RIP Soay OAP Ram

Another one of our OAP Soay Rams died yesterday.  He’d been looking particularly doddery for the last week or so, and had clearly lost quite a bit of condition.  He was getting pushed around quite a lot during feeding, and he even fell over a couple of times.  However, he was still getting in there, and chomping away quite happily on the food when he got it.  He also wasn’t particularly scared of me, unlike the others, so if I hovered near the food he’d be the only one getting any!

That leaves only one of the OAP Soay Rams left, though he still looks relatively sprightly at the moment.

I’ve arranged with the hunt to come and pick him up.  They’re usually very good and should pick him up before the end of the day.  This means that I’ll have a certificate showing that I’ve properly disposed of the poor old ram, something the nice people at Defra/Animal Health insist on.

They’re now properly free range!

I know quite a few of my recent posts have been about eggs.  I’m not obsessed honestly.  But it is one of the ways we’ve been using to measure how settled our ex-bats are.  Other ways include watching them run around the orchard – which they do now with wild abandon, watching them eat ‘normal’ food – which they do most excitedly, except when they’re pecking my wellies in the hope that they are edible, and watching them re-feather – where they are showing some real progress.

The acid test however is the eggs.  To remind you, this is what they looked like originally.  Here’s a picture of my lunch eggs yesterday:

I challenge you to definitively identify the ex-bat egg.  Answers on a post card please!


Proper description of pig area

I mention the pig areas quite often, but I haven’t really described the setup.

We have four pens, A-D in this diagram:

The red lines represent the gates.  The outer gates control access to the channel, and have a field on either side.  If we’re trying to catch the sheep or cows we tempt them into the channel with food and then close the gates.  The channel is about one and a half sheep hurdles wide, which can be awkward sometimes, but does mean that once we have the sheep in there we can usually get them secured into a nice tight area.

The internal gates are the same length as the width of the channel so can be used to close off the channel – at the cost of opening up a pen.  If both are opened it creates a link between the two pens, e.g. A and C in the above.

At the moment Bernard and Humphrey are living in A.  Hacker, Gaffer and the two fattening pigs are living in B and D which have been connected.  When I fix the broken water which is in D, then I’ll move the four of them into there, so that there’s no longer the risk of Humphrey getting over the fence separating A and B.

Hope that helps explain things!

Limping Sir Humphrey

A couple of days ago I noticed that Sir Humphrey was limping, and he wasn’t coming to food quite as quickly.  He was still pushing Bernard around, but not as much as usual, and I was a little worried.  I climbed in and checked the leg.  It seemed fine, no obvious injuries, but it was clearly quite tender and after only a short while Humph made it clear he wasn’t going to tolerate any more.  Having escaped with all my limbs intact I resolved to watch him carefully, and get the vet out if it looked like it was going to immobilise him.

One minor upside to his limping was that it made it less likely he was going to get over the fence and bother Hacker and Gaffer.  In fact I suspect the injury might have been a result of trying to get over to them.  This meant I didn’t need to rush to fix the water and move them back into the area we originally wanted them in.

Today Humphrey was looking a lot better, and was quite sprightly when it came to feeding time.  Not quite up to his usual level but almost.  No real trace of a limp either.  All good stuff.

Except now I have to fix that water soon…

Better pheasant pictures (though still not great)

Our white feathered pheasant friend was out this morning, and seemed to be hanging out nice and close, so I decided to take a few photos of him.  As soon as I got the camera out he started to run, clearly he’s had run-ins with the paparazzi before.  Still with some careful stalking, I managed to get a couple of okish photos of him.  One day I’ll get a proper shot!

Other animals

We have a whole selection of animals which we care for, and they keep us busy and happy.  In addition to the animals we’ve specifically chosen to look after we also support, or at least host, quite a number of other creatures.

Pheasants – we often have pheasants hanging around.  We don’t allow shooting on our land (not that anyone has ever asked or tried) so we’re a bit of a safe haven.  At the peak last December we had five males and at least three females, all hanging out.  One of the males had unusual white feathering, and he is the only one left with us.  He is a little trepidatious, so getting a photo of him is tricky, this is the best I’ve managed so far – I’ll try again:

As well as the pheasant we have crows.  Many many crows.  They hang out all over the field, and wait for feeding time.

We also have a large tiding (that’s the term according to wikipedia though it doesn’t sound nasty enough) of magpies.  The most I’ve ever managed to count is eighteen in one go.  They disappear whenever I’m out and about, but quickly return and are rather aggressive with the crows when it comes to getting the left over feed.  They also like to perch on the sheep, possibly because there are bits of food in their fleeces from where the ewes get in the way when I’m pouring it out.

We have a myriad of other birds who hang around, particularly in our hedges.

We also have a plethora of rodents.  I’ve already talked about rats, but we have mice, voles and moles.  I know about the mice and voles because our cat, Honor, regularly brings them in to the house.  Usually she plays with them for a bit and then leaves them lying around where I’m most likely to step on them (except for the occasional time when she hides them so they can slowly decompose… there are some drawbacks to underfloor heating).

The moles have become extra excited in our big field and there are a load of molehills.  this can be an issue during lambing time, which is still a couple of months away.  It’s not that they threaten the lambs in any way, more that from a distance a mole hill looks rather like a tiny Soay lamb curled up on the ground.  There have been a number of occasions when I’ve run towards a small Soay lamb thinking it’s been abandoned, and cursing its mother, only to realise it’s a mole hill.  Usually there isn’t any one around to witness my embarrassment.

Our last permanent set of residents are the rabbits.  We have a warren or two down the bottom of the field, and next to the woods.  In the spring and summer we often see them hanging out, though they scarper whenever we get near.

We have other visitors.  Foxes, though I haven’t seen them for a while, and deer, though it’s been several years since I last saw them.  A couple of hedgehogs have been with us and one may well be hibernating under our hay, which means I try to be careful while getting the hay, and I tend to keep to walking on the pallets we have the hay sitting on.  Next door’s ferret also likes to nose around!

All in all we are rewarded with much wildlife.

Mob of chickens

The ex-bats have all settled in well now, and run around the orchard quite happily.  Now when I go to feed the ducks and chickens instead of having just four hens around me, and the seven ducks and the cockerel hanging back five or six feet, I now have twenty-four hens mobbing me!  It’s meant that I have to step rather carefully as they get under my boots, and squawk rather loudly if I catch their feet.  Also on occasion one of the hens will ride part of the way by standing on one of my wellies as I walk forward!

It’s great to see them all so happy though, and they’re definitely starting to re-feather.  We’re barely getting an egg a day from them at the moment, but I have hopes they’ll soon be giving us a little more.  When they do I’ll test them against the eggs from the old hens to see if they’re truly free range now!

The chickens mob me:

While the ducks look on:

Pigs and Water

The recent hard frosts had a predictable effect on our water supplies for the animals.  They caused a leak, which became visible after the weather warmed up.  We were very lucky really that there was only the one.

It was in Gaffer and Hacker’s area.  Actually I suspect it was more the pigs attacking the water trough which caused the leak, than the frost.  They’d clearly been frustrated at the small amount of water in it and had bent the top of the trough, and also managed to move it around so much that the small amount of copper pipe connecting it to the main blue pipe was bent out of shape.  The frost did the final bit of work and there was a leak at the new bend in the copper pipe.  This caused a nice spray of water to fountain up when temperatures climbed above zero.

Obviously I needed to shut the water off until I could fix the leak.  But this would leave the pigs with no water at all, and the vacant pen next to theirs was on the same water tap, so we had to take a risk.  We had to put the two sows in with the little ones, which means they are right next to Humphrey.  We know he can, if properly motivated, get over that fence between the two areas.  Our risk was twofold, one that he’d just go over as soon as he saw them, and secondly that they’d be on heat and start encouraging him, and then he’d definitely be over.

It’s been a couple of days and I haven’t yet fixed the leak due to other priorities.  Fortunately Humphrey hasn’t got over the fence yet, so hopefully I have another day or so to fix the water and get the two of them back and secure.  I really shouldn’t push our luck much further though!

RIP Bertie

When I went out to feed the animals last night Bertie was lying on his side unmoving.  I thought he might just be being lazy, but closer inspection revealed that he was in fact dead.  I’d really thought he was getting better, he’s mostly been getting up on his own, and I was thinking that fairly soon he’d be back out in the fields.  I suspect the very cold weather took it’s toll and he was relatively old for a goat, at somewhere between seven and a half and eight years old, but still very sad to see him go.

I often called him Bertholemew, on the basis that was obviously his full name.  He was always a friendly goat, and not just after food all the time.  He used to wander after us when we went for a walk in the field at non-feeding times, and he charmed a number of our visitors over the years.  We will definitely miss him.

Here he is a couple of days ago:

And here’s how he looked shortly after he arrived in May 2006, chomping at the grass with Boris (on the right) – the shed in the background was destroyed only weeks later by Bertie, who for some reason took a distinct dislike to it and battered it down:

Taking photos

On Sunday I decided to take some photos of the animals. The weather was lovely, and with nice sunlight it seemed a perfect time to take some photos.  The animals were relatively obliging and I got a number of nice shots.

Verdigris (who unusually does not have his ears flattened), with ducks in the background:

Whiteface looking rather stately.  She wasn’t that interested in letting me get too close.  If I don’t have food then she doesn’t trust me…

The pigs started chasing me as I was taking pictures of them.  Here’s Bernard getting a little close:

I nearly fell over a couple of times, and decided when Humphrey charged at me that it was time to get out of there.  I did manage to get a nice shot of him, from the other side of the fence:

I walked out to see the Borerays, and they were quite a bit more friendly, particularly Duchess:

All in all a pleasant little wander (and bit of a scramble) among the animals.