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Elderly sheep on special diet – update

It’s been about six weeks since my last blog entry about the wonders of alfalfa and sugar-beet for elderly sheep.

This winter just gone, we’ve been keeping a special eye on three of our more elderly flock members; Sparkle and Scarlett and Shelby.  Sparkle and Scarlett are missing some front teeth, and Shelby has arthritis and can’t get around as easily as she used to.

winter at the hay bar

Winter can be tough, especially for older sheep who don’t have the reserves they once had.

sheep sheltering from snow storm
sheep sheltering from snow storm

We readily admit to spoiling our sheep a little bit, we give them access to their favourite shed to get out of the elements.  This is great for the sheep, but not so great for me as I have to muck it out every day.  But I digress, a happy sheep is a happy me.  As well as their shed, they also have ad-lib access to meadow hay and a cheeky sprinkling of ewe nuts every morning.  Despite this, as we came out of winter  this year Sparkle, Scarlett and Shelby were all looking a bit too thin for our liking.

Rocket is my middle name so I immediately researched nutritional supplements for elderly sheep with poor teeth and arthritis, preferably slow-release and non-molassed.  This is our first experience with keeping OAP sheep so it’s unchartered territory for us.

tucking into their buckets

While I found lots of information on nutritional supplements for elderly horses and ponies, I couldn’t find much at all about elderly sheep.  Several cups of tea later I at last found something which looked promising; pelleted meadow grass and pelleted alfalfa with sugar beet.

Sparkle on right looking tubbier

Fast forward a few weeks and the three ladies are doing marvellously on their special supplement.  We are so pleased, particularly with Sparkle as she had lost the most condition out of the three.  Now she looks almost back to her old rolly poly self.  We’re also very happy that the two ladies with missing incisors are still able to graze grass so this means the pelleted feed is still just a supplement rather than a main meal, at least for the moment.  Well done Sparkle, Scarlett and Shelby!







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Caring for our elderly sheep

A few years ago we made the decision to stop lambing.  Much as we loved having lambs skipping about each spring and doing zoomies around the paddock, we came to the realisation that it just wasn’t financially viable for us.  We do miss it from time to time though, lambing with all its highs and lows, it’s a profoundly magical time of year.  The miracle of witnessing life unfold, the heartbreak of having it slip through your fingers, it’s an experience you can never forget.

lambs up in the field
lambing days
Sparkle in her tubby days

Since we stopped breeding, the number of sheep we have has stayed pretty much the same.  The only thing that has changed is how old they are.  Some of our girls have reached the ripe old age of twelve which is good going considering the average lifespan of non-commercial sheep is between ten and twelve.  Our youngest are now five (which is old in commercial terms) and the rest are somewhere in between.

This winter we had three sheep on our radar, Sparkle, Scarlett and Shelby.  We were keeping an eye on them because they’d lost a bit of condition.  While it’s normal for sheep to come out of winter looking a bit slimmer than usual, these three were thinner than we liked, particularly Sparkle whose normal physique is erring on the tubby side of tubby.

Both Sparkle and Scarlett are missing some front teeth which would account for them losing a bit of weight.  Shelby still has her front teeth but has a touch of arthritis so she finds walking tricky sometimes which means she’s not grazing as much as she ought to be.

Sparkle now (on right)


special feed for our elderly sheep

Rather than wait for the spring grass to come through and see how they got along, I decided to fast track things a bit.  Actually, I was rather concerned about Sparkle as she only has one incisor left (thankfully she still has her molars), but even with lush spring grass coming through, she wouldn’t be able to get as good a nibble at it anymore.

So I did some research and found two products that looked just the ticket; Dengie’s Pure Grass pellets, and Dengie’s Alfa-Beet pellets.

Both the alfa-beet and the grass come in concentrated (pellet) form which you have to soak before use.  The advantage which comes with the soaking means that sheep with wobbly teeth should find it easier to eat.

making up the buckets

I couldn’t wait to get started.  Once I’d whizzed into town to buy what I needed, I hefted the sacks into the kitchen, got three buckets, some scales and a handful of carrots.  I carefully measured out 20g of the grass pellets and 20g of the alpha-beet into each bucket.  I deliberately went with a very small amount knowing sheep have delicate digestive systems.  My plan was to start small and build it up. I then added 10g of ewe-nuts into the mix and a handful of grated carrot.  Lastly, I added 200g water.   Happy with my concoctions I left the buckets to soak and got on with some overdue housework.  Three hours later, I grabbed my coat, the dogs and the buckets and set off in search of the sheep.

On locating the woolly gang, I called the three ladies into a pen and set my buckets down in front of them.  I couldn’t wait to enjoy that moment – the sound of sheep enthusiastically scoffing.  Sadly the moment never came, they sniffed the buckets with great suspicion, kicked them over for good measure and then looked at me with beseeching ‘feed me’ faces.

I tried hand feeding them but they weren’t having it.  Hmm I thought, what to do?

Shelby tucking in

I trudged back to the house and had a cup of tea.  I pondered things for a while and decided it would probably be best to contact Dengie’s for advice.  I sent them an email explaining my predicament and to my delight a reply came back the very next day.  They suggested making the mixture a teeny bit dryer, more ‘wet-crumbly’ than ‘wet-sloppy’.  They also suggested adding ewe-nuts which I’d already done, but this time I added a few more.  I experimented a bit and came up with what looked to be a good consistency.  20g of alfa-beet, 20g of grass pellets, 20g ewe nuts and 160g water.  Three hours later, off I went again with my buckets.  This time to my delight, they stuck their heads straight in and scoffed for all they were worth!

“please can I have some more?”

This is our first experience with caring for elderly sheep so we’ll be learning as we go along.  Fingers crossed with their nutrient-packed supplements all three will blossom and put on weight over the coming weeks.  For Sparkle who has only one front teeth left, the pellets will be a lifelong addition to her diet as she will struggle to get adequate grass.


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Breakfast for the sheep

As well as the ‘daily hay ceremony‘ which I wrote about a couple of months ago, I thought I would write a few words about another little ceremony which the sheep really enjoy; the daily ‘nut ceremony’.

Sheep go absolutely bonkers for their nuts.  I should add, these are not actual nuts, ‘sheep nuts’ are rolled pellets containing a variety of grains and legumes.

sheep heading towards the gate

Like the hay, we only do the ‘nut ceremony’ during the winter when the sheep appreciate a little extra nutrition.

First thing every morning I scoop a carefully measured amount into a bucket, then, bucket in one hand, dog leads in the other I call the the dogs and off we go.

first at the trough – Clippy the hen

Our sheep are really good at telling the time.  They come down to the paddock exactly half an hour before I make an appearance and stand in a group looking towards the house.

Then they watch me walking along the fence round the outside of the paddock before moving as one unit to the gate which stands between them and the troughs soon to be filled with ‘nuts’.

I used to fill the troughs while the sheep milled around me but this proved slightly hazardous and required my wits about me, not a great situation to be in before I’ve had my breakfast.  Sheep can be quite adept at rugby and thought nothing of tackling me to the ground if it meant they could stick their head in a bucket.

waiting at the gate
yum yum!

These days I put the troughs in a separate part of the paddock and close the gate before the sheep come down so they can’t get up to tricks.  This makes life much easier and is also very amusing to watch when I open the gate and the sheep bundle through closely followed by Elliot who likes to join in the scrum.




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The daily hay ceremony


From the end of October through to the beginning of April (give or take), we move the little darlings onto hay.  During the winter, the grass pretty much stops growing and what grass there is isn’t very tasty or nutritious.  While many sheep are thrifty and do fine in the leaner winter months, ours are a lowland breed and appreciate their creature comforts.  We also have several elderly ladies in our flock who need a little extra tlc.

the much loved shelter

As well as providing the teddies with daily hay, over the years of keeping sheep we’ve come to realise what our woolly friends really appreciate is having somewhere to get out of the elements, whether that’s the scorching sun in the summer, or the driving rain in the winter.  So we give them access to the lambing shed which they love.  To be honest, they are rather too fond of it at times and can make a real mess if they set up camp for too long.  While we like them to have access to their shelter, we don’t want them to spend all day in there.  So we’ve found if we fill up their hay feeders (which are next to the shelter) in the evenings rather than the mornings, this encourages them to go up the hill and forage during the day and only come down to the paddock in the evenings for the daily hay ceremony.

Seline leading the flock down

The daily hay ceremony is basically me bringing the little darlings hay every evening.  Usually the gang are still up on the hill somewhere, but it’s not long before they make an appearance led by Seline the flock leader.  They have an uncanny knack of knowing what time to come down for their tea.

I really enjoy the hay ceremony, mostly because I love the smell of hay.  Good quality meadow hay can be hard to come by and our little darlings are particularly fond of soft hay without tough stalks.  During the first few years here on our smallholding we struggled to find good meadow hay.  Our first year here we made our own but didn’t have enough to last all winter and ended up scrabbling around.

Our second year here we decided to buy in hay.  Unfortunately that turned out to be a bad decision as it was the year of the ‘beast from the east’.  That winter went on and on and on … there was hardly any hay to be had and we ended up buying in posh, dainty bags of haylage from the local agricultural store.  Our winter feed budget took a big hit that year.

tea time

So our third winter here we couldn’t believe our luck when we discovered that our Highland Cattle friends from up the road, Jim and Fiona, (  had started supplying hay!  We feel very fortunate about this, it’s taken a big worry off our shoulders.

the hay-mobile

Every four weeks, Fiona comes by in her ‘hay-mobile’ with a delivery of hay.  Whilst tipping bales off the truck we have a good old catch up.  As smallholders on somewhat remote farms it’s good to chat to a likeminded soul and compare notes about this and that.  I always look forward to Fiona’s visits and I’m sure our sheep do as well!
















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Cud transfaunation for Witchy

trimming Witchy’s bottom wool

You can tell a lot about the health of an animal by what comes out the back end.  One of our woolly teddy bears, Witchy, has always produced dung more on the squishy side.  It sticks to the wool around her tail and is a magnet for flies.  During the summer we give her bottom plenty of haircuts to keep her feeling clean and fresh and prevent flystrike.

From what we’ve observed as smallholders, if young animals don’t get a good start in life, health problems will pop up down the line.  We’re certain that Witchy’s bottom problems are down to an imbalance of gut bacteria due to a period of stress she suffered as a lamb, (click here to read Witchy’s story).  We made a lot of mistakes when we started out ten years ago and unfortunately Witchy’s wobbly first couple of days was down to our inexperience as novice smallholders.


Fast forward to now and Witchy is a fully grown sheep and seven years young.  She’s the sweetest thing and we feel very lucky to have her in our flock.  She seems happy and content, but her digestive issues have always been a background worry.

Over the years we’ve tried her on probiotics and kaolin powder, but nothing has helped.  Witchy’s bottom has just carried on doing its thing and we’ve carried on trimming her and keeping her clean.

Now that she is getting older, we’ve noticed she doesn’t do as well in the winter.  Last year she lost condition and her lower eyelids were a bit pale suggesting a nutrient absorption issue.

This year, as winter approaches I thought I would try something different.  I had recently read about something called ‘cud transfaunation’, an old shepherding technique to help ruminants with digestive problems.  Just like us, sheep need a healthy gut microbiome in order to work properly.  Cud transfaunation basically means to take the cud and accompanying microbes from the mouth of a healthy sheep and pop it into the mouth of the sheep needing help.  (Obviously making sure it is swallowed).

Yaar and WItchy

I was pretty excited to do this I can tell you!  On Monday I brought Witchy into a pen along with Yaar and Yogi (the two doners).  My plan was to  swill the doners’ mouths out with warm water using a large syringe, capture the swill (and hopefully lots of microbes) in a bucket and then transfer it over to Witchy.  The reason I decided to have two doners was purely to increase my chances of capturing microbes.


From what I’ve read you can do either the ‘swill method’, or the ‘cud grabbing method’.  If you manage to grab a nice handful of cud there’s probably more chance of capturing lots of microbes however scooping out cud comes with risk of losing a  finger so I decided to go with plan A.  If plan A doesn’t work, then I’ll enlist the help of Adrian and try getting hold of some cud.  You put the cud in a bucket with a little warm water, break it up with a fork so it resembles sloppy soup and then give it to the sheep before it cools down.

The most important thing I had to remember was to make sure everything was sterile, and to keep the swilled out water at sheep temperature so the microbes didn’t die off before I got them into Witchy.

my equipment

I lined up my equipment on a nearby wall so I had everything within reach.  I had with me:  a thermos flask filled with sheep-temperature water (38.3 – 39.9’c) to do the mouth swilling, a sterile bucket to capture the swill and a large syringe to draw up the swill from the bucket and transfer into Witchy’s mouth.

I didn’t get much swill but hopefully enough.  It looked slightly green and had a bit of a slimy look to it.  I’m hoping it contained plenty of bacteria.  Giving it to Witchy was easy, I popped it into her mouth using a large syringe and she swallowed it straight away, phew!

swill on its way to Witchy’s mouth

The trickiest part was to make sure I kept Yaar and Yogi’s heads down as I swilled their mouths out to stop them from swallowing the warm water.  It was also quite hard keeping the bucket under their chins whilst I was doing this.  They were very keen to stick their noses in the bucket, they love buckets, especially green calf buckets.

Hopefully I captured enough microbes and they’re setting up home in Witchy’s gut and she’ll have an easier winter.  However the proof will be in the poop … I will keep you updated with how she goes.



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Shovelling sheep manure

before the big clean up

Every so often it’s time to do some dung shifting here on the smallholding.  Despite having a relatively small flock of 19, our woolly lawn mowers produce an impressive amount of manure.

sheep at hay feeders
eating hay during the winter

During the winter when the grass isn’t very tasty, the teddy bears spend a lot of time in the paddock where we have a couple of hay feeders set up.  Here is where the action happens, our woolly friends get busy converting hay into dung from November through to April.


The amount of dung around the feeders quickly builds up, so every autumn we roll back our sleeves and get to work removing the dung carpet.  This is hefty work and often involves getting on our hands and knees and peeling it up from the ground.  Embedded in the dung are layers of hay which hold things together to form a sort of cake.  It’s very satisfying work peeling back large clods.  Sometimes we get a big one that is too heavy to lift.  We heft the clods into the trailer and then tow it to the muck heap where we shovel it out.  Then back we go to the paddock for more.

taking the dung away
after the clean up

After a week or so of peeling, shovelling and dumping, our dung heap is vastly bigger and the ground around the hay feeders looks lovely again; back to its original state, a good deal lower and much less squelchy.

During the winter we’ll use this dung to mulch our veggie patch.  I dropped some off at our neighbours for their flowerbeds and Adrian left me a big present for the polytunnel.  All in all, a good week’s work!


a present from hubs




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Flystrike prevention

Yssi coming over

This summer’s been a bit funny weatherwise, after a hot and dry May and June (so dry that we ran out of water at one point), the heavens opened and it’s been dreich ever since.  One thing is certain though, rain or shine there are always plenty of flies buzzing around.

This part of Galloway is mostly grazed by livestock and there’s very little crop spraying going on.  As a result the insects are thriving and the swallows who come here to nest every summer have plenty to feed on.  So a healthy population of flies isn’t a bad thing.  However, having sheep, we do have to be on the lookout for flystrike.

Elliot helping me set up

Flystrike is a potentially fatal condition which can occur when a female blowfly (green bottle) decides to lay her eggs on a sheep.  The eggs result in maggots which on hatching, wriggle around and start to feed on the sheep. Death occurs within a few days unless the condition is spotted.  The blowfly is usually attracted to soiled areas around the bottom, but she’s not particularly fussy and often lays her eggs between the shoulder blades or in any convenient nook or cranny.

Most sheep are protected from blowfly attacks through the use of sprays which work as a deterrent.  Our little flock however is organic so this means we don’t spray them, instead we bring them in to check regularly and are always on the lookout for ‘the signs’.  ‘The signs’ meaning how the sheep behaves when she’s been struck by a blowfly.  These start off very subtle and can be easily missed, it’s usually a slight change in demeanour, a look in the eye, an odd sitting position.  It then progresses as the irritation builds and the sheep will try to scratch the affected area.  She’ll not usually be able to reach and this will cause her distress.  As the days pass she’ll show signs of depression, hang her head, stand in a corner, lie down and eventually give up.

Yssi haltered up

We’re continually on the lookout for the signs, and three of our little lot are particularly prone so they get more checks than usual.  Today the three musketeers were due their fortnightly check ups.

I set off after breakfast with my bucket containing: shears, maggot oil, cotton wool pads, Protego powder spray, nitrile gloves, halter and sheep nuts.  The dogs came with me as they like to hang around with the flock whilst clicking into guard mode.  George and Elliot are both Sheep Guardian dogs, George is a Hellenic Shepherd and Elliot is a Turkish Anatolian and they love nothing better than to mooch around with the flock whilst keeping a watchful eye out for bears and wolves, (the Scottish equivalent of).

I found the sheep half way up a hill so  I parked up and set up ‘camp’.  I dragged some hurdles over and built my treatment pen, I laid out my equipment on the back of the quadbike.  Then off I went to get my first sheep.

Something I’ve learned to do since having sheep is teach them their names and have them come over to me when called, individually.  This isn’t just a fancy party trick, it means I can do sheep work quickly and with minimum running around.  Unfortunately this convenient little trick is only possible when I’m on my own with the gang with no one else is present, especially not the vet.

damp wool below tail needing a trim

So I brought in Ynca, then Yssi, then Yogi.  All three have a funny condition on their bottoms where the wool stays damp in the area just below the tail.  This can cause little patches of bacteria to form under the wool which unless I trim regularly, can lead to small infections occurring.  This can then create puss, which would be a magnet to the blowfly so it’s important to keep them clean and trimmed.

Yogi inspecting my equipment bucket

Ynca, Yssi and Yogi are very tame, but they draw the line at having their bottoms trimmed so I halter them up and tether them so they can’t run around.  I then straddle them so I’m looking down at their bottoms, and off I go with my trimming shears.  Once I’ve trimmed the wool down to a ‘number 1’, I spray it with a powder spray which dries everything out and smells lovely too.  (Protego powder spray is totally brilliant!)

After and hour or so, I finished bottom trimming and was ready for a cup of tea, scones, clotted cream and strawberry jam.  The three girls went back to join their pals while I whizzed down the hill followed by the dogs.  Adrian was conveniently between meetings at work and had already put the kettle on ready for a welcome brew.

Yogi with trimmed bottom and powder spray








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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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Hand shearing Vera

Since last week’s story about shearing, we still had one sheep left to shear – sweet Vera.  Vera has photo-sensitive skin and doesn’t respond well to the close shave given by electric blades.  Last year I hand-clipped her and she had a much more comfortable summer as a result.  Giving Vera a haircut is now part of my summer jobs.

Hand-clipping Vera serves two purposes; leaving a half centimetre or so covering of wool on her gives her some protection from the sun (which triggers her allergy).  And using hand shears is less aggravating on her skin.

shearing equipment

So I chose the one day in the week where thundery showers weren’t forecast and off I went to find Vera with my bucket of bits.  In my bucket I had:  Jakoti hand shears, hoof clippers, Protego wound spray, bailer twine, anti-blister rowing glove for my right hand, plasters, halter, midge spray, midge net, water, a  handful of sheep nuts.

Vera looking roly-poly

Having located the flock, Vera was easy to spot, she was the only sheep who still resembled a roly-poly teddy bear.

I take my time shearing, better said, I have no choice but to take my time shearing because I’m not an expert by a very long shot.   Although Adrian and I once learnt to shear the standard ‘Wool Board way’ where you do 16 specific moves, moving at one with the sheep, removing the wool deftly and gently whilst keeping the sheep comfortable at all times, we realised it was a little beyond us.  We would need to practise shearing more than just once a year to get good enough to do it safely and confidently.  This is why we book in a pro shearer like Guy.

Last year in a moment of madness I decided to not only shear Vera, but quite a few others too.  I found the ‘standing up method’ to be quite successful and not too painful on my back.  The downside of this approach is that it takes a long time per sheep because there is more room for error so you have to go slowly.  The sheep isn’t ‘stretched out’ as it is when you shear the standard way so you have to make sure you don’t snip little wrinkles of skin.  This is particularly the case where there are joins, for example where the legs join the torso, where the jaw joins the neck or the tail joins the bottom.

making a start
working my way along her back

So, having popped Vera into a pen, I started at the tail end of her back, made an opening in the wool and snipped in lines along one side of her back.  Then I did the other side which was a little more tricky because I had to reach over her and position my hand at a different angle.  All the while I snipped, my left hand guided the way, feeling the terrain.   Although I have a pretty good map in my head of the anatomy of a sheep, there’s nothing quite like having a pair of blades in your hand to jolt you into a different state of mind.  It’s a bit like reading all the theory about lambing, and then actually doing it.

I had started off putting a halter on Vera and tying a tether to the hurdle so she wouldn’t move around, but after a while I removed it as she seemed quite content chewing the cud and standing in the one position.  This made life easier for both of us as I could move her round to snip her wool at different angles, and Vera didn’t feel constrained by the halter and tether.

face nearly done

After about an hour and half I had removed three quarters of her wool but felt the need for a cup of tea.  I let Vera out to graze and went back to the house for some tea and toast.  Adrian emerged from his study like a small boy at the sound of the kettle and the ping of the toaster.  We chatted about Vera, the weather and Adrian’s work, and then back I went to finish off Vera before the rain started.

time for a tea break

I’ll be honest, despite the cup of tea, I was pretty tired at this point.  I’d had an intense couple of weeks doing other physical jobs around the farm.  In between this I had an important trip to Edinburgh where I was dancing in a show (my other life).  All in all, I was looking forward to a day off.  But with the weather being so showery I had to grab the opportunity to get Vera finished before the next downpour.

When I got back to the fields the sheep were still where I had left them fortunately.  This meant I didn’t have to run around with hurdles setting up a new pen.  I led Vera back into her little pen and spent another hour or so finishing her off.

I did the rest of her face and neck, the remaining side of her flanks and belly.  Now I was on the home straight, all I had left to do was her backside up to the udders.  As I straddled her facing her tail so I could get a good angle, Vera started to get twitchy.  The straddle method is my standard approach for dagging sheep and admittedly, normally I have Adrian helping me to make sure the sheep doesn’t wriggle around too much.  In the absence of Adrian (aka my combi clamp), I opted for Plan B, I tethered her up and sprinkled some sheep nuts on the ground.  This worked a treat and I made a pretty good job of trimming Vera’s bottom even though I say so myself.

Vera sheared at last

With Vera shorn at last, I opened the hurdles.  Vera skipped out with her new hair do and re-joined the flock who had put up the ‘do not disturb’ sign for some serious grazing. Meanwhile, I hobbled out and sat on a rock for a while listening to the sound of sheep eating which is weirdly hypnotic and quite pleasant.




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Shearing 2023

Last Saturday I was just back from walking the dogs and was sitting down for a cuppa when the phone rang.  It was 7am so I grabbed it hoping it would be Guy our shearer.  Happily it was, he said he’d be with us at 9.30 and to bring the sheep down and into the shed.

bringing the sheep down for shearing

Still in my wellies I ran upstairs to tell Adrian.  We’d been waiting a couple of weeks for a shearing slot, the weather was perfect, it had been hot and dry for a few weeks and the sheep were feeling the heat.  It was due to rain that afternoon so to say I was relieved was an understatement!   It was Adrian’s lie-in so when I bounded into the bedroom he was still asleep.  As I gabbled on about organising the sheep and hurdle arrangements I had the impression I was talking to a bear just out of hibernation.  No matter I said, already halfway down the stairs again, I’d make a start on my own.  Off I whizzed with a handful of bailer twine and my ‘farm handbag’ – an empty lick-bucket full of sheep things – sheep nuts, a can of ‘Protego’ spray, hoof clippers, tick remover and lots of other bits and bobs.

Within a short while I had set up a large pen in the orchard, standing back to admire it I remembered I’d better go off up the hill and get the little darlings.

sheep following me down the hill

By the time I got back with the gang, Adrian was up and about and was able to shut the gate behind us in the nick of time.  Sheep have an uncanny knack of knowing when something is up, and can be good at making a break for it if you’re not quick enough to shut the gate behind them.

Phew!  We both said.  Now for a cup of tea and some breakfast before shearing started.  Shearing is hard, physical work for all involved, mostly for the shearer obviously, but also for the helpers (ie myself and Adrian).  We would be organising the flock, passing the shearer sheep and keeping everything calm.

When the shearer arrived bang on 9.30, he backed his van right up to the shed, got his blades and oil ready and I got the first sheep.   Within a few minutes he’d already sheared our woolly girl, Star.  While Guy worked away like clockwork through the flock, Adrian and I passed him sheep and made sure the rest of them didn’t get in his way and that everything remained calm.

waiting at the hair salon

Guy is a great shearer, he mainly shears small flocks and is well used to Ryelands and their tricky wool.  He also shears Merinos in Australia and if you can shear a Merino you can shear just about anything.

biffy Ymogen outside with Vera

Half way through the morning, Ymogen our smallest flock member, started to get biffy.  She was particularly targeting Yogi who was getting a bit miffed by it all.   Sometimes after sheep have been sheared they don’t recognize each other.  There’s a lot of bottom sniffing, and sometimes biffing.  As Ymogen was starting to disrupt the other sheep we decided to bundle her out and all was calm again.

Within a couple of hours, 18 sheep were sheared with just Vera to go.  Vera however would be sheared on another day, by me.  Because of her sensitive skin she reacts badly to a close shave so I’ll be clipping her with hand shears and giving her a slightly longer hair cut.

Elliot keeping an eye on things
heading off with their new ‘do’s’

Once Guy had gone off to his next job, we checked the flock for nicks and scratches, all was looking good so we let them out again and off they trotted back up the hill.