Spanking the Gander

Our geese go through stages of additional aggression, and today one of the ganders was particularly angry, and willing to share it.  He tried to bite me a couple of times while I was walking past him to get the feed.  He then bit Alex as well.

I tend to jump back at the geese when they’re like that, which flusters them and causes them to run off away, before returning towards me hissing, but at a greater distance.

Alex’s technique is different.  She picks them up.  They don’t like being picked up, but once they’re in her firm embrace they become strangely passive.  It also is supposed to help if you spank their bottoms in front of the other geese, as it humiliates them.  However Alex has pointed out that their bottoms are mostly feathers so there isn’t really anything to connect with, so she doesn’t bother.  Usually just picking them up calms them down a bit and they go back to just hissing and not biting…

The gander is quite passive at this point, so the only real risk is if it decides to have a poo, which will then go all down Alex’s leg.  He didn’t this morning, but next time maybe…

Ramming

Tupping is where a farmer puts a ram (or tup) in with their ewes.  Hopefully the ram will perform his function (by covering the ewes) and then sometime in the spring the ewes will all produce some lovely lambs.  Rams are particularly excited and excitable at this time of year, as one might expect.

I’ve been a little worried about Muga as he has definitely been showing some aggression towards Haan through the fence, and we’ve had to free him from the fence to the other field a couple of times as well.  Still I was hoping that it was under control.  This morning I noticed that at the front of his face, above his nose was all red.  It’s been abraided a bit recently, but it was quite raw this morning.  There was also blood at the base of his horns.  Clearly he’s been really going for it.  I caught him by his horns and sprayed him with the blue anitbiotic spray which I happened to have on me.

Still, I was wondering why he was having such an issue with the field with the cows and OAPs in it.  There might be two OAP rams in there, but they’re not a real challenge to him, and to be fair they’ve mostly ignored each other.  Muga was definitely much more interested in the narrow field when we let Haan in there, but I assumed his interest in the OAP field was more around the lovely Soay ewes.

This morning I noticed that one of the castrated ram lambs seemed to be chasing one of the Soay ewes, and in his turn he was being chased by an OAP ram.  The OAP dropped out after a bit, but the the ram lamb carried on chasing until he managed to properly catch the ewe, at which point he mounted and covered her.

Oh dear thought I.  That is one lamb who was not properly castrated.  I’d been so confident I’d done them all properly, but clearly in his case I must have only caught one of his testicles (or maybe I missed both?).

It’s worse than that really, as that field was our no-lambs-this-year field.  It was for the ewes we were keeping and not breeding, and for the ewe lambs we’re taking on holiday next March.  However with an active ram in there they are all likely to be pregnant, or will be very soon.  That’s fifteen more pregnant ewes, which is the potential of up to thirty more lambs.  Our animal reduction plan just took a real step back.

But at least I now understand what Muga is so interested in.  We may have to confine him to a smaller area which doesn’t border any others if it gets any worse.

Winter Grass

Our fields are still lush and have a lot of grass available for the animals to eat.  This might lead one to believe that they don’t need any additional feed.  Unfortunately this isn’t the case.

Quite a few years ago a vet told us that we’d need to get hay in over the winter to feed the animals, as there wasn’t much goodness in the grass left in the fields.  I’m not sure we entirely believed her, but we trusted her so did as we were bid.  We fed the animals about what is recommended (the advice varies form specific amounts through as much as they will eat in fifteen minutes all the way to as much as they need – with no explanation as to how this might be determined), and didn’t think too much on it.

Since then we’ve learnt that the animals will tell us when it’s time to start giving them hay.  It starts with the cows.  During the height of summer they ignore us, spending all their time at the bottom of the field, and really lazing around and enjoying the good life (and getting rather fat we’ve noticed).  During the warmer months they won’t stir themselves to come for food, and will only deign to eat our food if we take it to them.  This starts to change in the Autumn, when they will walk a little way for food, but are still happy to miss out if they’re somewhere else at the time.  For the last couple of weeks we’ve been at the other extreme, they wait for us to bring them food at the fence or gate – whichever is nearest to us when we take the feed bucket out.

In fact, if we don’t give them food fast enough, or enough volume, then they both express their outrage by mooing rather loudly.  As Winter progresses they will start mooing loudly whenever they see us in order to encourage us to get food out to them as quickly as possible, and then in the worst months they will moo loudly and at length until they are fed.  The challenge is that they are Dexters, who have a reputation for being greedy, and as already mentioned, they’ve become a little fat over the summer.  So we’ll need to keep them on a diet, and hopefully the mooing will not be too loud…

The other animals who change behaviour are the lambs.  The ewes and rams who’ve been with us for a while know that feed is good and will come all year round.  the more adventurous lambs discover the joys of feed early and they too will tend to approach us at feeding time.  The more reticent lambs however, they won’t come near us.  Not for food or love.  The only thing which might encourage them into a set of hurdles is if all the other sheep are heading in that direction.  That’s starting to change.  They’ve realised that the stuff I throw out to them is food, and they’re just as keen as their elders to get hold of it.  In a month or so they will be completely biddable, well, when a feed bucket is involved!

They all still eat the grass, but it’s really not giving them much more than water.

Bertie and Boris

Bertie was better this morning, he got up a little easier – though still needed help.  He went for the water, and then ate heartily.  I’m starting to think he might get better.

A little while after I fed the animals I looked out and saw that Bertie was still standing, which I thought was pretty good.

Much later I looked out and saw that Bertie was still standing.  Excellent I thought!  He’s stood for much of the day.  Then I looked again and realised that it was actually Boris.  So eager was she to get in to see her brother that she managed to untie the baler twine and knock over the hurdle I’d held him in with on one side.  Or maybe she’d just battered it.  Unfortunately it looked like she’d knocked poor Bertie over again as well.

I went out and moved Bertie out of the area, and also Moby, who was enjoying some of Bertie’s hay, and put the hurdle back up.  As soon as I did Bertie rolled back over and looked much more alert.  I think he might have been playing passive to avoid more damage from Boris.  I tied two loads of baler twine around the hurdle, and hopefully it will keep her out.  She’s a crafty one though…

Domination

Determining the order of dominance is very important to animals (and to humans, though people try to pretend it isn’t).  With the animals dominance is mostly determined through violence, though usually it isn’t particularly dangerous.  Over the last three days there have been three incidents of varying severity…

Bertie and Boris

Bertie isn’t well as mentioned in several prior posts.  He’s still not getting up, and often I’ll help him stand up, leave him standing and return to find him slumped on the ground.  The other goats have been hanging around him, mostly I think to steal his food, but Boris has been particularly assiduous in her attentions.  “Aaah,” thought I, “she’s concerned about her brother.”

No.  She isn’t.  Yesterday I’d got Bertie up on his feet, given him some hay and solid food and wandered off to start feeding the others.  For some reason I had to go back to the animal restaurant, and there I saw Boris administering her version of love.  She rammed Bertie just above his back legs, totally wiping him out, and then stepped over his head to get to the food he’d been enjoying.  He looked completely dazed by the experience.  After that I put two hurdles up so the other goats couldn’t get to him.  He seems much happier with the arrangement and I haven’t seen him totally sprawled out in such a manner since then.  But it’s clear – Boris is the boss, of Bertie at least.

Muga and Haan

Until this week there has only been a small section of fence, maybe six feet, where Muga and Haan might meet.  They may have met, but it hasn’t been obvious.  Now there’s a much longer stretch and over the last couple of days Muga and Haan have been sizing each other up.  Mostly there’s been some fake charges, and a little bleating and some disdainful shakes of the head.  They have also managed to charge each other a couple of times, the resounding crack of their heads echoing across the fields.  In the process Muga has wrecked the strand of electric wire along the bottom of the fence, and I think that might also have stopped more ramming.

Muga at least has been taking out his anger on some other posts.  Haan, other than his little dance with Muga, seems much more relaxed and hasn’t caused any problems.  He’s a young ram though, so who knows what he’ll be like in years to come.  We’ll probably need to keep them at least two fields apart.  Or double up the fencing…

I think it was a draw.  No dominance agreed…

Bernard and Gaffer

Now that all the weaners have gone I felt it was time to get all the sows together in one place.  It’ll make it easier to feed and manage them, and means that at least one of our pig areas will be rested for a while.

Moving them is easy, just shake the bucket of feed and lead them along.  Soon they were all together, food was on the ground and all was well.  For about thirty seconds and then Bernard and Gaffer kicked off.  Rearing up and trying to bite each other’s ears.

I’ve not seen two sows fight quite like that before, they really were having a go at each other and making quite an horrendous racket.  They’d shared a fence for several months and there must have been some harsh words exchanged, and now it was time to settle it properly.  I figured they needed to work out their differences and then they’d be fine.  Also, there was very little I could do to intervene, the old advice about not getting between two fighting dogs has got to go threefold for pigs.  After a minute or two it calmed down to the usual fighting, with them just pushing at each other’s side, and then a little later it seemed that it was all agreed.  It wasn’t until I fed them this evening that the result was revealed.  The dominance of that little group starts with Bernard on top, then Hacker and then Gaffer.  Gaffer had clearly lost that little fight – and probably the next round with Hacker which I didn’t see.

The good thing is that they don’t really seem to hold grudges as all three of them were in the hut sleeping together quite happily.  Before I disturbed them with food that is, when the dominance was clear to see as Bernard pushed both Hacker and Gaffer off the first pile of food, and Hacker pushed Gaffer off the second pile… then Bernard came round again to push Hacker off the second pile, she then pushed Gaffer off the third pile, and Gaffer moved round to the first pile.  This merry-go-round usually goes on until all the feed has gone.

Another incident the other day also made me think of dominance, specifically the pecking order.  I was getting some food for the chickens, which involves bending down to get feed from the bin we store it in, when the cockerel jumped up and pecked me in the middle of the forehead, before landing back and staring at me insolently.  It hurt, and I responded violently – I threw the feed in my hand at him.  Which really had no effect on him, and he just started pecking away at it.  I did also speak severely to him, but he seemed to ignore that as well.  Still, I’m counting that as a win for me.

Worried about Bertie – Wednesday update

Apologies for not updating on Bertie for the last couple of days, too many other things going on…

Bertie had continued much as before but seemed to be getting worse again.  he couldn’t get up on his own, and this morning when I got him up he slumped almost immediately back down again  His poo was back to normal, so it seemed like it was something else which was causing the problem, so we got the vet out.

The vet looked him over and thought that he might have hurt his back.  He was pleased that Bertie was still eating happily, but also noted that it looked like Bertie might be a bit constipated.  In fact we watched him as he really strained to do a poo.  The vet’s suggestion was that we feed him some grass, as it might help move things through.  Fortunately we still have plenty of that!  He also gave him a steroid shot, and some multi-vitamins which should hopefully give him a boost and help heal whatever is wrong.  We need to continue getting him up at least twice a day, and make sure he’s on dry straw.

All in all it was actually quite positive, I was a bit worried that he might say Bertie’s days were numbered.  He also asked how old he was, and when I said he was about eight the vet said that old age would likely be playing a part.  I still think of Bertie as one of the young goats we bought to keep our old goats company.  But that was six years ago…

More updates as he hopefully improves!

Reorganising the flocks

Now that a set of lambs have gone on holiday we can use the opportunity to move some of the sheep around and hopefully make things a little easier.

Firstly we wanted to move the two Mule ewes (though I think one is actually a Soay cross – one of Muga’s daughters) in with the Borerays.  We also wanted to let the Borerays out into the narrow field (formerly the province of the cows) so they had a bit more space.  All the remaining lambs would be moved in with the OAPs.  We’re making the assumption that the OAP rams aren’t going to be able to do very much, based on last year’s very limited number of lambs from the OAPs (just the three, two of whom were twins, from eight ewes).  This would leave us with three separate flocks, one fewer than in the last few months, which should also make feeding time less of a chore, especially as we move towards feeding them hay.

Last night I left the gate open between the large field containing the OAPs and the narrow field with the remaining lambs.  This morning they were all in the large field so it was a simple matter to close the gate up.  This was good news as when I’d tried to persuade the lambs to go through last night it hadn’t been entirely successful (read total failure).  Job one of the morning was done with no stress at all.

The two ewes we’d separated out from the lambs were still in the channel between the pig areas, and were happy to be released into the narrow field again.  Job two done.

Letting the Borerays out was a little more complicated as I had to deal with the electric fence we’ve been using to screen the path.  A couple of the lambs had been ignoring it, and I discovered why: the connection to the incoming power had become disconnected, so the fence wasn’t live.  That was good as it meant it was easy to move the wires up to give a gap which all the sheep could happily go through.  I opened the gate and tied it to make sure it didn’t swing shut again, and stood back to watch the Borerays explore their new area.

Haan was among the first out and he was quick to go and introduce himself to the Mule ewes.  In fact thirty seconds after their first hello he had mounted and covered the first of them.  Good job that Ram!  I’m looking forward to seeing what the Boreray/Mule crosses are like…

Lamb Holidays

Today was the day!  The plan was simple, encourage twenty lambs into the channel between the pigs and close them in.  The crutch each of them (or trim their bottoms if you prefer) and replace any missing tags (of which there are always a few).  We’d then load the lambs and take them to their holiday home.  One of the priorities was to get as many of the girls away as possible (if not all twelve), to remove the temptation from Muga (mainly) and Haan.

Unfortunately the girls had decided that they weren’t yet ready for holiday, and wouldn’t come in for food.  We managed to catch fourteen lambs, and the two ewes who we’d earmarked for Haan but whom had escaped, fairly easily.  We took another thirty minutes of persuading and dollops of food to catch the fifteenth lamb.  By this point time was starting to run out, and the lambs who’d stayed out were getting sick of food, and had decided something fishy was up and really weren’t going to go down the alley way.

Crutching was easy and I counted the boys and girls as we trimmed each sheep (this process has reverted to the standard form, I hold the sheep and Alex does the trimming!).  Of our fifteen only six were girls.  This was disappointing, but it was the way it was going to be.

Loading them was fairly easy, just some gentle encouragement and not so gentle pushing, and they were all loaded and we were on our way.  To avoid a repeat of my humiliation last time I took animals on holiday I asked my father-in-law to do the driving.  Sure enough when we got there he swung it round and backed it into position within seconds.  I really need practice.  Somewhere sheltered where no one else can see!

The lambs really didn’t want to leave the trailer, possible because within the holiday holding area (also called lairage) was a set of particularly loud pigs who just would not shut up.  Anyway, some more gentle encouragement and they were installed in their holiday villa, with another set of lambs on one side, and some cows on the other.

We sorted out the documentation, quickly cleaned out the trailer, and were back on the road in minutes.  Total time to catch sheep – two hours.  total transport and holiday installation time – 90 minutes.  We are getting better at this, really we are.

Final weaners gone to a new home

This morning we sold the last of the weaners we aren’t keeping to fatten up ourselves.  Five girls, or gilts as such pigs are described.

I caught them all easily, and was thinking it was going to be a real dream when one of them decided that she wanted in with Gaffer, so she squeezed herself under the fence and suddenly I only had four in the temporary pen I’d created.  I tried to persuade her back with food, and tried to catch her, but she was having none of it.  Worse the food I was using to try and get her into a position where I could grab her encouraged one of the other gilts to squeeze under the fence as well, thus leaving me with just three caught.  I tried a number of persuasive techniques to get the two wandering weaners back, but they developed a real aversion to both me and the catching area.

By this point I’d run out of feed, so I trudged back to the animal restaurant to load up on more, and decided to grab a brief drink of water. Suitably refreshed I made my way back out again, carrying an extra hurdle, and was pleased to see that the two wandering weaners were back in the channel.  When I poured some feed into the temporary pen they both seemed desperate to get in, so I opened it up and they sped in.  Phew thought I, and I quickly closed the pen up and added the new hurdle to make it hopefully piggy proof.

The last bit of prep I needed to do before the purchaser arrived was to tag the piglets, which involves putting shiny metal tags in their ears with a pair of plyer type things.  Sometimes this is easy.  Not today.  The first two tags didn’t go in properly and one shake of the gilt’s head had them flying.  I then managed to get tags into two of the girls, but the other three suddenly developed extra sensitive ears, and it was another twenty minutes of scarbbling about before I’d finally got them all tagged.  It also meant I’d emptied most of the feed bucket in there and I was starting to worry that they’d soon be full, and no longer be interested in food, which would make them a lot less biddable, and also more likely to try and escape their pen.

Fortunately the nice man arrived, and we quickly loaded up his van, filled in paperwork and sorted out payment, and off he went.  Leaving me looking out at my remaining pigs, Humphrey, Gaffer, Hacker and Bernard, and the two weaners we’re going to fatten up.  I was also hoping that Humphrey would wait a month or so for me to put one of the sows back in with him again, instead of challenging our fencing again.  There’s always hope…

Worried about Bertie – Sunday update

Bertie was unable to get up with help again this morning, and went straight to the water when I did get him up.  He was hungry and ate the normal feed, and a load of hay when I brought it out to him.  On the upside his poo was solid – so definitely making progress there!

I took him more of the scours mixture, but I don’t think I did it very well as he didn’t guzzle it in the same way as he has the past few days.  Alex has been mixing it up and she clearly has the knack…

Hopefully he’ll be up and about later.