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.


Captain Shagrat said...

Sweet pic of lamb ahhhhh but Geman Shep steals the show;-). Cheers easy says he...

Poppy Cottage said...

The lambs really look lovely. Swap for a pup?

Maybe we should meet up over apple cake, made by either you or me.

Oh with plenty of tea!!

Paula said...

Good to get an update on what's going on, even if it seems like to you that you aren't getting much done. It'll all happen eventually. I have no excuses like you do, with all your responsibilities.

So once the woolly ones are up at Milkweed, what protects them? Or do you worry about that? I've read in a couple of places that llamas are supposed to be good herd guards, but I don't know if they can be had in Britain, (or if you'd even want or need one). Do you have to build them some kind of shelter? Just curious, as ever.

Don't feel bad about your scones. I once made the mistake of leaving the last of the butter in its dish on the dining room table and went out to the movies with my neighbor, only to come home to a missing butter pat and four long paw-spread scratches on my dining room table top. Couldn't get mad- it was my fault. At least you didn't have ruined furniture as a result.

Have you found your house keys yet?

Darlene said...

I love reading about your life! You're a brave,brave woman!! I dreamed of a life like yours...but it sounds like too much work for me!! I have definitely changed my dream!! LOL But I do enjoy reading all about your day to day adventures and I love your sense of humor! Darlene

Kerry said...

nice backside!

Kate said...

My November feels about the same. I'm behind the curve, and not organized. But at least I don't feel robbed of baked goods! If we were in the same neighborhood, I'd bring you some of my lardy cake. I grew up with shepherds and I love them above all other breeds of dog, but I also know they can be *very* sneaky and clever when it comes to ferreting out something they want to eat. Lesson learned the hard way, of course.

Hang in there, you'll get through it, organized or not.

Peruby said...

I can certainly relate to the dog-stealing. I have 4 and would not ever want to add up the cost of what they have stolen, chewed or ruined.

Love your pics and your posts, although some of your jargon is foreign to me. Such as "...before the deer lose condition." Not a phrase I am familiar with. Is that like "before the season for hunting them is over?"

Terry Scoville said...

Wow, I am still laughing at your comment about"supportive undergarments". The same is true here in Oregon when driving the nasty, rocky, lumpy, bumpy roads getting back into deer and elk country. Best to double up and hold on tight! Sound as though you are doing well with your sheep herd and I am thrilled for your successes. Keep it up, cheers!

Sara said...

"Sheeps Week", hahaha! Just about the cutest lamb picture ever (the shy little ewe lamb). Careful taking her pic that you don't fill her head with ideas of a glamorous modelling career. But mudflaps for Christmas? Oh Jen,...(*shaking head, sighing with a worried frown*).

Jennifer Montero said...

CS - Don't spare a kind thought for that shepherd, she stole a piece of cake the following day.

PC - Puppies and apple cake is the best idea I've heard all week. Let me know.

Paula - Sheep are behind 3 strands of electric fencing and the boundary fence, but it doesn't stop me worrying about them. I'm grateful we don't have coyotes and mountain lions in the UK.

I know a few people in the village that keep alpacas as livestock guardians but with mixed success. Not all the alpacas show that protective instinct. I don't know if it needs to be selected for when breeding them as guardians.

Still no sign of my house keys...

Darlene - It's too much work for me too. Much more sensible to read about it from the comfort of your chair, within reach of a well stocked fridge.

Kerry - Does this trailer make my bum look big...?

Kate - You are on my wavelength. Thanks for the understanding comment.

Peruby - My aunt's goldie once ate my silver Waterman pen and I still haven't recovered from that loss (Same dog ate my cousin's cashmere gloves the same day). Now we just don't have anything nice, expect the dogs which works out fine.

Before deer lose condition means that we want to harvest them after they've had a summer of eating grass and putting on flesh and fat. If I wait til after winter when the deer have used their reserves, their carcases will be "plain" (ie not as much meat and little fat).

Males are in their worst condition after breeding season. Some even die as a result.

Terry - a truck on a bumpy know just what I mean then! Thanks for the kind words

Sara - I was planning to show my best ewe at the county fair this summer, does that count as sheep modelling? OK, I'll forego the mud flaps but can I ask Santa for a drenching gun for worming the sheep? Ho Ho Ho I'm giving them the gift of anthelmintics ...

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

So, I'll add sports bra to my list of country essentials, along with heavy gloves, waterproof jackets, and mud boots.

Your sheep pictures always make me want to have sheep, and then your descriptions of the work involved always change my mind.