Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Poachers and puppies

It's less than a week until Christmas, and we're being plagued by poachers. A neighbour called to say one of his lambs had its throat ripped out by a dog, and another neighbour lost a couple lambs earlier that week. The poachers were working in broad daylight, using wolfhound / lurcher crosses to run down deer; unfortunately, some lambs got in the way. The market is paying over a pound (£) per pound (lb) for venison, so deer are valuable.

We know so much about the poachers because, after recent heavy rains, the fields are so muddy that they got their vehicle stuck. The poachers were easily apprehended by our local police, who I'm sure pointed and laughed at them before dragging them off to the station. It is a serious issue.

Aside from deer, heating oil has been stolen from farms around us, and dried split wood from the woodsman's barn at the bottom of the road. Chickens and geese have also been taken and I'm worried for my turkeys. Last night someone ripped open a round bale of silage, one in a pile of bales. The cheeky thieves were checking the quality before they went to the trouble of stealing it! They would have to come back with a tractor and bale forks to get it.

In a bid to help, we've set up our Critter Cams in various hotspots. Normally we use these infra-red cameras to look for predator activity of the furred and feathered kind. But, vermin is vermin, and if we can catch a face or vehicle make/plate number, it might help stave off future thefts. Or at least give the police something to go on.

I'm not worried about things getting stolen, but I fret over our kennel dogs. If I were to lose a dog to a thief I would be inconsolable.

Quincy has been letting me know that she wishes to spend more time with me, instead of in the kennel with the other dogs. When I try and put Quincy in the kennel after a walk, she stands next to me wagging her tail. If I leave the truck open, she jumps in, peeks out at me and wags her tail. So, she's been coming with me on morning checks. We're packed up ready with feed, milk replacement, and pheasants for neighbours -

The back is full so Quincy has to ride up front with me, which she prefers. She uses the opportunity to showcase her retrieving skills. First a notebook -

Here - I found this for you!

Then a lamb's milk bottle -

Here - I found this for you!

Then a glove -

Hey - you'll never guess what?! Yup. I found this for you!

And this is all before I've even pulled out of the driveway. 

In her defense, if I cleaned out my truck once in a while, we might not have the in-car retrieving entertainment. But, where's the fun in that? In the end, I give her a dog lead to hold on the ride around and she stares out the front window, proud as anything to be carrying her lead.

When we returned from our morning rounds, I saw that the stalker was in with the boys having breakfast. How do I know? -

Gamekeepers are easier to track than deer. Look for abandoned boots, en route to a kettle and baked goods.

Dave the stalker was successful on my patch of ground, and put a big fallow doe in the chiller for me. That's two roe does, and one fallow doe for about 80 pounds of meat in our freezer this month. I've butchered and packaged both roe already, but the fallow will have to hang until after Christmas. For the rest of the season, our shoot day menu will be venison casserole for the workers, thanks to that fallow. 

The dogs had all the raw bones, and butchering scraps. There was enough to feed seven dogs for three days. And I made 5 quarts of game stock for soup and casseroles. It was an early Christmas present for us all.

These are some of the dogs, post-feast -

They tell me they're working dogs, but that it happens to be their night off.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Dog Diaries

Our shoots have been scheduled on the 'feast or famine' program: a week off, three intensive days, another week off, another crazy weekend. I rotate the dog teams so they don't get too tired. Last Friday's team was Pip, Spud and Dulcie - a formidable pack.

Pip the yellow lab is getting older, but she's experienced. She knows where a wounded bird is likely to hide, she can mark more than one retrieve, and she works nice and steady. With her hip dysplasia, one day's work for Pip means two days off to recuperate in front of the wood stove. 

I can hear her snoring over the crackling of the wood

Spud is a retriever par excellence. Quirky but honest. I know when she has brought me a wounded bird, because she lays down with it, instead of sitting and giving it to me. I think because she can hold it down with a big paw if it flaps and struggles.

Spud works out problems and finds her own unique solutions. At the end of a work day, I put a wool dog coat on Spud to keep her joints warm. When she's sufficiently warm and dry, she simply chews through the strap and deposits the coat in her bed, ready for collection (and repair) rather than wait for me to take it off of her. I stitch the strap back on for the next shoot day. 

Look at their concentration -

Pip and Spud are watching pheasants flying over, looking for injured or fallen birds. I adore my retrievers.

Spaniels are a different gun dog. Adrenaline-fuelled workaholics. Dulcie is a come early, stay late dog. She has her own way of telling me that she's spotted a wounded bird and please let her go get it. Now. Pleasepleasepleaseplease.

She jumps on me and implores me with those eyes. Those spaniel eyes. 

She knows when birds are hit birds. I know if I let her go, she'll bring me back a bird with just a few pellets in its leg, or a wing tip out. I don't know how she does it. 

By the last drive Dulcie had debris in her eyes and was getting cold sat marking birds on top of a windy hillside. It didn't slow her down or dim her enthusiasm, but I took off my coat and put it around her anyway, until it was time to work again. 

She surely needed it more than I did.

Quincy, Podge and Dakota came out on Saturday's shoot, picking up and beating (driving birds from cover). I'm trying Quincy in all different permutations, to see which dogs she compliments and works best with as a team. So far, she's fit in with every scenario, and with all jobs.

Quincy went in the beating line Monday for her first full day as a beating dog. As a beating dog, Quincy is expected to hunt and flush birds close to her handler, and come back as soon as I whistle her in. Basically, be a well-behaved little dog. Apart from one minor infraction when she scented a fox and ran on to investigate, Quincy did great for such a young dog. She will be 2 years old on Christmas day.

Quincy has another job to do this time of year: duck flighting. On the road between the sheep and horse fields, there is a small pond that we use for duck shooting. The ducks are fed in to encourage them to take up residence. We don't want the ducks to become too domesticated, so we rouse them off the pond and stir them up a bit.

That's where a water-loving, energetic Labrador comes in handy -

She's flushed the ducks once, and she's now waiting for them to circle around and land back on the pond. She waits for the command to 'Get on' and throws herself into the icy water, sending ducks back up into the air again. A few minutes of this is enough for the ducks, but Quincy would spend all day here if I let her.
Today Quincy worked with Podge the cocker spaniel and Dulcie, in the driving rain. Tomorrow Pip will have to drag her little yellow butt off the sheepskin rug and do a day's work with Spud.

For work, for companionship, and for the laughs - I just don't know what I would do without my dogs.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

A Fruitcake that even Americans will eat

It's twelve days until Christmas, or as the children here say "only 13 more sleeps 'til Christmas morning". Traditionally  this is when many houses put up their decorations, although in the past few years I hear complaints that it's all happening much earlier. We haven't got Thanksgiving as a 'buffer' holiday

Here Thanksgiving usually coincides with Stir-up Day, traditionally the day British cooks mix their Christmas pudding - a concoction of dried fruit, suet, spices, and lashings of alcohol. We don't eat Christmas pudding in this house. I can't reconcile suet in my desserts, let alone one that "matures" for 5 weeks before cooking. Mike is not a big fan either, but he does like fruitcake. I make this one every week for Mike and any passing gamekeepers, farmers, or friends that stop in and have a cup of tea.

The recipe was kindly given to me by the chef at our local cafe. This cake always sold out, and got more compliments that any other we made. Even my father, when on a recent visit, enjoyed a few slices, and took the last piece with him for the train ride back to London.

- Pineapple Fruit Cake -

In a pan combine:
8 oz sugar
1 can (appx 430g) crushed pineapple in juice
4 oz butter
12 oz dried mixed fruit (a UK staple - 90% raisins/sultanas, 10% candied fruit, Raisins and dried cranberries mixed works well too)
1 1/2 t mixed spice (or pumpkin pie spice)

Bring mixture to a boil, boil for 3 minutes, allow to cool. (I often do this bit before bed so it's cool in the morning and ready to finish)

When cooled, stir in:
1 1/2 t baking soda
8 oz (225g) flour
2 t baking powder
2 lg OR 3 medium eggs, beaten

Pour into a pan - I use a spring-form cheesecake pan with a silicon liner - and bake at 325 deg F for 1 hour and 15 minutes.

It's not a fancy looking cake, but it keeps for a week without going stale and freezes well.

I only made this one yesterday!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Of Christmas trees and cobbling together

This year I broke with tradition and took a husband with me to pick out the Christmas tree instead of a dog who, frankly, didn't have an eye for design anyway.

This is a view from the Christmas tree plantation, looking over other pheasant drives -

The plantation is bordered by a crop of Jerusalem artichokes, put in for pheasant cover. I have to walk through it to get to the trees -

The trees are planted for windbreaks so individual specimens are imperfect. Charlie Brown Christmas tree territory. But we found a tree with at least one good side and in easy reach, so I took him down -

Obviously I should be wearing protective equipment every time I use the saw

Trimmed him and snedded him -

Held him up for the official naming ceremony. Mike christened the tree 'Mervyn' -

Mervyn and I made our way back to the truck -

I got him into the truck -

And tied down for our ride back home on bumpy farm tracks -

The rough ride home pruned a few of his branches, but we found his best side, faced it out, tidied him up with secateurs, and popped him in the tree stand - well, wedged him in with some fireplace kindling for support -

A strand of lights, some ribbon, and a few decorations gussied him up for the big day -

Not bad, Mervyn. Homely but festive.

After the holidays, Mervyn will be recycled for cover in pheasant drives. Mike collects all the old Christmas trees from the nearby villages, and uses them to replace cover for pheasants on windy hillside drives in winter, when so much natural vegetation has died back. Mervyn will be going back to his roots, pun intended.

There aren't many presents to put under the tree this year - the customary socks for Mike and flannel pyjamas for me, of course - but the saw bench (Mike) and sewing machine (me) will have to wait as both the truck and the Land Rover decided to break down at the same time this past month. Our gift from the mechanic was a bill in excess of a grand. Still, two vehicles that run is a great present as far as I'm concerned. Even Mervyn is going to have to make sacrifices and give up his tree skirt that I made out of an old birdseed sack. I need the burlap for setting mole traps, as moles have invaded the garden again leaving heaps of soil like speed bumps on the lawn.

After tree trimming and evening chores, I cobbled together a dinner of leftovers - home made pumpkin and mushroom soup, with apple and Gorgonzola on bread toasted under the grill. There was even enough apples and some pastry left to make a strudel, which we ate with double cream poured over it. We opened a bottle of Churchill's vintage port to toast the tree and another year, to give thanks that we're both still here, and to laugh at how much we enjoy our oddments, leftovers, and less-than-perfect life anyway.

Monday, 10 December 2012

The freezer is looking better

The stalker brought back a roe deer this morning -

And there were three brace of oven ready pheasants left by the guns today.

Cheese sandwiches are officially off the menu.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Ten days off

We had ten days off between shoot days, which I hoped would give me some breathing room to catch up with a few jobs and some pre-holiday preparations. Job number one: put something in the freezer. I was stunned to realise that, barring some lamb, a few chickens, and a single venison leg, our freezer is mostly full of empty.

I planned to breast out a dose of pheasants as the price the game dealers is giving us is unsustainable, but Mike shook an extra few pence out of him, and all the birds were sold and gone before I could plunder the game larder. Rain and fog have postponed my stalking plans. I gave one of our stalkers free rein to shoot a deer on my patch - he likes shooting them, and I like eating them - and he missed a roe doe. My stomach is grumbling as I write this, trying to take consolation in my cheese sandwich.

"But what about the turkeys?" you say. As Mike has already purchased a goose for our Christmas dinner, I think it's safe to say that my Rafter (collective noun, apparently) of turkeys will see in the New Year. Unless those Mayans were right, anyway.

We've named the stag Sage and the two hens Cranberry and Onion. Names yes, but a reminder of their eventual purpose. They're North American Wild x Bronze. The wild genetics means that they attempt to roost - in the apple tree, or on the roof of the porch, or the whelping kennel. Roosting on the kennel gives them a view of the TV, and they seem to enjoy both BBC evening news and the Arts channel - my charges are nothing if not highbrow in their tastes.

How can they see anything through that dirty window? Another job for the list then.

Although very personable, I am starting to tire of catching them up on dark every night to put them in a coop. I'm too old to climb the apple tree, in the dark, one-handed, wrestling with a flapping turkey. At least when they roost on the roof or kennel, one semi-skilled swipe with my shepherd's crook dislodges them, ready for bed.

As it's still raining, we switched to Job number two: Christmas preparations. We decided a walk in the woods to collect some material for decorations was just the thing. We traded the guns for secateurs, and brought Podge who enjoys a wet, woodland ramble. To get to the woods, we had to find a passable route on the flooded roads. Mike gives it the "Welly Test" -

If it's not as deep as your boots, the truck can get through. A failed welly test can end in wet feet, so I let Mike do the honours. We rode through here on horses the next morning and it was a foot higher, up to the smallest pony's belly and just below my stirrups.

On our walk, we found some clematis vines that I wove into wreath forms. I don't look filled with the Christmas spirit in this photo, but we had a nice afternnon.

We found a little bit of holly with berries still on, but I left the holly in a bucket outside the back door. Within the reach of the turkeys. They made quick work of those berries, and I had to pick some more. Woven into the clematis wreaths, with a bit of ribbon added, and hey presto! A holly berry wreath -

At least until the turkeys find it.

The turkeys are a big hit with some of our chickens, three of which have taken to sleeping in the turkey pen. First my one-eyed hen of dubious breeding moved in. Then Mrs Cadbury lost her chick, Chip - it had always been sickly and never grew. She seemed to take the loss to heart. Mrs Cadbury began a monumental moult, and she moved in with the turkeys. I've tried popping her out over the fence in the mornings, but she wriggles back through gaps in my not-very-turkey proof fencing and rejoins them. Meh, who am I to judge? Then yesterday, a brown hen moved in. It's getting crowded on the turkey perch.

Last spring, Mrs Cadbury raised a hatch of four French Maran chicks, all of which appear to be hens. One has started to lay those deep brown eggs. And her preferred laying spot? The back of the Kubota ATV. She waits until the boys have loaded it with ten or twelve bags of wheat, then chooses a bag at random and lays her egg. The boys now take bets on who will find the egg when they're emptying the bags of wheat into the pheasant feeders. It gets put in a glove, in the cup holder, and returned to me.

So, I have highbrow turkeys and well-travelled eggs. And there's still nothing in the freezer.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Post Lambing Round Up

Eleven lambs still survive. In fact, they're positively thriving. That's just a hair short of 140% lambing return. That kicks the arse out of last year's dismal 85%. Of course, there are plenty of diseases, predators, and impending bad weather to redress that balance. I learned about a new disease just this morning: entropion.

By chance I was reading Sheepish by Catherine Friend, the second book chronicling her life as a somewhat unwilling sheep farmer (her wife Melissa is the farmer, Catherine calls herself the 'backup farmer'). Melissa noticed a newborn lamb with a weepy eye and diagnosed entropion, a condition where the lower eyelid turns inwards and the lashes scrape against the surface of the eye causing pain and infection.

Last night, I noticed that Mary, one of my triplet ewes, had a squint. Could it be entropion? The book says it's not uncommon. On daylight, I picked her up out of the maternity pen and investigated. Yup. So I did what every good shepherdess does and googled it. 'Treatment for entropion' sends you to a helpful, if graphic, instructional video on YouTube. This morning, even before my first cup of coffee, I was watching a vet inject 1 ml of antibiotic into the lower eyelid of the lamb.

Into. The. Lower. Eyelid.

All I could think of was that scene in Bunuel's Un Chien Andalou. If you've seen it you know which one I mean. 

I bottled out and made an appointment with the vet, assuring myself that if he showed me the exact technique, and I didn't subsequently faint or throw up, I would attempt it myself next time. I mean, I did manage to ring Knit Romney's testicles all by myself. I feel OK about saving eyeball injections for next year.

Here's Mary, post-treatment, riding home from the vets. Like all good shepherdesses, I let my baby animals ride in the front of the truck. We rolled the windows down going through town and she bleated at all the early Christmas shoppers.

Knit Romney, the last foster lamb, is managing to keep up, size-wise, with his sister Baarack O'lamb, but only because I give him extra bottle feeds. I smile to think that Mitt's namesake is the only member of the flock who relies on handouts. I'm up at 5a.m. every morning whizzing up a sheep's milk frappuccino for Knit. 

And because, like all pregnancies, I'm already forgetting the emotional pain and sleepless nights of childbirth, I just sent two ewes to the ram this afternoon: L845 who didn't get pregnant last cycle, and Grumpy ewe who lost her lamb. With help from friends stronger than me, we wrestled them both into the back of the Land Rover and drove the truck, now swaying with 180kg of contained and angry ewe, to our neighbour's farm and dropped them in the field with their ram. 

It's not like I need spring lambs but both these ewes are well-covered (that's polite talk for 'fat') and they may be difficult to get in lamb again if I wait until next May. This is also Grumpy ewe's last chance. She slipped her lamb the first year, and lost her lamb to disease this year. She's only producing singles, and if she can't keep one of them alive then I will be packing her off to Ice Camp.

So, there may be sheep babies to accompany all the pheasant babies this April. That's twice a year lambing, like a proper shepherdess, or "flock mistress" as one local shepherd has christened me. I'm hoping to get good enough at this sheep farming thing to graduate to the revered status, coined by Catherine Friend, of "Pasture Goddess".

I wonder if that comes with a tiara?

Thursday, 8 November 2012


Autumn lambing is officially over. L817 gave birth unassisted to triplets this morning while I was having my first cup of coffee -

Two more ewe lambs, and a ram lamb that we've named Knit Romney. Knit has been fostered onto Eudora who had a single yesterday. The local shepherd came over and showed me a technique to fool Eudora into thinking she gave birth again. Fostering this way can be a bit of a crapshoot but it beats putting her in stocks, which I don't think I could be hard-hearted enough to do. 

So to recap: this has not been the worst lambing year ever, and it went much better than last year. From 7 pregnant ewes we had 12 live births, lost one lamb but no ewes, and finished with 8 ewe lambs and 3 ram lambs. All have mothers, none rely on bottle feeding, and we've even survived some trying weather conditions.

I've managed the night checks better than last year too. Of course last year's lambing went on for 56 days, this year all were delivered in 22 days. I'm going to write that ram a thank you note.

The best part about the end of lambing is that I can have a glass of wine in the evening. Lambing tests my sobriety. It's no good being a bit tipsy, just to wander out on a night check and find a ewe in distress. I can't be drunk in charge of a uterus, they depend on me. Tonight, when all are settled into their pens, I am going to toast all our health and give thanks for unbroken sleep.

This weekend, I will move the biggest twins and their mothers to Milkweed and good grass. Lambs will get ear tags and ewes will get foot treatments now that I can flip them over on their backs again. And readers will get a break from sheep news. New posts will be about game, shooting and stalking. After I catch up on my sleep of course. 

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


Our six, week-old lambs spent their first night outside of the maternity unit, no electric fences just their mothers to look after them. Well, mothers and a nervous shepherdess who checked on them every couple of hours under the guise of staying awake simply to watch the election results.

The lambs did great, and by 4a.m. I got the news that Obama won. Phew.

At 9a.m., Eudora produced a single ewe lamb-

It was an easy birth, though I found Ewe L817 helping Eudora clean the little lamb. I penned the baby with her mother, but L817 is still calling to the lamb, and circling the pen -

She's waiting on her triplets, which will give her more than enough lambs to satisfy her maternal instinct.

In honour of our incumbent returning to the White House, I have named the new lamb... Baa Rack O'Lamb.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

We're still lambing in this weather

It's not ideal. 

I started taking hay to horses and sheep at 7am, and warmed the dogs' kibble with hot broth. Yesterday was a shoot day and most of the dogs came out to work, so they're getting a snow day today.

The lamb with pneumonia appears to be on the mend, breathing normally and bouncing about with the rest of the flock. That was a success story: I caught it early, knew how to treat it, and the lamb was strong enough to fight the infection.

We're still left with two ewes to lamb: Eudora, who's expecting a single any minute, and a ewe expecting triplets. 

Lambs in the snow just doesn't look right somehow.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012


It's no Hurricane Sandy, but we've got howling winds and driving sleet now. One turkey is sick with a mystery virus, my oldest ewe lamb has come down with pneumonia, and my pumpkin harvest this year is a total of four measly fruits -

So my Halloween display looks a bit frugal. I've lit a few lanterns but my decorating efforts were hampered by the weather and my time was redirected to livestock: putting little plastic parkas on lambs, moving the sick one with her mother to a dry stable on Milkweed, rebuilding the shelter pens for the rest of the ewes and lambs, haying and watering everyone. Samhain seems a better description than Halloween today, what with all this pagan weather and primitive shelter-building.

All the wood stoves are lit, and clothes are drying. There are enough natural cobwebs and spiders around this place to pass for festive, if we get any trick-or-treaters tonight.

My treat is a big cognac, which I'm having now to dull my constant worrying about the young stock. It's a shoot day tomorrow, and this is perfect weather from the keeper's point of view: birds hunker down out of the wind and stay in the drives, so we know where to find them. It seems mean to push them out and make them fly in this wretched weather, but the wind makes them a very sporting target - 30 miles per hour plus whatever excitement the winds add to their speed and change of direction. Getting shot at is a lot better than getting shot, from the pheasants' perspective anyway.

Wishing you all a happy Halloween and safe passage from hurricanes, poor harvests, and ailing animals.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Grumpy in Stocks

Some readers have asked to see Grumpy the ewe in her stocks -

Although she seems to feel that it's a punishment and humiliation I'm inflicting on her, it has made milking her a one-person job. And that person - me - doesn't get kicked in the head now.

She can move her head up and down, and eats hay while I fill the milk jug. The whole process, including catching her and wrestling her into the stocks, takes about ten minutes. The end is the best bit: she's freed and I get to top-up feed two little lambs whose mother isn't as milky as the rest. I never get tired of bottle-feeding lambs.

We had cold rain yesterday, followed by freezing temperatures, so we quickly adapted the maternity unit making windbreaks out of pallets and roofs out of tarps, and putting down straw beds for extra insulation -

It's not picturesque, but my lambs are warm and still alive. Even Grumpy appreciated the extra bedding and kale treats -

Or maybe not.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Ticking right along

Ewe 2836 lambed at 6 am this morning. The whole village knows this because she started calling for her lamb even before it was born. It's the hormones: the contractions start, the ewe lays down and pushes, then gets up to check where she laid to see if baby arrived with that last push. She calls and listens for a response (I guess in case it's disguised in long grass). Sometimes their hormone-addled brains get the order mixed up. It's not uncommon for a ewe to try and steal another's baby during her own labour.

2836 had a ewe lamb. It got a bit stuck when its head tried to come out before its front feet (it should look like someone diving into a pool). This birth was a double bonus as it gave me a chance to foster one of the triplet boys onto a mother with a spare teat. It's a simple technique: rub foster lamb in the afterbirth so it smells like its sibling (don't let ewe see this), then stand back, let ewe stand up and check out the delivery. So far the ewe has been happy to accept both her lamb and the interloper.

But nothing goes that smoothly. Just after the successful fostering, I checked the teats to clear any blockages. No milk. Nothing. I hoped milk production was just running a bit behind schedule. I had to give the new lamb replacement colostrum, then it was Grumpy's turn to provide. I put her in the stocks. She wrenched them out of the ground, finding strength in adrenaline and pure spite. So I banged them in deeper. Eventually I milked enough to sate both lambs now on Ewe 2836, and a few hours later her own milk started to flow.

While all this was going on, Eunice popped out two ewe lambs by herself, and she's a first timer -

Minutes old and still pretty gooey

So our fox-deterrent maternity unit is taking shape -

Mums and babies are recuperating -

Biiiig yawn

I've been cutting kale and turnips from Mike's pheasant cover crop, which the ewes love and helps them produce more milk. At the moment they're all safe and warm enough in these pens but the weather's turning colder this weekend. Cold and dry is do-able. Cold and wet is a disaster, a lamb-killer. We may have to move our maternity unit to the horse stables at Milkweed field, after our shoot day tomorrow. We'll see what the forecast says.

We're only one week into our lambing period, and already five out of seven ewes have lambed. Last year we lambed for 56 days. Our running total this year is five ewe lambs, two ram lambs. All I can say for sure is - so far - it's not been our worst lambing season. Yet.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Gregor popped!

Finally. And it was anything but straightforward. The first lamb was a ewe, and it had a front leg folded back so I dug around and got it into position, and Gregor pushed it out.

The second was a ram lamb had its head back, so I dug around and got its head pointed the right way but had to help pull that one out.

By the third lamb, a little ram, Gregor was too tired so I pulled that one out shortly after, rummaging about inside poor Gregor up past my elbow.

The whole process including ensuring the lambs suckled, giving everyone jabs and cleaning navels, then setting up the maternity pen took five hours, but Gregor did all the hard work.

The ewe lamb is standing on her brothers

Look at these heartbreakers! The ewe lamb is in the middle

Her reward is, now that the babies are out, she can lie down again instead of sitting up like a dog. She greedily ate a bowl of barley, oats and sugar beet that I offered her. I made a pan of Rice Krispies treats as my reward (and for a necessary sugar high).

Now I'm off to sneak a look at my neighbour's set up, to see how he gets another mother to take a lamb using an adoption pen. Grumpy may yet get her lamb! I'll keep you posted.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Let's try this again, shall we?

Yesterday was the annual Harvest Festival in our village, a pot luck supper in the village hall where we "locals" come together to complain about crop failures and new government regulations. I love a good whinge as much as the next person, but supper coincided with our semi-regular, themed dinner party with friends and I couldn't miss out on Paella Night!

Most of the guests at the dinner party have livestock so there was still plenty of commiseration to go around: a couple of sick chickens, my lamb, stories of smaller egg harvests and unproductive vegetable gardens, even a tale of donkey training which, so far, has been neither easy nor successful!

We had to leave early as we're still on lambing duties, and I was already falling asleep in my creme brulee. The alarm went off at 4 a.m., and I pulled on enough clothes to be warm and decent, and walked across the road to check the ewes. I could see one separate from the others already, a common behaviour in a ewe about to lamb. A lamb would be a mixed blessing in this warm but drizzly weather, born in the dark to a tired and disheartened shepherdess. On the other hand, lambs are like burps: better out than in.

I startled a fox in the paddock and it shot across my path like the devil was hanging onto its tail.


In my sleep-addled condition, my pessimistic nature combined with a bad start to lambing caused me to panic and assumed it had killed a lamb, that I was too late, oh woe is me. But, my timing was pretty good, and ewe 2844 was just starting to lamb. An orange dot on her neck reassured me that we were expecting a single lamb, and even a hungry fox is no match for 90kg of maternal howling fury defending one lamb.

I wandered back indoors to make a cup of tea. I returned only minutes later to find her licking a little ewe lamb dry, nickering to the lamb, its wobbly head just visible over the long grass. It must have shot out of her like it was on greased tracks.

Everyone's still tired 

Only eight hours old - how can you not worry about something so tiny?

The loss of our first lamb this year has made me a paranoid wreck. By 9 a.m.  I had already been to the vets for advice, colostrum replacement (dried milk with antibodies), and more needles, syringes, and stomach tubes. It's important that the lamb get colostrum in the first 6 - 12 hours, to avoid an early death and an upset woman standing in a paddock in her pyjamas. I tried to observe the lamb suckling but no dice. So I panicked erred on the side of caution and stomach tubed her with the replacement stuff, then jabbed her with antibiotics for good measure.

She will probably be fine. She's a strong, single lamb on an experienced ewe with lots of milk. It's my inexperience that's the biggest problem. And that damned fox hasn't helped my humour any; twins or triplets would be vulnerable.

I couldn't find a foster lamb for my grumpy ewe. All the other shepherds are having runs of single lambs this year, even the big commercial farms. Much to Grumpy's disgust, I have put her in a pen next to the rest of the flock, and I'm milking her once a day. As she's loathe to cooperate, I have to tie her head to the fence and get one of the boys to hold her by a bag leg so she can't kick me in the face, which is the only part of the whole process that she enjoys.

I should rename her Milky - she's giving about half a litre per milking. Her milk is valuable as I can freeze it and use it later to feed other lambs. If both sets of triplets survive, I hope to leave them with their mothers, but I will need to bottle feed the slow growers. Grumpy's milk with be just the thing. And I've found another use for Chinese take out containers -

Ready for labelling and freezing

Tomorrow is a shoot day, so I will quickly milk Grumpy at the lunch break. I'm willing the remaining five ewes to keep their legs crossed for me until Tuesday afternoon, but I predict a set of twins and a set of triplets before the start of next week. When Eunice - my only first-timer and expectant mother of twins - is laid on her side, you can see the lambs kicking and twisting about in there. She looks at that spot, then at me as if to say "It's been doing that a lot lately. I'm as surprised as you are."

Let's hope any more surprises are good ones.