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Cherokee calls out Mountain rescue

Our chickens have a large area in which they can roam freely.  They share it with the sheep as the sheeps’ winter hay and main shelter are located in this paddock.  At one end, there is a gate open to the fields.  While this has been open for months, the hens rarely venture out.  Occasionally, they have been seen just the other side but, as a rule, they are happy in their paddock.

hens in hen run
Cherokee (left) and entourage in their large run

That said, today the Cherokee the cockerel decided to go hill walking.  He tried to take the hens with him but only two would go, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) and Tina Sparkle.  The rest decided to stay put.

Off the three went, up the path, over the track and up the hill.  They followed the line of the fence right to the top where they found a gate.  Well, an open gate is a temptation for most animals and these intrepid three passed through gleefully.  They had a lovely time scratching around until one thought it might be a good idea to head back.

Down they came only to find that they had come down the wrong side of the fence.  The gate was long forgotten.  The three gathered together in the corner of the field looking wistfully at their paddock.  However, a 3ft high stock fence stood in their way.  Despite have wings and the capability to fly, this fence was deemed impassible.  So, they set off along the lower fence of this hill field looking for a way through.  When that failed, the worked their way back to the corner.

“I know what do”, said Cherokee , and headed up the hill.  Only it was not the gate he sought, but a vantage point.  “Cock-a-doodle” he exclaimed at the top of his voice.  Tina and MMJ looked at each other with world weary expressions.

However, this “cock-a-doodle-do” was, in fact, heard by myself as I set off to walk the dogs.  Not realising it was a cry for help, I simply congratulated Cherokee for his derring do as I walked past.

Nevertheless, knowing animals’ propensity for getting trapped in field corners, I decided to keep an eye on them.  Even our dogs can’t figure out what do when they find themselves in that same corner.  In fact, only the sheep seem to have the ability to work out how to get around via gates.

emergency hen gate
emergency hen gate

I alerted Mrs D and she thought it might be a good idea to lead them back.  Off she set with some corn to lead them through the gate.  The intrepid trio started to follow but, about half way up the hill, they decided they were going the wrong way and turned back down.   They did not realise they were being rescued.  MMJ lost patience and, without thinking, flew over the higher fence which was topped with barbed wire into the garden area. Observing this from the kitchen window, I headed out and picked up some tools and some wood.  It was time to build an emergency exit.  On the way, I shepherded MMJ back into the run via a handy gate.  Not a cluck of thanks, mind you.

Arriving at the field corner, I knocked together a chicken door and installed it in the corner of the fence.  Now, all they had to do was walk through.

But no, Cherokee decided that standing in front of it was far better.  I headed off to make lunch.  Mrs D tried to coax them through to no avail.  In the end, she returned for a more tempting snack than corn – mealworms.  That worked, Tina was straight through but Cherokee took his time before following.

By now the other hens had spotted possible tasty treats being dispensed and were on their way up.  Thankfully, Mrs D led them all back to their run and all were able to relax.

Hopefully on future hen walks, they will be able to make use of the hen door.

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Carrot box ready

carrot box complete

We try to grow as many of the vegetables we eat as we can.  However, in the last couple of years, we have been engaged in a battle of wills with numerous pests.  We have managed to outwit the birds and the butterflies with netting, but the slugs still do a significant amount of damage.

carrot box construction
Boring out the carrot tubes

Last year, we had to keep replanting.  While the kale grew strong enough to cope with some slug damage, the rest of the crops that managed to get beyond seedlings fared badly.  In the end, we rescue a few beetroot, a reasonable crop of turnips and some badly mauled carrots.  There had to be a better way.

I had seen, on the TV, a programme about allotments in which carrots were grown in tubes.  Nicole did some research and found that while this was possible, they could easily overheat on sunny days.  The most promising solution was to build a box, fill it with sand and then bore out vertical tubes with a drainpipe.  These tubes could be filled with compost.  Undersoil slugs and snails would not be able to get through the sand thus the carrots should be safe.  The sand would also retain moisture and stay cool on hot days.

The box itself was fairly straightforward to construct (see stopping slugs and snails).  However, boring out the sand tubes was a bit more tricky.  It was quite hard to get the sand to stay in the tube. Sometimes it worked, sometimes half of the sand fell out back into the tube. It turned into quite an art getting the tube the right depth. One trick was to push the drainpipe in and then pack the sand down inside the pipe.  It took time.

Our addition to the design was to make “socks” into which the compost could go.  By doing this, we could pull out the old compost each year and replace it with new compost.  That’s the plan anyway.  We used the sleeves that you can by for underground drainage pipes.  These sleeves are built to let water through but not silt – perfect.  They will also act as an additional slug barrier.

carrot box complete
carrot box complete

By putting the sock into a piece of drainpipe, filling it, placing the drainpipe (and compost) into the hole, the pipe could be slid out leaving the compost tube in place.  This process worked well but was time consuming.  It took hours to do all 36 tubes.

We haven’t planted the actual carrots yet – the weather is a bit frosty right now.  We reckon they’ll be planted mid to late April.

Once planted, we’ll tie some carrot netting around the top to keep the more intrepid slugs and snails at bay.  Once the carrots are growing, it will be fine to remove the netting.  I’ll post updates as the year pans out so that you can follow the progress. Who knows, you may even be inspired to try this approach too.

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Sheep vaccinations go well

sheep waiting for vaccination

One of the annual responsibilities we have as smallholders is to vaccinate the sheep.  Each year, they get an injection of Heptavac.  The interesting challenge is how best to do it without getting the sheep overexcited.  We have, in the past, used sheep nuts to misidrect them while they are injected, but then the rest of the flock gather round barging each other trying to get in.  Last year, in all the argy bargy, Ymogen suffered a broken jaw.  This year, we were determined to avoid that kind of accident.

We also had to make sure the wiser of our sheep did not clock what was going on and keep well clear.  Bluemli, particularly, can tell when we are up to something and will stay well clear of any pens.

We hatched our plans.  First, all the sheep were gathered into the shed.  This involved a little bribery in the form of sheep nuts.  However, these were in a trough so they were all able to get some.

We built a small pen right outside the shed with a sliding door, well a sheep hurdle we could move out of the way, to let them in.  They all lined up to see what we were up to (see picture).  On opening the entrance, the first sheep obligingly stepped through.  I held them tight while Nicole administered the injection.  It went like clockwork.  Each time we opened the pen, a sheep wandered in, got their injection and was ushered out into the paddock.

One or two sheep tried to play the bucking bronco card, but all in all it was very peaceful.  So peaceful, in fact, that the vaccinated sheep gathered round to watch their colleagues getting injected.

All in all, it took about an hour do vaccinate our 19 sheep.  We retired for a cuppa very pleased with ourselves.

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Next year’s firewood

log pile chopped

Our heating runs mainly on wood.  We have a woodburner which also acts as a boiler.  This means we can get through a fair amount of wood each winter.  In turn, this means much chopping of logs.

logs being sawn During the winter of 2018/19, a number of trees blew down in thw winter storms.  These were gathered last spring and left in a pile awaiting action.  So, in a break in the relentlessly damp, rainy winter, I blew the dust off the chainsaw, managed to get it started and set to work.  The first task was to chop all the branches into log lengths.  This always takes longer than you’d think, but eventually, the branches were transformed into choppable logs.

These then needed to be transported to the house about 400 meteres away.  For this, I used the tractor – the logs were loaded into the front loader.  The best part is that at the house, I could just tip them out (rather than manually unloading them).

log pile chopped
logs all split

That done, I rested a few days.  It turned into a few weeks as the rain just kept coming.  Finally, a dry day arrived.  We share ownership of a petrol powered log splitter betweem three of the houses here.  I got that out and set it up.  Even with that, it took most of the morning to split all the logs.

I needed another rest after that which was a mistake because back came the rain.  Thankfully, with spring approaching, drier weather was forcing its way through and a couple of days later, I got the wheelbarrow out and put the logs into the woodshed.  They’ll be there till they dry out, ready for burning.

The downside is that I need to cut another two piles around the same size, so I will be coppicing some willow in the next week or so.  In the meantime, I have planted around 1,500 trees so we should be carbon neutral.

log pile stored
logs neatly stacked
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New book published

We are pleased to announce that Adrian’s new book, “This Smallholding Life”.  Drawing on the experiences of moving from suburban to smallholding living, this book highlights the highs and lows of this lifestyle.

Written as a practical guide for those thinking of making a move, it combines true life experience of smallholding life with practical ideas on what needs to be done and how to generate an income.

It is available on Amazon and also via our own shop.

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Storms blow wall down

storm damaged stone dyke

While the weather has been generally mild this winter, we recently were hit by a sequence of storms, one after another.  It got pretty windy at times.

dry stone dyke repairs underway
repairs underway

The wind was so strong that it actually blew over a section of dry stone wall.  This is the second time this has happened.  The first time we could see that a post, next to the wall and tied to a nearby bush, might have been blown back and forth thus dislodging the stones.  However, this section of wall was far from any trees or bushes.  We can only surmise that it had become unstable.  It is certainly an old section of wall.

Luckily, this week, we have had a few dry(ish) days.  The first time this year that we’ve had more than one dry day in a row, or so it seems.  Given there are sheep in this field, repairs were a bit of a priority.  Not as urgent as it sounds as the field the other side is also ours.  But sheep being sheep, the might try to climb on it while it is unstable.  Doesn’t bear thinking about.

Nevertheless, I got to work quickly.  With a collapse like this, all the stones are handily placed next to the wall which helps a lot.  That said, they do need to be sorted and moved out of the way.

Once all the fallen stones were cleared, I could see that the wall had basically tipped and one side had completely collapsed.  That meant I had to take it all apart almost to ground level.  That done, it was fairly straightforward to rebuild it.

The top always takes longer though.  As you get nearer the top, there are less stones to choose from. Also, they were quite big making them tricky to stack and heavy to lift (you really only want to lift them once).   It’s also important to get the top stones lined up, otherwise it can look a bit shoddy.  Towards the end, you spend more time thinking than lifting.  Anyway, we are happy with the result.  The sheep even came over to have a look!

dry stone dyke repaired
dry stone dyke repaired
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Stopping Slugs and Snails

carrot box

Last year, we planted a lot of carrots, beetroot, parsnips and turnips (swedes to non Scots).  As root crops, these are best sown direct as they don’t like to be transplanted.  They all germinated quite happily, then it rained and the slugs and snails had the lot.  We planted a second batch in pots and planted those out.  The slugs and snails had those too.

So, we planted a third batch in pots and surrounded the seedlings with wool when planting them out.  This saved about half the carrots and most of the turnips and beetroot.  Only one parsnip survived.

carrot box
carrot box newly built

What we couldn’t see is that, underground, the carrots were slowly being eaten away.  In the end, the harvest was not only poor, it was time consuming cleaning, cutting and preparing what was left.  They all went into soup.

There had to be a better way, we thought.  Slug pellets are all very well, but they are not that effective and certainly don’t stop the undersoil pests.  Nicole did some research and found what we call a carrot box.  The one pictured right is such a beast.

On the first non rainy/windy/snowly/sleety day ths year, I fetched the power saw out of hibernation and got to work.  I managed to build it just before the next sleet shower hit.

Now, it may just look like a wooden box, and, well, it is.  However, the trick is to fill it with sand.  Undersoil slugs and snails cannot get through the sand.

carrot box half full
carrot box half full

Once full of sand, the next step is to “drill” out holes with a drainpipe.  These holes can then be filled with compost into which carrots can be sown.  This can’t be done immediately.  The fresh sand will be loose and unstable.  So, we have to wait a few weeks for the rain to cause the sand to settle into a more compact state.  Then we can get planting.

We’ll also tie netting around the top to stop slugs and snails cruising up the walls and over the sand to snaffle the young seedlings.

The net result is we’ll be planting fewer carrots but hope to get a bigger crop.  If it works, we may build another one and, perhaps, one for parsnips too.

The box needed a lot of sand, by my calculation about half a ton. We had two large, half used bags of sand from previous projects and it looked like we’d have enough.   However, we used it all up and although the carrot box looks full (see below), once it settles we’ll probably have to add more.  Ironically, we’ll then be taking a lot of it out again to make the planting tubes.  But, if it works, we’ll be very happy indeed.

carrot box full of sand
carrot box full of sand

 

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Winter comings and goings

snowscape

Up until recently, the winter weather has not been too bad.  It hasn’t been too good either, but from a smallholding perspective, it has been OK.  By that, I mean it has been relatively warm.  That means that the grass has continued to grow, albeit slowly.  In turn, this means the sheep have eaten less hay which in turn has meant less work for us.

However, it has also been unrelentingly dull.  Cloudy, damp days.  That’s one reason there has been such a gap between blog entries, it has been much more tempting to curl up in front of the fire with a book.

In fact, I think we have had only two or three properly frosty days.

trees planted at auchenstroanLately, it has been stormy, wet and cold.  Again, it’s hard to get much done when it’s blowing a gale and raining at the same time.  The ground is soaking.  At least, living on a hillside, we don’t get flooding here, but there has been a lot of standing water.  The rivers have been raging too.

The last couple of weeks have brought some snow, but the weather doesn’t seem to be able to make up it’s mind, one minute it’s snowing, then it’s raining.

yzzi in the snow
Yzzi in the snow

I think it’s fair to say the sheep have not been impressed by the weather.  They have spent many a night sheltering from the torrential rain and wind in the shelter.  While that keeps them warm and dry, they also get bored.  However, they are not keen to head out into the hills when the weather is so bad.  They just nip out, grab some hay and then it’s quickly back in to chew the cud.  Nicole has, on occasion, also been giving them hay in the shed.  They quite like that, eating a little before trampling it into the ground.

However, when the rain has eased off, they have been out and about.  Selene is getting quite good at leading them off first thing and bringing them back around four in time for a hay top-up.

That all said, today it has cleared up and the sun is shining brightly.  The wind is light.  Bliss.  I took the opportunity to plant some more trees.  That’s about 450 this year, 250 of those being willow cuttings.  I hope they grow strong and healthy.

firewoodIt’s also the time of year to cut future firewood.  We still have some tree trunks lying around from last year’s coppicing and they’ll be the first to be chopped.  Then it will be into the willow wood to take out the damaged and fallen trees and maybe do a bit of coppicing.  Then, we’ll see where we are.  Hopefully in the not too distant future, some of the trees planted this year and last year will be ready for coppicing themselves.

Aside from that, Hoggy, our resident overwintering hedgehog is doing fine and blissfully unaware of the outdoor conditions.  Her outdoor residence awaits, but it has been too cold to release her.  In the meantime, she amuses herself by turning everything in her run upside down.

 

 

hoggy the hedgehog
hoggy the hedgehog

 

 

 

 

 

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Hoggy update

hoggy the hedgehog

In November last year, I happened upon a tiny hedgehog out foraging.  At just over 300g, she was too small to survive the winter so we brought her in so that she could overwinter indoors (see Spending the Winter Indoors).  Had we not done so, she would have perished.

Over the first few days, Hoggy put on weight at a phenomenal rate.  Now, two months later, she is approaching 800g and so we have to be careful not to let her get fat.  Indeed, we have been considering releasing her early.  This can be done if the overnight temperatures stay above 5o for a week.  In preparation, we have turned her heaters off so can get used to it being a little cooler.   I say cooler, but it still averages around 14o in her indoor home, a good 10o warmer than outside.

January has been pretty mild, as it happens, but just not quite warm enough.  On top of that, the rain has been relentless so we are now looking at a February release.  A deluxe hedgehog house has been purchased so she’ll have good shelter (if she chooses to use it).  I’m also repairing the hedgehog feeding station (cat and dog proof) so we can leave her food to help her get established outdoors again.

In the meantime, despite the strong temptation to sit with her on our laps, we handle her as little as possible.  We change her bedding regularly and that is the only time we pick her up.  It takes much willpower as she is undeniably cute and, for a hedgehog, incredibly tolerant of being handled.

 

#hedgehogrescue #rurallife #galloway #hedgehog #hedgehogs

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New Trees Planted

auchenstroan trees planted

As the new year gets underway, one of the first tasks to be done was to plant the trees I had bought in the autumn.  Each year, we buy bare root trees which are planted during the winter months.  While we already have quite a large area of woodland, you can never have too many trees.  As well as creating excellent wildlife habitats, they provide interest and also, hopefully, some winter wood.  We have planted a lot of hazel which is a tree that benefits from coppicing.  The plan is to used the coppiced wood to keep us warm in the winter (rather than the oil central heating).

new woodland at auchenstroanThe planting itself took a bit longer than normal as there are a lot of stones round here.  More often than not, the spade would hit a stone a few centimetres down.  This meant a lot of probing around to find a gap so as to make a hole deep enough for the roots.

It was also quite wet.  We have had a lot of rain and some areas just soak up the water coming off the hills.  Fortunately, we had bought hardy trees used to damp, Scottish weather, so hopefully they will thrive.  The really wet areas we’ll let willow self seed.  Also, I had a new pair of wellies which was just as well as the old ones had sprung a leak.

Last year, we planted about 50 trees.  This year I got a bit carried away and bought 140 trees.  More work, but it’s worth it.

oak tree at auchenstroanWe have added the trees to three areas, down near the bottom of our patch (top photo) and then bordering a large area that we have earmarked as a wildlife area.

At the same time, I rescued two oak trees from our fields.  Oak is poisonous to sheep so it’s not a good idea to have them in the pasture.  They probably won’t eat the leaves, but the acorns could prove tempting.

The cows, however, helped themselves and both trees show the signs of major cow damage.  Now, away from nibbling teeth, they should thrive.

Now, it’s just about watching them grow.

 

 

#treesplanting #woodland #scotland #rurallife #wildlifefriend