Vera’s “summer itches” usually start just after shearing time. This is understandable since her woolly coat would protect her from the sun’s rays. The wool has to come off though otherwise there would be other issues. With her shorter wool and the warmer weather, Vera’s skin becomes red and inflamed which makes Vera feel itchy and irritable. All she wants to do is scratch, scratch, scratch and sit in the shade of the field shelter. Un-woolled parts are particularly affected such as her ears, eye area, “armpits” and the backs of her legs.
As there’s no cure for Vera’s allergy, all we can do is help her feel better until autumn when her symptoms naturally subside. So we give her a long acting steroid injection, and daily doses of udder cream which is very soothing. She’s not too keen on the injections – thankfully we only have to give her one or two throughout the summer, but she absolutely loves the cream.
Every morning at around 7am as I do “the morning sheep check” (making sure our woolly friends are all present and haven’t got into pickles overnight), Vera trots over for “the cream ceremony”. She obligingly lifts each leg in turn so I can apply cream into her “armpits”, and then stands there staring into space as I smooth cream onto her ears and legs. It’s a pleasant addition to my morning routine and knowing Vera enjoys the experience and feels better afterwards makes it all the more enjoyable.
This year, Vera’s pal Vi has shown a keen interest in the cream ritual. So much so that she has started coming over and standing next to Vera waiting for her turn. She shows particular interest when I put cream on Vera’s ankles. This is no doubt due to Vera’s happy reaction when I apply cream to the area just above her hooves on her hind legs – she stretches her neck out as far as she can and starts licking the air as if it were raining sheep nuts (her favourite snack). Then, she turns her head towards me and starts nibbling my arm for all she is worth. If you’ve ever been nibbled by a sheep you’ll know this is a funny experience, sort of pleasant but also borderline painful!
So back to Vi, the other day I wondered idly whether all sheep enjoyed hoof / ankle scratches. I know they like a good back scratch, (so do cows by the way, they even have “cow back scratchers” you can buy and install in your barn!) But I didn’t know about ankles. Perhaps this was “a thing” in the world of sheep? As I pondered this the other morning whilst sandwiched between Vi, Vera and a pot of udder cream, I remembered that over the years I’ve seen some of our flock rubbing their feet on fences and the like. Hmmm I thought, I wonder …
Now normally (unless you are Vera), sheep stamp their feet and twitch when you touch their hooves and legs because their instinct tells them that you might be a fly. But I decided to see if Vi would like a wee scratch anyway.
I gently reached over and touched her left hind leg, and to my surprise, she let me do this with no hint of a stamp. So I went for it and gave her a full on scratch all round her hoof. She turned her head to look at me with an expression of what I think was mild surprise, and then stretched out her neck and proceeded to do the “happy sheep thing” (stretchy neck followed by hoovering up of imaginary rain shower of sheep nuts). As an additional after flourish, she nibbled my wellies.
So now I have created a wee rod for my back because as well as putting cream on Vera, I have to give Vi an ankle rub, all the while being watched with interest by the rest of the flock. Form an orderly queue please!
Yesterday was shearing day, an exciting day in the sheep calendar!
We look forward to shearing for so many reasons but the number one reason is sheep welfare. We really feel for our sheep as spring turns to summer. They get quite down in the dumps in hot weather, ours park themselves in their field shelter and barely move. They much prefer the fresher weather of early spring and late autumn when there is tasty grass to be nibbled, but it is still cool enough to forage without getting hot and bothered and pestered by flies.
Flies are a constant problem throughout the summer. They zoom in on faces and bottoms (which isn’t a problem in itself apart from being irritating), unless we’re talking about the dreaded Blow Fly. The Blow Fly, commonly known as the green bottle, seeks out damp places, (preferably with a hint of dung), on live flesh, on which to lay her eggs. Once the eggs hatch, the maggots burrow into the flesh which as you can imagine is very unpleasant and can be fatal if not caught in time.
Something else we need to look out for in the spring is sheep getting “cast”. Sometimes sheep roll over onto their sides to scratch an itch and end up on their backs like beetles with their legs waving in the air. Usually they can roll out of this position again, however if their wool is particularly heavy, as it is at this time of the year, they can be so weighed down by it that they can no longer right themselves. If stuck like this for too long the outlook is not good. This year we found Sparkle stuck on her back on a flattened pile of nettles in a little dip by the lambing shed. She was pretty shaken up when we found her, but luckily perked up within the hour. We stayed with her to make sure she was OK after getting her on her feet and during this time we watched her going from panting, to having a wee, to shaking herself, to walking about, to finally foraging and then cudding. This is why we check up on our flock three times a day and are always counting them.
So, there are many reasons we look forward to shearing, but in a nutshell, once they’re sheared they are fresher, perkier, less attractive to flies, and less prone to doing roly polys and getting stuck on their backs!
As a result, we are happy and more relaxed, and I haven’t even mentioned wool yet!
After shearing I have huge bags stuffed full of fleeces. I love nothing better than bags full of freshly sheared fleeces with that rich scent of lanolin wafting around and soft bounciness when you put your hand in. But most of all I look at those bags as being worlds full of potential and exciting things, new woolly projects I can get stuck into, my mind goes into a mini whirlwind just thinking about it!
This year shearing went really smoothly. We have a “small flock” shearer, Guy, who specialises in, you’ve guessed it, small flocks 😉
He comes along with his partner Dee who runs around getting fresh blades and oil and rolling up the wool. Meanwhile myself and Adrian make sure the sheep are where they should be. We pen them up in a mini coral made up of hurdles and once the shearer has finished one sheep we need to have the next one ready and waiting. Minimal time, minimal stress is our motto on shearing day. Easier said than done however, our sheep are normally easy to handle, but the atmosphere of shearing makes them quite frisky. Getting each sheep ready to post through to Guy was a little fraught at times, a couple of times we fell over and were baptised in dung, but this is all part of it. Despite feeling a little worse for wear by the end of the afternoon, it was a brilliant day and the sheep are happy little souls once more.
We ordered some different bales of hay recently and our first thought was, would the sheep eat it? Sheep are creatures of habit and can be quite fussy with their hay. They prefer the softer variety rather than the stalky hay, and they like it fresh and sweet smelling, (well that is understandable, who wouldn’t)? By the way, if you ever need to test if hay is fresh and tasty, have a good sniff of it, if it smells sweet and a bit like weetabix then it’s likely to go down well with the little darlings. Well, the new hay we’d had delivered was certainly fresh (tick), and it smelled sweet and weetabixy, (another tick), but it was definitely on the stalkier end of the hay spectrum, uh oh!! Their old hay was soft as can be and they loved it. So when we filled the feeders up last week we resigned ourselves to the wee woollies turning their noses well and truly up.
Well, it just goes to show you shouldn’t count your hay before its scoffed, you’ll be happy to hear, they loved the new hay! Stalks and all! In fact, they told us in no uncertain terms that this new batch was much tastier than the stuff they’d been munching all winter!! We reminded them that there is still a bit of winter left in the farming calendar, the grass doesn’t come through till the end of April, so they can have their new type of hay for another few weeks yet. They were happy with this news but told us they still preferred grass when push came to shove and they couldn’t wait for winter to come to end, we nodded our heads in agreement, we can’t wait for spring too!
Winter on the smallholding is all about keeping our woolly friends fed, watered and mucked out.
The beginning of November marks the start of the “big hay ceremony”. This means that every morning and evening we fill the feeders up with fresh hay while the sheep mill around “helping” – which roughly translates to them helping themselves to hay while we attempt to get it in the feeders!
The hay sees them through until spring but if the winter is mild they’ll spend less time at the feeders and trundle up the hill to the higher pastures foraging for grass and small plants bravely making an appearance. Winter grass isn’t very nutritious though and our Ryelands are lowland sheep and not as tough as their hill bred cousins. The wouldn’t survive a Scottish winter without their daily hay.
This year the winter has been particularly cold, we’ve had snow on the ground for more than two weeks and since Christmas the sheep had had enough of foraging in the hills and set up camp in the paddock by the house. The paddock is their sanctuary, a lot of our sheep were born in the paddock so it’s also a nursery. It’s a safe place for them to come to to get out of the elements. There’s a big shed where they can shelter from the rain, there are also apple trees which they enjoy sitting under whilst chewing the cud. But best of all, the paddock is home to their hay feeders and their favourite big orange buckets. These orange buckets are a special winter treat which sheep adore, they’re lick buckets which contain nutrients, vitamins and minerals and lots of yummy ingredients. They just can’t get enough of them!
Yesterday the sheep had licked their buckets clean and were eagerly awaiting new ones. As I heaved the buckets out of the wheelbarrow and dragged them into the barn I had barely got the lids off when I was set upon by nineteen teddy bears in a Winney the Pooh rugby scrum. Fortunately I managed to get out more or less unscathed and sat on a straw bale to recover whilst watching their happy faces listening to them licking away for all they were worth, happy days! 😊
From time to time I am asked if I run courses on making felted fleece rugs.
Last year I pondered hosting courses here on our smallholding. The trouble is, I wasn’t sure how I would best be able do this because the method I use to make these rugs is quite time consuming. Each rug is carefully constructed putting locks into place little by little. As you can see if you click here, one rug takes about a week to make.
As I was pondering what to do, our friendly virus made an appearance, hmm I thought, what to do? Then my brain clicked into gear, why don’t I offer a downloadable course that people can learn do in their own time?
So I got to work, and fast-forward a few months …
I am happy to announce to you fabulous crafty folk who love all things sheepie, that I have just uploaded a course and it is available to order from our shop!! Click here for more info 😊
I’ve been working on this for quite a while as you can see from the videos, I filmed myself at work in the height of summer, midges and all. Seems like a long time ago now as I look out of the window at the autumn drizzle.
Once I’d written the instructions I wanted to test them out on a willing victim so I sent them to a pal in Australia along with the videos. I’m very happy to report that the instructions apparently make sense. My friend made a fabulous rug and has since made a few more, (perhaps I should mention that it’s quite addictive)!
Happy my instructions worked, I couldn’t wait to get them uploaded and available to the whole wide world. But I was stopped in my tracks by Adrian (hubs) who suggested editing them. “Hmph” I thought, “how annoying, I’m sure they’re fine and won’t need a re-read”. Well Adrian wasn’t going to let it go – I suspect he wanted to make the most of this opportunity and get his own back on me for me scribbling zillions of notes and drawing silly faces all over the smallholding book he wrote last year and the dog book he is in the middle of writing now.
Sure enough, back came my pretty booklet, all covered in scribbles. I had to admit though, once I’d deciphered the hieroglyphics masquerading as handwriting, I was secretly pleased Adrian had offered his editing services as I was shocked to realise there were a lot of typos lurking, not to mention some rather dubious grammar.
Well since then I’ve made the final changes and we’ve put everything into a zip file and made it available at long last.
If any of you order the course and make a rug I would love to hear from you, please include photos of your creations! I can’t wait to see already!
Two weeks ago our dear brave hennie Bim, passed away to the Great Hen Run in the Sky.
Bim was a remarkable hen, she lived a whole year and a half longer than predicted since developing a serious condition called “egg yolk peritonitis”.
Basically this meant that every time Bim laid an egg, the yolk would miss popping into the egg shell and instead, slip into her coelomic cavity where it festered and became infected.
Since being diagnosed back in the summer of 2019, Bim somehow managed to shrug off the infection (with a bit of help from us but mostly by her own remarkableness) and carried on with her every day business of scratching around, bobbing about and laying eggs, well, internal ones anyway.
Winter came and her swelling subsided in line with the hens not laying over the winter months.
With the arrival of spring though, Bim started to swell up again and our hearts’ sank.
We thought long and hard and had several cups of tea over which we made the decision to leave off the injections. She’s an elderly hen and we felt the invasive treatment would cause her more stress than the condition itself. Being an older girl, her breast was on the skinny side and it was actually really tricky to find some muscle to stick the needle in. So we continued to monitor her through the peak egg laying months, spring and summer, and continuted to give her garlic and cider vinegar.
One day earlier in the year, April or thereabouts, Bim decided she’d had enough of garlic and refused to eat any more. I can’t say I blame her, she was developing very garlicky breath and Cherokee the cockerel and the other hens had been complaining.
Garlic-free, Bim seemed happy enough despite the swelling which caused her to waddle like a penguin. We continued to monitor her and the swelling came and went but never completely disappeared.
Sometimes I think perhaps the reason Bim kept going for so long was because she had an important job to do, she was “Top Hen”! This meant that she was first to the corn in the morning, and, well, first to everything really. Her status meant that the other hens looked up to her and gave her lots of respect, including Cherokee the cockerel.
If any of the hens stepped out of line, Bim would give them a sharp telling off in the form of a peck. The hens and Cherokee all understood this and were happy to follow Bim’s lead.
Right up to her last day, Bim commanded respect amongst the flock, however, we suspected we knew who was “second in command” and who would take over when eventually Bim breathed her last breath.
And that was Tina Sparkle.
Tina Sparkle is a confident hen of a certain age. We inherited her when we moved to Auchenstroan so we’re not actually sure how old she is, she could be 5 or 6 or older. Tina Sparkle is a small hen, particularly compared to Bim who was a big girl, but she doesn’t let her size get in the way of her natural leadership skills. She has slipped into Bim’s shoes very happily, and the other hens (not forgetting Cherokee) are all more than happy to follow her lead.
We wish Tina Sparkle every success in her new role and have no doubts that she is the right lady for the job. Congratulations Tina Sparkle!
She has developed photosensitisation due to (most likely) eating a plant containing an alkaloid which then causes, in some cases, an allergic reaction to the sun.
Her condition slowly develops with the advance of summer, and then dwindles with the onset of autumn. During the height of summer, Vera can often be found on her own seeking shelter in the pig ark or the lambing shed, somewhere away from the sun’s rays. Exposure to the sun causes her un-woolled parts to become red and itchy and gets worse after shearing.
A complication arising from this is haematomas of the ear caused by shaking of the head as a result of the itching and general irritation. Blood vessels then burst which in turn causes swelling and more discomfort.
It’s a vicious cycle and poor Vera has been in and out of the inspection pen almost daily while we applied udder cream to her sore skin, (we used to use sudocreme but have since discovered udder cream to be much better). We’ve also been giving her steroid injections on and off through the summer to help with the swelling, and we’ve also been checking her daily for the shepherd’s nemesis; blowfly activity, aka maggots, (the blowfly have been quite a problem this summer). Lately we’ve added another job to our Vera care, we’ve been cleaning her ear with cotton wool dipped in hibiscrub as her left ear has been leaking puss recently, probably due to the haemotoma becoming infected.
If you’re eating whilst reading this, you may want to finish first 😉
Two weeks ago, Vera’s ear started to look quite bad, it was already swollen from the haematoma, but the addition of the puss and blood made it look even worse. The appearance of puss and blood sounds worse than it actually is. If “stuff” was coming out of the ear that meant that it was draining and the infection would eventually clear by itself, it’s the body’s way of getting rid of things. But we needed to watch her carefully and make sure infection didn’t take hold. Sheep are very stoical and will be brave for a long time before giving up over-night. So we upped our checks and also phoned the vet to check if we should be doing anything other than the daily hibiscrub clean up. We were advised to give her a long acting antibiotic and to keep keeping an eye on her.
We duly did this, we gave her her first jab of Betamox yesterday and wiped her ear clean whilst being thankful there are hardly any flies around now what with it being September.
Today we had hoped to see some small improvement, but poor Vera seemed to be shaking her head more, and her ear was still enormous, almost fit to burst.
We had a cup of tea and decided to call the vet out to have a look, just to be sure. We didn’t think the infection was draining fast enough, it looked as though things were backing up, and although the antibiotic would be a safety net for Vera, it wouldn’t stop the immediate discomfort caused by the pulsating swelling.
The vet came out this very afternoon, it was Linda. Linda, like the rest of the team at the local vet surgery is gentle, caring and very knowledgeable. She knows Vera well, and Vera also knows Linda though tends to give her a wide berth!
So before Linda arrived we penned Vera up.
Once Linda arrived we got to work, we knew what Linda would be doing would be quite invasive and we had to keep Vera as still as possible.
We backed Vera into a corner and Adrian made sure she didn’t swing her rump round and try a three point turn. I supported her head, while Linda held her ear and got to work.
First she inspected it closely and confirmed our suspicions, there was an infection going along the whole length of the ear. There were two main “pockets” of infection, one at the tip end, and one at the other bottom end.
There was already a small escape route at the bottom end where blood had been seeping out for the last week or so. However Linda wasn’t sure if the two pockets were connected and wasn’t keen on lancing both sites as there are lots of blood vessels in the ear.
She decided to work at the top end where the blood vessels are more spaced out and there would be less risk of nicking one.
She inserted a needle into the first pocket and squeezed.
Turn away now if you’re squeamish.
Quite a lot of puss came out, but not enough.
So Linda asked us to get some warm water and hibiscrub, she wanted to squirt water through to completely wash it out.
Now here’s the interesting part, it turned out both infection sites were connected, so when Linda injected warm water through at the top, out it came at the bottom! This was excellent news, it meant that we could wash her ear out in one go, without having to repeat the operation.
As Linda sloshed warm water through using her syringe, all I could think about as I watched what was coming out the other end, was toothpaste. It was truly fascinating, and weirdly exciting. Vera for her part was relaxing into the process, chewing cud and giving the occasional sigh. At times she looked up, stretching her neck with her eyes half closed, it must have been like having a very itchy spot scratched, deep below the surface, a spot which has been itchy for a long time, what a relief!
When there was no more toothpaste coming out and only clear water, we all came up for air. We were a bit spattered but very happy. Vera’s ear looked much better, it was still a bit swollen from the internal damage caused by the haematoma, but it had lost that red, angry look. We gave Vera a wee treat of her favourite sheep nuts and led her out to join the others.
We thanked Linda and said goodbye, put the kettle on and had some tea and plum crumble, I almost declined the cream but decided I was too hungry to say no 😋
As lots of you know who visit our page, I take on commissions as well as selling things from our shop. I’m mainly asked to make rugs for people but sometimes I get more unusual requests, for example, recently a lady with her own flock of sheep asked me to make some cushions from her favourite sheep’s fleeces. Sometimes the unusual requests are, well, slightly more unusual shall we say, in this particular case anyway – I was asked to make a jacket for a chainsaw carved, solid wooden sheep called “Lamby”.
To make things even more fun, the request was top secret, a birthday surprise for a friend of ours, Christine, who farm-sits for us on the rare occasions that we go away.
I had to be careful not to let anything slip out in conversation and had to work to a time scale to have the jacket ready in time for the birthday surprise!
So I allocated two weeks, and set about rummaging in the shed for the ideal fleece.
Now I should point out that “Lamby” the wooden, chainsaw carved sheep is actually a sculpture of a real live sheep belonging to our friend. So I had several photos to work with so I could make the jacket look authentic. Lamby is a Texel – Herdwick cross, and I had plenty of the right fleeces in the shed because to make things even more fun, our birthday friend Christine, happens to be the lady who gives me her fleeces every year!
So, armed with the perfect fleece, complete with purple paint spray on the bottom, I set about preparing it. This means going through the fleece and selecting the nicest looking locks. Not all locks are the same in one fleece, some are matted, prone to breakage, badly sheared, or just plain “manky”! I like to cherry pick my locks so that only the nicest go into what I’m making.
In the meantime, Christine’s husband, Russell, said he’d bring the wooden sheep over and leave it with me so I could get all the measurements I needed.
Now for some strange reason I had imagined the wooden sheep to be like one of those toys on wheels that you drag around. I’m not sure why I thought this, but when Russell arrived with the wooden sheep fresh from the chainsaw carver (https://www.facebook.com/chipoffchainsawcarving/), I nearly fell over backwards. He opened the boot of his pick-up, and there she was, she was enormous!! Probably bigger than the biggest sheep I’ve ever seen. Once I’d recovered myself and my husband and Russell had given themselves hernias getting her out of the car and heaving her into the shed with ratchet straps, I could see she was just beautiful! Intricately carved with amazing attention to detail I was left a bit speechless to be honest, which my husband would probably say is a rare occurrence.
The following day, after mulling things over and waking up a bit in the night in a cold sweat, I decided I’d need at least two more fleeces, one wasn’t going to be big enough. I also started to wonder if two weeks would be enough time to get the job done. Bearing in mind I’ve never made a felted fleece jacket before, least of all for a wooden sheep!
But in amongst the panic I was also hugely excited. I absolutely love making stuff, I love sewing, I love felt making, and this task would embody my two favourite things! Like a woman possessed I started to plan designs in my head, would I line it? Should I add a hood? What colour lining should I make? Should I make it reversible? How would it fasten? I had excitement butterflies from all the mulling and absolutely couldn’t wait to get started. Soon my work space started to resemble a mad professor’s workshop, there was wool everywhere, bits of pattern paper, bubble wrap, pink spotty fabric, it was such FUN!!!! By now I had a vision in my mind as to how I wanted the Lamby jacket to look and had it all drawn out on pattern paper. (Well, I had to order some more pattern paper actually as I’d scribbled so many “first attempts” that I ran out of paper!) I also cut up a few old bed sheets to make my “toiles” much to Adrian’s horror, “are those our new bedsheets from Marks and Spencer’s”? He asked me as I disappeared into my parlour like a puff of smoke!
Days went by and I worked away, I sweated and toiled as I tore locks from fleeces and made huge piles of “usable locks” and “locks for veggie patch” (non-usable locks would be used as mulch in the garden).
A week went by and I decided I had enough locks to start laying them out onto my enormous template ready and waiting in the shed.
Off I went trailing wool in my wake and Adrian didn’t see me for days as I placed locks of wool, small bunches at a time, until the entire template was completely covered. It was laborious work, but seeing it grow before my eyes was deeply satisfying, a bit like putting compost on the garden. You start counting wheelbarrow loads, at first you work out there are 50 more loads to go, and then suddenly you realise there are only 3!!
At long last, with the template covered with locks, I was ready to add the hot water and soap and begin felting.
I pondered how much water I’d need. Normally to make a large rug I use two enormous pans full. For this job I reckoned I would need at least 6.
Pans ready on the aga, I started to felt, running backwards and forwards between the shed and the kitchen like a bee, I thought, this is what it must have been like for a Victorian girl working “in service”, carrying huge boiling pans of water to and fro. I spared a thought for my Auntie Edie who worked “in service” in a big house during the 1920s. Auntie Edie would have been proud of me, I inherited her Singer sewing machine and I was sorry she couldn’t see what I was getting up to, we would have had a cup of tea together and discussed fabric and wool and things like that.
But back to felting, three days went by and I repeated the water ceremony. I wet the wool, massaged it, soaped it, rolled it up, then I rolled the bundle 400 times and let it rest.
On day three after a total of 1,600 rolls I was satisfied the wool had felted.
Now to let it dry!!
I absolutely couldn’t wait for it to dry so I could try it out for size on Lamby, and begin to snip it to shape so I could start the fun part, attaching the pink spotty lining to it!
But I had to be patient, oh dear, not my favourite thing I do admit.
So I hurried things along and stuck it on the aga.
In two days it was dry (ish), and I took my scissors to it.
Then I cut out the lining and realised I’d made a wee mistake, I needed to be able to turn the whole thing inside out as I’d be sewing it together “right sides facing” but the felted fleece was so huge I’d need to allow a long slit to be able to turn it the right side out. I’d later sew the slit up by hand and make it as discreet as possible. I decided to cut the lining down the middle but in my excitement I forgot to add seam allowance. Luckily I’d ordered twice as much fabric as I needed, phew!! I set about cutting it correctly and this time my plan worked!
I fought with the sewing machine and pondered getting a more rufty tufy one one day, but meanwhile, I squeezed everything through and my John Lewis machine did me proud. I was pleased as punch!
With the jacket now finished all that was left for me to do was try it on Lamby, and let Russell know he could come and collect it ready for the next day.
I’m very pleased to report that Christine loves her wooden sheep complete with woolly jacket 😊
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!
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.
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 😊
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.