Well, summer has finally arrived at Auchenstroan. I think it’s going to last for at least two days, so we are trying to make the most of it. We are supposed to be taking a break this week, but there’s always stuff to be done. A couple of sheep have suffered from midgie bites around the eyes so we have been wiping the affected areas clean with saline which seems to be helping. Another sheep has a cut (from shearing) which has got a bit infected, so we have been treating her (it looks like it’s getting better).
While we have been having problems getting veggies to grow (problems with veggies), the flowers are doing really well. The flower bed at the front of the house (pictured above) is constantly buzzing with bees, both honey bees and also various bumble bees.
Nicole is especially pleased as many of the flowers she grew from seeds. Pictured right is a meadow area which is just coming into bloom and looks really great.
Pictured left is a flower bed created by Nicole around a stone dyke (one I repaired a while back). The roses are still to bloom, but the geraniums are enjoying the warm sunshine.
Our wild areas are also blooming. We have set aside quite a few areas as natural meadows. Pictured left is what used to be the pig pen. Now it’s a wild flower haven with young rowan and hazel trees planted so as to create a small woodland. In the meantime, the wild flowers are flourishing.
Our broad leaf woodland is also coming along nicely. The trees are getting to quite a good size now. It’s a great area for trees as it’s quite damp – a lot of the water from the hillside ends up here. We are looking forward to the trees getting ever taller and creating that real woodland feel.
In the meantime, we are scrabbling around to finish our tasks so that we can get the garden chairs out and put our feet up before summer ends.
We have a field shelter complex in one of our small fields. Our sheep really like the shelter and they head there when it’s raining (for shelter) or sunny (for shade). They also head there when they’re a bit stressed, for example when it’s midgie weather. Last year, we added slabs all the way round to ensure they had some hard standing.
That worked really well, but annoyingly, the ground in the shelters got quite muddy and in places there were small puddles. Mixed with a bit of sheep poo, it can get a little smelly. Over the winter, we used a lot of sawdust and straw to keep things fresh. While that gave us a mini mountain of mulch, it’s still not that brilliant for the sheep. With 27 of them, it was really a bit more than the shelters could cope with.
So, we decided to add some drainage. We have also set up a path from our fields to the lambing paddock. They were not well connected, but a little bit of fencing means we can now give the sheep unrestricted access to the lambing shed. This winter, we’ll be able to spread the load between the two shed complexes.
Anyway, I did a bit of planning and bought some drainage pipe. The plan is to run a pipe through each shelter and also around three edges where it can get pretty damp and muddy. Combined with the guttering installed last year, this should take a lot of water around the shed away.
Then it was time to roll the sleeves up and get digging. I had also bought a special sock, a covering for the drainage pipe that kept the silt out. This meant I didn’t have to bed it in gravel and also I didn’t have to put it in that deep. Nevertheless, the digging took a while.
Once the trench was dug, it didn’t take long to get the pipe in place. We’re hoping it will make a big difference.
In the meantime, the sheep have access to the lambing shed which has a floor made of hard core, so they are perfectly happy – when they remember it’s there!
We’ll be keeping that field shut for the summer to allow the ground to recover from the pounding of 27 sheeps’ hooves
We’ve had our fair share of animal medical problems this year and while most are now sorted, one of our hens, Bim, has rather a persistent problem. It’s a large swelling in the lower abdomen and looks pretty red and uncomfortable. It’s a condition called Egg Yolk Peritonitis, a common condition in hens of all ages. You can see the angry red patch down near her legs in the photo.
Bim has already had a visit to the vet resulting in a course of anti inflamatory injections and a course of antibiotics. That helped a little, but in the following weeks, the swelling slowly returned. Sadly, treatment for Egg Yolk Peritonitis is seldom successful and often results in the hen dying.
But Bim was showing no other signs of ill-health. Her comb is red and healthy. She is eating, she keeps up with the other hens, in fact she is still number one hen. That said, she had started to be slow in leaving the hen house in the morning.
The question was what to do. There is no real treatment for this condition. Even an operation is out of the question as hens do not normally react well to anaesthetic.
Anyway, we had the vet coming over to check on one the sheep. Peaches, the oldest, is looking a little thin and we needed to check her teeth to make sure she was still able to eat. We tried, but putting our fingers near Peach’s teeth proved somewhat tricky. The vet had a special gadget and Peaches is fine, thankfully.
Anyway, we asked her to give Bim a checkover. She also agreed that Bim, swelling apart, seemed very healthy. So, she’s on another course of antibiotics supported by a diet and bath regime designed by Nicole. Yes, you read correctly – a bath regime. Apparently a warm salt bath can help to clear the affected passage. Bim is not entirely sure about the bath, but the blow dry afterwards goes down a treat. Bim happily stands on the floor and lifts her wing to get maximum effect from the hairdryer.
Her diet comprises garlic and other natural antibiotic / anti-inflammatory plants.
It’s early days, but she is now proving hard to catch which is a good sign.
Sheep have to be sheared once a year, it’s vital for their wellbeing. Here, in SW Scotland, we shear mainly in June. While Nicole and I have both done the shearing course, we contract out our shearing to professional shearers. It’s a really hard job and the top shearers shear a sheep in just a few minutes. So, all in all, it’s better for the sheep as it’s over quickly.
After last year, when we had assumed we’d just call in the sheep as they were needed (wrong!), we had built the sheep handling area. We were looking forward to using it for the first time.
The shearers had let us know they were coming about lunchtime, so after breakfast we brought the sheep in. I say we, Nicole just called them and in they trotted.
We let them have a look around the paddock. For the hogs, this was where they had been born last tear – I wonder if they remembered. Anyway, the lambing paddock was full of tasty morsels – meadow flowers, tree sprouts, a hedge and low hanging leaves. They had a lovely time.
We also had to catch Yakozuki as he was limping. He needed an antibiotic jag. But, they were all a bit excitable. So, after an hour or so, we brought them into the handling area and let them settle down a bit. We caught Yakozuki and gave him his injection. Then we settled down to wait.
The shearers duly arrived and we had our first problem. Their trailer only just squeezed through the gate. Note to self, bigger gate needed. However, with skillful trailer manouevring (that puts me to shame), the shearing rig was soon in place. It turns out one of the shearers is from one of our neighbouring farms. It’s good when that happens.
We gathered the sheep into a smaller waiting pen and started to guide them up the ramp. Ha ha – they took one look at the ramp and doubled back. In fact, it was quite a tricky job getting them up the ramp – needed two people. One to move the sheep towards the ramp and one to catch them as they turned back and keep them moving forward.
Even then, some of the hogs were small enough to turn round and drive them all back down again. Still, the two shearers were zipping through them so these were but minor hiccups. We kept the orderly flow of sheep up (we had 27 in total being sheared). Of course, there’s always one. Peaches – the matriarch and eldest of our ewes decided that shearing was not for her this year and every time we turned our back, she quickly backed herself down the ramp into the waiting area. Three times! I had to stand behind her for a while. I compensated this loss of freedom with lots of back scratches – Peaches loves her back scratches.
It’s great watching top shearers in action. What with all the keeping the flow of sheep up, I didn’t get to see much, but Sparkle was enraptured. You can see her in the picture on the right, head resting on the gate, watching Bluemli being shorn of her locks.
Throughout all this, Nicole was labelling each fleece with the name of the sheep. Each of these fleeces will be turned into a felted rug. And so, we’ll know whose fleece each rug is made from. Each rug will be supplied with a little history of the sheep it comes from.
Soon, all the sheep were shorn. Nicole had also gathered them back into the holding area so that they would be out of the way of the trailer when it was towed out.
It’s funny how small and dainty they look without their thick woolly coats.
Once the shearers had gone and we’d had a quick cuppa, we took them back out into the main pasture. There was a nice breeze there and that meant no flies and no midgies. The sheep settled down and looked quite happy. We think the shearing helps them regain full fields of vision. The thick woolly coats can grow round their eyes causing problems. We do trim them from time to time, but a full haircut means unhindered vision. Bluemli even came in for pats, something she hasn’t done for a while.
And of course, Ymogem came over to pose for a photo.
It was a tiring day for all of us, sheep and humans. So, we decamped to the pub for a well earned drink and a dinner we didn’t have to cook.
Last year, extended our veggie patch to give us plenty of room to grow our favourite vegetables. This year, we had the greenhouse ready and also, over the winter I had laid power to it and installed a heater. This was more a frost guard than anything, but it kept the greenhouse a bit warmer than the outside.
Outside, the veggie patch was fully mulched and ready. It looks really god covered in mulch, no weeds (for now).
We were all set and in March we started planting. Everything that had indoor/March on the label was planted and put in the greenhouse. This worked, sort of. The tomatoes decided it was still too cold and never showed. It was the same for the basil. In fact, only really the carrots and brussel sprouts got going.
Outdoors, we planted onion sets. Then the heavy rains came and flooded that area covering all the onion sets in water. Disaster, though in the end, about half grew.
Not to worry, we did a second planting and bit by bit, built up some small vegetable plants. The spring was relatively mild and so we started to plant out some of the hardier crops.
Now, we fed the birds all winter so how did they repay us? By digging up the mulch to look for worms and in so doing, scattering said vegetables everywhere! Most annoying. Luckily, I had a length of blue pipe tucked away behind a shed and we bought some netting. We put back all the uprooted plants and installed said netting. This helped, a bit. It included butterfly proof netting for the brassicas and turnips (last year we had to pick off multitudes of caterpillars on a daily basis).
By now, I’d planted a third set of onions as all the ones grown from seed had simply vanished. Thankfully, the look good and strong.
But still, our veggies were still under attack. We laid out some organic slug pellets. No change. In fact we have lost almost all the brassicas, three quarters of the turnips, half the spinach, all the direct seeded carrots and most of the beetroot. Emergency second and third seedlings are planted and awaiting their turn. The plan is to pot them up and make sure they are strong before planting them out.
Next year, we’ll do what we should have done this year. We’ll put hens in the veggie patch and give them access to unplanted beds. That should take care of the slug population we suspect of causing the damage. At least, we hope so.
I think I have mentioned before that we have quite a lot of stone dykes here and in areas, they are bit run down. With all the other jobs (firewood, sheep handling area, veggies etc), there hasn’t been much time to do any repairs. However, over the winter I was actually paid to fix someone’s wall. It was a neighbour of one of Nicole’s clients and a few metres of wall in their garden had collapsed in a storm. We had a similar collapse here, as it happens.
Anyway, while it’s not really part of my plans to become a professional stone dyker, I said OK and took on the job. It was a bit tricky as the front of the wall was an ornamental flower bed, so I couldn’t stomp about in my size 10 boots. But the wall was built on a slope and most of the stones were on the other side so I worked mainly from there.
It wasn’t too bad a job as most of the stones were small, so you can work quite quickly. It was all done in a couple of mornings and I was quite pleased with the result. The client was too – always a good thing.
Having done that, there was the collapsed wall bordering our hen run to look at. Again, this was built on a slope and it looked like the wall had been gradually tipping over over the years. Also, all the stones were piled all over the wall and took a few hours to move out of the way. It was a right mess.
These stones were a bit bigger, so it took a couple of days to rebuild this section. It just takes a bit longer to get the bigger stones all to fit together within the lines of the wall. And believe me, you only want to lift them once, so you spend a lot of time figuring out what will go where. Nevertheless, I got there in the end and am quite pleased with the result. I did have a few stones left over which was a bit of a worry. That said, the same thing happened on the course and the instructors just shrugged that off saying that it happens.
My current project is a slightly bigger challenge. There is a gap in the wall at the top of our largest field. It’s the border between our patch and forestry land. In the past, there has been a livestock handling area the other side and we suspect a previous owner of our patch knocked through the wall so they could “annex” this. Not sure why, it’s full of bracken (poisonous to livestock), hard to get to and far from any power source. That said, it looks like it hasn’t been used for years, decades even, as it’s all a bit run down.
Anyway, there is a small stock fence across this gap and it is about to fall down. So we decided it would be better to restore the wall. It will look better and be safer for the sheep. It should also slow the spread of bracken into our field.
The main problem is that the original stones have largely vanished. There were a few in our field and so I retrieved those. We also have a pile accumulated from the gate opening we put into another wall a while back. I have been bringing those up in a trailer. Unfortunately, the terrain is too dodgy for the tractor – the front loader would have been very helpful for moving and lifting the larger ones. So I have to use the quad bike and muscle power. All the shifting is done by hand, lifting them into the trailer one end and then out again the other end.
The remaining stones I am sourcing from the surrounding area. There are quite a few lying around on the ground. The main problem is that they are, on average, a good 50m away. So it’s a lot of carrying which takes up a lot of time and effort. They are also all quite big (it’s hard to tell from the picture). The larger ones get rolled. Luckily, I am rolling them downhill.
The other problem is the midges – it’s perfect terrain for them. As a rule, they don’t bother me too much (got used to them as a kid), but when you are working in one area, they get into your ears and eyes and are really annoying. So it was midge nets on. Luckily, the wind generally picks up during the day and they hate the wind.
All in all it took 5 days. Most of the time was spent locating and carrying stones. My back is complaining a bit now. Day 4 had its dramas. I had my first wasp sting since I was a kid. I was picking up a stone and something flew straight at my face and stung me. I’d only just taken my midgie net off! It came back for further attempts but I kept knocking it away – the repeat attacks suggest wasp (didn’t actually see it). Having dealt with that, I then contrived to slip while carrying a large rock. As I flew sideways like a falling tree, the rock landed on my knee, painful but thankfully no real damage done. At that point I took a break and put some ice on it and had a cup of tea.
Anyway, on the fifth day the weather was a bit kinder. Dry, windy enough to blow the midgies away and sunny. The gap is filled and the sheep are much safer. And I’m off to run a bath.
Our heating runs mainly on wood. We do have an oil boiler as backup, but we prefer to use the wood burner which also acts as a central heating boiler. However, it has taken me a couple of years to work out how much wood we need and more importantly, when to have it cut by. Too late and it hasn’t dried out properly. Burning wet wood is not a good idea! So, basically, we need next winter’s wood in the sheds by the end of May!
With that in mind, I have been out gathering wood for what seems like months now. The winter storms had taken down a few trees which was one source. One of Nicole’s gardening client kindly offered us the remnants of a fallen ash tree. It was by the side of the road on a blind corner which made recovery a wee bit tricky, but we handled that by being out at dawn on a Sunday morning when few people were about.
Also, a neighbour wanted his woodland coppiced, so myself and our neighbours have been sorting that out (we share the wood as payment). That was quite a lot of work as it’s one thing bringing a tree down and another extracting the wood. We more or less carried the wood out by hand.
I also coppiced our willow woodland. Like Hazel, willow really benefits from coppicing and we are expecting an explosion of new growth now. Many trees had fallen and so I took out all the fallen trees and dodgy branches. Those too were all carried out by hand.
The final source of firewood is a lorry load of tree trunks (larch) that we and two neighbours bought together a while back. We have a sort of community scheme for sawing that up which kind of works, and sometimes kind of doesn’t.
Anyway, the net result of all this activity is a huge pile of tree trunks awaiting processing plus what seemed like a huge pile of logs waiting to be chopped to size and stored for firewood. Thankfully, we (neighbours) also share a log splitter and the above picture is the pile after most had been split and some stored. I still use an axe from time to time, especially with the hardwood – I quite like chopping wood the old fashioned way. But, it’s a lot of wood to chop! It is one of those things, a huge pile of logs on the ground seems to melt into a tiny space in the shed, yet when burnt they disappear so quickly.
Nevertheless, I think we now have enough wood stored for next winter. So, now on with sourcing the following winter’s wood – it’s never ending….
Shearing time is nearly upon us. Last year, we were slightly embarrassed at not being as ready as we thought. In previous years, the shearer had turned up with some shears and we had found ourselves trying to root out a large piece of sheet wood for them to shear on. We thought we were ready last year as we had built the lambing shed with power and also had ready an 8x4ft sheet of plywood.
But last year, the shearers turned up with a fully equipped shearing station on a trailer. We hadn’t penned the sheep up as we were expecting a gentle progression, but with two of them shearing away, they rattled through them so fast we had trouble getting the sheep to them fast enough.
We also have a general issue when it comes to vaccinations – we have plenty of hurdles and can set up temporary pens, but we really needed something a bit more robust. Preferably, it should be made of stock fence as that might help avoid injuries such what happened to Ymogen earlier this year (Ymogen’s story).
So, our new handling area was born. It combines the lambing shed with three pens. It’s important to have the shed involved as sheep must be sheared dry. If there’s a chance of rain the night before shearing, we can now keep the sheep dry in the shed. I’ve also installed a water trough in there fed from the water butt, so they’d have plenty to drink if confined to the shed.
The smallest of the pens is where we can treat individual sheep. There’s enough room for two of us and a sheep to move around plus a wooden bar for hanging buckets on (keeping nuts and medication out of range of prying mouths).
The remaining area is split into two, using hurdles as gates, so it can be one large pen or two smaller pens. Using hurdles means we can also pack them away when not in use so the area doesn’t look cluttered.
One other job was protecting the fruit trees. Last time the sheep were in here, the temptation was just too much and a few trees had their bark nibbled. So, each tree now has a little cage surrounding it. Given each tree has 4 posts, that was a lot work knocking those in. The multitude of subterranean rocks didn’t help, so some of the posts are not quite straight. But the main thing is, the trees are safe now.
And we’re looking forward to shearing next month when we should be well prepared.
Last Friday morning, Nicole noticed that Ymogen, one of last years lambs, had a problem with her jaw. The lower palette seemed to be all askew. We called out the vet and she confirmed it was a bad break. When an animal is in mortal peril, vets kind of have this look on their face, and our vet had that look. The prognosis was not good.
We are not sure how it happened, but we suspect she had put her head into a gap in the hurdles and then been hit from behind by another sheep. We had been doing routine vaccinations the day before and sometimes had been using sheep nuts to lure them into a pen. She may have been trying to reach the sheep nuts through the hurdles. Sheep nuts are both a blessing and a curse. You can use them to train sheep (like dogs and dog treats). But the possibility of getting sheep nuts can cause a little but too excitement. And for some of the sheep, their way of saying “give us a bit of space” is to jump onto the rear end of the poor sheep that’s in the way.
Anyway, the vet gave her a painkiller and some antibiotics and we retired to ponder what to do.
Inspiration came via one of our neighbours. She keeps guinea pigs and offered us some chopped hay. Well, we have a shed full of the stuff and plenty pairs of scissors, so we got to work. I say “we”, but in reality, Nicole created a masterpiece of a meal for injured lambs, a mix of chopped hay, grass, brussel sprouts, a bit of liquid life aid and the key ingredient, shredded turnip (swedes to non Scots). Luckily for us, we have grown loads more turnips than we can eat.
For the first couple of days, Ymogen licked some of it up. However, she kept trying to eat grass or hay from the feeders and when she couldn’t, she would just go and stand somewhere with her head down. It’s kind of heartbreaking to watch.
Anyway, come Monday, Nicole was off to work. Mid morning, I set off with a few handfuls of “magic mix”. Ymogen was still a bit wary of coming into a pen, so it was not that easy. She needed to be in a pen to keep the other sheep out more than anything. In order to tempt her to eat the mix, we sprinkle some ground sheep nuts on the top. The smell attracts a lot of unwanted attention from the others.
I couldn’t quite get her into the pen, so I started feeding her with her standing half in, half out. I was able to keep the others at bay and they soon lost interest. Amazingly, she scoffed the lot and then looked at me, like Dickens’ Oliver, and asked for more.
So I sent an update to Nicole (with freezing fingers) and trotted back to the house to make a second helping. She scoffed all of that too.
It has now been just under a week. Ymogen is not out of the woods by any means. The injury is to bone and cartilage so could take weeks to heal. At least Ymogen has the advantage of being young (about 10 months old). She is on 5 feeds a day now. She is often waiting by the pen and now trots happily in. She happily eats from a bucket (making a it easier on us). She is cudding which is a great sign.
She is still on her medication, antibiotics and painkiller jags (jabs to non Scots), every 2-3 days.
Every now and then, a story pops up somewhere about dogs and sheep. It’s pretty much always bad news, sheep have been killed by someone’s pet dog. In fact, the biggest threat to sheep is the domestic dog. It happens round here sometimes too. To be honest, one of the reasons I gave up working as a dog behavioural therapist was that I got fed up with dog owners’ unshakeable belief that their pooches could do no wrong.
Anyway, our dogs have been conditioned to respect sheep. George is an Anatolian Shepherd and his breed was created to guard livestock. Haribo is a collie and should be inclined to round them up, but has never shown any inclination to do so.
George is actually very good with the sheep. Given the chance he will groom them, licking their faces and ears and even their backsides. He particularly likes a messy sheep’s bottom! Haribo tends to give them a bit of a wide berth. I think he got butted a while back (before the sheep had got to know him), but he’s getting a bit more confident with them now.
One of our ewes, Ursi, now seeks George out whenever he’s over there. They have developed quite a strong friendship and it’s lovely to see, It is George and Ursi shown in the picture.
So it shows, dogs and sheep can go together. If the dog owners know what they are doing.
That said, when we take our dogs for walks in other places, we always have them on leads around others’ livestock. George and Haribo may be fine with our sheep, but our sheep don’t run away from them. Dogs are hunters and if something runs, they will instinctively go after it and all the training is forgotten in an instant.
I have never forgotten a moment when I was a teenager in Edinburgh. I was heading to the bus stop and passed a huge St Bernard sitting in a driveway. It watched me walk past with rapt attention. Everything was fine until I saw my bus coming and had to break into a run. As I ran to the bus stop, I heard a noise behind me and turned to see said St Bernard hurtling after me. I stopped and swore at it (basically challenged it in dog speak) and it froze mid stride. I slunk round the corner, sprinted and just caught my bus. I looked out the window and the St Bernard was still standing there, mid stride, looking mildly puzzled.
Any dog, no matter how well trained, has a very strong chase reflex.