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…
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.
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.
Finally, 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.
It 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.
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! 😊
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.
The 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.
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.
After eight months of writing, re-writing, editing, re-reading and proof checking, I am pleased to say I have finally published my second book “Dogs Talk – Four Dogs Tell Their Stories”. The original idea actually came from a journal kept a few years ago by a dog called Kika.
Kika came to stay with us while her owner was in hospital. Kika had many issues and was what could best be described as a badly behaved dog. I say this as an experienced dog psychologist who has helped a number of problem dogs over the years.
In an attempt to explain some of the principles of dog psychology to her owner without sounding bossy or patronising, Kika kept a journal. The idea was that Kika’s explanations, from a dog’s perspective, would help Kika’s owner better understand Kika’s needs. By doing so, Kika would become both happier and better behaved. I added a number of useful pointers at the back. It was called the Kika Chronicles.
Over the years, I have had a number of dogs, each a rescue dog and each with it’s own set of issues. Building on the idea of the Kika Chronicles, I wrote three sections, one for each dog, relating their experiences on moving in with me. Each is written as though it is the dog telling its own story.
The three dogs are quite different in terms of breeds, needs, issues and temperament. Each presented a unique challenge. All benefitted and became happier and more balanced dogs.
As autumn turns into winter and the harvest is complete, our focus turns to winter jobs. These are mostly maintenance to the walls and fences. There are a number of gaps where previous owners have taken down stone dykes for one reason or another and they look kind of wrong, for want of a better term.
I like doing these kind of outdoor jobs in the winter because there are no midges. First stop was a gap between a stone dyke and a gate. at around 10m, it was too long to put in a stone dyke mainly because there were not enough stones lying around. We decided on a combination of hedge and fence. Some extra hawthorns were added to a pending tree order (we plant trees most winters too) and I got to work putting in the fence. For once this was easy. The ground was soft and the posts went in with just a few taps. No underground rocks lay in wait. Further, at one end a fence already existed so there was a large, strong post already in place.
After the fence was in, I added some trees. There are a lot of self seeding willow and hazel trees growing in inappropriate places, so I dug about 20 of these out and planted them in their new home. Once the hawthorns arrive, I’ll add the hedge and also plant up the surrounding area with a small mixed woodland.
We have two dogs here, George and Haribo and both have a number of pet names. For example, George is often called “G” and Haribo “H”. Haribo also gets called “Bot”. This is a shortened version of “Haribot” which was spawned during the period Britain had the “maybot” as prime minister.
Anyway, recently, Haribo(t) has taken to leaving us presents in the night. These are not pleasant presents, in fact they are night time poos. These have been coming in various sizes, textures and smells, all spread across a wide area (as collies like to do) and all of which are not a lot of fun to clean up. Not every night, but pretty much one night in two. As you can imagine, we didn’t take photos.
We tried the most likely approaches of which, top of the list, was a good worming. A good wormer was procured from the vet but it only seemed to help for a week or so. We wormed him again with much the same result. The night time poos continued to adorn the morning living room floor.
We switched both dogs’ meals so that they got their large meal in the morning and a snack in the evening. Still the poos came. We were scratching our heads. Haribo is only eight so it shouldn’t be an age related issue.
Finally, the penny dropped. Haribo had become quite overweight a while back and so his food was reduced. While doing wonders for his shape and fitness, his tummy is still in denial. As such, Haribo has honed his scavenging skills. Now, we knew he had a pretty stronge urge to eat poo. He likes sheep poo the best, but any poo will do. Because of this, we had been keeping an eye on him. However, like most dogs, he knows exactly when he’s not being watched. As soon as he thinks the coast is clear, he’ll scavenge a bit of poo. Leave him in a down, turn your back, wait a few seconds and turn back and he’ll still be in a down. However, it won’t be where you left him. He’ll have shuffled over a bit, scoffed a quick poo and will be lying there licking his lips with a “butter wouldn’t melt” expression.
So, we tried an experiment – we put him on a lead. That might sound like no big deal but normally the dogs get to roam freely when we walk through our fields. Not that freely, truth be told, as Haribo’s partner in crime, George, also has a bit of a scavenging habit, but that’s another story. Anyway, by keeping Haribo close, we have managed to block his poo eating efforts. And it has worked, we are now getting up in the morning to a clean living room floor. Bliss! Also, Haribo likes being on the lead. Well, he’s a collie and they like being given something to do even if it’s just an instruction to walk next to you.
The whole episode has spawned a new musical ditty, often to be heard being sung around the house – “no shitee in the nightee”
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!