a full-time stay-at-home-dad while I am doing as much of the milking work as I can. Let’s just say things are a bit hectic.

So that’s where we’re up to right now, and I will probably blog about sheep in the future. Today’s adventure revolves around sheep. Our lives revolve around sheep, so yours can too for the next few minutes.

We were going to North Wales to collect our final batch of sheep, taking us up to the 60 mark. 2 hours each way, not too bad of a journey, the plan was to be unloading at home by 1pm, with plenty of time for something to eat and maybe chill for a little bit before having to go to work for an afternoon shift. We got there in good time, loaded the sheep, had a chat, a brew, and did all the paperwork, and set off on the return journey. T had been really good, he’d slept all the way, and it was a hot day so we were glad he was staying happy. He wasn’t really too impressed at being bundled back in the car, and throwing crisps in his direction only kept him quiet for a short while. We decided to stop at the next services, let him have a crawl about and stretch his legs. We stopped, I took T up onto a nice grassy bank to sit and play in the grass while DH hopped around the pickup and trailer. T patted the grass, wriggled his toes in it, and then sat and picked pieces which he then gave to me. Eventually I fed him and we headed back to the car, got loaded up and off we went.

Except we didn’t. I turned the key and it made a heart-droppingly clicking noise, then nothing. There was a couple with a caravan nearby, so I trotted over and asked if they could very kindly jump-start us. They were lovely, drove around and got us started up, we had a bit of a chat and thanked them profusely, and set off.

Except we didn’t. As I pulled away I noticed one of the trailer wheels wobbling about at rather alarming angles. I stopped, keeping the engine running, and got out to have a look. The wheel had pulled free of all the wheel nuts except one, and wasn’t far off falling off. After a lot of tyre kicking, discussions and a pointless call to RAC (they don’t fix trailers, and want nothing to do with livestock), Mr Muscle aka my husband just pulled it off. We then had further discussions about how to get home, and with more profuse thanks to the lovely couple, set off again, this time with a 3-wheeled trailer.

Except… just joking. We drove at 50mph all the way back home (apart from the mile where we were behind someone doing 40), knuckles almost white on the steering wheel, and seriously overusing the wing mirrors. About 10 minutes after leaving the services, whilst having a careful look at the trailer in the mirror, I said to DH, ‘Ummm, the fuel flap’s hanging off. I’m sure it wasn’t like that before, we’d have noticed it.’ DH replied with these comforting words; ‘That’s the third thing now, we should be fine from now on!’.

And we were. We slowly and carefully made our way back home, and up the field. Upon arriving at the new home of our sheep, we pulled up and I climbed into the trailer to worm them. DH stood outside passing me the drugs, and T played in the grass. As we let the final one go, we stood back to look at them, feeling very relieved that they were back safely. I bent to pick T up and remarked that he was a bit muddy. On closer inspection, it wasn’t mud at all. His legs, feet and hands were smeared in sheep poop. He’d been playing where the muck was coming out of the trailer. A quick dunk in the water bucket to clean the worst of it off, we went back home where I stripped him and threw him in the shower. Not sure we’d win any awards for responsible parenting, but he should have a strong immune system!

Thankfully the day is over and we are all safe. Tomorrow we have a lot of fixing to do, but for now T is peacefully sleeping, exhausted after all the playing in the grass he’s been doing, DH is in bed nursing a migraine, as the day and the heat got to him, and I am enjoying a well-deserved whisky and coke. Time for bed for me now I think, as tomorrow is another day of never-ending activity.

The Perils of Milking Grass-Fed Sheep

Ok, there are only two words to describe this morning. Squits, projectile. I’ll just let that sink in.

Get the picture? But why use two words when two thousand will suffice? Here’s what happened.

We were about half way through milking (230 sheep in) when, about 3 sheep to my right (and we work left to right), one cocked it’s tail and deposited a smelly heap of slightly liquid crap. I do apologise if you’re eating your breakfast right now, but I like to tell it how it is. Quite often when this happens, we try and take our time or somehow avoid it and therefore make someone else milk it. This morning however, I was the only person in the vicinity of this sheep, and had no choice but to milk it myself. There are 2 main reasons we dislike milking sheep like this. One is that you end up with crap on your hands from touching the unit which has been well coated. Two is that it may release more while your hands are under it’s tail. This particular ewe had a couple more tricks up it’s sleeve. As soon as I touched the unit, it began jumping, dancing and kicking. This is bad enough on a clean sheep, but when it’s flicking it’s heels in a steaming pile of crap, it makes it 100 times worse. I was gingerly attempting to milk it while ducking and diving to avoid flying specks when, with no warning whatsoever, it fired out a stream of greenish, pungent diarrhea.

Now I am a woman of average height, which means that my nose is pretty much on a level with the tails of the sheep in the parlour. I can see what you’re thinking. Thankfully, the laws of physics apply. By the time the warm, stinking mess reached me, gravity had taken effect and it had dropped a few inches. It landed in, and on, my collar. I was wearing a zip-up sweatshirt and a shirt underneath, both slightly undone at the top. I stared in shock for a few seconds at the mess sliding down the front of my sweatshirt, and then attempted to remove it without spreading it further. I kind of rolled the sweatshirt up from the bottom, trying to contain everything, and then draw it over my head. This didn’t really work as well as I’d hoped. I removed the sweatshirt, but spread the contents on my chin in the process. I grabbed handfuls of wet-wipes and tried to clean my chin, and remove the gobs of poo on the outside, and inside, of my shirt collar. Basically, I spread it around a bit, making the affected area worse, and damp into the bargain. There wasn’t much I could apart from strip further, and it wasn’t a particularly warm morning. I had to spend the next hour and a half with a damp shirt, the aroma reaching my nostrils every time I moved.

Thank you for letting me share that with you, I wish I could share the smell too, as I am heartily sick of it now.