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Winter weather challenging already

river torrent

I recently wrote about how we had been at the receiving end of some heavy rain.  But it stopped and we had a period of cold and dry weather.  I quite like it cold and dry, the main thing is it being dry.  It’s not a lot of fun looking after animals in the rain and mud.  The hens hate it.  The sheep don’t like it but cope, though they hate muddy and wet ground. The dogs also remain unimpressed by the kind of horizontal rain we get here.

sheep and hayThe good part about living here is that when it stops raining, it does dry out.  In fact, the ground, even in wet areas was just firming nicely.  The sheep happily grazed hay at their feeders not having to perch on the slabs we had laid for them.

But then storm Diane arrived.  The rain has been torrential.  The winds fierce.  10 minutes outside in waterproofs was enough to prove that they were not waterproof at all.  The dogs needed persuading to step out the door, even if Haribo’s favourite toy (ball and launcher) were waved at him.

Fortunately, the repaired gypsy caravan cover, now held in place by 4 ratchet straps, remained in place.  I did watch the livestock trailer nearly get blown away by the wind, so Nicole and I had to go out and secure that.

stroanshalloch burn torrentToday, this afternoon, it suddenly brightened a bit.  I managed to take the dogs for a proper walk and came back with my jacket drier than when I set out.

Nicole had nipped into town earlier and took these pictures of the rivers.  They are the highest and most ferocious I have yet seen.  All the hillsides had random torrents pouring off them.  Impressive, but a lot of water.  I did wonder how things are looking further downstream.

More dry weather needed please!!


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RIP Sarka


We are sad to tell you that Sarka passed away yesterday. It was peaceful and gentle, she lay happily between Nicole and myself as the vet gently helped her on her way.

Sarka came to us in 2015. She was the most flighty and fearful of the 11 sheep we had then. A change in the weather was enough to have her in a mild panic and changing fields was always fraught with a little danger. But, over time, she became something of a cuddle sheep, seeking out pats and scratches from us whenever we we were over in the fields. Whenever we went over, she would come trotting over and bury her head in close as she enjoyed neck scratches.

Sarka and Nicole
Sarka and Nicole

Sarka loved it here in Scotland with acres of pasture to roam and graze. She had a very strong bond with Nicole who considered themselves to be like two peas in a pod.

Last year, Sarka was diagnosed with a heart condition and given only a short time to live. However, under Nicole’s care she blossomed and seemed as healthy as she had ever been. Previously prone to runny poos, over the last year she has been totally fine in that department. Runny poos in sheep are bad news – the smell attracts the blowfly and can lead to flystrike. Indeed, Sarka was the first of our sheep to be hit with flystrike, back in 2015. We caught that early, thankfully.

As the summer was drawing to a close, Sarka seemed to be developing problems in one of her front legs. It was diagnosed as arthritis, even though she was only 6. The vet hinted there was nothing could be done, but Nicole found willow to be very helpful and indeed, after a couple of weeks on a daily intake of willow leaves, Sarka was almost walking normally.

Two weeks ago, she went totally lame in one of her back legs. We had to carry her to a shelter as heavy rain was forecast. She was pretty heavy I can tell you. Painkillers were prescribed and after a week’s treatment, she seemed to be improving insofar as she was walking almost normally again. However, there was the merest hint of a neurological issue – she seemed to be having trouble finding the hand proffering sheep nuts (her favourite).
Despite seeming to eat well and being given extra sheep nuts, Sarka remained painfully thin.

On Thursday, she looked poorly again, head down and just standing in a corner. She was given a vitamin and condition booster by the vet and another shot of painkillers by us. She seemed to perk up, but yesterday morning she seemed to have gone further downhill Later, Nicole witnessed her back legs just giving way.

We had tried everything. There was nothing else we could do.

It was important to us that Sarka did not suffer and so we made the painful decision to say goodbye.

Sarka was a lovely sheep, friendly, cuddly and loving. We shall miss her.


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Rain, Rain and More Rain

Stroanshalloch Burn after rain

After a period of quite nice weather, the rains came.  A couple of storms, then a period of almost relentless heavy rain.  We are somewhat fortunate in that here, living in the hills, most of it runs off.  But before it does that, it does tend to gather in puddles all over the place.  The run off into the rivers (we have two main rivers here) can be quite spectacular.  The burn above (Stroanshalloch Burn) is usually a gentle wee water flow – now it’s a roaring mass of water.  And that’s the small of the two (the other one is down a steep slope and I’m too lazy (or wise) to attempt to climb down it just for a photo opportunity.

I quite enjoy watching it for short periods, much to the irritation of the dogs.  They are really not that keen on stops during their walks, well human stops anyway – it’s fine for them to stop and investigate some interesting smell for a few minutes.  But if I stop for a couple of minutes, I turn round to find them sitting looking at me with questioning looks on their faces.

I digress.

The sheep have the worst of it.  Gate entrances become areas of liquid mud.  Lots of little streams become suddenly active.  Sheep are not that keen on getting their feet wet and can often be seen negotiating their way from one patch to another in a series of jumps.  Yesterday, two lambs got a bit stranded in a field and didn’t want to come back to the main shelter because it was muddy – we had to lay down some stones and straw to get them back.

On the plus side, the patio (see sheep’s-patio-completed) has proved immensely popular, so much so that it is almost impossible to fill the feeders as the sheep absolutely will not move out of the way if it means putting even one foot in the surrounding mud.  On top of that, the new hay we took delivery of on Friday is also proving hugely popular, so on arriving with a fresh bag, they all pile in (all 28 of them).  It’s organised chaos.

Thankfully, a dry period is forecast now and hopefully the ground will dry out a bit.  As I write this, I can even see it brightening a little.  Next, it will be a case of creating a few more stone paths in key areas.

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Gypsy Caravan Makeover

gypsy caravan restored

bow top for saleIn the summer of 2013 when we moved to Somerset, Nicole was talking about getting a bow top gypsy caravan.  At first, I was planning to build one (no idea how, would have figured it out somehow) but, as chance would have it, I passed one that was for sale at the side of the road.

A quick phone call to Nicole first, then we agreed to buy it.  As we were getting married soon after, some of our kind relatives chipped in to make it into a wedding present.

In the spring of 2017, we moved to Scotland.  The caravan was already showing some signs of wear and tear and I had effected some temporary repairs to some of the paintwork.  Anyway, we had it transported to Scotland (a nightmare is it happened as the first courier, found via Shiply, simply took the caravan and disappeared – Shiply couldn’t have cared less – we had to track it down ourselves and ask a friend in Somerset to go and “nick” it back).  Anyway, I digress, the caravan finally reached Scotland in the summer of 2017.

gypsy caravan -paint peeling off
needing attention

I don’t know if you remember, but that was quite a wet summer.  Followed buy a wet autumn.  Followed by a harsh winter of rain, sleet and snow.  The caravan was struggling in the elements.  The paint was peeling off in a number of places and the canvas was ripped along the side.  It was also getting a bit damp and mouldy inside.

I had been looking for a large shed in which to put it and work on it, but that was proving tricky.  Then, without warning, we had a heatwave.

gypsy caravan - back and sides sanded
woodwork sanded

We took advantage and got to work.  All the woodwork was sanded back – that took a while, even with power sanders.

Then a coat of exterior primer was added followed by some bright red Dulux weathershield.  As you may have noticed, we also decided on a new colour scheme.

primer started
primer started

As the painting progressed, Nicole got inside and sorted out the interior.  There were some marks, damage in transit, plus the afore-mentioned mould. All of that was cleaned away leaving it looking sparkly clean.  Nicole has grand plans for the soft furnishings.

gypsy caravan - red coat nearly done
red coat nearly done

Fortunately, the weather held out and excellent progress was made.

All in all, it took 5 or six weeks to get all the painting done.  Weathershield takes quite a long time to dry, even in the sun, so that delayed things a bit.

The undercarriage was also a bit fiddly, a mix of wood and metal.  Fortunately, I managed to get yellow paints for metal and wood that looked pretty similar.

But, finally, all the base paintwork was done and some of the decoration added.

Nicole had sourced some stencils so we could add interesting artwork to the panels, but before we could get that done, the hot summer ended.  So we have put that back till next year.

We also have had new shafts made (as you may have noticed they are missing from the pictures).  The original shafts were broken in transit, mainly because rain had got through the paint and softened the wood underneath.  The new shafts are in the shed awaiting painting.

gypsy caravan restored
gypsy caravan restored

Finally, I added an electricity supply so we now have a heater in it through the winter.  That should help keep it dry and mould free.  Having read “The Stopping Places” by Damian Le Bas, we were inspired to build a base so as to help keep it dry underneath.  We also bought a made to measure winter cover for it, but a succession of early winter storms soon shredded that and it is awaiting repair.


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Stone dykes restoration

stone dyke at house

We have a lot of dry stone dykes here which we really like.  They are basically stone walls made without mortar, just careful positioning and gravity holding them together.

new gateway in dry stone dykeHowever, there are a few bits of wall that need repair.  Last year, I did a course which gave me a basic grounding in how to build stone dykes.  One freezing and snowy day last winter, Nicole and I put this into practice by putting a gate inbetween two fields.  The course hadn’t covered how to do the ends of the walls, but we just copied what we saw elsewhere – basically use big stones.

new flower bedNicole has been working hard transforming the gardens around the house.  The flower bed to the left is close to the front door and can be seen from the kitchen window.  Nicole has reshaped it and cleared the mass of weeds including ground elder.  The plan is to plant roses (which are on order and will be arriving soon).

Now, many of the dykes around the house are covered in a mix of brambles and honeysuckle.  We are not sure if this is by design or simple invasion, but to us, it is a shame to hide these beautiful walls.  So, in a burst of energy over the weekend, Nicole cleared the above pictured wall.  Only, underneath, the wall had collapsed and had, so it would seem, been clumsily repaired.  It was, basically, a mess.

With the roses coming, it was time to act. Thankfully, we were enjoying a spell of bright, if cold, weather.  Perfect conditions for stone dyking.

stone dyke repairs beforeThis wall was tricky, as it turned out, as all the stones were quite large.  This meant the normal process of building two walls sloping towards each other was out of the question.  So, time for plan B – big stones on the bottom, smaller ones on top.

First, I pulled down all the bits of wall that were leaning and levelled off the base.

stone dyke repairs duringThat done, I started on the end.  I poached a couple of large stones from other parts of the garden.  I then had to go and recruit a neighbour to help me lift the big stone onto the end (the one you can see pictured left).

stone dyke repairs completeThat done, it was a case of building up the rest of the dyke.  I think, in reality, more time is spent pondering which stones to put where than actually lifting and placing them them.  I suppose that could be one reason why we do jigsaws as kids – preparation for building dry stone dykes!

I should really have stopped and rested, but completion seemed so close so I kept going.  My back has still not forgiven me!  Nevertheless, I got it finished and we are both very happy with the result.

Now all it needs is the roses and it will look amazing.

But for me, it’s on to the next repair job, the wall that blew down in the storm……

hen run stone dyke collapsed

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Sheeps’ Patio completed

patio for sheep

The field shelter we built for our sheep has proved very popular with them.  They especially like it when they seek out shade.  We are planning to plant some trees to provide more shady area for them in the summer, but for now the shelter works well.

However, in the winter it can get a bit wet here.  And the patter of multiple sheep hooves can soon turn wet ground into mud.  So, we had a conference and decided that what was needed was a patio.  It was also suggested that redirecting the water from the roof away would help.

So, multiple slabs were transported.  And I mean a lot.  Fortunately, I had help from Matt, my brother-in-law. for most of them.  To be honest, we didn’t lay a flat base, we just put them down on the ground.  That said, we did ensure they sloped away from the shelter itself.  The hay feeders also have slabs on both sides.  We have, in the past, tried hard standing, but that just gets trampled in.  Slabs are a better bet.

field shelter water systemI also installed guttering all around the roof so as to catch all the water.  I also installed a water trough and tank and an underground pipe to take all the extra water well away into the woodlands.

This means that in the worst of the weather, the sheep will be able to reach food and water without getting their feet wet.  This is especially important, as it turns out, as some of our sheep are becoming senior citizens and one, poor Sarka, has developed arthritis.  She’s getting supplements to help, but being able to reach food and water without having to wade through mud will be a great help to her.

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Sarka update

sarka eating haylage

Sarka went lame over the weekend appearing to lose all movement in one of her back legs (you can read more details here).  She had pretty much continuous TLC from us both and, fortunately, Saturday night excepted (when we carried her and put her into shelter), the weather has been OK.

sarka having a drink
sarka having a drink

Well, on Monday morning, it was my turn to sit with her and she was eating and drinking, but not much.  To be honest, she didn’t seem any better so, I phoned the vet.  He felt it would be a good idea to check her out, so we booked in a visit.

The good news is that there was no sign of any injury, for example break or dislocation.  It seemed like, as we had thought, she had hurt it, perhaps stumbling or falling awkwardly.  So, a quick painkiller injection was administered.

That helped a lot and over the day, she improved a lot.  This morning, she was up and about and Nicole was even able to lead her down to the main field shelter.  She’s much better off there with hay and water on hand, shelter and plenty of hard standing.

We’ll be administering painkillers for the rest of the week (every 48 hours) and see how she does.  Fingers crossed.

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Birds feeding time

bird cake home made

I have always been one for feeding the birds.  I really enjoy watching them tucking in, feasting, squabbling, all the usual behaviours.  I try hard to cater for the various types of birds, some are happy on feeders, some like the table and some prefer to be on the ground. And different birds have their preferences on types of food.

birds at feeding stationSo, we have two feeding stations, one catering mainly for the tit family (peanuts and seeds) and one for finches and siskins (niger seed and peanuts).  I also made a large quantity of bird cake, pictured above, as most birds are omnivores and a bit of fat goes a long way in the cold weather.

These feeding stations have proven very popular, especially with coal tits.  The dunnocks and chaffinces mop up what is dropped to the ground.  We also have regular visits from a pair of nuthatches and a great spotted woodpecker.

birds at feeding stationOn the ground, we still have windfall (apples) which are most popular with the blackbirds and the occasional visit from the ever shy and retiring fieldfare.  Strangely, no sign of siskins as yet – they were regular visitors last winter.

The bird cake is very popular.

Robins, well they are aplenty here, but prefer me to do a bit of digging or feed them mealworms directly.  One particular robin appears every time I go out so he gets his own special delivery.


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Auchenstroan Fashions

Nicole and Sparkle

Nicole modelling PonchoAside from their lovely natures, one of the benefits of coloured ryeland sheep is that they produce amazing wool.  We have been getting ours spun into yarn and Nicole sells it through her Etsy shop.

As well as the wool, Nicole is now making ponchos from our wool, super soft, lace weight knit, un-dyed, organic and non-scratchy!

If you are interested in treating yourself to one of these, please let us know via our contact page.  Thanks.

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Sarka in trouble


Sarka has been with us for a few years now.  She has always been a bit nervous but Sarka and Nicole have a very close friendship.  I think she quite likes me too!

As it turns out, she has a heart condition.  This means that if she gets anxious, she can get into quite a panicky state with racing heartbeats and shallow breaths.  Last year, the vet’s prognosis wasn’t good.  However, straight after that vet’s visit, she started to improve and has, basically, since then been quite a healthy sheep.

Sadly, recently, she she seems to have developed arthritis in one of her front legs making it a bit difficult for her to walk.  The vet said nothing could be done.  Nicole wasn’t having that and after some research, found that willow is a favourite of sheep and has painkiller properties.  Well, we have plenty of willow here.  And it worked, she became more mobile and seemed pretty happy.  Just a clicking sound when she walks, but the vet assured us that was nothing to be worried about.  We had to take quite a lot of willow in because the rest of the flock tucked in with gusto as well.

With autumn and the leaves dropping, we have switched to willow supplements.

Anyway, in the last couple of days she has developed a problem with one of her hind legs.  We can’t tell if she’s twisted it or whether the arthritis has spread.  It coincided with the rain on Thursday so she could easily have slipped.

We have been quite lucky with the weather recently, cold but bright.  That is the sheeps’ favourite.  However, today winter conditions arrived with a vengeance – driving heavy rain, and 50mph winds.  The sort of rain that soaks through waterproofs in about 10 minutes.

sheep happy in autumn sunshineOn the morning inspection, Nicole found Sarka right up the hill.  On the picture to the right, trace the wall up past the copse and she was up there.  In fact, Sarka was about as far away from the main field shelter as she could get!   Nicole took some food up; hedge stuff (which Sarka really likes), veggie garden produce, willow and haylage (also very popular).

Of course, at this point, I was reading the news on the computer.  However, with Nicole being out for a while, my brain cells started to work and I thought I should go and check everything was OK.  I found Nicole filling the hay feeders with hay, much to the sheeps’ delight.  Sarka, however, was up the hill and so we returned to check on her.

sarka warm and dry in pig arc
Sarka warm and dry in pig arc while rain lashes down

To me, she seemed OK, but also a bit out of sorts.  My intuition was telling me we needed to get her out of the rain.  But how?  We couldn’t exactly put her on the quad bike and she certainly wasn’t able to walk anywhere.  Thankfully, we have a pig arc up in that field (you can’t see it in the photo, but it’s over to the right).  It was a fair way from Sarka (about 50m or so) but it was downhill.  On impulse, I started to lift her.  Now, your average sheep weighs around 80kg so this was easier said than done.  I needed Nicole’s help to get up on my feet, but I had her and set off I set as fast as I could.  The ground was tricky – sedge grass, puddles, soft bits – we had to be careful.

Sarka in pig arcSarka was heavy and my arms tired quickly (I was carrying her in what I call a “dog lift”, my arms wrapped around her legs).  Every few steps, I had to stop and let Nicole take the weight for a few seconds.  As I neared the pig arc, I could feel Sarka starting to roll off me, but Nicole answered my panicky cries and between us, we got her into the pig arc.

Nicole had already filled it with fresh straw, so it was very warm and dry.  We are so relieved and will be looking after her carefully.