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Training our rescue dog Elliot and introducing him to the sheep

We’ve had our new dog Elliot for just over a month now.  Being a rescue dog and coming from Turkey, up until now we’ve focussed mainly on settling him into his new environment and getting him used to his new “pack”, (us and of course George our resident dog).

pack walk

Elliot’s young life has seen many changes, first he was rescued from the streets where he faced an uncertain future, then he lived in a rescue centre for a while, then a foster home, and then eventually he moved from Turkey to Scotland where he came to live with us.  At only a year old he has experienced a lot of upheaval so we knew it would be important to take things slowly and help him to feel secure in his new environment.  His training would therefore be approached in a very slow and gentle manner.

Furthermore, although to us humans his past was wobbly and his new home is, from our perspective, all he could ever wish for, this lovely new home wouldn’t necessarily be that great from Elliot’s point of view, at least not at first.  To Elliot, it’s “yet another change”, more sights and smells to get used to and another pack to get to know.  It would all be quite stressful for him to adjust and this would more than likely take a few months.  We know from taking on new livestock that animals never truly settle until about the six month mark.  They might give the appearance of being settled sooner than this, but there are little things about the body language and a look in the eye that lets us know they’re still finding their feet.

So with this in mind we were aware that during Elliot’s adjustment period we’d need to approach his training taking little baby steps.

teaching Elliot recall with whistle

By the same token, we knew it would be important to start Elliot’s training pretty much from day one.  Being an Anatolian cross, he’s a big, powerful dog with bags of energy and a huge willingness to learn.  We knew he’d need mental stimulation as well as regular walks, so during week one we started to work on his recall.

Anatolians are bred to be independent dogs so doing a speedy recall isn’t their best subject.  They prefer to make their own minds up about things.  Asking them to “come” is the equivalent of sending them an e-mail.  They get the message but they ponder it for a while and then decide in their own time whether it’s worth wandering over.

 

True to form, Elliot’s first recalls fell on “deaf” ears.  We always practiced it on a long lead so we could guide him in and reward him.  For the first two weeks we had to guide him in all the time.  Then, one day he started to get it.  He now comes over to us and rarely has to be guided, sometimes he bounds over which is very heart warming.  We have a lot of land here on the smallholding so in anticipation of him needing to be reached from further afield we’ve now replaced the vocal command with a whistle.  He’s responding well to this and seems to prefer the whistle to our voices.

As he’s enjoying learning so much, we’ve introduced “sit”, “down” and “relax” to his repertoire.  The “relax” position is really important, it is where Elliot lies on his side.  We included this in anticipation of introducing Elliot to our livestock.  We’d need him to be in the “relax” position when we take him in with the sheep and hens so that his energy would be right and he wouldn’t look threatening.

“sit”
“down”

So, with his basic training ticking along so nicely we thought now would be a good time to introduce some sheep work to his routine.

Over the coming weeks we’ll be taking Elliot to an adjacent field to wherever the sheep might be grazing, and put him in the “relax” position for about ten minutes while the sheep mooch about near him but on the other side of the stock fence.  George has an important job to do here, his job is to lie in a “down” next to Elliot to show him how it’s done.  Elliot will be allowed to look at the sheep but not fixate.  He’ll be on his lead and supervised at all times.

Yesterday was a big day for Elliot, his first day relaxing with the sheep!  We had him in his “relax” right next to the sheep but behind a fence.  Some of the sheep came up to investigate and Elliot stayed relaxed the whole time.  He did brilliantly!  The energy stayed calm, the sheep didn’t seem phased by him and we were more than happy with how it went.

Today we took him over again and repeated the process.  We’ll be doing this every day for the next few weeks now.  Later on we’ll repeat the process but with the hens.

“relax”

There’s no way of telling how long it will be before we can let Elliot mooch around in amongst the sheep (on his lead), but we’ll know when we know.  You can’t rush things like this, Elliot and the sheep both need to get used to each other’s presence and then start to build a relationship.  We’re very much looking forward to seeing how he progresses over the next few weeks.

 

 

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Yarr has a sore hoof

Every so often sheep get sore feet.  This is not too surprising as they spend a lot of time on their hooves as they go about their daily business.  Sore hooves are usually caused by “foot rot” which is a bacterial infection.  Foot rot is really common in warm, wet summers such as the one we’re having this year.  Bacteria loves nothing better than to hang around in warm, damp soil.  There are however lots of other reasons a sheep could be limping so it’s always important to check the hoof carefully and find out what’s wrong before deciding on a course of treatment.

This morning on the early morning animal check Adrian noticed Yarr was limping.  Heavy rain was due later (again!) so I decided to whizz out as soon as I’d finished breakfast and take a look at Yarr’s hoof to see what was wrong.

I grabbed my rucksack and filled it with everyone I’d need:  a bottle of Betamox LA antibiotic, a syringe and needle, gloves, hoof clippers, a can of antibacterial blue spray, some sheep nuts and a bucket.

As the sky got darker I set off across the fields looking for the sheep.  Luckily they were grazing not too far from the house, however I’d need to set up a pen and get Yarr into it in order to have a look at him.  As luck would have it we’d left four hurdles stacked not too far away, so I set off to get these and trudged back, dragging them through the long grass.  Hurdles are quite heavy and I can only manage two at a time so I made this journey twice, all the while hoping the sheep didn’t migrate somewhere else in the meantime!

Luck was on my side and as I set up my little treatment area, the sheep were still grazing nearby.  Yarr was sitting down only a few meters away so he’d not have too far to walk on his sore foot.

pre-treatment cuddle

I called him over and he made his way straight into the pen for which he got a big fat cuddle as a thank you.  Yarr loves his cuddles, he’s very affectionate and fortunately he’s one of those sheep who doesn’t have an aversion to walking into pens.

With Yarr safely enclosed I took a look at his hoof.  I worked out it was his back right and I had a bit of fun trying to keep him still while I inspected it.  Sheep don’t like you lifting their back legs, it throws them off balance and they kick out, sometimes they can catch your hands so you have to watch you don’t get hurt.  Using my body weight I wedged Yarr up against the hurdles with his head in a corner so he had nowhere to go, and lifted his back hoof as I did this.  His hoof felt hot to the touch so I guessed he probably had an infection.

anti-bac hoof spray

Just to be sure there was nothing else causing his limp, I cleaned his hoof really carefully.  I removed the dirt and grit from the sole area, then I cleaned up the area between the digits which can sometimes get clogged up with little clumps of mud and all sorts.  Then I trimmed off a bit of excess horn.  This done I gave his hoof a good going over with antibacterial spray.

Then, I disentangled myself and set about preparing a wee injection for him.

Betamox injection

As Yarr’s a big boy and I didn’t have Adrian there to hold him still, I went with the “sheep nut solution”.  This is basically a distraction so the sheep doesn’t notice the needle going in and goes like this: “pop sheep’s head in a bucket with a sprinkling of nuts in the bottom to distract sheep whilst needle goes in”.  The last thing I wanted was Yarr careering round the pen with a needle sticking out of his rump, ruining his experience of coming into a pen being a positive thing.

the sheep nut solution

The sheep nut solution made the injection go very smoothly, so much so that I managed to take a photo.  I don’t think Yarr felt anything which is always good when it comes to injections.

This all done and Yarr happy, I let him out and off he trotted to join his pals.  We’ll keep an eye on him over the next few days and if he’s still limping in two days, we’ll give him another wee jag until the infection clears up.

 

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Wonderful Vinegar! The benefits of adding vinegar to the rinse cycle when washing wool.

wonderful vinegar

I love vinegar!  It has so many uses around the house other than in the culinary department.  I use it in the dishwasher as a rinse aid, I make up a vinegar and water solution and clean my windows with it, I spray a vinegar solution onto the iron and bathroom taps to get rid of limescale and I use it as a stain remover.  I even use it in the garden as a weed killer.  My list could go on and on!  But as this blog entry is part of my “Woolly Tips”  – washing wool series, I’m going to rein myself in and focus on the benefits of using vinegar when washing wool, be that woolly socks, jumpers or felted fleece rugs.

First of all, a little bit about vinegar.  There are loads of different types of vinegar; wine, sherry, cider, malt, balsamic, white, rice and lots more.  Very simply put, each type of vinegar is made from a different core ingredient be this grapes, apples, grain or whatever else.  Of all the different vinegars, white vinegar is the one traditionally used for cleaning as it’s slightly more acidic (therefore stronger) than the other vinegars.  It is also colourless so there’s no risk of leaving a trail of vinegar stains in your wake as you go around the house merrily spraying it onto your taps and windows.

While my preferred vinegar for cleaning and weed control is white vinegar, I use cider vinegar for rinsing wool whether I’m washing bobble hats, socks and jumpers, or one of my felted fleece rugs.  The simple reason I use cider vinegar is that I have litres of it knocking around because we make our own.  If I didn’t have a glut of cider vinegar then I’d probably reach for the white vinegar.

So what are the benefits of using vinegar as a wool wash rinse?

I am bursting to tell you so here we go:

  • It removes lingering soap residue. This is particularly relevant if I’m handwashing a large felted fleece rug because rinsing one of these out can be quite tricky not to mention back breaking.  Adding a slosh of vinegar to each rinse makes those soap bubbles disappear faster than a sheep sniffing out a sheep nut.
  • It closes the cuticles on the wool fibres making it smooth and silky. As with hair, the surface of wool fibres is made up of overlapping cuticles.  When washing wool, the combination of warm water and soap opens the cuticles and leaves wool feeling a little stressed and rough to the touch if we don’t close the cuticles again.  Enter vinegar!  Vinegar does a marvellous job of closing those cuticles and smoothing out the wool fibres.
  • It restores wool’s pH back to being slightly acidic which is its preferred state. If you get geeky about laundry detergents as I confess I am, you’ll notice that wool and silk detergents have a lower, more acidic pH than “normal” laundry detergents for cottons and synthetics.  “Normal” detergents as a rule, shouldn’t be used to wash wool because although the alkaline composition does a great job of cleaning, it is too harsh for wool and over time can cause damage to the fibres.  Since I use an alkaline soap to felt my fleeces (alkaline soap is the best for felting), I absolutely need to restore the wool’s pH back to being slightly acidic.  Each time I make a felted fleece rug it gets a vinegar bath after the final wash.  I can almost hear it sighing with relief as it sinks into the water and the cuticles can relax again after all that hard work felting.

Sometimes people ask me how much vinegar to use in their rinse water/rinse cycle.  My answer would be there’s no rule really, I use a “slosh” which probably equates to about 15mls with each rinse.

I also get asked if vinegar makes your woolly jumpers or felted fleece rugs smell like a chip shop.  Funnily enough, once the wool is dry there is no vinegary smell at all.  I also rinse my hair in a vinegar solution and can assure you that there is no smell of vinegar whatsoever, which is just as well because much as I like vinegar I wouldn’t want to walk around in a cloud of “eau de vinegar”.

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Shearing 2022 – hand clipping the woolly Ryelands

This year we decided to hand clip our flock.  We normally have them sheared by a pro and in recent years we’ve had a lovely chap round called Guy who specialises in small flocks.  He does a great job and we’re really pleased to be on his books.

It was our sheep Vera who got us thinking about hand clipping this year.  Vera has a sun allergy and each year just after shearing poor Vera gets the itchies.  She comes up in red spots and we need to give her cream and steroids to help her cope.  This goes on all summer from June until October when the weather cools down and her wool starts growing again.  Although her sun allergy came about originally as a result of eating a toxic plant a few years back, we think losing her fleece at shearing time is definitely a trigger for “the itches”.   We also think her skin might be a little irritated by the shearing blades.

So we thought we’d hand clip Vera this year and not give her a “number 1” hair cut, we’d give her a neat trim instead using hand shears.  We thought leaving a little covering of wool on her might help her skin.

Happy with this plan we then had a radical thought, why stop at Vera, let’s hand clip them all!

starting …

The result being that off I went this morning to shear my first sheep, Yaar!  (aka Mr Roly Poly).

Originally myself and Adrian were going to share the task of shearing, but we received Elliot our new dog last week.  We’ve not trained him (or the sheep) to be in each other’s company yet so Adrian is on dog duty while I’m going to be shearing solo.

So, off I went on the quad bike with four hurdles rattling around on the back tied on with bailer twine.  I also had with me my trusty pink rucksack containing my newly purchased shears, halter, water bottle, wound spray, plasters and some sheep nuts .

Slightly nervous, this being my first time hand clipping, I found the sheep in one of the top fields and set up a pen where they were, in situ.  They gathered round curious as I laid everything out, including my instructions on a piece of paper which promptly blew away.

making progress

I brought Yaar into the pen and got to work.

As you can see from the photos, I decided to clip the sheep with them standing up as opposed to the more usual way which is where you have them in a sitting position between your legs and move “as one” with the sheep.  Our flock are a relaxed bunch and are happy chewing cud and breathing in our ears while we do whatever needs doing to them.  That said, this morning I did pop a halter on Yaar in case he decided to wander off at a critical moment.

I started at the nape of the neck and clipped away.  An hour or so in I was quite pleased with my progress, I’d taken off most of the wool from his “barrel” and miraculously I’d managed to do it so it came off in one piece, a bit like peeling an orange.  As I use their fleeces to make things with I didn’t want it all in bits floating around the hills!

After two hours of work I could tell Yaar was getting bored and I needed a cup of tea and something to eat so I let him out and went back to the house for some refreshment.

about halfway

Half an hour later, re-energised, I went back and worked some more until lunch time.  By now I’d done all of him except one of his back legs and his tummy.

just the back lets and tummy to go

After lunch I went back and finished him off.  The trickiest part was definitely his tummy, Ryelands have a lot of wool on their tummies, more than most sheep and I had to watch that I didn’t accidentally castrate him.  Poor Yaar, he let me crawl underneath him like a mechanic, he was so patient with me!

all done!

By mid afternoon I’d finished, I calculated I’d worked on him for about three hours not including all the breaks.  I’m hoping the more I shear the faster I’ll get and hopefully I’ll have them all done and sporting new haircuts by the end of June!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!