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Planting apple trees


Back in the summer we decided it would be nice to plant some more apple trees.  Over the last few years we’ve been gradually expanding our orchard.  There were already about ten apple trees here when we moved here six years ago.  Last winter we added some more, and this year we ordered another ten.  We’ll have about thirty apple trees eventually which is great because  Adrian and I love apples. and Adrian makes a very tasty cider!

At the beginning of November the new trees arrived through the post.  Being bare rooted we heeled them into the veggie patch as a temporary home.

marking out where the trees will go

Fast forward a few weeks and this week was the grand tree planting ceremony.  A wet week was forecast, perfect weather for planting!  First we marked out where the trees would go.  We carefully positioned ten bamboo canes, taking our time to make sure they were neatly spaced and looked just right.  Elliot helped out by following us round and repositioning several canes.  After a cup of tea we had to start all over again, this time with the dogs at a safe distance.

Next, Adrian got to work with the tree guards which entailed banging in 40 stobs with his fence post knocker-inner.  It was a hard slog getting them in and we now have a large collection of rocks of all shapes and sizes for dry stone wall repairs.

The following day Adrian dug ten large holes for each of the trees.  Now we have even more spare rocks for wall repairs.  Then it was over to me, I filled my wheelbarrow with several bags of compost, a tub of fertiliser and of course the apple trees.  Thankfully they were all alive and well, the roots looked healthy and there were plenty of worms nestled in the root-balls.

putting stobs in


digging holes

Three days later and all ten trees are in their new homes, hoorah!  All we have left to do is attach some lengths of stock fence and railings to the posts to keep them safe from the sheep.

As a side note, we have a Himalayan Cedar in a corner of the orchard which the sheep took a great liking too a couple of years ago.  (You can see it in the photo on the left).  They’d taken several inches of bark all the way round and we thought the poor tree was doomed.  In desperation we attached several bridge grafts all the way round and taped moss over the damaged trunk.  Two years later and the tree has not only survived but has put on growth and is looking healthy.  Even more surprising, none of the bridge grafts are alive so we are not sure how this is possible.  The only thing we can think of is that we decided to leave the ‘mossy bandage’ in place (originally we were going to remove it after a few months), perhaps this is helping transport sap up the trunk?

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Drystane dyke repair

This is not the the first story about drystane dykes and probably won’t be the last. Most of the ground here is soft and so, over time, the dykes subside. Given a dry stone dyke is essentially two walls leaning against each other, if one side sinks faster than the other, then all those stones that started out level start to tip. Over time, it becomes more unstable until the merest puff of wind can blow it over.

In this case, though, I have only myself to blame. In an effort to keep the hens out of the garden, we erected some netting to stop them flying onto the wall. It was held up by long stobs. All fine, you might have thought, but the wind caused the net and stobs to sway and tap, tap, tap they went on the wall. Eventually, it was one tap too many and down it went. Strangely, although in plain view, the only animal to take advantage was Elliot who trundled through to check out the paddocks for intruders.

drystane dyke repair
sorting the stones

Working full time now, I had only the weekends to repair this. As ever, first thing was to sort out the mess of stones. It’s always a good idea to keep the top stones (coping stones) and through stones to one side. The coping stones that were there before the collapse can be identified by the way the moss has grown on them. It’s also a good idea to keep a passage clear either side of the dyke, though I have to admit I tend to leave some of the heavier beasties (my terminology for big stones) close by. Of course, these badly placed stones did try to catch me out and I nearly went flying a couple of times. Nearly!

drystane dyke repair

Stones sorted, next step is to sort out the foundations. The original wall was not really high enough so I took the opportunity to build wider foundations. These should be half the height of the wall. These were tapered as one end was 4 feet high and the other 4 feet 6 inches. Hard to use metric measures with walls, given their age.

Of course, wider and taller meant more stones, lots more stones. Fortunately, there were some lying on the ground nearby I could use.

As you can see from the photos, I erected an ‘A-frame’ with string so as to get a straight wall. Also, the keen eyed amongst you might see some metal poles protruding. These will form the supports for the new hen netting. Built into the wall, they will be discrete. The netting itself will only be a few inches high, it’s all it needs really.

rebuild underway

From then on, it’s just effort combined with an eye for which stone will best go where. Although hard work, I enjoy building drystane dykes, they are almost works of art. It is immensely satisfying to see them grow, particularly when you get to the top.

half way there

For this rebuild, I was blessed with a few decent days of dry weather combined with a long weekend I’d booked as holiday, so I made good progress.

In the midst of this was our tenth wedding anniversary and I’d bought a sneaky bottle of champagne which went down a treat. I added the bottle (empty of course) into the wall as a feature. You can see it in the picture to the bottom right.

I was pretty tired when I finished it because, as is my way, is I got closer, I just kept going, stopping only for a brief cup of tea and a quick lunch. Luckily the sun was out so I collapsed into a chair with another cuppa and a book. The day was nicely rounded off off with a bottle of cava and a pizza.

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A health check for Vi

A couple of weeks ago as I was cleaning out the field shelter, the sheep milling about me ‘helping’, I happened to notice Vi had some discharge around her nose.

A clear nasal discharge is usually nothing to worry about, but Vi’s was definitely on the green side.  Oh, I immediately thought, Pneumonia?  Botfly?  An awful disease that I don’t know about?  Sheep are good at disguising when they’re not well.  As sheep parents we’re always on the lookout for subtle changes in behaviour and signs that something might be amiss.  However this discharge was definitely not subtle.

sheep health sheet

I wiped Vi’s nose with a tissue and sat on a rock to ponder.  Vi seemed her usual happy self, especially after I gave a her a foot rub which she particularly enjoys.   After my initial catastrophising I decided to monitor her for a few days and phone the vet if anything changed for the worse.

selfie with Vi

A week went by and Vi’s nose was still showing a greenish discharge, albeit less as the week progressed.  I nevertheless decided to call the vet anyway just to be sure.   Before calling, I thought it might be helpful to be armed with some more information.  I didn’t want to waste the vet’s time if all she needed was a shot of antibiotic.   So off I went in search of a thermometer so I could take her temperature.

After much rummaging in the cupboard I found four thermometers, all in working order (amazingly!)  I grabbed one and also a halter and some sheep nuts for all eventualities.  At the last minute I also stuffed into my rucksack my ‘sheep health fact sheet’ and a pen.

Vi in pen

The flock were relaxing, chewing cud in one of the lower fields.  As luck would have it they were mooching near a small pen I had set up when I sheared Vera last month.  I called Vi over and popped her in.

The first thing I noticed was that Vi had no more green discharge.  I hoped this meant that she was OK now but decided to take her temperature anyway.  Vi is very tame and friendly so I stupidly thought she’d be happy with me popping a thermometer into her bottom.  Needless to say she was not …  I was glad I’d brought a halter with me and a few minutes later Vi was tied up and giving me a look.  I inserted the thermometer again and waited 30 seconds.

Vi’s temperature turned out to be absolutely normal, as did the other checks I did, respiration rate and rumination rate, she passed with flying colours.

rucksack snuffling opportunity

I released her and she took the opportunity to inspect my rucksack before heading off to join her pals.

I’ll continue to keep an eye on her, but so far she appears to be over her little bout of whatever it was.









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Cuddle training the hens – part two

Progress with the hen “cuddle training” since my last blog story has been a slow.  Mainly because I have been super busy holding the fort.  Adrian took a full-time job at the start of the year which means that I’m juggling more plates on the smallholding.  The hen cuddle training has continued but not as speedily as I had hoped when I started back in April.

Clippy getting used to people

This said, we have progressed a few things with the training;  there is now a picnic table in the hen run where we can have our elevenses with our feathered friends and not get our bottoms wet anymore with sitting on the grass.

elevenses with the hens and Chero the cockerel

More recently, Adrian has done some nifty wall work.  At the weekend he created a neat gap in the stone dyke which runs between our garden and the hen run.  He did this in 27’c heat, and if dismantling huge rocks to form a gap wasn’t sweaty enough work, digging two deep holes to take the enormous gateposts was pretty impressive, hats off to Adrian!

Now we can enter the hen run much more quickly and easily.  Previously we used a gate halfway down the orchard which meant carrying things like water and 20kg sacks of pellets etc was a right palaver.  Not to mention balancing trays with tea and scones.

new gate in position

Now we can nip in and out of the hen run carrying our cups of tea and cake without danger of spilling our tea by the time we get there.

We still haven’t managed to pick up any hens other than Becky and Babs (and Cherokee the cockerel), but now we have better access and a posh picnic table, we hope that it won’t be long before our other hens become partial to cuddles too.

rocks neatly in place
pile of rocks
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Cherokee the cockerel and his foot problems

For the past few months we’ve been bringing our friendly cockerel Cherokee into the kitchen to perform a minor procedure on his feet.

It all started one day last summer when we noticed him looking a bit down.  On inspection, we discovered a nodule on each foot between his toes.

We suspected these might be “dirt pockets” on the soles of his feet which had pushed up and formed bumps, but we would need a closer look.

Now Cherokee is a laid back sort of a chap, but he does have rather large spurs.  As we hadn’t handled him very often, we decided it would be wise to collect him from the coop at night so he’d be sleepy.  With a bit of luck he wouldn’t mind us prodding and poking his feet.

That evening, we waited till it got dark and the hens had gone to bed, then we tiptoed out with our head torches set to to the red light (which isn’t so intrusive).  We carefully removed the roof from the coop whilst trying not to drop any of the little clips in the grass.  After a bit of kerfuffle, I had Cherokee under my arm and we were able to bring him indoors.

Cherokee before having his feet done

Once in the kitchen, we popped a little hood on his head so he wouldn’t wake up and got to work inspecting his feet.

dirt pockets

Sure enough, Cherokee had two dirt pockets, one on each foot.  These  “pockets” can appear on chickens for no apparent reason (in our experience at least), we’ve only had one other case of “dirt pockets” all the while we’ve kept chickens.  The pockets form over time by dirt settling into small creases in the webbing between the toes and then compacting to form “pockets”.  These pockets need to be emptied regularly otherwise they can cause discomfort and possibly become infected,  it’s one of those things you need to keep an eye on.

Since then, we’ve brought Cherokee in regularly to empty his dirt pockets.  He’s become so used to it that we no longer have to wait until night time which makes life a lot easier.

Cherokee post op
Cherokee outside again with clean feet

We pick him from wherever he happens to be and whisk him in.  These days we no longer have to put his little hood on and we’ve noticed that he likes to watch what we’re doing which is a little unnerving and cute at the same time.  He keeps his beady eye on us, stretches his feet out and looks at me intently as I push the pockets inside out and ease the dirt out.  It’s very satisfying work, especially if the clod pings out in one go.  Then, I clean the pockets with a cotton bud dipped in diluted cider vinegar and carry him outside again to join his ladies.



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Hen spa in the kitchen

Our chicks who hatched last summer have grown into big, beautiful hens.  It sounds cliche, but it’s hard to imagine they were once inside eggs.

When we collected our box of fertile eggs from a local farm last May we were told they were “Black Orpingtons”.  I confess, we’re not too clued up on hen breeds, we just wanted to give our broody lady (MMJ) some chicks.

As the chicks grew and developed, we realised they were quite different from our resident flock.  For starters, they never seemed to stop growing and although we still call them “the bibbles”,  they are huge compared to the other hens.  They are almost as big as Cherokee the cockerel, not that he seems to mind.

Having subsequently looked up the breed, we discovered that Orpingtons are broad and heavy with a low stance, have extremely fluffy feathers and are naturally friendly.  Our “bibbles” are definitely all of this, particularly with regard to the fluffiness.  In fact, their feathers are so fluffy (particularly in the bottom area) that we have noticed they can be prone to “dags”.

I should point out at this point that taking an interest in our livestock’s droppings is a bit of a favourite subject of mine.  A animal’s bottom can say a lot about its state of health.  A “daggy bottom” is usually a red flag because it can signify worms or a digestive issue.  So, after initially panicking a little, I soon realised that in the case of our Orpingtons, the dags were not diarreah based, they were normal droppings which had over time left a residue on their fluffier than fluffy tail feathers.

Having sheep we are familiar with dags, we are frequently trimming bottoms and keeping the teddy bears clean.  But dagging hens needs to be approached a little differently.

Hen feathers have veins running through them (well, up to the first inch or so), so snipping them needs to be done with caution.  But anyway,  “dags” lurk around the base of the feathers so snipping wouldn’t really help.  The best thing to do is to pop the hen in a bath and give her bottom a wash.

We had planned to do this a couple of weeks ago, dags have to be dealt with quickly because as you can imagine they can make a hen feel pretty uncomfortable.  But more importantly, dags attract flies, the dreaded greenbottle (Blowfly) is just as happy to lay its eggs on a sheep or a hen’s bottom, it is not fussy.  Left untreated, death can swiftly result as the maggots start burrowing into its host.  It’s not a pleasant way to go.

Just as soon as we had booked our hens into the diary for a spa morning, (a bucket of warm water in the kitchen followed by a blowdry), we were hit by a freezing weather front.  Not ideal weather for bathing chickens.  Admittedly, even though we were washing them in the kitchen and following up with a blowdry, we weren’t too happy about carrying out this operation in freezing weather.  We weighed things up over a cup of tea and decided to go ahead anyway.  The cold snap was due to last a couple of weeks and we didn’t want our “bibbles” walking about with daggy bottoms for any longer than they had to.

So while Adrian set up a dog crate next in the kitchen next to the aga, preheated some soft towels and popped the kettle on the stove, I nipped out to get the first “bibble”.

dog crate containing “bibble” near the aga

I should say at this point, friendly as our bibbles are, they’re not exactly tame yet, as in, we haven’t got to the point where we can just go and pick one up.  But I had a plan, thanks to our large, “walk-in Omlet hen run” which we built last summer, I was able to herd the hens into the run, corner my target and scoop her up.  Amidst plenty of squawking I tucked a slightly indignant bibble under my jacket and zoomed back indoors before she had time to realise what was happening.

Bibble enjoying a bath

Once in the kitchen I sat down for a moment to let her acclimatise and relax.  I also took a moment to peel off my winter layers; bobble hat, coat, scarf, gloves and boots …  Then, with Adrian at the ready in case Bibble made a break for it, I gently lowered her into the bucket of warm water.  I made sure her bottom was submerged and waited a few moments so she could get used to to this new sensation.  She relaxed very quickly and I was able to get to work massaging the daggy bits from her tail feathers and peeling the clumps off.  The warm water made this easy, the clumps dissolved and after about ten minutes our first bibble had a delightfully clean bottom.

We lifted her out of the water, gently wrapped her in a warm towel, and gave her a blowdry.  We found it easier to do this with her in the dog crate standing freely.  This meant I was able to run my fingers through her feathers and get the warm air flowing exactly where it was needed without having to hold her at the same time.  She seemed to enjoy the feeling of the hairdryer and started to preen herself as I worked away.  For a first time visit to the beauty salon, our Bibble did us proud!

Blowdrying Bibble

Over the following few days we did all the bibbles’ bottoms and they all took it in their strides, they particularly enjoyed the hairdryer experience.  We hope to continue handling them over the coming weeks so that subsequent spa experiences will be even easier.




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Dry Stane Dyke Rebuilt

dry stone dyke repairs

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

dry stane dyke falling down
dry stane dyke falling down

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

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

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

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

dry stone dyke stones layout
dry stone dyke stones layout

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

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

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

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

dry stone dyke - repaired
dry stone dyke – repaired

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

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

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

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

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

Yaar “before”

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

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

Yaar “after”

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

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




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Auchenstroan Wool & The Galloway & Southern Ayrshire Unesco Biosphere

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Splish Splash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank heavens for wellie boots :).

woodland in autumn
woodland in autumn