Update – Fencing

One of the things we decided to finally do properly was get some of our weakest fencing sorted.  This meant paying someone to come in and do it professionally.  And he did a truly fabulous job.

One of the things he did differently was in using a slightly different type of mesh.  Most meshes we use have continuous horizontal strands, and then individual vertical strands (though it’s the other way round in this photo!):

What this means is that the vertical strands can be pushed about quite a bit, and it isn’t as robust as it could be.  Our new fencing man uses mesh with complete lines both vertically and horizontally to provide extra strength:

He’s done some great work.  We now have electric stand-offs on both sides, and an electric wire on the top.  This should both stop the cows form leaning against it, and the more athletic sheep from attempting to leap it!  It’s also nice and straight…

Further sheep reductions…

We continue to make progress on getting our flock down to reasonable proportions!  Today we managed to sell three more Soay ewes.

I’d put an advert in a couple of months ago when I was selling the large portion, and one of the people who answered after I’d sold all I’d planned to said that I should contact her if I ever wanted to sell any more Soays.  I was looking at the OAPs and their ewe daughters, and I thought it best to sell the daughters on, as I wasn’t planning on breeding them, and they were too pretty to take on holiday.  So I emailed the nice lady, and arranged for her to come and pick them up today.

Once again I persuaded all of the sheep into one of our fenced off areas.  Unfortunately the cows came in as well, and as we were trying to close down the area Wrath especially started running around and kicking up.  With some deft maneuvering I managed to get Wrath out of the area.  At which point Avarice decided that she really wanted to help us… so she herded the OAPs and their daughters into the area of the hurdles.  With some quick work with the hurdles the sheep were caught, and I managed to persuade Avarice out before she decided to kick up again.

A quick retagging of one of the ewes, an exchange of money and paperwork, and they were on their way, and our flock was another step smaller.  A good day’s work!

The sheep are the ones with stars next to them in this picture:


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.

Damned Fox

Yesterday was a very bad day.  It was early evening and I was feeding the animals.  Having just fed the pigs, and noted that we had another pair of lambs, I was heading back to the poultry orchard to feed the chickens and ducks, when I saw something odd by the fence.  I realised it was a dead chicken.  And then I realised there were several more.

I ran in, but it was obviously far too late.   They’d scattered and run, but been taken down one by one, all over the orchard.  we did once surprise a fox in the orchard half way through such a spree, so I did look around carefully.  No fox.  The ducks were fine, probably they’d retreated to the pong, and two hens survived.  Just two of twenty-one.  All the rest were lying pathetically, drenched by the rain.  Cold and unmoving.  One had clearly provided a meal, but all the rest were just as they’d been the instant they’d died.  It’s likely that the fox – for that is the only reasonable culprit – was planning to come back later to take the chickens somewhere where it could store them.

I collected up the cold corpses ready for disposal, and put the two remaining hens into the ark, and closed up their run.  It’s likely to provide them with decent shelter.

From the looks of things our electric fencing has been shorted somewhere on it’s length again, and the fox took the opportunity, during the day and probably not long after lunch.  We’re going to review the fencing situation before we get any more, and the two we have are going to be somewhat restricted in the meantime as well.

Very upsetting.

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!

Fencing – will we never learn!

This morning we were awoken by a phone call.  It was to tell us that some of our sheep had gone awandering.  Again.  Now this shouldn’t be a huge surprise as they have been getting out recently, but I thought I’d actually found their main egress route, and blocked it.  Sadly I was wrong.

Usually the escapees are the cross-bred boys, with the occasional pure bred Soay.  None of the OAPs wander, I think they’re quite happy where they are thank-you-very-much. This morning the usual suspects had been joined by all the other non-OAPs, for a total of twelve wandering sheep.

We quickly jumped into the car and drove round to where they’d been spotted.  We found them quickly, and I started towards them with my trusty bucket.  Usually they would run towards me, but not today.  They were rather spooked.  I suspect that they’d met a few people out walking their dogs and this had put them in rather a fluster.  Instead we did the human sheep dog thing, and soon had them heading in the right direction.  They’d clearly had enough of an adventure, and were happy to be heading home.  I stayed on after them, both to make sure they didn’t change their minds, and also to see where they’d got out, and within a few minutes they were all safely back in their field.

Recently their method of escape has been to jump over the fence, so I was expecting them to jump back in.  Instead they seemed to walk back in without any real problems.  When I got to that part of the fence I found that a whole section had come loose, and they could just walk in and out.  I was rather lucky the cows hadn’t decided they needed to wander as well!

We got out the fencing supplies and went to work to fix up the fence, and we also took another look at all the other fencing to see what other weaknesses they might be exploiting.  I have to admit that recently I’ve only been looking at where they have been jumping, so have been a bit lax at checking the bottom of the mesh.  It looks like they’ve taken advantage of this and pushed it up in several places, and indeed that’s how they’d freed up the loose section.  An hour or so later, with some judicious use of wooden beams, some random branches and a reasonable number of fencing staples, and I was relatively confident that the fencing would hold our escape committee for at least a few days.

However, I also decided that wasn’t going to be enough.  Clearly those boys would continue challenging the fence, so I needed to do something about it.  They’re actually due to go on holiday fairly soon, so maybe it was time to move them in with the Borerays, who happen to be occupying the pre-holiday field at the moment.  So next job is going to be to move them!

Also, obviously, at some point I’m going to need to get the whole fence on the bottom field redone.  Something else to look forward to.

Electric Fence worries

Over the last couple of weeks we’ve been having a few challenges with our electric fencing. It doesn’t always seem to be working.  I have two main methods of testing it, the first is to watch the pigs and see how close to the wire they go.  If it’s live they are very careful around it, though sometimes still get pushed onto the wire, resulting a yelp and the sight of a piggy bottom disappearing into the distance.  The other method is to use a pair of pliers to cause a short and watch the sparks.  Actually, there is a third method where I accidentally electrocute myself, but I try and avoid that.

Our electric fence has four main roles:

  1. Protect the poultry from foxes
  2. Stop the pigs getting out
  3. Stop the cows and sheep from getting into the south facing slope field, and thence potentially to the road
  4. Generally protecting the physical fences from the animals – the electric stops them challenging the fence and slowly breaking it down

Of these the first is the most critical, as an extended lapse could see us lose all our chickens, again, and maybe even the ducks.  So I generally keep an eye out for the fence operation and try and fix any shorts as soon as I spot them.

The fence didn’t seem to be operating at all and I walked round several times to try and identify the cause.  The most likely seemed to be the pigs, who’ve mounded up quite a lot of the earth against one of the fences, and that was connecting with the wire.  When it was still muddy it was particularly bad (you can see the wire going into the mud on the left hand side) :

The frost has meant it’s not quite so bad, but there still have been some lumps touching the wire.  I’m trying to feed them a little further away from the fence to stop them doing this.

However, this still didn’t fix the problem.  On another trip round I found that some of the barbed wire round the top of the poultry orchard had become caught up with the electric fence, and that was definitely shorting it out.  I fixed that, and had another look.  Everything seemed good, but I still thought the wire wasn’t working.

It wasn’t, because I’d turned it off while fixing the wire covered in the mud!  So I turned it back on, and finally it seemed to be working.  I’m still nervous about it though, so I’ve been checking it more carefully than I usually do, just to make sure I catch anything early before it turns into a major problem.

Humphrey triumphs again – or Man vs Pig round seventeen

I’d mentioned the need to fix the pig water several times.  I needed to do this in order to move Gaffer and Hacker to a pen which didn’t share a fence with Sir Humphrey.  This was to stop him climbing in and having his wicked way with them.  Unfortunately I failed to fix the water in time, and as I came home yesterday from a quick trip out I noticed Humphrey in the wrong pen.

At feeding time I had a look at the fence to see how he’d gotten into the pen.  I was fairly certain he must have gone over the fence as Bernard had not followed him, which she would have done had their been a hole.  Sure enough there was a part of the fence where the top had been bent a little out of shape, as if a thirty stone monster of a boar had heaved himself over it.  I should have Carpe’d the Diem.

Still it’s not a total catastrophe.  It means that we should get a litter out of Bernard in mid April, and then two more litters towards the end of May.  The result is that we should have weaners for sale in July, which is usually a fairly popular time for selling weaners.  It gives people a chance to fatten them up for Christmas, though really they should probably keep them through to the New Year to get the best value out of them.

At some point I’m going to have to sort out the water and split them up again, but given the super cold weather it’s not the worst thing to have all the pigs in just two areas.

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…