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Spot the Chicken

broody hen

When we moved here, we inherited 5 hens and a cockerel.  We brought our 4 up with us giving us a nice round number of 10.  They already had a large run, but we further extended it to include a large patch of grass around 1,500 square metres in size.  Recently, we extended it even further to include the hedge and wall as natural boundaries.  we put the fence along the hedge so as to render it largely invisible (to us).  As well as looking better, it gave the hens even more space.

Extensive chicken run
Extensive chicken run

Also, not sure if I mentioned it before, but we had invested in a battery operated automatic door opener/closer.  It detects light levels so they are shut in every night, safe from foxes.  We also bought large feeders – the hens step on a platform and it opens allowing them to feed.  Our food bill has reduced despite having more hens, no more Mr Ratty and Mrs Wild Birdie helping themselves!  I have to say, these two actions have revolutionised our keeping of hens, so much easier now.

Anyway, back to my main theme – Spot the Chicken.  Well, I have never seen happier hens.  They love resting in the hedge, they love having wide areas to explore, they just ooze contentment.  The could easily hop up onto the wall and explore further, but they can’t be bothered.  Well, they can’t be bothered all except one!  And she, now named Heidi, has taken to wandering far and wide.  But she has always made it back in time for curfew.

Until two days ago, that is, when she just disappeared.

So, we pondered what could have happened.  It is unlikely a fox could have taken her as our 3 dogs plus a neighbour’s dog patrol all day long.  And she would have been unlikely to pack her bags and join another flock as hens are not very good at that sort of thing.  So, that left the possibility that she had keeled over somewhere or that she was broody.

And today, she suddenly appeared, looking a little tired.  Nicole found her nest where it turns out she is sitting on 12 eggs.  So, the question is, can you see her in the photo above?

And given they lay an egg a day and the eggs take around 21 days to hatch, in little over a week we may have tiny chickens running about.  Can’t wait!

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Lambing: the highs and lows

Lambing is over for another year.  We have three lovely lambs gamboling happily around.  But, as ever, lambing was full of ups and downs.

As you may have read from another post, we had purchased 3 ewes in lamb.  We couldn’t breed our own sheep as we were moving and it would have been a logistical nightmare.  We thought 3 ewes, should be less work than last year when we had 10 ewes in lamb.

Well, that’s not quite how it turned out!

Pinkie a day old

The lambs were due around 21 April, but about a week before, Ursi (with triplets) went into labour.  However, not only was she early, the lambs were not coming.  We called in the vet.  He delivered 3 lambs, all tiny and all unable to stand.  Premature lambs are not fully developed and so are difficult to keep alive.  We clicked into gear – we monitored them for the next 48 hours administering colostrum, milk, heat, anything we thought they needed.  We didn’t sleep for two days.  Unfortunately, only one survived.  The youngest slept all night in our living room in front of the fire but sadly, he never even managed to stand up and only opened his eyes once.

Lambing can be quite hard.  On the good side, Pinkie pulled through.  She adopted the name Pinkie because of the little jumper she wore to keep her warm.  She was born slap bang in the middle of a really cold spell.

Then, about a week later, bang on time, our second ewe started showing signs of imminent lambing.  However, again, something was wrong.  There was no breaking of waters, the labour was not progressing as it should.  So, out came the vet (again).  Sadly, this lamb had died in the womb and so the vet had to perform a C-section in order to save the ewe.  Thankfully, she (Vi) has survived and integrated into the rest of our flock.  It was sad for her because she had shown real interest in Pinkie.  She seemed quite maternal.

Anyway, one to go.  Well, we had a bit of a quandry.  By now, Pinkie had been turned out with her mother.  Vi was in with the other ewes.  So, where should we put the remaining pregnant ewe (Vera)?  The lambing shed or the field?  The lambing shed was better for us (closer so easier to keep an eye on her and warmer – it was freezing outside).

However, Vera had other ideas and after some quite insistent conversations with her pal Vi (in a nearby field), she hopped over the hurdles and wandered off.  Having escaped, she wasn’t quite sure what to do next.  So, we led her into the field alongside Ursi and Pinkie.

For us, this meant a half mile walk every 2 or three hours to check on her.  I did the night shift up till 2am and Nicole took over at 5am.  And the cold weather persisted, and persisted and Vera waited and waited.  And we got more and more tired!  And we didn’t have an actual due date for Vera, the ram had not been raddled.  We just had the start date and the 18 day window.

Out of desperation, we pondered what else we could do.  Was there some sign that could let us know one or two days before the lambs were due?  Then Nicole remembered something she’d read; something about the ewes changing shape.  A quick bit of research and she had it.  Ewes do change shape up to 3 days before lambing.  This is because the lambs change position to get ready to come out.

This was really helpful, we reduced the inspections to 4 or 5 hours but remained ready to increase the frequency once we spotted Vera changing shape.

Iona and Ethel just born
Iona and Ethel just born

Nicole noticed this shape change happening on the May bank holiday weekend.  At first, it was subtle, but by Monday morning, Vera was much thinner on the sides and much fatter underneath.   And, yippee, the weather had improved – it was sunny.  Not much happened in the morning so Nicole headed off to work in the afternoon and I settled down in the field with a book.  I kept an eye on Vera.  Shortly, Vera started returning to the shelter and pawing at the straw.  This could be a sign that lambing was imminent.

Then around 4pm, I inspected her more closely.  There was a tiny trickle of water, just droplets really, coming from her.  Not your usual waters breaking, but it could be.  I called Nicole and she rushed back.  About 5 I went back to the house to make us some tea and when I got back, Vera was starting to deliver her first lamb.  We put her on her side, I kept here there (gently) while she pushed out Iona with Nicole’s help.  I know that this year, they are supposed to be named with a name starting with an ‘X’, but really, ‘X’?  Anyway, as a first time mum, Vera was brilliant and set about licking Iona dry.

Iona was standing within 10 minutes and attempting to suckle.  We watched as Iona attempted to suckle, Vera carried on licking and lamb number 2 (Ethel) slowly edged into view.  In fact, Ethel came out all on her own with no help.  Now Vera had two lambs to lick, she wasn’t quite sure which to lick first.  We helped dry them off, then took them into the shelter (warm and full of straw).  Nicole started teaching the lambs how to latch and to our relief, they were good at it.  These two were going to be OK.

Now, three weeks later, all the lambs are healthy and full of fun.  They enjoy nibbling at our clothes and even enjoy the odd cuddle.

Pinkie did need much ongoing care but we have nursed her carefully and now she is big and strong.

We are going to keep all three.

Pinkie sizes up new playmate
Pinkie sizes up new playmate
Ursi and Pinkie in paddock
Ursi and Pinkie

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New pig pen needed

I am pretty sure I mentioned earlier that one of the first things our new piglets did was go straight through the electric fence and make a break for it.

So, we did some research on how to contain pigs.  And the prevailing wisdom was that electric fences, in themselves are not enough.  Even for pigs that have been trained to respect them.

pigs in small pen
pigs in small pen

So, new pig pen it was then.  And the clock was ticking.  Our two little weaners were still pretty small, but they were growing and they don’t half grow quickly.  So, despite the fact that we were bang slap in the middle of lambing (3 hourly checks, interrupted sleep, tired, the whole tiredness thing), we order a steel gate, posts and stock fencing.  Prevailing wisdom also recommended two strands of barbed around the base to stop them trying to get their noses under it and lifting it up.  And of course, the gate hinges need to be reversed.

And on Good Friday, or thereabouts, construction began.  Of course, the tractor and the post knocker hadn’t arrived, so it all had to be done by hand.  I got cracking.  The first post gave me a false sense of security.  I dug a 3 foot hole (for a large corner post) pretty quickly and concreted it in.  The next one I hit rocks about 18 inches down.  Same on the next one.  And the next.  Hmm, off to the DIY shop for new tools, a post hole digging long chisel and a special post spade were procured.  But it was hard, hard work getting through the stones.  Eventually, 5 of the 7 corner posts were in.  The gate hadn’t arrived so I left the gate posts for now.

pig pen under construction
pig pen under construction

Time to knock the standard posts in with the post driver.  Same problem, rocks at 18 inches.  There’s a particular noise a post makes when it hits a rock and you just know that’s as far as it’s going.  I heard that a lot.

But, one post at a time, I made progress.   Until post number 9 which was roughly half way.  I was tired now and should have stopped.  But “one more post” I thought to myself.  I set it up, raised the driver, brought it down, caught the edge of the post and toppled the post driver (very heavy) onto my head.  “Ouch” I said (or words to that effect)!  Nicole came running and got me an ice pack (frozen chips) which I placed on my head.  I didn’t have concussion (we checked), but the danger was compression.  So after talking to NHS online for a bit, I was dragged to A&E in Dumfries.  They were great, they patched my head up with superglue and sent me on my way.  This was Easter Monday!

Anyway, I took a day off and resumed construction on the Wednesday.  I got the rest of the posts in (more carefully), the gate arrived and it and it’s posts went in.  I put in the stock fence and two strands of barbed wire.  Nicole suggested we put the electric fence around the perimeter too, a good idea, so in it went.

And we were ready for the grand opening ceremony.  And not a moment too soon!, our weaners were growing and already looked too big for their small run.

pigs emerging into large run
pigs emerging into large run
pigs running round arc
pigs running round arc

We created an opening in the small run.  They emerged straight away, grunting happily.  Then they started tearing round the arc at quite some speed.  They loved the extra space.  It was great to watch.  A job well done.

pigs new pen completed
pigs’ new pen completed


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Ewes in Lamb not feeling well

Sorry about the delay in stories, we’ve had a bit of a technical nightmare.  Web company migrated the site and broke everything.  It’s taken me two weeks to sort it out, and I sorted it by moving to a new web hosting company in the end!

Anyway, about 4 or 5 weeks ago, we had our 3 pregnant ewes safely tucked up in the lambing shed.  We had kept them away from our resident flock as, although sheep are on the whole pretty peaceful creatures, they can can get into head butting contests when new sheep appear.  We wanted to keep our pregnant ewes safe and stress free.

However, about 2 weeks before they were due, they suddenly stopped eating.  Not all at the same time, but over the space of about 24 hours.  And this is where it gets tricky, what’s wrong?

We had been careful with the sheep nuts so as to avoid acidosis (too much protein too quickly can kill a sheep).  We were also aware that not enough nutrition can lead to twin lamb disease.  So, after much thought, it seemed twin lamb disease was possibly the problem.  We consulted the vet and went ahead with the calcium injection and a glucose/glycol based drench.  This had some effect but over the next two days, they were still off their food.

The problem is that the symptoms for acidosis and twin lamb disease are very similar, the main difference is that sheep suffering from acidosis tend to have bad diarrhea. And there were no signs of that.

At a bit of a loss as to what to do, we turned them out into a small paddock with a couple of small shelters.

They immediately started tucking into grass.  Our relief was huge.tucking into grass

It was, in fact, acidosis.  Fortunately we had spotted the symptoms early.

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it, sheep being sheep.  The ewe with triplets went on to develop hypocalcemia.  Again we caught it early and gave her a calcium shot.  The effect was immediate and remarkable.

A week before they were due, we moved them back into the lambing shed.

The next day, lambing kicked off, but more on that later.