September Census

When we only had a few animals it was easy to keep track of numbers.  In the last year or so as the quantity has both increased and fluctuated – births, deaths, holidays, sales – I’ve become less attentive to absolute numbers.  Today I decided to remedy that, so I counted them all.

The official roll call as at the end of September 2011 is:

  • 2 cows (Wrath and Avarice)
  • 2 Alpacas (Verdigris and Algy)
  • 5 goats: 2 Angora (Boris and Bertie), 2 pygmy (Ishy and Moby) and 1 other (Howard)
  • 20 pigs: 1 boar (Sir Humphrey), 4 sows (Bernard, Hacker, Snowball and Hacker) and 15 others ranging from 4 week old piglets, to some near adults who are soon to go on holiday
  • 67 sheep: 12 OAPs (though technically three of them are lambs), 6 Borerays (Haan, Duchess, Leelou, Leia and the two castrated boys), 1 Soay ram (Muga), 48 others (including White Face, Mouton, Lafite, Luke, Lamby and 35 of this years lambs)
  • 3 geese
  • 7 Cayuga ducks
  • 5 chickens

For a grand total of 111 farm animals!  We once peaked at 150 animals, so really we’re doing well on our reduction plan.  By the end of the year I think this should be down to around 80, which shouldn’t be too tough over the winter.

Sunscreen wallows

Pigs have a tendency to get sun burnt, especially on areas of paler skin.  All of ours have a white band of some width, though in Bernard’s case the band takes up most of her body, so they’re all at risk to some extent.  However, the pigs have a simple solution to this – mud.

One of the reasons they like to wallow, apart from it’s obvious cooling affect, it’s positive impact on their complexion, and the delight in splashing, is that it provides them with sunscreen.  They cover themselves all over with a nice layer of mud, and it’s like factor 500.  It’s also why I’m a little relaxed about them spilling their water and creating little pond/marshes – though I need to get a bit sharper on stopping leaks!

Over the past couple of days I’ve been fixing up the water in Gaffer’s area, and also in Bernard’s.  As part of this I decided to drain the lakes which had started to form round the water troughs, as the pigs were starting to drink the green stagnant stuff from the lakes more than fresh water in the troughs.  Fortunately the pens are on a slight slope, so all I needed to do was create a channel for the water to flow down, and gravity did the rest.  The water has mostly drained now – but for a while it looked like this (you can see the channel for the water I’ve started to create in the bottom right hand corner):

This summer hasn’t been too hot or sunny, but still it has been a potential issue for them, so it’s always nice to see them rolling in the mud!


Further Sheep Duties

The last time we made a concerted effort to deal with the various sheep husbandry tasks we had waiting we were rained off about halfway through:

Yesterday we decided to try again and had a bit more luck.  Alex didn’t have much time as she was about to head off on a trip abroad, so we had to confine our ambitions, but we knew we definitely had to get to some of them given the limping we’d seen.

First up were the Soay ewes.  Two of them were limping badly – including, I think, Mouton.  Catching them was tricky, we managed to herd a number of the sheep into a temporary area of hurdles, but sadly not the Soay ewes.  Using the feed bucket we had managed to get them in the small area near the Animal Restaurant, and it really should have been easy to catch them.  The first one led us on a merry chase for about five minutes, at the end of which both Alex and I were exhausted, but an excellent dive by Alex secured the ewe.  The second one, who was probably Mouton (I didn’t check her ear tag), was much easier.  We got her into a corner, and I confused her using Grobbelaar style leg movements so she didn’t know which way to dive past me as I moved slowly forward until I got close enough to grab her.  Both of them had a little bit of footrot which we scrape and sprayed.  They also both had parts of their hooves where there are holes in the hard nail side of the hoof where the mud gets in and starts to create larger holes.  We did our best to trim those down.  Part of our problem is that our pasture is so soft it doesn’t wear their hooves down well – though if I can get a lot more concrete hard standing down that should certainly help a bit.

We could then move on to the sheep we had rounded up in the hurdles.  We had three of the ewes who we’d not caught before, one of the Suffolks, and two of the Mules, including my favourite sheep, White Face (this is an old picture of her with one of her lambs behind her):

White Face has been our most prolific mother, having had triplets in each of the last three years, and arriving with two lambs at feet.  She’s also the most intelligent of our white sheep, making sure she gets the most of any food – and also usually very good at avoiding capture.

Both White Face and the other Mule were a bit of a handful, but we eventually managed to get their feet trimmed, and a small amount of footrot scraped and sprayed.  We then moved on to the Suffolk.  They are such solid sheep that getting her into position was a bit of a chore, but eventually we had her sitting up against Alex’s legs and we could get to her hooves.  She clearly hadn’t been to the chiropodist for quite a while and there was lots of extra growth.  We trimmed her hooves and scraped the small patches of footrot before releasing her.  I decided that we’d use a triangle to mark all the animals we’d treated this round, so we now had five sheep with bright red triangles on them.

We had two boy Soays in with us as well, Luke and Muga.  Luke we gave a quick foot trim which was easy, but Muga had different ideas.  He is a very strong Ram, and though much smaller than the Suffolks he is much harder to handle.  However we really needed to get to his feet as he’s been limping a bit recently, and a limping ram is less likely to be able to perform his ramly duties!  Eventually after a bit of a struggle and some shouting (mostly at each other) Alex and I had him in position.  Trimming and scraping took a bit longer as he was wont to struggle, but eventually we were done.  Despite it being late in the season for flystrike I also took the opportunity to Clik the sheep we hadn’t caught before.

We released the sheep we had caught and went to look at the one last sheep we’d planned to catch.  This was the Suffolk ewe we’d had to treat when we got back from holiday (, and she was still having problems.  We caught her easily as she wasn’t interested in moving too far, and quickly had her in the sitting position.  She still had bad footrot affecting all her hooves.  She also had these strange sort of footrot growths between the two parts of the hoof, it’s the brown lump (which definitely isn’t poo) in front of the blood in this picture (notice also all the blue and purple on my finger and thumb!):

I need to find out more about this as it’s not on every hoof, and I’ve only seen it on a couple of the Suffolks before, never on the other breeds.

Once we were done with this Suffolk Alex had to head in, and I decided to check on Bertie.  He’s been limping a bit (as well), so it was definitely required.  One of the great things about the Angoran goats especially is that they are easy to handle, and turning them and trimming them on my own is not a problem.  I spread some straw on the floor of the Animal Restaurant, flipped Bertie on his back and dealt with his hooves in a  matter of minutes.  As usual he was fairly placid throughout the experience, kicking a bit when I was scraping his hoof, but as soon as I let him go he was quickly up and eating the straw quite happily.

I followed Alex back into the house feeling much better – the sheep might be limping, but at least we’d treated that and it should hopefully get better, especially if we have some dry weather.  I was also exhausted form the running and wrestling with sheep, and my left hand was bright blue from the spray but I felt that all in all, it had been a successful bit of maintenance!

Introducing Bertie

The first animals we started with were Angoran goats, and we still have two of them.  I’e already mentioned Boris, but our other Angoran is called Bertie.  He is a castrated male, and one of the most friendly animals we have, always following us around the field, even if we don’t have food (though I think he has hopes!).

Unfortunately Bertie had really bad footrot over the winter, and this meant he didn’t move very much, and when he did it wasn’t very far and he tended to rest on his front knees.  This caused his legs to seize up so he couldn’t properly straighten them.  The slight upside was that this meant we finally got rid of the footrot.  We tried massaging his legs and stretching them and this seemed to help a bit, but he was still limping badly.  So we called out the vet who advised us that we should cut the tendons at the back of the knees.  We asked him to go ahead, and it made very little difference.  I think he was expecting the legs to sort of spring back into shape, but sadly they didn’t.  Next step was to straighten the legs out and put them in casts, which we also did.  This seemed to help a lot, and while Bertie was walking stiffly, at least he was walking.  When we took the casts off he was almost back to normal.

He seems to be footrot free at the moment, but as a legacy of his travails he’s standing oddly on one of his front hooves and so it’s starting to grow awkwardly and twist.  We’ve tried to cut it flat, but it wasn’t totally successful, I think we’ll just have to keep at it.  Still he’s mostly back to his old ways, always trotting over to see us, and trying to work out what we’re doing.  One of his particular joys is when we bring out the straw for his bedding, not because he wants to luxuriate in it, but because he wants to eat it, and here he is:

This little piggie – further update

It’s been a while since I mentioned how Bernard’s litter of four are doing.  My last post,, showed that the little one was getting on well, and the good news is that she still is.  She’s not as big as her siblings, but you can see that she’s definitely grown, and the relative difference isn’t as great as it once was (she’s the one in the front and centre):

They were born on the 16th July, so now we can sell them as weaners.  I think they’ve mostly self-weaned already, so it shouldn’t be too much additional stress for them when they are separated from their mother.

We already have a taker for two of them, but if anyone knows someone else who would like to buy two weaners, please shout!

Pig Chases Man, Cows Watch Passively

As mentioned in I sometimes climb into Bernard’s enclosure to start feeding the pigs.  This is usually when Muga is being a little aggressive, as he was this morning.  I’m a little concerned about Muga as he’s limping, which may be a result of our foot trimming last week.  I tried to catch him yesterday so we could check him, but his horn just slipped out of my hand, and after that he didn’t want to come close enough to give me a second shot.  This morning was much the same, except it looked like he was sizing up for a charge, he didn’t in the end but at least partly because I managed to get into Bernard’s enclosure fairly quickly.

Bernard was extra happy to see me, even trying to bite my wellies as I climbed in.  I suddenly remembered the last time I’d been in with her, and decided I didn’t want that again.  So I ran to the other side of her enclosure to try and cimb out into the alley between the pig pens.  Unfortunately she was right on my heels and I didn’t feel I could get over without her catching me – and possibly biting me or slamming into me, which she did once and it really hurt.  The only plan available to me was to run away from her again and hope to get enough of a distance that I could quickly hop over the fence, so I looped round her hut and back to the fence.  I managed to get just enough distance to get over before she got to me.  The image you need to have here is me, with a full 20kg sack of food on my shoulder, running around a pig hut towards the fence with a large mostly white pig behind me, trailed by four smaller pigs…

Looking up to make sure no-one had been witness to my folly I saw the two cows, staring at me.  If they’d been human they might have given a slow ironic clap.  They clearly just wanted to see what would happen next.

Fortunately the rest of the feed passed off with no more drama.


Electric Fencing

Over the years we’ve been a little inconstant with electric fencing.  At first it was the only thing we used, but then we converted completely to permanent stock fencing.  These days we have a combination, with permanent fencing in most places, and electric to top it up and prevent the animals from challenging it too much.

One of the chores with electric fencing is that it needs to be checked fairly regularly.  Not every day, but perhaps once a week.  Mostly it’s fine.  So once a week becomes once a month, becomes only when I notice an issue…

A few days ago I noticed that Humphrey and the boys were pushing the mud up around the edge of their pen.  This is where I usually feed them so I guess they’re just pushing it up to get at the food, and as it’s been wet recently this means they’re moving quite a lot of it.  In the pig pens we have electric fence about two-three inches off the ground all round the edge to discourage them from nosing under and breaking the outer fencing.  We should probably consider electric across the middle, but then what would they rub against when they’re itching?  The main reason I noticed the piled up mud was because the electric wire was making a clicking sound as it shorted against the mud.  I kicked some of it free and it stopped the sparking, which was good.  It also confirmed the fence was still working, which was also good…

This happened for a couple of days, and then last night I didn’t hear any clicking.  Now this might mean that there was no mud built up so I left it to this morning.  Again no clicking, and checking properly showed some mud had built up and really should have been shorting it.  Alas I thought (well something like that), I need to check the fence properly.

Checking the fence involves walking along it’s whole length and making sure that nothing is touching the wire.  Nothing is actually a relative term…  We have quite a strong system running the fence, so a bit of grass touching the wire, or the occasional nettle isn’t a problem, as they tend to get burnt and don’t steal too much of the charge.  A tree or a wooden fence post is worse as they aren’t going to get burnt off, but the system will still run ok.  The real problem is if the wire is touching metal, such as in a metal post of mesh fencing, as all the charge is then earthed.

I walked round the whole area, crushing grass and nettles and ripping out the occasional thistle.  The pig orchard was particularly bad and needs to be strimmed, but it’s probably been bad for a few weeks and so didn’t explain the problem.

There was a broken connection in the electric only fence which splits the main field.  When I first tried to fix it I got a slight jolt, but the second time I got nothing at all, and managed to reconnect it – I still hadn’t found the issue.

The last part I checked was around the poultry orchard, and it was here I found the problem.  We have two strands circling the fence, one at waist height, and one at head height (to discourage foxes), and part of the fence had bent over and was touching the head height wire.  When I pushed it away there was a decent set of sparks.  It looked like this:

The problem with this fencing is that we put it up.  It was hard work and we got a decent barrier together, but it really isn’t up to professional fencing standards.  We’ve since had most of our fencing replaced by someone who knows what they’re doing and it makes a big difference.  We’ve not yet done the poultry area because of the pain and expense of proper fox proof fencing.  Still I needed to do something, and so I added a spacer for the electric wire with the bits I had available.  It should hold hopefully, and it does mean my fence is back live.

Taking this:


to this:




Sheep and Copper Poisoning

Never read all the bad things which can happen to animals.  It’s horrible and will put you off owning them.  However, sometimes it’s useful to know things…

Our first animals were goats.  So we bought them goat mix to eat.  Perhaps naive, but it seemed to make sense.   It was a combination of grains and it had been molassed to make it extra nice, and the goats certainly seemed to appreciate it.  When we got sheep we also fed them goat mix (on the basis that we didn’t want to buy multiple types of feed, and they seemed to love it).  However we discovered that you shouldn’t feed goat mix to sheep as it contains too high a level of copper and therefore could kill them.  It’s also kind of expensive, possibly on the assumption that goat owners are rich or something.  So we switched to a combination of ewe feed and coarse mix.   Ewe feed is pellets of grain and such like, and coarse mix is a mixture of grains much like goat mix and without the molasses.  They didn’t go crazy over it in the same way, but still seemed happy enough.

Some time later we decided that we needed to get a lick or two for the animals, including the cows.  The different licks make it clear what can eat them, with a big cross through the sheep for the main cow lick – as it has too much copper in it – but there are several nice general ones, so we got one of those.  A second time we’ve been careful and sensible about copper.

I decided to read up about what copper can do in my sheep vet handbook.  I rarely read it because the pictures are so horrible and I just feel depressed about how many things can go wrong with sheep.  Most of which are fatal.  The first chunk about copper is that sheep with a copper deficiency can have problems when lambing and a whole bunch of things which might be done about.  The second section about copper poisoning was much smaller and can be summarised as – sometimes a sheep will have too much copper and the only likely symptom is death.  This wasn’t hugely helpful, but I figured we were in a good place as we’d controlled their copper intake and I shouldn’t worry too much about it.

Very recently I was idly reading the ingredients tag on our ewe feed.  It looks like this:

Notice about halfway down the line which starts with EU regulation…  Seriously, this is called ‘EWE FEED’ and it may be poisonous to our sheep.  Words fail me.

Anyway, we’ve been using this feed for about two years, and to be honest though we’ve had a few sheep die in that time, all but one of them was easily explained (flystrike, or age being the main reasons).

A search on the web found me this:

Note that one of the breeds which can be at particular risk is the Soay and it’s crosses.  So at this point I’m starting to think we need to change our feed.  To be fair it’s never the only thing they get, they get grass through the summer and hay over the winter, and we have been mixing it with coarse mix.  But still.

Another link borught me here:

Much more useful, for a start it seems to indicate that there might be some signs which would warn us of copper poisoning (none of which are currently issues for us), and it also doesn’t mention the Soay as a susceptible breed.  Also some good pictures of their livers…

So panic kind of averted.  I think we’ll see what the other feeds available are, but probably when winter comes we’ll continue to mix the ewe feed in with the coarse mix, as well as the hay.

Another option Alex has mentioned is to look at buying the constituent parts of the feed in bulk, and making our own.  It could save money, but would be a real challenge…


Starting on solid food

I’ve been keeping extra attention on Gaffer and her little ones, always making sure that I can count all seven of the piglets – and that Gaffer is up and waiting for food.  In recent days while Gaffer has been up, the piglets have been inside, though one or two of the braver ones have been out and about seeing what their Mum is up to.

This morning all of the piglets were out, and when I poured out the food they started sniffing at them, and in a few cases starting to eat it.  They all looked a little dubious, but kept at it, and soon they’d all joined in.  It’s a good sign, and though they’ll continue to take milk from Gaffer for the next six weeks or so (until, hopefully, I sell most of them on as weaners), it should mean they come out at feeding time making them much easier to check.

Alpaca Poo

Every day as I feed the animals I walk over a particularly lush part of the field when heading towards the pigs:

It’s a roughly circular area about 10ft across and what makes it lush (mostly) is the Alpaca poo.  To make it easy to spot I’ve highlighted the key areas below:

Alpacas tend to poo in the same place, only occasionally altering their location, and that’s what we have here.  The area highlighted by the white circle was their toilet pile at the end of last year.  It’s now starting to be taken over by the grass.  The light blue show the area they’ve been using for much of the year, and particularly to the bottom left you can see how lush the grass is.  In the last few days they’ve decided to move a little and that’s the new red area at the top of the picture.  We’ve found that the Alpacas will keep two or three ‘live’ toilets and tend to abandon them with no particular rule.

There are some who say Alpaca poo makes excellent manure.  I’m wondering if it will make some good gas.  Must investigate further…