The cows have left the croft

We say goodbye to our Dexters

This month our last two cows, Rosie and Albert have gone away to be dispatched.  It ends our dabbling in cow husbandry which, if we are honest, wasn’t a great success.  Although, if you tasted the beef that came out of it, you may not agree.

We initially wanted a housecow, a quiet beast that we could milk.  Shetlands were our preference but somehow we ended up with a Dexter, supposedly the perfect cow for a smallholder, not too big and easy to handle.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t our experience.  Maybe we were just unlucky in that we managed to buy a highly strung beast and then breed more highly strung calves.  Or maybe it was just our lack of cow-handling skills.

We bought a crush and heavy metal gates to allow us to safely carry out routine TB testing or AI, but actually getting them into the crush was very difficult.  When there was a need for some sort of procedure, we would “train” them for weeks beforehand by constructing a pen feeding them only inside it, until it was possible to close it up without them spooking.  Even so they were jumpy and if we shut them in and they heard the dogs barking at the arrival of the vet, they would start looking for an escape route.  In fact once, Pippa, the start of all our troubles, managed to lift the gates up and get out.

Of course, it wasn’t all bad, and we had 4 calves born on the croft, the last of which we reared on goat’s milk as the mother wouldn’t let him feed.  We never did manage to milk any of them, hence the reason we got the goats.  But the one thing we can never criticise is the quality of the meat.  Best beef we have ever tasted by far.

We are sticking to sheep from now on, they are far easier to manage although those rams can be a challenge at times!

Sheep turnovers

We get the sheep in a spin

This month has been all about sheep.

At the beginning of the month, Animal Health carried out routine testing for brucellosis.  Thankfully we were all clear, it hasn’t been present in Scotland for years now, so we didn’t want to be the ones who upset the apple cart!

Later than we hoped, we managed to separate the ewes that were to join one of our tups.  We were aiming for the beginning of September but were two weeks behind schedule.  Nevertheless they are all together now and we will be looking forward to lambs around March next year.

Once we had those sorted it was time to pick the lambs from this years crop that we would keep.  There was no real formula, just ones we liked the look of or who came from our favourite ewes.

With that done the remainder would be sold at the local mart.  Before that could happen they needed to be smartened up for their appearance in the ring.

We built a pen and rounded up a couple of ewes and the rest of the lambs.  All without the aid of Jack, he’s not quite ready yet, but he has been practising!  The only exit from the pen, was our “new” (to us anyway) sheep turner.  Our beasts are not small, they are probably the size of a shetland pony and are not easy to upend for routine work.  This device grips them securely and then turns them upside down so that you have full access and they can’t get away.  It still takes a bit of muscle to flip them but it’s much easier than alternative methods, plus the fact you no longer have to bend.

With them incapacitated on their backs like a beetle, we happily trimmed their feet, re-tagged any that were necessary and chopped off any grubby fleece.

We were done in no time and they were looking smart.  Hopefully they will command a good price at the market.

The goat hotel

Upgrading the goat pens

This month we have been busy upgrading the goat accommodation in the shed.  The goats were living in one large pen but that was giving us no end of trouble.  More than a year on and Lily’s kid Lulu will just not stop suckling.  We have separated them for months at time but as soon as they are reunited, she’s back on the milk.

Both Lily and Belinda are milked twice daily and we use that milk for cheese, butter and ice cream so with the now nearly fully grown kid taking a huge part of it, it’s a real problem.  We have tried taping Lily’s teats with micropore and painting on Stop ‘n’ Grow but whereas this might deter a nail biter, it seems goats like the taste and the tape was soon removed.

We decided to split the big pen into three and spent several weeks building their new living quarters.  We have learnt a thing or two about goats since we built the original pens.

  1. Put the hay racks up high.  Goats mostly stand on their hind legs to eat it where they take it out of the top of the rack and scatter it all over the ground.  Once it’s been on the floor, they won’t touch it.  It gets trodden into the bedding and wasted.
  2. Don’t put the water bucket anywhere near the hay.  They won’t drink from it if there is a strand of hay floating on top.  But more importantly mount the bucket on the wall, higher than their tails (to avoid accidents)!

The new pens have been made from fence posts and recycled pallets and now they are finished look very professional and also cosy.

We have put Lily in her own room as since she’s such a softie, the other goats tend to bully her.  Next to her is her naughty kid, Lulu so that they can remain close but she cannot get access to the precious milk.  She is housed with the other kid Betsy, who belongs to Belinda.

Belinda herself is back living with her original roommate Anastasia.  Those two seem to rub along fine with just the occasional head butting session.

In addition to the above, we have also built a second milking table so now we are able to milk two goats at the same time – progress!

With the girls all happily settled in their new homes, that frees up the rest of the shed for lambing time – a way off yet but it’s best to be prepared.

Just Jack

A BC joins the GSDs

We spent the early part of the month chasing sheep around.  The lambs needed tagging and the girls needed a pedicure.  After the 5th lap of the field we decided that there had to be an easier way.  We never saw our neighbour break into a sweat when rounding up his flock. Why? Because he had a dog to do it for him.

On a number of occasions we have attempted to persaude our German Shepherds to assist us but this always resulted in them rushing into the middle of the group and scattering them in all directions, taking us even longer to complete the task.

After much deliberation, we decided we were going to get ourselves a sheepdog.

A local farm had a litter from a working bitch and so we went along and collected our new pup, Jack.

We have only ever had Shepherds so it was something of a culture shock to suddenly own a Border Collie.

Our 3 GSD’s have welcomed him into the pack, despite his bad manners and sharp teeth.  For us it has been a huge learning curve.  He’s very people orientated and loves to be picked up and cuddled, unlike our aloof shepherds.

Training him to herd sheep will be our next challenge. We have a book to guide us and are hoping that he has inherited a natural instinct from his mother.  He is certainly having a go at herding geese!

After the watershed

It’s safe to go back into the water

We’ve had some gloriously sunny weather over the last few weeks, although it’s not been terribly hot.  We are literally waiting for the grass to grow so that we can make hay.  Let’s hope the sun is still shining!

With not much rain about we have invested in some new IBC water tanks to collect the rainfall from the roofs of the buildings.  This is essential in the summer months as we don’t water the animals from our well.

Speaking of the well, we got the grant and we got a quote for the filtratiton system but just as the whole thing was progressing very slowly through all the various departments, our water pump upped and died.  For 5 weeks, the only way we could get water from the well to the tank in an upstairs bedroom, was via a hosepipe through the window!

Eventually it was time for the installation and it couldn’t have come soon enough for us.  Before it could take place we had to build a huge shed to house the whole thing.  Once that was in place we were good to go.

It took two days to install the very complex system but it has been designed to take care of all our problems.  The long silver tube on the right (as you look into the box) is the UV filter.  Below that is the white pH filter.  That was recycled from our previous installation to take care of the “green hair” fiasco. The red barrel at the bottom is the pump.  Above it in the centre is the particulate filter.  The huge blue oxygen tank-like thing on the left takes care of the iron and manganese with the heater behind it. If the temperature drops below a certain number, it will switch on to stop the whole thing freezing.

It is a “backwash” system so twice a week the particles that have been collected need to be washed away.  To deal with that, a pipe has been installed from the shed which goes to the drain under the kitchen window.

It looks like mission control in there.

The EHO returned after it had all settled down and took another water sample from the kitchen tap.  We spent a couple of weeks on tenterhooks as, if it wasn’t doing its job, we wouldn’t get the grant.

Last week we got the all-clear.  It’s now safe to drink the water!

The Chase

Daisy test drives the new Ring Catapult by Trixie!

Daisy loves a good chase.  When it’s not the swallows, it’s Archie. When it’s not Archie, it’s the cars driving past the croft, and she tries to time it so that she reaches the end of the field at the same time as the vehicle to give a triumphant bark!

We rarely get people walking down our lane but we do get the occasional cyclist and she will canter along next to them on her side of the hedge shouting loudly all the way.

One of her favourite toys used to be the fling-a-ring (a thin plastic ring which is great for rolling). We taught her to hand it to us so that we didn’t need to bend down to pick it up but it was usually covered in slobber or other unspeakable substances, given that the sheep often have access to the field. When we saw the Dog Activity Ring Catapult, we just had to try it.

We weren’t too sure about it at first, as the catapult itself didn’t look too capable, but just one fling and we were converted immediately.  As was Daisy.  The ring flew really well, and even when it landed it bounced on for a while.  It probably would’ve gone even further if the grass was shorter, but sacrifices have to be made for our hay crop.

If you can get the ring at the right angle, you can slide it back into the catapult without even touching it (hooray!).  It can be a bit fiddly at first, and small feet are probably an advantage here, but with practice it would get easier.

The ring, a fairly lightweight vinyl, is probably not suitable for dogs that like to chew as they retrieve, but thankfully Daisy doesn’t really do that provided she is encouraged to return it straight away and to release it.  If left to her own devices it would probably suffer a little.  Thankfully there are replacement rings available in case of accidents…

Click here to see a video of Daisy in action (our first session)!

Alternatively, see it at YouTube here (opens in a new window).

Under construction

The swallows have returned and the dogs are chuffed

We see a lot of bird life up here.  Some of it welcome, some not.  At the moment we have hooded crows nesting in our chimney.  Luckily it’s not one we use.  They return annually and we can hear them chatting to each other in there.  It’s quite amusing when the babies emerge to take their first wobbly flights from the roof.  However, they can be a real pest.  We’ve seen them be-head a full-grown chicken.

The sparrows are a bit of a nuisance as they insist on eating all the blackcurrants.  You can always tell when they reach the perfect ripeness as the birds will gobble them up.

Sometimes when we open the doors to light the wood burner, a bird will come shooting out and fly around the house persued by over-excited dogs, causing chaos.

One year we found a baby oyster catcher in the middle of the waist high hay field.  Its mother had lost it in the long grass and was flying frantically overhead making a huge racket.

We have swarms of starlings that resemble an Alfred Hitchcock film, pheasants hiding in the reeds and once we even spotted a crane.

By far the favourites are the swallows.  They return each year to nest in the barn and the shed.  Sophie and Amy, our twin German Shepherds sadly no longer with us, would chase them for hours in the field, perfectly in time with each other like a dog and her shadow.

Sophie, passed this skill on to Daisy who now does her best to keep up the tradition and Archie has become a willing pupil too.  The birds swoop down, almost brushing the tips of the grass to catch the dogs attention and then soar up and fly along just out of the reach.  The pair spend many happy hours out there.  It’s obviously enjoyable to both sides and the dogs come in panting with their tongues hanging out and silly grins on their faces!

The swallows in their little dinner jackets are back again this year and in between bouts of teasing the dogs, are busy constructing a nest in the shed.  It won’t be long before it’s filled with noisy little chicks.  Here’s hoping that they’ve stuck it to wall properly this time – it has been known to fall off!

The Great British Bark Off!

You can’t beat a bit of home barking, sorry I meant baking….

I love a baking challenge and when Oggi’s Oven Baking Mixes arrived on our doorstep, I couldn’t resist the temptation, much to the delight of our hungry dogs!

There are 3 varieties available, Scones, Biscuits and Cakes.  It’s great to hear that they are all free from artificial colours, flavours or preservatives, made from human grade ingredients and 100% British.

The packets contain the mixes ready to go, all you need to add is water and/or vegetable oil and the Biscuits and Scones come with their own cutters.  Full instructions for all are included on the box so now there’s no excuse not to get baking.

Scones (with paw cutter):  No need to use a mixer, I stuck with a bowl and spoon as suggested and was pleasantly surprised to end up with a lovely soft dough and less washing up!  I rolled it out to what I guessed was about 6mm and found that I didn’t have quite enough to make the 14 scones stated on the box, instead I ended up with 12.  Luckily that was enough to divide evenly between our 3 dogs.

They cooked quickly and rose slightly.  When I took them out of the oven, they smelled delightful.  The dogs were hanging around hoping I may drop one or two but no such luck.

Biscuits (with bone cutter): Once again it was easy to mix straight from the packet but this time it was a much stiffer dough to roll out.  At first I wasn’t sure about the cutter as the bones seemed to stick inside, but a firm tap was all that was needed to release them.  I managed to get 24 bones from the mix rather than the 20 stated on the box and they were nice and chunky just the way the dogs like them.

Cakes:  For the cake mix there are a couple of suggested options, either a 12 bun tin or a 7″ cake.  I chose to use cup cake cases in my bun tin. These need to be removed before serving as I’m sure our dogs wouldn’t bother and would wolf the whole lot down.  I thought that the cup cakes cases were a bit on the big side, our dogs have to watch their waistlines, just like us, so I used some of the mix in petit four cases.   They were more bite size and would make a better training treat.

I was a bit confused by the mixture, expecting it to be of pouring consistency like a normal cake mix.  Instead it was like chewing gum.  I thought maybe I’d not added enough liquid but I’m sure I followed the instructions to the letter.  I carried on regardless and dolloped the mix into the cases safe in the knowledge that the dogs wouldn’t complain if they weren’t perfect (unlike some critics I know, no names mentioned!).  Despite the thick mixture they cooked OK, apart from the fact that I didn’t get the domed rise you would expect to see on a cupcake, instead they remained rather “rugged” looking, more like a muffin.

The verdict:  All three mixes were quick and simple and cooked perfectly – no soggy bottoms there.  Since they state human grade ingredients, we were keen to taste them ourselves.

The scones we found slightly sweet, despite claiming to be savoury on the box.

The biscuits I thought tasted a bit meaty but this may just have been my imagination.

The cake, again was rather sweet and very “cakey”. As suspected the smaller ones were better as quick bite.

Overall, I think they are ideal for a bit of a doggy treat.  The bones would be the better choice if you were going to use them for training, you could always add a bit of smelly cheese to the mix to give them some extra incentive!  Good fun and an ideal gift for any dog loving friends.

And what did the dogs think?

Well there were no turned up noses, they were keen to try all three, although Daisy was reluctant to let anyone else join the tea party.

Goosey goosey gander

A stray goose arrives and trouble begins

A couple of years ago we discovered a goose strolling around the yard.  Thinking it was one of ours, we shepherded it back to the field.  However, when we got there we realised that ours were all present and accounted for.  We could only assume that someone had dumped it as they don’t usually fly.

We already had 3 geese and a gander, and one of the geese has lived here longer than us!  We ushered the newcomer into the paddock, left it with the others and initially it seemed fine. Then we noticed that the gander was picking on it a little.  It gradually got worse and feathers were being plucked.

Since he wouldn’t accept the newbie, we assumed it was a gander (geese are not easy to sex) and moved it in with the ducks where it lived quite happily for almost a year.

One morning when collecting the eggs, we found a huge one in the duck shed.  It was a goose egg, therefore, she wasn’t a gander after all!  We moved her back in with the geese but sectioned off a piece of the goose hut so that she would be away from the gander.

All was peaceful and eventually we removed the partition so they were all living together.

Unfortunately though, a couple of weeks ago just as the geese were starting to lay, the gander once again began picking on her.  He became quite nasty, so for her own safety, we returned her to the duck shed and installed a nesting box for her.  If she starts to sit on her eggs, it won’t be much use but we may be able to slip a few duck eggs under her for hatching.

She seems contented now and the ducks don’t seem to mind so we may as well leave her there permanently.

Well, well

We discover our water supply is not fit for human consumption

When we first moved here, we knew the water supply wasn’t up to scratch but we were so excited at the prospect of having our own well that we didn’t give it a second thought.  We never drank water straight from the tap anyway.  Rather than a quaint “wishing well” we were rather disappointed to find a concrete tube outside the kitchen window.

We live in an area full of peat bogs.  As a result, when it rained the water was always a delightful yellow colour but we weren’t that concerned.  After a couple of months however, we found that our hair was turning green, well those of us that still had hair!

The copper was being stripped from the pipes so we hastily invested in a ph filter and that cured it.  Unfortunately the filter was so large it had to sit outside next to the well and has been known to freeze in extremely cold weather, leaving us rather dry.

Recently we found out that our local council are encouraging householders to apply for grants to improve their private water supply, so we decided to enquire.

We had the water tested from the kitchen tap and got a call a few days later, followed by a letter telling us “DON’T DRINK THE WATER”.  Apparently it was full of bacteria, but luckily no e.coli.  We just carried on as normal.

A week or so later, we got the full test results and discovered that there was a large deposit of aluminium.  Boiling obviously wouldn’t remove that.

In fact we discovered that aluminium was not easy to get rid of and therefore not covered under the grant; we would have to find an alternative water supply.  Boreholes and mains connections were mentioned but these run into many thousands of pounds and we would have to pay half.

On top of that we were told that if we did have a new borehole dug and they still found aluminium in our water, the grant would be null and void.

We were a bit stumped.

The EHO returned to do a second test, this one straight from the well and we were on edge waiting for the results.  Eventually they arrived and surprisingly there was no trace of aluminium!  With so much rain in these parts the water table changes all the time so it could be that there was something in the water at the time of the first test or it may mean that the aluminium is in the house, although we can’t think where.

However, it does leave us clear to apply for the grant to get a decent filtration system installed which eliminate all the other nasties and for the first time we may actually be able to drink it.