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Cud transfaunation for Witchy

trimming Witchy’s bottom wool

You can tell a lot about the health of an animal by what comes out the back end.  One of our woolly teddy bears, Witchy, has always produced dung more on the squishy side.  It sticks to the wool around her tail and is a magnet for flies.  During the summer we give her bottom plenty of haircuts to keep her feeling clean and fresh and prevent flystrike.

From what we’ve observed as smallholders, if young animals don’t get a good start in life, health problems will pop up down the line.  We’re certain that Witchy’s bottom problems are down to an imbalance of gut bacteria due to a period of stress she suffered as a lamb, (click here to read Witchy’s story).  We made a lot of mistakes when we started out ten years ago and unfortunately Witchy’s wobbly first couple of days was down to our inexperience as novice smallholders.


Fast forward to now and Witchy is a fully grown sheep and seven years young.  She’s the sweetest thing and we feel very lucky to have her in our flock.  She seems happy and content, but her digestive issues have always been a background worry.

Over the years we’ve tried her on probiotics and kaolin powder, but nothing has helped.  Witchy’s bottom has just carried on doing its thing and we’ve carried on trimming her and keeping her clean.

Now that she is getting older, we’ve noticed she doesn’t do as well in the winter.  Last year she lost condition and her lower eyelids were a bit pale suggesting a nutrient absorption issue.

This year, as winter approaches I thought I would try something different.  I had recently read about something called ‘cud transfaunation’, an old shepherding technique to help ruminants with digestive problems.  Just like us, sheep need a healthy gut microbiome in order to work properly.  Cud transfaunation basically means to take the cud and accompanying microbes from the mouth of a healthy sheep and pop it into the mouth of the sheep needing help.  (Obviously making sure it is swallowed).

Yaar and WItchy

I was pretty excited to do this I can tell you!  On Monday I brought Witchy into a pen along with Yaar and Yogi (the two doners).  My plan was to  swill the doners’ mouths out with warm water using a large syringe, capture the swill (and hopefully lots of microbes) in a bucket and then transfer it over to Witchy.  The reason I decided to have two doners was purely to increase my chances of capturing microbes.


From what I’ve read you can do either the ‘swill method’, or the ‘cud grabbing method’.  If you manage to grab a nice handful of cud there’s probably more chance of capturing lots of microbes however scooping out cud comes with risk of losing a  finger so I decided to go with plan A.  If plan A doesn’t work, then I’ll enlist the help of Adrian and try getting hold of some cud.  You put the cud in a bucket with a little warm water, break it up with a fork so it resembles sloppy soup and then give it to the sheep before it cools down.

The most important thing I had to remember was to make sure everything was sterile, and to keep the swilled out water at sheep temperature so the microbes didn’t die off before I got them into Witchy.

my equipment

I lined up my equipment on a nearby wall so I had everything within reach.  I had with me:  a thermos flask filled with sheep-temperature water (38.3 – 39.9’c) to do the mouth swilling, a sterile bucket to capture the swill and a large syringe to draw up the swill from the bucket and transfer into Witchy’s mouth.

I didn’t get much swill but hopefully enough.  It looked slightly green and had a bit of a slimy look to it.  I’m hoping it contained plenty of bacteria.  Giving it to Witchy was easy, I popped it into her mouth using a large syringe and she swallowed it straight away, phew!

swill on its way to Witchy’s mouth

The trickiest part was to make sure I kept Yaar and Yogi’s heads down as I swilled their mouths out to stop them from swallowing the warm water.  It was also quite hard keeping the bucket under their chins whilst I was doing this.  They were very keen to stick their noses in the bucket, they love buckets, especially green calf buckets.

Hopefully I captured enough microbes and they’re setting up home in Witchy’s gut and she’ll have an easier winter.  However the proof will be in the poop … I will keep you updated with how she goes.



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Shovelling sheep manure

before the big clean up

Every so often it’s time to do some dung shifting here on the smallholding.  Despite having a relatively small flock of 19, our woolly lawn mowers produce an impressive amount of manure.

sheep at hay feeders
eating hay during the winter

During the winter when the grass isn’t very tasty, the teddy bears spend a lot of time in the paddock where we have a couple of hay feeders set up.  Here is where the action happens, our woolly friends get busy converting hay into dung from November through to April.


The amount of dung around the feeders quickly builds up, so every autumn we roll back our sleeves and get to work removing the dung carpet.  This is hefty work and often involves getting on our hands and knees and peeling it up from the ground.  Embedded in the dung are layers of hay which hold things together to form a sort of cake.  It’s very satisfying work peeling back large clods.  Sometimes we get a big one that is too heavy to lift.  We heft the clods into the trailer and then tow it to the muck heap where we shovel it out.  Then back we go to the paddock for more.

taking the dung away
after the clean up

After a week or so of peeling, shovelling and dumping, our dung heap is vastly bigger and the ground around the hay feeders looks lovely again; back to its original state, a good deal lower and much less squelchy.

During the winter we’ll use this dung to mulch our veggie patch.  I dropped some off at our neighbours for their flowerbeds and Adrian left me a big present for the polytunnel.  All in all, a good week’s work!


a present from hubs




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Flystrike prevention

Yssi coming over

This summer’s been a bit funny weatherwise, after a hot and dry May and June (so dry that we ran out of water at one point), the heavens opened and it’s been dreich ever since.  One thing is certain though, rain or shine there are always plenty of flies buzzing around.

This part of Galloway is mostly grazed by livestock and there’s very little crop spraying going on.  As a result the insects are thriving and the swallows who come here to nest every summer have plenty to feed on.  So a healthy population of flies isn’t a bad thing.  However, having sheep, we do have to be on the lookout for flystrike.

Elliot helping me set up

Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition which can occur when a female blowfly (green bottle) decides to lay her eggs on a sheep.  The eggs result in maggots which on hatching, wriggle around and start to feed on the sheep. Death occurs within a few days unless the condition is spotted.  The blowfly is usually attracted to soiled areas around the bottom, but she’s not particularly fussy and often lays her eggs between the shoulder blades or in any convenient nook or cranny.

Most sheep are protected from blowfly attacks through the use of sprays which work as a deterrent.  Our little flock however is organic so this means we don’t spray them, instead we bring them in to check regularly and are always on the lookout for ‘the signs’.  ‘The signs’ meaning how the sheep behaves when she’s been struck by a blowfly.  These start off very subtle and can be easily missed, it’s usually a slight change in demeanour, a look in the eye, an odd sitting position.  It then progresses as the irritation builds and the sheep will try to scratch the affected area.  She’ll not usually be able to reach and this will cause her distress.  As the days pass she’ll show signs of depression, hang her head, stand in a corner, lie down and eventually give up.

Yssi haltered up

We’re continually on the lookout for the signs, and three of our little lot are particularly prone so they get more checks than usual.  Today the three musketeers were due their fortnightly check ups.

I set off after breakfast with my bucket containing: shears, maggot oil, cotton wool pads, Protego powder spray, nitrile gloves, halter and sheep nuts.  The dogs came with me as they like to hang around with the flock whilst clicking into guard mode.  George and Elliot are both Sheep Guardian dogs, George is a Hellenic Shepherd and Elliot is a Turkish Anatolian and they love nothing better than to mooch around with the flock whilst keeping a watchful eye out for bears and wolves, (the Scottish equivalent of).

I found the sheep half way up a hill so  I parked up and set up ‘camp’.  I dragged some hurdles over and built my treatment pen, I laid out my equipment on the back of the quadbike.  Then off I went to get my first sheep.

Something I’ve learned to do since having sheep is teach them their names and have them come over to me when called, individually.  This isn’t just a fancy party trick, it means I can do sheep work quickly and with minimum running around.  Unfortunately this convenient little trick is only possible when I’m on my own with the gang with no one else is present, especially not the vet.

damp wool below tail needing a trim

So I brought in Ynca, then Yssi, then Yogi.  All three have a funny condition on their bottoms where the wool stays damp in the area just below the tail.  This can cause little patches of bacteria to form under the wool which unless I trim regularly, can lead to small infections occurring.  This can then create puss, which would be a magnet to the blowfly so it’s important to keep them clean and trimmed.

Yogi inspecting my equipment bucket

Ynca, Yssi and Yogi are very tame, but they draw the line at having their bottoms trimmed so I halter them up and tether them so they can’t run around.  I then straddle them so I’m looking down at their bottoms, and off I go with my trimming shears.  Once I’ve trimmed the wool down to a ‘number 1’, I spray it with a powder spray which dries everything out and smells lovely too.  (Protego powder spray is totally brilliant!)

After and hour or so, I finished bottom trimming and was ready for a cup of tea, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam.  The three girls went back to join their pals while I whizzed down the hill followed by the dogs.  Adrian was conveniently between meetings at work and had already put the kettle on ready for a welcome brew.

Yogi with trimmed bottom and powder spray








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A health check for Vi

A couple of weeks ago as I was cleaning out the field shelter, the sheep milling about me ‘helping’, I happened to notice Vi had some discharge around her nose.

A clear nasal discharge is usually nothing to worry about, but Vi’s was definitely on the green side.  Oh, I immediately thought, Pneumonia?  Botfly?  An awful disease that I don’t know about?  Sheep are good at disguising when they’re not well.  As sheep parents we’re always on the lookout for subtle changes in behaviour and signs that something might be amiss.  However this discharge was definitely not subtle.

sheep health sheet

I wiped Vi’s nose with a tissue and sat on a rock to ponder.  Vi seemed her usual happy self, especially after I gave a her a foot rub which she particularly enjoys.   After my initial catastrophising I decided to monitor her for a few days and phone the vet if anything changed for the worse.

selfie with Vi

A week went by and Vi’s nose was still showing a greenish discharge, albeit less as the week progressed.  I nevertheless decided to call the vet anyway just to be sure.   Before calling, I thought it might be helpful to be armed with some more information.  I didn’t want to waste the vet’s time if all she needed was a shot of antibiotic.   So off I went in search of a thermometer so I could take her temperature.

After much rummaging in the cupboard I found four thermometers, all in working order (amazingly!)  I grabbed one and also a halter and some sheep nuts for all eventualities.  At the last minute I also stuffed into my rucksack my ‘sheep health fact sheet’ and a pen.

Vi in pen

The flock were relaxing, chewing cud in one of the lower fields.  As luck would have it they were mooching near a small pen I had set up when I sheared Vera last month.  I called Vi over and popped her in.

The first thing I noticed was that Vi had no more green discharge.  I hoped this meant that she was OK now but decided to take her temperature anyway.  Vi is very tame and friendly so I stupidly thought she’d be happy with me popping a thermometer into her bottom.  Needless to say she was not …  I was glad I’d brought a halter with me and a few minutes later Vi was tied up and giving me a look.  I inserted the thermometer again and waited 30 seconds.

Vi’s temperature turned out to be absolutely normal, as did the other checks I did, respiration rate and rumination rate, she passed with flying colours.

rucksack snuffling opportunity

I released her and she took the opportunity to inspect my rucksack before heading off to join her pals.

I’ll continue to keep an eye on her, but so far she appears to be over her little bout of whatever it was.









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Woolly veggie patch

We have a large area for growing veggies; six rectangles of about 2 x 4 metres.  We like to grow a mixture of root and leaf crops, tomatoes and herbs.  Growing our own is really satisfying and it tastes delicious too.  Plus our nearest supermarket is an hour away so it’s nice and convenient.

Our sheep are largely responsible for the success of our veggies.  Our veggie patch is covered in sheep dung and over the years this has hugely improved the condition of the soil and the worm-count.

mulching with dung early spring

Every spring we pile on the dung before sowing.  It’s tough work, but it looks great once its done with a deep layer of mulch blanketing everything including the weeds.  We pull out the perennials like docks and nettles but the annuals are left to be splatted into submission.

happy worms

The worms look forward to the annual dung party too, they love nothing more than to get stuck into it, creating little tunnels, wriggling around and creating the perfect environment for crops to grow in.

As spring unfolds and the baby crops start peeking out, it’s time to watch out for snails, slugs and blackbirds.  We carefully net off young crops to give them a chance to establish before the blackbirds pull them out.  Once the plants are big enough, we remove the netting and get to work with the second phase of mulching: the sheeps’ wool layer.

woolly veggies
Kale nestled into wool

We lay wool around our crops for several reasons:  as a barrier to slugs and snails, (their soft bodies don’t like the scratchy, dry sensation of wool).  To stop the soil from drying out, to provide a barrier against weed seeds floating past looking for some soil to land on.   Wool mulch is great for so many reasons and one of the best, it’s really handy to have a layer of wool to walk on when rummaging about in amongst the crops snipping spinach leaves for dinner.

collecting dung – Yogi helping out

At the end of the growing season we’ll be giving our sheep a big helping of turnips and carrots as a thank you.



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Hand shearing Vera

Since last week’s story about shearing, we still had one sheep left to shear – sweet Vera.  Vera has photo-sensitive skin and doesn’t respond well to the close shave given by electric blades.  Last year I hand-clipped her and she had a much more comfortable summer as a result.  Giving Vera a haircut is now part of my summer jobs.

Hand-clipping Vera serves two purposes; leaving a half centimetre or so covering of wool on her gives her some protection from the sun (which triggers her allergy).  And using hand shears is less aggravating on her skin.

shearing equipment

So I chose the one day in the week where thundery showers weren’t forecast and off I went to find Vera with my bucket of bits.  In my bucket I had:  Jakoti hand shears, hoof clippers, Protego wound spray, bailer twine, anti-blister rowing glove for my right hand, plasters, halter, midge spray, midge net, water, a  handful of sheep nuts.

Vera looking roly-poly

Having located the flock, Vera was easy to spot, she was the only sheep who still resembled a roly-poly teddy bear.

I take my time shearing, better said, I have no choice but to take my time shearing because I’m not an expert by a very long shot.   Although Adrian and I once learnt to shear the standard ‘Wool Board way’ where you do 16 specific moves, moving at one with the sheep, removing the wool deftly and gently whilst keeping the sheep comfortable at all times, we realised it was a little beyond us.  We would need to practise shearing more than just once a year to get good enough to do it safely and confidently.  This is why we book in a pro shearer like Guy.

Last year in a moment of madness I decided to not only shear Vera, but quite a few others too.  I found the ‘standing up method’ to be quite successful and not too painful on my back.  The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time per sheep because there is more room for error so you have to go slowly.  The sheep isn’t ‘stretched out’ as it is when you shear the standard way so you have to make sure you don’t snip little wrinkles of skin.  This is particularly the case where there are joins, for example where the legs join the torso, where the jaw joins the neck or the tail joins the bottom.

making a start
working my way along her back

So, having popped Vera into a pen, I started at the tail end of her back, made an opening in the wool and snipped in lines along one side of her back.  Then I did the other side which was a little more tricky because I had to reach over her and position my hand at a different angle.  All the while I snipped, my left hand guided the way, feeling the terrain.   Although I have a pretty good map in my head of the anatomy of a sheep, there’s nothing quite like having a pair of blades in your hand to jolt you into a different state of mind.  It’s a bit like reading all the theory about lambing, and then actually doing it.

I had started off putting a halter on Vera and tying a tether to the hurdle so she wouldn’t move around, but after a while I removed it as she seemed quite content chewing the cud and standing in the one position.  This made life easier for both of us as I could move her round to snip her wool at different angles, and Vera didn’t feel constrained by the halter and tether.

face nearly done

After about an hour and half I had removed three quarters of her wool but felt the need for a cup of tea.  I let Vera out to graze and went back to the house for some tea and toast.  Adrian emerged from his study like a small boy at the sound of the kettle and the ping of the toaster.  We chatted about Vera, the weather and Adrian’s work, and then back I went to finish off Vera before the rain started.

time for a tea break

I’ll be honest, despite the cup of tea, I was pretty tired at this point.  I’d had an intense couple of weeks doing other physical jobs around the farm.  In between this I had an important trip to Edinburgh where I was dancing in a show (my other life).  All in all, I was looking forward to a day off.  But with the weather being so showery I had to grab the opportunity to get Vera finished before the next downpour.

When I got back to the fields the sheep were still where I had left them fortunately.  This meant I didn’t have to run around with hurdles setting up a new pen.  I led Vera back into her little pen and spent another hour or so finishing her off.

I did the rest of her face and neck, the remaining side of her flanks and belly.  Now I was on the home straight, all I had left to do was her backside up to the udders.  As I straddled her facing her tail so I could get a good angle, Vera started to get twitchy.  The straddle method is my standard approach for dagging sheep and admittedly, normally I have Adrian helping me to make sure the sheep doesn’t wriggle around too much.  In the absence of Adrian (aka my combi clamp), I opted for Plan B, I tethered her up and sprinkled some sheep nuts on the ground.  This worked a treat and I made a pretty good job of trimming Vera’s bottom even though I say so myself.

Vera sheared at last

With Vera shorn at last, I opened the hurdles.  Vera skipped out with her new hair do and re-joined the flock who had put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign for some serious grazing. Meanwhile, I hobbled out and sat on a rock for a while listening to the sound of sheep eating which is weirdly hypnotic and quite pleasant.




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Shearing 2023

Last Saturday I was just back from walking the dogs and was sitting down for a cuppa when the phone rang.  It was 7am so I grabbed it hoping it would be Guy our shearer.  Happily it was, he said he’d be with us at 9.30 and to bring the sheep down and into the shed.

bringing the sheep down for shearing

Still in my wellies I ran upstairs to tell Adrian.  We’d been waiting a couple of weeks for a shearing slot, the weather was perfect, it had been hot and dry for a few weeks and the sheep were feeling the heat.  It was due to rain that afternoon so to say I was relieved was an understatement!   It was Adrian’s lie-in so when I bounded into the bedroom he was still asleep.  As I gabbled on about organising the sheep and hurdle arrangements I had the impression I was talking to a bear just out of hibernation.  No matter I said, already halfway down the stairs again, I’d make a start on my own.  Off I whizzed with a handful of bailer twine and my ‘farm handbag’ – an empty lick-bucket full of sheep things – sheep nuts, a can of ‘Protego’ spray, hoof clippers, tick remover and lots of other bits and bobs.

Within a short while I had set up a large pen in the orchard, standing back to admire it I remembered I’d better go off up the hill and get the little darlings.

sheep following me down the hill

By the time I got back with the gang, Adrian was up and about and was able to shut the gate behind us in the nick of time.  Sheep have an uncanny knack of knowing when something is up, and can be good at making a break for it if you’re not quick enough to shut the gate behind them.

Phew!  We both said.  Now for a cup of tea and some breakfast before shearing started.  Shearing is hard, physical work for all involved, mostly for the shearer obviously, but also for the helpers (ie myself and Adrian).  We would be organising the flock, passing the shearer sheep and keeping everything calm.

When the shearer arrived bang on 9.30, he backed his van right up to the shed, got his blades and oil ready and I got the first sheep.   Within a few minutes he’d already sheared our woolly girl, Star.  While Guy worked away like clockwork through the flock, Adrian and I passed him sheep and made sure the rest of them didn’t get in his way and that everything remained calm.

waiting at the hair salon

Guy is a great shearer, he mainly shears small flocks and is well used to Ryelands and their tricky wool.  He also shears Merinos in Australia and if you can shear a Merino you can shear just about anything.

biffy Ymogen outside with Vera

Half way through the morning, Ymogen our smallest flock member, started to get biffy.  She was particularly targeting Yogi who was getting a bit miffed by it all.   Sometimes after sheep have been sheared they don’t recognize each other.  There’s a lot of bottom sniffing, and sometimes biffing.  As Ymogen was starting to disrupt the other sheep we decided to bundle her out and all was calm again.

Within a couple of hours, 18 sheep were sheared with just Vera to go.  Vera however would be sheared on another day, by me.  Because of her sensitive skin she reacts badly to a close shave so I’ll be clipping her with hand shears and giving her a slightly longer hair cut.

Elliot keeping an eye on things
heading off with their new ‘do’s’

Once Guy had gone off to his next job, we checked the flock for nicks and scratches, all was looking good so we let them out again and off they trotted back up the hill.


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Cuddle training the hens – part two

Progress with the hen “cuddle training” since my last blog story has been a slow.  Mainly because I have been super busy holding the fort.  Adrian took a full-time job at the start of the year which means that I’m juggling more plates on the smallholding.  The hen cuddle training has continued but not as speedily as I had hoped when I started back in April.

Clippy getting used to people

This said, we have progressed a few things with the training;  there is now a picnic table in the hen run where we can have our elevenses with our feathered friends and not get our bottoms wet anymore with sitting on the grass.

elevenses with the hens and Chero the cockerel

More recently, Adrian has done some nifty wall work.  At the weekend he created a neat gap in the stone dyke which runs between our garden and the hen run.  He did this in 27’c heat, and if dismantling huge rocks to form a gap wasn’t sweaty enough work, digging two deep holes to take the enormous gateposts was pretty impressive, hats off to Adrian!

Now we can enter the hen run much more quickly and easily.  Previously we used a gate halfway down the orchard which meant carrying things like water and 20kg sacks of pellets etc was a right palaver.  Not to mention balancing trays with tea and scones.

new gate in position

Now we can nip in and out of the hen run carrying our cups of tea and cake without danger of spilling our tea by the time we get there.

We still haven’t managed to pick up any hens other than Becky and Babs (and Cherokee the cockerel), but now we have better access and a posh picnic table, we hope that it won’t be long before our other hens become partial to cuddles too.

rocks neatly in place
pile of rocks
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Cuddle training the hens – part one

Last year we came to the realisation that our hens had gone a little too feral for our liking.  This might not seem to be a problem on the surface of it, indeed if asked, the hens would probably say they had a lovely time with their wild camping expeditions and minimal interference from two legged creatures in wellies.

Cuddle pen

However, as smallholders we like to think our animals go some way towards paying for their keep.  After all, the reason we have hens is so we can have eggs.  Last summer though, it had got to the point where we had virtually no eggs whatsoever and were starting to question why we were spending a fortune on layers pellets and corn for a bunch of hens living out wild.

In the autumn we accidentally solved the egg mystery, we found a huge clutch nestled in a clump of sedge grass while moving the hen coops.  Sadly we had to throw them out as they’d been there for months.  The hens were not only sleeping wild in bushes, they were laying their eggs wild too and they’re very good at keeping the location of their nests secret.  We never would have found those eggs if it hadn’t been for moving the coops.

This year, happily we have eggs again.  The hens have reacquainted themselves with their coops and are laying for all they are worth, hoorah!

Nevertheless our feathered friends are still on the nervous side and prefer to keep us at arms length.  The “bibbles” (last year’s chicks) are fast learning from the older hens to keep us at a distance and they certainly don’t appreciate being picked up as we discovered recently when we had to give the chicks’ bottoms a wash.

day one of hen training

Orpingtons are rather prone to “dangle berries”, (dags).  Their long, glamourous bottom feathers can easily get messy, and dirty bottoms isn’t a good situation.  Unfortunately hens cannot reach round to preen their bottom feathers so unless we help them out, those dangle berries would get bigger and bigger and cause the hen a lot of distress, not to mention putting her at risk from fly strike.

So with frequent bottom patrols on the cards for the Orpingtons, this year we decided to schedule in daily cuddle training so that eventually we’d be able to pick up a hen without any drama.  We have kind of managed this already with Cherokee the cockerel.  He has foot problems and the frequent work we do on him means he doesn’t fly into a blind panic when we give him his pedicures.

From a broader perspective, we’ve always maintained that to get the most out of livestock and build a good relationship, the best thing is to spend quality time with your animals on a daily basis.  There are no shortcuts because it takes time and consistency to build up trust.  But once you’ve got to the point where your animals allow you into their space, it’s really special.  It also makes life a lot easier if you have to help them out of pickles (frequently in the case of sheep), or give them medication, usually this is an injection.  It can be quite distressing for example if your sheep tenses up whilst giving it a jag.  Their energy feeds off our energy and creates a negative feedback loop.  Coming into the pen for any sort of treatment, let alone an injection becomes a negative experience.  Far better to help out an animal who’s already used to our presence and relaxed in our company.  It makes handling livestock a million times better for everyone involved.

hens getting more confident

So we have made space in our day to cuddle-train the hens.  The plan is to have a cup of tea with our feathered friends at 11am daily and allow their natural curiosity to overcome their shyness.  Hens are very inquisitive, and they’re also experts at sniffing out snacks.  We make sure we bring them raisins and other little treats and sprinkle these around whilst enjoying our cuppas.  We’ve hurdled off an area where we can sit with them and have even ordered a picnic bench to make the cuddle corner extra comfy.  The hurdles will make things easier when we start picking them up.

selfie with the hens

We’ve thought carefully about our strategy and decided to start off working on one hen, the more confident of the Orpingtons, Becky McPecky.   She’s a natural born leader and one day she’ll probably rule the roost when our current lady boss Clippy decides to retire.  Working with a naturally confident hen will bring the others in, they’ll watch and learn (well that’s the idea anyway).

So far the cuddle training has gone well and I’ve written up a little diary of the milestones so far:

7th April:  Started training.  Brought out a tray out with a cup of tea and toast for me and treats for the girls (and Cherokee).  Most of the hens came into the pen and hoovered up the treats around my feet.  Some of the shy girls stayed on the outside but seemed more curious than nervous.  Threw some treats to the shy girls to build their confidence.

15th April:  Picked up Becky McPecky.  She was a bit non-plussed but I rewarded her with a raisin.  Kept my hand on her back to prevent her from flapping and let her know not to worry.  (A hand on the back done the right way helps to calm a flappy hen).

Babs looking non plussed

19th April:  Picked up Becky McPecky again, this time I could take my hand off her back and she stayed on my lap.  Rewarded her with 3 raisins and some corn.  Let her hop off in her own time.

23rd April:  Thought I had picked up Becky McPecky but realised it was Babs Bikini Bottom.  Realised this when said hen was more flappy than usual.  On putting her down I noticed her neatly trimmed bottom feathers.  (I have started trimming the Orpington’s bottom feathers and have so far got round to doing two; Babs and Belinda).  On a side note, since my blog story about washing hens’ bottoms, I’ve read that it’s fine to trim the bottom feathers rather than wash them and this is actually advisable because once trimmed, the feathers will stay short all through the summer).

So far all’s going well and I’ll continue to record my progress.   By the end of the summer I hope all our hens will be happy to be picked up and cuddled.  I hope to find their individual tickle spots and learn more about their unique personalities and characters.












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Cherokee the cockerel and his foot problems

For the past few months we’ve been bringing our friendly cockerel Cherokee into the kitchen to perform a minor procedure on his feet.

It all started one day last summer when we noticed him looking a bit down.  On inspection, we discovered a nodule on each foot between his toes.

We suspected these might be “dirt pockets” on the soles of his feet which had pushed up and formed bumps, but we would need a closer look.

Now Cherokee is a laid back sort of a chap, but he does have rather large spurs.  As we hadn’t handled him very often, we decided it would be wise to collect him from the coop at night so he’d be sleepy.  With a bit of luck he wouldn’t mind us prodding and poking his feet.

That evening, we waited till it got dark and the hens had gone to bed, then we tiptoed out with our head torches set to to the red light (which isn’t so intrusive).  We carefully removed the roof from the coop whilst trying not to drop any of the little clips in the grass.  After a bit of kerfuffle, I had Cherokee under my arm and we were able to bring him indoors.

Cherokee before having his feet done

Once in the kitchen, we popped a little hood on his head so he wouldn’t wake up and got to work inspecting his feet.

dirt pockets

Sure enough, Cherokee had two dirt pockets, one on each foot.  These  “pockets” can appear on chickens for no apparent reason (in our experience at least), we’ve only had one other case of “dirt pockets” all the while we’ve kept chickens.  The pockets form over time by dirt settling into small creases in the webbing between the toes and then compacting to form “pockets”.  These pockets need to be emptied regularly otherwise they can cause discomfort and possibly become infected,  it’s one of those things you need to keep an eye on.

Since then, we’ve brought Cherokee in regularly to empty his dirt pockets.  He’s become so used to it that we no longer have to wait until night time which makes life a lot easier.

Cherokee post op
Cherokee outside again with clean feet

We pick him from wherever he happens to be and whisk him in.  These days we no longer have to put his little hood on and we’ve noticed that he likes to watch what we’re doing which is a little unnerving and cute at the same time.  He keeps his beady eye on us, stretches his feet out and looks at me intently as I push the pockets inside out and ease the dirt out.  It’s very satisfying work, especially if the clod pings out in one go.  Then, I clean the pockets with a cotton bud dipped in diluted cider vinegar and carry him outside again to join his ladies.