Having got our veggie patch built, our thoughts turned to mulch. We have compost bins but, to be honest, by the time it has all rotted down it doesn’t go that far. Happily, our sheep provided the answer.
Last year I built them a field shelter. It is heavily used by the sheep, especially when it rains, snows or even when it’s sunny for the shade. Well, it seems to pretty much have been raining since last June and we certainly had plenty of snow over the winter. So, Brookside (as we call the field shelter) has been well used in the last year.
Now, sheep, while great, do have one or two not so pleasant habits. One of these is the tendency to poo wherever they happen to be. Even when sleeping. I sometimes wonder whether they even bother to wake up. In fact, you can tell where the sheep have slept because there is a gentle imprint in the grass and a pile of poo.
This is fine outside where sun and rain and even the dogs, who are partial to a bit of sheep poo, do their bit to dispose of it. But in Brookside, the poo tended to linger. So, Nicole dutifully lays down straw to keep things nice and clean. However, unlike with horses, we haven’t mucked out. Yet.
Time to muck it out and spread it on the new veggie patch we thought. So while I was hanging the gates, Nicole headed off and duly returned with a trailer full of mulch. We spread this. If you have ever mulched, you will know how this went – a trailer full covers a postage stamp sized area! After two loads, Nicole was starting to tell me how hard it was. I went over to help (the gates having been hung).
Well, a year of poo, straw and trampling had built up a layer about a foot deep that was quite intent on staying exactly where it was. Also, the shelter is about 5 feet high so it was bending over work and lots of banging heads.
Not one to complain (ha ha), I got stuck in on the excavation, or mining as Nicole liked to call it. As I lobbed piles of strawey poo out through the doorway, Nicole moved it into the trailer. Then, back over we went to spread it out. We managed to cover two of our 6 veggie areas before seeking refuge in a bottle. Well, we went to the pub actually where I had fish and chips and Nicole munched her way through two helpings of lasagna.
Next day, we used the tractor instead of the trailer. We could drop the front loader much lower making it easier to load at one end. At offload end, I could set it to wheelbarrow height which also made things much easier. I don’t quite know how she did it, but Nicole mined the mulch out from Brookside faster than I could collect and spread it. By the end of the day, one of the sheds (there are two) was clear and the veggie patch covered in a thick layer. It looks great.
The only downside is that we have to do it all again in the other shed. We are already thinking up strategies for the coming season which involve a more regular mucking out. But, at least we are putting all this poo to good use. It’s quite a good feeling really. We celebrated with a take away pizza (neither us having enough energy left to cook).
“After lambing” we said to each other, “it will get easier”. To be honest it has been a long winter with little respite. Having livestock is a 7 day a week responsibility and we sometimes think we have taken on too much. So, after lambing we thought we’d start to scale back a bit. And most of the infrastructure is now in place, perhaps we would be less busy. Maybe we could even plan a weekend away.
And then we looked at the garden. And then we looked at the veggie patch. We had inherited a reasonable sized veggie patch which was now a bit weed infested. Nicole, last year, had covered another area with some membrane to kill the weeds. We’d taken that up and done some mulching. But it all looked a bit, well sad to be honest.
We could border it with sleepers, one of us suggested. Sounds like a plan. I did a small plan on paper and soon after, 36 sleepers were duly delivered. We had to sell some farm machinery to pay for them. Well, we had already decided making hay was to stressful so the hay bob went. And we’d never used the post stomper or fertiliser spreader so they went too.
One fine Saturday morning, I headed down with the tractor to start moving them. I could get two into the front loader. Now, I don’t know if any of you have ever tried to move a railway sleeper. They weigh nearly 100Kg! By the end of the day, I’d managed to move 12 of which a grand total of 4 had found their final resting place. Talking of resting places, at this point I was to be found lying on the grass, knackered.
On the Sunday, I managed to get 5 more in position. This is not a job for one person I concluded.
As luck would have it, I bumped into our neighbour Jake a couple of days later. He’s mid 20s, strong and self employed. So I hired him for a couple of days.
And that was one of my better decisions because, in two days we had it all laid including the concrete slabs making up the path. And I even had the strength to lift a beer afterwards.
In the meantime, Nicole had completely weeded the existing patch including ripping out carpets laid as weed barriers that had rotted and failed to stop any weeds.
We are delighted with the results. Just have to fence it off to keep chickens, rabbits and dogs out and then we can start planting. The fence posts are in but a delivery company let us down and pret
ended two attempted deliveries of the chicken wire we’d ordered. They’d never been anywhere near us – don’t you just hate that? (DX in case you’re wondering).
Oh, and never, ever, buy a Gardman rose arch. Made that mistake – it’s in the bin and that’s two hours of my life I won’t get back. Now we have two bought solid steel arches to frame the two gateways into the veggie area. More photos when they arrived.
Around this time last year, Mrs Mills (one of our hens) disappeared for a while and we suspected she might have fallen foul of a predator. However, she’d just gone broody and nested under a bush. She produced 13 chickens and raised them to maturity. Very impressive.
Well, this year, one of those thirteen decided to follow suit. She wasn’t able to disappear as we have, by and large, hen proofed their run. It’s not actually hen proof as a neighbouring hen regularly pops in for some extra food. But we’ve done enough to make it too much trouble to leave.
So, anyway, Pepper chose to go broody in one of the hen houses. We found this out when trying to collect eggs. The other hens also found out and stopped laying in that house. Broody hens are best avoided!
We’re quite pleased to get the odd broody hen as it means we have young hens coming in and there’s no need to merge them, they are part of the flock from the moment they’re born. Mind you, we don’t really need too many more hens as we are struggling to keep up with the eggs as it is.
Anyway, how many eggs we wondered? We left her in peace and even when she popped out for the odd snack, we didn’t look so as not to disturb her.
Finally, a couple of days ago, we heard the “cheep cheep” of a chick. They’d hatched. They? Well, one chick was wandering around. It turns out she sat on two eggs one of which sadly didn’t make it.
So, we have one little chick out exploring the run with her mum. And she has certainly picked a period of fine weather to join us.
I think it is fair to say that neither of us were really looking forward to lambing this year. The previous two years had proven tough. Given our ewes’ propensity for lambing at awkward times, we were planning 2 hourly checks with all the sleepless nights those would entail.
That said, we had worked hard to get the facilities right, so at least there would be no half mile walks in the middle of the night to check up on them.
So, 11 ewes were led into the lambing paddock about 4 days before the first was due. They settled in really quickly. The first sign of anything happening was a prolapse. That was the first of those we’d had and so out came the vet. Later in the day, it seemed to come out again. We called the vet but they were all out so the lady on the phone tried to talk us through what to do. At first they asked if we could push it back in, but that wasn’t possible. It didn’t look good so out came the vet again. Only it wasn’t a prolapse this time but a placenta that shouldn’t have been there.
All in all, the vet wasn’t happy and called for a caesarian. Nicole and the vet led Ursi, the ewe, into the shed while I was dispatched to fetch buckets of hot water. One thing I will never forget is the smile on the vet’s face when we turned the light on and she saw our facilities. Our sheep are also very tame and so easy to handle. I swear the vet smiled all the way through the operation. As Nicole was holding Ursi, I was handed two rather large wet ewe lambs and quickly gave them a rub down and made sure they were breathing before we put them under Ursi’s nose.
What is truly amazing is how fast Ursi recovered, up and about almost straight away. The painkillers helped, but even so, it was remarkable.
Lambing was underway.
Now, we had four what we called special cases. These were all ewes that had lost their lambs in previous years for one reason or another. The second to lamb was one of those, Vi. Last year, her lamb died in the womb so she too had experienced a Caesarian but had had no lamb to show for it. This time, her first lamb was a malpresentation, head and one leg in the right place, but the other one tucked back. They can’t be delivered like that and we hadn’t dealt with one of these before, so out came the vet. It was a long wait (half an hour felt like eternity), but he arrived and delivered another two healthy ewe lambs. We were happy but Vi was ecstatic. She still is! There are few things to equal the look an a ewe’s face when she has new lambs.
Witchy followed soon after. This was her first time but she too had a malpresentation, a breach (when they try to come out backwards). This was even more complicated so out came the vet. Not only was it a breach, but it was quite a large lamb. After a struggle, she got him out and handed him over to me for a quick dry and to get him breathing. He didn’t respond that quickly, but eventually he seemed OK. While that was going on, out popped another little ewe lamb – our first ever brown lamb. Sadly, the ram lamb just suddenly faded away and there was nothing we could do. Our first casualty, not an easy thing to deal with.
So, three lambings and already four visits from the vet. Yikes.
The next was somewhat surreal. I had been up at 4am and there was nothing happening. At 6am, I saw a ewe with lambs out in the paddock. What was surreal was that all the mums and lambs were penned up in the shed at night. My first thought was to wonder how they had got out. But it was Vera. For the second year running, she had popped out her two lambs with the minimum of fuss. She had even dried the first off completely. So, I woke up Nicole and we moved Vera into a pen with her two young boys.
One of the things I should mention is that we have learned how to give the lambs a really good start. Nicole has become an expert in drying them off with a fan heater and getting them latched on to the teats. Once dry and warm, they have enough energy to look for the teat. It only takes a few hours for them to learn where it is and become experts.
So, one poor we lamb aside, things were going OK – not a single sign of watery mouth disease yet.
And then began the wait.
During tupping, we had marked the tups stomachs with yellow paint. When the ewes were marked, we made a note of the date. Gestation is usually 150 days give or take. But 4 of the would be mums passed their dates. And another day went by. And another. Then Bluemli popped out yet another massive single ram lamb (as she did two years ago) capably helped by Nicole. We called him Yumbo!
And another went by, in fact, 10 days went by with no sign of the 4 ewes getting any closer. Quite stressful, let me tell you! Then, finally, Peaches (another of our special cases – lost both two years ago) popped out a little boy and girl followed quickly by Sparkle (another special case having lost one to a breach and one to watery mouth two years ago) popped out two healthy girls.
We’d managed 5 deliveries on our own. The end was in sight.
Now, we had only had the tups in for two weeks so we knew there had to be a time limit. We reached that day with three ewes still enjoying the lambing paddock lifestyle. Sheep nuts and haylage on demand, comfortable quarters and a little grass if they felt like it (it was just beginning to grow).
That day passed. Surely something had to happen soon.
Luckily, next day, Sky went into labour. It was a difficult delivery and she was so tight we called in a vet to help. She delivered a health boy and girl. Next day, it was Star’s turn and she popped out two healthy boys aided by Nicole.
That left just Selene. Now, aside from a raddle mark, Selene was showing no sign of pregnancy. We had booked in the vet for a routine visit to help with castrating the males and we asked her to give us a second opinion. Selene was not in lamb. Phew, we were all done with 18 healthy lambs.
Talking of vets, we were lucky this year. We had to call a vet out for one of the cows and then she came up to see the lambs and spotted that one of them was not quite right – no bottom! Not uncommon in lambs but we’d missed it. A quick op and the lamb (Ysabel) was transformed into a little bundle of play. On the routine visit I mentioned above, we had spotted that 3 lambs had turned in eyelids. It’s tricky thing to deal with as it requires an injection into the eyelid, but they all recovered really quickly.
And now they are all out in the field with lots of space to play and lots of fresh grass for the mums. Play time is around 7 and we nip up to watch them bounding about hopping and skipping. It’s what it’s all about really.