This month has been up and down weather-wise. We’ve had snow and beautiful frosty mornings. Such a pleasure to be able to walk the dogs and come home clean. Not quite so good for the livestock as there’s no grass to eat so we have had the sheep inside for a bit of respite and a trough of oats.
We live in Scotland, we expect rain, but do we really have to have it every single day? It feels like it’s not stopped for months now. A few weeks ago we suddenly had a morning of sunshine and in a panic, we cut the grass. Of course the rain wasn’t gone for long and it came back with a vengeance. The grass lay on the ground sopping wet and getting trampled by happy dogs who were delighted that they now had a clear view of the swallows right across the field and maybe a sporting chance of catching them!
A few weeks on and we had another morning of sunshine, panic again, turn the grass to fluff it up and let it dry out a bit, and then in the afternoon, out with the baler, avoiding the really boggy areas so we didn’t get stuck.
We were quite pleased after a couple of hours when we had 150 bales, that was until we tried to lift them. Each one was weighed down with water and extemely heavy. It was also getting dark but we had to get them under cover. We soldiered on in the pitch black until we had them all under a tarpaulin and then crawled off to bed.
Each day if there is a glimpse of the sun, we uncover them. Of course once we turn our backs the rain starts and we have to rush out to wrestle with the soaking wet and flapping tarpaulin. It is highly unlikely that they will be edible so we shall just have to bite the bullet and buy some in. Somebody out there must have had more luck with the weather than us!
On a more cheerful note, we picked up our Suffolk tup for this year and introduced him to the girls, they didn’t reject him quite as badly as last year’s tup so he must be better looking, maybe the Brad Pitt of the sheep world! We put a crayon on him so we can tell when he’s done his thing and make a note the ewe’s ear tag number. That way we will have an idea of when they are due to lamb next year. Already there are some red rumps out there so we know he’s off to a good start!
Due to the awful weather, we haven’t been able to do much tracking with Toby, so instead we’ve been working with him indoors and here’s his latest Tobeo!
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In all the years we have been selling our lambs at the mart, we have not once gone along to see them sold. A haulier collects them and they are sorted out at the other end by the stock men.
In the past we have had some amazing luck on sale day, many times we have had the highest prices but we know that this is not due to any skill on our part.
This year we tried to get a bit more scientific about the whole process. We kept accurate records of births and noted in detail any problems we encountered. We do tend to get a lot of lambs with entropian (inward turning eyelids) and although there is a quick fix for this, it would be nice to eradicate it altogether from the flock.
As we said last month, we had the best lambs ever this year and so after weighing them, deicided to place some of them in the premium sale.
We also decided that on sale day we would go along to see how the whole process worked and try to learn from it.
At around the same time, we discovered that you can in fact watch all the sale days online. One of us went along, whilst the other stayed home and viewed the experience at the kitchen table!
We did learn something, our fat lambs were not quite fat enough!
At least we now know what to aim for next year.
Last year’s tup, Harry, was an absolute beast. We are always careful with the rams, especially when they are in with the girls as they can be quite confrontational if approached. However, Harry was something else. He was a huge brute with a large head, supposedly a cross between a Suffolk and a Dorper. He hadn’t been sheered (and we can understand why) so his big fluffy fleece made him look even bigger.
We could not walk in the field with him unarmed. It was essential to carry a crook and a bag of straw which could be used to lessen the blow when he ran at you. And he did, frequently! Head down and charge was his motto. Sometimes we were stuck in the field with him for ages, couldn’t risk turning our back on him and every time we retreated backwards, he would come forwards. We would have to stride towards him to show him we weren’t intimidated, he would reverse, and so the dance continued.
It was a relief when he’d done his job and we could let him go.
Nevertheless, despite all the grief he gave us, he did give us the best lambs we’ve ever had. They are lovely big chunky animals, far superior to previous years when we’ve put them all in the Store Lamb sale (lambs that need fattening before slaughter) at the end of the year.
We rounded them all up at the weekend sorted out their feet, checked them over and weighed them. All but three are well over weight for the Store sale so will be going to the Fat sale.
Of course we are delighted but not enough to risk keeping him on and going through that again!
Back in 2005 we went out to collect a second hand chest freezer and came home with 3 sheep and 2 pigs!
One of those sheep was Geraldine, a real character. Having never owned sheep before, she taught us a lot and gave us our first ever lambs. It wasn’t long before we were hooked on the woolly beasts and built up our own little flock.
She had been hand-reared so she was pretty tame and would go anywhere in pursuit of a bucket, so if we wanted to move them about, we would use her to lead the way. The others, would always follow.
She got into so many scrapes, like the time we found her stuck in a drainage ditch. She squashed out of a small gap in the fence, in search of greener pastures. We hauled her out and soaking wet, she laid on the ground. The only way we could move her was in the bucket of a tractor. Unfortunately, on the way back to the shed, the tractor got stuck in mud, so we had to abandon it and wheel her in a barrow!
With careful nursing, she recovered.
Another time, we went out one morning and found her flat on her back with her legs in the air. We thought she was dead, but no, not Geraldine. Once again the wheel barrow came out and we tucked her up in a warm pen and nursed her back from the brink. She had twin lamb disease.
Then there was the huge abcess that came up on her face. She received plenty of tlc until she recovered.
At the end of last year, we decided not to breed from her again, so she didn’t go in with the tup. We thought she had earned her retirement.
Sadly, a couple of weeks ago, despite more careful nursing, we lost her. It was very upsetting as we had all been through so much together.
She has left behind many of her offspring, we have daughters, granddaughters and great granddaughters. Some of them have her sassy attitude but none have as much character as her. She was definitely a one-off.
We miss her dearly but she managed to instill in us an enduring love of sheep.
It’s that time of year again when we walk around like zombies for a month or so – lambing! We began in early Feb and expect to keep going until mid March.
Each night, we take turns in checking the ewes every two hours. These days it’s much easier than it used to be. Thanks to the CCTV cameras in the lambing shed we no longer have to trek down there in our PJ’s in the middle of the night, but it still takes its toll.
Every year we try to improve our procedures and this year we attended a talk by our local vets practice where we learnt how we can make some improvements. There were also free stovies on offer after the lecture, and since we don’t get out much this was a strong inducement!
This year we only have a small flock of ewes as we sent all the troublesome ones to the mart in November. We were hoping to have wiped out the cases of entropian (turned in eyelids) but have had two born already with this genetic condition. They have to be injected with penicillin in the lid to puff it out and stop in rubbing on the eyeball. A very unpleasant job.
We have had one set of triplets, first time in years, but sadly the mother is poorly so we have been nursing her and bottle feeding her lambs to take some of the pressure off.
Our biggest problem is knowing the exact date each ewe will lamb. With the help of the scan man, we can make a good guess but sometimes this can be weeks out. Next year it is our intention to fit the tup with a raddle ( a harness with a marking device) so that when he’s done the deed, it will leave a mark on the back of the ewe). That way we will have a more accurate prospective lambing date.
Until that time, it’s constant watching and broken sleep!
It’s getting to that time of year when we will be sending the lambs off to the mart. Not all of them will go – some of them are just too small and will bring down the prices of the larger beasts – but most will.
We will also sending some of the older ewes, particularly if they have made a poor show in lambing. For instance, one ewe produced just a single large lamb this year, which had to be euthanised by the vet as he wouldn’t have survived more than a day or two.
We also have a couple of ewes who have produced lambs with Entropian (inward turning eyelids). Although this is a minor condition that can be treated by injecting the eyelids, it isn’t pleasant for us or the lambs, and we would prefer not to proliferate it. This year we have decided to be a little more disciplined and remove these ewes from our flock.
However, our ruthlessness only goes so far. We have two older ewes that are way past their prime, but they will remain with us for the rest of their lives. One is Geraldine (front right in the picture). She was one of our first ever sheep and is such a character, although she has been in the wars more times than we care to mention. The other is Agnes, who may also be over the hill, but remains very special to us for one reason or another.
This year, we have been using a new tup, and he has proved to be very challenging. Hand reared by his previous owners he has no fear of humans. Quite the opposite in fact, and we have had to watch our backs constantly when in fhe paddock with him. Given the chance he is more than happy to charge in and butt us, and we have resorted to carrying a bag of straw with us to help absorb the impact!
We won’t keep him on for another year and it’s one beast we will be glad to be rid of.
We were feeling rather smug about lambing this year, everything was ready, or so we thought.
The ewes had been scanned, so we knew who was pregnant and how many to expect, the CCTV was set up and working after the installation of a new cable, thanks to someone who shall remain nameless, chopping up the previous one with a strimmer!
The pens were mostly ready, although we did decide to split a larger pen at the last minute to give us more indivicual lambing space.
Armed with the dates, we sat back and waited, convinced that even though some of the girls had huge udders, they weren’t going anywhere.
However, one evening it ocurred to us that given the date the first tup went in with the girls, they could have given birth two weeks previously. Realisation set in and a late night check on the girls in the paddock revealed nothing but eyes shining back in the torchlight.
We were convinced that nothing would happen that night and we would at least be safe until the morning.
How wrong could we be. We slipped out at sunrise and on the way to the field, could hear quite clearly small lamb voices emanating from the tin hut. One of the ewes had given birth to two pretty little girls. We carried the lambs inside to a lovely warm straw filled pen and mum followed. Luckily they were all fine but we stuck them under a heat lamp just to be on the safe side.
That’ll teach us to be complacent.
So far we’ve had 10 lambs, we are feeding two as their mothers are not producing enough milk and we lost one due to an abonormality.
After mother and baby have bonded for a few days, they are transferred to the nursery pen where they can all meet each other and have plenty of space to gambol around.
It’s been very tiring so far and we’re only half way through, there are still plenty of sleepless nights to look forward to!
It has been an inconvenient few months for us with the three acre field out of action. We have had to keep the dogs off it, as they like to gallop along at quite a pace kicking up sods in their wake, and Jack likes to dig the odd crater or two.
It’s been tricky finding paddocks without sheep to walk them in but thankfully they are actually quite well acquainted with the geese now and no longer bother to chase them.
After seeding we were left with a dull brown field for weeks until the first shoots starting poking through and at first it was very patchy. Once we had some rain on it, it got a bit of a spurt on and before too long we had a wispy green covering.
It gradually thickened up and by the beginning of October, started to look rather lush. Since there had been no dogs in the vicinity the rabbits were running riot, much to Daisy’s delight when she finally got access again!
As soon as we were sure that it was well rooted we let the sheep loose in there to graze before winter comes upon us. They were over the moon to find such a delicious looking crop at this time of year and we are hoping that it will fatten them up, ready for the mart in a few weeks time.
Next year we are hoping for a bumper hay crop but that will depend on the weather.
We were feeling rather pleased with ourselves when we didn’t lose any lambs this year. Just when we thought we were out of the woods one of the boys was hit by flystrike. It was the same lamb that had been rejected by his mother, Geraldine, and had to feed from the goat. He had always been smaller and weaker than the others and therefore vulnerable.
Flystrike is awful. We have seen it once before on a ewe, but it wasn’t as bad as this. Flies lay their eggs on the fleece and the maggots hatch, bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the skin, feeding off their flesh. This little boy was badly infected and as we started to clear them from his rear end, they kept moving further up his body. It took us days to rid him of them, every time we thought we’d got it beaten, we found more. Eventually, we put a stop to their migration and then all we had to do was hope he would recover – it can be fatal.
With much TLC from us he did pull through, but there were large areas of bare pink skin all over his back and sides, which we smothered with soothing cream. Now a couple of months later, his fleece is regrowing and he’s almost back to normal, apart from the patchy bits. He is definitely much smaller than the other lambs and probably won’t catch up now. However, he seems happy enough and has a great appetite.
In other news, we have been watching the grass grow and that too is a little patchy!