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.
OK, so I was out and about as usual around 8:30pm on a cold November evening when I saw the human and two dogs approaching. I wasn’t that worried as I’d seen them before and they always keep a respectful distance. However, this time, the human came over, crouched down and then PICKED ME UP!
“What’s going on?” I thought. Next thing, I’d been whisked to a place I’d never been before full of straight lines and strange smells. That said, it was lovely and warm and, truth be told, I was feeling a bit cold. I suppose that’s why I hadn’t curled up into my protective ball.
Anyway, there I was perched on the humans hands listening to the humans babbling on about something. I was a bit peckish and I was offered some food, but I was too distracted to eat anything. In fact, I was quite enjoying sitting in those warm, toasty hands. I even flattened myself out a bit so I could get maximum warmth into my feet and tummy. It was lovely.
Next thing, I’m being put into a dog crate. Well, I’m not having that I thought to myself. I waited a few moments and then sized up the bars. I could squeeze through them, I thought, so that’s just what I did. Only, I got halfway through and got stuck. Luckily, the humans cut me free and I was back in those warm toasty hands. Lovely.
I was soon quite warmed up and now the humans, having learned from their mistake, put me in a nice big box with lots of fresh hay, food and water. I scoffed the food and settled down for a siesta. I was a bit tired as it has been quite cold of late and so food has been a bit scarce. A full tummy was just great and I felt really sleepy.
Next day, I was moved into a larger area. It’s plastic so I don’t think I’ll be getting out in a hurry, but I now have my own little bedroom and a steady supply of food and water. I get cleaned out every day which can a bit of a pain, but there’s nothing quite like snuggling back into clean fresh hay.
It’s a lot warmer than outside, so, you know, though I don’t have as much space as I’d like, I’m quite happy really. Plus I’ve put on nearly 100g in just three days so that’s pretty good too.
It is our custom to take the dogs out in the evening to give them a chance to pee before bedtime. Often, we have been lucky enough to see a hedgehog. Given they are having a hard time of it, we feel quite privileged.
The other night, I spotted one in front of me and stooped for a look. I realised it looked quite small. Hedgehogs need to weigh at least 600g or they cannot hibernate. If they can’t hibernate, then they can’t make it through the winter. I know this because many years ago, I used to overwinter underweight hedgehogs quite often. At that time I had close links with Tiggywinkles wildlife hospital which was, back then, a set of sheds in a suburban back garden. These days it’s a fully equipped purpose built wildlife hospital (Tiggywinkles).
Anyway, I scooped up this little critter and took it back inside. Sure enough, it weighed only 300g. It would need warm winter quarters. On the positive side, it looked pretty healthy and there were no ticks or fleas that I could see.
The problem was, we didn’t have anything suitable to keep it in. All the rabbit hutches were long gone. While I sat warming up the wee hedgehog, Nicole scoured the house for a suitable container. Eventually, one of us remembered we had set aside a large cardboard box. Handing the wee hedgehog over to Nicole, I set about transforming the box into a temporary hedgehog home.
Making plenty of airholes and also ensuring it was escape proof, we put in dog food, water and plenty of hay. In my experience, hedgehogs make Harry Houdini look like a beginner when it comes to escaping.
Next day, we set off to get a better home. The box was fine but it would only last one, maybe two nights before it gave in to the relentless soaking from hedgehog wee. First stop was the only pet warehouse in the area, a mere 45 minutes drive. It had rabbit hutches, but these days they are multi level house shaped obstacle courses. I just wanted something with an area for a nest and and area for night time wandering. The only one they had which might have been OK wasn’t in stock.
So, next followed a trip to a country store and then a garden centre. Plenty of pet homes, but nothing suitable at all. This was not going well. So, I did what I maybe should have done in the first place, I sat in the car, got my phone out and went onto a hedgehog rescue site to look for ideas. Well, rabbit hutches are out, the new des res for an overwintering hedgehog is a large, deep plastic box. Thank you Hedgehog Rescue for that idea. I would never have thought of that.
Googling plastic boxes pointed me to Homebase where, after a long and gently dispiriting search (Homebase is not what it used to be) I found a massive plastic box and a rather attractive green bucket that would make the perfect nest box. I nearly did a little skip, but being from Edinburgh, I didn’t.
In fact we jumped in the car and headed speedily home to set it all up. And it has worked perfectly, a good nest box, enough room for food and water and space to do a bit of roaming. And it’s not far from a radiator for warmth.
Now it’s all about keeping it clean and providing plenty of food and water.
Oh, and if you are wondering why there’s no photo of the wee hedgehog, it’s because it has had a stressful enough experience already so we are trying to leave it in peace as much as possible. We’ll probably take a picture when we next weigh it in a week or so’s time.
Well, what can I say – February had some unusually warm weather with bright, warm sunny days. It was lovely, even if it was a sign of underlying climate change. We took full advantage including getting in some early seed sowing. We now have brassicas and turnips germinating in the greenhouse. This is helped by the fact that I laid in an electric cable and installed a small tube heater to keep the frost at bay. And those warm February days did turn pretty chilly at night.
The next thing that happened was that suddenly, there were frogs everywhere. The frog chorus met at the pond and started singing their hearts out. Driving up the track at night suddenly became an exercise in frog spotting followed by evasive manoeuvres (or Nicole getting out of the car and helping them to safety). We think we have done quite well because there are no flat frogs on the track. That said, the herons are back. I suppose it’s an early spring feast for them.
The question is, were they a bit early? Because, after the warm spell, storm Freya hit. Torrential rain, wind and it all turned a bit chilly. I don’t think the frogs minded the rain so much. The sheep and hens are not impressed though. The area around the sheep field shelter and feeders has become something of a quagmire. Good job they have a patio! That said, one of the great things here is that they can trundle up the hill where the ground is remarkably solid. They can escape the mud and they do, happily grazing (the grass is growing already) and cudding and generally just being sheep.
Storm Freya continues to wag her tail at us as I write this, but inbetween the rain and blustery winds, we are at least getting moments of sunshine.
And after writing this, I’ll be off to plant more seeds.
I have always been one for feeding the birds. I really enjoy watching them tucking in, feasting, squabbling, all the usual behaviours. I try hard to cater for the various types of birds, some are happy on feeders, some like the table and some prefer to be on the ground. And different birds have their preferences on types of food.
So, we have two feeding stations, one catering mainly for the tit family (peanuts and seeds) and one for finches and siskins (niger seed and peanuts). I also made a large quantity of bird cake, pictured above, as most birds are omnivores and a bit of fat goes a long way in the cold weather.
These feeding stations have proven very popular, especially with coal tits. The dunnocks and chaffinces mop up what is dropped to the ground. We also have regular visits from a pair of nuthatches and a great spotted woodpecker.
On the ground, we still have windfall (apples) which are most popular with the blackbirds and the occasional visit from the ever shy and retiring fieldfare. Strangely, no sign of siskins as yet – they were regular visitors last winter.
The bird cake is very popular.
Robins, well they are aplenty here, but prefer me to do a bit of digging or feed them mealworms directly. One particular robin appears every time I go out so he gets his own special delivery.
Running our wee patch organically, we get some pretty good wildlife. The swallows are back, albeit a little late, but are back nesting in both our large shed and our smaller open garage. In the latter, the nest is just above head height. If you look closely at the picture above, you can see four baby swallows. There are certainly plenty of flying insects here for their parents to catch.
Up in one of the fields, we have a large area of ragged robin. According to the UK’s wildlife trusts, this is an increasingly rare site, so we feel quite privileged.
We’ll keep it safe from the cows until it has seeded.
The tadpoles are long hatched and over the last few days, we have had to tread carefully as there are baby frogs are everywhere. Makes cutting the grass a worrying task!
Sadly, we don’t seem to have the sand martins this year. There is some evidence of tunneling, but no sign of nests yet. Also, the house martins have chosen not to build their nest on our house this year. Oh well! Maybe next year.
We also caught a quick glimpse of a lizard on one of our stone dykes. First time I’ve ever seen one in Scotland.
The bats are regular visitors. I have only seen Pipistrelles flying round the house and garden. I really ought to blow the dust off the bat detector and head down to the loch to see if there are any other species of bat flying around.
Thankfully, there has been no sign of the badger returning. We like badgers, but not when they’re in the hen house!
We had been allowing our hay to dry out and so had moved the farm equipment out of the shed to give us extra space. Having dried out, I stored it all away over the weekend.
Now, we have spotted on a fairly regular basis a young hedgehog wandering around during the day. It seems fine and has duly ignored the food we put out for it (puppy food in case you were wondering). I spotted it wandering around our large shed but thought little of it and left it to carry on.
As you probably know, hedgehogs are called hedgehogs because they like to nest in hedges. They can also be quite partial to piles of garden rubbish. I also know that they don’t tend to nest in the same place until they hibernate.
This hedgehog has not read the same books as me!
I noticed, in the middle of the shed floor, a small pile of hay and straw. I went over to look and there was the little hedgehog nesting in it. So this little hedgehog has chosen a to nest in a huge shed, maybe to keep out of the rain. It also dawned on me that it must have liked the space under the drying out bales of hay.
So, I put some bales round to keep it warm and safe. The spot is marked by an arrow in the picture above.
And all the farming equipment remains out in the rain.
The sun is shining today, though there are plenty clouds around. One of the things we have found here is that the weather is pretty variable and the forecasts also vary day to day. This makes haymaking something of a lottery.
The day we chose to cut our hay was the second in what was forecast to be a few days of dry weather. Of course, it rained two days later. We got our hay in but it wasn’t quite ready, still a bit green. It has been stacked loosely so that it can dry a bit more. One field turned out to be drier and that hay is now stacked away. However, the other bales soon heat up if stacked, so now they are leaning against each other with plenty of air circulating.
The new hay shed is looking good, though, we are very happy with that.
Our animals have been keeping us busy. One of the pigs (Ant or Dec) went off her food and looked a little bit out of kilter. Of course, it was the weekend and a long discussion regarding whether to call the vet ensued. The pig keeping book, however, was quite adamant – if a pig is not eating, it’s not well. So, on a rainsoaked Saturday evening under power shower rain, the three of us, in our wellies and waterproofs, tried to corner the afore-mentioned pig in what was now a sea of slippery, watery mud. Of course, she had seemingly recovered and was equally intent on not being cornered. Fortunately, she stopped for a breather and we carefully constructed a pen with sheep hurdles around her. Diagnosis was possibly pneumonia, so a quick shot of antibiotics was administered.
Then the vet dropped his wee bombshell, she needed a five day course. I say bombshell because, with sheep, it’s just the one injection and also we had never tried giving pigs a jag up till now. So, next day, we caught her in a pen we constructed outside the pig arc and managed, without too much ado, to giver her second shot. Day three, she was wise to this and in an instant sent the sheep hurdles flying. No more jags! Fortunately, she has recovered well.
Next up was Scarlett, one of our ewes. She had taken to spending a lot of her time in the shelter. After this went on for a few days, we started to suspect something was wrong. We had already checked her over and she was alert, would get up and come over, but she was always in the shed.
So, she too was tempted into a pen (using sheep nuts). The fact that she was eating was a good sign. We inspected her all over for maggots – nothing. Not flystrike then. We were puzzled and about to let her go when Nicole spotted her ear – basically, the area around her ear tag was infected.
So, we had to get the ear tag out. This proved quite hard. We wanted her not to suffer, but we couldn’t get cutters in to snip it. Luckily, following Bluemli’s eye injection, we had purchased a headstock. So we fetched that and secured Scarlett. She could still move, but all we now had to do was control the head, not the whole sheep. Using wire cutters, we snipped the main part of the tag away. Then, while trying to get into the bit that went through the ear, Scarlett shook her had and out the tag popped. That was a relief I can tell you. So we administered iodine to clean the wound and an antibiotic in case the infection had spread.
She’s looking better, but still a bit attached to her shed!
Our 13 chickens are growing. We can’t believe that they have all survived. Their mother, Mrs Mills, has basically been living rough for three months so they are not inside the safety of a hen house. Plus, there are cats that live around and plenty of buzzards and kites. On top of this, the chicks can still get out of the pen and wander far and wide including into cat territory. We suspect the presence of George, our large dog, is acting as a cat deterrent.
Anyway, with a total of 22 hens now, we needed another hen house so one was duly purchased and erected (yesterday). We also purchased the automatic door opener (they are really brilliant). This one required calibration to set the light levels so the door opens and closes at the right times. So, we were out last night amidst clouds of midges waiting for the light to fade. We thought we’d calibrate it to close around the same level of light as our existing hen house. Of course, being Scotland and a bit northerly, we have extended twilight, so it was a bit of a wait. Midge nets became essential.
Finally at around 9:45, hen house one closed and we then calibrated hen house 2 to close at the same time. Then, we rounded up Mrs Mills and her brood of 13. This was fairly easy as Nicole had set up sheep hurdles and netting to surround their camp site. All were safely transferred to their new home. Then, it was up at 5 this morning to calibrate the opening light level.
We have bets as to whether Mrs Mills et al will use the hen house this evening or attempt to carry on camping :).
We have also got the new water system in and up and running. All the fields now have water coming from a tank buried near the top of a hill. It is fed by a small stream. It only really fills up after heavy rainfall, but that’s fine.
It’s great not having to take 20 litre water containers over. Plus, now, the troughs stay full making it easier for the animals to drink from them.
It was a big job, but the plumbing went in surprisingly well, no leaks, well none that I have found anyway. Just have to bury some of the blue pipe to keep it safe from animal hooves.
Our veggie patch and herb gardens are doing well. Nicole has spent a lot of time keeping the weeds under control and nurturing our crop. We are enjoying a steady stream of salad and veggies. We are looking forward to the turnips ripening so we can enjoy them with some local haggis.
And, while all this is going on, we have been having some house renovations done. Basically, we’re having two new bathrooms installed and the existing (downstairs) bathroom transformed into a large utility room with freezers etc.
We are starting to think we need a holiday. But with so many animals, holidays are tricky to organise.
And finally, the housemartins have fledged – here they are shortly before they took off. It’s amazing watching them all swooping and diving in the evenings.
One of the things we have noticed is just how much wildlife we have around here compared to Somerset. Perhaps that’s because it’s a bit wilder here, perhaps it’s because we have a lot of habitat for them here. There are certainly more trees here. Who knows?
The most noticeable difference is hedgehogs. We have seen hedgehogs here more times in 4 months than in three and a half years in Somerset. It’s great to see them and the one above wandered into the field in which I was building the sheep shelter. And it was mid afternoon!
I know how to handle hedgehogs as many years ago, I used to overwinter the babies I found in November, the ones too small to survive. Maybe I’ll find myself doing that here.
We are also privileged to have sand martins here. At first I thought they were house martins, but then I saw them flying into their burrows. That was the first time I had ever seen one. We also have housemartins, they built their nest on the house and now have young. Part of the nest crumbled away recently giving us sight of the fledglings. Of course, we also have swallows nesting in the large shed.
Recently, the ground has been awash with baby frogs. Some even managed to cross the chicken run, not quite sure how they managed that. But it was be careful where you step for a few days.
And we have plenty of buzzards and one or two red kites patrolling, especially just after cutting the hay. There’s lots of long grass here and mice and voles abound.
We see quite a few hares too. Mildly ironic as Pitney, where we moved from, was supposed to be famous for its hares, but we never saw one there.
Surprisingly, we had a golden eagle in the valley not long ago. It was around for a couple of days before moving on. Quite majestic floating on the thermals.
I should also mention there’s a peregrine falcon just up the road, but we haven’t seen it yet.
Garden birds abound with robins, wrens, sparrows, blue tits, great tits, dunnocks, chaffinches, greenfinches, goldfinches, wagtails, thrushes and blackbirds all making regular appearances. We’ve also seen the odd woodpecker, siskin and coal tit. When winter comes, I shall set up a bird feeding station and see what else drops by.