Lambs on holiday

As we continue our planned animal reduction the time had come for some of our lambs to go on holiday.  The day arrived, and I had a clear plan.  The majority of the sheep had already been separated, and most of the lambs were in the field with the goats.  it was easy to persuade them into the smaller fenced area with some feed.  Though one of them was particularly uninterested in being caught, even when I took it extra feed.  I decided I had enough with seventeen of them caught, and didn’t want to lose the rest by being greedy, so I closed them in.  Having got them in there I knew that it wouldn’t take me long to close down the hurdles and get them where I wanted them.

Three of the lambs had somehow got back in with the ewes and Muga.  I knew catching these would be tricky, but I hoped I could persuade them into the channel between the pigs.  In the event I nearly managed to get them all in, but failed at the last minute, and just got the larger of the three.  If it had been a boy I’d have let him go, but it was a girl.  I had caught her, but I now needed to get her into the pen with all the others.  Normally I’d carry them, but she was just a little too big, so I had to persuade her along.  I discovered that if I held her just under her front legs it seemed to tickler her and she’d struggle forward.  It meant I had to make sure I held on, but in this way I managed to get her in with the others.

By this time I was already tired, and of course it started to rain!  I had two things to do now, first I needed to replace any missing tags, which isn’t too bad, but then I had to crutch them all.  Never a lot of fun, and made worse by the rain.  It’s amazing how unhappy lambs are to have me trimming the hair right next to their sensitive areas.  Fortunately most of them had pretty clean bottoms, and we’d crutched some of the older ones earlier in the year which made it quite a bit easier.  I didn’t want to take all of them, for freezer space reasons if nothing else, but wanted to make sure we took all of the girls.  This meant we took eleven in the end, leaving only one girl, the fox-coloured one, as Alex felt it was just cruel to take her, especially as she was so small.  We managed to load them fairly quickly, and off they went to their new temporary home.

I’m expecting to hear from the butcher next week and I can decided the cuts, which will be good!

We’re now down to around 32 sheep, which is the lowest I think it’s been in four years!

Sir Humphrey has moved on to pastures new

A few days ago Sir Humphrey boarded a trailer to be taken to his new home (and not on holiday, it really is a new home for him!).  It was sad to see him go, especially as he’s now going to become (hopefully) a star as he’s on the front cover of my book (see link to the right).

However, he’s been awfully good at his job, and it was quite clear that he felt he was failing us.  He tried several times to get in with Gaffer and Bernard.  In fact I’d come out almost every day to find one or other of the gates on its side and Humphrey running back and forth in the alley between the pens.  I think it would only have been a matter of time before he’d got in with the other two sows.  Given how effective he has been that would have meant that we’d have had a couple more litters in the New Year, more or less the worst time from a weather perspective.  I think (hope!) that he didn’t somehow make it in with them and then get out again without us noticing.

Finding Sir Humphrey a new home was probably one of the biggest parts of our animal reduction programme, as even though he is but a single pig, he has been responsible for the production of more animals on our holdings than anyone else (though Muga isn’t THAT far behind to be honest!).  I think he’ll enjoy his new home though, and hope that his new carers get as much joy from him as we did.

New Home for Humphrey and Hacker

As part of our general animal reduction we’ve decided to sell Sir Humphrey and Hacker.  Sir Humphrey has to go as if we keep him he will continue to cover our sows and we will continue to have litters of new piglets, and we’d like a break from that for a while.  While the reasoning makes sense we’re both going to miss him, as he’s been such a big part of our lives for the last few years.

Hacker is going too as we only wanted two pigs left – the minimum number really as they need at least one friend.  I’d always agreed we could never get rid of Gaffer, and Bernard, being mostly white, is less likely to sell.  We also put a lot of effort into saving her when she was injured early on after we bought her, so there’s an emotional attachment there too.  Whereas Hacker has never really been any problem, apart from the occasional reminder to feed her.

With them going, we only have the two alpacas for sale, and then 24 animals (3 pigs, and 21 sheep) destined to go on holiday over the next few months.  Once they’re all gone we will have less than fifty creatures on the smallholding for the first time in several years.  Hopefully that will make the winter far less work!

Sheep Planning

So every year we get to this time of the year and think that we need to separate out the lambs, and move the ewes and Muga around and really get things ready for him to start covering them.  And every year we continue to think about it until around October time, when it’s a little late to do anything about it.

To be fair last year we also had the added excitement of a partially castrated lamb covering the few ewes I did manage to separate out (and I have every hope that this wont recur this year!).

This year, for the first time, not only did we think about it, but we actually did it!  First we caught all the sheep together.  Now as many previous posts have asserted, this isn’t always an entirely easy thing to do.  However we have a new technique.  First of all we get the lambs used to coming into the two fenced areas next to the animal restaurant over a couple of days. Then on the day we need to catch them we close the gates on them while they’re all eating away, and shepherd them into one of the two areas.

This is where we’ve added a new technique to our arsenal.  We get a while bunch of sheep hurdles and create a line across the area, and make sure they;re all on one side.  And then we walk the line of hurdles until we have them in a nice tight area.  It takes a while, but it works brilliantly, and keeps them fairly calm while we’re doing it.

The other challenge with separating the ewes from the lambs, is that the ewes will follow us, and the feed bucket, without trouble.  The lambs however are a lot less excited about it.  So today when we separated them out, we left all the lambs (and the OAPs) in the area surrounded by the hurdles, and separated out the ewes and Muga.  We then led them into the other field by simply carrying a bucket of feed in front of them.  It was then easy to close the gate, and the separation was complete!

Muga is now in with three Mules, four Suffolks, three Soays, and Luke’s sister.

All of the lambs, both last years, and this years, and the OAPs are now in the home field, with the cows and the Alpacas.  This means I should be able to catch them when it’s time for them to go on holiday, or if I manage to sell some more.  Which is great!

Update – Sheep

The sheep numbers have been particularly on the increase in the last year, peaking at around eighty this year.  For us to be successful in reducing our animal numbers we’d need to do two things:

1) Get last years lambs off on holiday.

2) Reduce the number of ewes we have.

The first was relatively challenging.  With the numbers as they were the sheep were far less biddable than in previous years.  A bucket or two of feed wasn’t getting to all of them, and the most flighty lambs were never getting addicted to the sweet sweet nectar of ruminant mix.  After some effort I did manage to catch ten of them, get them into the horse box and off to the holiday home.  (They were very tasty).  We still have some left which need to be dealt with, but that requires some maneuvering and acclimatisation.

Getting rid of the ewes was in some ways a little trickier, as we needed to find someone who wanted to buy them.  In the end however that bit wasn’t too bad.  The Soays are popular and a lot of people want to buy them, even if they aren’t registered.  I managed to sell two of the older Soay ewes fairly easily, and then found a buyer for the remaining ewes I wanted to sell, and also many of the lambs.  This was great, I was going to be able to offload twenty odd sheep in one go.

The plan was to round the sheep up in the channel between the pigs, and then load them up in the trailer and deliver them.  The morning came round, bright and cheerful, and Alex and Sue were ready to help me load them up.  I enticed all but five of the sheep into the channel.

And then I got greedy.

Instead of booking that as a win and closing the gate, I tried to persuade the others in.  Disastrous idea as the rest then decided it was fishy and ran out.  We then spent about an hour and a half running around trying to persuade them back in.  Eventually we managed to get eight into the channel, three ewes and their lambs.  And that’s what we took.  I was completely knackered.  But we agreed we’d aim to take the rest about a week later.

For round two I decided two things, a) I was not going to be greedy, b) I was going to acclimatise them a bit more.

Then something happened, the old Soay OAP ram died.  The last of the rams.  It was sad to see him go as he’d been a friendly old boy, and while he’d been looking a little doddery for a while, he was still going strong.  Then one day he didnt come for feed, and I went to find him and he was dead.  I think he’d woken up that morning, and decided it was a good day to go, and then just slipped away.

What this meant was we could now mix the flocks, as Muga wouldn’t have someone he’d have to fight.  This also meant I could use the proper sheep catching area by the animal restaurant.

The day of the second delivery cam, and I managed to entice all but the hard-core OAPs into the areas.  I then closed them down (not being greedy this time), and sorted out the sheep.  Some crutching was required, and a few replacement tags, but it wasn’t too much hassle.  A mere hour after starting I had fourteen or so ewes and lambs loaded up to take for the second delivery, and off we went.

We still have three ewes I want to sell (the OAPs progeny from last year), and quite a few which need to go on holiday, but we’re back below fifty sheep like creatures, which is definite progress!

OAPs (plus interloper):

Mules (White face on left):

Back…

The last few months have been a little manic, which is why I’ve written nothing.  things have calmed down a little, but I’ll probably still be infrequent, or perhaps erratic, in my updates.

With the animals we’ve been engaging in a more dedicated reduction strategy, and over the past short while have reduced our pigs by 22, and our sheep by 30 or so.  Most of these went to new homes, only a few went on holiday… and the last OAP Soay Ram died which was sad.

We also sorted out a lot of our fencing, and the new stuff is pretty impressive.  It allowed us to get a few more chickens, I’ll take some photos and get them online soon.

I shall try and write an update on each animal group over the next few days to get back in the swing of things.

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):

Freezing

After each holiday trip we fill our freezers.  Actually we usually over-fill them, and on three occasions (so far) we’ve had to buy new freezers.  We now have four large chest freezers, two bottom halves of fridge/freezers and we’re borrowing my in-laws small chest freezer.  As anyone who has visited recently knows we also tend to send anyone who visits away with as much meat as they’ll take.  Unfortunately this still wasn’t going to give us enough space for the fifteen lambs on the last holiday trip.

I managed to fit five into our existing freezers, but we needed a new freezer to not have the rest go off.  We ordered a new, industrial, freezer early last week and it was delivered to us late on Monday.  We’d had to pick the meat up early on Monday, but fortunately the cold spell which hit us at the time meant there wasn’t as much rush to get them into official freezer storage!  We gave the freezer time to settle and then switched it on and loaded it up.

We decided to buy extra big, and it’s roughly the equivalent of four large chest freezers.  As you can see from the picture below, nine lambs and even some pork really don’t touch the sides.  It also is much easier to see what’s in there and get to it.  I’m hoping this means we can get rid of all but two of the chest freezers which we can keep for emergency overflow…

What this means is that we’ve drifted a little further away from self-sufficiency both in cost and meat quantity (we have enough meat to last us for three years or so, if we eat pork and lamb every day!), though I’m hoping we have peaked for the moment!

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.

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.