We ordered some different bales of hay recently and our first thought was, would the sheep eat it? Sheep are creatures of habit and can be quite fussy with their hay. They prefer the softer variety rather than the stalky hay, and they like it fresh and sweet smelling, (well that is understandable, who wouldn’t)? By the way, if you ever need to test if hay is fresh and tasty, have a good sniff of it, if it smells sweet and a bit like weetabix then it’s likely to go down well with the little darlings. Well, the new hay we’d had delivered was certainly fresh (tick), and it smelled sweet and weetabixy, (another tick), but it was definitely on the stalkier end of the hay spectrum, uh oh!! Their old hay was soft as can be and they loved it. So when we filled the feeders up last week we resigned ourselves to the wee woollies turning their noses well and truly up.
Well, it just goes to show you shouldn’t count your hay before its scoffed, you’ll be happy to hear, they loved the new hay! Stalks and all! In fact, they told us in no uncertain terms that this new batch was much tastier than the stuff they’d been munching all winter!! We reminded them that there is still a bit of winter left in the farming calendar, the grass doesn’t come through till the end of April, so they can have their new type of hay for another few weeks yet. They were happy with this news but told us they still preferred grass when push came to shove and they couldn’t wait for winter to come to end, we nodded our heads in agreement, we can’t wait for spring too!
Winter on the smallholding is all about keeping our woolly friends fed, watered and mucked out.
The beginning of November marks the start of the “big hay ceremony”. This means that every morning and evening we fill the feeders up with fresh hay while the sheep mill around “helping” – which roughly translates to them helping themselves to hay while we attempt to get it in the feeders!
The hay sees them through until spring but if the winter is mild they’ll spend less time at the feeders and trundle up the hill to the higher pastures foraging for grass and small plants bravely making an appearance. Winter grass isn’t very nutritious though and our Ryelands are lowland sheep and not as tough as their hill bred cousins. The wouldn’t survive a Scottish winter without their daily hay.
This year the winter has been particularly cold, we’ve had snow on the ground for more than two weeks and since Christmas the sheep had had enough of foraging in the hills and set up camp in the paddock by the house. The paddock is their sanctuary, a lot of our sheep were born in the paddock so it’s also a nursery. It’s a safe place for them to come to to get out of the elements. There’s a big shed where they can shelter from the rain, there are also apple trees which they enjoy sitting under whilst chewing the cud. But best of all, the paddock is home to their hay feeders and their favourite big orange buckets. These orange buckets are a special winter treat which sheep adore, they’re lick buckets which contain nutrients, vitamins and minerals and lots of yummy ingredients. They just can’t get enough of them!
Yesterday the sheep had licked their buckets clean and were eagerly awaiting new ones. As I heaved the buckets out of the wheelbarrow and dragged them into the barn I had barely got the lids off when I was set upon by nineteen teddy bears in a Winney the Pooh rugby scrum. Fortunately I managed to get out more or less unscathed and sat on a straw bale to recover whilst watching their happy faces listening to them licking away for all they were worth, happy days! 😊
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 😋
Sheep need a lot of looking after and one of the primary tasks is checking hooves and bottoms. Much like human fingernails and toenails, sheep’s hooves can grow and become uncomfortable. If not trimmed, infection can get in.
Dirty bottoms are a magnet for flies and the last thing you want is the blowfly laying eggs there. These eggs hatch into maggots which will eat the sheep alive. It’s called flystrike and it’s one of the reasons shearing is so important.
While we check our sheep 2 or 3 times a day, it also helps to take preventive measures and this means keeping the wool around the sheep’s bottom short and clean. It’s a process called dagging.
First step was to get the sheep together and penned up. We bring them down to the lambing shed. It means they have shelter from sun or rain or both, as often happens here. While I get busy setting up sheep hurdles, Nicole goes and fetches them. These days, they follow happily.
Once in the shed, we construct a small treatment pen. You can’t see it from the photo, but it has a sliding entrance. In practice, that’s a hurdle we can shift sideways to make an entrance.
It’s all pretty calm and most of the sheep just wander in to the treatment pen when called. A couple need bribing with some sheep nuts and one, Bluemli, takes a bit more persuading – she is very wary of pens. We leave Bluemli till last.
It all went very smoothly. I helped keep the sheep calm while Nicole lifted each leg and checked the hooves. Sheep don’t mind their front legs being lifted, but can get a bit twitchy about their back legs losing contact with the ground. I find that if I distract them with neck scratches and soft words, they usually stay pretty calm through the whole process. Each sheep has its own particular sweet spot for a scratch. Find that and it all goes smoothly.
Then it’s a quick bottom check. If the bottom is dirty, it gets a clean and trim. After that, out that sheep goes, the sliding hurdle moves across and the next sheep wanders in.
The ones already treated often hang around outside the pen seeking more tickles. That’s actually quite helpful as their proximity also has a calming effect on the sheep whose hooves are being inspected.
Bluemli, well she went from being a little wild eyed to settling, chewing the cud and then back to wild eyed when it was her turn. I grabbed a handful of sheep nuts, waved them in front of her nose and, to our astonishment, she trotted into the pen with me. Once in the pen, she was quite happy and let Nicole trim her hooves and check her bottom with no trouble at all.
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!
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.
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 😊
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!
Despite living in what is generally considered to be a wet part of Britain, we do have prolonged dry spells. In fact, for the last 3 years, there have weeks of dry weather in the spring.
Since moving here, we have added two water tanks to gather water from hillside springs. But these springs dry up in the dry weather and if we’re not careful, we have to ferry water up from the river. This year, just before the dry spell hit, we got a new 550 litre trough installed adding extra capacity.
When they first saw it, the sheep were startled; they are not keen on new things appearing unexpectedly. But as the rain stopped and the sun came out, they have found it to be another useful drinking spot.
I think, over coming years, we might add further capacity till we have enough water to last for months rather than weeks.
One of the annual responsibilities we have as smallholders is to vaccinate the sheep. Each year, they get an injection of Heptavac. The interesting challenge is how best to do it without getting the sheep overexcited. We have, in the past, used sheep nuts to misidrect them while they are injected, but then the rest of the flock gather round barging each other trying to get in. Last year, in all the argy bargy, Ymogen suffered a broken jaw. This year, we were determined to avoid that kind of accident.
We also had to make sure the wiser of our sheep did not clock what was going on and keep well clear. Bluemli, particularly, can tell when we are up to something and will stay well clear of any pens.
We hatched our plans. First, all the sheep were gathered into the shed. This involved a little bribery in the form of sheep nuts. However, these were in a trough so they were all able to get some.
We built a small pen right outside the shed with a sliding door, well a sheep hurdle we could move out of the way, to let them in. They all lined up to see what we were up to (see picture). On opening the entrance, the first sheep obligingly stepped through. I held them tight while Nicole administered the injection. It went like clockwork. Each time we opened the pen, a sheep wandered in, got their injection and was ushered out into the paddock.
One or two sheep tried to play the bucking bronco card, but all in all it was very peaceful. So peaceful, in fact, that the vaccinated sheep gathered round to watch their colleagues getting injected.
All in all, it took about an hour do vaccinate our 19 sheep. We retired for a cuppa very pleased with ourselves.
Hiya!! Ymogen here, or Ymo as they sometimes call me. It has been a while but I’m still here, happy as ever. HOWEVER, the weather has been vile. What can I say? We seem to have had endless storms. A mixture of high winds, rain, sleet and snow has made it totally miserable out here. And when the wind finally stopped, we had snow, then rain, then snow, then rain, then snow, then rain. It just went on and on. It got pretty muddy in places, let me tell you.
Needless to say, none of us sheep were impressed. Thankfully, we have two good shelters. At the moment, our preferred shelter is what the humans call the lambing shed. It’s where I was born and it’s large and spacious. It also has the hay feeders nearby and a water trough inside the shelter. We have been crowding in there a lot of the time. When the weather has been ultra bad, we have not even dared ventured out to eat. Luckily, the female human, Nicole, has also been giving us personal hay in the shed.
It’s a relief to be out of the rain, but we do tend to get a bit bored being stuck in here, even if it is our own choice. I think I am the most put out, to be honest. I’m always up for heading out to the grassy fields. Much better out there than all the argy bargy round the feeders. I mean, me and Yndia, we’re quite small and petite really. Not to say that we won’t stand our ground, but it’s just all much more fun out in the fields. And even though the weather hase been vile, the grass has been growing yum yum.
Anyway, here’s a piccie of me just in case you’d forgotten what I look like.
It’s a long time since our flock were sheared, 7 months to be precise! Plenty of time for a sheep of a woolly persuasion to get a touch of the ‘woolly eyes’!!
This basically means it’s time for a wee face trim.
There’s more to this than just aesthetics, if the wool growth is such that the sheep can no longer see properly this is quite stressful for the animal. Sheep rely on good eyesight to keep watch for predators, especially to the sides and back whilst they’re grazing. If wool growth stops this they can become jumpy and nervous.
I really enjoy trimming sheep’s faces, it’s a satisfying job and over the years I’ve learned a few tricks to keep them calm and relaxed while I do it. I have to keep them still while I do the haircuts which is easier said than done and has taken many years of practise. The method which works for me is to pen each sheep up individually and then tie the animal to a hurdle using a halter and lead rope. Our flock is used to the halter and lead rope, I give them ‘halter training’ lessons from a young age and it’s really paid off when it comes to handling them.
So, with the sheep haltered and in position, I gently support their chin with one hand, (this stops them from moving forwards), and with the other hand I carefully snip away the wool from around their eyes. Then, while I have them penned up I also check their bottoms and hooves. It takes me about 20 minutes per sheep, I never rush this job because it’s a good time to bond with the sheep and it gives me the opportunity to spot anything which needs attention.
Today while I was working on Yzzy I noticed she was passing dung through both passages, front and back so to speak. This wasn’t too much of a surprise as when Yzzy was a lamb she was born with a condition fairly common in newborn lambs, no anus. The vet had had to come out and make an incision and within minutes she was fine. The incision was basically a new back passage and would mean Yzzy could grow up and lead a normal life, she just wouldn’t be allowed to have lambs.
But today it seemed she had created a new passage, one which shouldn’t be there. I mulled it over and pondered what to do. She didn’t seem to be in pain, we would have noticed if she was because sheep tend to go off on their own and hang their heads and look obviously depressed. She had displayed none of these behaviours. As with most things concerning animal health, its always a good idea to think things over carefully before intervening. When to intervene and whether to intervene are questions which continually run through our heads when faced with situations like this. My instinct told me not to intervene but to keep an eye on her. I spoke to Adrian over lunch and we thought we’d ring the vet just to double check. The vet agreed with us, to leave well alone, it was likely that more complications could occur through intervention so unless she was in pain, then the advice was to do nothing. So we’ll keep Yzzy on our radar and hope she stays happy and healthy. As they say, there is never a dull moment when keeping sheep although I would probably replace ‘dull moment’ with ‘ a moment without a worry’!