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Tupping update

Ginger-coloured-ryeland-ram-relaxes

Ginger, the coloured ryeland ram we have borrowed, has been with us for three weeks now.  He was fitted with a raddle and yellow crayon so that we could see which ewes he has been with.  Once the yellow patch appeared on the back, we noted the name of the ewe and the date as this will tell us when she is likely to lamb.

changing-crayonI had read that the ewes can synchronise themselves so they come into season at roughly the same time.  Well, our ewes haven’t read that book and over the past three weeks, you couldn’t have spaced them out more unevenly.  And even now, we are not sure they have all come into season as four remain unmarked.  Mind you, yellow doesn’t stand out too well on dark brown wool.

Normally, ewes come into season every 17 days or so, so today we changed the crayon to a blue one.  Luckily, Ginger is a cool dude and likes being handled.  He’s also quite patient (unlike those born under the sign of the ram hehe). I don’t know if it was the new colour, the cooler weather or some other influence, but we got back from a dog walk to find one of the reluctant four had a lovely blue mark on her back.

ginger-and-ewesJust three to go, the three youngest as it happens.  Maybe they are a bit wary given it’s their first time.  Or maybe Ginger just doesn’t fancy the slimmer ewe.  If anything, he still seems more interested in the grannies.

The trials and tribulations of tupping.

In the meantime, we did some thinking ahead and realised we might have more ewes than space for lambing.  We were going to use the stable and have been steadily decluttering it.  But it’s not that big.  So, the tractor shed now has a nice new concrete floor.  And boy, that was hard work.  Almost as hard as shearing :).

Thanks to Westcrete for mixing and delivering two tons of concrete, then it was up to me to level it.  I have only ever laid the base for a small shed, so this was a big ask.  And it was made harder by the fact that there are walls on three sides and our well in one corner so movement was restricted. And the well is our water supply so we couldn’t exactly concrete that over, hence the little wall I built round it round it first.

And of course, there’s a deadline as concrete sets, quickly!

But I got there and we are thrilled with our new lambing space.

lambing floor

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Apple harvest begins

apples-galore

While the summer doesn’t appear to have been that great, it has been quite dry. Nevertheless, we seem to have a good crop of apples in the orchard.  It was a bit of a puzzle what to do with them.  It’s hard enough picking up the apples from one tree let alone over 100.  Mechanised apple pickers cost thousands of pounds.  And there’s the transportation and so on.  And we need to harvest them as the sheep will be using the field in December and that many apples would not be good for them.

Luckily, we live in the heart of cider country and so Orchard Park Farm  are taking our apples to make cider.  This is great, they are harvesting, transporting and processing the apples and paying us for them too.  All in all a great win for all of us.  We are expecting the first harvest to take place in the next day or so and then a second harvest at the end of the month.

The interesting thing is that they wait for the apples to fall naturally (it is common practise to use mechanised tree shakers round here).  Apparently, it makes for a better flavour.

We may have to buy a couple of bottles and test that theory.

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Another day out on horseback

adrian-kurt-nicole-on-horseback

As I wrote recently, my wife treated me to a horse trek.  It was my first time on a horse and I enjoyed it immensely.  Well, Nicole’s uncle was visiting from Switzerland last weekend and so she thought that it would be great for all three of us to go riding.  Kurt had never been on a horse before.

horse-riding-in-country-laneSo, on Saturday moring, we were up bright and early (no different from any other day) and on our way to Quantock Trekking.  It helped that we had been before as it’s quite a tricky route through the country lanes.

This time, we were early and joined the general throng of people getting ready for riding out.  The stables were busy!  My horse, Gerty (she drew the short straw again) was looking a bit tetchy.  Thankfully, she became happier with a few juicy carrots.

Soon, we were all three on horses and off we went.  Kurt was a natural and after we reached the hills, our instructor and guide suggested a trot.  No training, but off we went.  I kind of got the hang of it, I think.  There were a few trots on this ride and they were good fun.mist-in-quantock-hills-on-horseback

At the top of the hills, the mist was drifting across the grass making it very atmospheric.  Quite mystical, in fact. We enjoyed it but the horses were somewhat concerned by a nearby dog (a husky).  The dog showed no interest in the horses but one of our riders had to get off and walk her horse for a bit.

Then we were on our back down, through the car park and down the lane back to the stables.  All in all, a great day out.

riding-through-the-streets

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Tupping Time is Here

Ginger-the-coloured-ryeland-ram-gets-friendly

Today is tupping day.  What that means is that we have collected a ram (called Ginger) that we are borrowing for the next few weeks.  Ginger has been carefully selected to ensure we have good lines (of breeding).  Coloured Ryelands are not rare, but they are not common either.  They did, in fact, used to be classed as a rare breed.  The upshot is there are not many that are not related to each other in some way.  So find an unrelated ram is a delicate task.

Fortunately, a breeder local to us has entirely different lines to ours and Ginger is the furthest removed.

So, today we collginger-coloured-ryeland-ramected Ginger who, for a ram not far from a field full of ewes, seemed remarkably calm.  He was easily led into the trailer.

A careful driver home and we were ready to deliver him to our flock.  We drove into the field as we thought that as soon as he smelled the ewes, the calmness would evaporate.  And we were right, he was Mr Impatient as we opened the trailer.

The ewes were also curious and trundled over to see what was going on.

ginger-coloured-ryeland-ram-runs-to-ewesWe opened the trailer and he shot out and straight over to the ewes, nose in the air and tongue hanging out.  It was a combination of male excitement and female curiousity as they met for the first time.  All the ewes seemed happy to see him, until he started focusing his attention on those he thought closest to being in heat.

This led to some “games” of chase and some half hearted mounting.  But, it would seem none of the ewes were particularly receptive, and Ginger soon gave up and started eating some grass.

We will be checking for yellow stains on the back of the ewes over the coming days to see who the ram has found ready and willing and so enable us to calculate the date the lambs will appear.

And this week, two tons of concrete arrive and I will be spreading and levelling that to make the floor of our lambing shed.

ginger-coloured-ryeland-ram-gets-going

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Blackberries and dogs

blackberries

As the seasons march on and autumn descends up on us, more quickly this year it would seem, the berries begin to ripen.  And now, in the fields and lanes around us the blackberries are ready.

Now, we have quite a lot of mature brambles on our patch.  Most of the year, this is not good news, but now they are laden with tasty fruit.  All of a sudden, brambles are good.

So, with dogs in tow, I set off for our orchard and woodland.  Covering over 3 acres, it’s full of adventure for dogs.  Moles, pheasants and all sorts of wildlife leave exciting smells and trails to follow.  Paradise for dogs.  And they love it.

until….

you stop to pick blackberries!

Then this happens:

maxi-blackberry-picking

Off lead, no restraints, wide open space, but no, so much better to sit with a face like a slapped kipper.  I have never fully understood this, nevertheless, I carried on picking and left her to it.  Our other dog, George, also lay down but seemed more content to wait for me to finish.

Net result, a tray of lovely blackberries to help flavour our apple crumbles throughout the winter months.  Yum!

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Doyles go trekking

doyles-on-horseback

For our recent anniversary, Mrs D bought me a two hour horse riding trek.  Now, I have never sat on a horse before, so this was going to be an interesting challenge.  I know next to nothing about riding horses.

adrian-and-gertySo, this morning, we found ourselves (after some deft navigation through county lanes in the Quantock Hills) at Quantock Trekking.  Within minutes we had completed the forms and I was given a hat.  I am not sure what I was expecting, but seconds later I found myself sitting on Gerty, a large mare (well, I am quite heavy).  Nicole was on Billy, a young gelding.  I got a quick demonstration on turning left, right, starting and stopping and we were off.  My only extra tip was how to stop Gerty snacking on every passing bush.

Next minute, we’re walking down a hill onto a road, round a removals lorry, past a couple of cars, our instructor in front and myself at the rear.

Having worked with dogs a lot, I basically came to the conclusion that I just needed to sit tight and relax.  I figured that the more calm I was, the easier Gerty would be to handle.  This was not helped by the fact that my legs were already aching.  So, I had a quick mental word with my legs muscles telling them to relax and that helped.

nicole-and-billySure enough, Gerty was attracted to many passing bushes, but before long I was able to sense when she was about to nibble something and intercept.  I was able to just sit as Gerty walked along and admire Nicole’s more expert handling ahead of me.

Soon, we turned off the road and headed up the hill.  We had to dodge into a field to avoid a tractor and somehow I managed to get Gerty to turn round, go back through the gate and wait!  Then, up a narrow path through woodlands.  It was quite steep but the horses were surefooted and had probably been this way many times.

The scenery was magical and soon we were riding along the top of the hill with views over both farmland and the Bristol Channel.

By now, I had channelled all complaints from my legs into a mental waiting room.  They soon gave up and seemed to get used to it.

adrian-gertyI found it harder coming down, at first, but soon got the legs right and the rhythm and we walked happily down.  Well, I was quite happy but Gerty seemed miffed about something, I’m not sure she liked being the last horse.  More cars, lorries and so on to dodge but we were soon back in the stables.  Gerty made straight for the hay!

Somehow, I got my legs to work and returned to terra firma.  I rewarded Gerty with some hay and then a carrot or two.  I think I might have won her over a little.  I sometimes wonder how horses put up with us beginners on their backs.

After that, we took the dogs for a short walk where we met a horse with her foal in a field.  They were very friendly and got lots of pats and scratches, which they seemed to enjoy.

nicole-and-horsesAnd then it was back, into the car and home for lunch.  All in all, a great day out and I am sure we will do more horse trekking in the future.  A lovely anniversary present.

nicole-adrian-gerty

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Merging the Hens

merging hens

As I think I mentioned in an earlier entry, we got four rescue hens in June.  We have kept those apart from our existing hens because hens are not very welcoming to new members to the flock.  In fact, they will most likely try to kill them.  There’s all sorts of stuff on the web about how best to merge new hens, but we have worked out what (seems to) work for us).

The hens have been co-existing in adjacent runs for the last few weeks.  This way, they can see each other and get to know each other, but with a barrier that prevents physical contact, so no pecking or outright attacks.  As I also mentioned before, we have separated our mother hen and chicks into a separate run as mother hen was getting very aggressive.

hens-merging-1Anyway, we have been letting one set of hens (the greys) out in the mornings and the rescue hens (the browns) out in the afternoons.  Then Mrs D came up with the brilliant idea of leaving the cockerel out all day.  Cockerels don’t attack new hens, they welcome them with open wings and our cockerel was delighted to have 4 new ladies.  And they took to him big time (they’d never met a cockerel before!).

This weekend, we finally let them all out together (except mother hen and chicks – the chicks are still too small and could easily get through the stock fence and there are dangerous dogs next door).

It seemed to go OK. At first!  With things looking good and no all out physical attacks, we headed in for lunch.  Plus I had a bedroom to paint.  However, when I popped out to check, I found 3 of the browns huddled in their house.  They looked a bit scared.

hens-merging-2So we locked up the greys.

Today, we let them out again but stayed in the garden with them.  We were prepared – we had the hose ready and set on jet.  When Petal (bottom of the grey pecking order but the most aggressive to new faces) launched her first attack, she was hit broadside by a jet of water.  That distracted her.  In fact she only attacked one more time and after getting another jet of water, she calmed right down.  The same went for Bim, the other grey – two interventions and then she settled.

So, all in all, a successful day.  We will keep this up for a while with the goal of ultimately opening up the adjacent runs into one large run and letting them out unsupervised.

Then, just the mother and chicks to re-integrate.  You can see them in the photo below (on the left, watching on.

merging hens

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Hay causes sheep rumpus

sheep-and-hay

With autumn approaching faster than we’d like and the grass losing its nutriemts, it was time to put some hay in the field.  There’s plenty of grass (thanks to the recent rain), so I thought the sheep would most likely ignore the hay for now.

Not exactly.

On seeing the wheelbarrow with 2 bales of hay trundling across the field, they were over straight away and pulling hay out even as the barrow was moving.  We put one bale in the large aluminium feeder and all the sheep crowded round.

We put another bale in the other feeder (which is the other side of the field) and turned tound to watch.  Well, there’s not quite enough room for 11 sheep to all feed at once, so we had a bit of a rumpus with much headbutting, nudging, shoving and general scrapping for space.

At last, one of the sheep (Selene) noticed we had a second feeder and come running over.  Clever girl, she had a feeder all to herself while the others jostled.

Soon, the others noticed and before long, there were 4 on one feeder, 7 on the other and plenty of space to go round.

Still with the odd bit of headbutting, though it always stopped whenever I pointed the camera in their direction.

But they are happy, and that’s what matters.

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Little Owl Drops By

little owl

When we moved here two years ago, we could hear little owls and tawny owls calling in the evening and during the night.  So, I did some research and found some good quality owl boxes.  We put one tawny owl and one little owl box up.  That said, since we bought our second field, we have also got a little owl box in the orchard in that field as well.

Anyway, in that time we have seen one tawny owl sitting in the veranda of the tawny owl box, and one little owl flying out of the little owl box.

No nests so far.

Today, after lunch, Mrs D left for work and phoned me from the bottom of the drive to say there was an owl in the tawny owl box.

I nipped down with the binoculars and there it was, having a wee nap.  I went and got my camera, but even with my zoom lense, it was far away and so only tiny in the above picture.  I didn’t want to get any closer as I didn’t want to disturb it.  Besides, the sheep in the field would have been curious as to what I was up to and would have made keeping a steady hand pretty tricky.

We are delighted to see an owl using our facilities, even if it has the “wrong” box.

little owl

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Trouble with Hens

Little Red

In June, we got 4 ex-battery hens to complement our flock.  We also wanted more eggs and with one hen getting on a bit and one with chicks, we were down to two laying hens.  We have had ex battery hens before (we got 5 when we moved here) and it is great to give them a taste of the outside having spent their lives imprisoned indoors.

Of course, merging hens is never easy. But we have quite good facilities, about 20 square metres of foxproof runs divided into 3.  We can create one mega run of 18 square meters, but we keep the small run separate for emergencies.

Just as well!

We put the 4 ex batteries newbies into a run with the one survivor from the last batch of ex batts.  She wasn’t impressed, but with odds of 4 to 1, and the chance of company again, she soon settled.  We’d had to separate her because, after an illness, she became a target for the other hens.  She soon established herself as top of this little flock, though.  All in all, they seemed really chilled and enjoyed stretching out into the sun.

Meanwhile, next door, the 2 chicks were growing well and Hattie was proving herself an excellent mother.  I always feel it’s easier to keep the chickens in with the other hens as it saves having to merge them in later.

The setup allowed the two flocks to get to know each other but with a fence inbetween them.  As you may know, hens are not very welcoming to newcomers and will try to kill them.  So the ex batts need time to build their strength up.

Now, none of the hens were getting out.  The grey hens couldn’t come out as the chicks would have been easy targets for birds of prey and cats.  The ex batts needed to settle in.

Then, the trouble started.  One hen (Daisy) got a bit over-enthusiastic about establishing her place as number 2.  She drew blood from Little Red. Emergency!!  Hens and blood, bad mix.  They are birds of prey and once they have drawn blood, they will keep going.  It can turn into hen cannibalism.

So we removed Little Red, treated her wounds, and put her in the small run.  So far so good.  Only, then Daisy turned her attention on the next in line and so Alby was suddenly bleeding.  So Alby was removed, treated, and put in with Little Red.  Only then Little Red turned on Alby.  So finally, Daisy was isolated and the other two returned to the main run.

That was OK, but could only be a short term solution. If we kept Daisy apart too long, it would be hard to merge her back in.

ex battery hens out and aboutSo, we let them all out to free range (the newbies that is, the original flock remained in the run due to the danger to the chicks).  That helped a bit, but poor old Little Red kept getting pecked.  We treated her, sprayed her with purple dye and hoped for the best.  We separated Daisy while they were in the runs (they are only allowed out when one of us is here – foxes – we can let our big guard dog out with them to keep them safe). It worked, with the stimulation of being out, Daisy became less aggressive.

Peace, at last, only…  red mites!!!  Dealing with the other issues, we’d taken our eye off the ball and now had to treat a red mite infestation.  Thanks goodness for Smite and plastic, easy to clean hen houses.  All were stripped down, sprayed, cleaned and then dusted with anti-red mite powder.

Then, Hattie, mother of the chicks, went ape and started bullying the other adult hens, big time.  The cockerel just seemed to let her (don’t believe what you read about cockerels keeping the peace).  She drew blood!

So, a careful operation, totally unplanned, was put into place and somehow, with the minimum of fuss, Hattie and her two chicks were placed in the small run and Daisy returned to the main run.

Calm descended.

The good news is that we can now let the original flock (minus Hattie) out so they will be very pleased.

And this weekend, we may go for the big merge.  Watch this space!!!