Moving sheep around

We needed to move the Borerays out of the thin field and in to the big field.  This is because we’re about to dig the trenches for a ground source heat pump.  This magic device will use the heat in the ground to give us hot water and a warm house all through the winter (hopefully) but requires us to dig 700m of trench about 1.2m deep.  Now I’m sure the Borerays are clever enough to avoid trenches, but then I wouldn’t want to risk it, especially if they were spooked, and they certainly wont enjoy having a digger in their field.

The problem is that the big field had Muga in it, as well as the adult ewes.  We need to make sure Muga and Haan are kept separate as they will fight, especially at this time of the year, and with their horns it could have a very bad outcome.  Also in that field are Wrath and Avarice, and we needed to keep them in that field to avoid them deciding to camp out near our house to moo loudly for dinner.  While it wouldn’t bother us too much, it’s not great for our immediate neighbours.  Surprisingly, keeping them in the larger field seems to result in less mooing, possibly because they can’t see us as much.  So I had to persuade the sheep through, without being so persuasive that the cows followed.

A bucket of ruminant mix was the ticket.  I shook it and they call came through!  Hurrah thought I, but just as I was about to close the gate Lafite ran back through.  I don’t know why!  I couldn’t chase her back through, and she didn’t seem willing to come even when I backed away.  I’d also run out of feed for them.  I trudged back to the animal restaurant, loaded up with a new bucket load, and headed back out.  I was not going to be beaten by a recalcitrant Soay!

Shaking the bucket resulted in virtually all the sheep mobbing me, which was good, as it included Lafite.  In fact the only exceptions were the Suffolks who were still enjoying the remains of the first bucket I’d spread out.  Muga took the opportunity to show he loved me, by putting his head on one side and wiggling his tongue at me!  It seems to work when he does that to the ewes, but I had to explain how we just weren’t the right match, I mean there’s a species barrier and everything.  Anyway, after that heart to heart, I had to quickly jog across to close the gate, and part one was complete!  I’d left the cows in the field, and also the Soay OAPs – I figure they would rather stay where they are, and I’m sure they’ll be mutually ignored by the Borerays.

Now I just needed to get the Borerays in.  I took a bucket and they followed me the whole length of the field.  Unfortunately they weren’t quite ready to come through the gate, and were further put off when the cows decided that enough was enough and they wanted part of the feed action.  Still, I think I might get the Borerays through next time…

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!

Lafite’s Horn

A couple of months ago I saw Lafite coming to food, but holding back from the other sheep.  It was while we were trying to round up the Mules and Suffolks for their maintenance, so I wasn’t too bothered until I got a bit closer and realised that there was blood on her head.  I tried to get closer but she was even flightier than usual.  The blood was coming down from the base of her right horn.

I kept an eye out for her over the next few days, and while she wouldn’t let me get close to her, and wouldn’t come for food, she seemed OK, and there was no repeat of the blood.  I assumed all was fine, until a week later.  She turned up with just a single horn.  No blood, and she was absolutely fine, if anything she was less flighty and I managed to get within a couple of feet of her.  I think the horn had just been held on by the scab or something.

Still she’s oblivious to her loss, and doesn’t seem to being treated any differently by the rest of the flock.

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):

Sheep Maintenance

This weekend we took the opportunity afforded us by the wonderful weather to do a load of sheep maintenance.  We also hired in a little extra help, for the first time, to help us in the task.  Over the course of four hours we maintained twenty adult ewes and half a dozen lambs.

The maintenance consisted of:

1)      Check tags – have they got two, and is at least one electronic.  The few which weren’t tagged we re-tagged.

2)      Dag their bottoms – trim away any pooey fleece, and make sure their bottoms are nice and clean.

3)      Clip their hooves – get the worst of the growth down, and check for footrot/scald – fortunately none found.

4)      For the Soays only, help their moulting along by pulling off as much of the free fleece as possible.  With some of them this was nearly their whole coat, with others it was only the barest of handfuls.

5)      Clik them.  This involves spraying Clik along their backs and in an arc over their front legs and then across their bottoms.  Clik helps to prevent flystrike by stopping any fly eggs laid on the sheep from maturing.  I like it because it lasts 16 weeks, though with the Mules and Suffolks at least we’re going to need to get them sheared in the very near future, as soon as we can line someone up.

The lambs were easy, we just cliked them.

It was back breaking work, but very satisfying when we finished, and we released them back into the fields, knowing that they should be much less likely to be hit by flies, and that they were generally in tip top condition.

Who’s the Daddy?

Our OAP field was not supposed to produce any lambs this year.  So far we’ve had six.  I’ve been blaming them all on the one ram lamb who I failed to fully castrate last year.  However, I think I may have assumed a little too much.

One of the lambs born last week was this one:

The lamb looks awfully similar to this old character:

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.

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!

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: