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The story of Vera, a sore ear, and a tube of toothpaste

If you are squeamish or having dinner, this story may not be for you😳

As some of you may already know from following our stories, one of our woolly girls, Vera, has been plagued by “the itchies” all summer.

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 😋

 

 

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The tale of the “little” wooden sheep

chainsaw carved sheep wearing jacket

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 😊

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Shearing at long last!

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!

Yssi
Yssi looking rather barrel shaped

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.

Yogi
Yogi

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 😊

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Vera gets a touch of the itchies again

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.

 

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Practical pantry at last

Most of the stories on this blog relate to the stuff we do outdoors.  However, we have slowly been doing work inside the house too.  Carpets have been replaced with wooden floors, bathrooms relocated, rooms decorated and so on.  At the moment, the kitchen is getting a facelift with new worktops and all the units will be painted (once we can get some paint).

Our pantry is what used to be the main bathroom.  It was gutted, the concrete floor taken up and a new floor relaid.  Some kitchen units, a sink, a wine fridge, a beer fridge, a chest freezer and an overhead clothes hanger were all installed.  What I never got around to was adding some shelves.

pantry shelves 1st rowCOVID suddenly made this an issue.  We were putting our shopping into a sort of quarantine which basically meant it was left on the floor.  It started to get on our nerves.  I sourced some wood and shelf brackets and got to work.

We’d be storing heavy stuff on these shelves so I got heavy duty shelf brackets and used plenty of them.  There’s nothing worse than a sagging shelf.

pantry shelves homebrew endI also installed a large wine rack for storing the empty bottles.  We brew most of our own wine and beer and having somewhere to keep the empty bottles is essential. They soon stack up.

Having built one shelf, it soon became apparent that a second shelf would be most useful.

pantry shelves row 2 startMore wood and shelf brackets were duly purchased. I had been worried that the first set would be in the way, but actually they proved quite useful for putting tools on.

It didn’t take too long before the second shelf was in place.  Being so high up, there won’t be anything heavy going up there so I could use less shelf brackets.

pantry shelves completeWe are please we now have somewhere to store our food properly.  Living about an hour from the nearest supermarket, we tend to buy a month’s shopping in one go, so storage space is essential.  Mind you, COVID has changed our shopping habits a bit, not by choice.

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Another shed

shed built

One of the things that has been a problem for us is that we don’t really have anywhere to put our garden tools and associated paraphernalia.  We have flowerpots in a plastic trunk (impractical), tools dotted around various sheds (can never find anything), cloches and shelves scattered around and so on.

shed base to beWe decided to invest in a shed and site it where we need it; near the greenhouse.  There was a concrete area here which looked promising, but turned out not to be level nor big enough.  It needed a new base built. Normally, this would be relatively straightforward.  Get some concrete, lay it and then build the shed on top.  The problem was, with COVID, all the builders merchants were shut.

concrete shed baseSo, the shed arrived weeks before I could get my hands on concrete and slabs.  Finally I managed to get some delivered from B&Q.  I borrowed a cement mixer and got to work.  It needed quite a lot of concrete so I was kept busy.  What didn’t help was the constant attention from midgies.  I had to wear a net, but the net made it hard to see into the mixer to check the concrete so I kept having to take it off.  Anyway, I got there in the end and we now had a level base.

shed base slabsI covered this in slabs.  This was mainly becase the ground to the front had a couple of large rocks at the height of the concrete.  I wanted slabs to the front as they look much nicer than concrete.  Easiest solution was to cover the whole base.

Next stage was to build the shed.  It’s not the first shed I have built so I was relatively confident.  That didn’t last long.  The shed fittings had been wrapped in plastic.  I had put all the shed pieces onto pallets and covered them in plastic sheeting.  Yet, all the item descriptions were sodden.  I had a pile of wooden pieces and no idea what was what.

What would we do without the internet?  I logged into the website from which I had bought the shed and found all the packing notes as PDFs.  I breathed a big sigh of relief.

shed build 1Now, every now and then I have a good idea.  This time, it was to write all the part numbers on each piece of wood with a black marker pen.  This made locating bits so much easier.

Construction got underway.  Once again I was plagued by midgies, but there you go.  Luckily, I don’t react to the bites otherwise I might have ended up looking like a wrinkly spotty teenager.

shed build 3It took two days to complete.  The biggest challenge was at the back.  Just behind the shed, the land drops steeply down to a river.  It’s a long way down.  It made siting a ladder a bit tricky. I had to be careful swinging a hammer in case I unbalanced myself backwards.

The next stage was to paint it.  We wanted it look nice and to blend in so I had sourced some green shed paint at the same time as buying the shed.  We are pleased with the results.

Final stage was to add some shelves.  Now all that remains is to put all our stuff in it.  Another small step in making our life a bit easier.

shed builtshed shelves

 

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Clever Sheep

Ymogen coloured ryeland

Hi there, it’s me Ymogen!

It’s been a while since I logged on but recently my pet human took a short video of me demonstrating my intelligence so I thought it would be a good time to tell you all about it.

You’re probably aware that us sheep are herd animals and like to do things as a group.  If Seline heads off up the hill we’ll all follow her.  If Sparkle gets spooked by a pheasant popping up out of a clump of sedge grass and flapping its wings, we’ll all get a bit spooked.  That’s just how we are, its in our nature.

But I’m going to let you into secret, us sheep are not such simple souls as people like to think, in fact, we’re very clever!  As well has having the herd instinct we also have the voice recognition instinct.  Have you ever watched a group of lambs and their mums?  Each mum has a special call for her lambs so each lamb knows exactly which mum to head over to for teat.  (Sometimes a lamb might take liberties and sneak over to one of their aunties for teat but once they get butted away by a cross auntie they soon learn their lesson!  But anyway, I digress.

Ever since I was born here at Auchenstroan, I’ve noticed our pet humans calling us using different sounds for each one of us, just like our mums.  So over time we’ve learnt a whole different language, “human speak”, as well as our own “sheep speak”.  And just like when we were lambs, we get a nice treat if we trot over to the humans when called, sheep nuts! 😊 😊 😊 Or, our second favourite thing, back scratches 😊 😊

In the video below you can see me demonstrating this.  My pet human says my name, I hear her but can’t see her (admittedly I was quite interested in a particular blade of grass at that moment).  But I couldn’t help myself, I found myself looking from left to right, and then I saw the human standing there with Witchy bleating by her side.  I had a wee shake and then headed right over and got a back scratch for my efforts.  Ta daa!

 

 

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New rainwater harvesting system installed

water tank in place

As well as making sure we have enough water for our animals, we also need water for our vegetables.  This year, we have had to water seedlings and pots every day for weeks.

The problem is our water supply is a hillside stream which fills a tank used by 4 houses. In dry weather, the spring shrinks to a trickle so we have to be careful with our water.  We already have a couple of rainwater butts installed, but these soon empty.  We have also ordered a polytunnel (growing vegetables outdoors here is challenging) and that will need to be kept watered too.

water tank deliveryThe answer was to purchase a large water butt.  We identified a spot and bought the biggest we could put there, a whopping 1,500 litres.  It was delivered but only to the bottom of our track so the first job was to get it up here.  It’s at moments like these I am thankful we have our tractor with its front loader.

Armed with ratchet straps, I set off, attached the tank and brought it up.

Being too far from the downpipe, we needed a feeder system and for that I installed a small slimline water butt.  It took a few concrete blocks to get it to the right level.

I also had to put in a level base for the big tanks.  Time consuming but not that tricky, this was all soon done.

water tanks in placeThe final problem was that the water divertor supplied did not fit onto the cast iron downpipes we have here.  It took a couple of days to think of a solution.  In the end, I took the cast iron pipe off below the divertor and replaced it with a plastic pipe of similar dimensions.  Job done, almost.  Cutting through the cast iron pipe took a while.  I started with an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc.  That lasted about 5 minutes before it shredded.  So it was back to the old fashioned way, manual hack saw.

In the end, it was all done and plumbed in.  This latter job was complicated by the close proximity of corn flowers that were attracting many bees.  I am allergic to bee stings so didn’t really want to get stung.  Thankfully, they ignored me, even when I reached right across the flowers to pick things up I had dropped.

Now we just need some rain to fill it up.

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The Adventures of the Yogi Rug

Recently a lovely lady in faraway Georgia, USA bought “the Yogi rug” from our online shop.  I was excited because it’s always a bit extra special when a person from a distant destination buys something from us.  This was doubly special because the lady from Georgia told me she also lives on a farm so I loved the fact that the Yogi rug would be going to live in agricultural Georgia, a far cry from rural Scotland, but also somehow very connected, a home from home almost.

The following day I packaged up the rug and popped in Yogi’s photo, packing slip and all the bits.  I then booked in FedEx to collect the parcel from us on their next day collection service.  FedEx are a brilliant company to send things to the US, we have used them before and in fact last time two rugs flew off to America and arrived at their destination within only three days!  The great thing about using a courier is that you can track the parcel’s progress which is quite good fun.  It is also comforting to know that while you can track a parcel it is unlikely to disappear into a great big abyss and appear mysteriously some time later, or not as the case might be.  In the past we used standard mail to send parcels around the world and although we’ve had no parcels go missing and only one late arrival due to a post office strike in France, (the parcel did eventually make it thankfully), we’ve decided to offer courier only service for our rugs and cushions because it gives us and our customers peace of mind to be able to track packages and know roughly when they will arrive.

Yogi as a lamb with mum Witchy

The following morning the FedEx van arrived and off the Yogi rug went.  We waved it goodbye and I admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat.  The Yogi rug is very special you see, Yogi is Witchy’s lamb and Witchy struggled when she was young so it was a miracle that she grew up to be a mum and then go on to make Yogi who is our first strawberry blonde sheep.  She is exceptionally pretty and has a very cute baaa.  This rug is the first I have made from Yogi’s fleece, it was her lamb fleece so very soft and cuddly.

Anyway, I carried on with the farm jobs and went off to my gardening job.  Later that evening I opened FedEx’s tracking page to see where the parcel would be.  I was a bit surprised to see no update to the tracker but thought nothing of it, I presumed the driver had forgotten to update his device and it would show up at some point.  I carried on with life.

Two days later I thought I’d have a peek at the tracker.  I was surprised to see absolutely no change at all to the parcel’s status.  It was still showing “waiting for collection”.  My heart sank, I thought something had to be wrong so spent a while looking for contact details and eventually found a “chat” button.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long, along came Emily who was really helpful and friendly.  I told her I was concerned about a shipment and gave her the details.  Emily said she’d look into it and then disappeared off for about half an hour, (well, it felt like half an hour at least, it was probably about 4 minutes but still).  I was starting to think I’d been abandoned when she reappeared and said she’d located the parcel and it had a new tracking number.  She said it had arrived into Memphis Tennessee and was in Customs.  I was so relieved, I nearly jumped for joy.  I went about my business with a spring in my step.

Two days later I wondered if the rug was sitting pretty in its new farm so I entered the tracking number into the system and waited for the internet to chug into action.  When the page decided to open, I was really disappointed to see absolutely no change at all in the parcel’s progress, it was still at the FedEx Memphis hub, in Customs.  At this point in time demonstrations had started to break out in the US and obviously there is CoronaVirus, so I assumed this was causing a backlog in processing parcels.  Never the less I starting to feel a shadow of worry creeping over me and that night I woke up at 4 in the morning picturing the Yogi rug all alone on a shelf in a warehouse in faraway Memphis Tennessee.

Yogi

I tried to push the nagging worry from my mind and went about my business.  That morning I emailed the lady in Georgia with the new tracking details and told her there appeared to be a hold up at Customs and that I would let her know as soon as there were any updates.

I stopped checking the FedEx tracking page daily, I thought it would work its way through in its own time, I did however set up an alert with FedEx so if there was any movement on the parcel I’d get an email.

A watched kettle never boils, but if it doesn’t boil in two weeks you can’t help but wonder if something might be awry.  So, after two weeks of no movement on the tracker I decided to get in touch with Customer Services.  I wanted to know if it was normal for a parcel to be stuck in Customs for this length of time.  It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting Leroy Williams.  I was astounded at the speed with which a representative came back to me after sending in my initial query, I think it was half a day if that!  Leroy was brilliant, a real credit to FedEx Customer Services Department, the speed at which he dealt with my query was phenomenal.  Within a short space of time Leroy had informed me that the shipment had disappeared off the radar.  It should have arrived at its destination by now so he would open a “search query” and this would take 72 hours.  Although my heart sank to be told this, I felt strangely positive and upbeat, purely because of the way Leroy was handling the issue.  He asked me to send photos of the package and a detailed description of it and all sorts of other info.  He said to leave it with him and he would be back in touch after the allotted time, if not before if the parcel was found sooner.  So although the parcel being “lost” was awful news, the blow was definitely lessened by the way Leroy handled the situation.

However, the spring in my step didn’t last long, I’m not sure why, it just kind of disappeared, probably not helped by my overactive imagination and tendency to worry.  Images of the Yogi rug lost and alone on a shelf in a cardboard box in a stark warehouse full of conveyor belts and robots in Memphis started to haunt me day and night.  Doubt that the shipment would ever be found didn’t just creep in, it started to rampage through me, and under my calm and bustling exterior my mood was spiralling fast downhill.  The sensible part of my brain fought with the emotional part, at 4am when the emotional part was hitting over drive the sensible part asked; why are you so affected by this?  Parcels go missing all the time, Leroy is dealing with it, there are more important things to worry about than a missing parcel, for goodness’s sake pull yourself together!  People are dying of corona virus and you’re worrying about a missing rug!  But I couldn’t pull myself together and on day three with no word from FedEx my calm exterior disintegrated into little pieces and I reverted to the five year old me, I rang my mum and bawled down the phone.  “Yogi is missing in Tennessee!!!” “Pardon?”  “Oh,” she said, “not the sheep, the rug!!” “Yes,” I said, “the rug, but it’s as if part of Yogi is lost, and part of my soul too” I said.  It was then that I realised through my sniffles that the reason I was so upset was because each time I make a rug, part of me, and part of the sheep goes into it, not just physically, but also on a kind of energetic sort of spiritual level.  My mum was brilliant, she listened and said it was totally normal for me to be reacting like this, she would feel the same way, we had a long chat and then I made a cup of tea and resigned myself to the fact that Yogi was missing and not just presumed dead, but actually dead.  (Note, the Yogi rug had now actually become Yogi somehow)!

That evening I did the 5pm sheep check which meant climbing the hill with the dogs and counting the sheep, then mooching around a bit checking their behaviour and generally making sure they were OK.  On approaching the flock, I immediately saw something was wrong, they were bunched together and their body language was peculiar.  As I climbed the hill towards them I could see a dead deer with antlers in the middle of their circle.  As I got closer the antlers became four legs, and as I drew closer still, the dead deer became a sheep on its back with its legs sticking straight up into the air.  A cast sheep, “oh sh*t” I said out loud and started running through treacle to get there.  It didn’t look good, there was no movement and Yarr’s tongue was lolling out and there was foam around his nose.  I dived on top of him and rolled him over, to my amazement he sprang into action and legged it down the hill snorting and sneezing.  I was so shocked at Yarr being alive, I just sat on a mole hill for about 10 minutes trying to gather my thoughts.  Within this time, Yarr, being a friendly chap, came back over and stood next to me.  He was in a bit of a state, the wool on his back was totally flattened and his rumen seemed to be a funny shape, kind of distorted.  He kept sneezing and snorting and so I stayed with him for a good while to make sure he reverted to normal.  I wiped his nose with my sleeve and gave him a gentle back rub (his favourite).  He was slowly coming back, but still out of sorts.  Eventually he wandered off to graze and I thought, phew, he’s OK.  I headed back downhill for a cup of tea and planned to go back in an hour or so to check up on him before bed.  It was over that reviving cup of tea and scone (which later flew out of my mouth) that Adrian suddenly announced, “oh look, an email has just come in from the lady in Georgia.”  “Pardon?” I said, followed by, “what does it say?”  “The Yogi rug has arrived” said Adrian calmly, “what?  Are you sure?  Really?”  Followed by half a mouthful of scone flying across the table.  I couldn’t believe it, my emotions had already taken me on a gravity defying rollercoaster with the Yarr incident, now I was being dragged back up again, I didn’t think I’d be able to cope!  Of course, I was ecstatic.  Once I’d digested this brilliant news I rang my mum, danced for joy in the kitchen, all was well with the world again, the sense of calm that had deserted me so unceremoniously these last few days flooded back and I felt great.

Yarr post pickle

Later that evening Adrian and I whizzed up to the sheep on the quad bike followed by two panting and slightly reluctant dogs.  Happily, Yarr was fine and on four legs, grazing away as if nothing had happened.

That evening I slept really well, Yarr was alive, the sheep were OK, and best of all the Yogi rug was happily ensconced in its new home in Georgia, no doubt having a welcome rest after all its adventures!

And of course, we will continue to use FedEx to send our parcels.  Things go wrong in life all the time but it is how problems are handled that matters.  FedEx dealt with the issue brilliantly.  We will never know exactly what happened to the Yogi rug, we can only guess that it was probably something to do with the system failing to read the bar code or something like that and then obviously someone would have had to step in and do a manual search.  What ever happened, we were very impressed and amazed that the parcel was found.  If you look at pictures of the FedEx hub in Memphis, it is enormous, apparently the largest of their hubs in the US so in short, FedEx did a brilliant job to find the missing shipment!

Yogi the day after her rug was found safe and well

 

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Coppicing Time

coppicing

We have quite a large area of willow woodland which spans either side of one of the burns that run through our smallholding.  One of the spring jobs is to coppice this.  This mainly involves taking out fallen and damaged trees as well as keeping branches away from the road.

It is best done in the spring.  In the winter, the burn can be a bit wild and the ground underfoot wet and marshy.  In late spring the willow comes into bloom and attracts bees.  You don’t want to be felling trees that are covered in bees.  Also, as a deciduous tree, it is best to trim willow while it is dormant.

tree trapped in stream
tree trapped in stream

With the weather a little drier and the burn calm enough to wade across, I sharpened the chainsaw and set off.  I am always very careful doing this, chainsaws are pretty dangerous.  I make sure I am wearing protective clothing.

I also have to careful in judging which way the tree will fall.  Most are already leaning over, having been blown over at some point, but they can have tall branches growing up.  I wear a hard hat!

One tree decided to have its revenge and, on cutting through its trunk, it swung into the burn and planted itself there.  The upper branches remained supported by neighbouring trees.  I had to leave it there, I’ll wait and see what the wind can do.

tossing the caber
tossing the caber across the burn

I cleared out the damaged trees one by one and cut the wood into managable lengths.  These had to be carried across the burn to where I could collect them.  Rather than carry them over slippery stones, I lobbed them over, my version of tossing the caber.

After that, I just gathered them into a tidy pile to await collection – these logs will go into our wood supply.  I also pushed some cuttings into the ground to create new trees.  Mind you, willow regenerates very quickly so I probably didn’t need to do this.

Anyway, that’s this year’s coppicing done – phew!  It’s tiring work.

 

wood neatly stacked
one day’s coppiced wood neatly stacked