Weaners for sale

It’s now more than eight weeks since Bernard’s litter was born, and exactly eight since Hacker’s followed.  This means I have fifteen bright little piggies, running around the place.  But it also means they are ready to be weaned, and to be fair they’ve been eating solids for quite a while now, so are probably either self weaned already, or nearly there.

Which means it’s time to start selling them.

We have a few people we’ve sold to before, so we’re hoping to get hold of them again, and persuade them to take some more.  We’ve also put an advert in our local farm shop, and online.  I have high hopes they’ll sell soon.  It’s at this point that you start worrying about the food costs, as each day they’re eating food which I’d prefer someone else to pay for!

Damned Fox

Yesterday was a very bad day.  It was early evening and I was feeding the animals.  Having just fed the pigs, and noted that we had another pair of lambs, I was heading back to the poultry orchard to feed the chickens and ducks, when I saw something odd by the fence.  I realised it was a dead chicken.  And then I realised there were several more.

I ran in, but it was obviously far too late.   They’d scattered and run, but been taken down one by one, all over the orchard.  we did once surprise a fox in the orchard half way through such a spree, so I did look around carefully.  No fox.  The ducks were fine, probably they’d retreated to the pong, and two hens survived.  Just two of twenty-one.  All the rest were lying pathetically, drenched by the rain.  Cold and unmoving.  One had clearly provided a meal, but all the rest were just as they’d been the instant they’d died.  It’s likely that the fox – for that is the only reasonable culprit – was planning to come back later to take the chickens somewhere where it could store them.

I collected up the cold corpses ready for disposal, and put the two remaining hens into the ark, and closed up their run.  It’s likely to provide them with decent shelter.

From the looks of things our electric fencing has been shorted somewhere on it’s length again, and the fox took the opportunity, during the day and probably not long after lunch.  We’re going to review the fencing situation before we get any more, and the two we have are going to be somewhat restricted in the meantime as well.

Very upsetting.

White feathered pheasant – still with us

While he disappears on occasion, sometimes for days at a time, our white feathered pheasant is still in residence.  I assume his trips are to help spread the white feathered genes, but I wouldn’t want to make assumptions.  It’s nice that he still comes to visit, and it gave me a chance to get a better picture of him.  He certainly is less scared of me than he used to be, and is clearly not at all bothered by the sheep:

Goose control

As I’ve mentioned several times before the geese can be a bit of a handful.  They’ve bitten me a couple of times, and often I need a bucket to fend them off.  Or at least I did, until a friend of a friend passed on a tip for keeping them away.  What I now do is hold my hand out and up and make it look a little like a goose head shape.  It’s amazing the affect it has on them.  They still hiss, and honk, but they back off.  To them it’s a bit like a bigger goose has come and threatened them, and they’re clearly intimidated by it.  Since I’ve started doing that I’ve not even been close to being bitten.  Which is nice.

The goose is sitting again, so the ganders are extra noisy and aggressive, so having a way of keeping them back is extra handy.

Lambs – are we done now?

I was expecting just one more ewe to lamb this year, the last of the Soays in the field with Muga.  This she duly did a couple of days ago, giving us another boy lamb.  Aha, thought I, our lambing season is at a close, with twenty four lambs all told.  A pretty good result all told, though we’ve had higher losses than ever before.

But it was not all over.  I went into the OAP field, and spotted that one of the Soay ewes seemed to have a singleton lamb.  Having just spotted one, I thought maybe she was on the other side of the fence, or that there was a hole?  No.  She was in fact a different ewe.  With our twenty-fifth lamb.  This of course makes me a little worried.  If she as pregnant, then perhaps there are others in that field?  Perhaps my not-quite-a-full-ram had been more successful than I thought.

This morning I caught both lambs to check them.  The one in with the OAPs was fast.  Very very fast, and it took my five minutes and a lot of running to catch him.  At least I dont have to do any other exercise today!

So (so far) we have twenty five lambs, fourteen boys, and eleven girls.

Egg Watch!

It’s been a while since I’ve moaned about the lack of eggs from the ex-bats.  That’s because for the last couple of weeks they’ve started laying with avengeance!  We’re now getting between ten and twenty-one eggs a day. Every day.  I’m backing to trying to work out what to do with all the extras!  Still, they are lovely.  Interestingly some of the ex-bats are laying in the chicken ark, where the original hens live, and some are laying in the shed we set up for them.  I haven’t determined if they’ve actually moved in, but there’s obviously not enough space for all of them!

The hens all look in great shape too, and it’s now impossible to tell apart the two original brown non-ex-bats from their more recently added companions.

Also, we should probably stop calling them ex-bats, as really they’re full recharged now!

Whethers, Rams and the Inbetweeners

When I was moving the boys into the pre-holiday field, and crutching them and suchlike, I confirmed something I had suspected for a while.  One of them was not properly castrated.  When I’d done him last year I must have just missed one of his testicles, and it had continued to grow, and turned him into a Ram, or at last an Inbetweener.

This has made him a little more feisty than the others, he was certainly a bit more of a handful, and I think quite a bit stronger.  He was also obviously taunting Muga quite a bit.  But the other thing which is interesting is the affect on his horns.  A rams horns are much bigger than those of a ewe or a whether (castrated male), because of all the testosterone he has.  With our inbetweener and his one ball, he has enough testosterone to start growing his horns.  It’s easy to spot him in this picture of all the boys I moved:

He’s the one on the right, who’s horns have started to curve back in.  In fact it makes him look a lot like the Borerays (this is one of the two whethers we have):

Moving lambs, dagging and worms

As part of reducing the chance of further escapes we decided we needed to move the roaming boys into the field with the Borerays.  This is our field with the best fencing, and is also the pre-holiday holding area, and last year’s boys really do need to go soon.

I thought that after their recent escapades they’d be a bit nervous, and unwilling to enter into the channel between the pig areas, but they followed me in, and when I scattered a load of food they were all over it.  This allowed me to walk back round and close the gate up.  I managed to get twenty sheep in there altogether, leaving only half a dozen to wander.  Crucially I captured all of the white boys.

Now I could have just walked them through and let the boys into the Boreray field, but I don’t often get them all in one place.  Also I thought it might save me some time in a week or two if I crutched the boys (which involves trimming the fleece back around their bottoms) as this is a requirement before they go on holiday.  I could also dag the other sheep (which involves trimming away any poo covered fleece around their bottoms).

This is a relatively difficult activity requiring speed, to catch the sheep, and also to keep control of them, dexterity, to be able to move around and actually get to their bottoms, while controlling them, and flexibility.  Think Twister, but with one of the participants choosing to writhe around wildly every few minutes or so.  It’s also exhausting.  I’d managed to check through the first eight when I had to take a breather as I was knackered.  A couple of them had quite pooey bottoms and needed quite a bit of trimming, the others only needed a little bit of work.

As I started working on the others it started to rain, and then as I continued it began to rain properly.  I did not let this deter me.  I figured having got this far I might as well complete the lot.  The only problem was that I couldn’t Clik them, which would be to spray them with Clik to help prevent flystrike.  It lasts for five months, and so far as been very effective for us.  Clik needs a bit of dry weather to properly soak into, and dry on the fleece, so I’ll need to get the keepers in again in the next week or so to Clik them, if it stays dry for a day or two.

I’m making this sound all a little clean and easy.  It was anything but.  In fact my hands were covered in poo, both from the bottoms, and also from the new poo which the sheep were producing, in one case while actually sitting on me.  A couple of the bottoms were particularly bad, requiring quite a lot of trimming.  There are a few reasons for their bottoms to be bad, the pastures being rich being one which has affected our sheep in the past.  However one of the other likely reasons is worms.  Last year we tested for worms and had a relatively low number.  It’s likely this is, at least in part, because we mix our stock, so we have cows and alpacas in with the sheep.  The exact mechanism for this I don’t entirely understand but it does seem to be the case.

Still, it’s best to check every year, so I gathered up a sample of poo.  Alex had helpfully brought out the sample bottles and some gloves.  The gloves were sadly way too late, but the bottles were useful.  I managed to get a very fresh sample in when I was dealing with the very next sheep:

Eventually I’d checked them all, trimmed those that needed it, and crutched the boys.  There were four white boys, and two Soays.  These six I let into the field with the Borerays.  Actually what happened was that as I’d been checking and trimming htem I’d put all the girls into a separate pen, so by the end only the six boys were in the initial enclosure, and the remaining OAP ram.  As I was maneuvering him out of the space the gate into the Boreray field opened itself, and the six just trotted in.  Very lucky for me that it hadn’t opened any sooner!

So that means I have eight boys ready to go on holiday, six of whom have already been crutched, which means that come the day of travel it should be, relatively, and with all caveats implied and understood, easy to load them.

I’ll still need to get the rest in to Clik them, and I need a few more poo samples to get a view across all the fields.  But all in all a day of progress.  That’s what I told myself as I stumbled, exhausted and aching, back to the house, there to strip off my sodden, and in the case of the trousers, poo-covered, clothes.  Looking after animals is a lot of fun.  Really it is!

Catching a lamb!

Catching lambs is not easy.  Well, catching lambs which are more than a few days old is more than not easy, it’s almost impossible.  They’re fast, they’re nimble, and they really aren’t interested in being caught.  Usually after I’ve checked them in their first day or so, and done any docking or castrating required, I’m unlikely to handle them more than once until a week or two before they go on holiday.  That single time is to get them in to spray them to protect them from flystrike.  I try and handle them as little as possible as it’s really rather stressful for all involved.

I do however always catch them within a day or two of birth.  Over the years I’ve developed a bit of a technique for this.  At first I just used to try and grab them, which could work, but was variable.  In fact it would often take me more than a few minutes to catch a lamb, and involve me chasing after lamb and ewe as they took me on a tour of the field. If it was twins or triplets, then the remaining one or two would be off, and much more difficult to catch.  Sorting out half a dozen lambs might take me an hour or so and leave me knackered.

Now I think I’ve got it just about right.  The main trick is to separate the ewe from the lamb, usually by cutting between them.  As soon as that happens the lamb, or lambs, become confused, and while they might initially run away from me, they’ll then start running back towards their mother, and as long as I’ve kept between them, that means towards me.  If it’s a singleton, then it’s as easy as scooping it up.  Twins I now try and get both of them together, as it saves a lot of effort.  For triplets I’ll try and get two, and then accept a little more of a chase for the third.

More lambs!

Today was a good day for lambs.  We had another three!  Twins from one of the Soay ewes in with Muga, and another singleton Boreray.  Both mothers were very protective, so I’ll give them a day or so before checking them, and castrating as necessary.

Soay twins:

Boreray (with mum standing protectively over her!):

So our stats for the year are:  20 living lambs, 8 girls, 9 boys, 3 to be determined.

P.S. While I was out taking photos, Luke’s sister’s lamb sat and watched me placidly: