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Wildlife at Auchenstroan

One of the things we have noticed is just how much wildlife we have around here compared to Somerset.  Perhaps that’s because it’s a bit wilder here, perhaps it’s because we have a lot of habitat for them here.  There are certainly more trees here.  Who knows?

The most noticeable difference is hedgehogs.  We have seen hedgehogs here more times in 4 months than in three and a half years in Somerset.  It’s great to see them and the one above wandered into the field in which I was building the sheep shelter.  And it was mid afternoon!

I know how to handle hedgehogs as many years ago, I used to overwinter the babies I found in November, the ones too small to survive.  Maybe I’ll find myself doing that here.

young housemartins
young housemartins

We are also privileged to have sand martins here.  At first I thought they were house martins, but then I saw them flying into their burrows.  That was the first time I had ever seen one.  We also have housemartins, they built their nest on the house and now have young.  Part of the nest crumbled away recently giving us sight of the fledglings.  Of course, we also have swallows nesting in the large shed.

Recently, the ground has been awash with baby frogs.  Some even managed to cross the chicken run, not quite sure how they managed that.  But it was be careful where you step for a few days.

And we have plenty of buzzards and one or two red kites patrolling, especially just after cutting the hay.  There’s lots of long grass here and mice and voles abound.

We see quite a few hares too.  Mildly ironic as Pitney, where we moved from, was supposed to be famous for its hares, but we never saw one there.

Surprisingly, we had a golden eagle in the valley not long ago.  It was around for a couple of days before moving on.  Quite majestic floating on the thermals.

I should also mention there’s a peregrine falcon just up the road, but we haven’t seen it yet.

Garden birds abound with robins, wrens, sparrows, blue tits, great tits, dunnocks, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, wagtails, thrushes and blackbirds all making regular appearances.  We’ve also seen the odd woodpecker, siskin and coal tit.  When winter comes, I shall set up a bird feeding station and see what else drops by.

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Making hay while the sun shines

Although much of our land here is woodland and wild, we still have a fair amount of pasture and that means a lot of grass.  Too much for our small band of sheep.  So, we thought we’d make hay this year.  Small bale hay is getting harder to get hold of and is quite expensive round here.  Luckily, one of our neighbours has the correct mower and baler and we have a hay bob.

Planning when to do this in SW Scotland is easier said than done.  Continuous sunny weather is not that common.  Having missed one window, the forecast was looking good for this week with clear days showing from Sunday onwards.  So, we booked him in to cut the hay on Monday.  Of course on Sunday, the forecast changed to show heavy rain on Wednesday.  But we decided to go ahead, the forecast is always changing here.

tedding the newly cut rows
tedding the newly cut rows

Monday was a glorious sunny day, perfect for making hay.  Our neighbour with tractor and mower arrived and once everything was set up (our second hand hay bob proving a bit troublesome), off we went.

The rows in the first field were soon cut and I was off, tedding for the first time in my life!  I soon had the knack of getting the hay bob at the right angle – too low and it starts churning up the ground, too high and it misses the grass.  The first time is easy as the rows are clearly delineated.  It gets harder after that as the grass spreads wider.  Also, as the grass gets drier and fluffier and the wind picks up, it can drift all over the place.

hay rowed up
hay rowed up

Nevertheless, over the course of the rest of the day I managed to turn the hay three times, not helped by a wheel coming off the hay bob mid way through the afternoon.  Not the best second hand purchase I have ever made.

Next day’s forecast was cloudy and sure enough, Tuesday morning was overcast and misty.  The dew didn’t lift till well after eleven.  So, it was not till early afternoon that I could get out and carry on.  With the heavy rain forecast for Wednesday, the clock was ticking.  And now the forecast was saying rain every day till the following Monday.  What happened to the dry week that had been forecast only a few days ago?

Well I got it all turned and then ran into further trouble with the hay bob, moving the hines to rowing up position was really hard.  It took two of us, a large hammer and copious amounts of WD40 but we got there.

There is something very satisfying about rowing up, driving along and turning chaotic areas of grass into tidy rows ready for baling.  And I was quite pleased with my efforts, not bad for an amateur I thought.

making hay with tractor
rowing up with tractor
making hay
making hay

It was even more satisfying watching the bales of hay emerge from the baler.  I have seen this before, I even worked on a farm in my teens and stacking bales was one of my jobs.  But when it’s your own crop, it’s special, especially the first time.

By now it was early evening and the next job was to gather all the bales in.  By now, Nicole had joined us after a full day of gardening for her clients.  We got to work, her with landrover and myself with the quad bike and trailer.

gathering hay with quad bike adrianGathering hay bales Nicole and landy

Having had only one day in the sun, the bales were quite heavy.  They were probably not quite dry enough, so we had to stack them loosely.  Each bale needed plenty of air.  So while our nice new hay shed and field hay store now have hay, they look a bit untidy.  We’ll probably leave it to dry for a few weeks before stacking it properly.  Can’t have it going mouldy after all that effort!

But around 8pm, we were finished, all the hay was under cover spread amongst various sheds.  We got a couple of cans of Guinness, got the dogs out and went over to inspect our work.  The dogs loved the newly cut area and were soon charging around.  We let the sheep into the other cut field and all 16 ewes were skipping and jumping.  There’s something special about seeing such happy animals.  Then back in for some bacon butties with good old fashioned Scottish rolls.

hay bay
Field hay storage in the new sheep “palace”


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Sheep Approve of Shelter Extension

Recently, I mentioned I was having to increase the size of the sheep shelter.  The plan was to add a second shelter and also a shed to store some hay.

I had to wait on some replacement roofing sheets for the hay bay.  I was using a type I could cut to size, but they were proving fragile.  Some were broken and had holes in them.  Nevertheless, I got all the planks in place and made the doors for the hay store and fitting them all.

The sheep quite liked the open top “shelter”.  They were often to be found resting and chewing the cud.  I expect it was airy and shady.  Not much use in the rain though!

Eventually, I had the roof sheets I needed.  I chopped them to size and completed the hay store.  Then it was the sheep shelter roof, 12 foot long corrugated sheets.  The sheep were not impressed while I was putting those up.  I’d lift a sheet and they’d take off, but they kept wandering back to see if I had finished.

Eventually, the work was done and within seconds, the sheep were investigating and inspecting.  Verdict, it’ll do!

Completed sheep shelter and hay store
Completed sheep shelter and hay store
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Water system underway

water tank going in

I believe the word “Auchenstroan” comes from the Gaelic word “achadh” (field of) and the Scots verb “strone” (to make water).  So, together they kind of mean “field of springs”.  And indeed we have many little springs running through our fields.  However, they are small and temporary in nature and so cannot provide a reliable source of water for our livestock.

So, I devised a cunning plan.  Place a large underwater tank in one of the top fields, in a spring, divert some of the water into the tank and then connect all the water troughs.  Gravity should do the rest.

All seemed pretty simple, so I order the tank, pipes and connectors.

Now, I’m not so stupid as to try and dig a large hole with a spade.  One of our neighbours offered to help with his digger.  So I booked him in and the work started earlier this week.  I thought it would be fairly straightforward – dig a hole and a trench for the outflow pipe, pop it all in and fill up the holes.

Well, that’s not quite how it turned out.  Our land is riddled with rocks.  And I don’t mean garden centre rockery sized rocks.  I mean boulders!  So digging the hole took two days and we only just achieved the depth we needed before hitting an immovable rock the size of a small planet.  The trench was slightly easier, but only just – we had to hack out channels around two or three further monster rocks.

But finally we had our hole.  Only, then, of course it being a spring, it started to fill with water.  So when the tank went in, it just bobbed about.  So, we had to pin it down with the digger.

Which sort of worked, only, as the digger settled, it started to warp the tank’s tower.  But we couldn’t fill the tank with water as the base wasn’t stable.  So I started lobbing in small rocks and earth and over a period of hours, got enough in to create a stable base.  Then we tried to add water but it was too high and the water pressure in the house wasn’t up to it.  So Richard contacted a local farmer and we borrowed a 1,000 litre tank.  We filled that twice, dragged it up the hill (with a tractor and trailer) and transferred the water (that took a while).

water going in
water going in

Only then did we feel it was safe to fill in the outgoing trench.

Next day, I filled in around the tank by hand – that was a little tiring (and muddy).  Once I had enough earth and stones in, I was able to roll some rocks on top.  The legend of Sisyphus played through my mind as I struggled to do this, only, fortunately, my rocks stayed where I put them.

But, it all worked.  Then Richard returned and with his digger to help, we buried the rest of the outflow pipe (to keep it safe from hooves) and also moved a couple even bigger rocks onto the top of the tank.  I think it is now safely pinned down.

But best of all, water started weeping out into the trench I had dug and started flowing into the tank.  It works!

Now all I have to do is complete the pipework bringing the water to the troughs.  Should be straightforward…..

water tank pinned down by rocks
water tank pinned down by rocks
burying the outflow pipe
burying the outflow pipe

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caring for animals

two piggies

As we have found in this lifestyle, animal husbandry is the number one priority.  Animals are very bad at telling you they are not well till it’s almost too late.

Our sheep were sheared in June and Bluemli got a little nick above her eye.  We carefully sprayed it with iodine which would have been the end of it had she not then rubbed it (her eye) on the wall of the shearing shed.  Now the iodine was in her eye!  Next, her eye clouded over, then it swelled up.  We administered antibiotics and a painkiller.  But just as it seemed to be improving, it would get worse again.

As it happened, the vet had to come out for Sarka.  She has a heart problem and seemed to be having some sort of anxiety attack.  The vet administered three injections (antibiotic, painkiller and diuretic) which worked brilliantly, she even has a clean bottom now.  The vet took a look at Bluemli’s eye, told us we were doing the right thing and to carry on.  We did, bit no improvement.  So the vet popped out again and gave Bluemli an injection into her eyelid.  It was, unsurprisingly, hard keeping her still (we have since bought a contraption to help should we need to do that again).  Plus we upped the frequency of the antibiotics and painkiller and also administered an eye cream.  Poor old Bluemli, it was an injection a day, sometimes two.  She started avoiding me (as I was the one who held her still).  She we unaware it was actually Nicole giving her the jags (or jabs if you’re English).

However, it worked and her eye is almost back to normal.  We are delighted.

So why a photo of pigs above?  Well, just as we were tidying all the medicines away, we noticed one of our pigs was not eating.  The books were quite clear on this, if a pig is not eating, it’s not well.

So, on a wet Saturday evening after a particularly heavy downpour, we tried to corner her in the most muddy, slippy conditions you can imagine.  Eventually we managed it – it took three of us sneaking up with sheep hurdles and constructing a square around her.

Diagnosis, slight case of pneumonia.  In the middle of summer!  So, the vet gave her antibiotics and then told us she’d need a five day course.  He also added he was impressed with our setup and that the pigs seemed very healthy and happy (the pneumonia notwithstanding).  That was music to our ears as it’s our first time keeping pigs.

So, today we injected a pig for the first time.  Same basic principle, except for the noise.  Boy oh boy do pigs squeal when you corner them.  But, we managed it (me holding and Nicole injecting) and already she is perking up.  And she’s getting a few extra treats from Nicole, Blackcurrants plucked straight from a nearby bush proving particularly popular.