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Shearing at long last!

This story is a bit late, I meant to post it last week but everything to do with shearing this year has been delayed so it’s no wonder my little blog story is too!

Each year we have our flock sheared.  Our breed of sheep (Coloured Ryelands), are particularly woolly, they’re a “wool breed” which means they were bred back in the olden days, helped along by the monks of Herefordshire, to produce wool which was then used predominantly for making fine garments.  Ryeland wool was shipped all over Europe and sold for high prices.  Queen Victoria reputedly even had stockings made from Ryeland wool!  It was very sought after and Ryeland sheep were kept very busy.

Sadly, nowadays there is very little demand for wool, least of all Ryeland wool ☹ It is a very sad fact because if you’ve ever stroked a Ryeland sheep you will see why their wool is so special.  First of all, the Ryeland looks like a teddy bear, they are woolly all over, legs, tummies and faces.  Their wool is very dense and springy and as it grows they start to look much tubbier than they actually are.  Here is a picture of Yssi taken in early spring, she could easily be mistaken for a barrel!

Yssi
Yssi looking rather barrel shaped

So back to shearing, in Scotland shearing traditionally takes place in June, about 6 weeks later than in England.  This is because of the northern climate, the summer takes a bit longer to kick in up here.  Sheep are shorn as soon as summer makes an entrance, it has to be “post frost” for obvious reasons, and also sheep are sheared traditionally on hot, sunny days as the wool needs to be dry before it can come off.  As you can imagine, this can be a tricky to organise when you’re at the mercy of an Atlantic weather system in Bonny Scotland!

This year we contacted our shearer as we’ve always done, in May and he said he’d come in June and let us know the date nearer the time.  So we carried on with life.  May turned out to be one of the hottest on record and Adrian and I were tempted to bring shearing forward, but lambing still goes on in May and we didn’t want to disrupt Jim’s schedule.  Shepherds have a packed calendar, particularly in the spring with lambing and shearing happening in close succession.

Now, we check on our sheep twice a day, but decided to step it up to three times in the run up to “the big still to be confirmed shearing day”.  Hot weather brings out the flies, and mucky, woolly bottoms plus flies equals a potentially fatal condition; fly strike.  Every few days we took some of the flock into a pen and dagged their bottoms.  All the spring grass was having an effect, especially on the younger ones whose digestive systems were still “firming up” so there was plenty of dagging!  We also ran our eyes over the flock and checked for any odd behaviour which might indicate a maggot problem.  Even despite the dagging, maggots can be crafty and hide in nooks and crannies.  A sheep who’s been “struck” by the blowfly will behave oddly, they will jump at their own shadows and try and run away from themselves.  Sometimes their behaviour change is more subtle so you need to use your intuition as well.   As we were soon to find out.

We also needed to check for any sheep getting stuck on their backs unable to right themselves, all that wool is very heavy after a year’s growth, and sometimes a sheep can roll over and get stuck like a beetle, unable to get up with the weight of their fleece, which can get even heavier if it gets wet.  This happened to Yarr quite recently, click here to read about his pickle:  So these checks were really important for the sheep’s welfare, and also for Adrian and I to be able to sleep at night, otherwise we’d worry non-stop.

May came and went and we were starting to feel run ragged, we’d added another job to our sheep tasks; mucking out the shelter.  The sheep had taken to camping out in their “summer house” pretty much for most of the day.  They really love their shelter, it provides shade and somewhere to get away from the flies, however on the flip side, it can get mucky very quickly.  Unlike pigs, sheep do their business wherever they happen to be, so you could be going round with the pooper scooper and they’d be filling it up as fast as you’d be emptying it!  We’d then sprinkle lemon scented wood shavings down which is great because the lemon scent keeps the flies away, and the shavings provide a lovely soft carpet for the sheep to relax on.

We got into the first week of June and by now texts were going back and forth between myself and Jim to get a shearing date in the diary.  We would be done in between his bigger flocks, much like a small building job is fitted in around bigger building jobs.   By now we’d already found Yarr stuck on his back, and two cases of flystrike.  First Yssi, then Yogi.  One morning I’d gone to muck out the shelter and do my checks when I noticed Yssi sitting a bit strangely, she was sitting up, almost like a dog, her bottom on the ground with her front legs straight out in front of her.  I watched her get up and follow the rest of the flock out while I mucked out and she seemed fine but I thought I’d bring her into the pen anyway.  I straddled her backwards and parted the wool on her backside, my heart sank, there were at least 3 or 4 clusters of tiny wriggling maggots, deep in her wool.  I phoned Adrian who was in the kitchen making breakie, and asked him to bring shears, cotton wool and cider vinegar diluted in water.  We don’t routinely spray our flock so had no chemicals to hand.  I intended to pick the maggots out and clean her up with the vinegar solution.  I would also shave her backside to give the maggots nowhere to hide.

Yogi
Yogi

Yssi was a trouper, she let us do all this to her and we pretty much got rid of all the maggots.  Just to be sure though we whizzed over and got some flystrike solution from the local agricultural store and gave her bottom another once over.  While we were doing this, we noticed Yogi stamping her feet and looking a bit wild eyed.  Oh oh, we both said, lucky we had our vet kit to hand, we brought Yogi in, lifted her tail, and sure enough there was a tiny patch of maggots there, wriggling around.  They were clustered around a “problem area” on her bottom.  A few weeks back I’d found a little patch of infected skin under some damp wool.  I’d shaved it clean and her bottom had healed, however those blowflies had obviously found a tiny bit of skin which was still broken and decided to lay her eggs there.  Great place for a fly, not so great for poor old Yogi!!

We upped our bottom patrol and started mucking out the shelter twice a day, morning and evening.  The weather was still unbearably hot but now it was wet as well with summer storms and heavy downpours.  Jim had intended to come twice but had to cancel due to the rain.  Then he cancelled again because he slashed his arm open and had to be rushed to hospital to get stitched up.  It’s a dangerous job shearing, especially when you’re tired from running from farm to farm between storm showers trying to fit everyone in.

At the end of June there was a week’s reprieve a dry spell once more and we had another date from Jim.  At the allotted time of 5pm we brought the sheep down to the orchard near the house where there’s a power supply and another shelter for them to wait in until Jim arrived.  We were ready and waiting.  We waited, and waited, and waited.

At 7.30pm we could wait no more, I climbed a hill and texted Jim, I didn’t want to hassle him, but the sheep had been penned up a long time and needed to get out.  We needed to know what time he would be coming.  A reply came back, “sorry, two of the team have heat stroke, can’t come this evening”.  Our hopes crashed, we were so upset, we felt sorry for Jim as he was having a hard time, but our flock desperately needed shearing, it was becoming a welfare issue.  Their thick coats needed to come off, we couldn’t wait any longer!

At this point I hear you ask, why don’t you shear them yourselves?  Well, that is a good question, and the answer is, we learnt to shear when we first got sheep, and we sheared our first flock (albeit only 3!)  It took us a long time and the sheep came out looking rather oddly shaped!  The trouble is, you need to put in lots of mileage to get good, and you need to be good to be able to shear, you can’t be “just OK”.  If you’re not good, you can badly injure your sheep, or stress the animal by holding it in position for too long, they can die of stress quite easily.  To cut a long story short, we don’t have enough sheep to practise on and just doing it once a year isn’t enough to get good at shearing.  So having done the course and sheared our lot once, we made the decision to call in the experts.

The next day we sent out an SOS on twitter and rang everyone we knew who had sheep and got numbers of other shearers.  We couldn’t afford to wait any longer, and much as we understood that we’d be done eventually, we didn’t want to wait any more.  We also felt it would be better to have a small flock shearer, we love the way Jim shears, I called him Mr No Nicks, he’s a great shearer, but he’s a big flock boy, and we realised we needed someone who specialised in small flocks that could prioritise us and not fit us in around other bigger farms.

After some frantic phone calls, one or two had the same problem as Jim, they were working through backlogs due to the wet weather so couldn’t help us, we then somehow we ended up with three shearers!! Just like busses!

We settled on one recommended by smallholders in a village not far away and at long last, a new date was set, and this time, nothing went wrong, PHEW!!!

The new shearer, Guy, did a brilliant job along with his partner Dee who helped me collect the fleeces and allocate name tags to them to be later made into rugs and cushions.

We have already booked Guy for next year, we are so happy we found him and I think our flock are pretty happy too 😊

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Vera gets a touch of the itchies again

Last summer Vera developed an allergy which made her skin very itchy.  See “Vera gets a touch of the Itchies”.  It was worse in bright sunshine and the vet thought it might be that Vera had become photo-sensitive due to perhaps eating an umbelliferous plant.  The allergy affected the bare parts of her skin so the bottom part of her legs, under her arms, her ears and around her eyes.  Her skin slightly swelled up too and felt hot to the touch.  Vera would feel irritated by the itchiness and rub herself against things which of course made things worse as she’d create open sores.  The open sores attracted flies and we spent a lot of time making sure nothing was becoming infected.

Fortunately, as the vet predicted would probably happen, when autumn came the allergy disappeared and we heaved a sigh of relief, Vera was much happier and went about her business with a spring in her step, and we were able to relax knowing she was no longer at risk of infection or feeling depressed due to the itchiness.  We suspected however that it might come back this summer and so we were keeping an eye on her.

Sure enough in early June Vera started to show the same signs as last year; seeking shade and scratching herself.  Last year the vet had suggested we use Sudocrem to sooth her sore skin so we immediately started doing this, we put it on her legs, ears and around her eyes, twice a day.

The twice daily sudocrem ritual has become something we all enjoy, particularly Vera we noticed who on seeing the pot of cream now trots up looking expectant.  The cream is helping her a lot and she seems to absolutely love it, she goes into a bit of a trance and makes purring noises.  Sometimes she lifts her legs up so that we can get the cream right into the creases.

What a good patient she is!

We will continue to keep a close eye on her and keep applying Sudocrem until summer is over.

 

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Clever Sheep

Ymogen coloured ryeland

Hi there, it’s me Ymogen!

It’s been a while since I logged on but recently my pet human took a short video of me demonstrating my intelligence so I thought it would be a good time to tell you all about it.

You’re probably aware that us sheep are herd animals and like to do things as a group.  If Seline heads off up the hill we’ll all follow her.  If Sparkle gets spooked by a pheasant popping up out of a clump of sedge grass and flapping its wings, we’ll all get a bit spooked.  That’s just how we are, its in our nature.

But I’m going to let you into secret, us sheep are not such simple souls as people like to think, in fact, we’re very clever!  As well has having the herd instinct we also have the voice recognition instinct.  Have you ever watched a group of lambs and their mums?  Each mum has a special call for her lambs so each lamb knows exactly which mum to head over to for teat.  (Sometimes a lamb might take liberties and sneak over to one of their aunties for teat but once they get butted away by a cross auntie they soon learn their lesson!  But anyway, I digress.

Ever since I was born here at Auchenstroan, I’ve noticed our pet humans calling us using different sounds for each one of us, just like our mums.  So over time we’ve learnt a whole different language, “human speak”, as well as our own “sheep speak”.  And just like when we were lambs, we get a nice treat if we trot over to the humans when called, sheep nuts! 😊 😊 😊 Or, our second favourite thing, back scratches 😊 😊

In the video below you can see me demonstrating this.  My pet human says my name, I hear her but can’t see her (admittedly I was quite interested in a particular blade of grass at that moment).  But I couldn’t help myself, I found myself looking from left to right, and then I saw the human standing there with Witchy bleating by her side.  I had a wee shake and then headed right over and got a back scratch for my efforts.  Ta daa!

 

 

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The Adventures of the Yogi Rug

Recently a lovely lady in faraway Georgia, USA bought “the Yogi rug” from our online shop.  I was excited because it’s always a bit extra special when a person from a distant destination buys something from us.  This was doubly special because the lady from Georgia told me she also lives on a farm so I loved the fact that the Yogi rug would be going to live in agricultural Georgia, a far cry from rural Scotland, but also somehow very connected, a home from home almost.

The following day I packaged up the rug and popped in Yogi’s photo, packing slip and all the bits.  I then booked in FedEx to collect the parcel from us on their next day collection service.  FedEx are a brilliant company to send things to the US, we have used them before and in fact last time two rugs flew off to America and arrived at their destination within only three days!  The great thing about using a courier is that you can track the parcel’s progress which is quite good fun.  It is also comforting to know that while you can track a parcel it is unlikely to disappear into a great big abyss and appear mysteriously some time later, or not as the case might be.  In the past we used standard mail to send parcels around the world and although we’ve had no parcels go missing and only one late arrival due to a post office strike in France, (the parcel did eventually make it thankfully), we’ve decided to offer courier only service for our rugs and cushions because it gives us and our customers peace of mind to be able to track packages and know roughly when they will arrive.

Yogi as a lamb with mum Witchy

The following morning the FedEx van arrived and off the Yogi rug went.  We waved it goodbye and I admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat.  The Yogi rug is very special you see, Yogi is Witchy’s lamb and Witchy struggled when she was young so it was a miracle that she grew up to be a mum and then go on to make Yogi who is our first strawberry blonde sheep.  She is exceptionally pretty and has a very cute baaa.  This rug is the first I have made from Yogi’s fleece, it was her lamb fleece so very soft and cuddly.

Anyway, I carried on with the farm jobs and went off to my gardening job.  Later that evening I opened FedEx’s tracking page to see where the parcel would be.  I was a bit surprised to see no update to the tracker but thought nothing of it, I presumed the driver had forgotten to update his device and it would show up at some point.  I carried on with life.

Two days later I thought I’d have a peek at the tracker.  I was surprised to see absolutely no change at all to the parcel’s status.  It was still showing “waiting for collection”.  My heart sank, I thought something had to be wrong so spent a while looking for contact details and eventually found a “chat” button.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long, along came Emily who was really helpful and friendly.  I told her I was concerned about a shipment and gave her the details.  Emily said she’d look into it and then disappeared off for about half an hour, (well, it felt like half an hour at least, it was probably about 4 minutes but still).  I was starting to think I’d been abandoned when she reappeared and said she’d located the parcel and it had a new tracking number.  She said it had arrived into Memphis Tennessee and was in Customs.  I was so relieved, I nearly jumped for joy.  I went about my business with a spring in my step.

Two days later I wondered if the rug was sitting pretty in its new farm so I entered the tracking number into the system and waited for the internet to chug into action.  When the page decided to open, I was really disappointed to see absolutely no change at all in the parcel’s progress, it was still at the FedEx Memphis hub, in Customs.  At this point in time demonstrations had started to break out in the US and obviously there is CoronaVirus, so I assumed this was causing a backlog in processing parcels.  Never the less I starting to feel a shadow of worry creeping over me and that night I woke up at 4 in the morning picturing the Yogi rug all alone on a shelf in a warehouse in faraway Memphis Tennessee.

Yogi

I tried to push the nagging worry from my mind and went about my business.  That morning I emailed the lady in Georgia with the new tracking details and told her there appeared to be a hold up at Customs and that I would let her know as soon as there were any updates.

I stopped checking the FedEx tracking page daily, I thought it would work its way through in its own time, I did however set up an alert with FedEx so if there was any movement on the parcel I’d get an email.

A watched kettle never boils, but if it doesn’t boil in two weeks you can’t help but wonder if something might be awry.  So, after two weeks of no movement on the tracker I decided to get in touch with Customer Services.  I wanted to know if it was normal for a parcel to be stuck in Customs for this length of time.  It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting Leroy Williams.  I was astounded at the speed with which a representative came back to me after sending in my initial query, I think it was half a day if that!  Leroy was brilliant, a real credit to FedEx Customer Services Department, the speed at which he dealt with my query was phenomenal.  Within a short space of time Leroy had informed me that the shipment had disappeared off the radar.  It should have arrived at its destination by now so he would open a “search query” and this would take 72 hours.  Although my heart sank to be told this, I felt strangely positive and upbeat, purely because of the way Leroy was handling the issue.  He asked me to send photos of the package and a detailed description of it and all sorts of other info.  He said to leave it with him and he would be back in touch after the allotted time, if not before if the parcel was found sooner.  So although the parcel being “lost” was awful news, the blow was definitely lessened by the way Leroy handled the situation.

However, the spring in my step didn’t last long, I’m not sure why, it just kind of disappeared, probably not helped by my overactive imagination and tendency to worry.  Images of the Yogi rug lost and alone on a shelf in a cardboard box in a stark warehouse full of conveyor belts and robots in Memphis started to haunt me day and night.  Doubt that the shipment would ever be found didn’t just creep in, it started to rampage through me, and under my calm and bustling exterior my mood was spiralling fast downhill.  The sensible part of my brain fought with the emotional part, at 4am when the emotional part was hitting over drive the sensible part asked; why are you so affected by this?  Parcels go missing all the time, Leroy is dealing with it, there are more important things to worry about than a missing parcel, for goodness’s sake pull yourself together!  People are dying of corona virus and you’re worrying about a missing rug!  But I couldn’t pull myself together and on day three with no word from FedEx my calm exterior disintegrated into little pieces and I reverted to the five year old me, I rang my mum and bawled down the phone.  “Yogi is missing in Tennessee!!!” “Pardon?”  “Oh,” she said, “not the sheep, the rug!!” “Yes,” I said, “the rug, but it’s as if part of Yogi is lost, and part of my soul too” I said.  It was then that I realised through my sniffles that the reason I was so upset was because each time I make a rug, part of me, and part of the sheep goes into it, not just physically, but also on a kind of energetic sort of spiritual level.  My mum was brilliant, she listened and said it was totally normal for me to be reacting like this, she would feel the same way, we had a long chat and then I made a cup of tea and resigned myself to the fact that Yogi was missing and not just presumed dead, but actually dead.  (Note, the Yogi rug had now actually become Yogi somehow)!

That evening I did the 5pm sheep check which meant climbing the hill with the dogs and counting the sheep, then mooching around a bit checking their behaviour and generally making sure they were OK.  On approaching the flock, I immediately saw something was wrong, they were bunched together and their body language was peculiar.  As I climbed the hill towards them I could see a dead deer with antlers in the middle of their circle.  As I got closer the antlers became four legs, and as I drew closer still, the dead deer became a sheep on its back with its legs sticking straight up into the air.  A cast sheep, “oh sh*t” I said out loud and started running through treacle to get there.  It didn’t look good, there was no movement and Yarr’s tongue was lolling out and there was foam around his nose.  I dived on top of him and rolled him over, to my amazement he sprang into action and legged it down the hill snorting and sneezing.  I was so shocked at Yarr being alive, I just sat on a mole hill for about 10 minutes trying to gather my thoughts.  Within this time, Yarr, being a friendly chap, came back over and stood next to me.  He was in a bit of a state, the wool on his back was totally flattened and his rumen seemed to be a funny shape, kind of distorted.  He kept sneezing and snorting and so I stayed with him for a good while to make sure he reverted to normal.  I wiped his nose with my sleeve and gave him a gentle back rub (his favourite).  He was slowly coming back, but still out of sorts.  Eventually he wandered off to graze and I thought, phew, he’s OK.  I headed back downhill for a cup of tea and planned to go back in an hour or so to check up on him before bed.  It was over that reviving cup of tea and scone (which later flew out of my mouth) that Adrian suddenly announced, “oh look, an email has just come in from the lady in Georgia.”  “Pardon?” I said, followed by, “what does it say?”  “The Yogi rug has arrived” said Adrian calmly, “what?  Are you sure?  Really?”  Followed by half a mouthful of scone flying across the table.  I couldn’t believe it, my emotions had already taken me on a gravity defying rollercoaster with the Yarr incident, now I was being dragged back up again, I didn’t think I’d be able to cope!  Of course, I was ecstatic.  Once I’d digested this brilliant news I rang my mum, danced for joy in the kitchen, all was well with the world again, the sense of calm that had deserted me so unceremoniously these last few days flooded back and I felt great.

Yarr post pickle

Later that evening Adrian and I whizzed up to the sheep on the quad bike followed by two panting and slightly reluctant dogs.  Happily, Yarr was fine and on four legs, grazing away as if nothing had happened.

That evening I slept really well, Yarr was alive, the sheep were OK, and best of all the Yogi rug was happily ensconced in its new home in Georgia, no doubt having a welcome rest after all its adventures!

And of course, we will continue to use FedEx to send our parcels.  Things go wrong in life all the time but it is how problems are handled that matters.  FedEx dealt with the issue brilliantly.  We will never know exactly what happened to the Yogi rug, we can only guess that it was probably something to do with the system failing to read the bar code or something like that and then obviously someone would have had to step in and do a manual search.  What ever happened, we were very impressed and amazed that the parcel was found.  If you look at pictures of the FedEx hub in Memphis, it is enormous, apparently the largest of their hubs in the US so in short, FedEx did a brilliant job to find the missing shipment!

Yogi the day after her rug was found safe and well

 

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Sheep get haircuts and health checks

It’s a long time since our flock were sheared, 7 months to be precise!  Plenty of time for a sheep of a woolly persuasion to get a touch of the ‘woolly eyes’!!

This basically means it’s time for a wee face trim.

There’s more to this than just aesthetics, if the wool growth is such that the sheep can no longer see properly this is quite stressful for the animal.  Sheep rely on good eyesight to keep watch for predators, especially to the sides and back whilst they’re grazing.  If wool growth stops this they can become jumpy and nervous.

I really enjoy trimming sheep’s faces, it’s a satisfying job and over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to keep them calm and relaxed while I do it.  I have to keep them still while I do the haircuts which is easier said than done and has taken many years of practise.  The method which works for me is to pen each sheep up individually and then tie the animal to a hurdle using a halter and lead rope.  Our flock is used to the halter and lead rope, I give them ‘halter training’ lessons from a young age and it’s really paid off when it comes to handling them.

So, with the sheep haltered and in position, I gently support their chin with one hand, (this stops them from moving forwards), and with the other hand I carefully snip away the wool from around their eyes.  Then, while I have them penned up I also check their bottoms and hooves.  It takes me about 20 minutes per sheep, I never rush this job because it’s a good time to bond with the sheep and it gives me the opportunity to spot anything which needs attention.

Yzzy

Today while I was working on Yzzy I noticed she was passing dung through both passages, front and back so to speak.  This wasn’t too much of a surprise as when Yzzy was a lamb she was born with a condition fairly common in newborn lambs, no anus.  The vet had had to come out and make an incision and within minutes she was fine.  The incision was basically a new back passage and would mean Yzzy could grow up and lead a normal life, she just wouldn’t be allowed to have lambs.

But today it seemed she had created a new passage, one which shouldn’t be there. I mulled it over and pondered what to do.  She didn’t seem to be in pain, we would have noticed if she was because sheep tend to go off on their own and hang their heads and look obviously depressed.  She had displayed none of these behaviours.  As with most things concerning animal health, its always a good idea to think things over carefully before intervening.  When to intervene and whether to intervene are questions which continually run through our heads when faced with situations like this.  My instinct told me not to intervene but to keep an eye on her.  I spoke to Adrian over lunch and we thought we’d ring the vet just to double check.  The vet agreed with us, to leave well alone, it was likely that more complications could occur through intervention so unless she was in pain, then the advice was to do nothing.  So we’ll keep Yzzy on our radar and hope she stays happy and healthy.  As they say, there is never a dull moment when keeping sheep although I would probably replace ‘dull moment’ with ‘ a moment without a worry’!

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Happy New Year!

A very Happy New Year to all our readers!

Yaar fleece
work in progress!

I just wanted to update all you lovely people who follow us and let you know that I’ve not abandoned the shop, I realise there are just two rugs in there but fear not, there will soon be more stock appearing.  I am working on Yaar’s fleece as we speak, it is his first fleece and the locks are soft like a powder puff, fluffy like candy floss and, well, in a word, just gorgeous!  Yaar is a real character, he’s known for getting into pickles (see here) and chewing cud very loudly in your ear, usually at inopportune moments.

Yaar
Yaar, what a handsome chap!

I also wanted to let you all know that I take commissions.  If you would like a rug, throw or seat pads of a particular size or colour (obviously depending on the colour and number of fleeces I have available), then I am happy to do this.  Just send us an email and I’ll get back to you as soon as I have peeled off my wellies.

Meanwhile, I would like to wish everyone health and happiness for the year ahead, and lots of baas from our wee woolly friends x

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Latest rugs in our shop

felted sheepskin rug

With the onset of winter and frosty days I’ve been busy wrapping up my gardening business for another year.  This means I get a lovely rest, oh, sorry, that was a Freudian slip, I meant so say, this means I will have more time to start the Big Winter Feed Ritual for our woolly friends, in other words, keeping the sheep feeders full of hay.

The grass is low nutrient and provides little nourishment for the sheep during the winter.  The hay meanwhile was cut at its peak in July, and contains plenty of flowers, it smells of summer and the wafts remind me of Swiss mountain villages from when I was a small girl.  The sheep love it and can get quite overexcited each morning when they see the bales coming their way.  They actually make filling the feeders quite challenging as they pile in like a bunch of frenzied five year olds on Christmas morning.

rolling the rug

Winter also means I get to dive headlong into rug production.  Making rugs is very time consuming, during the summer one rug can take two weeks or more to put together as I’m running about doing other things.  In the winter my days are spent between the hay shed and my girl shed.  My girl shed is fabulous, I love it!  It’s actually the summer house and just a stone’s throw from the house and the kettle.  It has power which means it’s toasty and warm and more to the point, makes the felting process actually possible.

In the last week I’ve made two rugs; “the Molly rug” and “the Ursi rug”.  The Molly rug (see here) was made using fleece from our friends’ flock.  They have a friendly family of Mules, Herdwicks and Texels.  The Molly rug was made using the long fluffy locks from one of their Mules, (the offspring of a hill breed mother and lowland breed father).   I love the way the Molly rug has come out, it is creamy-white with long, powder puff locks and just invites you to cuddle into it.

sheep peek at Molly rug

The second rug I made using fleece from our own flock, from Ursi actually, (see here).  Ursi is a big gorgeous girl, naturally friendly, always up for a back rub and a chat.  Ursi has a pale grey fleece with beige and cream running through it.  I made a big rug from it as Ursi is a big girl with lots of fleece.  I’m very happy with the way the rug has turned out, it’s soft and bouncy and the colours are just beautiful, just like Ursi herself.

The Ursi rug

#colouredryelandsheep, #handmade, #feltedfleecerug, #vegetarianrug, #sheepfriendlyrug, #crueltyfree, #britishwool, #ethical, #sustainable, #smallholding #ruralliving #thegoodlife #scotland

 

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Happy Halloween!

Many things have changed for us since upping sticks to run a smallholding and becoming ‘country mice’ but one of the biggest changes has been our diet.  Now don’t get me wrong, as ‘town mice’ we were never ones for stuffing ourselves with crisps and takeaways, but nor were we food evangelicals brandishing this or that diet.  We just liked to use fresh and organic ingredients wherever possible.

Now though, since living “the good life”, we’re forever foraging in the garden picking this and that to pop in the pot, it’s one of the best things about being a country mouse, having an extension to the larder just a snuffle from the back door.

So while removing slugs from various nooks and crannies in carrots and picking caterpillars off kale isn’t my favourite activity, I remind myself that fresh veggies taste a lot better, and not only that, they make you feel better too what with all that freshness zooming straight into your bones.

This brings me onto a subject I find fascinating; the medicinal properties plants.  It’s probably an age thing (a weird thing’s happened as I’ve got older, I’ve become a bit paranoid about putting chemicals in my body, beauty wise and diet wise)!  This, combined with living in the sticks, which makes nipping to the chemist quite a chore has resulted in me avidly growing plants specifically for their medicinal purposes.  Truth be told I also I just love it!  In a witchy kind of a way, I feel like Sabrina as I sprinkle my magic seeds into the soil and watch them transform, tadaaa!

This year I’ve grown Echinacea and Chamomile to make tea with if one of us feels under the weather.  Or I’ll forage for Herb Robert which makes a tasty tea too and is reputedly good for all manner of things even if does smell a bit funny.  I brew up Rosemary, let it sit for a while, strain, then rinse my hair with it for natural shine.  This year I’ve been mushing up raspberries and making a tasty face mask.  Raspberries have natural anti inflammatory properties and feel very soothing on the skin.

I’ve also started using natural products to help our hens.  In our ‘previous lives’ we’d buy the standard worming meds for our chickens.  (Hens can be quite prone to intestinal worms so you need to keep an eye out for these pesky blighters).  These days we’ve found a combination of natural remedies do the job and means you can continue to eat your girls’ eggs as there are no nasty chemicals in their systems.  I always have pumpkin seeds in the house, I’ll crush them up and mix a little in with their food every couple of weeks or so.  I also give them crushed garlic periodically which is brilliant for preventing intestinal worms, and sometimes I’ll sprinkle a small amount of chilli into their food as if there are any worms lurking where they shouldn’t be, they’ll come shooting straight out.  And finally, I add cider vinegar (home-made of course, what else?!) to their water which helps their digestive systems and gives them a vitamin boost.

So with it being Halloween don’t throw your pumpkin seeds out if you keep chickens, add some crushed seeds to your hens’ feed, they will thank you for it.  Happy Halloween!

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Yarr gets into a pickle

cruelty free sheepskin rugs

Every so often sheep get into pickles.  In fact, they’re probably more prone to pickles than other farm animals.

We didn’t know this until we became the proud owners of our first three sheep, Blumes, Thelma and Louise, and then the comments started; “where there’s livestock there’s deadstock”, or “did you know that sheep spend their entire lives looking for ways to die”.

“Oh” we thought disappointedly, “why are people not happy for us, proud new sheep parents?  Why the doom and gloom?  What can be so hard about keeping sheep?  Surely you just put them in a field and keep an eye on them from time to time?”  However, as with most (if not all!) our experiences in our smallholder life, we were soon to find out the hard way.

Sarka

Our first lesson came to us about 18 months in to keeping sheep.  By this time we had 12 woolly friends grazing away happily in our fields.  It was late summer and we were moving the flock into a different field.  As the sheep gambolled into the new paddock to investigate the fresh grass we noticed one of the flock, Sarka, was acting out of character.  She seemed spooked and jittery.  We watched her for a short while and decided we would need to pen her up and inspect her as something was clearly wrong.  So we penned her up and had a good look.  It didn’t take us long to discover to our horror and dismay, that under her tail were hundreds of wriggling and writhing white maggots.  “Flystrike” we both said in unison!  Closely followed by an expletive or two.  It was truly a horrific sight.  It was also something we’d been warned about and we had sprayed our flock earlier in the summer to prevent.  We rushed indoors to get the bottle of “Crovect” which kills maggots and thankfully Sarka was soon grazing away happily, cleaned up and at peace with the world again.

The following year we had three more incidents of flystrike and fortunately we caught each attack in time.  If left for too long the sheep will quickly “fulfil their life’s ambition”.  And “too long” can be only a matter of days – two or three after the maggots hatch and start burrowing into the flesh.  Even using the recommended sprays and checking sheep for the tell-tale signs (agitation, foot stamping etc) it is still possible for a blowfly to slip through the net and lay her eggs in the wool.

“Hmm” we thought, “perhaps these people have a point, sheep are not the easy maintenance creatures we thought they were.”  By now we saw ourselves saying goodbye to ever going on holiday again.

But fate was kind to us and dealt us a lucky hand.  Two years into owning sheep and having outgrown our Somerset smallholding we decided to up sticks and move to South West Scotland to a much bigger place.  This is where we live now, with many more woolly friends than we started out with.

The lucky hand of fate came in the form of hill breezes.  Blowfly like to lurk in warm and sheltered hedgerows.  They cannot abide a hill breeze, least of all a Scottish one which has a freshness about it, and they don’t care much for dry stone walls either which have no lurking potential, and we have plenty of drystone walls here, not a hedgerow in sight.  The result being that life here is blissful, chilly Scottish breezes are absolutely fine as far as I’m concerned and flystrike has happily become a thing of the past.  We don’t even spray our sheep now which is great because we don’t like chemicals.

But don’t rest on your laurels I hear you say and you would be right.  We were soon to be presented with another interesting learning experience.

Sky

One summer’s afternoon, during our first year on our Scottish smallholding I was doing the afternoon sheep check which involves counting them and scanning the flock for any unusual behaviour.  It also involves mooching around the flock giving them pats and head scratches.  So there I was happily wandering amongst the woollies when I noticed Sky looking rather strange.  She was lying down, but something seemed wrong.  On closer inspection I could see she was stuck.  “Oh no!” I said out loud, “she’s cast!”  I wondered how long she had been there as I turned her over and helped her to her feet.  Sky seemed none the worse for wear but her wool was quite flattened on the side she’d been lying on so I thought she must have been there a good while.  Sky was lucky I’d found her when I did as a cast sheep soon becomes prey for crows.  I didn’t like to think too much about that, but it was a sobering thought and my heart was heavy as I trudged back to the house to tell Adrian what had happened.

Luckily the incident remained a one off and we found no more sheep lying on their backs with their legs in the air, with the exception of once, close to lambing time, we found Star, heavily pregnant stuck on her side and unable to get up, but that was understandable as she was huge at the time.  Still, it was just as worrying as the first time round, and so we added “cast sheep” to our string of worry beads.

Two years on, and we had no more cast sheep.  “Yippee” we thought, but we knew by this time not to tempt fate and so kept our eyes peeled just in case.

And just as well as Adrian was soon to find out.

One spring morning earlier this year, Adrian was out fixing one of our numerous dry stone walls.  See “Stone Dykes” This particular wall was a boundary wall so it was important to get it fixed.  There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing on the quad bike with rocks and tools etc, and the way up to the wall was through the sheep.  On one of these journeys Adrian happened to spot Yarr, looking a bit funny.  Yarr is one of our boys, he’s a friendly chap always happy to come up for a chat and a pat.  Adrian instinctively knew there was something odd about him, he was lying on his side in amongst the other sheep, but seemed to be in an unnatural position.  He whizzed over, and was shocked to realise that Yarr was stuck, he was lying there helpless, his legs in the air like a beetle.  Adrian quickly turned him over and rubbed his legs to bring back his circulation.  Yarr seemed to be not quite himself for the rest of the day, however by the next day he was fine again.  “Phew” we thought what a stroke of luck that the wall had needed fixing and Adrian had found him when he did.  We check on the sheep three times a day but Adrian had found Yarr in between checks so poor Yarr would have been stuck a while longer if it hadn’t been for the work on the wall.

We thought no more about it, until two days later to be precise, Adrian was once more whizzing up on the quad to continue work on the wall when he spotted Yarr, on his back again! They say bad luck happens in threes so while helping Yarr back on his feet Adrian started wondering what else was going to go wrong.  Meanwhile I was wondering what was wrong with Yarr and why he kept ending up on his back.

Yarr with shaggy fleece

It occurred to us later that day over a cup of tea that the sheep had very shaggy fleeces, it was early May and they had a full year’s worth of wool on their backs.   They were due to be sheared later that month so we hoped that once relieved of their heavy fleeces Yarr, or indeed any other sheep wouldn’t end up on their backs for a wee while at least!

And this proved to be so, without their heavy fleeces, Yarr and the rest of the gang stayed out of pickles and we were relieved.

Until last weekend that is.  I was doing the evening check, the flock was grazing contentedly in the lower hay field and all was well with the world.  I counted 20 sheep, all were present and correct.  I then noticed Yarr looked a bit strange.  “Oh no” I thought, “not again!”  I ran over to him as he was very still, he looked like a ragdoll, like sheep who has given up.  On nearing him I was hugely relieved to find him alive, but yes, once again, cast.  I righted him and rubbed his flanks. He stood for a while and did a pee.  I wondered if he’d been holding it in as it seemed to go on for ever.  After a few minutes he shook himself and wandered off to graze with the others.

We hope Yarr has had his run of bad luck now.  He’s been found on his back three times, but on the other hand you could say Yarr was lucky, lucky to be found in time and not left to fulfil his life’s ambition.

 

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Vera “a touch of the itchies” update

Vera with cream on her ears

It’s been a few weeks since we wrote about Vera our ewe with “a touch of the itchies”.  See earlier story:  “Vera gets a touch of the itchies”

So, I thought I’d give you a wee progress update.

Happily I can report that since the vet’s visit in July, Vera’s been gradually getting better.  Although the vet hadn’t been 100% certain what had caused Vera’s “itchies”; in the days following his visit it was looking more and more like his suggestion of photosensitivity.

We scanned our pastures for any suspect plants.  The main culprits are umbelliferous plants and St John’s Wart.  I thought we had none of these where the sheep graze, as a horticulturalist I am always on the look out for “dodgy plants”.  But to my horror I found some Wood Angelica lurking in a dingy corner and my heart sank.

Several broken spades later I had removed about 25 of the villains.  Phew I thought, that should stop any further outbreaks.   I then whizzed off to the nearest chemist for some Sudocrem.  I had done some research and checked with the vet and Sudocrem would be the perfect ointment to aid Vera’s recovery once the affect of the steroids started to wear off.

And so began “The Cream Ritual”.  At first Vera was a bit suspicious of me brandishing my pot.  However, a few short days after being totally unimpressed with “the funny smelling white stuff”, she started to seek me out and wait patiently as I smoothed it on.  Pretty soon Vera made it plain she loved The Cream Ritual.  As soon as I took the lid off the pot, her neck grew several inches longer and she started to lick the air whilst nodding her head up and down, all tell-tale signs of a happy sheep.

As the days went by, Vera, on spotting me, came trotting up and leaned into me as I smoothed the cream on.  Her favourite spots were under her armpits.  She began to lift her back legs up to let me get right in.  The Cream Ritual became a really enjoyable part of both of our days.

Now, nearly 3 months later with the days shortening and no more scorchy days, Vera is almost completely better.  I’ve stopped applying Sudocrem much to Vera’s disappointment so I’ve been giving her plenty of head scratches and chest rubs to compensate.  I also check her skin on a daily basis just to make sure she’s OK.  Although it’s autumn there are still a few warm days and too much sunshine can cause a flare up.  So, it’s slow progress, but Vera’s getting there.

We just hope that she hasn’t become photosensitised indefinitely but only time will tell.  For the moment, she is OK and that is what matters.