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Sheep and the summer shelter conundrum

sheep grazing silvo

If there’s one thing we have come to realise about our sheep over the years, it’s that they like their shelters. Their favourite is one we knocked up just after we moved here. It kind of resembles a low rise mass built bungalow and so has been nicknamed Brookside, after an old tv soap opera.

brookside sheep shelter
Brookside sheep shelter

The sheep spend much of there waking lives in it. If it’s sunny, the sheep head for Brookside. If there’s the merest hint of rain, the sheep head for Brookside. If there’s a mist rolling in, the sheep head for Brookside. In fact, it has almost become an addiction, a comfort blanket in which they wrap themselves at the merest hint of discomfort. This is not a problem in the winter when they have access to the larger lambing shed which has a raised, hardcore base. However, in the summer it’s a different story.

There probably would not be a problem but for the fact that, unlike pigs, sheep tend to pee and defecate where they happen to be. So, it only takes a few hours for the floor to be covered. Daily cleanouts help, but in wet weather, the pee has nowhere to go and the floor can tend towards the unhygienic. We installed drainage, but while that has been helpful in eliminating puddles, the floor can become muddy and wet. Basically, it’s on a flat spot and water gathers there on its way down the hill.

Again, copious amounts of scented sawdust helps, but this merely serves to make the place more attractive. On top of that, the low roof leads to aching backs and bumped heads during cleaning.

During the hot days, we noticed that it was like an oven in there. All in all, there had to be a better way. So, we decided to open up some of the woodland for them. This comes with risks as sheep are partial to bark. They can bark an adult tree in minutes when the mood takes them. Nevertheless, there was a small copse of evergreens that were fully grown and, also, sheep tend to be more interested in eating bark in the winter months.

sheep pondering new silvo
sheep pondering “silvo shelter”

So, we cleared the copse of brambles, added a gate and waited for a hot day. These are more plentiful in SW Scotland than they used to be and we did not have to wait long. To give Brookside a chance to recover, we’d closed access to the field where it is located. The sun was out, the air was warm and the sheep were gathered in a tightly knit group at the gate, gazing longingly at their favourite shed. We led them up the hill, reluctantly (lots of sheep nuts were involved), and showed them their new ‘shelter’.

first sheep enter silvo
first sheep enters “silvo shelter”

Despite the plentiful willow herb at their disposal, their reluctance to try anything new was stronger and hesitancy prevailed. Eventually, Yarr’s curiousity trumped his caution. Even then, he took his time. It was an excellent test of our patience.

sheep entering silvo
more sheep entering “silvo shelter”

Slowly, the rest followed. Well, most of them anyway. Some got to the gate and veered right, tasty morsels of grass seemingly more attractive.

Those that did enter inched forward until their eyes fell upon the young willow herb. That was all it needed and they were soon tucking in, those at the back now trying to push through.

sheep find the willow herb
sheep find the willow herb growing amongst the trees

Soon, they settled and were grazing happily. Inside the woodland, the canopy of needles and branches provided plenty of shade and a gentle breeze made it feel cool and fresh. Compared with the oven that was Brookside, there was no contest. Job done, or so we thought.

We left them to it.

Twenty minutes later, they were back at the gate gazing mournfully at their favourite shed.

sheep grazing silvo
sheep grazing “silvo shelter”

This has been the pattern for most of the summer. We have even cut back more of the fencing so that they don’t feel boxed in. But, on hot days, they gather at the gate and gaze. We lead them up and watch them relax into the cool and refreshing area under the trees. We step back and watch. After a short period, one of them, usually Selene (the flock matriarch) suddenly remembers their favourite shelter and makes off towards it. The rest follow.

On some days, particularly stormy or heavy rain days, we open up the lambing shed for them and they appreciate that. But, on hot days, walls, tin roofs, stifling heat and oven conditions seem preferable to cool, leafy shade and refreshing breezes. That’s sheep for you.

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Yarr has a sore hoof

Every so often sheep get sore feet.  This is not too surprising as they spend a lot of time on their hooves as they go about their daily business.  Sore hooves are usually caused by “foot rot” which is a bacterial infection.  Foot rot is really common in warm, wet summers such as the one we’re having this year.  Bacteria loves nothing better than to hang around in warm, damp soil.  There are however lots of other reasons a sheep could be limping so it’s always important to check the hoof carefully and find out what’s wrong before deciding on a course of treatment.

This morning on the early morning animal check Adrian noticed Yarr was limping.  Heavy rain was due later (again!) so I decided to whizz out as soon as I’d finished breakfast and take a look at Yarr’s hoof to see what was wrong.

I grabbed my rucksack and filled it with everyone I’d need:  a bottle of Betamox LA antibiotic, a syringe and needle, gloves, hoof clippers, a can of antibacterial blue spray, some sheep nuts and a bucket.

As the sky got darker I set off across the fields looking for the sheep.  Luckily they were grazing not too far from the house, however I’d need to set up a pen and get Yarr into it in order to have a look at him.  As luck would have it we’d left four hurdles stacked not too far away, so I set off to get these and trudged back, dragging them through the long grass.  Hurdles are quite heavy and I can only manage two at a time so I made this journey twice, all the while hoping the sheep didn’t migrate somewhere else in the meantime!

Luck was on my side and as I set up my little treatment area, the sheep were still grazing nearby.  Yarr was sitting down only a few meters away so he’d not have too far to walk on his sore foot.

pre-treatment cuddle

I called him over and he made his way straight into the pen for which he got a big fat cuddle as a thank you.  Yarr loves his cuddles, he’s very affectionate and fortunately he’s one of those sheep who doesn’t have an aversion to walking into pens.

With Yarr safely enclosed I took a look at his hoof.  I worked out it was his back right and I had a bit of fun trying to keep him still while I inspected it.  Sheep don’t like you lifting their back legs, it throws them off balance and they kick out, sometimes they can catch your hands so you have to watch you don’t get hurt.  Using my body weight I wedged Yarr up against the hurdles with his head in a corner so he had nowhere to go, and lifted his back hoof as I did this.  His hoof felt hot to the touch so I guessed he probably had an infection.

anti-bac hoof spray

Just to be sure there was nothing else causing his limp, I cleaned his hoof really carefully.  I removed the dirt and grit from the sole area, then I cleaned up the area between the digits which can sometimes get clogged up with little clumps of mud and all sorts.  Then I trimmed off a bit of excess horn.  This done I gave his hoof a good going over with antibacterial spray.

Then, I disentangled myself and set about preparing a wee injection for him.

Betamox injection

As Yarr’s a big boy and I didn’t have Adrian there to hold him still, I went with the “sheep nut solution”.  This is basically a distraction so the sheep doesn’t notice the needle going in and goes like this: “pop sheep’s head in a bucket with a sprinkling of nuts in the bottom to distract sheep whilst needle goes in”.  The last thing I wanted was Yarr careering round the pen with a needle sticking out of his rump, ruining his experience of coming into a pen being a positive thing.

the sheep nut solution

The sheep nut solution made the injection go very smoothly, so much so that I managed to take a photo.  I don’t think Yarr felt anything which is always good when it comes to injections.

This all done and Yarr happy, I let him out and off he trotted to join his pals.  We’ll keep an eye on him over the next few days and if he’s still limping in two days, we’ll give him another wee jag until the infection clears up.

 

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Shearing 2022 – hand clipping the woolly Ryelands

This year we decided to hand clip our flock.  We normally have them sheared by a pro and in recent years we’ve had a lovely chap round called Guy who specialises in small flocks.  He does a great job and we’re really pleased to be on his books.

It was our sheep Vera who got us thinking about hand clipping this year.  Vera has a sun allergy and each year just after shearing poor Vera gets the itchies.  She comes up in red spots and we need to give her cream and steroids to help her cope.  This goes on all summer from June until October when the weather cools down and her wool starts growing again.  Although her sun allergy came about originally as a result of eating a toxic plant a few years back, we think losing her fleece at shearing time is definitely a trigger for “the itches”.   We also think her skin might be a little irritated by the shearing blades.

So we thought we’d hand clip Vera this year and not give her a “number 1” hair cut, we’d give her a neat trim instead using hand shears.  We thought leaving a little covering of wool on her might help her skin.

Happy with this plan we then had a radical thought, why stop at Vera, let’s hand clip them all!

starting …

The result being that off I went this morning to shear my first sheep, Yaar!  (aka Mr Roly Poly).

Originally myself and Adrian were going to share the task of shearing, but we received Elliot our new dog last week.  We’ve not trained him (or the sheep) to be in each other’s company yet so Adrian is on dog duty while I’m going to be shearing solo.

So, off I went on the quad bike with four hurdles rattling around on the back tied on with bailer twine.  I also had with me my trusty pink rucksack containing my newly purchased shears, halter, water bottle, wound spray, plasters and some sheep nuts .

Slightly nervous, this being my first time hand clipping, I found the sheep in one of the top fields and set up a pen where they were, in situ.  They gathered round curious as I laid everything out, including my instructions on a piece of paper which promptly blew away.

making progress

I brought Yaar into the pen and got to work.

As you can see from the photos, I decided to clip the sheep with them standing up as opposed to the more usual way which is where you have them in a sitting position between your legs and move “as one” with the sheep.  Our flock are a relaxed bunch and are happy chewing cud and breathing in our ears while we do whatever needs doing to them.  That said, this morning I did pop a halter on Yaar in case he decided to wander off at a critical moment.

I started at the nape of the neck and clipped away.  An hour or so in I was quite pleased with my progress, I’d taken off most of the wool from his “barrel” and miraculously I’d managed to do it so it came off in one piece, a bit like peeling an orange.  As I use their fleeces to make things with I didn’t want it all in bits floating around the hills!

After two hours of work I could tell Yaar was getting bored and I needed a cup of tea and something to eat so I let him out and went back to the house for some refreshment.

about halfway

Half an hour later, re-energised, I went back and worked some more until lunch time.  By now I’d done all of him except one of his back legs and his tummy.

just the back lets and tummy to go

After lunch I went back and finished him off.  The trickiest part was definitely his tummy, Ryelands have a lot of wool on their tummies, more than most sheep and I had to watch that I didn’t accidentally castrate him.  Poor Yaar, he let me crawl underneath him like a mechanic, he was so patient with me!

all done!

By mid afternoon I’d finished, I calculated I’d worked on him for about three hours not including all the breaks.  I’m hoping the more I shear the faster I’ll get and hopefully I’ll have them all done and sporting new haircuts by the end of June!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Perils of a Damp Fleece

fluffy fleece

If there’s one thing sheep are good at, aside from scoffing copious amounts of grass, it’s getting into pickles. These include activities such as getting your head stuck in a fence (more common in the younger members of the flock), going into panic when you realise the rest of the flock have wandered off and left you behind, getting wrapped up in brambles, getting over walls and fences into neighbouring fields, and so on. Also, the tups are quite adept at removing gates from hinges in order to meet the ladies.

Yndia and Pinkie
Yndia and Pinkie

Some pickles are related to the time of year and, right now, wet fleeces are problem number one. This is not because a wet fleece is, in itself,  cause for concern. If it were, then sheep would never survive the winter. The problem is that at this time of year, pre shearing, the fleeces are big, fluffy and crammed with wool. When they get wet, they get heavy. Again, this is all fine until… …the sheep decides it’s time to do a rolly polly.

Rolly pollies usually occur when a sheep is lying down, cudding or just generally relaxing, and decides to get up. Instead of just standing, it executes a clever roll straight onto its feet. This works well and is quite impressive –  until the weight of a heavy fleece stops the roll in its tracks. Once on its back and weighed down by said wet fleece, a sheep can become trapped. The proper term is ‘cast’. This is not a good position for any of us, but it’s particularly uncomfortable for a sheep as now, all its insides are pressing in the wrong places. Not to put too fine a point on it, if they are not found within a few hours, they can die.

Yarr woolly sheep
Yarr and his woolly fleece

Our rolly polly commander in chief is Yarr (pictured left). He has a particularly woolly fleece and a penchant for rolly pollies. He much prefers to roll out of a lying position as standing up would not be showy enough. Normally, he gets away with it as he’s pretty strong. But a quick downpour and a wet fleece and he can be in trouble.

So far, this year, he’s only got himself trapped the once and was found pretty quickly. We know this because he showed no signs of distress on being righted, other than a need to blow his nose. In previous years, on being rescued, he has been sometimes been quite shaky. He also displays a remarkable aptitude for looking for the rest of the flock in all the wrong places. In fact, it took me an hour to reunite him and, at one point, involved me running up a hill (to the gate) with a bucket of nuts just in front of his nose. We both had to stop to catch our breath at the top, panting for all we were worth.

For us, this means regular checks throughout the day, usually no more than two hours apart. This is paying off as, so far this year, aside from Yarr only Ynca has managed to get herself cast and she too was found in good time.

We’ll be shearing them soon and that will make the problem go away for another year. But the checks will continue as we move into flystrike and midgie season.

 

 

 

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A summer shelter with a difference.

For a while now Adrian and I have been thinking about silvopasture.   This is a pasture system where livestock are given controlled access to trees so they can enjoy the benefits of woodland grazing.

Silvopasture has loads of benefits, not only to livestock but also on a grander scale to the planet.  The more trees which are introduced to pasture systems the more diverse flora and fauna there is and the less “green deserts” there are (sterile fields).  And let’s not forget the biggie; trees are a great way to contribute towards carbon sequestration.

But coming back to livestock and in particular to sheep, as you might have read in previous stories of ours sheep love trees, they use them as scratch posts and enjoy the shelter they provide, but they particularly enjoy eating them!  So, when thinking about silvopasture, the fact that livestock are rather partial to tree bark and low growing branches means any woodland grazing needs to be carefully thought about.

Done properly, livestock is given controlled access to woodland grazing, usually in strips, which minimises the risk of tree damage and overgrazing.  Not allowing permanent access to woodland allows the all important flora to regenerate and continue providing delicious forage for our livestock friends year upon year.

With this in mind, we thought long and hard about how to create an area of silvopasture for our little flock.  All the woodland we have around our fields is young and so not ideal.  It is also surrounded by a deer fence and if we gave the sheep access we might accidentally trap a deer within the woodland which would be a problem for both the deer and the young trees.

Then Adrian had a brainwave, we have a copse ideally situated in one of the sheep’s favourite fields.  The trees are mature and would provide plenty of shade.  It wouldn’t be great grazing, but as an alternative field shelter it would be just the ticket!

the copse before we started work on it

Currently fenced off, the copse comprises mostly conifers (we would have preferred more of a variety of trees and are already planning interplanting some deciduous trees in amongst the evergreens).  But the location of the copse is good so we’re going to work with it.

Now that our main focus would be to give the sheep somewhere shady to go on hot days we would be able to close off the field shelter which is a magnet for flies.  Building the shelter seemed like a good idea at the time but looking back we probably wouldn’t have built it now.  There is little airflow and although it provides shade and we keep it mucked out, flies are a big problem.

The great thing about silvopasture is that the trees provide shade, but because there is good air flow, there are a lot less flies hanging around than there would be in a field shelter.

As I’ve mentioned in previous stories, flies, especially the Blowfly are bad news for sheep.  Flies in general are annoying but the Blowfly can kill.  Flies are always a concern for us during the summer but it’s a tricky one because sheep don’t fare well in hot weather and actively seek out shady areas to sit in and chew the cud.  But if the air flow isn’t good then flies will be a problem which can be just as stressful, if not more so, than the hot sun.

 

digging out bramble roots

When we made the decision to shut off access to the field shelter last month the sheep were not impressed at all.  Despite it being less than ideal, they still love it and go there every day in the hope that they might be allowed in.  It’s hard to see them missing their favourite haunt, but we know the new shady area will be a much better environment for them.  We did explain this when we shut them out but they weren’t convinced.  Sheep are creatures of habit and trundling off to sit in the old field shelter is still firmly part of their daily routine.

Just over two weeks ago we began work on the copse.   First of all, Adrian created access to it by way of a wooden gate.  This meant banging in a gatepost so we could fix the gate to it.

taking away endless bags of brambles

This done, we got our secateurs, loppers and pick axe and began work on the brambles.  The copse was absolutely choked with them, they completely carpeted the ground and were halfway up the trees.  We really had our work cut out.

We filled 12 big dumpy bags full of bramble branches and roots, we worked for two hours a day and gathered many splinters, so many we lost count.

But at long last, yesterday evening we pulled out our last bramble and were able to sit back and admire our work with a much deserved cup of tea and slice of flapjack.  It was a very satisfying moment!

“after”

We will let the dust settle for two weeks and then let the sheep in.  They’ll only be allowed in on hot days.  We’re hoping that by only giving them occasional access during the summer when there’s plenty of grass about, they won’t be tempted to nibble bark and low growing branches.

There will be another story coming soon about how the sheep react when we let them into their “silvoshelter”, we can’t wait to see their faces when we open the gate for them and let them in to investigate!

 

 

 

 

 

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Sheep Maintenance & a small tweak to our routine sheep jobs

A few years ago Adrian and I were a normal couple who had summer holidays and long weekends off, lazy Sundays and spontaneous trips away.

And then we got sheep…

To be honest, we were a little naïve when we acquired our mini flock back in 2014.  We wanted to keep the grass down and I fancied doing something with wool.

our first sheep

Little did we know just how much those three innocent looking teddy bears were about to change our lives.

Our first inkling came when we went to the Mole Valley Agricultural store in Bridgewater (in Somerset where we used to live) to buy some sheep equipment.  I remember that day well, we were really excited and had a long, carefully researched shopping list containing interesting sounding farmy things like drench guns, hoof shears, hurdles and hay feeders.

After ordering the hurdles, feeders and troughs from the outside bit, we went into the shop to get the rest.  We popped hoof shears, a hoof pick, dagging shears, halters, bucket licks and nuts into our trolley.  Then we went round to the medicines aisle where we confidently selected a bottle of antiseptic spray.

On our shopping list I’d also written “wormer”, “fluke meds” and “fly spray”.  But we weren’t sure which type or brand to buy.  There was so much choice!  It felt very much like the washing powder aisle in Tesco’s which is somewhere I’d prefer to avoid if at all possible.

So off I went to find someone and to my relief I located the store Sheep Expert.  He told us he had sheep himself and was only too happy to help us.  He sat us down in a little office where there was a small round table, some chairs, and a life sized model of a sheep.  He told us all about parasites; but mainly he told us about flies.  He told us flies were the number one concern to sheep farmers and that we would need a fly spray to prevent and to deal with the dreaded Blow Fly.  He demonstrated how to spray a sheep correctly using a demo drench gun on his model sheep.

We asked him how flies can kill sheep and soon wished we hadn’t as he went into very graphic detail.  He explained that if a sheep is struck by a Blow Fly, she has only days to live.  We asked him how to tell if a sheep has been struck, at which point he said, “you have to look for The Signs”.  We asked him what these Signs were and he said the main one was the “head turn” where the sheep looks back over her shoulder.  “Wild eyes” was another one, “bottom rubbing” and “foot stamping” were other signs, and then finally “any behaviour which is out of character”.

It was at this moment, as we heaved a bottle of Crovect into our trolley we felt the first creeping tendril of Sheep Angst taking hold.  What if we didn’t spot one of The Signs? What if we didn’t apply the spray correctly?  Actually, how did we even catch our sheep in order to apply the spray?  (We’d only had our sheep a few days and were rubbish at rounding them up).

As we drove home, our excitement of a few hours earlier had pretty much disappeared along with a vast amount of money and we were both lost in our own thoughts as we rattled back along the lanes towing our trailer full of shiny new things.

Fast forward a few years and here we are, not exactly old hands and not exactly wiser – but definitely older and more experienced than those early days of sheep keeping.

Unfortunately, we discovered that the “sheep angst” that took hold of us both in the Farmers Store all those years ago doesn’t go away the longer you keep sheep, but you do find ways of managing it.

getting to know the flock
getting to know the flock

The first thing you do is get to know your flock.  By observing your sheep you start to learn how they behave and you get familiar with their individual characters.  It takes time, but it’s worth it because watching sheep is in itself is actually a lovely activity.  There’s nothing quite like lying on your back in the field surrounded by your flock, listening to them cudding in your ear and nibbling your wellies.

The other thing you do is check up on your flock regularly.  We check up on ours twice a day, more often if we’re lambing.

We’re very religious about our checks because nowadays we don’t use fly spray.  We like to be able to handle our sheep without fear of chemicals transferring onto us.  We’ve found that our scrupulous checks and regular bottom trims have paid off, in the few cases of fly strike we’ve had (two cases in four years) we have managed to deal with it very swiftly.

Apart from checking for The Signs, the checks tell you all sorts of other things, you’re mainly scanning the flock to see if anyone’s behaving out of character, you’re counting them to make sure they’re all there, and you’re making sure they’re not in pickles (lame, head stuck in fence, on back with legs in air, stuck in a hedge etc) …

The other thing that happens is, you stop going away as much.  Holidays have to be meticulously planned, you book a farm-sitter and you still worry even if your farm-sitter is brilliant as our is.  Bye go the lazy Sunday morning lie-ins, and bye go the spontaneous trips away.

On the plus side though, you gain lots of woolly friends and by being around sheep you find yourself learning unexpected things such as the art of patience and how to be calm.  You can’t be impatient or in a bad mood with sheep, they sense it and scarper.  You have to be able to compose yourself.  This is really good training for being a better human.  It sounds cliché but sheep have so much to teach us.

using backeze sling

We’ve also found an easier way to do all those routine things which sheep need regularly such as “crutching out” (bottom trimming), face trims and hoof trimming.  We used to bring them in every three months and work through the whole flock.  This would take us hours and we’d be fit for nothing afterwards.  So this year we decided to bring in three sheep a week and rotate through the flock doing three a week on a continual basis.  We thought it would be easier on our backs, and also better for the sheep as they’d have their bottoms and faces trimmed more often and we could catch any hoof problems faster.  All in all, so far at least, we’ve found this to be a good system for us.

Yogi with her face trimmed

The other change we’ve made this year is to purchase a “backeze” sling by Longhorn.  You can see me using it in the photo.  It’s just brilliant!  It gives support to your back exactly where you need it but is also springy so you can adjust position easily.  It’s made those weekly bottom trims much easier, happy us, happy sheep!

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To Heptavac or not to Heptavac?

From time to time sheep pick up things and become ill, particularly lambs.  Similar to newborn babies, lambs are particularly vulnerable to disease as their immune systems have not yet built up that all important resilience which only develops over time as they mature.

We always joke that lambing is not over once all the lambs are born, it goes on for another 3 months at least, with all the checking and monitoring of the little ones to ensure they’re all healthy and not on their way to the great pasture in the sky.

A couple of years ago we caught Yin on her way skywards thanks to a nasty attack of coccidiosis (parasitic worms).  Fortunately we found her in the nick of time and were able to give her life saving medication.  Yin is still with us to this day and is a big robust girl.

Not only are parasitic worms a problem for young sheep, but also “clostridial diseases” – for example pulpy kidney, tetanus and bloody scours.   In addition, young sheep are also susceptible to “pasteurellosis” (pneumonia).

All of these conditions are serious and so we are very fortunate to have a vaccine called “Heptavac P” which helps prevent these diseases from taking hold.

Every year, approximately four weeks prior to lambing, pregnant ewes are vaccinated with Heptavac.  Antibodies develop in the ewes which then cleverly pass through to the lambs via the colostrum.

We’ve Heptavac’d our woolly gang as long as we’ve had sheep and have continued to do it even though we no longer lamb.  I’m not sure why the thought struck me this year and not in previous non-lambing years, but it occurred to me that perhaps we didn’t need to vaccinate our sheep.  Afterall, they are mature and have developed antibodies.  Aside from that, they’re fit and healthy from their stress free existence here on the farm, no lambs to worry about, the most they have to ponder is where to find the tastiest blades of grass and where molehills come from.

I decided to phone our vet and find out, I wanted to know whether mature sheep retained immunity against clostridial diseases and pasteurellosis and whether we would be wasting our time (and money) on vaccinating a non-lambing flock.

I love a bit of science and when the vet gave me the low down I was so excited I had to make myself a cup of tea and sit down for a moment.

I learned that although sheep retain immunity against pasteurellosis, they do not retain immunity against the clostridial pathogens which reside in the soil.

I learned that there’s a different vaccine which we can give our non-breeding flock (and not forgetting wethers) called Covexin.  This doesn’t include the pasteurellosis protection which wouldn’t be needed.

As we already had a bottle of Heptavac in the fridge we decided to use that, but next year we’ll probably get Covexin.

So we gathered our sheep in last week and gave them all their jab, they weren’t too impressed, but we reminded them that we had their best interests at heart.  They also each got a wee handful of sheep nuts so that they went away post jab with a happy experience in their minds and a sweet taste in their mouths.

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The Himalayan Cedar and the mossy bandage

On our smallholding our main focus is making sure our animals have a long and happy life, but we also love plants and if there’s a plant in trouble, we’ll make sure we do our best to save it.  This story is about our efforts to rescue a beautiful Himalayan Cedar tree.

During the winter our sheep spend a lot of time in the orchard where they have access to the shed and hay feeders.  They can still trot off to the wider pastures if they choose, but they tend to hang around the orchard for much of the time, especially when the weather’s blowing a gale.

Last year we extended the orchard to include more meadow and give them extra space to mooch about in.  During the winter the ground can get really muddy, especially around the hay feeders so we thought the additional space would be much appreciated by the little dears.  And it was!!  They love the new bit, it includes a hill which they trundle up and down, and also several trees which they like to stand under whilst watching the world go by.

We also love the new bit, it’s great to know we can give the sheep variety, particularly access to trees.  Trees give perfect protection against the elements; in the winter they provide wind breaks and in the summer they provide cool places to sit under and chew the cud.

In the orchard we have apple and pear trees which are all neatly protected with tree guards.  Sheep love trees but they also love eating them!!

In the new bit, there’s a Himalayan Cedar tree which somehow we forgot to protect.  But the sheep didn’t seem that interested in it and so we thought no more about it.

Summer turned into autumn and then winter and the little ones were spending more and more time in the orchard again.  Early one December morning we were topping up the hay feeders and discovered a suspicious looking, four legged woolly crowd loitering around the Cedar tree.  As we drew nearer we heard scraping and nibbling noises.  On closer inspection we discovered a wide, neatly nibbled orange band all around the tree trunk, at exactly sheep head height.

Oh no!!! Our tree had been completely ring barked!

After feeling awful about the fact we forgot to protect our poor tree we quickly got to work.  First we put some sheep hurdles around it to prevent further damage, then we googled “what to do”.  Now I’m a horticulturalist, RHS trained thank you very much and I do people’s gardens but the truth was, I felt really daft because at that moment, I didn’t have a clue what to do.  I had an inkling there was a grafting technique out there for ring barked trees, but I couldn’t remember what the technique was called, let along how to do it.

After multiple searches on google and several cups of tea later I found the info.  There was a technique called a “bridge graft”.  This entails taking lengths of one year old growth (scions) from the upper canopy and attaching them across the damaged area, like little bridges, so that the sap can continue to flow from the bottom of the tree to the top.

We also had to protect the nibbled bit (which was actually quite a large area!)  The RHS website recommended applying damp moss all over the injury and holding it in place with tape.  So first we did this, (luckily we have moss aplenty here!)  Moss is naturally anti-bacterial so makes the perfect dressing for a wounded tree.  We got to work applying the mossy bandage until the whole wound was protected.

Next, Adrian whizzed off to the shed to rummage around for some small non galvanized nails.  We would need these to attach the scions to the trunk.

Then, tools at the ready, we got to work.  We had to work quickly because it was due to rain later and you can’t get grafts wet or they rot.

It was heart breaking standing on the ladders and snipping lengths of growth from the already damaged tree, I felt like a traitor.  But it was the only way we’d be able to save our poor tree so I carried on snipping.

Once I had six healthy scions I took my knife and made little “pockets” into the tree trunk so that I could pop the scions in.  Easier said than done!  The sheep had nibbled the trunk so far down that the only bark I had access to was rough and not at all pliable.  But I persevered, and eventually, lots of grafting wax and nails later we managed to create a circle of grafts all around the trunk.

Then we waited until spring … until now in fact, to see if the tree would make it.

We are pleased to report that so far so good!  There are fresh shoots and there doesn’t appear to be any signs of die back.

All the grafts except one, survived the winter storms and they appear to be doing their job, transporting nutrients from the bottom of the tree to the top.

We have started a two weekly regime of feeding with juice from our wormery.  Plants love wormery juice, it gives them a real boost, even though it’s a bit whiffy.

We’ll leave the mossy bandage on through the summer and remove it in the autumn.  It’ll be tricky to remove because of all the little bridges which sit over it, but I’m sure we’ll manage.

Meanwhile, we’re not counting our eggs, but so far so good.  And the sheep, well, they spent a few days trying to get to their new favourite snack but the hurdles proved to be a good defence so they gave up.  Now that it’s spring they prefer grass to trees anyway.

 

 

 

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Sheep unsure about new steps

sheep friendly path and steps

Some time back, we connected our hill paddocks with the orchard next to our house. We like having the sheep close by. It’s what we call the ‘lambing paddock’, mainly because we built a lambing shed there. Really, it should be the ‘orchard paddock’ as it is home to our apple trees, all protected from sheep nibbling.

sheep friendly steps
sheep friendly steps

One problem with this path is that, at the paddock end, it’s quite a high step up. We did put down some bricks and hard core to make it easier for the sheep, but over time they have dislodged said bricks and scattered the hard core. Nicole recently noticed that some of them were struggling to get up. Short legs and a barrel shaped tummy can do that for you.

So, this week, after fencing off the damp corner (to the right) and planting it with trees, I started on building them a step. Using large, stable concrete blocks, I worked out an arrangement that would allow them to step up easily. I poured concrete into the gaps and topped it off with road scalpings. A rough surface will stop it getting too slippery in the icy winter days.

Of course, just as I was finishing the pouring in of the concrete, the sheep came down to see what I was up to. I had to turn them back before 76 hooves tore the new steps apart. Sheep hurdles were hastily erected to give the concrete time to dry.

Today, I led the sheep down so they could have a look. Selene, the flock matriarch took one look and turned round to head back up the path. She doesn’t like anything new, that one. It was left to Yogi, her granddaughter to make the leap. She took a couple of sniffs, then wandered up happily, wondering what all the fuss was about. Once she was up, the rest followed, each showing different levels of suspicion and hesitation.

Selene has, since, been observed standing at the gate studying the new structure intently. We’re wondering if the sheep might be in the lambing paddock for a while, at least till Selene decides the steps are no longer ‘new’.

Selene sees new steps for the first time
Selene sees new steps for the first time
Selene turns away from new steps
Selene turns away from new steps

 

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A new product for the shop!

Gifts for sheep lovers - Witchy & Yogi lamb original acrylic painting
Matty bottle feeding Lisa

My younger brother Matty often comes to visit us, he loves spending time with the sheep and when we haven’t roped him in to help us build or fix something, (in return for lots of homemade cake and cups of tea of course!) he loves nothing better than to wander around taking in the scenery and enjoying the peacefulness of the surroundings.

Matty leads a busy life, he lives in Buckinghamshire where he works as a yoga teacher. He is also an artist, and when he isn’t doing headstands or handstands he’s generally to be found knee deep in paper and paintbrushes.

I love Matty’s work and a couple of months ago I thought how lovely it would be if we could offer sheep portraits painted by Matty in our shop.  After all, everybody needs a sheep picture in their home!

So I asked Matty if he might be interested and he said he’d be delighted.

So, after some intense weeks of organising things, we’re absolutely bursting with excitement to announce that the “Auchenstroan Coloured Ryeland Sheep Portraits” are now available to purchase from our shop!