Saturday, 28 March 2015

Good and Bad Lambing

Another two sets of twins have arrived at Milkweed. Gregor and L817 have lambed.

Gregor's lambing was the worst case scenario. In every way possible. I had to deliver both lambs because they were "hung up", i.e. head coming out but front legs backwards. Gregor had tried to push and by the time I assisted she was pretty tired.

Gregor is quite an old lady so she was a plain ewe and didn't hold her weight. In the last few weeks she's put everything she had into her twins. By the time she gave birth, poor Gregor was like a frame with wool covering. She couldn't stand. Her first lamb was weak and hypothermic, AND has entropion (a turned-in eyelid). I hot boxed this first one, while waiting on a chance to deliver the second -

Hot Box = recycling tub, hot water bottle wrapped in old towel, and hay (I was out of straw!)

Gregor and lambs went to the sheep ICU, which in this case is the stock trailer (You know, the one that doubles as a turkey house in the summer...). Then it was 48 hours of tube feeding lambs, worming and rehydrating Gregor, and worrying. I didn't think Gregor was going to live, so I put the lambs on a bottle. Gregor hasn't got energy to make enough milk so I will need to top up her babies for all their sakes.

This is Gregor this morning with both lambs -

She is finally able to stand, and discharged herself from ICU. I think she's self-medicating, picking ivy and weeds out of the hedgerow. I have my fingers crossed for her. A sheep that's stood up and eating has half a chance.

I checked on the rest of the flock at 5.30 this morning and found L817 with two healthy lambs on their feet and suckling. All I had to do was move the family into the nursery orchard with the other new moms.

I love the drama-free births.

There were almost no photos to show you as I managed to drop my phone in the toilet yesterday - a true 21st century problem. But I dried it out and it's working, which is lucky as I have all my lambing and livestock medical details stored on it. That will teach me to make backup copies.

Mike, Ian and I are all suffering with a spring cold that's making chores a little bit harder. My morning rounds, including lambing (if it's an easy one) take just over three hours. I come in for my breakfast just as Mike and Ian are heading out. The guys have started collecting pheasants eggs for hatching - yesterday is officially the start of this year's hatch season. The incubators have been serviced and will be fired up this week. There will be no shortage of babies to care for in the coming months.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

They're Here!

Well, two of them anyway: a pair of Dorset x Charolais ewe lambs. 

I was worried that they wouldn't be as cute as pure Dorset lambs -

How stupid of me.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Spring Equinox

Mike and I celebrated the first day of spring by watching the solar eclipse. It was a cloudless morning and the eclipse was perfect viewed through my welding helmet.

Mike has a new Halloween costume

It's still cold but sunny. I can hang the laundry outside to dry. We have a clothesline in the orchard strung between two gnarled old fruit trees. This is the best time of year for outdoor drying: before the bird cherries ripen, the birds eat the cherries, and deposit cherry-infused poops on my laundry.

In the house I celebrated by taking the flannel sheets off my bed, and the insulating plastic from over the old wooden windows and opening them for the first time this year. Now I will be able to hear the morning chorus when the birds start to celebrate, and listen for the sounds of sheep getting ready to give birth. Early last Sunday, I walked my ewes from the paddock they shared with Kitty at the end of the lane, to a new paddock close to the house where I can monitor the flock from any window upstairs. That is when I'm not in the field with them, watching their sides flutter and undulate with almost-born lambs.

The new gates from my garden to the sheep field

The ewes are pregnant but I'm the one nesting. I've been compelled to clean the house, Even the kennels got scrubbed down and de-cobwebbed. And I've been knitting every spare moment of the day. (I have to knit and sew before it goes dark now. My eyes are officially old.) I've checked and re-checked my lambing essentials, and recharged the flashlights and head torches that I will need for those inevitable pre-dawn births.

Big fat ewes!

Ewes with twins and triplets will be penned in the orchard (next to the drying laundry!) after the lambs are born, until the lambs are big enough to be ignored by foxes. There is a fox den in the nearby woods. I know it's still an active threat because Quincy and Spud have retrieved parts of other farmers' lambs on our walks there. While penned, I can feed each ewe a special grain diet, and I can pick the kale crops (used to hide pheasants last season) and feed the ewes. Kale helps to up their milk production.

Big fat ewes sunbathing

Of course, where there's livestock there's dead stock. It was the Christmas Easter turkeys' turn. Better late than never. I sold two breeding pairs, and gave a pair as a tithe to the big house . The rest of the females joined Enrique's flock and the boys went to Ice Camp. As turkeys are too big to run over our plucking machine, they had to be plucked by hand. So it was a trip to Ice Camp via the Plucking Log-

It's a long old job, so what's the point in standing when you can sit and pluck in relative comfort, in beautiful surroundings? We ate the weakling stag turkey the following evening and it was delicious! So delicious that it totally made up for the blisters I got from plucking. I will definitely hatch and raise more for the freezer. I might even cut some cup holders into that log, and invite friends over for a cider and plucking party next time. 

Mike is busy too. Besides being gamekeeper, he is also a water bailiff for the estate's fly fishing lakes. (There are no weird uniform requirements for a water bailiff.) The season opens soon and the fishing club wished to stock the pond with trout. However, carp have been slowly taking over and they both muddy the pond by feeding, and take up space and oxygen in the lake. Last Friday a specialist company came to remove the carp.

The carp is a crop like the pheasants, and the estate was able to sell its surplus carp to a carp fishing club, to restock their lakes. Our lake was drained, and the carp netted and placed in buckets. Mike helped ferry the buckets to a truck with a tank on the back and the fish were checked for condition and counted in. The carp will go into quarantine and be fully health checked before release.

Buckets of Carp

From bucket to tank, ready for transport

Fish are not my department. I only get close enough to take photos and ask questions. The chap in charge showed me some of the carps' tails, which had been bitten off squarely. It means an otter is working the lakes, probably feeding young. Otters bite the tails off of fish in order to disable the fish so their pups can practice hunting and catching fish. I have seen the evidence of adult otter kills on the big lake: a large carp with its scales pulled off and scattered, and only the middle of the fish has been eaten. I hope I get to see the otter one day too.

We have finished gathering the pheasants into laying pens. We will feed and shelter them in these pens for the next couple months in order to collect and hatch their eggs. When we have enough eggs for this year, the laying hens and breeding cocks are released back into the woods. Mike found the first few eggs already and we will start collecting eggs after Easter, and our dinner of Easter turkey. (It's a thing now. Tell you friends.)

Molly the new puppy is doing great. She's smart and energetic, aside from power naps she takes in the truck -

Spring,'s all the same when you're young.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

The Quiet Time

In spite of the squally winter storms and frozen water pipes, this is a keeper's (and wife's) favourite time of year. Shoot season is over, but we haven't started catching up our laying hens yet. We have fewer responsibilities than any other time of the year, so it's our annual two week holiday. Work resumes on 14th February with our traditional Valentine's evening spent eating takeout while making wire tunnels for the pheasant catching pens.

The end of the season comes with its own ritual and tasks. I wash the dog coats and leashes, and drop off our tweeds to the Margaret at the feed store. She does a weekly run to the dry cleaners for those of us living out of town. It's so convenient and I can pick up sheep nuts and pig oil at the same time. Margaret used to keep the Queen's goat when he wasn't on duty, and still cares for a menagerie of rescued horses and donkeys. We have a quick chat, comparing notes on our animals and sharing treatment advice. Along with my tweeds, I drop off a few pheasant carcases as Margaret likes to feed a buzzard and a red kite that live in the area.

All the working dogs get an end-of-season refurbishment: bathed, nails clipped, wormed and flea-treated and a health check. At the moment we have one case of ear mites, one ear infection, one case of conjunctivitis, another of dandruff, two overweight dogs, and two underweight ones. And poor Dakota had a mild stroke a few days ago. She's recovered with no lasting effects. My morning routine now includes ear drops, eye drops, wipes, and stuffing pills into reluctant dogs, all before coffee.

The dogs go back to school now. I took Tinker and Molly to the dog trainer yesterday. Tinker did a few days' work at the end of the season. She's been a late bloomer, so we've taken it steady. She excelled at the trainer's yesterday.

On a shoot day, Tinker stands on Spud to get a better look

Molly is at the very beginning of her training, which is all done around her food: whistle to come in, whistle to sit, wait, command to eat. That, plus a couple of retrieves a day, is all she'll do for the next eight weeks. The rest of her time is spent playing or sleeping. The others will accompany me on walks in the Welsh hills.

Pip and Molly has devised a Stacking System for making best use of the couch

It's a pleasure to see all the birds that deftly avoided the guns now strutting about the estate. The cock pheasants are fighting and preening. The ducks are starting to pair up. We still keep the feeders full with wheat and maize to see them through the winter. Pigeons will start coming in to feed on farmers' crops and we'll try and put some of those pests in the freezer.

The boys are tackling our fox population, and I will make time to bag a couple of deer. This estate produces woodland products so deer are a nuisance. Deer and hare also attract poachers. Mike caught a poacher's dog but not the owners. He brought it home and put it in our kennels where it howled a protest all night long. He hoped the owners would claim it but they didn't so he handed it over to the police. Deer prices have doubled and there is a lot of rural poverty, so poaching is rife.

The hunt also came though this week. Kitty wasn't fit enough for a day's hunting, so we went on foot and waved off the field (ie the people on horseback).

Also Kitty, who lives out, is not quite as smartly turned out as the other horses -

Tomorrow's job is to gather up the pregnant ewes and give them their annual vaccine and a dose of wormer, and trim any overgrown feet. I want them ready and comfortable for motherhood. The farrier will drop in to do Kitty's feet at the same time. There's also wood to be split and stacked. We were so preoccupied with shooting that we let the heating oil run out, so we only have the wood stove and a little space heater, and no hot water until Monday.

Yup, this is our quiet time.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Un Gran Regalo

Look at what came in the post today!

A very talented blog reader, who is a friend of the family and lives in Spain, painted this picture of Dakota and our new home, and generously sent it to us. I will post another picture of the artwork after I have had it framed.

Muchas gracias Keith, de todos nosotros en Milkweed y Teasel!

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Gun Dog's Working Day - a Brief Pictorial




Repeat for six hours.


Wake up. Eat Breakfast, Repeat until 1 February.

Monday, 26 January 2015

The Scanner Man Can

Apologies for anyone who has taken the time and effort to compose a comment on the blog, only to have it disappear into the internets somewhere, never to be read or appreciated. I jiggled some settings and hopefully any comments will now be saved. And read. And appreciated. Let me know if the jiggling worked.

To make it up to you, I will now post a picture of a cute puppy -

Meet Molly. She's Mike's new puppy. (Now we each have four dogs, so we're even.) She's a black and white springer spaniel, four months old. She's very endearing.

Mike's going to struggle to discipline that face. 

Even Pip accepts her -

Well, maybe accepts is a strong word. Tolerates. Endures, possibly. They already share a love of napping.

Molly will soon be joined by baby lambs. The mobile scanner man came today and my flock is officially in lamb -

Malcolm the scanner man pulled up with the whole unit on a trailer. He was set up and ready to go before I could boil the kettle to make him a cup of tea. 

The ewes walk up the ramp, in goes the device, and an ultrasound of each ewe's uterus pops up on a screen. Malcolm counts the amniotic sacs and gives me the results, and I spray one purple dot on the ewe's back for each lamb inside her. We're expecting in total: 6 singles, 11 twins and 3 triplets. Eunice and my old matron lamb are both empty, so they will have a season off.

Before lambing starts, we still have the final week of shoot season to get through. The dogs and I are doing 4 shoot days this week, and our last day is Saturday - a beater's day, which means all the beaters and pickers up who helped though the season can bring their guns and shoot a few cock pheasants. I butchered a fallow deer to make a huge pot of venison stew for our end of year meal. All in all it's been a successful season. This winter will soon be over, spring will be here bringing lambs and pheasant chicks, in preparation for the next winter.