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A summer shelter with a difference.

For a while now Adrian and I have been thinking about silvopasture.   This is a pasture system where livestock are given controlled access to trees so they can enjoy the benefits of woodland grazing.

Silvopasture has loads of benefits, not only to livestock but also on a grander scale to the planet.  The more trees which are introduced to pasture systems the more diverse flora and fauna there is and the less “green deserts” there are (sterile fields).  And let’s not forget the biggie; trees are a great way to contribute towards carbon sequestration.

But coming back to livestock and in particular to sheep, as you might have read in previous stories of ours sheep love trees, they use them as scratch posts and enjoy the shelter they provide, but they particularly enjoy eating them!  So, when thinking about silvopasture, the fact that livestock are rather partial to tree bark and low growing branches means any woodland grazing needs to be carefully thought about.

Done properly, livestock is given controlled access to woodland grazing, usually in strips, which minimises the risk of tree damage and overgrazing.  Not allowing permanent access to woodland allows the all important flora to regenerate and continue providing delicious forage for our livestock friends year upon year.

With this in mind, we thought long and hard about how to create an area of silvopasture for our little flock.  All the woodland we have around our fields is young and so not ideal.  It is also surrounded by a deer fence and if we gave the sheep access we might accidentally trap a deer within the woodland which would be a problem for both the deer and the young trees.

Then Adrian had a brainwave, we have a copse ideally situated in one of the sheep’s favourite fields.  The trees are mature and would provide plenty of shade.  It wouldn’t be great grazing, but as an alternative field shelter it would be just the ticket!

the copse before we started work on it

Currently fenced off, the copse comprises mostly conifers (we would have preferred more of a variety of trees and are already planning interplanting some deciduous trees in amongst the evergreens).  But the location of the copse is good so we’re going to work with it.

Now that our main focus would be to give the sheep somewhere shady to go on hot days we would be able to close off the field shelter which is a magnet for flies.  Building the shelter seemed like a good idea at the time but looking back we probably wouldn’t have built it now.  There is little airflow and although it provides shade and we keep it mucked out, flies are a big problem.

The great thing about silvopasture is that the trees provide shade, but because there is good air flow, there are a lot less flies hanging around than there would be in a field shelter.

As I’ve mentioned in previous stories, flies, especially the Blowfly are bad news for sheep.  Flies in general are annoying but the Blowfly can kill.  Flies are always a concern for us during the summer but it’s a tricky one because sheep don’t fare well in hot weather and actively seek out shady areas to sit in and chew the cud.  But if the air flow isn’t good then flies will be a problem which can be just as stressful, if not more so, than the hot sun.

 

digging out bramble roots

When we made the decision to shut off access to the field shelter last month the sheep were not impressed at all.  Despite it being less than ideal, they still love it and go there every day in the hope that they might be allowed in.  It’s hard to see them missing their favourite haunt, but we know the new shady area will be a much better environment for them.  We did explain this when we shut them out but they weren’t convinced.  Sheep are creatures of habit and trundling off to sit in the old field shelter is still firmly part of their daily routine.

Just over two weeks ago we began work on the copse.   First of all, Adrian created access to it by way of a wooden gate.  This meant banging in a gatepost so we could fix the gate to it.

taking away endless bags of brambles

This done, we got our secateurs, loppers and pick axe and began work on the brambles.  The copse was absolutely choked with them, they completely carpeted the ground and were halfway up the trees.  We really had our work cut out.

We filled 12 big dumpy bags full of bramble branches and roots, we worked for two hours a day and gathered many splinters, so many we lost count.

But at long last, yesterday evening we pulled out our last bramble and were able to sit back and admire our work with a much deserved cup of tea and slice of flapjack.  It was a very satisfying moment!

“after”

We will let the dust settle for two weeks and then let the sheep in.  They’ll only be allowed in on hot days.  We’re hoping that by only giving them occasional access during the summer when there’s plenty of grass about, they won’t be tempted to nibble bark and low growing branches.

There will be another story coming soon about how the sheep react when we let them into their “silvoshelter”, we can’t wait to see their faces when we open the gate for them and let them in to investigate!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sheep Maintenance & a small tweak to our routine sheep jobs

A few years ago Adrian and I were a normal couple who had summer holidays and long weekends off, lazy Sundays and spontaneous trips away.

And then we got sheep…

To be honest, we were a little naïve when we acquired our mini flock back in 2014.  We wanted to keep the grass down and I fancied doing something with wool.

our first sheep

Little did we know just how much those three innocent looking teddy bears were about to change our lives.

Our first inkling came when we went to the Mole Valley Agricultural store in Bridgewater (in Somerset where we used to live) to buy some sheep equipment.  I remember that day well, we were really excited and had a long, carefully researched shopping list containing interesting sounding farmy things like drench guns, hoof shears, hurdles and hay feeders.

After ordering the hurdles, feeders and troughs from the outside bit, we went into the shop to get the rest.  We popped hoof shears, a hoof pick, dagging shears, halters, bucket licks and nuts into our trolley.  Then we went round to the medicines aisle where we confidently selected a bottle of antiseptic spray.

On our shopping list I’d also written “wormer”, “fluke meds” and “fly spray”.  But we weren’t sure which type or brand to buy.  There was so much choice!  It felt very much like the washing powder aisle in Tesco’s which is somewhere I’d prefer to avoid if at all possible.

So off I went to find someone and to my relief I located the store Sheep Expert.  He told us he had sheep himself and was only too happy to help us.  He sat us down in a little office where there was a small round table, some chairs, and a life sized model of a sheep.  He told us all about parasites; but mainly he told us about flies.  He told us flies were the number one concern to sheep farmers and that we would need a fly spray to prevent and to deal with the dreaded Blow Fly.  He demonstrated how to spray a sheep correctly using a demo drench gun on his model sheep.

We asked him how flies can kill sheep and soon wished we hadn’t as he went into very graphic detail.  He explained that if a sheep is struck by a Blow Fly, she has only days to live.  We asked him how to tell if a sheep has been struck, at which point he said, “you have to look for The Signs”.  We asked him what these Signs were and he said the main one was the “head turn” where the sheep looks back over her shoulder.  “Wild eyes” was another one, “bottom rubbing” and “foot stamping” were other signs, and then finally “any behaviour which is out of character”.

It was at this moment, as we heaved a bottle of Crovect into our trolley we felt the first creeping tendril of Sheep Angst taking hold.  What if we didn’t spot one of The Signs? What if we didn’t apply the spray correctly?  Actually, how did we even catch our sheep in order to apply the spray?  (We’d only had our sheep a few days and were rubbish at rounding them up).

As we drove home, our excitement of a few hours earlier had pretty much disappeared along with a vast amount of money and we were both lost in our own thoughts as we rattled back along the lanes towing our trailer full of shiny new things.

Fast forward a few years and here we are, not exactly old hands and not exactly wiser – but definitely older and more experienced than those early days of sheep keeping.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the “sheep angst” that took hold of us both in the Farmers Store all those years ago doesn’t go away the longer you keep sheep, but you do find ways of managing it.

getting to know the flock
getting to know the flock

The first thing you do is get to know your flock.  By observing your sheep you start to learn how they behave and you get familiar with their individual characters.  It takes time, but it’s worth it because watching sheep is in itself is actually a lovely activity.  There’s nothing quite like lying on your back in the field surrounded by your flock, listening to them cudding in your ear and nibbling your wellies.

The other thing you do is check up on your flock regularly.  We check up on ours twice a day, more often if we’re lambing.

We’re very religious about our checks because nowadays we don’t use fly spray.  We like to be able to handle our sheep without fear of chemicals transferring onto us.  We’ve found that our scrupulous checks and regular bottom trims have paid off, in the few cases of fly strike we’ve had (two cases in four years) we have managed to deal with it very swiftly.

Apart from checking for The Signs, the checks tell you all sorts of other things, you’re mainly scanning the flock to see if anyone’s behaving out of character, you’re counting them to make sure they’re all there, and you’re making sure they’re not in pickles (lame, head stuck in fence, on back with legs in air, stuck in a hedge etc) …

The other thing that happens is, you stop going away as much.  Holidays have to be meticulously planned, you book a farm-sitter and you still worry even if your farm-sitter is brilliant as our is.  Bye go the lazy Sunday morning lie-ins, and bye go the spontaneous trips away.

On the plus side though, you gain lots of woolly friends and by being around sheep you find yourself learning unexpected things such as the art of patience and how to be calm.  You can’t be impatient or in a bad mood with sheep, they sense it and scarper.  You have to be able to compose yourself.  This is really good training for being a better human.  It sounds cliché but sheep have so much to teach us.

using backeze sling

We’ve also found an easier way to do all those routine things which sheep need regularly such as “crutching out” (bottom trimming), face trims and hoof trimming.  We used to bring them in every three months and work through the whole flock.  This would take us hours and we’d be fit for nothing afterwards.  So this year we decided to bring in three sheep a week and rotate through the flock doing three a week on a continual basis.  We thought it would be easier on our backs, and also better for the sheep as they’d have their bottoms and faces trimmed more often and we could catch any hoof problems faster.  All in all, so far at least, we’ve found this to be a good system for us.

Yogi with her face trimmed

The other change we’ve made this year is to purchase a “backeze” sling by Longhorn.  You can see me using it in the photo.  It’s just brilliant!  It gives support to your back exactly where you need it but is also springy so you can adjust position easily.  It’s made those weekly bottom trims much easier, happy us, happy sheep!

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Woolly Tips – using up leftover wool –

This is the first of a series of articles I’m going to be writing about felting fleeces.  As a lot of readers probably already know from visiting our shop, I transform fleeces into sheep-friendly “sheepskin” rugs and cushions by wet felting raw wool, a technique which has been around for many hundreds, if not thousands of years.

When I first started felting fleeces to make into rugs I found it very hard to get information about how to actually do it.  There seemed to be a lot of mystery around it and everyone had their own technique and way of doing it.  In the end I learned mostly by trial and error.

The hints and tips I’m going to be sharing with you over the coming weeks are the things I’ve gleaned over the years I’ve spent throwing fleeces around in my shed amidst tears and many cups of tea.  I’ve had so many disasters and I’m embarrassed to say a lot of fleeces have ended up on the compost heap simply because I lost patience with them.  But I’m happy to say there have been more successes than disasters along my woolly journey and so I’m delighted to be able to share some of my favourite tips with you.

Today’s article is about using wool which I’d normally discard to make into something lovely and useful.

I hate waste and one of the reasons I started to make cushions as well as rugs, was so that I could use up leftover wool.

scraps of leftover wool

Recently I made a cushion from scraps of wool I had leftover from a rug that I’d made a few days earlier.  The leftover wool was all in bits lying on the floor.

It was really dirty and I was going to scoop it up and chuck it on the compost heap for the birds to use for nesting, when I realised that beneath the grubby exterior the wool was actually lovely quality.

Never judge a book by its cover I said to myself as I piled the scrappy wool onto my work table and got to work separating out the nice quality (albeit very dirty!) wool, from the not so nice quality, matted bits.

I was really careful about keeping only the nicest bits, any wool which was even a tiny bit matted or didn’t feel right I discarded.  This was quite tricky because most of the wool was so dirty it was hard to imagine what it would look like clean.  I did wonder if perhaps I was being a little over optimistic!

After a couple of hours of sorting I had enough wool to lay out into a cushion shaped frame and was able to felt it into a cushion cover.wool laid out ready to be felted

It took a lot of washing but I was really pleased with how it turned out.  It was a real “before and after” moment!

So, even scraps of wool lying on the floor can be transformed into something lovely, but my tip would be to make sure you use only good quality wool from the scrappy pile.  Tempting as it may be to want to rescue all the little bits of wool you can, remember dirt can be washed out, however nothing will remedy matted or bad quality wool, you’re best leaving those bits for the birds to make into cosy nests.

There will be washing tips coming up in subsequent posts, washing raw fleeces is one of my favourite geeky things but I have so many tips that I’m going to split into several posts.

 

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To Heptavac or not to Heptavac?

From time to time sheep pick up things and become ill, particularly lambs.  Similar to newborn babies, lambs are particularly vulnerable to disease as their immune systems have not yet built up that all important resilience which only develops over time as they mature.

We always joke that lambing is not over once all the lambs are born, it goes on for another 3 months at least, with all the checking and monitoring of the little ones to ensure they’re all healthy and not on their way to the great pasture in the sky.

A couple of years ago we caught Yin on her way skywards thanks to a nasty attack of coccidiosis (parasitic worms).  Fortunately we found her in the nick of time and were able to give her life saving medication.  Yin is still with us to this day and is a big robust girl.

Not only are parasitic worms a problem for young sheep, but also “clostridial diseases” – for example pulpy kidney, tetanus and bloody scours.   In addition, young sheep are also susceptible to “pasteurellosis” (pneumonia).

All of these conditions are serious and so we are very fortunate to have a vaccine called “Heptavac P” which helps prevent these diseases from taking hold.

Every year, approximately four weeks prior to lambing, pregnant ewes are vaccinated with Heptavac.  Antibodies develop in the ewes which then cleverly pass through to the lambs via the colostrum.

We’ve Heptavac’d our woolly gang as long as we’ve had sheep and have continued to do it even though we no longer lamb.  I’m not sure why the thought struck me this year and not in previous non-lambing years, but it occurred to me that perhaps we didn’t need to vaccinate our sheep.  Afterall, they are mature and have developed antibodies.  Aside from that, they’re fit and healthy from their stress free existence here on the farm, no lambs to worry about, the most they have to ponder is where to find the tastiest blades of grass and where molehills come from.

I decided to phone our vet and find out, I wanted to know whether mature sheep retained immunity against clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis and whether we would be wasting our time (and money) on vaccinating a non-lambing flock.

I love a bit of science and when the vet gave me the low down I was so excited I had to make myself a cup of tea and sit down for a moment.

I learned that although sheep retain immunity against pasteurellosis, they do not retain immunity against the clostridial pathogens which reside in the soil.

I learned that there’s a different vaccine which we can give our non-breeding flock (and not forgetting wethers) called Covexin.  This doesn’t include the pasteurellosis protection which wouldn’t be needed.

As we already had a bottle of Heptavac in the fridge we decided to use that, but next year we’ll probably get Covexin.

So we gathered our sheep in last week and gave them all their jab, they weren’t too impressed, but we reminded them that we had their best interests at heart.  They also each got a wee handful of sheep nuts so that they went away post jab with a happy experience in their minds and a sweet taste in their mouths.

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The Himalayan Cedar and the mossy bandage

On our smallholding our main focus is making sure our animals have a long and happy life, but we also love plants and if there’s a plant in trouble, we’ll make sure we do our best to save it.  This story is about our efforts to rescue a beautiful Himalayan Cedar tree.

During the winter our sheep spend a lot of time in the orchard where they have access to the shed and hay feeders.  They can still trot off to the wider pastures if they choose, but they tend to hang around the orchard for much of the time, especially when the weather’s blowing a gale.

Last year we extended the orchard to include more meadow and give them extra space to mooch about in.  During the winter the ground can get really muddy, especially around the hay feeders so we thought the additional space would be much appreciated by the little dears.  And it was!!  They love the new bit, it includes a hill which they trundle up and down, and also several trees which they like to stand under whilst watching the world go by.

We also love the new bit, it’s great to know we can give the sheep variety, particularly access to trees.  Trees give perfect protection against the elements; in the winter they provide wind breaks and in the summer they provide cool places to sit under and chew the cud.

In the orchard we have apple and pear trees which are all neatly protected with tree guards.  Sheep love trees but they also love eating them!!

In the new bit, there’s a Himalayan Cedar tree which somehow we forgot to protect.  But the sheep didn’t seem that interested in it and so we thought no more about it.

Summer turned into autumn and then winter and the little ones were spending more and more time in the orchard again.  Early one December morning we were topping up the hay feeders and discovered a suspicious looking, four legged woolly crowd loitering around the Cedar tree.  As we drew nearer we heard scraping and nibbling noises.  On closer inspection we discovered a wide, neatly nibbled orange band all around the tree trunk, at exactly sheep head height.

Oh no!!! Our tree had been completely ring barked!

After feeling awful about the fact we forgot to protect our poor tree we quickly got to work.  First we put some sheep hurdles around it to prevent further damage, then we googled “what to do”.  Now I’m a horticulturalist, RHS trained thank you very much and I do people’s gardens but the truth was, I felt really daft because at that moment, I didn’t have a clue what to do.  I had an inkling there was a grafting technique out there for ring barked trees, but I couldn’t remember what the technique was called, let along how to do it.

After multiple searches on google and several cups of tea later I found the info.  There was a technique called a “bridge graft”.  This entails taking lengths of one year old growth (scions) from the upper canopy and attaching them across the damaged area, like little bridges, so that the sap can continue to flow from the bottom of the tree to the top.

We also had to protect the nibbled bit (which was actually quite a large area!)  The RHS website recommended applying damp moss all over the injury and holding it in place with tape.  So first we did this, (luckily we have moss aplenty here!)  Moss is naturally anti-bacterial so makes the perfect dressing for a wounded tree.  We got to work applying the mossy bandage until the whole wound was protected.

Next, Adrian whizzed off to the shed to rummage around for some small non galvanized nails.  We would need these to attach the scions to the trunk.

Then, tools at the ready, we got to work.  We had to work quickly because it was due to rain later and you can’t get grafts wet or they rot.

It was heart breaking standing on the ladders and snipping lengths of growth from the already damaged tree, I felt like a traitor.  But it was the only way we’d be able to save our poor tree so I carried on snipping.

Once I had six healthy scions I took my knife and made little “pockets” into the tree trunk so that I could pop the scions in.  Easier said than done!  The sheep had nibbled the trunk so far down that the only bark I had access to was rough and not at all pliable.  But I persevered, and eventually, lots of grafting wax and nails later we managed to create a circle of grafts all around the trunk.

Then we waited until spring … until now in fact, to see if the tree would make it.

We are pleased to report that so far so good!  There are fresh shoots and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of die back.

All the grafts except one, survived the winter storms and they appear to be doing their job, transporting nutrients from the bottom of the tree to the top.

We have started a two weekly regime of feeding with juice from our wormery.  Plants love wormery juice, it gives them a real boost, even though it’s a bit whiffy.

We’ll leave the mossy bandage on through the summer and remove it in the autumn.  It’ll be tricky to remove because of all the little bridges which sit over it, but I’m sure we’ll manage.

Meanwhile, we’re not counting our eggs, but so far so good.  And the sheep, well, they spent a few days trying to get to their new favourite snack but the hurdles proved to be a good defence so they gave up.  Now that it’s spring they prefer grass to trees anyway.

 

 

 

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A new product for the shop!

Gifts for sheep lovers - Witchy & Yogi lamb original acrylic painting
Matty bottle feeding Lisa

My younger brother Matty often comes to visit us, he loves spending time with the sheep and when we haven’t roped him in to help us build or fix something, (in return for lots of homemade cake and cups of tea of course!) he loves nothing better than to wander around taking in the scenery and enjoying the peacefulness of the surroundings.

Matty leads a busy life, he lives in Buckinghamshire where he works as a yoga teacher. He is also an artist, and when he isn’t doing headstands or handstands he’s generally to be found knee deep in paper and paintbrushes.

I love Matty’s work and a couple of months ago I thought how lovely it would be if we could offer sheep portraits painted by Matty in our shop.  After all, everybody needs a sheep picture in their home!

So I asked Matty if he might be interested and he said he’d be delighted.

So, after some intense weeks of organising things, we’re absolutely bursting with excitement to announce that the “Auchenstroan Coloured Ryeland Sheep Portraits” are now available to purchase from our shop!

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Yssi gets flystrike (note to reader, story ends happily 😊)

This summer has been long, hot and dry (most unusual for Scotland!)  This has been great, mostly, who doesn’t love the sunshine?  It lifts the spirits and the long evenings we have up here can be appreciated at their very best.  On a sunny day, it can stay light and bright until 10pm at night!

But as always, when you live so closely connected to the land and keep livestock, the weather plays an important part.  A long, hot summer, while being great for the spirits and for saving on housework, (no mud = less hoovering) the dry weather can also bring problems; namely, water (lack of), and flies (flystrike).

Our water supply which is a spring up on the hill ran dry in June so we’ve been topping it up from the burn.  It’s not ideal, but we can manage, we pump it up every morning from the river and are careful with our usage.  We know that soon enough, autumn will swish in with an attitude and we’ll be getting our wellies out again, the spring will fill up and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Flies also love warm weather.  The Scottish speciality – the midge, particularly so.  But while midges are annoying, coming out to party in huge swathes at dawn and dusk, getting in your eyes, your ears, your mouth and having you running back indoors to look for your “midgie net”, apart from being irritating, they are pretty harmless.

The other local hoodlum, the “cleg” is similarly irritating and seems impervious to attempts to swat it away.  If a cleg manages to bite you, (which it generally will!) you’ll know about it, but again, clegs are nothing to lose sleep over as long as you have a tube of bite cream handy.

It is the blowfly (aka the greenbottle) which gets the prize for being a level 10 pain in the backside (at least for anyone who keeps sheep!)

The blowfly is attracted to any animal which it deems suitable for laying its eggs on but is particularly partial to sheep.  It seeks out living flesh which has a hint of dampness and dung about it and unfortunately a sheep’s backside is an easy target.  In the spring, before shearing gets underway, sheep are at their woolliest.  Woolly bottoms, combined with the after-effects of grazing on lush spring grass gives the blowfly the perfect place on which to lay her eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, maggots start to emerge and feast on what is at hand, (without going into too much detail, it’s pretty gruesome), they start feeding on their host.  If left unchecked, this causes severe distress to the animal, and eventually, death.

Because of the severity of problems caused by the blowfly, most shepherds and farmers protect their flocks with “pour on” insecticide.  We don’t here on our smallholding because we have a small flock, not that many blowflies (it’s generally too breezy and fresh up here for them to be a problem), and we don’t like using chemicals.

It’s a tricky one though, because you have to weigh up the options, what is worse: reaching for the chemicals, or putting your sheep at risk of being eaten alive by maggots?

We follow the non-chemical way, which is very time consuming, we basically check our flock continually.  During the blowfly season which runs starts in April and tails off towards the end of summer, we go up to the hill three times a day and scan our sheep.  What we are looking for are “The Signs”.

What are these mysterious signs?  Well, if a sheep has been “struck”, it will start to act just ever so slightly differently.  At first the signs are really subtle, but if you know your animals, you’ll get a sense for even the smallest change in behaviour.

This said, we missed Yssi’s flystrike last week!

We’d brought our flock into the barn for their three monthly hoof trims and general MOT’s.

The summer MOT doesn’t usually include a “bottom check” (bikini line and tail trim), because the flock have only just been sheared.

However, Yssi has a particularly fluffy fleece so she gets a bottom check and trim every three months just to be on the safe side.

So, I straddled her and trimmed away her wool.  I noticed a small area of skin under some dungy wool which I’d trimmed which needed some anti-bac spray.  Sometimes damp wool near the bottom area can cause small infections on the skin as the air never gets to circulate and it’s always a bit damp around there.  So I duly sprayed her and we let her out of the pen.

As she trotted out to join the others, Adrian noticed her stamping her hind hoof and looking somewhat perturbed.  We watched her for a moment and came to the conclusion the anti-bac spray was causing her to feel temporarily itchy.

We finished the rest of the MOT’s and before letting them out to the wider pastures we decided to bring Yssi into the pen again just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.  After another check we couldn’t see anything untoward, so we opened the gate and off they all trotted up the hill.

Three days later, I was mooching about among the flock with George, scratching Vi on her favourite tickle spot on her hoof, and idly looking around at the other sheep when I noticed Yssi stamping her hind leg again.

Now, a sheep stamping its leg is nothing strange, they frequently do this, (especially the hind legs) during the summer when there are lots of flies about.  What caught my attention was the fact that the other sheep weren’t stamping.  The other thing I thought odd was that Yssi was swishing her tail and again, none of the others were.  They were peacefully grazing.  And while Yssi was also grazing, she just didn’t seem to be as peaceful as the others.

I continued to observe her, aware that it’s easy to start adding up two and two and coming up with five.  After a few minutes I noticed her sitting down (again, nothing unusual), but what struck me was that she wasn’t chewing the cud.  She was just sitting there.  As I watched her some more I thought her eyes looked sad.

At this point I decided to bring her in and give her a really thorough inspection.  So I got some sheep nuts out of my pocket, led her into a wee pen nearby and called Adrian who was back at the house.

I wanted Adrian there so he could hold her while I had a really good look at her, all over.  I thought, from her foot stamping that something could be irritating her tummy area.

With Adrian standing at Yssi’s head to prevent her from walking off, I straddled her rear end and worked methodically, parting the wool little by little, making my way down from her tail to her hind legs.  As I got to her hind leg “armpit”, I noticed something small and white wriggling away from me.  Bingo!! I said, followed by some descriptive words.  As I parted more wool, I found three colonies of maggots, Yssi was going to need a thorough clean up.

Leaving Adrian with the patient I went back to the house for my trusty bottle of “Battles Maggot Oil”, scissors, and a big wodge of cotton wool.

Once back, I got to work on Yssi, I first trimmed away her wool so that I could see where the maggots were, then, pressing cotton wool soaked in maggot oil into the affected areas I dabbed away.  Once I’d treated the main areas and the maggots had dropped off.  I snipped away more wool from the surrounding areas and dabbed more maggot oil pretty much all over her backside and down the inside of each of her legs.

As I snipped and dabbed, we both felt Yssi start to relax, almost as if she was enjoying the experience.  As she undoubtedly was, we were removing a huge source of irritation for her!  Adrian was at her head, stopping her from moving forward.  Afterwards, he said he wasn’t even holding her, she was just happy to let me get on with what I was doing.  Probably thinking, “took you long enough humans” 😉.  Afterwards we watched Yssi trot off happily to join her friends and we went back to the house for a nice cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

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Vi and the tickly hoof

For the last three summers, between the months of June and September, one of Vi’s good friends, Vera, has been suffering from an allergic reaction to the sun.

Vera’s “summer itches” usually start just after shearing time.  This is understandable since her woolly coat would protect her from the sun’s rays.  The wool has to come off though otherwise there would be other issues.  With her shorter wool and the warmer weather, Vera’s skin becomes red and inflamed which makes Vera feel itchy and irritable.  All she wants to do is scratch, scratch, scratch and sit in the shade of the field shelter.  Un-woolled parts are particularly affected such as her ears, eye area, “armpits” and the backs of her legs.

As there’s no cure for Vera’s allergy, all we can do is help her feel better until autumn when her symptoms naturally subside.  So we give her a long acting steroid injection, and daily doses of udder cream which is very soothing.  She’s not too keen on the injections – thankfully we only have to give her one or two throughout the summer, but she absolutely loves the cream.

Vera with cream on her ears

Every morning at around 7am as I do “the morning sheep check” (making sure our woolly friends are all present and haven’t got into pickles overnight), Vera trots over for “the cream ceremony”.  She obligingly lifts each leg in turn so I can apply cream into her “armpits”, and then stands there staring into space as I smooth cream onto her ears and legs.  It’s a pleasant addition to my morning routine and knowing Vera enjoys the experience and feels better afterwards makes it all the more enjoyable.

This year, Vera’s pal Vi has shown a keen interest in the cream ritual.  So much so that she has started coming over and standing next to Vera waiting for her turn.  She shows particular interest when I put cream on Vera’s ankles.  This is no doubt due to Vera’s happy reaction when I apply cream to the area just above her hooves on her hind legs – she stretches her neck out as far as she can and starts licking the air as if it were raining sheep nuts (her favourite snack).  Then, she turns her head towards me and starts nibbling my arm for all she is worth.  If you’ve ever been nibbled by a sheep you’ll know this is a funny experience, sort of pleasant but also borderline painful!

Vi enjoying a hoof tickle

So back to Vi, the other day I wondered idly whether all sheep enjoyed hoof / ankle scratches.  I know they like a good back scratch, (so do cows by the way, they even have “cow back scratchers” you can buy and install in your barn!)  But I didn’t know about ankles.  Perhaps this was “a thing” in the world of sheep?  As I pondered this the other morning whilst sandwiched between Vi, Vera and a pot of udder cream, I remembered that over the years I’ve seen some of our flock rubbing their feet on fences and the like.  Hmmm I thought, I wonder …

Now normally (unless you are Vera), sheep stamp their feet and twitch when you touch their hooves and legs because their instinct tells them that you might be a fly.  But I decided to see if Vi would like a wee scratch anyway.

I gently reached over and touched her left hind leg, and to my surprise, she let me do this with no hint of a stamp.  So I went for it and gave her a full on scratch all round her hoof.  She turned her head to look at me with an expression of what I think was mild surprise, and then stretched out her neck and proceeded to do the “happy sheep thing” (stretchy neck followed by hoovering up of imaginary rain shower of sheep nuts).  As an additional after flourish, she nibbled my wellies.

So now I have created a wee rod for my back because as well as putting cream on Vera, I have to give Vi an ankle rub, all the while being watched with interest by the rest of the flock.  Form an orderly queue please!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Shearing Day!

Guy shearing away

Yesterday was shearing day, an exciting day in the sheep calendar!

Yogi standing next to field shelter

We look forward to shearing for so many reasons but the number one reason is sheep welfare.  We really feel for our sheep as spring turns to summer.  They get quite down in the dumps in hot weather, ours park themselves in their field shelter and barely move.  They much prefer the fresher weather of early spring and late autumn when there is tasty grass to be nibbled, but it is still cool enough to forage without getting hot and bothered and pestered by flies.

Flies are a constant problem throughout the summer.  They zoom in on faces and bottoms (which isn’t a problem in itself apart from being irritating), unless we’re talking about the dreaded Blow Fly.  The Blow Fly, commonly known as the green bottle, seeks out damp places, (preferably with a hint of dung), on live flesh, on which to lay her eggs.  Once the eggs hatch, the maggots burrow into the flesh which as you can imagine is very unpleasant and can be fatal if not caught in time.

Sparkle

Something else we need to look out for in the spring is sheep getting “cast”.  Sometimes sheep roll over onto their sides to scratch an itch and end up on their backs like beetles with their legs waving in the air.  Usually they can roll out of this position again, however if their wool is particularly heavy, as it is at this time of the year, they can be so weighed down by it that they can no longer right themselves.  If stuck like this for too long the outlook is not good.  This year we found Sparkle stuck on her back on a flattened pile of nettles in a little dip by the lambing shed.  She was pretty shaken up when we found her, but luckily perked up within the hour.  We stayed with her to make sure she was OK after getting her on her feet and during this time we watched her going from panting, to having a wee, to shaking herself, to walking about, to finally foraging and then cudding.  This is why we check up on our flock three times a day and are always counting them.

So, there are many reasons we look forward to shearing, but in a nutshell, once they’re sheared they are fresher, perkier, less attractive to flies, and less prone to doing roly polys and getting stuck on their backs!

fleeces fresh from the sheep

As a result, we are happy and more relaxed, and I haven’t even mentioned wool yet!

After shearing I have huge bags stuffed full of fleeces.  I love nothing better than bags full of freshly sheared fleeces with that rich scent of lanolin wafting around and soft bounciness when you put your hand in.  But most of all I look at those bags as being worlds full of potential and exciting things, new woolly projects I can get stuck into, my mind goes into a mini whirlwind just thinking about it!

sheep waiting in the wings

 

This year shearing went really smoothly.  We have a “small flock” shearer, Guy, who specialises in, you’ve guessed it, small flocks 😉

post shearing cud and cuddle

He comes along with his partner Dee who runs around getting fresh blades and oil and rolling up the wool.  Meanwhile myself and Adrian make sure the sheep are where they should be.  We pen them up in a mini coral made up of hurdles and once the shearer has finished one sheep we need to have the next one ready and waiting.  Minimal time, minimal stress is our motto on shearing day.  Easier said than done however, our sheep are normally easy to handle, but the atmosphere of shearing makes them quite frisky.  Getting each sheep ready to post through to Guy was a little fraught at times, a couple of times we fell over and were baptised in dung, but this is all part of it.  Despite feeling a little worse for wear by the end of the afternoon, it was a brilliant day and the sheep are happy little souls once more.

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Sheep approve of new variety of hay

We ordered some different bales of hay recently and our first thought was, would the sheep eat it?  Sheep are creatures of habit and can be quite fussy with their hay.  They prefer the softer variety rather than the stalky hay, and they like it fresh and sweet smelling, (well that is understandable, who wouldn’t)?  By the way, if you ever need to test if hay is fresh and tasty, have a good sniff of it, if it smells sweet and a bit like weetabix then it’s likely to go down well with the little darlings.  Well, the new hay we’d had delivered was certainly fresh (tick), and it smelled sweet and weetabixy, (another tick), but it was definitely on the stalkier end of the hay spectrum, uh oh!! Their old hay was soft as can be and they loved it.   So when we filled the feeders up last week we resigned ourselves to the wee woollies turning their noses well and truly up.

sheep head up hill after breakie

Well, it just goes to show you shouldn’t count your hay before its scoffed, you’ll be happy to hear, they loved the new hay!  Stalks and all!  In fact, they told us in no uncertain terms that this new batch was much tastier than the stuff they’d been munching all winter!! We reminded them that there is still a bit of winter left in the farming calendar, the grass doesn’t come through till the end of April, so they can have their new type of hay for another few weeks yet.  They were happy with this news but told us they still preferred grass when push came to shove and they couldn’t wait for winter to come to end, we nodded our heads in agreement, we can’t wait for spring too!