Posted on Leave a comment

Making hay while the sun shines

Although much of our land here is woodland and wild, we still have a fair amount of pasture and that means a lot of grass.  Too much for our small band of sheep.  So, we thought we’d make hay this year.  Small bale hay is getting harder to get hold of and is quite expensive round here.  Luckily, one of our neighbours has the correct mower and baler and we have a hay bob.

Planning when to do this in SW Scotland is easier said than done.  Continuous sunny weather is not that common.  Having missed one window, the forecast was looking good for this week with clear days showing from Sunday onwards.  So, we booked him in to cut the hay on Monday.  Of course on Sunday, the forecast changed to show heavy rain on Wednesday.  But we decided to go ahead, the forecast is always changing here.

tedding the newly cut rows
tedding the newly cut rows

Monday was a glorious sunny day, perfect for making hay.  Our neighbour with tractor and mower arrived and once everything was set up (our second hand hay bob proving a bit troublesome), off we went.

The rows in the first field were soon cut and I was off, tedding for the first time in my life!  I soon had the knack of getting the hay bob at the right angle – too low and it starts churning up the ground, too high and it misses the grass.  The first time is easy as the rows are clearly delineated.  It gets harder after that as the grass spreads wider.  Also, as the grass gets drier and fluffier and the wind picks up, it can drift all over the place.

hay rowed up
hay rowed up

Nevertheless, over the course of the rest of the day I managed to turn the hay three times, not helped by a wheel coming off the hay bob mid way through the afternoon.  Not the best second hand purchase I have ever made.

Next day’s forecast was cloudy and sure enough, Tuesday morning was overcast and misty.  The dew didn’t lift till well after eleven.  So, it was not till early afternoon that I could get out and carry on.  With the heavy rain forecast for Wednesday, the clock was ticking.  And now the forecast was saying rain every day till the following Monday.  What happened to the dry week that had been forecast only a few days ago?

Well I got it all turned and then ran into further trouble with the hay bob, moving the hines to rowing up position was really hard.  It took two of us, a large hammer and copious amounts of WD40 but we got there.

There is something very satisfying about rowing up, driving along and turning chaotic areas of grass into tidy rows ready for baling.  And I was quite pleased with my efforts, not bad for an amateur I thought.

making hay with tractor
rowing up with tractor
making hay
making hay

It was even more satisfying watching the bales of hay emerge from the baler.  I have seen this before, I even worked on a farm in my teens and stacking bales was one of my jobs.  But when it’s your own crop, it’s special, especially the first time.

By now it was early evening and the next job was to gather all the bales in.  By now, Nicole had joined us after a full day of gardening for her clients.  We got to work, her with landrover and myself with the quad bike and trailer.

gathering hay with quad bike adrianGathering hay bales Nicole and landy

Having had only one day in the sun, the bales were quite heavy.  They were probably not quite dry enough, so we had to stack them loosely.  Each bale needed plenty of air.  So while our nice new hay shed and field hay store now have hay, they look a bit untidy.  We’ll probably leave it to dry for a few weeks before stacking it properly.  Can’t have it going mouldy after all that effort!

But around 8pm, we were finished, all the hay was under cover spread amongst various sheds.  We got a couple of cans of Guinness, got the dogs out and went over to inspect our work.  The dogs loved the newly cut area and were soon charging around.  We let the sheep into the other cut field and all 16 ewes were skipping and jumping.  There’s something special about seeing such happy animals.  Then back in for some bacon butties with good old fashioned Scottish rolls.

hay bay
Field hay storage in the new sheep “palace”

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Water system underway

water tank going in

I believe the word “Auchenstroan” comes from the Gaelic word “achadh” (field of) and the Scots verb “strone” (to make water).  So, together they kind of mean “field of springs”.  And indeed we have many little springs running through our fields.  However, they are small and temporary in nature and so cannot provide a reliable source of water for our livestock.

So, I devised a cunning plan.  Place a large underwater tank in one of the top fields, in a spring, divert some of the water into the tank and then connect all the water troughs.  Gravity should do the rest.

All seemed pretty simple, so I order the tank, pipes and connectors.

Now, I’m not so stupid as to try and dig a large hole with a spade.  One of our neighbours offered to help with his digger.  So I booked him in and the work started earlier this week.  I thought it would be fairly straightforward – dig a hole and a trench for the outflow pipe, pop it all in and fill up the holes.

Well, that’s not quite how it turned out.  Our land is riddled with rocks.  And I don’t mean garden centre rockery sized rocks.  I mean boulders!  So digging the hole took two days and we only just achieved the depth we needed before hitting an immovable rock the size of a small planet.  The trench was slightly easier, but only just – we had to hack out channels around two or three further monster rocks.

But finally we had our hole.  Only, then, of course it being a spring, it started to fill with water.  So when the tank went in, it just bobbed about.  So, we had to pin it down with the digger.

Which sort of worked, only, as the digger settled, it started to warp the tank’s tower.  But we couldn’t fill the tank with water as the base wasn’t stable.  So I started lobbing in small rocks and earth and over a period of hours, got enough in to create a stable base.  Then we tried to add water but it was too high and the water pressure in the house wasn’t up to it.  So Richard contacted a local farmer and we borrowed a 1,000 litre tank.  We filled that twice, dragged it up the hill (with a tractor and trailer) and transferred the water (that took a while).

water going in
water going in

Only then did we feel it was safe to fill in the outgoing trench.

Next day, I filled in around the tank by hand – that was a little tiring (and muddy).  Once I had enough earth and stones in, I was able to roll some rocks on top.  The legend of Sisyphus played through my mind as I struggled to do this, only, fortunately, my rocks stayed where I put them.

But, it all worked.  Then Richard returned and with his digger to help, we buried the rest of the outflow pipe (to keep it safe from hooves) and also moved a couple even bigger rocks onto the top of the tank.  I think it is now safely pinned down.

But best of all, water started weeping out into the trench I had dug and started flowing into the tank.  It works!

Now all I have to do is complete the pipework bringing the water to the troughs.  Should be straightforward…..

water tank pinned down by rocks
water tank pinned down by rocks
burying the outflow pipe
burying the outflow pipe

Posted on Leave a comment

caring for animals

two piggies

As we have found in this lifestyle, animal husbandry is the number one priority.  Animals are very bad at telling you they are not well till it’s almost too late.

Our sheep were sheared in June and Bluemli got a little nick above her eye.  We carefully sprayed it with iodine which would have been the end of it had she not then rubbed it (her eye) on the wall of the shearing shed.  Now the iodine was in her eye!  Next, her eye clouded over, then it swelled up.  We administered antibiotics and a painkiller.  But just as it seemed to be improving, it would get worse again.

As it happened, the vet had to come out for Sarka.  She has a heart problem and seemed to be having some sort of anxiety attack.  The vet administered three injections (antibiotic, painkiller and diuretic) which worked brilliantly, she even has a clean bottom now.  The vet took a look at Bluemli’s eye, told us we were doing the right thing and to carry on.  We did, bit no improvement.  So the vet popped out again and gave Bluemli an injection into her eyelid.  It was, unsurprisingly, hard keeping her still (we have since bought a contraption to help should we need to do that again).  Plus we upped the frequency of the antibiotics and painkiller and also administered an eye cream.  Poor old Bluemli, it was an injection a day, sometimes two.  She started avoiding me (as I was the one who held her still).  She we unaware it was actually Nicole giving her the jags (or jabs if you’re English).

However, it worked and her eye is almost back to normal.  We are delighted.

So why a photo of pigs above?  Well, just as we were tidying all the medicines away, we noticed one of our pigs was not eating.  The books were quite clear on this, if a pig is not eating, it’s not well.

So, on a wet Saturday evening after a particularly heavy downpour, we tried to corner her in the most muddy, slippy conditions you can imagine.  Eventually we managed it – it took three of us sneaking up with sheep hurdles and constructing a square around her.

Diagnosis, slight case of pneumonia.  In the middle of summer!  So, the vet gave her antibiotics and then told us she’d need a five day course.  He also added he was impressed with our setup and that the pigs seemed very healthy and happy (the pneumonia notwithstanding).  That was music to our ears as it’s our first time keeping pigs.

So, today we injected a pig for the first time.  Same basic principle, except for the noise.  Boy oh boy do pigs squeal when you corner them.  But, we managed it (me holding and Nicole injecting) and already she is perking up.  And she’s getting a few extra treats from Nicole, Blackcurrants plucked straight from a nearby bush proving particularly popular.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Busy times in Auchenstroan

me and pinkie

It has, as ever, been a busy spring.  On top of moving here in March, we have expanded our animals to include pigs, more sheep and we been through lambing .  And along with this, we have our day jobs plus carrying out repairs to the new house, unpacking and arranging for new bathrooms.

water tank
water tank

The sheep needed two main jobs, automated water and a shelter.  While there are many streams and springs, in the dry weather they dry up so we need to have troughs of water in each of our fields.  During dry spells, this has meant transporting 20l water carriers daily across to keep them replenished.  Thank goodness for the quad bike.  In the meantime, we have purchased a water tank, troughs and much plastic pipe.  The plan is to bury the tank near the top of the hill where a natural spring emerges.  All the troughs will be plumbed in and filled with natural spring water all powered by gravity.  We’re just waiting on a date for the man with a digger to come and dig a big hole for it.

For the shelter, we chose a central location that can be reached from most of our fields.  I ordered the bits needed to build one only to realise, when they were delivered, that it would be too small.  So, another order later, I moved all the wood and corrugated iron up to where it was needed.  At this point, the sheep were not impressed – they don’t like to see humans carrying things!

starting new sheep shelter
starting new sheep shelter

Next, it was time to build it.  On a pleasant weekend in May, I got started.  I had designed it with the support posts sunk into the ground to keep it in place in windy weather.  So, time to dig a few more holes.

And two days later, it was ready.  Fortunately, the weather had proved not to be midge friendly, so that helped a lot.

And the sheep were now suitably impressed.  They like their shelter.  The lambs especially so.  You can see the finished shed in the picture at the top.

two piggies
two piggies

Meanwhile, the pigs have been going from strength to strength.  They grow really quickly and have turned into quite large animals in a matter of weeks  And this despite our scales being wrong and causing us to underfeed them for a bit.  Amazingly, they have not trashed their entire pen.  Perhaps it’s because they are quite large.  Perhaps it’s because the Kune Kunes are more grazers than diggers.  Or, perhaps, they like gardening.  At one point it seemed like they had a nice area of lawn, a flower bed full of blooms and a digging area.  Since the recent rain, however, the digging are has expanded.  We may get next year’s potato planting area yet.

hay shed posts
hay shed posts

Hay cutting will be upon us shortly but the hay shed is still under construction.  I need to order some smaller planks as I can’t make it as deep as I’d hoped due to the hill behind it.  Seemed a shame to trim the planks to make them fit.  They are now earmarked for another project (see below).

And now we have decided to change our minds and lamb next year.  So a whole lambing complex with decent shed and paddock in front of the house is on the drawing board.  It will be great having the shed close to the house and being able to keep an eye on the lambs through the kitchen window.  All I have to do now is build it!

 

Posted on 1 Comment

Settling in to Auchenstroan

It has been 3 weeks since we moved here and we are finally beginning to feel more settled.  Of course, there’s loads of work to do and on top of that, lambing is about to begin and we are also expecting our first pigs.  But first, s picture tour of our new place.

Auchenstroan Cottage
Auchenstroan Cottage

Our house is gently nestled into the hillside.  We have great views in all directions.  We can see our hens and pigs and sometimes the sheep from our kitchen.

We have a garden front and back and are busy sorting out and enlarging our veggie patch.  Nicole, as I write this, is in the greenhouse starting this year’s planting.

We have plenty to do, the house came with some unwelcome residents, woodworm and some damp.  That is being sorted this week.  And we also are planning to put in a guest bathroom and an en-suite for us a second “utility” room with fridges and freezers (for all our produce).

Our animals love it.  The hens have a large area to patrol along with a new hen house and automatic door opening/closing device which is great.  The sheep have so much space now that they can fulfill their natural desire to roam.

happy sheep
happy sheep
happy sheep
happy sheep

Plus the dogs have settled in.  They spend much of the day outside now.  They have befriended Maga, our neighbour’s collie and roam our patch doing their thing, a bit of guard duty, a bit of exploring and also a bit of trying to get the humans to play ball.

dogs playing
dogs playing

And also, a bit of playing together which is great to watch.

Maga by the river
Maga by the river

And we have plenty of wildlife.  The ponds were overflowing with frogs only a few days ago.  Sadly, this attracts the herons, but nature is like that.  Harsh!

As well as the house and fields, we have two newly planted woodlands and two rivers, a small loch and numerous burns.

new woodland
new woodland

We are especially pleased about one of the woodlands as we had planted something of the region of 1,000 trees in our last place in Somerset.  This is one job we won’t have to do again.  The other woodland is an area where most trees were recently felled and it has been replanted.

Nevertheless, we added another 50 or so trees, some oaks we had brought up with us plus other various trees we found lying about.

And we are looking forward to picnics by the river in the summer.

So, all in all, we are really happy with our new home.  And once all the work is done, we might get all the boxes emptied.  But then, lambing is about to begin….

Wart and Wallace, our tups
Wart and Wallace, our tups
frogs spawning
frogs spawning

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Lambing is on at Auchenstroan

When we decided to move last summer, we spent a lot of time discussing whether we could lamb or not.  Aside from ensuring the welfare of the sheep, there were all sort of logistical considerations to overcome.  In the end, we decided it would be best to skip a year.  We were disappointed but at the same time, philosophical as we knew it would be for the best.

Then, just before we were about to move, we spotted a post in the Ryeland Flock Book Society facebook page – for sale, coloured ryeland ewes in lamb.  They were not cheap, but it was a chance to lamb.  And they were in Yorkshire, not close, but not too far away from Auchenstroan either.  We decided to get 3.  We duly paid a deposit and arranged to collect them after we had moved.  They are not due till late April so we had plenty of time.

The day before collection, Nicole hitched the trailer to Landy and set off to Harbro for lambing supplies.  Of course, they asked her to reverse into the shed, a maneouvre that, by all accounts, didn’t go quite to plan.  However, back at Auchenstroan, undaunted, Nicole drove back and forth with the trailer in order to move all our hay out of the lambing shed.  By the end of it, she was a dab hand at trailer driving.

So, the Friday following our move, after our marathon journeys up the motorways, we headed off with dogs and trailer to Yorkshire.  It was a dreich, windy day and not that pleasant on the A66 as we crossed the Pennines.  The A1(M) was a bit busy too, but eventually, we found ourselves at the Millbridge Farm.  A nice place with all sorts of animals, sheep, pigs, goats, turkeys, chickens, all milling about.

Of course, the first thing he said was “reverse your trailer up here”.  Basically, through gate, round the corner, past some farm machinery, up a narrowing lane avoiding a hay stack and up to a smallish gate.  I looked at Nicole aware of her new found mastery of reversing trailers.  She just smiled and said “good luck” or words to that effect.  Well, unbelievably, I managed it.  It seems we are both becoming more adept at maneuvering trailers.

Anyway, we met all his coloured ryelands and picked our three.  We have a triplet, a double and a single.  We loaded them up, dealt with the paperwork and off we headed, back to Auchenstroan.  The weather was even more dreich and windy on the way back and a bit nerve racking up in the hills.  Nevertheless, we made it back, Nicole driving the second half giving me a much needed rest.

And the girls arrived safe and sound and were coaxed into their temporary home, the lambing shed.  And they are quite content.  We are giving them plenty of attention and handling and they are starting to enjoy it.  Ursi, the eldest, is already quite precocious, Vi started out very shy, but now approaches us happily as does Vera who started out most perturbed by the dogs, but has now realised they pose no threat.  And lambing is on for this year – yippee!

Ursi Vera and Vi
Ursi Vera and Vi
Posted on Leave a comment

Our Move to Auchenstroan

After weeks of waiting and planning, it was time for the move.  This was actually split into two moves, the first moving the animals and the second all our house stuff.  I had got my qualification enabling me to move the sheep that distance.  We have too few to get hauliers interested and we also liked the idea of moving them ourselves.

sheep trailer at the ready
sheep trailer at the ready

So, I hired a larger trailer to ensure the girls would be comfortable and we set up our own trailer to move the two boys.  Our plan was to travel overnight so as to avoid the worst of the traffic.  It is also a bit cooler at night and hopefully the sheep would sleep most of the way.  I don’t think either of us were really looking forward to this drive, Somerset to Scotland.  This was particularly true of Nicole who, only a few years ago, struggled even to drive on a motorway (let alone hundreds of miles up one – with a trailer).

We packed up all the animal feeds, spare water and a number of emergency items.  Just in case!  Our worst nightmare was breaking down and going over the 8 hour limit.  But we’d done what we could, the trailer and both the cars serviced.  Also, the trailer hire people (Boulter Mead) were great, they hired me a trailer which would suit my freelander (which has a pulling limit of 1.9 tons).  The Landy Defender would have no trouble with our 8ft trailer and its two passengers.

sheep waiting for move
sheep waiting for move

We had brought the sheep into the shed a couple of days before and given them an anti worm medication as directed by our vet.  We held them in quarantine in the shed.  They seemed pretty relaxed about it all.

Around 9pm, we got started.  First we loaded the chickens.  They had pride of place on my front passenger seat, albeit in a box.  Then we loaded the two boys.  Months of constant handling and halter training paid off big time as they were  safely tucked up in minutes.

Then we loaded the girls two at a time, again using the halter.  This was not as easy as it sounds as once we had some girls in, then when the next two were brought to the trailer, those in thought it a good idea to try and get out!  Still, it wasn’t long before they were all tucked up too (sheep nuts are just too tempting for them).  They were split into two bays of 5 for their own comfort.

Soon, we were off.  In convoy, we headed across Somerset towards the M5.  Of course, the first motorway sign told us the M5 was closed further up.  In fact, the M5 was closed and also the M6 in two places.  The diversions were not too bad, just follow the lorries!  That said, the diversion that took us through Birmingham was not much fun.  I spent much time checking my mirrors to make sure I didn’t lose Nicole at a roundabout or traffic lights.  Nicole stuck to me like glue.  And the diversion signs were almost non-existent.

However, there were no traffic jams and, despite the closures and diversions, we made good progress.  I had to stop twice for fuel as my car was just drinking the stuff.  We just about managed 55mph so most of the lorries were overtaking us.  But, we got here, just as dawn was rising.  I parked the trailer in the field leaving myself a tricky reverse to attempt later.  Nicole parked on the track just outside the gate.

We led the two boys up into their new field.  Having been used to, at most, 3/4 of an acre, they now have about 5 acres to themselves.  Even now, they are still exploring it a little at a time.  Then out popped the girls, quite happy and started immediately tucking into the fresh grass.  They too were led to their new pasture, a hilly field with rocks, fresh water via a stream and views of the Galloway Hills.

Then, we released the hens who just instantly loved their new surroundings.  Two days later, they were merged with the resident flock and under the watchful eye of the cockerel, they settled in and made new friends.

I’ll post pictures of them in another post.

Then, after a couple of nights rest, I drove back down to take the trailer back.  I drove overnight and it was a hard drive.  I got to Bridgwater about 6:30am, slept for an hour, had a cup of tea and handed the trailer back when they opened at 8.  Then, back to West End Barn to finish the packing.

Everything had gone really well up till now.

Moving to Auchenstroan
lorry gets stuck

First, the removal lorry was delayed due to a wheel problem.  Then, when it did arrive, it slipped off the drive and nearly into the pond.  It was too soft to dig out.  Things were not looking good.  Luckily I knew a man with a tractor.  To be honest, I knew a few of the farmers, so I started ringing round.

I got lucky.  One had just got back and he came straight round.  I have to say, I could not believe how easily the tractor pulled the lorry out.  It was over in seconds.  To say we were all relieved would be an understatement.  The guys worked really hard to catch up.  They didn’t get it all done on the Monday, so we walked down to the pub for a beer and a decent feed, then finished it in the morning. By midday they were gone.

tractor to the rescue
tractor to the rescue

I had a lot of cleaning to do!

By mid afternoon, I was on my way.  I was really lucky with the traffic and was reunited with Mrs D later that evening.

Next day, the lorry arrived and we unloaded it.  Again, the removals guys worked really hard.  By 6:30pm we were done.

The move was finished, well almost, the tractor and gypsy caravan are not here, but those are other stories…

nearly packed
nearly packed