Monday, 23 May 2016

The Vermin Paradox

There are still more posts to come describing different methods of controlling vermin. This is a brief interlude to demonstrate the irrational behaviour of human beings.

We (farmers, fishermen, gamekeepers) consider the Canada goose a pest. Under General License Canada geese can be killed any time of year if they are destroying crops. It's spring and the vulnerable first shoots of maize and wheat crops are coming up. Later when barley and wheat are ready to harvest, 50 geese can eat up to an acre a day (so one on-line source says).

So why am I standing in my kitchen, typing this blog post, with a Canada goose gosling keeping warm in my armpit, in a makeshift baby sling?

Why am I caring for a bird that will grow up to become a "pest"?

Because babies are babies, I couldn't leave an orphan to die of cold and hunger, and because, well, just because. Everything, pest or not, deserves a chance to be, I guess.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Vermin Patrol Part1: Snares and Traps

Snares and fenn traps hanging on the side of our barn

Mike and I are doing a skills swap. Last year our neighbour Bill taught me a better way to catch moles, and I was able to clear our orchard of the little furry devils. I'm going to teach Mike the BMM (Bill Mole-catching Method) and he is teaching me to set fox snares. I've used cage traps but never snares to catch a fox.

I like the idea of snares since there's no poison involved, and non-target species that get snared can easily be let go. Especially badgers which, when caught in a snare, curl up and go to sleep until you wake them and cut them free (at which point a badger is wide awake and pissed off). Only non-locking snares are legal, so when an animal relaxes, the snare relaxes too. Animals too small (pheasants) or too big (deer) just knock the snare and it won't catch anything until it's re-set. In the UK, snares have to be checked every 24 hours minimum.

Mike checks snares in the morning, Ian checks them in the evening. I accompany Mike to check his snare line so he can talk me through how and where to set snares. "Where" is usually obvious by looking at paths travelled under fences, where the ground is bare of weeds from use, or hairs are caught on barbed wire.

The snare has to blend in with its surroundings. New snares are shiny and have to be "weathered", which is why we leave ours hanging on the side of the barn (or treat them with baking soda if we need them right away). Animals distrust objects that stand out from their surroundings. Look closely at the photo below which shows a treated snare set in a run.

Gateways and tracks used by people and vehicles are regularly used by animals too. To set a snare on an open track or underneath a long gate requires patiently blocking off more and more of the gap with logs and rocks over a period of days. The fox gets used to seeing an obstruction and goes around. The obstruction, just logs and rocks to the fox, gets larger and longer and eventually guides the fox through the only remaining gap - and a snare.

On our last check together, we found a fox in one of the snares.

It was a dog fox, the second of a pair. Ian caught the vixen a few days earlier. I despatched the dog fox with a shotgun and set a new snare wire while Mike talked me through the process.

Mike tells me that fox skins used to be worth money and a gamekeeper was allowed to supplement his income by selling the fox skins. Now there is no commercial use for the animal but because of vulnerable farmed livestock like lambs and chickens, fox populations are still managed in the countryside. It's not my favourite job.

Many snares are set at the same time, along a length of fencing, as animals use lots of paths on their daily rounds. We check about 40 snares on our daily round. We can check rat/squirrel traps at the same time.

Rats and squirrels are trapped using fenn traps. These are what most people think of when imagining a trap: the animal steps on a plate and spring-loaded bars snap shut.

We use barrels with openings cut to allow squirrels inside, and bait the barrel with wheat. Two fenn traps nestle in the wheat on the bottom of the barrel. We can check our traps by unscrewing the lid from the barrel or, if one of the dogs is with me, she will circle the barrel and wag her tail which is a pretty good sign the trap is full.

There are many concerns over grey squirrels in the UK. Primarily grey squirrels are a non-native species, and they carry a squirrel pox that is killing native red squirrels where their territories overlap. (There are no red squirrels in our area, or we wouldn't be able to trap using the barrel method, as we couldn't guarantee not to catch red squirrels.)

Fenns can be used to catch rats too. The fenn sits inside a small tunnel, and two sticks are poked in the ground at the opening of the tunnel, in an "X" shape, to block curious pheasants wandering in

These traps are only for rats in the woods. Nearer to home, we shoot the ones we can see. There is a nest in the roots of a tree outside the back door. The rats make regular forays from their tree nest to the chicken feeder 25 feet away. The deal is when you're having your morning/evening cup of tea, you have to keep the .410 shotgun handy and the back door open. If a rat makes a run for it, shoot it. Mike has killed the most, I'm lagging way behind. My excuse is that I drink my tea in the car while running errands, not sat down by the back door.

We use a 4-wheel drive buggy to reach all the traps. And this is why.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

It's why they're called "Springer" Spaniels


This is Gertie, now seven months old. We're going to our trainer Vic tomorrow for her first real training class.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

Separating the Men from the Girls

The last lamb was born on Sunday, a single ewe lamb to Ewe 00025, with no intervention, just more dancing from the shepherdess. That's the way, uh huh uh huh, I like it.

We had a good lambing season overall. 29 surviving lambs in total, 16 ram lambs and 16 ewe lambs. 19 ewes were scanned pregnant; Ugly Sheep died giving birth (rest her woolly soul) and I finally culled Ewe 0005 who mis-mothered her only lamb in four attempts to conceive and give birth. Plus my two horned ewes had another 3 ram lambs between them in January. Even Ugly Sheep's son Buddy (23, with a dot to remind me he's adopted) is doing great -


(P)rick, our new ram, produced a strong crop of lambs overall, healthy and growing well. I will keep the best ewe lambs to replace my oldest and culled sheep.

Ewes and lambs on the spring grass

I've had worse seasons.

Lambing seem to get easier, possibly due to a combination of luck and more experience on my part. Unfortunately, like so many things, I learn most from my mistakes. I often play those mistakes over and over in my head, and they are hard to forget. And now I have goat kids to begin a whole new crop of mistakes.

Goat Kid Mistake # 1: Remember my last post, I thought both kids were does? The brown one is a buck. The white one is a doe.

How on earth could I not notice that?! Well, you're talking to the person who didn't realise her goat was even pregnant, so let's assume my powers of observation are questionable, especially after a month of lambing sleep-deprivation.

In my defence, the vet who came and disbudded the kids didn't notice either.

The kids are anaesthetised with Propofol - we call it getting "Michael Jacksoned"

A heated tool is used to cut away the growing point of the horns

I'm used to looking at lambs' testicles (who isn't, right?) and if you have never seen a lamb's scrotum..well, they are big and obvious. Heck, the purse I carry is smaller than a lamb's scrotum.  A cursory glance when I'm putting iodine on the lambs' navels is enough to tell the hims from the hers.

Not so much goats.

Goats testicles are discreet. I only noticed he was a boy when I caught him having a wee. It was not the girl "squat and wee behind" but the boy "stand and wee from the middle". I picked him up, and had to turn him over and search to find the testicles.

So now I know.

I spend time in the goat pen every day, letting the kids climb on me and get used to being handled. They are curious and far more personable than lambs. At least I know now to get the buck separated earlier, before he gets too "personable" with his mother. I may put him to the other unrelated nanny to keep her in milk. However, the end of the road for him is the freezer, and beaters' lunches this winter.

Our very basic goat milking station: a rope, a bucket of food, a jug & and milk churn

Lastly, the winner of the hot water bottle cover is Laura Orabone. Underkeeper Ian picked her name out of a pheasant feed bag this morning. Laura, please email me your mailing address, and whether you need the hot water bottle to come with it, and I will put it in the post for you. I hope you enjoy it!

Thursday, 21 April 2016


The last ewe still hasn't lambed, but one of the goats stepped up to fill the birthing gap -

The above photo is seconds after I discovered them inside the goat house, so you're seeing exactly what I saw (minus my jaw hanging open, obviously). I had zero idea that she was pregnant. We don't keep any bucks, nor do our nearest neighbours. There was a ram in with her but shoats (sheep/goat hybrids) are too rare to be a possibility. If I do the maths, she was covered in late November last year, just before I took her son away. The kids, both does, have Boer goat markings like him.

So far the kids seem healthy, despite having a brother for a father. I think the saying goes "If it works, it's line breeding and if it doesn't, it's inbreeding". Then you eat your mistakes and try again.

Delivering a Lamb Backward


That was the last of the twins. Both are doing great.

Three more ewes with singles (the "One and Done"ers) lambed on Sunday. Right after it snowed. First time mum 0005 finally produced a lamb after four chances, but lacked the mothering instinct inherent in Dorset sheep. I found her lambsicle frozen to the ground, not even licked clean, with mother grazing a few yards away.

To add to her crimes, she then attempted to steal a baby from the next ewe to lamb, a good old experienced mother. I had to put a pen around them to keep 0005 away. I took 0005 straight to market as a cull ewe the next day. No bad mothers allowed in the flock. Not like Richard Rountree in "Shaft" Bad Mothers (we keep Grumpy after all), but like Joan Crawford "Mommie Dearest" bad mothers. Like wire hangers, those are not allowed.

The snow stopped, the sun has come out, and I have one ewe left to lamb, So I guess I'm "One and Done too"!