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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!

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Another Brick in the Wall (part 11)

Regular readers of our blog may be aware of the ongoing repairs to our stone dykes. They appear to have been neglected for some time and so it’s something we’re trying to rectify.

stone dyke ready for rebuildThe latest repair was the wall next to our access track. Something had knocked down a section and it looked a bit of a mess. As seems to be the case with a lot of the damaged areas, it had to be taken down to ground level in order to be rebuilt properly. It has been something of a puzzle for me, but much of the stone in the centre of the wall seems to disappear leading to the dyke to collapse in on itself. What this means is that I have to ferry in a fair few small stones. Luckily, we have a pile of them in the corner of a field.

stone dyke by track 3 - in progressOnce the damaged bit has been taken down and the stones carefully laid out, the fun part starts, the rebuild. Using home made ‘A-frames’ and string to make sure it’s straight, I spend many a happy hour working out which stone best goes where. I try to get the heavy ones near the bottom for obvious reasons, though that’s not always possible meaning I have the occasional heavy lifting moment.

stone dyke by track 5 - complete
Repairs complete

Luckily, with fallen down bits like this, there are usually enough stones for the rebuild. This time, however, I was about 10 stones short so I had to forage for them, finding some good ones in our nearby burn.

Once complete, I try to take a few minutes to admire what I’ve done, but the next job is usually already calling. Either that or my back is screaming in protest and demanding I stretch it back into shape.

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Yssi gets flystrike (note to reader, story ends happily 😊)

This summer has been long, hot and dry (most unusual for Scotland!)  This has been great, mostly, who doesn’t love the sunshine?  It lifts the spirits and the long evenings we have up here can be appreciated at their very best.  On a sunny day, it can stay light and bright until 10pm at night!

But as always, when you live so closely connected to the land and keep livestock, the weather plays an important part.  A long, hot summer, while being great for the spirits and for saving on housework, (no mud = less hoovering) the dry weather can also bring problems; namely, water (lack of), and flies (flystrike).

Our water supply which is a spring up on the hill ran dry in June so we’ve been topping it up from the burn.  It’s not ideal, but we can manage, we pump it up every morning from the river and are careful with our usage.  We know that soon enough, autumn will swish in with an attitude and we’ll be getting our wellies out again, the spring will fill up and we’ll wonder what all the fuss was about.

Flies also love warm weather.  The Scottish speciality – the midge, particularly so.  But while midges are annoying, coming out to party in huge swathes at dawn and dusk, getting in your eyes, your ears, your mouth and having you running back indoors to look for your “midgie net”, apart from being irritating, they are pretty harmless.

The other local hoodlum, the “cleg” is similarly irritating and seems impervious to attempts to swat it away.  If a cleg manages to bite you, (which it generally will!) you’ll know about it, but again, clegs are nothing to lose sleep over as long as you have a tube of bite cream handy.

It is the blowfly (aka the greenbottle) which gets the prize for being a level 10 pain in the backside (at least for anyone who keeps sheep!)

The blowfly is attracted to any animal which it deems suitable for laying its eggs on but is particularly partial to sheep.  It seeks out living flesh which has a hint of dampness and dung about it and unfortunately a sheep’s backside is an easy target.  In the spring, before shearing gets underway, sheep are at their woolliest.  Woolly bottoms, combined with the after-effects of grazing on lush spring grass gives the blowfly the perfect place on which to lay her eggs.

Once the eggs hatch, maggots start to emerge and feast on what is at hand, (without going into too much detail, it’s pretty gruesome), they start feeding on their host.  If left unchecked, this causes severe distress to the animal, and eventually, death.

Because of the severity of problems caused by the blowfly, most shepherds and farmers protect their flocks with “pour on” insecticide.  We don’t here on our smallholding because we have a small flock, not that many blowflies (it’s generally too breezy and fresh up here for them to be a problem), and we don’t like using chemicals.

It’s a tricky one though, because you have to weigh up the options, what is worse: reaching for the chemicals, or putting your sheep at risk of being eaten alive by maggots?

We follow the non-chemical way, which is very time consuming, we basically check our flock continually.  During the blowfly season which runs starts in April and tails off towards the end of summer, we go up to the hill three times a day and scan our sheep.  What we are looking for are “The Signs”.

What are these mysterious signs?  Well, if a sheep has been “struck”, it will start to act just ever so slightly differently.  At first the signs are really subtle, but if you know your animals, you’ll get a sense for even the smallest change in behaviour.

This said, we missed Yssi’s flystrike last week!

We’d brought our flock into the barn for their three monthly hoof trims and general MOT’s.

The summer MOT doesn’t usually include a “bottom check” (bikini line and tail trim), because the flock have only just been sheared.

However, Yssi has a particularly fluffy fleece so she gets a bottom check and trim every three months just to be on the safe side.

So, I straddled her and trimmed away her wool.  I noticed a small area of skin under some dungy wool which I’d trimmed which needed some anti-bac spray.  Sometimes damp wool near the bottom area can cause small infections on the skin as the air never gets to circulate and it’s always a bit damp around there.  So I duly sprayed her and we let her out of the pen.

As she trotted out to join the others, Adrian noticed her stamping her hind hoof and looking somewhat perturbed.  We watched her for a moment and came to the conclusion the anti-bac spray was causing her to feel temporarily itchy.

We finished the rest of the MOT’s and before letting them out to the wider pastures we decided to bring Yssi into the pen again just to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.  After another check we couldn’t see anything untoward, so we opened the gate and off they all trotted up the hill.

Three days later, I was mooching about among the flock with George, scratching Vi on her favourite tickle spot on her hoof, and idly looking around at the other sheep when I noticed Yssi stamping her hind leg again.

Now, a sheep stamping its leg is nothing strange, they frequently do this, (especially the hind legs) during the summer when there are lots of flies about.  What caught my attention was the fact that the other sheep weren’t stamping.  The other thing I thought odd was that Yssi was swishing her tail and again, none of the others were.  They were peacefully grazing.  And while Yssi was also grazing, she just didn’t seem to be as peaceful as the others.

I continued to observe her, aware that it’s easy to start adding up two and two and coming up with five.  After a few minutes I noticed her sitting down (again, nothing unusual), but what struck me was that she wasn’t chewing the cud.  She was just sitting there.  As I watched her some more I thought her eyes looked sad.

At this point I decided to bring her in and give her a really thorough inspection.  So I got some sheep nuts out of my pocket, led her into a wee pen nearby and called Adrian who was back at the house.

I wanted Adrian there so he could hold her while I had a really good look at her, all over.  I thought, from her foot stamping that something could be irritating her tummy area.

With Adrian standing at Yssi’s head to prevent her from walking off, I straddled her rear end and worked methodically, parting the wool little by little, making my way down from her tail to her hind legs.  As I got to her hind leg “armpit”, I noticed something small and white wriggling away from me.  Bingo!! I said, followed by some descriptive words.  As I parted more wool, I found three colonies of maggots, Yssi was going to need a thorough clean up.

Leaving Adrian with the patient I went back to the house for my trusty bottle of “Battles Maggot Oil”, scissors, and a big wodge of cotton wool.

Once back, I got to work on Yssi, I first trimmed away her wool so that I could see where the maggots were, then, pressing cotton wool soaked in maggot oil into the affected areas I dabbed away.  Once I’d treated the main areas and the maggots had dropped off.  I snipped away more wool from the surrounding areas and dabbed more maggot oil pretty much all over her backside and down the inside of each of her legs.

As I snipped and dabbed, we both felt Yssi start to relax, almost as if she was enjoying the experience.  As she undoubtedly was, we were removing a huge source of irritation for her!  Adrian was at her head, stopping her from moving forward.  Afterwards, he said he wasn’t even holding her, she was just happy to let me get on with what I was doing.  Probably thinking, “took you long enough humans” 😉.  Afterwards we watched Yssi trot off happily to join her friends and we went back to the house for a nice cup of tea.

 

 

 

 

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Vi and the tickly hoof

For the last three summers, between the months of June and September, one of Vi’s good friends, Vera, has been suffering from an allergic reaction to the sun.

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.

Vera with cream on her ears

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!

Vi enjoying a hoof tickle

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Water solutions

At Auchenstroan, we seem either to have too much water or too little. With this long, hot, dry summer stretching out over months, it’s definitely the latter and memories of having to install drainage are fading fast.

Since we moved here, we have installed sheep troughs fed by natural springs (water system and water system extended) so that the sheep now have water troughs in every field. However, during the summer, these springs dry up and even two tanks containing around 2,200 litres last only a few weeks. So, sometimes we have had to top them up. This used to involve filling a bowser and towing it up with the tractor. Now, we have a pipe that connects the top tank to a pump (housed in the upside down old water tank – see right). This in turn is linked to two bowsers. At the moment, these are filled by pumping water from the river, but the plan is to install a rainwater capture system on our large shed and fill them from that.

You can see the pipe snaking its way up (to the sheeps’ tanks) in the photo. There is also a pipe snaking its way down and this, when completed, will link to the rainwater harvesting system we have for our veggie plot. This will mean we can top that up if it too runs out.

And finally, just to make life a a tiny bit bit easier, we found a really useful gizmo, a watering timer. It opens a valve letting water through for a set time. We had coils of soak hose sitting around doing nothing, so have installed that in the polytunnel and it now waters itself each day for an hour. It saves us a lot of time.

Now, all we need is a solution for our domestic water supply which seems to be drying up too. But that’s another story…

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Shearing Day!

Guy shearing away

Yesterday was shearing day, an exciting day in the sheep calendar!

Yogi standing next to field shelter

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.

Sparkle

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!

fleeces fresh from the sheep

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!

sheep waiting in the wings

 

This year shearing went really smoothly.  We have a “small flock” shearer, Guy, who specialises in, you’ve guessed it, small flocks 😉

post shearing cud and cuddle

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.

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More Trees planted

trees planted

Since moving here, we have been slowly expanding the woodland coverage. The goal is to create an area that can be coppiced thus providing a supply of wood and also a haven for wildlife. In the late autumn, we took delivery of around 400 trees (bare root) and quickly heeled them in to protect the roots. I got around 30 planted and then the first snow hit. From then, the ground remained pretty much frozen right through till February making planting impossible. On the few days the ground was soft, the forecast was for more freezing weather so planting would have been unwise.

tree planting in progressFinally, the ground thawed and the forecast looked warmer (above freezing anyway), so I got going. I was somewhat surprised to find that many of the baby trees were budding and some were even coming into leaf. I had to get them in more quickly than I had thought. Easier said than done, the ground is quite rocky and each stake needed a pilot hole drilled. For that, it was heavy hammer and chisel. It meant each tree took around 5 minutes to plant.

Also, each needed a tall deer guard as deer are regular visitors here. Even with deer guards, the deer can still sometimes get at and nibble away the young shoots.

trees plantedIt took the best part of a week before they were all in. Of course, the next in line of the recent batch of storms immediately blew some over. As well as rocky, the ground is very soft in places, so the fallen saplings had to be rescued and their stakes made firmer.

We are looking forward to watching them grow over the coming years.

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Sheep approve of new variety of hay

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.

sheep head up hill after breakie

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!

 

 

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A special delivery for the sheep

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!

eagerly awaiting new bucket licks

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.

new buckets arriving!

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!

yummy yum!

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! 😊

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Autumn Harvest

As they days shorten and the night draws in, the autumn harvest is coming to a close. The onions are all tied up in onion strings. We had a much better crop this year, netting them off helped stop the birds digging them up. As ever, those grown from seed soon caught up with the onion sets so maybe we’ll just sow seeds in future.

autumn homebrewThe last apples are clinging to our neighbour’s apple tree. Those on the ground are being hoovered up by blackbirds or whisked away in the beaks of crows. Our apples are all picked, and have found their way into the freezer (for future apple crumbles) or the brewing room where cider and cider vinegar production is underway.

It has not been that warm but fermentation has continued, albeit a little slowly.

turnips
turnips

We still have a few winter crops left, plenty of beetroot and turnips sit petiently in the ground awaiting their turn to be made into soup. The nematodes did their work and slug damage has been minimal. The mice or moles have, however, been helping themselves to the beetroot. Fortunately, this year they are large so there’s plenty left for us.

The carrot box did brilliantly and there are only one or two carrots left so one job this winter will be to build a second box. It has been a long time since I have managed to grow perfectly shaped carrots.

The only crop not doing so well are the brussell sprouts. Seemingly strong and healthy plants are producing few sprouts. We’ve been racking our brains on this one though general consensus seems to be stress (they’d fallen over) and nitrogen deficiency (though healthy leaves would contradict this). So, not too much green veg for the winter motnhs.

Preparation for next year is well underway with lots of mulching.