Yesterday we had a call from our neighbours that one of our sheep was ill. When I got down to the corner of the field I saw one of the ewes curled up against the fence. She wasn’t ill, she was dead, though not long gone. It was another one of the old ones, so not entirely unexpected, but still not the happiest thing in the world. Hopefully she had a nice life in her last couple of years with us.
Sometimes our animal reduction plan takes weird twists and turns. One of those weird twists was yesterday when we picked up twenty hens!
A few years ago Alex became interested in helping to save some battery hens. After they’ve performed a couple of years of hard labour of pumping out eggs every day they’re usually slaughtered. The British Hen Welfare Trust (http://www.bhwt.org.uk/) rehomes as many battery hens as possible to avoid this fate. So we offered to give a few hens a home. For some reason we never made muster and were never invited to look after any hens. Not taking too much unbrage at this slur we chose not to pursue saving battery hens after that.
Then early this month I saw a sign in our local post office saying that they were desperate to rehome as many hens as possible as the ‘barren battery cage’ was being banned form January 2012. Filled with the joy of the season we decided once again to offer our facilities. This time we were greeted with open arms, and were quickly signed up to take twenty hens.
Yesterday we went to pick up the hens. The operation was fairly large, with nearly a dozen volunteers shepherding all the clucking volunteers as they waited to pick up their new hens. There must have been twenty people ahead of us in the queue, and twice that following us by the time we left, everyone took at least two hens, and some took as many as twenty. When our turn came, the hens were carefully picked up, their claws clipped (they tend to curl over as they spend their lives living on cage floors), and then put in our straw lined boxes. We drove them home and put them in their new home, the small shed we’d originally bought for the geese in the poultry orchard.
We gave them some water and some food, and left them for the night. I did take a picture:
Normally battery hens are sent for slaughter around 18-24 months old (sometimes a bit later), but the ones we got were only six months old. This is due to the ban on the barren battery cage, and is good news for us. It means we should get a reasonable number of eggs from this lot, though probably not as many as twenty a day, which would anyway be rather too many. This will also make up for our other hens who still refuse to lay, or lay in a place where we can find the eggs!
Bertie is finally up and about on his own! I’ve only had to help him up once in the last few days, the rest of the time he’s been able to get up on his own. He makes a bit of a meal of it, but he gets up and I think it’s getting easier for him. I even saw him out in the field yesterday, for the first time in weeks. He’s also making sure he gets his food in, and not letting the others push him off, which is another excellent sign of progress.
This morning we thought we’d take the opportunity to treat all the goats for footrot/scald, as Boris and Moby have been limping again, and Howard looked like he was slightly favouring one of his hooves. We prepared the footbath of hoof phast, and then did all four hooves of each of: Bertie, Boris, Howard and Moby. Ishy was out and about in the field, and doesn’t seem to have any rot issues at the moment, so she missed out on the bathing. They don’t like it a huge amount, but with me holding them, and Alex keeping the hoof in the foot bath to went fairly smoothly. We also injected Boris, Moby and Howard with anti-biotic to hopefully completely kill off the footrot bacteria.
Everything seems fairly happy at the moment, with the exception of the cows. They’re definitely hungry, both mooing rather aggressively whenever they see us, but until they’ve lost some of the extra weight they’re carrying we’re going to be keeping them on short rations.
Our Suffolk ewe Double H hadn’t been happy for a while, but for the last few days she’s been really bad. She couldn’t always get up on her own, and she was coughing a lot. She wasn’t coming to food, and when I tried to give her some food directly she wasn’t really interested. She’d try a bit, and then wander away.
At first I thought it was because the other sheep were crowding her, so I managed to get them all out of the way so she was on her own with the food, but it made no difference. Given her loss of condition, she was starting to look particularly boney, this was a very bad sign. In my experience if an animal is still eating then there’s hope, if they’ve stopped then it’s likely they won’t survive. Yesterday she was even worse, I had to help her up every time, and she was even less interested in food. She’d look at it for a bit wander away and stand in a corner of the animal restaurant or the little goat shed.
Alex and I had a talk about her and decided it was probably best to get a vet out, with the likelihood that we’d have to put her down.
The vet came out to have a look, and we all agreed that she needed to be put down. It was really sad, and Alex and I both held her as the vet gave her the injection, and we felt the life drain out of her.
It’s always very upsetting when an animal gets sick, but at least she was fairly old, at least six years by my reckoning and possibly eight or nine. The saddest thing about it is that we’re likely to lose most of the rest of the Suffolks, and the remaining three mules, over the next year or so.
The other morning Alex went out to feed the animals and noticed something rather alarming. There seemed to be a red ball of stuff hanging out of Wrath’s back end. It was the size of a small melon and had some blood coming off it. This was not good at all.
She called the vet who said it sounded like a Vaginal Prolapse and that we’d need to put it back inside her, and quickly. Unfortunately due to our ongoing handling issues this is not a trivial thing to do, and so some discussions were had about the use of a tranquiliser on a long stick and then a man with a dart gun. The vet was going to ring someone she knew and get back to us.
I went out to see Wrath a little later and mostly she looked OK. There was a bit of blood, but certainly nothing hanging out, as you can see below. We rang the vet and called off the search for a tranquiliser dart man as clearly the required immediate treatment wasn’t necessary.
So I researched what might have caused it. Normally this only happens when cows are calving, often near the due time. However, it also mentioned that it tended to happen to cows who were older, and Wrath is starting to get on a bit, she’s thirteen or so now, and also those who were a little overweight.
Wrath and Avarice are both looking rather large at the moment, and I think both of them have really been stuffing their faces with grass over the summer. They haven’t been up to see us much until recently, probably because the grass has been so good.
So she’s a fat, old cow! Poor Wrath.
Stage one of the treatment to prevent further prolapses is to get Wrath’s weight down, which will mean feeding them less than we normally would over the winter. They have plenty of reserves, especially around their rump areas, so they’ll be fine, but it does mean there will be a lot more mooing to show they are hungry. Hopefully they’ll get down to a more reasonable size fairly quickly and we can then start giving them a little more feed to control the mooing.
Stage two is as yet undetermined. Clearly we’re going to have to give them access to less grass over the summer, but that’s not entirely trivial as all our fields are a little large. Still we’ll work something out!
People often ask me what the animals do when the weather is like this, and indeed all over winter. We don’t have any substantial shelter for them so the sheep and cows stay out in the fields. Some of them, especially the older ones will find shelter. Duchess, our old Boreray ewe, overnights in a pig hut we keep in the sheep orchard and the old Soay Rams stay in their nice little hollow among the trees.
All the rest seem to lie down wherever they want to. When it’s really frosty it’s possible to see where they’ve been lying. This morning the sheep were a little less feisty than usual, probably due to the cold, and I managed to get a couple of photos to show their winter MO.
Lying out in the open:
And here I’ve disturbed one of the mules, and you can see the warm patch she’s left in the grass (and the two behind from where the Soays were):
If you feel their fleece on a morning like this there is frost in it, but pushing down to their skin it is possible to feel how warm they really are. Fleece is wonderful stuff.
We’ve been bereft of broadband for a few days. Not due to the inclement weather, but due to a change of supplier and some self-induced complexities. So time for a quick update:
Bertie – managed to get up on his own yesterday when Alex went to feed him. Still needed a bit of help today, but seems to be getting stronger. Hopefully he’ll be getting up on his own again tomorrow!
Double H – footrot seems to have gone, but she’s still not overly happy. The other sheep push her off food and she’s rather listless. I gave her an extra portion of food this evening, and stood by her to stop the others from stealing it, which seems to have helped a little. She’s quite old and isn’t up for fighting the youngsters.
Boris – out and about happily, but still limping quite badly. We’re going to have to bathe her hoof again, and give her another injection. Tomorrow hopefully…
Wrath – a few issues about which I will write more later.
Everything else seems fine, and relatively unphased by the dropping temperatures.
We had a couple of fencing issues which I dealt with yesterday. One we’ve had for a while, the hole between the two pig areas, and the other was newer, and I dealt with it first. Down the bottom of one of fields runs a stream-bed which marks our boundary. We have some fencing all the way along it, but half of it is the old rubbishy stuff I put up a couple of years ago. I was trying to save money and bought some different mesh, the problem is that the metal is too thin to hold the more determined animal escape artist – particularly the goats and the cows – and they break through it.
It looked as if the cows had been leaning over a weaker section and pulled it away. Fortunately one of our neighbours had noticed and alerted us to the fact before the cows had got out. The sheep would have quickly followed them and then we’d have been in all sorts of bother. When I did my initial investigation on Tuesday it was quite late in the day so I didn’t have time to fix it, but I decided to put a sheep hurdle in to show some willing, and hopefully put the animals off for a day or two.
When I went to do the proper (well at least for me) fixing yesterday the cows had clearly been to see it and pushed it over a little, but it seemed to have held:
Still, it obviously wasn’t going to last much longer so I got to work. I’d dragged some proper stock fencing mesh down with me and had a selection of fence staples and a hammer. Pretty quickly I had the new fence up.
There was a brief pause while I watched the cows running around like crazy things. They’d thought I had food on me at first, and were disappointed when I hadn’t. Then when they realised I was blocking up their fence they really started kicking off. They ran around, and both of them kicked up their heels quite a bit. I tried to get some video of it, but the light wasn’t great. They didn’t come very close to me, and eventually wandered off in a sulk.
Back to the fence, and it wasn’t that taut as I didn’t have any tensioning equipment on me, and to be honest the fence posts aren’t in firmly enough to get it properly taut. I get some tension by pulling the mesh as I hammer the nails in. It’s kind of awkward but it sort of works. Here’s the ‘fixed’ fence:
To the amateur this might not look that impressive, but trust me, to an experienced eye it looks even worse! Still, it should hold them for a few months, and then I’ll have to get the fence done properly (i.e. by someone else).
Fresh from my success with the fence in the lower field, I headed to the pig area to block up the large – Humphrey sized in fact – hole between two of the pens:
You can see how much they use it as the mud is so churned up.
Working in the pig areas is a little more exciting than with the sheep and cows, as past experience (of Humphrey biting my bottom) has taught me. My technique now is to give them a bag of feed which normally keeps them busy for 10-15 minutes, and get to the fence as quickly as possible. I knew that if one of the little ones, let alone Humph, tried to get through before I had it secured then it would be over for the day.
Fortunately the feed kept them busy long enough for me to get the new bit of fence hammered in place, despite the mud nearly sucking me over quite a few times. The finished article isn’t particularly taut either, but should be enough to discourage the pigs from going through:
It seems to have worked so far as Humphrey wasnt able to get into the other area this morning. The two little ones were in there however, as there is some space under the fence a little further along which they can squeeze under. A challenge for another day I think!
Mud is a big thing at this time of year. It’s everywhere. Some days I come back in and I’m covered from head to toe in mud (and probably poo, but I try not to think of that).
I’ve already mentioned the pigs and their mud (http://wallowinginpoo.net/?p=497), but another animal has a fairly heavy impact on the mud. The cows.
It’s not that quick a process, but if they spend a lot of time in a particular area on our pasture, they tend to churn it up quite badly. An example of where they spend quite a bit of time, is in the feeding area.
Here they are waiting (and mooing in Avarice’s case) for food:
A few days later this is what the area they are standing on looks like:
To minimise the damage I move their main feeding spots around a few times over the winter. But I always have to accept one area is going to be particularly bad as when the water freezes carrying the water out to them is such a slog that we tend to pick the nearest convenient area.
This is one of the reasons why many farmers keep their animals inside over the winter.
Bertie still isn’t well, and still isn’t able to get up on his own. He’s eating well when he gets up, and definitely taking advantage of the bucket of water.
The problem seems to be his back legs, he just can’t get them into position. At first I had to hold him from behind and push him up and he’d eventually get everything in position. His back right leg in particular keeps knuckling over until he gets weight onto it, but once he does he’s fine. I’d changed tack a bit by holding his horns to give him something to push against, and that has been helping.
This morning he nearly managed to get all the way up and all it took was a gentle and swift hold on his horns and he was up, and moving towards the food. I have hopes he’ll be able to get up on his own in the next few days. Maybe the rest and extra food will have done the job.
In the mean time I have to keep an eye on his straw. It’s slowly building up into quite a bed. As he tends to stay in one position for an extended period all his poo and pee are in the one place, the poo usually in a nice little pile. When I get him up in the morning and evening (and the occasional other point), I make sure he gets fresh, or at least fresher straw, back where he’s taken to lying. We’re nearly out of straw so have ordered more, and if this goes on much longer we’ll probably have to do a full refresh.