Monday, 22 November 2010

Walking Wounded

A small selection of this evening's meds

Walking is a misnomer. Limping wounded. Everyone's sidelined to some extent. I have a husband with a staph infection. Two ewes have foot rot, and the ewe lamb has joint ill. Pip the labrador is recovering from multiple barbed wire tears and punctures. Dulcie the spaniel tore a cruciate ligament and had an operation this morning to pin the knee and won't be able to work for the rest of the season. The chickens have gapeworm, and my tendonitis is now in both wrists.

It could be worse.

I put all my animal meds in a box - well, the vegetable drawer from the fridge - and carry it with me on my rounds. A jab of penicillin for one, an antibiotic pill for another. An icepack for Dulcie. Most of them accept their treatment with benign resignation, except for Mike. He's the worst patient I have.

The dogs that are well, or well enough, are picking up the extra shifts. But it's tiring for them. I hoped I could ease the flatcoat into work but she's going to have to start as a full member of the team sooner than expected.
Pip finds a quiet corner after another day's work

Dakota worked this afternoon driving birds over the guns so she's sleeping it off too

Poor post-op Dulcie! back end is awake before my front end....

Dulcie is still recovering from her anaesthetic. I just carried her home from the vets and put her in a kennel in the kitchen where she'll recouperate in strict confinement for the next few weeks at least. No doubt she'll take Mike's title as worst patient by the end of her treatment. Dulcie, like Mike, is a worker and hates being sedentary. I'm more on Pip's wavelength.

Mike is falling asleep in the chair, Dulcie is waking up in her kennel, tomorrow's venison stew for the workers is braising in the oven and it's my turn to take my medicine -

Add some leftover pheasant picked off the bone and it's dinner too.

In spite of all the difficulties, including near constant rain, nature throws us a bone occasionally -

Even over our muddy trucks and askew chicken houses, the rainbow looks amazing. I hope it's an omen of good things to come.

Sunday, 14 November 2010


There's quite a bit to looking after sheep, but none of it difficult or unpleasant. In fact handling sheep, once you get the technique right, is rewarding. They're lovely - warm, soft, and sweet smelling like a pile of leaves. At least until you get to the far end.

It was time for my small flock to get their dose of wormer, a foot trim, and general check-up. I haven't bought a worming gun yet because of the expense, but I do have large syringes and I figured these would work just as well - without the needles attached of course. I'd never done a foot trim before but I looked it up in my Practical Sheep Keeping book and it seemed straighforward enough. I have foot shears and a knife, and antiseptic spray left over from treating dog wounds not worth stitching.

I think the sheep knew I was coming. All were perfectly sound the night before. By morning, Eurdora was lame on her front foot, and Eunice (newest ewe lamb) was lame behind. Typical. This was going to test my severely limited knowledge of foot care. It did.

I only have 6 ewes but it took me a good hour to pen them up, and catch hold of each one to perform the necessary ablutions. First I trimmed all four feet -

Finish with a bit of blue spray, the shepherd's friend, between the toes -

I've learned to wear gloves because the blue won't wash off your skin, it has to wear off in its own time.

The lambs were exempt from the worming and pruning, but they hung around to watch -

My syringe delivery system worked great -

 With one small caveat: I forgot the blue spray residue on my gloves -

 And now the ladies all have blue moustaches for the next week or so -

Nevermind. I'll pretend it's an homage to Salvador Dali.

I couldn't figure out what was wrong with either of the lame sheep. It wasn't obvious, no thorns or hot spots or rank smells. I needed a second (knowledgeable) opinion. Dickie the shepherd came and had a look for me the following day, by which time Eunice was better and Eudora was worse.

Foot rot. There was a small crack on the side of Eudora's foot which had allowed the bacteria to enter. We burst the infection examining her which made her immediately more comfortable. When I moved the fence to give them fresh grass today, Eudora was noticeably better, but I will probably get her a shot of penicillin from the vets Monday morning, just to be sure. Looks like I'll have a chance to practice my intra-muscular shots then.

But now Eunice the lamb has gone lame again, and I can't figure out what's wrong with her. I hope Dickie's free tomorrow.

Autumn is over in our part of England. High winds have cleared the trees in our garden of leaves and apples. It's been wet every day so Milkweed is more bog than field. Our dew pond is full again which might attact a few passing ducks. But the cold and wet condition takes its toll on all the animals. I rigged up another creep feeder to supplement the lambs -

They will still suckle from their mothers but the extra nutrition will benefit both parties.

The dogs have done 20 days on the shooting field already. Dulcie can't hold onto any weight and halfway through a wet cold day she "hit the wall" as runners say. I always carry a mini Mars bar for this sort of emergency. A quick release of glucose and the afternoon off brought her around. But the best thing we've done is install a heat lamp in the spare kennel -

It's only one of the lamps I use to keep day old chicks under, but with the kennel door closed it produces a comfortable ambient temperature. Now at the end of a work day, I can towel off the spaniels and put their coats on them to keep their muscles warm while they dry off. And I can put them directly into a warm, dry kennel in a fresh bed of straw. I still need to wire the lamp in properly but it's doing the job for now, plugged in to a waterproof socket.

Kenneled working dogs have hugely different requirements to pet dogs. They need to grow a weatherproof coat, but they also need a warm, dry place to relax and sleep. Dulcie, Podge, and Spud are having 3 feeds a day to maintain their weight, including high calorie foods like oil and eggs. It's like feeding atheletes. 

I adjust the dogs' diet every week based on their workload and how much weight they're holding. Jazz and Pip are great at maintaining their weight, but both are lazy and know how to shut off on days they don't work. Dakota holds her weight because she lives indoors. The others need extra care.

It took me time to build up experiential knowledge about dogs and about horses. I hope in time that I'll be able to build enough of the requisite knowledge to make sure my sheep are at their best. So far the sheep are surviving in spite of me.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Sheeps Week

We're in a phase of adjustment here in Dorset. The clocks went back last Sunday and we're still adjusting to losing that precious late afternoon hour. The dogs are adjusting to their workload retrieving shot birds. The pheasants are adjusting to the disturbance of shoot season (perhaps with less enthusiasm than the dogs). The ewes are adjusting to the trials of motherhood. I'm still maladjusted.

My sheep experience continues to increase, slowly, through observation. At least that's what I tell Mike, that I'm "observing sheep behaviour" when he catches me hanging over the fence mooning over the lambs. It's partly true. So far I have noticed:

1) Both the ewes are flexible about feeding each others' lambs - up to a point. The ewe loses her patience when a queue starts forming at her back end.

2) If something startles the lambs, they will start to suckle furiously as soon as the danger has passed. It seems to comfort all concerned.

3) The little ewe lamb is more reserved and clings to her mother while her rambunctious hooligan brothers are rough-housing. She's super cute though -

The lambs are growing really well. The weather has been kind and they've been able to put all their energies into getting bigger rather than staying warm. Moreover, their mothers have been good milkers and attentive. But the lambs grow on at the ewes' expense -

When you can see a ewe's spine and hip bones like this, it's time to start feeding the lambs on hard food and to move the ewes to richer pasture.

The trick to feeding the lambs is to build a creep feeder - essentially a box around the feed with bars spaced wide enough to let little lambs through and keep big ewes out.  I haven't had time to build one yet but a solution presented itself as a result of my sheep observing habits: the lambs usually napped together inside a wire tree guard too low for the ewes to get under -

Perfect. Lazy and effective.

The ewes and lambs have been in the paddock at the bottom of our drive. Now that the lambs are strong enough, and now I've ringed and tagged them, they were ready to move to Milkweed. Yesterday, I penned the ewes with their lambs, loaded them all and moved them by myself, which was a rewarding feeling.

On the theme of laziness, I decided I would just use the quad bike which was already attached to the sheep trailer. As it's not road legal, I had to take a cross-country route along field margins and rutted tracks. Here's something else I've learned: wear supportive undergarments. Quad bikes and potholes are a poor pairing. I had to drive one-handed and keep my other arm across my chest to protect my own poor pair. The sheep faired better than I did on that trip.

Lady S had kindly rented me the lambing paddock and it was time to pay up. Total cost: 2 oven-ready chickens. I dropped them in to the big house kitchen and the chef sent me off with a bag of fresh out of the oven scones. I was starving but I had a few chores to finish before I could sit down to a cup of tea and scones with jam. I left them on my counter top without thinking. I came back to this -
Empty plastic bag and guilty shepherd. Well, at least the ewes have something to eat. And what was I left with?

Another downside to using the quad bike. I might ask Santa for mud flaps

A dirty trailer that still needed cleaning.

I hope I'm painting a pitiful picture of woe and deprivation for you.

It's not all bad. I still have a lot of windfall apples to make into cakes and pies (which will NOT be left within the reach of counter surfing dogs). There are leeks, cabbages, carrots, and beets in the garden, and the chickens are still laying.

In fact you can see a clutch of Barbara's eggs at the base of our apple tree. She is not making the adjustment from summer to autumn. Barbara has been doggedly sitting on those eggs every day for the past week, and every night I lift her off the nest and put her in the hen house. Every morning she goes back to "incubating" the eggs. She's like the King Cnut of chickens, pushing back the tide of autumn with her determination to bring off another brood of chicks.

I'm also losing the battle against the tide of autumn leaves, but I don't really mind. And my activities give the cows on the other side of the hedge something to look at -

Cows are surprisingly good company, if lacking in conversation. And they don't steal my baked goods.

I wish I could say we were slowing down and taking it easy with winter coming. But pheasant season continues, and doe / hind season has started. There's space in the freezer that wants filling before the deer lose condition. Alan the horse will be back in work this week, and the flock all need worming and foot trims by next Sunday. And I need to build a creep feeder and field shelter before the wind starts coming in from the north.

We're not prepared, we're not organised, and we're rarely efficient, but we are consummate adjusters.