Posted on Leave a comment

RIP Peaches

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.

Peaches leads the sheep down the path
Peaches leading the sheep down the path to the hay

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Frosty mornings

sunrise at auchenstroan

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.

frosty morning at Auchenstroan
frosty morning at Auchenstroan

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.

sunrise at Auchenstroan
sunrise at Auchenstroan
Posted on Leave a comment

It’s time for Hay

sheep at hay feeders

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.

Peaches leads the sheep down the path
Peaches leads the sheep down the path

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.

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Underweight hedgehog seeks board and lodging

hedgehog winter quarters

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.

temporary hedgehog quarters
temporary hedgehog quarters

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.

hedgehog winter quarters
hedgehog accommodation - a huge plastic box
hedgehog winter quarters
After the morning clean up

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Weedy paths

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.

weed free path
weed free path

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.

#smallholder #rurallife

Posted on Leave a comment

Hello Boys!

tups in field next door

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.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bim the Wonder Hen

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.

Bim fit and healthy again
Bim fit and healthy again

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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).
  3. A daily dose of Kali Phos, Bryonia and Hepar Sulf.
  4. 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.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Vera gets a touch of the itchies

Vera, one of our Yorkshire lassies, has been on our radar for a while.  She’s one of three we brought over from a Yorkshire farm just after moving here and she has thrived, along with the other two Yorkshire lassies, Vi and Ursi.   Anyway, of late she has taken to sitting on her own in one of the shelters provided for them.

VeraVera has always had a bit of a tendency to do this, so no alarm bells were ringing.  Nevertheless, Nicole had checked her over just to be sure, and had found nothing wrong.  The last time a sheep went off on her own it was Scarlett whose ear tag had become infected.  But Scarlett also stopped eating and hung her head, (a sure sign something is wrong) whereas Vera could be seen chewing the cud and looking quite content as she sat in her shelter.

Yesterday was the year’s hottest day.  Even up here in the hills, it was pretty hot.  I was taking to dogs for their daily walk and I usually come back via the sheep just to give them a quick check and to say hello.  Vera was up and about, grazing with the others and I was about to head off back to the house when  I noticed her stamping her feet quite a lot and looking round.  This is the sort of behaviour that can be seen in early fly-strike, so I checked her.  No flies, eggs or maggots.  Then I noticed she had scratched her front leg raw.  Something wasn’t right.

vera - leg wound
Vera’s leg wound (sprayed with blue spray)

I went and fetched Nicole and some iodine and we treated her wound.  Then Nicole checked for other wounds as all of a sudden Vera seemed to be very agitated.  We thought there had to be flies or maggots hiding somewhere.  After a careful inspection Nicole found that Vera’s skin, in the bare places where there is no wool, under her arms and the backs of her legs, seemed a bit inflamed and slightly hot to the touch, there were also some small crusty patches.  Our first thought was it might be “scab” however we haven’t had a case of “scab” before so we weren’t really sure.

So we duly called the vet and he came out and had a look.  After a careful examination he scratched his head and said he wasn’t really sure what it was, other than it wasn’t “scab”!  Basically, he said, it was in the wrong places for “scab”  and none of the other sheep were showing any signs, (“scab” is highly contagious).  Good and bad news – it wasn’t serious (good) but we were not sure what to do to treat it (bad)?

The swellings looked like they were a bit cracked and so could be infected so the vet gave her a mixture of steroids, anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic.   We wonder if she had had a bad case of midgie bites after shearing that hadn’t healed.  But we don’t know.  The vet thought it could be an allergic reaction to something she had eaten.  Maybe we will never know for sure.

We are monitoring her closely.  She looks a little better today (Friday), but she’s still a bit agitated and scratching and stamping her feet.  Fingers crossed it will clear up quickly.

Vera tucking in
Vera happily eating grass

And a quick update (Saturday).  She is out and about munching away happily.  There is still a bit of stamping, but nothing like two days ago.  It certainly looks like the really hot day aggravated things.  She is showing some photosensitivity which confirms the vet’s allergic reaction diagnosis.

To be honest, most of the sheep were finding it a bit hot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it made the itchy parts worse.

Nicole is bathing the affected areas twice a day with chamomile tea.  We’re hoping that helps too.

Posted on Leave a comment

Flower bed cleared and replanted

While the flower beds along the house and the meadow at the entrance are all looking great (summer at auchenstroan), the flower bed the other side of the lawn has always been a bit of an eyesore.  Most of the plants were, according to Nicole, a mish mash, in the wrong place; Crocosmia, Yellow Loosestrife, Solomon’s seal and Hostas.  In amongst these, Ground Elder, Bindweed and Willow Herb had taken over.  With me otherwise occupied trying to rescue some veggies (veggies version 2), it was left up to Nicole to clear the bed.

flower bed clearing underway
flower bed clearing underway

Working as a gardener and fairly busy right now, Nicole fitted this in around her work.  It was a large task and took the best part of a week to clear it.  Patiently waiting by the greenhouse were rows of carefully potted on flowers, Echinacea, Achillea and Salvias to create a wee “prairie” from the recently weeded border.  These were having to be watered daily and so would benefit hugely from finally getting into the ground.

Finally, the bed was cleared and a mountain of weeds made their way to the compost bin.  Nicole was exhausted but very happy indeed.  Now for the good bit, the planting out.

flower bed cleared
flower bed cleared
pile of weeds
pile of weeds

There was no waiting or having a wee rest to recover from all the effort of clearing it.  I was on a deadline to mulch it.  Nicole headed off to work and I was straight into mulching – it took 4 trailer full’s of mulch to put a decent covering down.  Hard, but satisfying work.  There is something very attractive about a recently mulched flower bed.

flower bed woolly protection
flower bed woolly protection

Nicole got home and after a quick cuppa, she was out planting.  Given all the problems we’ve had in the veggie patch with slugs and snails, each flower was carefully surrounded with wool.

The net result looks amazing, but will be even better once all the flowers grow and bloom.  That will most likely be next year.

Posted on Leave a comment

Cows drink us dry

As previously mentioned, we borrowed some cows from a neighbouring farm (cows return to Auchenstroan).  With them nicely settled in, I headed off to Edinburgh to meet a flamenco guitar master (for some guidance) and then a beer with friends.  All excellent.

I returned Saturday morning to a water emergency.  With the weather being warm, the cows had drained all our livestock water tanks.  Also, the burns that feed our tanks had dried up.  Nicole had taken some water over but the quad bike cannot tow that much and it’s also very slow to fill a bower from a tap.

So, it was out with the tractor, hook up the 600 litre bowser and set the pump up in the river.  We are on spring water here and during the summer filling a 600 litre bowser would empty our water tank (shared by our close neighbours).  So, it’s best to pump it up from the river.  One of my neighbours helped for which I was very grateful.  I also filled two 20 litre water carriers while I was at it.

cows queing for water
cows queuing for water

Once full, the bowser was towed to the tank and connected so the tank could be filled.  While that was happening (it takes two hours for the bowser to drain through the standard hose connector), I went to fill the trough with the 20 litre carriers.  At first, the cows were not sure what I was up to, but as I started pouring water into their trough, they formed an orderly queue headed by the brown cow pictured.

Once I had poured the two containers in, she dipped her head and drained the lot.  This could be a long day, I thought.  If you’re wondering why the troughs were not filling automatically, they were, but just not quickly enough.  The have a ballcock valve much like that found in a standard toilet.  The water flows in, but like an old tap.

Anyway, I zipped back and forth with the quad fetching water while the bowser offloaded into the tank.  On the second visit, the bull was at the front of the queue.  His head was almost as wide as the water trough.  He watched me with mildly suspicious eyes while I poured the water in.  His head was in straight after the first container, so I just poured the second one in next to his head.  He drained the lot and, sated, he wandered off.  It took about 4 trips before the queue started to thin out and 6 to get the trough back to full.  It also took three bowser fulls to fill up the tank (around 1800 litres).  Once done, I thought that was that.

No!

Sunday morning is my turn to check the animals.  I found the cows had made the executive decision to move field trampling a fence in the process.  Not much could be done, so we opened up more space for them and they seemed quite happy.  And they still had water.

Monday morning, all the water was gone, again.  They had managed to move a trough off its stand and so tilt it and drain the entire system.  I inspected all the troughs followed closely by a number of cows.  All empty.

Tractor out, pump on, refill…

Only this time, there was no water coming down.  In a mild panic I worked my way up disassembling each connection.  No water, but I could find nothing wrong with the system.

I gave up – we asked the farmer to take them back a day early as it was hot and they needed water.

Now, we have had trouble with this tank but I thought it was repaired.  In fact, the tank had appeared to be holding water again, so I had filled in the repair trench (before it collapsed).  I dug it all out again, but everything was fine.  And then the water started to flow into the troughs.  It turned out to be a small hump in the pipeline which the water level had to get above to start flowing.  Panic stations were all for nothing.  Only now, one of the connections was leaking.

Thankfully, I have a box of pipe connectors so I was able to repair it.  The pipe had shifted a bit so I had to put in a piece to lengthen the pipe so it would reach the connector properly.  By the end of the day, I had refilled the tank, repaired all the pipework and the troughs were all full again.  This time, only sheep would be drinking.