Friday, 31 July 2015

Greener Grass

It's moving day for the ewes, who have been sharing Kitty's paddock. The sheep eat the excess grass in her paddock, which helps Kitty stick to her diet and prevents laminitis. The new grazing is only a mile away so we can walk there along the quiet lanes -

It's a warm sunny evening, perfect for a walk.

The ewes sample the tasty plants in the hedgerow as we pass by. Ian follows behind in the ATV, to move any stragglers that would rather eat than walk. Mike is at the other end of the lane, blocking traffic. A farmer can stop traffic up to fifteen minutes in order to move livestock. I'm walking with the sheep, shaking a bucket of sheep nuts to keep the ewes moving.

We arrive at the new grass in no time, and I walk them straight into a pen, so I can treat any lame sheep and give the ewes a quick check over before leaving them to their supper.

They are good girls.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Summer Work

It's been a busy summer, but a good one overall. Here's a quick run down so far:

Mike and Ian put about 60,000 eggs through the incubators, and produced about 45,000 pheasant and partridge chicks. Our breeding pheasants are back in the woods living their lives. Some have even hatched their own chicks, and we've seen moms trailing strings of cute fluffies. A partridge family took up residence in the garden and yes, of course I called the mother Shirley.

I also adopted J -


He's a jay bird that fledged too early in a thunder storm. Mike rescued him, cold and wet after crash landing in a puddle. I warmed him up and I hand fed him on meal worms and cat food. His feathers have finally grown in and I give him free run, er..flight, of the conservatory to strengthen his muscles. I have to cover the kitchen table with newspapers for easy clean up. On the other hand, J has eaten all the dead flies from the ledges so I'd call it an even trade, cleaning-wise. He's ready to be released when the next bout of good weather arrives. If he hangs around, I will keep feeding him. It's been a pleasure to care for him.

There are other wild chicks in the garden: the swallows are on their second brood in the lean-to porch, and the parents attack me every time I try and sneak in to get food out of the freezer. The blue tit family chicks fledged from the bird house in the cherry tree. We have no chicken chicks this year, but Tina the turkey hatched one single turkey chick, and I fostered another 6 turkey chicks from a neighbour under a very old, very broody, Buff Orpington hen.

Hen and foster chicks are happy together. I put together a little maternity unit in - where else? - an empty dog kennel.

The dogs are another story. Pip ruptured her cruciate ligament and had an operation to remove her knee cartilage, and break and reset the bone with a screw, to negate the need for the ligament. She should make a full recovery, but will suffer from arthritis in her later years. So Pip is sidelined for any summer dog work, and likely most of this winter.

Just out from her operation and still a happy girl.

Molly the new springer pup is a dream to train. However, she's developed a luxating patella, so her kneecap slips in and out of position. No operation is needed but both Pip and Molly would benefit from hydrotherapy to build muscle to support their joints. There's no centre near us so I'm improvising with a cattle trough and dog flotation aids I bought though the internet. Hey presto - Hillbilly hydrotherapy. I will of course post pictures as soon as I start their treatments.

Pip modelling her new lifejacket and post-op shave

I've been focused on the sheep side of the business. I took my first lot of lambs to market in Wales.

I love that all our signs are in English and Welsh. Just don't ask me how to pronounce it.

In fact, it was my first time to market too. Some friends who are Welsh sheep farmers not only held my hand though the process, but used their influence on the big buyers to bid on my sheep. Like everything in this world, it's who you know that helps! The lambs got a good price - second best for mid-weight lambs - and I was mentioned in the auction round-up leaflet. That's great for my business.

Sheep unloaded onto the weigh platform. An average of their weights classifies them. I had heavy and mid weight pens

My lambs penned and awaiting sale. By law they all have electronic ear tags that can be read by computer. 
My midweight lambs are being checked and logged. Heavy weight lambs in front.

It also turns out that sheep farmers in the UK are indebted to the ethnic communities for keeping us solvent. Light lambs, and cull ewes are preferred by the ethnic communities whose culinary traditions have relied on old and thinner meat animals. In these cultures, the meat is the final by-product from animals which have produced lambs, milk, and wool for human consumption over many years. Only when the ewes are too old to produce is the whole animal eaten. When fat lamb prices are down (the kind of lambs that the white European market prefers) the cull ewe prices remain steady. And light lambs can be sold rather than kept and fed expensive grain, while the farmer watches the market price for lamb go down weekly.

So my experiment using a Charolais ram worked well for me economically. I've sold half this year's lambs and already made a profit from those. I have half again left to take to market and the slowest growers will go in my freezer. I was concerned that the lambs would be stressed in a market environment. You can see by the photos that they're not worried. I was also worried how far they would travel, but found out they go from market to abbatoir in under two hours.

Going to market with a hybrid meat lamb was more profitable overall than direct customer selling of my purebreds.

Saying that, I just bought my very own Dorset ram.

I bought him from a Dorset farm, sight unseen, for his bloodlines, and it took two big farmers to wrestle him into the back of my pickup. I collected him while waiting for Pip to have her operation. Our friend and favourite vet Terry did Pip's op in his surgery in Dorset at a hugely discounted price, which left me money for the ram. I drove both a recovering Pip and the ram home to Hereford.

The big farmers weren't there to help me unload the new ram, and he was having none of it. I had to crawl in the back of the truck with the ram and try to get a rope around his neck to drag him out. He kept charging and trying to head butt me. I just kept thinking of how more people are killed by rams than by bulls. So, initially his name was "Stop head butting me, you asshole" but at my sister's suggestion I've shortened it to Rick - the "P" is silent.

I will use (P)Rick to cover my best Dorset ewes, and keep the best ewe lambs as replacement stock. The ewes that aren't good examples of the breed I'll put back to my neighbour's Charolais, and take the lambs to market. When those ewes are too old to breed, they can go to market as cull ewes. Who am I kidding? If their teeth and weight are good, they will be retired and left to graze away their old age.

And, for the first time, my check from the wool board for my sheeps' fleeces actually covered the cost of the shearer, with a leftover profit of £25! The profits from this year's sheep operation have helped keep the wolf from the door.

Saying that, we can't live on sheep and game bird profits alone. Certainly not when dogs require expensive operations. So, I've got a new job as deputy manager at a lovely local gastropub. I manage to cram in 30 hours a week at the pub, and the bonus is the pub will buy all our partridge, some pheasant, and any lambs or hogget I wish to sell.

And because I still seemed to have a few spare hours, I am working towards my APDT qualification. It's a way to give the dog training work I do every day some accreditation. I hope to specialise in gun dogs eventually.

Here's to shorter days and fuller bank accounts. And healthy stock. And no head butting.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Easy like a Sunday Morning

The bottle fed lambs do not understand the concept of a Sunday morning lie-in. At daylight they trash any kennels left open, including their own. If milk hasn't appeared in their bucket by 8am, they shout. And small lambs have big voices.

I was so late this morning (8.30 am) that they followed me into the house just to be sure I was mixing the milk before I made myself a pot of coffee. Priorities, you know.

Even the spaniels know that their breakfasts come after the lambs'. Podge and Dulcie wrestle, excited by the prospect of more kibble.

I hope you enjoy my lie-in too.


Thursday, 30 April 2015

This Year's Crop of Bedding Plants...

is underneath this year's crop of lambs -

Eh, it makes a change from the chickens scratching up the flower beds..

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Good News-Bad News Kind of Week

Ewe 2841 lambed healthy, if smallish, triplets with only a little assistance on the last one. But, with no one to hold her head for me, the ewe got up while I had half my arm inside her. My shouting "Stop moving, I'm TRYING to HELP" at her had little effect, so I just followed her around the garden and manipulated the stuck lamb on the move. One of the triplets will join our lamb orphanage.  There are already four lambs in there.

Which brings me to my bad news.

Matilda died. She wasn't sick, or off colour, she just...went. It looked like a seizure. My first thought after "Oh god, what killed her?" was "How am I going to break the news to blog reader Hazel and her family?!" She is the mother of ewes in my flock, so her memory and her DNA will live on. I hope that is some consolation. Still I had to break the news to her lambs. I told them Jesus wanted her for a sunbeam, and taught them to drink from a bottle.

On the good news front, Spud doesn't have cancer. I found a tumor on her last week; both the vet and I thought it would turn out to be a sarcoma, but it was a benign tumor. Phew. Flatcoats are prone to sarcomas, so it was a worrying week waiting for the histology report to come back. Pip took first shift to keep Spud company while her stitches heal -

Then Molly sprained her wrist, so now she's on bed rest with Spud. They share a large crate in the living room and pass the time eviscerating old pillows I put in the crate for them to sleep on. Injured or no, their energy levels are totally unaffected. There are few things worse than a clever gun dog on enforced rest.

There is only one more ewe to lamb, not two. Ewe 0005 was marked as pregnant by our scanner guy, but I'm sure she's not. As she's never conceived or lambed successfully, it looks like I will be putting some mutton in the freezer next month.

All the ewes with lambs at foot have gone across the road to fresh woodland pasture and the lambs are growing on quickly. That commercial ram has put some meat on those lambs, but my heart is with the Dorsets so I will be heading for the big ram sale in May to find a ram of my own.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Turkeys are Tasty, but....

...they are not great at Hide & Seek.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

The End is Nigh

In the past 36 hours I think the ewes have lambed every few hours without much break in between. It's all I can do to process each delivery, like some manic disorganised lambing wholesaler. Pen, squirt, squirt, dip, jab, worm, spray, water, mark. Exhale. NEXT!

Not all the deliveries were straightforward but we didn't lose any. In fact we gained one: the scanner told me Matilda was having twins, which she deftly produced, then a few hours later on night check Mike found a third. So triplets for her. Or, realistically, another bottle-fed baby for the kennels.

Of course the bottle fed lambs are in the kennels, between the spaniels and the feed storage. (Turkeys are still in the end kennel). The sheep trailer still acts as bad weather shelter when it's not transporting moms and new lambs from field to orchard.

So, there would be more pictures but I could hardly keep up with the actual work, and there are no documentary photographers locally to help out. Mike is up to his ears in pheasants' eggs and moving the rearing sheds to fresh ground. Good weather means cramming in as much work in as possible, For the expectant ewes as well!

newly delivered, pre processing!

There are only 3 ewes left to lamb: 2 singles and a triplet. Then I'll start grading out the oldest lambs to move to new fields (and new grass) with moms.

2841 - my triple still waiting to lamb and in no hurry at all!

I won't mind a spot of rain when lambing's over. Not only will it slow my work load a bit, but it will wash the sheep shit into the orchard soil. Shit has become a hazard when hanging out laundry or walking in crocs. Still, walking in sheep shit, then walking on loose straw and gravel paths has given me an insight into why wattle and daub building techniques were in use for nearly 6,000 years. That is some durable composite material! I should build them a sheep shed out of their own poo and straw.