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Dry Stane Dyke Rebuilt

dry stone dyke repairs

One of the common themes of this blog is the repair of dry stane dykes (dry stone walls). Most of these repairs are carried out in order to keep the sheep in, but some are just because we like these walls and want them to look good.

dry stane dyke falling down
dry stane dyke falling down

The latest section needing repair was at the far corner of one of the fields. As ever, a small section had crumbled but repairs extended quite far in both directions. In fact, this wall is very old and there has been a lot of subsidence, so much of it is teetering on the brink of collapse. Finding an upright section either side of the crumbling part was something of a challenge.

dry stone dyke - section to be repaired
dry stone dyke – section to be repaired

In the end, I had to take down around 6.5 metres. Being a boundary wall, it was 1.5 metres tall (5 feet), so that meant moving a lot of stone. A rough calculation showed it to be about 5,000Kg (5 tons). On top of that, it was built in the Galloway style which means big stones near the top. I made sure to keep my feet well clear as those stones were taken down.

As ever, the demolition phase was not too hard, the most strenuous part being carrying the the top stones a few metres to one side. I always keep them in a line so I know I’ll have enough nice stones to finish the top of the wall when I get there. In this case, a drainage ditch forced me to carry them a little further than usual.

dry stone dyke stones layout
dry stone dyke stones layout

The big beasties I lined up close to the wall (on the far side, so not visible in the pictures). The rest I piled up nearby ready so they would be close at hand.

Over a few days in various weather conditions (from sunny to windy rain), I built the layers up. The ground was very soft and soon turned to mud. I found myself sinking from time to time as I attempted to lift larger stones onto the wall.

dry stone dyke - big stones on top
dry stone dyke – big stones on top

The big stones that went onto the top section I did in one session. I just picked them up and manoeuvred them into place, one at a time, hoping they would fit together nicely. It seems to have worked. Only one or two gave me grief, doing their best to slide off and land on my feet. They were the biggest two and needed some clever lifting to get them up there given the wall was around a metre high at that point.

dry stone dyke - repaired
dry stone dyke – repaired

For the final section, I brought in some additional stones, just in case. A huge pile seems to evaporate when fitted neatly together. It was good forward thinking as I ended up using them all.

Despite the weather morphing from bright sunshine to blustery rain and the impatient whining of Elliot, who found the whole process a bit of a bore, I persevered and got it finished. It is always tricky to get the top stones aligned neatly, but ultimately very satisfying.

Usually, I sit down and admire my work a while when I finish, but inclement weather and impatient dogs persuaded me to head back the moment the last stone was in place. I shall have to make do with the photos on this one.

dry stone dyke repaired - front view
dry stone dyke repaired – front view
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Bottoms, hooves and face trims

In the sheep world, Ryelands are often referred to as “teddy bear sheep”.  The reason for this, as you might have guessed, is their striking resemblance to roly poly teddy bears.  Most sheep have wool only on their backs, with their faces, tummies and legs remaining almost bare.  The Ryeland however has wool all over and can cause shearers to go a little pale.  It can be tricky to shear those woolly faces, tummies and legs and it takes longer too.

Yaar “before”

One of our jobs in making sure our Ryelands are happy and healthy is to keep their bottoms and faces trimmed.  During the summer months it’s especially important to keep their bottoms neat because woolly bottoms attract flies and flies are bad news for sheep, especially the blow flow.  We don’t use chemicals on our little lot so we take special care to keep their rear ends spick and span at all times.

We also keep their faces trimmed.  If we don’t trim around their eyes, they can become ‘wool blind’ (where the wool grows around their eyes preventing them from seeing).  Being ‘wool blind’ makes sheep unhappy as they like to be able to see what’s happening around them in order to feel safe.  Sheep have surprisingly good vision, they can see all around them, almost 360 degrees.  If they have wool growing around their eyes they can get nervous and twitchy because they lose the ability to check for predators which is an important part of being a sheep.

Yaar “after”

It’s a lot of work trimming all those faces and bottoms, (and not to mention hooves), so we rotate through the flock each week and work on three or four at a time.  Yesterday it was Yaar, Seline, Scarlett and Vera’s turn for hair cuts.

Adrian and I have got a little hair salon set up in the orchard, we put together some hurdles and bring the sheep in one at a time.  They seem to quite enjoy it and we have no trouble bringing them in.  It’s a good opportunity for us to catch up with the flock and spend quality time with our teddies.

 

 

 

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Auchenstroan Wool & The Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Unesco Biosphere

Recently you might have noticed a new logo in the corner of our home page.  If you click on it, you will be taken into the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Unesco Biosphere’s website.

To re-wind a bit, one sunny day back in the summer, I was enjoying a chinwag and a cuppa with my friend Kate.  We were in the Catstrand café in New Galloway (which incidentally also serves delicious cakes).

Kate works for Nature Scotland and is really plugged into the world of conservation, sustainable living and all things related to permaculture, particularly farming.  Kate and I always have a giggle and great chats whenever we get together.

Whilst putting the world to rights over our cups of tea, Kate asked if I had heard of an organisation called the Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Biosphere.  I said it rang a bell but I wasn’t sure what they did exactly.  (I should probably get out more!)  Kate filled me in and said it might be worth me getting in touch as we, (my woolly business) was just the sort of thing the Biosphere were interested in.  Part of the Biosphere’s work is to promote small, sustainable businesses.

I decided to apply to become a “Proud Supporter” with a view to becoming “Biosphere Certified”.  I clicked on the relevant buttons on the website and up popped a load of forms to fill in.  I’m fortunate to be married to a man who is a whizz at form filling so I roped Hubs in to help me and by the end of the day we had clicked through the pages and sent everything off to be processed.

Last week, out of the blue I received an email from the Biosphere team and saw that happily my application had been successful!

Soon, one of the team will come up to meet us and look at what we do here on our smallholding.  We are very much looking forward to showing them around, introducing them to our animals and chatting about what we do here.

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Splish Splash

It has not been the driest of summers which has had it’s good and bad points. However, it has been one of the wettest of Octobers I can remember. Someone turned the rain tap on and has forgotten to turn it off again.

more puddlesThe ground has been turned from firm grassland into puddles. This is particularly true of the flatter areas where water settles having flowed down the hill. Sadly, there’s not much we can do about it except hope for some dry weather to give it all a chance to drain.

puddlesIt’s not great for the animals. The hens gather and huddle in their shelters, trying to keep dry. The sheep venture out to find grass (plenty of that), but retire to dry off in one of their field shelters.

We’re having to keep a close eye on the sheep’s hooves, checking for signs of foot rot which can flare up in these conditions.

And autumn planting of garlic has been postpones lest the bulbs float away.

In the woodland, the drainage ditches are full but doing their job. Anyway, that’s the way it is in SW Scotland, either too much water or too little.

Thank heavens for wellie boots :).

woodland in autumn
woodland in autumn
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Autumn mulching

Today while I was in the polytunnel having a tidy up, I became aware of some strange noises coming from outside.  It sounded like pigs scoffing their way through a pile of apples and bananas.  I wondered if Adrian had got me an early birthday present.  There were snuffles and grunts interspersed by a strange high pitched creak.  I stuck my head out to investigate,  the noises seemed to be coming from the direction of the veggie patch.  There was also a sheepie-smell drifting around which I couldn’t quite place but seemed familiar.

Looking over at the veggie patch I spotted a huge wheelbarrow filled to the brim with manure trundling down the path going “creak, creak, creak”.  Behind the barrow emerged Adrian going “grunt, ah, ooh, aaa”.  Atop the barrow like a cherry on a cake was a pitch fork.

mulching the dormant beds

Then I remembered, this week is mulching week!

Mulching week entails something we do regularly here, shifting dung from one place to another.  In the case of mulching, this means shovelling well rotted sheep dung from the manure heap, over to the veggie beds.  This is done using a pitchfork, a large wheelbarrow, muscle power and lots of huffing and puffing.

glorious sheep dung

Our veggies love a good mulching, the soil has improved a million-fold since we started piling on the dung every autumn.  When we created our veggie patch five years ago, the soil was in a terrible state, all claggy and compacted.  We think there might have been a structure at some point in the history of the farm, where the veggie patch now is because the soil was so compacted and there was a ridiculous amount of rocks just below the surface.  Mind you, that is normal around here!

Fast forward five years and the soil is crumbly and lovely to work with.  The veggies are happy and thriving, and so are the slugs, but that is another story for another day.

 

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Harvest Time

The harvest rush has been on in the last week. We already had collected what was left of the beetroot (see beetroot bother), but other fruit and veg were ready and needed picked before the pesky slugs had those too. The only things that seem to be safe are the tomatoes (polytunnel too dry for them) and the carrots (special anti-slug box works a treat).

In the last week, we’ve harvested the apples, onions and cabbage. That leaves the sprouts (what’s left of them), broccoli (which will be ready next year) and turnips (haven’t dared look).

Left to right – red wine, cider vinegar (x2), sauerkraut behind 2 x cider

We got a good harvest of apples this year. The best have been set aside for eating, the rest converted into cider vinegar, cider and frozen apples for winter roasts. We got the cider press up and running this year (only taken 5 years), so got some apple juice. We got 5 litres to be exact and all is being made into cider. The eagle eyed among you might be wondering why I have split it across 2 x five litre demijohns. Well, it did all fit into one, but in my experience, wild fruit can be pretty vigorous in the fermentation process and has been known to spray the walls. Of course, nothing has happened yet as the temperature has dropped a bit and the yeast is shivering rather than getting on with it.

There are still a few late developing apples on the trees. Hopefully, they’ll be fine for eating as they come.

We also harvested all the cabbage. That, in itself, removed an army of slugs from the veggie patch. All leaves were examined carefully and any wildlife removed before the cabbage was shredded. Salt was added, massaged in and now that is also fermenting quietly. Should be ready in 3 or 4 weeks.

All takes time, but very satisfying once it’s done.

 

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Chicks Abroad

On Saturday, we spent some time watching our newly hatched chicks in their safe and secure run. It soon became clear that they already needed larger premises. Although they were safe where they were, the grass was showing signs of wear and tear plus, they needed to get out and about and get some natural food and exercise. Also, this means their mother, Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ), can teach them what they need to know. Over time, we have learned the best policy is to trust the animals – they know what they’re doing.

Our hens free range, but we do have fences to keep them away from danger, mainly the track (delivery vans) and neighbours’ cats. Though hens can fly, a 90cm high stock fence is enough to keep them contained.

In their secure facility

Having, some years back, had chicks happily charge through these fences and all over the place, we installed chicken wire around the perimeter. We also put in a few hedgehog tunnels so the hedgehogs could still roam freely. Tiny curtains were enough to stop the chicks. Over time, the odd gap had appeared. mostly around the gates. So, before we could let these chicks out, the main area needed to be checked and made chick proof.

We also decided to move the sheep out. They have been using the lambing shed to keep out of the sun and rain. This is situated in the orchard where the hens roam. Fortunately, we have a field shelter and a “silvo shelter” so we closed off access to the hen area. The other hens will find their roaming area reduced, but it’s still an acre or so.

Sunday, we set to work. I say ‘we’, but mean ‘me’, Nicole being busy with our new dog Elliot, I raised the ground level under three gates using some of the road scalpings we have for just such occasions. Ten barrow loads or so were duly wheeled in. I also attached chicken netting to the gates and made sure the gaps at either end were covered.

That done, we opened the door at the front of the run. MMJ was initially reluctant to set forth, but eventually wandered through. She was closely followed by four chicks. As she headed slightly further away, chick number five ran up and down inside the run, not quite able to work out how to follow her. Thankfully, she did find the exit and caught up.

MMJ and 5 chicks - meets the other hens
Saying hello to the others

Having sat on eggs and chicks for three to four weeks, the first thing MMJ did was have a dust bath. She found a shady corner and got to digging, all the while making contented clucking sounds. The chicks stood around waiting, bored, until having waited long enough, they started jumping all over her. Eventually, MMJ got the hint and took them for a walk. The other hens had seen them by now but, thankfully, seemed completely disinterested. In fact, MMJ took them over to say hello and announced their presence by jumping onto Clippy, the flock matriarch, and giving her a taste of what might happen should she get too close to her precious chicks.

tempted by strawberries
tempted by strawberries

We kept a close eye on them all, but MMJ seemed to know what she was doing so eventually we left her to it. After, of course, we’d tempted them into camera range with a few chopped up strawberries.

Chicks being little cutie pies, we took a few photos and these can be found in the chicks gallery. We may add some as they grow up. In the meantime, it’s loads of stress for us as we worry about cats, kites, buzzards, golden eagles (we have the occasional visit), sparrowhawks, crows, stoats, foxes and so on.

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Baby chicks hatch

About three weeks ago, we mentioned we had a broody hen (Broody Hens Conundrum); Mrs Mills Junior (MMJ) to be precise. After last year when two hens sat on eggs but none hatched, we decided to source fertilised eggs. It was made easy by the fact that MMJ was broody but not actually sitting on any eggs.

Chicken Run - Omlet
secure location

So, we moved her to a secure location, her own personal run safe and secure from the weather, predators and nosey hens. We settled eight eggs underneath her and sat back to wait. 24 days was the time to hatching according to reliable sources.

This week, they hatched, a little early we suspect. First we knew was Friday morning when a tiny ‘seep seep’ could be heard. Peering down the run into the hen house revealed MMJ peering back accompanied by a hatchling stretching its neck to look at us. We had chicks!

We kept our distance, despite much temptation to peek more closely. Today, we were rewarded by the sight of MMJ taking her brood out for a walk in the sunshine. I say walk, what I really meant was nap. MMJ was sitting there happily and one tiny head was poking out from under one of her wings. We both stood and watched, our breath held in anticipation. A few minutes later (long minutes let me tell you), a second head popped out from under her front. Two chicks. Moments later, two more heads. Four chicks.

Eventually, all four squeezed out and started mooching around in the grass under MMJ’s watchful eyes.

At this point, Nicole sneaked round and checked the hen house. Of the eight eggs, five had hatched. We waited and watched, but number 5 never appeared. With things to do, including sheep to shear (Shearing 2022 – hand clipping the woolly Ryelands), we left them to it.

Later on, I made a cuppa for Nicole and took it to her at the shearing pen. On the way back, I checked in on MMJ. She was up and about scratching away happily and was surrounded by five chicks.

This is excellent news. Not only will we have chicks brought up and accepted into the flock, MMJ only had to sit for 3 weeks. Last year, sitting on eggs that turned out not to be fertilised, Clippy and Pepper sat for 9 or 10 weeks, maybe longer, and their condition suffered as a result. MMJ’s comb is bright red, as it should be, and she looks to be in excellent condition. All in all, we are well pleased we decided to give her her own enclosed space.

Next job, check the wider perimeter so the chicks can’t get through the fence onto the track.

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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!