Sunday, 17 October 2010

Learning Curves and Hedge Funds

I always thought of spring as the busiest season. Trees bursting into bud, seeds needing to go in, baby animals being born and all that. I'm changing my vote to autumn. The harvest waits for no man, pheasant season is in full cry, and if you're short-sighted, you've added lambing to your calendar. Spring is the start of months of good weather. Autumn is the culmination and as the temperatures drop, and the nights draw in you can feel the door closing on you, even though there's still so much to be done.

That's my excuse for going more than two weeks without getting on line. Blame nature.

It's a matter of priorities: animals first, and all other chores are optional. Anything that can be left has been left. Horse tack is cluttering the living room (the formal one, obviously). The dogs are sleeping on piles of horse blankets that need mending before the cold weather comes in. The kitchen counters are littered with concoctions, innoculations, medications and potions that no one's found time to put away. I've tried to clear one area for cooking but if you eat dinner, you take your chance that there might be a touch of worming medication or antibiotics in it. (Mike's not scooching his bottom along the carpet so either way it's not doing any harm.)

We're also impeded by minor ailments. Mike has an infected hand, and I have tendonitis. I'm supposed to wear a splint and rest it for the next 4-6 weeks but there's no chance of that. Resting does not fall in the priority pile and will have to wait until winter.

The animals are getting their fair share of ailments and meds too. Alan's lame with nothing more serious than sore hind leg, we hope. £100 worth of horse aspirin has made him comfortable and me a lot poorer. He's off work until next week at least, which rests both our injuries. I made him a pair of long reins for driving out of old horse blanket straps and some rope, and we had one trial run before injury set in. On the up side, Alan responded well to long lines and didn't mind them tangled around his feet or slapping him on his sides. I think he got the hang of it quicker than I did.

So a quick update then. As promised, a picture of the last surprise lamb delivered last night -

He's a good size, and strong. We had a 200% birth rate which is great not only because we get double the product (more lambs) but it also means I was getting the nutrition right. A ewe with reserves can bring off twins. I'm flying by the seat of my pants with the whole lambing routine, learning as I go with ample opportunity for mistakes. I have a good mentor - Dickie - who talks me down when I start to panic and has checked over my lambs and pronounced them excellent.

The moms have done the hard work, but there are still nursemaid jobs for me to do such as iodining the navel to prevent infection -

"Hey! What the..?"

With Dickie's help I'm ringing all the tails, and testicles on the rams. The older two are done already and fully recovered. 

I moved the first ewe and lambs into the garden where I could pen them together to bond and keep the lambs safe from the fox. In hindsight it was a bit overkill and extra work. The second ewe I've penned in her field with a strand of electric fence to deter foxes and it seems to be working.

It's sweet having the garden lambs but I have learned that a) sheep shit a LOT and b) lambs are just as destructive sleeping in your flower beds as chickens are scratching them up. On the plus side, the ewe has been selectively feeding on the lawn and what I class as weeds she sees as a tasty snack. So essentially she's weeding and feeding the garden, which saves me a job.

And speaking of sheep shit, there's another job I learned to do today -

Two undergrad degrees and a master's has led me here...

We've had a late burst of growth in the grass, and sometimes it can affect a sheep's digestive system. I worried that even now flies might be laying eggs, and a shitty sheep's arse is prime real estate if you're a fly. I never bathed a sheep before and not knowing what to use I made an educated guess: Woolite. I figured if it works on sweaters, which is just wool off a sheep, it should work when it's still attached to the sheep. I cut out the worst bits with kitchen shears. Prevention is better than cure.

My father visited this week and was immediately press-ganged into helping me split and stack wood for our newly built log store -

And cut the hedges -

I knew there was a view out there somewhere

And the rest of the time I've been working on the shoot. Or cleaning up after shoot days. The dogs catch up any wounded game, like this partridge which only had a few pellets in the leg. I plucked it and added it to a curry - my contribution at our harvest supper. The wings I've used on one of Spud's training dummies.

I think we're finding the rhythm of the autumn season now and maybe we're due a bit of balance. The lambing's gone well, and there are preserves in the pantry. I felt in balance yesterday when I walked to the post box with paid bills and on the way back found a few nests of eggs which the chickens had made in the hedgerow. Goods out - goods in. When I think of managing a hedge fund, I think of finding eggs and harvesting blackberries. Walking up a hedgerow with a dog is usually good for a bird or two for the pot. I'll never get rich or fat on my returns but I'm pretty happy with the exchange.


Terry Scoville said...

Jen, Congrats on a 200% lamb return, that is wonderful. Your hard work learning the ropes is proof positive of your success. Once again you are amazingly busy beyond belief. Hope Dickies continues to improve as well as keeping your own tendonitis at bay.

Kerry said...

I hope that every time someone Googles "shitty sheep's arse" your blog is the #1 hit.
Congrats again on your successful lambing season, and for managing to get so many other things done, as well. I myself have had "get nitrogen supplement for lemon tree" on my todo list for months, but I'm just that lazy about outdoors work. Glad you had an extra set of hands to help you out this week. Maybe when he visits me I'll see if he can help me with my office work. Or I'll set him on that nitrogen problem as it will probably be months more before I get around to it.

Kate said...

Yes, congrats on the lamb balance sheet. You may be right about the workload of fall (even without the livestock). But I still think spring is harder. At least in fall the downtime of winter is tantalizingly near, like the carrot dangling just out of reach. In spring, the downtime has turned muscles and calluses into just so much cookie dough.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Woolite! That's priceless.

I can't tell you how envious I am of your nonchalant hunting success. Just take a dog for a walk, and come home with dinner! We hiked for an hour and a half this morning, in search of pheasants, and came home empty-handed.

The problem: no dog. We saw three pheasants, but couldn't flush them.

A question about the sheep -- is it good or bad, or neither, to have a lot of rams? Do you hope for ewes so you can breed them, or is it better to have a mix, or rams to sell or eat?

I know nothing about sheep. That, of course, wouldn't prevent me from getting some of my own.

Paula said...

Congratulations on 200%!

I read or heard somewhere recently that if a ewe has a female and a male in the same birthing, that neither will be any good for reproducing. Is that true?

Even with washing sheep butt, your autumn sounds a lot more fun than mine. Maybe more productive, anyway. Four babies!

Jennifer Montero said...

Terry - Thanks for your vote of confidence. Tendonitis is making it hard to use the shotgun so it'd better clear up quick!

Kerry - I'm concerned about anyone who googles the phrase "shitty sheep's arse" considering what the internets gets used for most. Shall I send you some citris feed for Christmas?

Tamar - My aunt has just informed me that Wisk works better than Woolite because of the blueing. I have an interesting family.

Healthy lambs are better than none at all, but ewe lambs would be a long term return on investment as breeding stock. These ram lambs are only good for the freezer. You only need 1 ram per 25 ewes for breeding so ram lambs are usually surplus. Espcially if they're the sons of your breeding ewes.

I wholeheartedly recommend sheep as part of your 'one new species a year' policy, especially if you have rough pasture. You could start with a pair of wethers; they go from day old to freezer in 9 months, at an avg of 25kg of meat per lamb.

And fingers crossed for a pheasant next time.

Kate - Fair comment, I forget about the softened hands. Building those callouses up again after winter is a bummer.

Paula - You're thinking of freemartinism, which is the outcome of all mixed twins in cattle. It's not the norm for sheep, though it does occur (as does homosexuality, at a rate of 8% of sheep, which I found interesting). I hope we won't be unlucky.

I don't know what it says about me but I didn't find sheep's butt washing the worst job around here. It's even less disgusting than cleaning the dog kennels.