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Nesting Birds

swallows in the nest

We are lucky to have swallows and housemartins as regular visitors.  The swallows nest in various sheds and the housemartins on the house under the guttering.  They are not the only birds nesting here, there are nests all over the place.  We have left a lot of areas covered in scrub and brambles and these make excellent nesting areas.  In the last few weeks, we have watched fledgling sparrows and blackbirds hopping around on the grass to the front of the house.

swallows in the nestThe swallows like to nest in three of our sheds.  In two of them, the roofs are quite low and you could easily reach up and touch the nests.  They seem quite tolerant of us humans.  The nest in the picture on the right is attached to one of the strip lights in the lambing shed.  We think this could be a second brood because, in other nests, the chicks have long since fledged and flown off.

wrens nestWe also have some enterprising wrens.  They have taken to moving into unused swallow nests and making their own version of home improvements.  This means packing in lots of moss and making a small tunnel for an entrance.  The one in the picture to the left is the other side of the beam from the above mentioned swallow nest.

This is not the only swallow nest that has been taken over, there are also wren nests in the other sheds perched on top of old swallow nests.  Well done wrens, very clever indeed.

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Taking Back Control

veggie patch overgrown

Last year’s veggie growing didn’t go well.  What with constant rain, little sun and an army of slugs and snails, we did not get much of a harvest.

vegetable patchesThis year, we were determined to do better.  Nematodes took care of the slugs and snails.  All plants were grown to a good size before planting out and carrots are in their own special box.  This has worked quite well and the veggie patch is looking good (see right).

veggie patch overgrownWe have two veggie patches, one that was here already and the one in the picture to the right that we built.  With all the focus on the new patch, we took our eye off the old patch and this (left) is what happened. It didn’t take long.

Now, one of the problems we have here in SW Scotland is that the growing season is a bit shorter.  We have a greenhouse but it’s not very big.  So, we have invested in a polytunnel which is planned to go over this weedy area.

The polytunnel has been delivered and sits awaiting action in our shed.  It was time to take back control.

covering weeds eith cardboardThe original plan was to cover the area with a weed membrane.  However, I saw a good idea on twitter that comes from the “no dig” school of thinking.  Cardboard topped with mulch.  We had plenty cardboard lying around.  With COVID, we are buy much more stuff online, so plenty of boxes pass through our front door these days.  We added our spin on this approach by covering the cardboard with wool.  This is waste wool that can’t be used in Nicole’s rugs, so would have gone to compost anyway.  I’m hoping that the damp wool will stop the cardboard blowing away.

The paths were covered in underlay from our bedroom floor.  In case you’re wondering, I recently laid a new wooden floor replacing a rather old carpet.

veg patch coveredMost of the cardboard was soggy having sat in a pile outside, so I got pretty wet carrying it over.  But, bit by bit, I have reclaimed most of the patch.  I ran out of cardboard before I got it all covered.  This has not resulted in an online buying frenzy, but all boxes that arrive are soon snapped up and put to use.

Once the polytunnel is up, the growing areas will be covered in mulch provided by our sheep.  By next year, this should provide an excellent growing area.

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Clever Sheep

Ymogen coloured ryeland

Hi there, it’s me Ymogen!

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!

 

 

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New rainwater harvesting system installed

water tank in place

As well as making sure we have enough water for our animals, we also need water for our vegetables.  This year, we have had to water seedlings and pots every day for weeks.

The problem is our water supply is a hillside stream which fills a tank used by 4 houses. In dry weather, the spring shrinks to a trickle so we have to be careful with our water.  We already have a couple of rainwater butts installed, but these soon empty.  We have also ordered a polytunnel (growing vegetables outdoors here is challenging) and that will need to be kept watered too.

water tank deliveryThe answer was to purchase a large water butt.  We identified a spot and bought the biggest we could put there, a whopping 1,500 litres.  It was delivered but only to the bottom of our track so the first job was to get it up here.  It’s at moments like these I am thankful we have our tractor with its front loader.

Armed with ratchet straps, I set off, attached the tank and brought it up.

Being too far from the downpipe, we needed a feeder system and for that I installed a small slimline water butt.  It took a few concrete blocks to get it to the right level.

I also had to put in a level base for the big tanks.  Time consuming but not that tricky, this was all soon done.

water tanks in placeThe final problem was that the water divertor supplied did not fit onto the cast iron downpipes we have here.  It took a couple of days to think of a solution.  In the end, I took the cast iron pipe off below the divertor and replaced it with a plastic pipe of similar dimensions.  Job done, almost.  Cutting through the cast iron pipe took a while.  I started with an angle grinder with a metal cutting disc.  That lasted about 5 minutes before it shredded.  So it was back to the old fashioned way, manual hack saw.

In the end, it was all done and plumbed in.  This latter job was complicated by the close proximity of corn flowers that were attracting many bees.  I am allergic to bee stings so didn’t really want to get stung.  Thankfully, they ignored me, even when I reached right across the flowers to pick things up I had dropped.

Now we just need some rain to fill it up.

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The Adventures of the Yogi Rug

Recently a lovely lady in faraway Georgia, USA bought “the Yogi rug” from our online shop.  I was excited because it’s always a bit extra special when a person from a distant destination buys something from us.  This was doubly special because the lady from Georgia told me she also lives on a farm so I loved the fact that the Yogi rug would be going to live in agricultural Georgia, a far cry from rural Scotland, but also somehow very connected, a home from home almost.

The following day I packaged up the rug and popped in Yogi’s photo, packing slip and all the bits.  I then booked in FedEx to collect the parcel from us on their next day collection service.  FedEx are a brilliant company to send things to the US, we have used them before and in fact last time two rugs flew off to America and arrived at their destination within only three days!  The great thing about using a courier is that you can track the parcel’s progress which is quite good fun.  It is also comforting to know that while you can track a parcel it is unlikely to disappear into a great big abyss and appear mysteriously some time later, or not as the case might be.  In the past we used standard mail to send parcels around the world and although we’ve had no parcels go missing and only one late arrival due to a post office strike in France, (the parcel did eventually make it thankfully), we’ve decided to offer courier only service for our rugs and cushions because it gives us and our customers peace of mind to be able to track packages and know roughly when they will arrive.

Yogi as a lamb with mum Witchy

The following morning the FedEx van arrived and off the Yogi rug went.  We waved it goodbye and I admit, I had a bit of a lump in my throat.  The Yogi rug is very special you see, Yogi is Witchy’s lamb and Witchy struggled when she was young so it was a miracle that she grew up to be a mum and then go on to make Yogi who is our first strawberry blonde sheep.  She is exceptionally pretty and has a very cute baaa.  This rug is the first I have made from Yogi’s fleece, it was her lamb fleece so very soft and cuddly.

Anyway, I carried on with the farm jobs and went off to my gardening job.  Later that evening I opened FedEx’s tracking page to see where the parcel would be.  I was a bit surprised to see no update to the tracker but thought nothing of it, I presumed the driver had forgotten to update his device and it would show up at some point.  I carried on with life.

Two days later I thought I’d have a peek at the tracker.  I was surprised to see absolutely no change at all to the parcel’s status.  It was still showing “waiting for collection”.  My heart sank, I thought something had to be wrong so spent a while looking for contact details and eventually found a “chat” button.  Luckily, I didn’t have to wait too long, along came Emily who was really helpful and friendly.  I told her I was concerned about a shipment and gave her the details.  Emily said she’d look into it and then disappeared off for about half an hour, (well, it felt like half an hour at least, it was probably about 4 minutes but still).  I was starting to think I’d been abandoned when she reappeared and said she’d located the parcel and it had a new tracking number.  She said it had arrived into Memphis Tennessee and was in Customs.  I was so relieved, I nearly jumped for joy.  I went about my business with a spring in my step.

Two days later I wondered if the rug was sitting pretty in its new farm so I entered the tracking number into the system and waited for the internet to chug into action.  When the page decided to open, I was really disappointed to see absolutely no change at all in the parcel’s progress, it was still at the FedEx Memphis hub, in Customs.  At this point in time demonstrations had started to break out in the US and obviously there is CoronaVirus, so I assumed this was causing a backlog in processing parcels.  Never the less I starting to feel a shadow of worry creeping over me and that night I woke up at 4 in the morning picturing the Yogi rug all alone on a shelf in a warehouse in faraway Memphis Tennessee.

Yogi

I tried to push the nagging worry from my mind and went about my business.  That morning I emailed the lady in Georgia with the new tracking details and told her there appeared to be a hold up at Customs and that I would let her know as soon as there were any updates.

I stopped checking the FedEx tracking page daily, I thought it would work its way through in its own time, I did however set up an alert with FedEx so if there was any movement on the parcel I’d get an email.

A watched kettle never boils, but if it doesn’t boil in two weeks you can’t help but wonder if something might be awry.  So, after two weeks of no movement on the tracker I decided to get in touch with Customer Services.  I wanted to know if it was normal for a parcel to be stuck in Customs for this length of time.  It was then that I had the pleasure of meeting Leroy Williams.  I was astounded at the speed with which a representative came back to me after sending in my initial query, I think it was half a day if that!  Leroy was brilliant, a real credit to FedEx Customer Services Department, the speed at which he dealt with my query was phenomenal.  Within a short space of time Leroy had informed me that the shipment had disappeared off the radar.  It should have arrived at its destination by now so he would open a “search query” and this would take 72 hours.  Although my heart sank to be told this, I felt strangely positive and upbeat, purely because of the way Leroy was handling the issue.  He asked me to send photos of the package and a detailed description of it and all sorts of other info.  He said to leave it with him and he would be back in touch after the allotted time, if not before if the parcel was found sooner.  So although the parcel being “lost” was awful news, the blow was definitely lessened by the way Leroy handled the situation.

However, the spring in my step didn’t last long, I’m not sure why, it just kind of disappeared, probably not helped by my overactive imagination and tendency to worry.  Images of the Yogi rug lost and alone on a shelf in a cardboard box in a stark warehouse full of conveyor belts and robots in Memphis started to haunt me day and night.  Doubt that the shipment would ever be found didn’t just creep in, it started to rampage through me, and under my calm and bustling exterior my mood was spiralling fast downhill.  The sensible part of my brain fought with the emotional part, at 4am when the emotional part was hitting over drive the sensible part asked; why are you so affected by this?  Parcels go missing all the time, Leroy is dealing with it, there are more important things to worry about than a missing parcel, for goodness’s sake pull yourself together!  People are dying of corona virus and you’re worrying about a missing rug!  But I couldn’t pull myself together and on day three with no word from FedEx my calm exterior disintegrated into little pieces and I reverted to the five year old me, I rang my mum and bawled down the phone.  “Yogi is missing in Tennessee!!!” “Pardon?”  “Oh,” she said, “not the sheep, the rug!!” “Yes,” I said, “the rug, but it’s as if part of Yogi is lost, and part of my soul too” I said.  It was then that I realised through my sniffles that the reason I was so upset was because each time I make a rug, part of me, and part of the sheep goes into it, not just physically, but also on a kind of energetic sort of spiritual level.  My mum was brilliant, she listened and said it was totally normal for me to be reacting like this, she would feel the same way, we had a long chat and then I made a cup of tea and resigned myself to the fact that Yogi was missing and not just presumed dead, but actually dead.  (Note, the Yogi rug had now actually become Yogi somehow)!

That evening I did the 5pm sheep check which meant climbing the hill with the dogs and counting the sheep, then mooching around a bit checking their behaviour and generally making sure they were OK.  On approaching the flock, I immediately saw something was wrong, they were bunched together and their body language was peculiar.  As I climbed the hill towards them I could see a dead deer with antlers in the middle of their circle.  As I got closer the antlers became four legs, and as I drew closer still, the dead deer became a sheep on its back with its legs sticking straight up into the air.  A cast sheep, “oh sh*t” I said out loud and started running through treacle to get there.  It didn’t look good, there was no movement and Yarr’s tongue was lolling out and there was foam around his nose.  I dived on top of him and rolled him over, to my amazement he sprang into action and legged it down the hill snorting and sneezing.  I was so shocked at Yarr being alive, I just sat on a mole hill for about 10 minutes trying to gather my thoughts.  Within this time, Yarr, being a friendly chap, came back over and stood next to me.  He was in a bit of a state, the wool on his back was totally flattened and his rumen seemed to be a funny shape, kind of distorted.  He kept sneezing and snorting and so I stayed with him for a good while to make sure he reverted to normal.  I wiped his nose with my sleeve and gave him a gentle back rub (his favourite).  He was slowly coming back, but still out of sorts.  Eventually he wandered off to graze and I thought, phew, he’s OK.  I headed back downhill for a cup of tea and planned to go back in an hour or so to check up on him before bed.  It was over that reviving cup of tea and scone (which later flew out of my mouth) that Adrian suddenly announced, “oh look, an email has just come in from the lady in Georgia.”  “Pardon?” I said, followed by, “what does it say?”  “The Yogi rug has arrived” said Adrian calmly, “what?  Are you sure?  Really?”  Followed by half a mouthful of scone flying across the table.  I couldn’t believe it, my emotions had already taken me on a gravity defying rollercoaster with the Yarr incident, now I was being dragged back up again, I didn’t think I’d be able to cope!  Of course, I was ecstatic.  Once I’d digested this brilliant news I rang my mum, danced for joy in the kitchen, all was well with the world again, the sense of calm that had deserted me so unceremoniously these last few days flooded back and I felt great.

Yarr post pickle

Later that evening Adrian and I whizzed up to the sheep on the quad bike followed by two panting and slightly reluctant dogs.  Happily, Yarr was fine and on four legs, grazing away as if nothing had happened.

That evening I slept really well, Yarr was alive, the sheep were OK, and best of all the Yogi rug was happily ensconced in its new home in Georgia, no doubt having a welcome rest after all its adventures!

And of course, we will continue to use FedEx to send our parcels.  Things go wrong in life all the time but it is how problems are handled that matters.  FedEx dealt with the issue brilliantly.  We will never know exactly what happened to the Yogi rug, we can only guess that it was probably something to do with the system failing to read the bar code or something like that and then obviously someone would have had to step in and do a manual search.  What ever happened, we were very impressed and amazed that the parcel was found.  If you look at pictures of the FedEx hub in Memphis, it is enormous, apparently the largest of their hubs in the US so in short, FedEx did a brilliant job to find the missing shipment!

Yogi the day after her rug was found safe and well

 

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Compost Shuffle

compost bin

Part of the sustainable living ethos is re-using stuff.  We generate a lot of garden waste and this all goes into a large compost bin.  Of course, over time, it fills up.  I have found the best thing to do is to move all the compost into bins and leave it for a few months to rot down properly.

compost bin emptied
Emptied and ready for more

That said, first the bins need to be emptied (having been filled last time).  So, what I have a three stage system.  There are bins with useable compost, bins with compost that is rotting down and the large collection bin.

At the compost shuffle, I put all the usable compost into old plastic feed or compost bags and take it to the greenhouse.  Then I tip all the compost from the green bins into the “ready bins”.  Then I tip all the stuff in the big bin into the teo green bins.

It’s a lot of work, but it only needs to be done a couple of times a year.  And it’s very satisfying once it’s all done.

We also have wormeries for the kitchen waste.  They are enclosed so no tempting titbits for rats or crows, both of which can be a bit of a pest.

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New trough welcome in hot weather

sheep having a drink

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.

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Bim Lays an Egg

cuckoo maran egg

Since June last year, Bim has been suffering from egg peritonitis, a common condition in hens of all ages for which the prognosis is usually death.  Last year, we managed to keep her going with a range of treatments (see Bim the Wonder Hen).  As the year progressed, the hens stopped laying and Bim’s condition stabilised.

With spring arriving, egg laying has been in full flow.  Bim, too, has been trying to lay.  Unfortunately her peritonitis is still with her so her laying has led to her swelling up again and walking like a penguin.  The vet prescribed two courses of antibiotics and anti-inflammatories but sadly after two weeks of treament, the characteristic red bulge has refused to go down.  So Nicole has been preparing a special afternoon snack laced with garlic, minerals and homeopathic remedies.

Now, our chickens like the world to know when they are laying an egg.  There’s the racket made before is laid and then the racket made afterwards.  Just the other day as we were standing by the coops when Bim emerged to announce to the world that she had laid an egg.

“Oh no” was our first thought.

But looking in, we found an egg, a dark brown, cuckoo maran egg that was warm.  Bim is our only remaining pure bred cuckoo maran.  Therefore, it must be her egg.  We jumped for joy!

This is good news – if she can actually make and lay an egg, she might make it through the egg laying season again and survive another year.

Since then, she has laid a second egg, but no more.  Unfortunately she appears to still be laying some of her eggs internally as her bulge is still there. Nicole is keeping up the natural remedies which we hope will keep her going until egg production slows down.  Bim is an elderly hen so should naturally lay less eggs as time goes on.  Fingers crossed she can enjoy her twilight years egg free.

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Hoggy out and about

hoggy coming out of feeder

Last November, I found a tiny hedgehog wandering around the garden.  It was too small (less than 300g) to survive the winter, so we took it in (see hedgehog seeks board and lodging).  With a custom built run, house and a personal heater, Hoggy grew stronger over the winter months.

We released her at the end of March (see Hoggy Released).

We set up a wildlife camera to capture what she did and placed a feeding station near the hedghog house we released her into.  In the first week, only videos involving a mouse, a deer, a cat and a robin were captured.

I looked in the hedgehog house and Hoggy had gone.  It’s what one would expect from a hedgehog, but for some reason the wildlife camera didn’t capture her leaving.  Most annoying.

hoggy eating
Hoggy eating

We kept the feeding station and camera in place.  A few days later, we had our first video of a hedgehog.  It didn’t go into the feeder, but it was a hedgehog in the vicinity nevertheless.  It took a couple of days (or nights) before we finally captured a video of a hedgehog in the feeder eating.

We are pretty sure it’s Hoggy because she ate the dog food and dried calcium worms but left the specialist hedgehog food.  This is what she had done in her winter quarters.

We shall keep replenishing the feeder to ensure she, and any other hedgehogs, have access to a tasty snack if they need it.

 

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Coppicing Time

coppicing

We have quite a large area of willow woodland which spans either side of one of the burns that run through our smallholding.  One of the spring jobs is to coppice this.  This mainly involves taking out fallen and damaged trees as well as keeping branches away from the road.

It is best done in the spring.  In the winter, the burn can be a bit wild and the ground underfoot wet and marshy.  In late spring the willow comes into bloom and attracts bees.  You don’t want to be felling trees that are covered in bees.  Also, as a deciduous tree, it is best to trim willow while it is dormant.

tree trapped in stream
tree trapped in stream

With the weather a little drier and the burn calm enough to wade across, I sharpened the chainsaw and set off.  I am always very careful doing this, chainsaws are pretty dangerous.  I make sure I am wearing protective clothing.

I also have to careful in judging which way the tree will fall.  Most are already leaning over, having been blown over at some point, but they can have tall branches growing up.  I wear a hard hat!

One tree decided to have its revenge and, on cutting through its trunk, it swung into the burn and planted itself there.  The upper branches remained supported by neighbouring trees.  I had to leave it there, I’ll wait and see what the wind can do.

tossing the caber
tossing the caber across the burn

I cleared out the damaged trees one by one and cut the wood into managable lengths.  These had to be carried across the burn to where I could collect them.  Rather than carry them over slippery stones, I lobbed them over, my version of tossing the caber.

After that, I just gathered them into a tidy pile to await collection – these logs will go into our wood supply.  I also pushed some cuttings into the ground to create new trees.  Mind you, willow regenerates very quickly so I probably didn’t need to do this.

Anyway, that’s this year’s coppicing done – phew!  It’s tiring work.

 

wood neatly stacked
one day’s coppiced wood neatly stacked