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.
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).
The 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.
We 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.
We have a lot of stone dykes here and over the years, some have fallen into disrepair while others have been, shall we say, modified.
One such modification was a gate fitted in between two fields. While this gate might have made sense when all the fields were part of this farm, over the years bits have been sold off and the gate now sits between ours and a neighbour’s field. In fact, it had become kind of a gate to nowhere.
The problem is that the gate was rotten and the gentlest of nudges would have pushed it down. Not a problem until you have rams in one field an ewes next door (see “hello boys“). We could have replaced the gate, but there was not much point. There is already a proper farm gate about 50m away, so there is access between the fields.
So, the decision was made to ditch the gate and rebuild the wall. The only problem was all the stones that had formed this part of the wall had long gone.
We had recently been give a pile of stones from a house in town where they are renovating house and garden. However, there were not enough even for this small gap. Also, they were all pretty small, not ideal for dry stone dykes. Off I went in search of some more, larger stones. I found a few and ferried them over with the quad bike. The wall itself was up a bank, probably around 1.5m (5ft) high. I had to get all the stones I needed up this bank.
It was easy for the small stones, I just lobbed them up. The larger ones were a bit trickier. One in particular proved nigh on impossible to get up. After three attempts had resulted in me losing my grip and having to jump out of the way, I named the stome Sisyphus and sat down to ponder. I could have gone and got the tractor and lifed it with the front loader, but in the end, I rolled it up the track, got it up onto the bank where it was lower and rolled it back again. Of course, having done that, I realised I could have just put it on the quad bike and drive in it round to the other side. Doh!
Having got all the stones ready, I retired for a cup of tea and a rest much to the gratitiude of the dogs who were, by now, pretty bored watching me moving stones.
Next morning, under the not so watchful eye of the dogs, I rebuilt the wall. You can see Sysiphus bottom left (under the very white stone). They never look quite so big once they are in place.
The small stones turned out to be a pain, so I had to scrounge a few more stones. Luckily, there are a few just lying around.
The last few days have been cold and yesterday, we took advantage of the frozen ground to lay an area of hardcore around the sheep’s hay feeders. The frozen ground meant that the tractor did not do too much damage to the ground.
Before starting, we moved the sheep out into the fields to keep them out of the way. On finishing, we allowed the sheep back and it was then we noticed that there was something not quite right with Peaches. It was not entirely unexpected, Peaches’ condition had not been good for some time. She had, in the summer, been checked over by the vet but there was nothing obvious wrong. Peaches was the oldest of our sheep and was approaching her 9th birthday so we thought this lack of condition might be age related. We had been giving Peaches small supplements to ensure she was getting enough to eat, but her condition never really improved.
Yesterday, Peaches was separating herself from the flock. This is often a sign of a sheep that is unwell. We offered Peaches some chopped turnips and while she ate a little, she didn’t seem to be her usual self. We called the vet out to have a look. The vet found a little blood in Peaches’ poo and said that her stomach seemed a little bloated. However, there was no obvious sign of anything serious. Peaches was showing no sign of anemia meaning fluke and worms were discounted. The vet did hint that there might be something wrong internally such as a tumour, but that it was hard to tell.
The vet administered a few injections to help Peaches with any pain or infection and also to help get her digestion moving. Having been very tolerant of all the handling and needle pricks, once out of the treatment pen, Peaches was off like a shot up the hill. We continued to keep an eye out and she did seem to be eating hay from the feeders later in the day. However, she was still kind of keeping her distance from the flock.
Sadly, this morning, we found Peaches had passed away in the night. She had passed away in her sleep and lay, looking very peaceful, in one of the field shelters. Peaches was the flock’s matriarch and was a gentle leader. We shall all miss her.
A cold snap in November seems to have been a regular thing ever since I was a kid. Each year, the frost would come and it would look like a white christmas was in the offing, only for it to warm up again.
The last couple of weeks have been pretty chilly. The good thing is that after a spell of heavy rain, it has given the ground a chance to dry out a bit. Nevertheless, winter is here and it we’ll be dealing with mud for a while now.
The best part of the frosty weather is the sunrises we get here. Looking out to the east, we see the sun rising over the hills casting it’s red and orange glows across the sky. It’s a very peaceful time of the day.
It’s a pleasant walk up to find the sheep and see what they are up to. Mostly, it’s lying around after a good night’s sleep out in the cold air. The sheep do like a bit of cold, dry weather.
For us, after the walk around to check all the animals fine and that the hen doors have not frozen shut, it’s back inside to our Aga warmed kitchen for a breakfast of good Scottish porage.
Around late October, early November the grass pretty much stops growing and loses most of its nutritional value. For sheep, that means its time for hay. This year, the late autumn was pretty mild so the sheep chose to stay out for grass a bit later, well into November in fact.
Nevertheless, we got the hay feeders cleaned up and the hay ready. We’ve moved the feeders nearer the house this year. It means it’s all much closer to the hay store making things easier for us.
It also means the sheep have access to the lambing shed as a winter shelter. In fact, they now have two field shelters so they are spoilt for choice.
To get to the new hay station, the sheep would have had to cross a marshy area so in the summer I had built them a path (see sheep happy with new path). One morning, I went up to check on the sheep and they followed me back down (pictured right) and found the hay all laid out for them.
Some of them tucked right in while others still wandered off eating late autumn grass. Over the following days, the visits to the hay feeders have increased and so we see them down at the feeders about twice a day now.
The other great benefit is that we can see them from the kitchen window. We do like being able to see our sheep from the house.
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.
A couple of years back we built a vegetable patch. It’s six areas with a path connecting them all. It took a while to build and all the slabs were laid on a dry mix concrete base. In order to keep the weeds down, a dry mix was also brushed into the gaps between each slab. The idea is that it goes naturally, a bit like a bag of cement left in the shed. The damp seeps in and it sets.
The problem is, it never did set. In fact, it just kind of turned into a sandy base into which the weeds moved with relish. So, if at first you don’t succeed and all that. In the odd nice day we have had recently, I have pulled out all the weeds and dug out the sand. All the gaps were then filled with a wet mix of concrete. Hopefully, that will set good and hard and keep the weeds out.
Of course, the weeds are invading the vegetable areas at quite a pace, but well that’s all part and parcel of growing veggies.
Being autumn, it’s approaching tupping time when the ewes are put to the tup. The farm next door has been to market and got themselves a pair of splendid young tups and put them in the field next door. They seem like pretty calm chaps, but they are in a field out of which there have been a few successful escape attempts in the recent past.
At first, we did nothing as we had sorted out the decrepit gate and our neighbours had plugged the gap. However, it all changed when they spotted each other. Our sheep like to pop down to the lambing paddock each day to check for apples. It’s also where one of their field shelters is sited. On their way down, they were spotted by the boys next door who, in their amazement, stood their like teenage boys transfixed. Of course, our girls totally ignored them.
However, a couple of days later, the girls decided that they had made their point and were spotted attempting to smooch through the metal bars of the gate between the fields. Boys on one side and two or three of our ewes on the other with noses pressed up right against each other.
“Hmm”, we thought, maybe we had better do something. Aside from not really wanting to go through the stress of lambing next year, we also have a couple of hogs that are tiny compared to these boys and don’t want them getting pregnant or even hurt in the process.
So, we have moved our sheep to the fields away from contact where the are now separated by a field and some stone dykes. Not that that’s stopped them gazing wistfully at each other from hilltop positions on both sides.
Since June, Bim has been suffering from egg peritonitis (see swollen hen), a common condition in hens of all ages for which the prognosis is usually death. Given this poor prognosis, we asked the vet (who happened to be here looking at a sheep) to have a look. We fully expected we’d be putting her down (Bim that is, not the vet). That said, swelling aside, she looked really healthy and so we all thought it might be worth trying again.
The vet agreed with our plan and left us with a course of anti inflammatories and antibiotics.
Now, the problem is that while the antibiotics can deal with infections, they don’t really deal with the root cause (normally an egg yolk trapped in the abdominal cavity). Nicole got on the internet to look for alternative approaches. We also pondered alternatives to antibiotics – well we didn’t want to be giving her a jag every two days for the rest of her life.
We came up with an approach that incorporated a number of ideas.
Warm baths with epsom salts. These were mainly to help her feel better (we all love a good bath) as the condition causes a lot of swelling which looks pretty uncomfortable. This is followed by a blow dry. Bim loved this moving her wings to get an optimal flow. We did this 2 or 3 times, basically while she was receiving her jags.
A daily supplement which contains a mixture of garlic (two cloves per day), turmeric, black pepper, honey and olive oil. Garlic and honey are natural antibiotics as well as being nutritious. We also added to this a mineral boost containing calcium, probiotics and seaweed (you can buy this).
A daily dose of Kali Phos, Bryonia and Hepar Sulf.
Water – we added cider vinegar, multi vitamins and oregano.
The above sounds pretty complex, but it’s not really. All the supplements can be mixed up and put in a bowl. Bim, being the top hen, is always first to a bowl so, for us, it was fairly easy to make sure Bim got her “medicine”. I say “us”, but it’s all down to Nicole really.
The net result of this is a that, for a time the swelling went down and Bim got back to being her old self. When we wandered into the vet some time in July to pick up some sheep meds, the vet who had examined Bim happened to be standing there and asked how Bim was. When Nicole said she had pretty much recovered, the vet’s jaw nearly hit the floor. “That’s two miracles this year then” she said (or words to that effect). I don’t think the vets can quite believe that Ymogen recovered from her broken jaw either (Ymogen’s Story).
Anyway, Bim was doing fine. As she is about 5 years old, her laying days should be largely in the past. However, a couple of weeks back, she went in to lay an egg. Of course, no egg appeared, once again the yolk must have been “laid” internally. Then she did it again and the swelling returned. Despite all this, everything else about her was healthy. You can tell when a hen’s time is close, they just stop.
Bim was starting to show signs of “stopping” in that she would still be in the hen coop at morning corn time. We decided to give her another course of antibiotics. At this time of year, laying drops markedly for all the hens. The shortening days act as a kind of signal to stop laying. The chances are Bim would stop laying and so might recover once any infection was treated.
The good news is that the swelling has gone again. Bim has not had any garlic or natural supplements for a couple of weeks because she is now kind of wary of being caught again. We are hoping that with the days shortening and her age, there will either be no more attempted laying for a while, or just sporadic attempts. If she leaves enough time between eggs, then she should be able to reabsorb the internally laid yolk.
Nevertheless, she has survived much longer than predicted and we are now hopeful she’ll now make it through the winter. After that, there’s a good chance she’ll be old enough not to lay any more and then could survive gracefully into old age. Fingers crossed.