Piggie Holiday

This morning we got up befpore the lazy sparrows to take three of our pigs on holiday.  This is also known as ‘the death process’.  These three were born early this year and have had good lives, with plenty of food, an open area to live, and the occasional chance to wander a little further afield.  They were three boys so we’d had in with Sir Humphrey, keeping him company while they grew up.

Now is a good time to take them away, before it gets too muddy and wet, and cold.  It also means we’ll go back to less than a bag of food a day.

Since we had the proper fencing put in it has become much easier to control the pigs, and therefore to get them into the horse trailer.  This morning went particularly smoothly.  I backed the trailer up to the entrance to the alley between the pig areas.  The three boys were already up, and squealing and grunting demands for food.  We fed the pigs in the other three areas first, to get the noise level down if nothing else, and then we opened up the gate for the boys and shook the food in front of them.  They happily came out as far as the base of the ramp for the horse box.  This they viewed with some scepticism and stopped for a while.  I cleared some of the hay on the floor of the horse box and dropped some feed down, making sure it made a noise.  First one and then the other two decided it couldnt be all bad if there was food involved, and they made their way up.  We quickly closed the trailer, and they were in.

This wasn’t quite the whole story as we needed to tag them.  While we do try to make sure all our animals are tagged, the pigs especially are good at ripping theirs off, so we almost always need to re-tag them when we load them.  This involved me climbing back in with the three pigs.  Always a little worrying as it’s quite an enclosed space, but we poured more food down and they concentrated on that and ignored me.  It was still pitch black so Alex held a torch up so I could see the pigs.  I then tagged them ensuring that they were double tagged (i.e. a tag in each ear).  It’s amazing how they respond to the tags going in.  Sometimes they don’t do anything at all, sometimes they shake their heads a couple of times and get back to the food, and more rarely they squeal and pull away.  The tagging went nice and quickly, and I quickly climbed back out.

Alex had noticed that Sir Humphrey still hadn’t come to see what all the noise was about so she went to check on him.  He was still fast asleep, and completely uninterested in being woken up for food.  We left him some for his breakfast, when he can be bothered!

With them all loaded up I was ready to be on my way to the abbattoir.  In my planning I’d estimated this would take an hour, so it was a little surprising when I got there in 30 minutes, and very early for my slot.  Fortunately they’re nice and flexible and were happy to take the pigs in immediately.  All I needed to do was reverse the trailer into the loading bay.  The last time I did this it went fine.  Not today.

I pulled round happily, and started backing away, and that’s when it all went wrong.  I must have spent five minutes going back and forth almost in one spot, and getting nowhere near the bay.  In my defence it’s a tight space and there were a bunch of crates against the fence which reduce my scope for flexibility.  While I was messing around another guy turned up with some pigs, so, along with the abbattoir workers, I was building an audience.  Eventually with the help of pretty much all of them I managed to get things going the right way and got it in nicely.

Humiliated I quickly handed over the documentation, helped unload the pigs (who went into their holding pen really quickly and quietly), cleaned out the back, and headed on my way.

Still, an important job done.  While I was taking them on their way Alex was confirming our requirements with the butchers.  We’re getting a lot of bacon and sausages this time, which is quite exciting, though I’m slightly concerned that we don’t have enough freezer space…

Fencing with Sheep

My new fencing worked for less than a day.  The next morning I went out to feed everything, and to my consternation realised there were a handful of sheep in the south facing slope area.  I wondered if perhaps I’d missed another hole.  But once I got down to investigate it was fairly obvious:

It looks like they partially pushed down the fence and then leapt over.  To confirm that just after I took that photo one of the white lambs jumped back over, and trotted up to me in the hope of food.  Here he is, covered in burrs:

We had a lot on so didn’t get round to fixing the fence until yesterday.  Alex tried to persuade the sheep back over with a food bucket, but they didn’t seem to want to challenge the fence.  This made me wonder if they’d been startled into leaping over the fence in the first place, but I guess we’ll never know.  After trying for five minutes or so we realised we’d need to take down the new fence to let them out.  Even then they were a little recalcitrant, but eventually came back over.

We then fixed up the original new fence, and added two extra wires above it.  To make sure it couldn’t be pushed down again we tightened it all with a gripple.  These are great little wire connectors which, with the appropriate tool, allow you to connect and tighten fencing.  Here’s the finished product (please note the extra baler twine holding the mesh fence to the new wires for added security):

Here’s a close up of the gripple on the mesh:

So far this has held…

Fencing with Cows

In the early days we did a lot of fencing ourselves.  Even after lots of practice we never really got very good at it.  Partially it’s not having the right tools, and partially lack of patience.  We’ve since had quite a bit of fencing done properly, which is always satisfying to see (if a little galling).  One of the bits which hasn’t been re-done separates the narrow field with the cows in it from what was to be my south facing slope, and is instead a little bit of wild ground.  This morning it was clear this fencing had failed.

Avarice had somehow got through and was now staring at me from the bottom of the slope.  And then mooing for food.  She wasn’t interested in coming back either.  I quickly doscovered that a stretch of the fence which had looked a little weakened and pulled down a couple of weeks ago had been completely pushed down (shows that I should actually do something when I see fencing in that state!).  Now the area she was in has pretty lush grass and probably does need to be cropped down, but I had two concerns, a) Wrath might want to join her daughter and catch her wounded udder on the pushed down fence and make it worse, and b) the fencing right at the back is only three lengths of barbed wire, not enough to stop the sheep should they really decide they want to get through.  The fence clearly needed fixing:

After sorting out a few other things I collected my old trusty set of fence repairing tools:

  • a hammer
  • some fence staples (two sizes, one big and one small)
  • a wire cutter
  • a penknife
  • a bucket of feed

This last is very important, both to persuade any wandering animals back in to the correct field, and to distract any inquisitive animals while I’m bent over hammering nails in.

Fortunately we have a few reasonable lengths of fence remaining and I grabbed one which looked like it would do the job, and headed down to the broken fence.  When I got there some of the sheep had also gamboled over into the slope area, but they were easy to persuade back with the bucket.  Wrath had not crossed the line, probably in fear of her udders, but Avarice was nowhere to be seen.  Then I heard some almost plaintive mooing, and saw Avarice was in with the OAPs.  Somehow she’d got through the fence separating the south facing slope from the big field as well.  Now I had the fear that the fields were effectively connected again and all my efforts to sort the sheep had been wasted.  A quick count assured me that no sheep had yet figured out the route, so I followed the fence along to see what Avarice had done.

The cows are quite big.  When they lean against the fence they can cause the fence staples to pop out.  I think they’ve realised this can be useful…  Down the bottom of the fence Avarice had managed to push through and loosen four panels of mesh.  This meant she could get underneath it and into the field, but it left the mesh in place, looking like it was still fixed which is why the sheep hadnt yet challenged it.  I’ll take that as almost good news!  A lesson here – fix broken fencing as soon as possible as there are always consequences if you dont.

I coaxed Avarice through the gate and into the south facing slope area, and then attempted to coax her back into the small field.  Suddenly the crushed fence which she’d happily walked over earlier in the day was an issue, and she refused to cross.  Here she is just testing the line:

Eventually I charmed her over with a combination of wit and the feed bucket.  I then set about putting in the new fencing.  I didn’t have any strainers (required to make the fence nice and taut), so I decided to go for my standard bodge approach – put the new fence over the existing.  Five minutes of rolling out, doing some manual straining (pulling it one way as I hammer the staples in – better than nothing), and a lot of hammering, and the fence was fixed.  Well, hopefully it will keep the animals out until the spring when we’ll probably open up the whole slope area.  This is what bodged fencing looks like:

Satisfied I’d done enough for the moment, I went down to the other end of the south facing slope and fixed the damage Avarice had done.  This just involved hammering in a load more staples.  Ironically this was some of the new fence we’d recently had done properly, so I felt a little less disappointed with my own fencing efforts!




Algy the Alpaca Lies Down

It’s a true pleasure staring out over the fields, gazing at our animals as they go about their business.  Every now and again however I get a bit of a shock as I look out over the animals  One of these was the first time I saw Algy lying down.  Mostly the Alpacas sit down like the sheep, and seem to sleep in that position.  So when I saw Algy lying like this:

I panicked.  Given the totally supine position I assumed there must be a problem, and so I ran towards him to see if I could help.  As absolutely nothing was wrong and he was just having a bit of a kip this rather freaked him out.  He leapt to his feet and ran off, making sure to keep me in sight at all times.  It took him a little while to trust me again after this.

Sheep Sorting – and Poo.

Yesterday we did the next stage of sheep sorting, and caught about half of the sheep from within the OAP field in the channel between the pigs.  The idea was to separate out the girl lambs and put them with the others in the small field with the cows, and also to do some quick maintenance on the remaining lambs.

Of the fifteen sheep we caught, one was an old OAP Soay ram, fourteen were boy lambs, and just one was a girl lamb.  I’m really starting to wonder if I counted the lambs properly when I was castrating them – I think I should have 19 boy lambs, and 15 girl lambs.

Quite a number of the boys had mucky bottoms.  Amongst other things this can be caused by worms, or by being moved on to rich pasture, and some breeds of sheep are more susceptible to it than others – particularly Suffolks we’d been told.  As the majority of our white cross sheep are Suffolk crosses it explained why there were so many dirty bottoms.  The main purpose to docking their tails is to limit the muckiness, which can be an attractant to flies and therefore flystrike.  This certainly helps reduce the amount of build up, but not completely.  So yesterday we decided to trim around their bottoms (also known as crutching).

The process was very simple.  I grabbed the appropriate sheep, and secured it against the gate and stood there manfully holding it.  Alex then had the extra pleasant job of trimming the fleece all around the lucky lamb’s bottom.  This ranges from just unpleasant all the way to disgusting.  It’s especially exciting when the lamb in question decides to poo while being ministered to (about 33% do so), and some of them even peed as well, all over my boots (but no higher!).  In all we (I get to take partial credit as I held them!) cleaned up the bottoms of about eight of the lambs.

We have recently discussed a more aggressive animal reduction plan, which means taking something like twenty lambs on holiday at the end of November, therefore I will need to take some of the boy lambs as well.  This being the case it seemed sensible to move all the lambs we’d caught into the small field, as this should help in catching them when the time comes, and also in grazing down the field.

It does mean we need to catch the remaining lambs from the OAP Soay field, but we’re definitely making progress!

Quick update

Several things going on at the moment:

– Wrath – her wound is looking a little better, but still wasn’t great this morning.  I did manage to spray quite a lot more anti-biotic on it.

– Moving sheep – I managed to get almost all of the sheep in the main field into the corridor area between the pigs, which means I should be able to catch them and separate them in the next few days.

– Muga – no longer limping at all, and definitely starting to service some of the ewes.

– Haan – haven’t seen him with his ewes yet, but the Suffolk we put in with them seems to have acclimatised well.  Here’s how he looked today:

Dancing with Wrath

This morning’s feed of the animals went very well.  I managed to get a substantial number of the as yet unsorted sheep to come into the channel between the pigs, so in a couple of days I should be able to catch them all and complete the sorting (the girl lambs to go in with the cows, and the boys to stay with the OAPs, but be marked so we know who is what).

After that I went out to see if I could get close to Wrath as I really wanted to spray her wound again with anti-biotic.  As preparation I put down some feed for the sheep and Avarice, to keep them distracted, and then I carefully approached Wrath.  She wasn’t interested in walking towards me this morning, so I traipsed down the whole length of the field, feed bucket in hand.  When I got within ten foot she was still rather nervous and at first wouldn’t come near me, so I held out a handful of feed and she nearly took my hand off getting to it.

I put the bucket down and gave her another handful, and then dropped my hand she started eating straight out of the bucket.  This allowed me to crouch down and move round to get in position to spray.  Wrath took a couple of sidesteps around the bucket, keeping her head within range of the food, and I managed to move forward and spray the wound.  Wrath skipped around a couple more paces, with her head still in the bucket, and I once again darted forward to spray the wound.  We went dancing round like this until we’d rotated around the bucket three or four times, and I’d managed to get a decent amount of spray onto Wrath’s wound.  By this point the food was virtually gone and Wrath decided she’d had enough fun dancing and started to move off.  I gave her one last handful of food and then backed off.

The wound looked much better, it’s starting to scab over properly, so hopefully it’s going to heal properly.

Wrath Wound Woes

On Sunday when we were dealing with the second phase of moving sheep around we also did a quick check on the cows.  Avarice was fine, but Wrath seemed to have a big wound on her udder.  Closer inspection showed it to be even nastier than we originally thought  (picture below, but don’t look if you’re squeamish).

Alex was immediately on the phone to the vet.  They said that given Wrath was still up and about, and eating, then it was ok to leave it a day or two before they visited (to avoid emergency Sunday charges) but they thought our idea of spraying it with anti-biotic blue spray was a good start.  Now Wrath has always been skittish at the best of times, and it was quite clear she didn’t want us getting too close to the wound.  After a little patience, with Alex holding a bucket of food and giving handfuls to Wrath while I crept round, I’d managed to spray it a little, but not as much as we’d have liked.

We also walked all around the field to try and work out what had caused the wound.  There were some fencing supplies in piles in various places, but none looked like they had been involved.  Having decided that getting them out of the field was sensible we spent an hour or so loading up the trailer and driving them out.

The next morning we coaxed Wrath into the area between the pigs, which has a nice channel which we thought would make it easier for the vet to look at her.  Unfortunately the vet didn’t make it to us until the afternoon, by which time Wrath was rather grumpy, and not keen to let anyone get close to her.

The vet could only get a look at a bit of a distance and was a little unhappy at our lack of proper cow handling facilities – we do have a crush which could potentially hold the cows, but I’ve only ever managed to get Avarice in there.  She advised us to try and clean the wound, and to spray it further.  We were told to contact them again if it gets worse (or I guess doesn’t get better) then we’d need to consider something a bit more complicated.  We’d either need to get someone to come and knock Wrath out with a dart gun, or someone else with the kind of herding paraphenalia required to get Wrath into a crush.  To cheer us up she said that if it got really bad then we might have to consider putting her down.

We managed to spray her wound again this morning, though she was not at all happy and was even more skittish.  So much so that I decided it best not to try to spray her tonight, and get her to be a little calmer with us just feeding her before trying again tomorrow.  Surprisingly when I went to feed her she was happy for me to get quite close to the wound, but I suspect it’s because I was on my own – and she does tend to be worse around multiple people.  The wound seemed to be looking a bit better and has started to dry out, which is positive.

After the ram dying I was hoping for some positive news, but sadly not yet.

Preparation for Tupping and Winter

Somehow October has crept up on us, and instead of having our animals nicely separated into the correct fields we’re having to be a little reactive.  The challenge is which animals to have in which field.  It’s a logic problem, and here are the parameters:

With the sheep we have:

  • Two Soay OAP rams
  • Muga (Soay ram)
  • Haan (Boreray ram)
  • Four mule ewes
  • Five Suffolk ewes
  • Six Soay ewes
  • Two Boreray ewes
  • Two Boreray castrated males
  • 12 ewe lambs from this year who need to go on holiday in December
  • 3 ewe lambs from the OAPs which we plan on keeping (as they have lovely colouring and aren’t related to Muga)
  • 18 castrated (hopefully) male lambs from this year

We also have:

  • Five goats
  • Two alpacas
  • Two cows

The rules are:

  1. The rams cannot share a field (except the two Soays, but for example Muga couldn’t share with Haan – they’d fight and it would be bad)
  2. Any female in a field will be covered by the rams in that field (though the OAPs are least likely, and may not at all), therefore the ewe lambs need to be in a field free of rams
  3. The cows can’t share with Muga (he tends to ram them and it all gets a bit fraught).
  4. We prefer the ram to  be smaller than the ewe, so Haan should not cover any Soays.
  5. Castrated males are considered neutral and can share with any group.
  6. The goats need to stay in the home field so that they have access to proper shelter.

We also have these aspirations:

  1. Achieve maximum covering of our ewes.
  2. Take 12 of the ewe lambs on holiday in December (requires they get used to some handling)
  3. Try and get some Boreray crosses with a Mule and a Suffolk
  4. Keep the young Soay OAPs separate this year, to be bred with Muga next year.
  5. Keep White Face in with Muga to see if she can manage triplets four years in a row!
  6. Keep the number of animals in each field to below a reasonable limit, say thirty or so (to make Winter feeding easier).

We started work on the solution yesterday.  Part of the challenge was that the two large groups of sheep were a mixture of lambs and adults, and needed to be filtered.  At least we didn’t need to worry about the goats and the alpacas, and we could keep the cows where they are for the moment.

We really should have started moving the animals around last month, but given that Muga is still limping I suspect he hasn’t yet made much of an impression on the ewes he’s been sharing with.

Yesterday, just before lunch, we started the moving process with the help of my friend Adam (an extra human sheepdog).  We managed to catch about 60% of our sheep in two lots.  The Soays and their lambs who haven’t really been involved in feeding were not interested – I’ll need to work on them.  We marked the ewe lambs destined for a December holiday with a circle and cross, as we had before, and the male lambs with a sort of croix de lorraine.

After much running, catching, marking and ferrying we had got all the male lambs out of the home field – which now contained the goats, the alpacas, Muga, most of the mule and Suffolk ewes, and one ewe lamb who got away from us.  We also managed to introduce a mule ewe (not White Face) and two Suffolks into the Boreray area in the orchard.  The male lambs all went in with the OAPs, and we closed off the small field with the cows in it and put the four ewe lambs we managed to catch in with them.

This wasn’t a complete success, but we now at least had far less risk of Muga servicing one of his daughters this year, and we also had the potential for Boreray crosses, which should be interesting.  Obviously we need to go back and separate out the ewe lambs in the OAP field, but we have a little bit of time for that.

That was yesterday.

Around lunch time today we realised that one of the Suffolk ewes, and the Mule ewe, who we had put in with Haan had both broken through the electric fence to be in with the ewe lambs and the cows.  Not a disaster, but irritating, especially as we now need to fix the fence as well.

Still, we may have been late to get round to sorting it out, but it’s nice to have a plan, and have taken the first few steps to achieving it!

Real Eggs – Oh the joy!

As part of lunch today I had three eggs.  I decided to compare the shop bought free range eggs (I haven’t bought battery eggs for as long as I can remember) with our own ones.  The difference in colour was still amazing, two of these are ours and one is from the shop:

Unfortunately the chickens have stopped laying again.  Or are laying somewhere hidden from me, so those will be the last home eggs for a little while!