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RIP Peaches

The last few days have been cold and yesterday, we took advantage of the frozen ground to lay an area of hardcore around the sheep’s hay feeders.  The frozen ground meant that the tractor did not do too much damage to the ground.

Before starting, we moved the sheep out into the fields to keep them out of the way.  On finishing, we allowed the sheep back and it was then we noticed that there was something not quite right with Peaches.  It was not entirely unexpected, Peaches’ condition had not been good for some time.  She had, in the summer, been checked over by the vet but there was nothing obvious wrong.  Peaches was the oldest of our sheep and was approaching her 9th birthday so we thought this lack of condition might be age related.  We had been giving Peaches small supplements to ensure she was getting enough to eat, but her condition never really improved.

Peaches leads the sheep down the path
Peaches leading the sheep down the path to the hay

Yesterday, Peaches was separating herself from the flock.  This is often a sign of a sheep that is unwell.  We offered Peaches some chopped turnips and while she ate a little, she didn’t seem to be her usual self.  We called the vet out to have a look.  The vet found a little blood in Peaches’ poo and said that her stomach seemed a little bloated.  However, there was no obvious sign of anything serious.  Peaches was showing no sign of anemia meaning fluke and worms were discounted.  The vet did hint that there might be something wrong internally such as a tumour, but that it was hard to tell.

The vet administered a few injections to help Peaches with any pain or infection and also to help get her digestion moving.  Having been very tolerant of all the handling and needle pricks, once out of the treatment pen, Peaches was off like a shot up the hill.  We continued to keep an eye out and she did seem to be eating hay from the feeders later in the day.  However, she was still kind of keeping her distance from the flock.

Sadly, this morning, we found Peaches had passed away in the night.  She had passed away in her sleep and lay, looking very peaceful, in one of the field shelters.  Peaches was the flock’s matriarch and was a gentle leader.  We shall all miss her.

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It’s time for Hay

sheep at hay feeders

Around late October, early November the grass pretty much stops growing and loses most of its nutritional value.  For sheep, that means its time for hay.  This year, the late autumn was pretty mild so the sheep chose to stay out for grass a bit later, well into November in fact.

Peaches leads the sheep down the path
Peaches leads the sheep down the path

Nevertheless, we got the hay feeders cleaned up and the hay ready.  We’ve moved the feeders nearer the house this year.  It means it’s all much closer to the hay store making things easier for us.

It also means the sheep have access to the lambing shed as a winter shelter.  In fact, they now have two field shelters so they are spoilt for choice.

To get to the new hay station, the sheep would have had to cross a marshy area so in the summer I had built them a path (see sheep happy with new path).  One morning, I went up to check on the sheep and they followed me back down (pictured right) and found the hay all laid out for them.

Some of them tucked right in while others still wandered off eating late autumn grass.  Over the following days, the visits to the hay feeders have increased and so we see them down at the feeders about twice a day now.

The other great benefit is that we can see them from the kitchen window.  We do like being able to see our sheep from the house.

 

 

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Yarr gets into a pickle

cruelty free sheepskin rugs

Every so often sheep get into pickles.  In fact, they’re probably more prone to pickles than other farm animals.

We didn’t know this until we became the proud owners of our first three sheep, Blumes, Thelma and Louise, and then the comments started; “where there’s livestock there’s deadstock”, or “did you know that sheep spend their entire lives looking for ways to die”.

“Oh” we thought disappointedly, “why are people not happy for us, proud new sheep parents?  Why the doom and gloom?  What can be so hard about keeping sheep?  Surely you just put them in a field and keep an eye on them from time to time?”  However, as with most (if not all!) our experiences in our smallholder life, we were soon to find out the hard way.

Sarka

Our first lesson came to us about 18 months in to keeping sheep.  By this time we had 12 woolly friends grazing away happily in our fields.  It was late summer and we were moving the flock into a different field.  As the sheep gambolled into the new paddock to investigate the fresh grass we noticed one of the flock, Sarka, was acting out of character.  She seemed spooked and jittery.  We watched her for a short while and decided we would need to pen her up and inspect her as something was clearly wrong.  So we penned her up and had a good look.  It didn’t take us long to discover to our horror and dismay, that under her tail were hundreds of wriggling and writhing white maggots.  “Flystrike” we both said in unison!  Closely followed by an expletive or two.  It was truly a horrific sight.  It was also something we’d been warned about and we had sprayed our flock earlier in the summer to prevent.  We rushed indoors to get the bottle of “Crovect” which kills maggots and thankfully Sarka was soon grazing away happily, cleaned up and at peace with the world again.

The following year we had three more incidents of flystrike and fortunately we caught each attack in time.  If left for too long the sheep will quickly “fulfil their life’s ambition”.  And “too long” can be only a matter of days – two or three after the maggots hatch and start burrowing into the flesh.  Even using the recommended sprays and checking sheep for the tell-tale signs (agitation, foot stamping etc) it is still possible for a blowfly to slip through the net and lay her eggs in the wool.

“Hmm” we thought, “perhaps these people have a point, sheep are not the easy maintenance creatures we thought they were.”  By now we saw ourselves saying goodbye to ever going on holiday again.

But fate was kind to us and dealt us a lucky hand.  Two years into owning sheep and having outgrown our Somerset smallholding we decided to up sticks and move to South West Scotland to a much bigger place.  This is where we live now, with many more woolly friends than we started out with.

The lucky hand of fate came in the form of hill breezes.  Blowfly like to lurk in warm and sheltered hedgerows.  They cannot abide a hill breeze, least of all a Scottish one which has a freshness about it, and they don’t care much for dry stone walls either which have no lurking potential, and we have plenty of drystone walls here, not a hedgerow in sight.  The result being that life here is blissful, chilly Scottish breezes are absolutely fine as far as I’m concerned and flystrike has happily become a thing of the past.  We don’t even spray our sheep now which is great because we don’t like chemicals.

But don’t rest on your laurels I hear you say and you would be right.  We were soon to be presented with another interesting learning experience.

Sky

One summer’s afternoon, during our first year on our Scottish smallholding I was doing the afternoon sheep check which involves counting them and scanning the flock for any unusual behaviour.  It also involves mooching around the flock giving them pats and head scratches.  So there I was happily wandering amongst the woollies when I noticed Sky looking rather strange.  She was lying down, but something seemed wrong.  On closer inspection I could see she was stuck.  “Oh no!” I said out loud, “she’s cast!”  I wondered how long she had been there as I turned her over and helped her to her feet.  Sky seemed none the worse for wear but her wool was quite flattened on the side she’d been lying on so I thought she must have been there a good while.  Sky was lucky I’d found her when I did as a cast sheep soon becomes prey for crows.  I didn’t like to think too much about that, but it was a sobering thought and my heart was heavy as I trudged back to the house to tell Adrian what had happened.

Luckily the incident remained a one off and we found no more sheep lying on their backs with their legs in the air, with the exception of once, close to lambing time, we found Star, heavily pregnant stuck on her side and unable to get up, but that was understandable as she was huge at the time.  Still, it was just as worrying as the first time round, and so we added “cast sheep” to our string of worry beads.

Two years on, and we had no more cast sheep.  “Yippee” we thought, but we knew by this time not to tempt fate and so kept our eyes peeled just in case.

And just as well as Adrian was soon to find out.

One spring morning earlier this year, Adrian was out fixing one of our numerous dry stone walls.  See “Stone Dykes” This particular wall was a boundary wall so it was important to get it fixed.  There was lots of to-ing and fro-ing on the quad bike with rocks and tools etc, and the way up to the wall was through the sheep.  On one of these journeys Adrian happened to spot Yarr, looking a bit funny.  Yarr is one of our boys, he’s a friendly chap always happy to come up for a chat and a pat.  Adrian instinctively knew there was something odd about him, he was lying on his side in amongst the other sheep, but seemed to be in an unnatural position.  He whizzed over, and was shocked to realise that Yarr was stuck, he was lying there helpless, his legs in the air like a beetle.  Adrian quickly turned him over and rubbed his legs to bring back his circulation.  Yarr seemed to be not quite himself for the rest of the day, however by the next day he was fine again.  “Phew” we thought what a stroke of luck that the wall had needed fixing and Adrian had found him when he did.  We check on the sheep three times a day but Adrian had found Yarr in between checks so poor Yarr would have been stuck a while longer if it hadn’t been for the work on the wall.

We thought no more about it, until two days later to be precise, Adrian was once more whizzing up on the quad to continue work on the wall when he spotted Yarr, on his back again! They say bad luck happens in threes so while helping Yarr back on his feet Adrian started wondering what else was going to go wrong.  Meanwhile I was wondering what was wrong with Yarr and why he kept ending up on his back.

Yarr with shaggy fleece

It occurred to us later that day over a cup of tea that the sheep had very shaggy fleeces, it was early May and they had a full year’s worth of wool on their backs.   They were due to be sheared later that month so we hoped that once relieved of their heavy fleeces Yarr, or indeed any other sheep wouldn’t end up on their backs for a wee while at least!

And this proved to be so, without their heavy fleeces, Yarr and the rest of the gang stayed out of pickles and we were relieved.

Until last weekend that is.  I was doing the evening check, the flock was grazing contentedly in the lower hay field and all was well with the world.  I counted 20 sheep, all were present and correct.  I then noticed Yarr looked a bit strange.  “Oh no” I thought, “not again!”  I ran over to him as he was very still, he looked like a ragdoll, like sheep who has given up.  On nearing him I was hugely relieved to find him alive, but yes, once again, cast.  I righted him and rubbed his flanks. He stood for a while and did a pee.  I wondered if he’d been holding it in as it seemed to go on for ever.  After a few minutes he shook himself and wandered off to graze with the others.

We hope Yarr has had his run of bad luck now.  He’s been found on his back three times, but on the other hand you could say Yarr was lucky, lucky to be found in time and not left to fulfil his life’s ambition.

 

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Vera “a touch of the itchies” update

Vera with cream on her ears

It’s been a few weeks since we wrote about Vera our ewe with “a touch of the itchies”.  See earlier story:  “Vera gets a touch of the itchies”

So, I thought I’d give you a wee progress update.

Happily I can report that since the vet’s visit in July, Vera’s been gradually getting better.  Although the vet hadn’t been 100% certain what had caused Vera’s “itchies”; in the days following his visit it was looking more and more like his suggestion of photosensitivity.

We scanned our pastures for any suspect plants.  The main culprits are umbelliferous plants and St John’s Wart.  I thought we had none of these where the sheep graze, as a horticulturalist I am always on the look out for “dodgy plants”.  But to my horror I found some Wood Angelica lurking in a dingy corner and my heart sank.

Several broken spades later I had removed about 25 of the villains.  Phew I thought, that should stop any further outbreaks.   I then whizzed off to the nearest chemist for some Sudocrem.  I had done some research and checked with the vet and Sudocrem would be the perfect ointment to aid Vera’s recovery once the affect of the steroids started to wear off.

And so began “The Cream Ritual”.  At first Vera was a bit suspicious of me brandishing my pot.  However, a few short days after being totally unimpressed with “the funny smelling white stuff”, she started to seek me out and wait patiently as I smoothed it on.  Pretty soon Vera made it plain she loved The Cream Ritual.  As soon as I took the lid off the pot, her neck grew several inches longer and she started to lick the air whilst nodding her head up and down, all tell-tale signs of a happy sheep.

As the days went by, Vera, on spotting me, came trotting up and leaned into me as I smoothed the cream on.  Her favourite spots were under her armpits.  She began to lift her back legs up to let me get right in.  The Cream Ritual became a really enjoyable part of both of our days.

Now, nearly 3 months later with the days shortening and no more scorchy days, Vera is almost completely better.  I’ve stopped applying Sudocrem much to Vera’s disappointment so I’ve been giving her plenty of head scratches and chest rubs to compensate.  I also check her skin on a daily basis just to make sure she’s OK.  Although it’s autumn there are still a few warm days and too much sunshine can cause a flare up.  So, it’s slow progress, but Vera’s getting there.

We just hope that she hasn’t become photosensitised indefinitely but only time will tell.  For the moment, she is OK and that is what matters.

 

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Sheep happy with new path

With autumn fast approaching and soggier weather, access to the lambing shed (now known as “general sheep/hen/shelter/meeting room”) in the orchard had become wet and slippery.

Getting to the orchard is a bit of an expedition for the sheep as it’s quite literally off their “beaten track”.  We had to show them the way at first, but they soon learnt how to do it and made it part of their routine.

To get to the orchard they have to come down a slope from the main field, trot along a rock lined path and then pop up through a gate on the other side where, voila, their shed is.  This is all fine in dry weather but it’s not been that dry lately so access has become somewhat challenging.  During the summer the hens would line up along the path dust bathing, not now!

sheep trying out new path

Sheep are sensible creatures and instinctively steer clear of boggy ground.  It is a sheep’s worst nightmare to become stuck in the mud, their small hooves, spindly legs and barrel shaped bodies aren’t a good design for navigating marshy terrain so they’ll avoid it at all costs.  Unfortunately this can be quite hard in South West Scotland as it rains a lot and it’s often muddy.

The path to the lambing shed was not only becoming churned up, it was also getting really slippery due to it being on a slope.  So from one day to the next the sheep pretty much stopped using it.  This was unfortunate as during this time it wasn’t just raining, it was proverbially “chucking it down”.

Now sheep are hardy animals and will put up with whatever the weather throws at them, however, keeping sheep for a number of years and observing their ways has taught us that even they have their limits.  In prolonged rain they’ll actively seek out shelter whether that be huddling under a tree, standing in a long line by a dry stone wall or, stretching out in a custom built field shelter.  I know where I would rather be.

So, we decided the path leading to the shed, (now resembling a slalom slope) had to be made usable again if we wanted happy sheep.

I say “we” but it was all Adrian really.  I just helped bring some wooden poles down to make the edges.  Adrian was the one who brought trailer loads of “scalpings” down and spent hours shovelling it all down to create a walkway.

Adrian hard at work

Once it was all done, we sat back and admired it and then walked up and down it a few times to try it out.  We were really pleased; it had a deep layer of scalpings all held in place by planks of wood to stop it slipping away.  It was not only functional, it looked great!

Now to wait for the sheep to reacquaint themselves with it.  After about half an hour, (truth is we couldn’t wait) we went and got them.  We brought Peaches the matriarch over first.  If she approved, she would lead the others down.

Peaches is a sensible girl, utterly reliable and a great matriarch.  Sure enough, apart from an investigative, bordering on suspicious, sniff prior to hoof placement, she was soon walking along the path, bringing to mind images of a certain wee girl from a certain well known book/film.

By now the others’ interest was piqued and soon all 19 remaining sheep were piling onto the path like a bunch of children playing musical chairs when the music stops.

Which was very amusing to watch!  And led to half the flock veering off and creating a parallel path. Most of them got the idea however and after a few days they started to include a trip along the new path to the orchard on their daily rounds.  They particularly enjoy visiting the orchard at the moment what with there being lots of apples lying around just waiting to be gobbled up.

 

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Hello Boys!

tups in field next door

Being autumn, it’s approaching tupping time when the ewes are put to the tup.  The farm next door has been to market and got themselves a pair of splendid young tups and put them in the field next door.  They seem like pretty calm chaps, but they are in a field out of which there have been a few successful escape attempts in the recent past.

At first, we did nothing as we had sorted out the decrepit gate and our neighbours had plugged the gap.  However, it all changed when they spotted each other.  Our sheep like to pop down to the lambing paddock each day to check for apples.  It’s also where one of their field shelters is sited.  On their way down, they were spotted by the boys next door who, in their amazement, stood their like teenage boys transfixed.  Of course, our girls totally ignored them.

However, a couple of days later, the girls decided that they had made their point and were spotted attempting to smooch through the metal bars of the gate between the fields.  Boys on one side and two or three of our ewes on the other with noses pressed up right against each other.

“Hmm”, we thought, maybe we had better do something.  Aside from not really wanting to go through the stress of lambing next year, we also have a couple of hogs that are tiny compared to these boys and don’t want them getting pregnant or even hurt in the process.

So, we have moved our sheep to the fields away from contact where the are now separated by a field and some stone dykes.  Not that that’s stopped them gazing wistfully at each other from hilltop positions on both sides.

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It’s time for hooves and bottoms again!

Every three months we give our sheep a general MOT, this means checking their teats, checking (and trimming if necessary) their hooves, trimming the wool around their bottoms and trimming the wool around their eyes.  Out of all these jobs, probably the most important is trimming the wool around their bottoms (known as “dagging” in the sheep world).  Dirty wool can attract flies which can lead to flystrike which is a killer.

I should mention at this point, back in the olden days when we first had sheep, the days leading up to doing the MOTs would cause me palpitations, (not Adrian, he is the laid back sort rather irritatingly).

Just getting our sheep into a pen, let alone doing all the necessary tasks could be fraught with disaster.  In fact it was due to many mishaps; sheep refusing to be penned up, us chasing sheep around the paddock, our inability to “tip” them once we had got them into a pen, us being stood on by sheep, us ending up flattened by a sheep, the list goes on … but anyway, all these set backs did have a positive outcome, it made us quickly rethink our sheep handling strategy.

One frosty day whilst nursing a squashed toe after being stood on yet again by one of our larger ladies I had a rare light bulb moment.  I remembered how our mentors were always leading their sheep around with halters.  They are great show enthusiasts so had trained their flock to be halter trained.  I wondered if we could do the same and so make life easier for ourselves when it came to doing their health checks.  We weren’t interested in showing our sheep, but the idea of a docile sheep trotting after us on a lead rope seemed very appealing not to mention practical.  I particularly like the idea of not having to “tip” a sheep again (it’s nigh on impossible unless you have cracked the technique and I clearly hadn’t).  The vision I had in my mind was to be able to work on the sheep whilst it was standing up, tied to a railing by a lead rope rather like a horse.

A training plan started to form in my mind based on a mixture of Cesar Millan’s and Monty Robert’s “whispering” approach.  I would use psychology, patience and bribery in the form of sheep nuts.

I ordered some halters and as soon as they arrived I got to work.  I set up a largish pen in the paddock with a smaller pen inside, filled my pockets with nuts and off I went.

It took me a while (about a week) to complete “phase one” for the sheep to start coming to me and letting me put the halter on.  The next thing I did was gently walk them around the pen (phase two).  If they got spooked I let go of the halter.  If they didn’t I led them into the smaller pen.  Several weeks of training later and little by little I managed to get each and every one of our sheep (nine to be precise) used to the halter, and eventually I was able to tie them up in the smaller pen and actually do some work on them, hurrah!!  It was a huge turning point for us in our sheep management because now our sheep were “tame”, they trusted us and so we felt a huge weight had been taken off our shoulders.

If we needed the vet we no longer worried about having to chase a sheep around just to get it into a pen, if we needed to move them to another field we simply haltered them or better still, called them and they followed us.  Rounding up our flock became a pleasant and fun thing to do instead of anxiety provoking and as a result our flock became relaxed whenever we were around them.  We were happier and so were our flock.  And the best part of the “training” programme was that we got to know our sheep as individuals with unique personalities.  We noticed that Sparkle makes funny grunty noises when happy or excited, we noticed that Selene has a particular tickle spot on her back, we noticed that Sarka was very shy and timid and needed extra time to learn to trust us.  We learned so much that winter, and mostly (I personally) learnt the art of patience (something hubs claims he’s yet to witness).

So, fast forward a few years, and after doing hundreds of MOTs, the three monthly ritual is a doddle compared to those early days.  That said, it is physically hard work and very time consuming.  Admittedly not helped by us expanding our flock somewhat.

So sometimes I have a little dream about owning a “Combi clamp”.  This is a gentle device for restraining a sheep and allows you to all those things that you need to do to: dose, inject, trim hooves, dag etc.  Although our sheep are easy as pie to handle, there is one thing I still struggle with; inspecting the back hooves.  I can trim bottoms till the cows come home, I can get stuck into the front hooves, but for some reason the back hooves are really tricky to do.  The sheep go into full on reflex mode when I so much as go near those hooves, to say they are not keen would be an understatement, they make it plain that it is the most irritating thing in the world.  I usually end up half underneath the sheep, resting their knee on my thigh and doing whatever needs doing between the hoof flicking out randomly and usually narrowly missing my nose.  As the sheep is only loosely restrained by the halter it can start to hop around a bit or worse, pull back towards me at which point I end up with a sheep’s bottom on top of my head.  Not a great experience all round and quite frustrating for both of us.  I’ve usually resorted to filling a bucket with carrots and letting them munch away while I quickly work on them but this is not ideal as I don’t always have carrots and I’m not keen on using treats as it makes the sheep hyper and they come to expect it and so become anxious, you have to be careful with how you use treats.

adrian being combi clampSadly Combi clamps are over £3,000 so that dream will remain a dream for the time being, meanwhile Adrian has offered to be my Combi clamp.  He makes a good one, he has a patented technique for keeping a sheep in exactly the right position while I can do their back hooves with ease. It is almost a blissful experience for all of us.  Part of the “Adrian technique” is to hug the sheep (so “clamping” it) whilst giving it a back scratch in just the right spot.  At this point they go into a kind of trance and start to gaze off into the distance, stretching their necks out and licking their lips.  I am happy because I can work on their hooves and no longer risk being decapitated, but Adrian is probably happiest of all because he hasn’t got to fork out £3,000 for a Combi clamp, well not for the moment anyway!

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Vera gets a touch of the itchies

Vera, one of our Yorkshire lassies, has been on our radar for a while.  She’s one of three we brought over from a Yorkshire farm just after moving here and she has thrived, along with the other two Yorkshire lassies, Vi and Ursi.   Anyway, of late she has taken to sitting on her own in one of the shelters provided for them.

VeraVera has always had a bit of a tendency to do this, so no alarm bells were ringing.  Nevertheless, Nicole had checked her over just to be sure, and had found nothing wrong.  The last time a sheep went off on her own it was Scarlett whose ear tag had become infected.  But Scarlett also stopped eating and hung her head, (a sure sign something is wrong) whereas Vera could be seen chewing the cud and looking quite content as she sat in her shelter.

Yesterday was the year’s hottest day.  Even up here in the hills, it was pretty hot.  I was taking to dogs for their daily walk and I usually come back via the sheep just to give them a quick check and to say hello.  Vera was up and about, grazing with the others and I was about to head off back to the house when  I noticed her stamping her feet quite a lot and looking round.  This is the sort of behaviour that can be seen in early fly-strike, so I checked her.  No flies, eggs or maggots.  Then I noticed she had scratched her front leg raw.  Something wasn’t right.

vera - leg wound
Vera’s leg wound (sprayed with blue spray)

I went and fetched Nicole and some iodine and we treated her wound.  Then Nicole checked for other wounds as all of a sudden Vera seemed to be very agitated.  We thought there had to be flies or maggots hiding somewhere.  After a careful inspection Nicole found that Vera’s skin, in the bare places where there is no wool, under her arms and the backs of her legs, seemed a bit inflamed and slightly hot to the touch, there were also some small crusty patches.  Our first thought was it might be “scab” however we haven’t had a case of “scab” before so we weren’t really sure.

So we duly called the vet and he came out and had a look.  After a careful examination he scratched his head and said he wasn’t really sure what it was, other than it wasn’t “scab”!  Basically, he said, it was in the wrong places for “scab”  and none of the other sheep were showing any signs, (“scab” is highly contagious).  Good and bad news – it wasn’t serious (good) but we were not sure what to do to treat it (bad)?

The swellings looked like they were a bit cracked and so could be infected so the vet gave her a mixture of steroids, anti-inflammatory and an antibiotic.   We wonder if she had had a bad case of midgie bites after shearing that hadn’t healed.  But we don’t know.  The vet thought it could be an allergic reaction to something she had eaten.  Maybe we will never know for sure.

We are monitoring her closely.  She looks a little better today (Friday), but she’s still a bit agitated and scratching and stamping her feet.  Fingers crossed it will clear up quickly.

Vera tucking in
Vera happily eating grass

And a quick update (Saturday).  She is out and about munching away happily.  There is still a bit of stamping, but nothing like two days ago.  It certainly looks like the really hot day aggravated things.  She is showing some photosensitivity which confirms the vet’s allergic reaction diagnosis.

To be honest, most of the sheep were finding it a bit hot, so it wouldn’t be surprising if it made the itchy parts worse.

Nicole is bathing the affected areas twice a day with chamomile tea.  We’re hoping that helps too.

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Summer Shelter Gets Our Approval

Hi, I’m Selene.  I’m the leader of this little flock of sheep.  I know Peaches might have something to say about that, and maybe Ursi too come to think of it, but I see myself as leader.  Where I go, the rest follow, most of the time.  Anyway, it doesn’t really matter too much, we sheep are very good at resolving any differences we might have.  We just put our heads together and come up with a solution.  Easy peasy!

Anyway, I heard a rumour that we sheep had been shown into a new shelter for the summer and then forgotten about it straight away.  Not true.  What is true that we were a bit flummoxed when our regular shelter was closed off to us.  We like it there.  We can get to any of our fields directly.  Now, if we want to get to the big field and we’re in the lower hay field, we have to go all the way round.

Us resting in our summer shelter

Anyway, I digress.  Our normal shelter was a bit muddy and some early summer rain hadn’t helped.  The humans had put in a connection to what they call the lambing paddock.  There’s a great shelter there – I was one of those fortunate enough to use it during lambing last year.  It was great because I wasn’t even pregnant but I still got sheep nuts, yum.

Where was I? Oh yes, we’d been shown a new path.  Well, it was very nice with lots of fresh grass, but I did remember that last time we were there, we had our coats shorn off.  While, at the end of the day, we are pretty pleased about that, it was a bit stressful at the time.  So, when we found we could go back to our normal fields, I thought it maybe best to avoid the new shed for a bit, just in case.

The only thing was, I hadn’t checked the weather forecast.  Luckily for us, the humans had, and they brought us back into the shed just before the heavens opened.  It was great listening to all that rain falling yet staying completely dry.  Especially as none of us had a coat.

testing the new path

Anyway, after that, we tested the new path a few times, but there was no sighting of the shearer.  A few rather nonplussed hens, yes, but they soon got used to us.  Turns out they’d had the shed to themselves for a while and were used to kind of mooching about in it undisturbed.  On the plus side, I pointed out to them, they also had access to our sheep path and could free range as far and wide as they liked.  And, indeed, it wasn’t long before they were off exploring.

So, on the whole, we like the new shelter.  I wonder if we’ll get to use it in the winter too.  I hope so.

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Wool Glorious Wool

It’s shearing season here and sheep all over are having their wool sheared.  Given that it’s been quite hot for a couple of days, our sheep are quite happy not to be sporting their woolly coats right now.  Shearing is also important for health, hot weather means more flies and blowflies, in particular, can be quite a threat to sheep.

fleeces dried and bagged up
Coloured Ryeland fleeces dried and bagged up

One of the sad facts is that, these days, wool is almost worthless.  Most is bought by British Wool for less than a pound a fleece.  That’s pretty much what it costs to shear a commercial sheep.  For small flock owners like us, the cost is higher.

Nicole recently started making felted rugs (felted fleece rugs at Auchenstroan).  These are starting to prove popular and so Nicole is planning to ramp up production a bit.  This mainly involves drafting me in to help.

shetland fleeces drying in sun
Shetland fleeces drying in the sun

We have a few fleeces left over from last year and 27 of our own Coloured Ryeland fleeces from this year.  However, we thought it might be good to see what kind of rugs could be produced by other breeds.  So, we have got a few fleeces from our Farm-sitter’s farm (pictured at the top) and also some Shetland fleeces from a smallholding further up the road from us.

It will be good to see how the rugs turn out. They will appear in our shop as they are finished.