Friday, 31 December 2010

Eudora Update

That's looks like a sheep on the mend, doesn't it?

She's not out of the woods yet. We're less pessimistic, not yet optimistic.

I'm not sure what, if any, neurological problems she might have. Her eyesight isn't fully back yet. But she's holding her head up, twitching her ears, and making baa-ing noises at me. She's responding more like a sheep should. She's grinding her teeth a lot less, so the pain is subsiding. That's good news.

She's not exactly the cleanest sheep after her ordeal.

The vet's coming by tomorrow to check on her progress. I hope he can give us a prognosis that moves us firmly into the optimistic category.

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

dammit...part deux redux

We're back to the Listeriosis diagnosis again. Eudora the sheep is exhibiting clinical signs more commonly associated with Listeriosis: unilateral head movements and hypersalivation. I'm hedging my bets and continuing with the B vitamin therapy under vet's orders, just in case.

Listeria is present in the soil and affects <2% of ruminants. If that's the case, Eudora was one of the unlucky few to contract it.

Regardless of the diagnosis, that little sheep is still very sick. We won't know if the therapies are helping for a few days at least. Every day she hangs in there is a result.

To make all our lives easier (and night checks less gruelling), I've moved her to the empty kennel in the garden. I laid her in the back of an open flatbed truck and we made the 2 mile journey home without so much as a twitch from her.

That is a poorly-bad-sick sheep.

Mike and Underkeeper Pete helped me lift 60 kilos of Eudora into the truck. We got talking about the local sheep farmers in the area and their varied approaches to animal husbandry. One farmer is notorious for his laissez faire attitude to his flock, leaving sick or injured sheep to get well naturally or die. Whatever's left goes on to market. I wondered if this approach to producing lamb was more economical, in an effort to explain what otherwise seems cruel or irresponsible.

I thought of Eudora. I've spent the entire profit generated by one meat lamb on her medication so far, with only a 1 in 3 chance of her recovering. But, she could have 10 years of breeding in her. Even a single lamb every year from her would more than balance out this cost. Or she could be predisposed to Listeria and pass this weakness on to her progeny. Or she could live a long life without ever requiring another jab of penicillin. It's a bit of a crapshoot.

I do know that I'm not caring for her out of love, like I would a pet. I feel kindness towards her and I don't want her to suffer, but she's purebred stock and intended for breeding meat lambs.  I feel like I have an obligation to do what I can for her, even if I'm going to eat her young.

Not everyone who reads this blog keeps sheep, or chickens or turkeys, but I would guess almost all of you are meat eaters. So here's what I wonder: what is the real price of meat? When you buy meat, would you accept paying more for meat produced from small flocks who consider animal husbandry and welfare a priority? Or do you feel that commercially produced meat raised in facilities which have passed inspection, but on an economy of scale that means you can purchase it much cheaper, is reasonable enough?

Those of you who keep your own livestock, and especially if you despatch and process your own livestock: what caused you to choose to do this? Because it's not easy to care for something and then kill it yourself. And keeping livestock is a bind, a demand on your time with no days off, and it's rarely economically feasible on such a small scale.

Please tell me your stories. I can't explain why I feel that a farmer who lets sheep die still seems wrong, even if it's economically viable. That's the million dollar question.

Now, I'm going out to the kennels to feed my sick sheep her electrolyes and give her a scratch behind the ear.

dammit....part deux

The vet's been. After examining Eudora, he thinks it might be CCN - cerebrocortical necrosis. Also known as Thiamine deficiency. The rumen has been compromised by too much ingestion of B vitamins, creating a slightly too acidic rumen liquor which destroys the thiamine and in fact depletes stores of thiamine in the body's blood and tissue. Harmful bacteria can also proliferate under these conditions, futher weakening the animal.

In this case it was caused by overfeeding of concentrates. By me.

Has anyone stopped reading this, and dialled the RSPCA?

I feel awful.

I know it takes time and experience to develop enough knowledge to best care for your livestock. The incongruous part is that you need to learn on your animals.

I have a backround in keeping animals, and some diseases or zoonoses are commonplace to us and to them. Worms for example. I can identify an unthrify horse, or a dog losing condition, or a chicken gaping and recognise the signs. Anyone who's been responsible for animals knows what a sick animal looks like: a runny nose or eyes, drooping head, listless - or maybe restless. You may even just know that your animal isn't quite himself. Or herself.

It's the actual diagnoses that take time to learn. Worms are easy, and anthelmitic programs are available. But metabolic disorders? Or how about degenerative diseases that are congenital? If your chicken has a weak heart, you won't know until the necropsy. Lameness in a horse? Forget it. There are so many muscles and suspensory ligaments and tendons that can bow or pull - and that's just in the lower half.

None of this exonerates me for the stupidity of overfeeding my sheep.

I can only hope that the B vitamin injections, and antibiotics, and anti-inflammatories have come soon enough to save Eudora from my mistake. I'll be spending the afternoon drenching her with water and electrolytes, and checking on her through the night. If she survives, she won't hold it against me. Animals are pretty great that way.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010


Eudora the ewe is sick. Really sick. She tried to tell me that she wasn't well yesterday. She didn't come running for her dinner like the others, and she was a bit...cuddly. Eudora is one of my orphans so she has her cuddly moments, but not usually during feeding time, unless she thinks she can ingratiate herself and get an extra handful of barley.

I thought she was just being sheepy - sort of unwell with something that would clear up as quickly as it had come on. Indigestion from too much grass maybe. I should have trusted my gut.

This evening I found her stood on her own (not a good sign), all four feet planted, her head held low and her neck stiffened. She didn't want to move. In fact, she acted as if she was blind. And she was grinding her teeth, which can be a sign of pain in animals.

I don't have a good working knowledge of sheep diseases yet, though my small flock has been putting me through my paces. I had to extrapolate from what I knew and trust my gut this time. My gut said it's a neurological something. Mike went to find the local shepherd for advice while I waited with Eudora. She ground her teeth and made pathetic bleating noises while I felt helpless, and guilty for not spotting it sooner.

Listeriosis - possibly. The shepherd sent Mike back with a megadose of antibiotic, which is meant to penetrate into the brain. We called Terry our vet for his opinion before I jabbed Eudora. He gave us the same diagnosis. It's definitely something meningio-encephalitic and that puts poor Eudora in the really sick category. I crossed my fingers and emptied half the syringe into each of her thigh muscles. She found some strength to fight me over that.

Mike and I used my jacket as a sling to carry her to the truck and lift her into the flatbed. I've put her in one of the horse stables and made her as comfortable as possible. We'll check on her every few hours to see if there's any improvement, and to make sure she doesn't cast herself or end up on her back. If she makes it through the night, she'll still need another week's worth of antibiotics.

The vet manual gives me a 30% chance of her recovery. I'll take what I can get. I don't want to lose a potential breeding ewe or a friend.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Snow Business

I know for a lot of you, snow isn't anything to write home about. You measure your snowfall in feet, where we only manage centimeters. You expect snow, it's an inevitable part of winter, along with shoveling your sidewalk and the sound of snowplows clearing your roads at 6am. Not so in the south of England.

Listening to the locals talk, this is the first time in their memory that the snow came so early - November - and that we've had a run of it. I had this conversation with everyone I bumped into at the grocery store; everyone who owned a tractor anyway. That's what they drove to the store because no one plows our roads and grit is rarer than gold nuggets. It's funny to see the car park in the supermarket filled with big tractors instead of soccer mom wagons.

So snow is a big thing for me. It makes me feel less homesick for New England winters, and it's great excuse to ignore the Soil Protection Review that I need to file with the government by 31 December and my taxes which are due a month later. Carpe the frozen diem I say, especially if it gets me out of the house.

I took all the dogs that weren't too old or still recuperating for a long walk around the estate. Yesterday's shoot day was cancelled because of a heavy snow storm and the next shoot day isn't for another week. I thought the dogs deserved a day off, just to run about and enjoy what winter has to offer

I should have known that, for them, it offered just another chance to hunt up birds in the hedges and rough covert -

 And find stuff to smell -

And maybe do a bit of sledding (Jazzie's favorite pastime), or chew on the cocker spaniel (Dakota's favorite pastime) -

For me, it was a chance to see what kind of wildlife has been moving around. I found lots of fallow deer slots -

 And rabbit prints. This one was loping along, sat down, then loped along again -

 Of course there are pheasant prints everywhere -

 And where there are pheasants, there are foxes -

The dogs found a patch of deer blood. Underkeeper Pete and Stalker Dave shot a roe deer last night in a farmer's crop. Together they had to carry it back to the yard which is a good mile away. They must have put it down here for a moment, to rest and to readjust their shared load -

As we walked up the track there were drops of blood staining the snow. I know it's Pete and Dave by their footprints. Dave wears Irish Setter boots, which have a distinct tread pattern -

And, although Underkeeper Pete has new boots, I recognise his distinctive footsteps as both his toes turn out when he walks -

Pete knows my tracks too, by the flat-footed print that my mukluks make in the snow.

I can see by fresh quad bike tracks that the farmers have been through already this morning, probably haying and checking their heifers, which are now in the barn for the winter -

Everybody knows your business when it snows.

The dogs had a good time, and tired themselves out for the afternoon. The roads are so quiet that we walked the last couple of miles in the middle of the road, and the only cars we passed were cars that couldn't make it up the icy hills and had been abandoned on the verge.

When I got home, I took the old and recovering dogs out to enjoy the snow at their own pace. I gave Hazel the dummy with the partridge feathers on it, and we played fetch (which she never gets tired of playing) -

Dulcie, who is recovering so well, didn't want to be left out of the retrieving game. Although she should be walking sensibly, I gave in and threw her my glove so she could make a few retrieves -

Like Hazel, she lives and breathes retrieving.

Old Nellie on the other hand, marches to the beat of her own drum. She was happy because she found a half a head of cabbage in the compost pile. She chose to carry that on our walk, and at the end of the walk, eat it. -

To each his own - even if your own is raw cabbage.

A week off from pheasant shooting has only freed me up to go deer stalking. I must harvest some of the deer on my patch. If it's going to be a hard winter, it will benefit all the deer if we remove some of the older or weaker ones now.

And my patch happens to be a pheasant drive too. Too many deer in a drive can spook pheasants and move them out over the guns too quickly. I'm getting a lot of ribbing for the amount of deer that came out of the woods last time we shot that drive.

At least the snow will tell me what's about. Unfortunately, my feet crunching the snow under foot will tell the deer that I'm about too. I bet they can read my tracks a lot better than I can read theirs!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Let it snow

Another couple of inches of snow fell overnight. We had a shoot day to run today, in spite of the weather. I love the low winter sun and fresh blanket of snow. It's ever quieter than normal while I take care of morning chores. Our little cottage looks like a Christmas card with snow on the roof and smoke coming out of the chimney.

The chickens aren't normally impressed with the snow. Some of them brave the conditions for a morning feed of wheat. The frizzle cockerel leads his troops. We've named him Lloyd Dobbler.

The dogs are big fans of snow. They were keen to get working this morning. They're packed into the back of the truck, waiting for the first drive to start.

We have all shapes and sizes in there - spaniels, retrievers, mongrels and halfbreeds. We even have a couple of the rarer working breeds. In case you've never seen one before, I took a picture of Foyle. Foyle is a working clumber spaniel -

Clumber spaniels fell out of favor as a working dog but became a hit in the show ring.  Working clumbers are far less common than their show relatives, and Foyle is a good example of the original working breed. He's heavy-set but steady, and well-trained by his owners.

It was only a very small team of workers today. The treacherous roads kept many at home. We managed well because, really, it's the dogs that do all the work, and we had a truckful of those.

I brought three from our kennel.

The dogs had some difficult terrain to cope with today. The snow-covered woods, bramble patches and fallen bracken make deep, almost impenetrable covert for pheasants to hide in. Almost, but not quite. Nothing is safe from a determined spaniel.

There are six dogs buried in this covert -

I can't see them either but I know they're there because the bushes are moving. At regular intervals one or another dog returns carrying a bird. We picked up 15 pheasants out of this wooded valley.

By "we", I mean them.

The guns enjoyed their day and the fantastic scenery courtesy of Jack Frost. We enjoyed our day too - dogs and workers. The dogs retired to their kennel, under the heat lamp, and I warmed up some leftover duck confit and goose fat to put with their kibble. A treat and a gesture of appreciation.

It was late by the time I got hay and feed to the horses and sheep. I fed them and checked on them by moonlight. Walking out to check the fences, I could see the trails of fox prints criss-crossing Milkweed, mingling with sheep hoof prints. It was silent. I could see the lights from a quad bike across the valley, probably our neighbor Kevin checking on his dairy cattle. I wasn't in a rush to get home, but I had a roast that needed to go in the oven if we wanted to eat before midnight.

The roast is cooking, the chickens are shut in, all the livestock is fed and watered, and I checked on my little canine workers. They're all four sharing one bed, sleeping off the excitement of the day. Tomorrow is a day off for all of us, but there's another shoot day on Monday. The dogs will be rested and ready to go by then, even if I'm not.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Harvesting the Christmas Tree

There's a small plantation of Christmas tree conifers on the estate. Mike planted them as cover for the pheasants, but neither he nor the pheasants will miss one little tree. I put my chainsaw in the truck and Dakota came along for the ride.

We took the back road that goes through one of the tenant farmers' farm. They kindly let me raid their straw barn when the horses needed to be stabled and had no bedding. I stopped in on the way - milking time, so I knew someone would be in the parlour - to say thanks, and pay for the straw and another bag of barley to feed the sheep.

The back road leads to a track, which leads to a field. The trees are on the far side. The sheep were unperturbed to be sharing their field with the truck.

The trees are just the other side of the artichokes - another crop grown for pheasant cover.

Dakota amuses herself following the pheasants' scent while I head off to pick a tree.

There's a pretty good tree in here -

See it yet?

A quick swipe from the chainsaw and it was ready to come home with me. I crossed my fingers that it would fit in the truck.

Almost perfect. But the dog and the saw had to share the back seat on the way home -

Turn the sparse side towards the wall so no one sees it, add a few home made ornaments, some lights, and hey presto -

Ready when you are, Santa.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

In the Bleak Midwinter

I love winter, even if it adds to our morning chores. The frosty vignettes are beautiful -

The view over our fence

I have to defrost outdoor pipes and water bowls with hot water from the kettle. I have make countless trips from the wood burners to the wood pile, and hump hay around Milkweed for hungry sheep and horses. But I kind of like it.

It's all about insulation this time of year. There's external insulation, like throwing extra horse blankets over the chicken houses -

And there's our internal insulation: food. The wild birds are emptying the peanut feeders as fast as I can replenish them. The chickens pick up the fallout from the feeders, and enjoy extras from the kitchen, like last night's rice -

The dogs are doing well with the addition of the heat lamps to their kennels. Dulcie is healing so quickly that she's been allowed back into the kennels this morning, to be with her pack. I've made a deal with our game seller to take all the deer hearts and livers off his hands. They're usually considered waste (there's not a lot of call of game offal). I roast them for the dogs as both extra calories and a treat, a thanks for all their hard work.

I'm adding more to our own larder today. I managed to get another roe deer this week and have broken it down into prime cuts for the freezer -

My medlar harvest is finally bletted enough to attempt my first batch of medlar jelly -

It's simmering on the stove, and the smell of the medlars combined with the smell of the partridge roasting in the oven is very homey and evocative of harvest. And it smells way better than roasting offal.

We were very busy shooting in November, but we've a few days respite this week. I've started a few Christmas preparations, like making a wreath for the front door -

Lady S let me raid the big house garden for bay leaves, rosehips, and crab apples to make the wreath. I picked up a few windfall pears too, and I'll bake those in a tart this afternoon.

I've just ordered a goose from the farm down the road, for Christmas dinner. The medlar jelly will be a nice accompaniment. We're not suffering for lack of internal insulation.

Next job: cutting down a Christmas tree.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Jazzie loves the snow

I don't know if she's making little spaniel snow angels -

but she's certainly enjoying herself -

Jazz's other favorite winter treat?

Cow poop-sicles.