Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Storm Borns

I brought my two ewes expecting triplets in to the orchard so I could keep an eye on them through the storms. At 5am this morning, in 50mph winds, Horned ewe decided to have her triplets -

One boy and two girls. They are small but strong, and were out and on their feet without my help. A good lambing was had by all.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Grumpy Ewe & the Hulk

Grumpy lambed last night. She had one great big ram lamb that got a bit stuck, but with a little pull from me and a lot of dramatic shouting from her, he came out just fine. He's so enormous I've been calling him "the Hulk"-

Gregor continues to do well. Together we're keeping her babies topped up with milk and milk replacer. My kitchen is strewn with used syringes, sticky measuring jugs, stomach tubes, and medicine bottles. It looks like a Tijuana clinic.

We have high winds and showers over the weekend, so I grabbed some horse rugs out of the truck which were on their way to the cleaners, and I've used them as wind breaks for the outdoor sheep -

Gregor is still spending nights in the ICU trailer -

I think my horned ewe will be next one to lamb, and she's expecting triplets. I'll check her every hour until midnight. Most sheep seem to lamb on dark or at dawn. I'm not sure which option is better for the shepherdess. I'm managing up to six hours of sleep a night - not continuous - and I feel OK except for having a cold. I did fall asleep on the kitchen floor while waiting for some lamb milk to warm up, but who hasn't done that, right?


Saturday, 28 March 2015

Good and Bad Lambing

Another two sets of twins have arrived at Milkweed. Gregor and L817 have lambed.

Gregor's lambing was the worst case scenario. In every way possible. I had to deliver both lambs because they were "hung up", i.e. head coming out but front legs backwards. Gregor had tried to push and by the time I assisted she was pretty tired.

Gregor is quite an old lady so she was a plain ewe and didn't hold her weight. In the last few weeks she's put everything she had into her twins. By the time she gave birth, poor Gregor was like a frame with wool covering. She couldn't stand. Her first lamb was weak and hypothermic, AND has entropion (a turned-in eyelid). I hot boxed this first one, while waiting on a chance to deliver the second -

Hot Box = recycling tub, hot water bottle wrapped in old towel, and hay (I was out of straw!)

Gregor and lambs went to the sheep ICU, which in this case is the stock trailer (You know, the one that doubles as a turkey house in the summer...). Then it was 48 hours of tube feeding lambs, worming and rehydrating Gregor, and worrying. I didn't think Gregor was going to live, so I put the lambs on a bottle. Gregor hasn't got energy to make enough milk so I will need to top up her babies for all their sakes.

This is Gregor this morning with both lambs -

She is finally able to stand, and discharged herself from ICU. I think she's self-medicating, picking ivy and weeds out of the hedgerow. I have my fingers crossed for her. A sheep that's stood up and eating has half a chance.

I checked on the rest of the flock at 5.30 this morning and found L817 with two healthy lambs on their feet and suckling. All I had to do was move the family into the nursery orchard with the other new moms.

I love the drama-free births.

There were almost no photos to show you as I managed to drop my phone in the toilet yesterday - a true 21st century problem. But I dried it out and it's working, which is lucky as I have all my lambing and livestock medical details stored on it. That will teach me to make backup copies.

Mike, Ian and I are all suffering with a spring cold that's making chores a little bit harder. My morning rounds, including lambing (if it's an easy one) take just over three hours. I come in for my breakfast just as Mike and Ian are heading out. The guys have started collecting pheasants eggs for hatching - yesterday is officially the start of this year's hatch season. The incubators have been serviced and will be fired up this week. There will be no shortage of babies to care for in the coming months.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

They're Here!

Well, two of them anyway: a pair of Dorset x Charolais ewe lambs. 

I was worried that they wouldn't be as cute as pure Dorset lambs -

How stupid of me.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Spring Equinox

Mike and I celebrated the first day of spring by watching the solar eclipse. It was a cloudless morning and the eclipse was perfect viewed through my welding helmet.

Mike has a new Halloween costume

It's still cold but sunny. I can hang the laundry outside to dry. We have a clothesline in the orchard strung between two gnarled old fruit trees. This is the best time of year for outdoor drying: before the bird cherries ripen, the birds eat the cherries, and deposit cherry-infused poops on my laundry.

In the house I celebrated by taking the flannel sheets off my bed, and the insulating plastic from over the old wooden windows and opening them for the first time this year. Now I will be able to hear the morning chorus when the birds start to celebrate, and listen for the sounds of sheep getting ready to give birth. Early last Sunday, I walked my ewes from the paddock they shared with Kitty at the end of the lane, to a new paddock close to the house where I can monitor the flock from any window upstairs. That is when I'm not in the field with them, watching their sides flutter and undulate with almost-born lambs.

The new gates from my garden to the sheep field

The ewes are pregnant but I'm the one nesting. I've been compelled to clean the house, Even the kennels got scrubbed down and de-cobwebbed. And I've been knitting every spare moment of the day. (I have to knit and sew before it goes dark now. My eyes are officially old.) I've checked and re-checked my lambing essentials, and recharged the flashlights and head torches that I will need for those inevitable pre-dawn births.

Big fat ewes!

Ewes with twins and triplets will be penned in the orchard (next to the drying laundry!) after the lambs are born, until the lambs are big enough to be ignored by foxes. There is a fox den in the nearby woods. I know it's still an active threat because Quincy and Spud have retrieved parts of other farmers' lambs on our walks there. While penned, I can feed each ewe a special grain diet, and I can pick the kale crops (used to hide pheasants last season) and feed the ewes. Kale helps to up their milk production.

Big fat ewes sunbathing

Of course, where there's livestock there's dead stock. It was the Christmas Easter turkeys' turn. Better late than never. I sold two breeding pairs, and gave a pair as a tithe to the big house . The rest of the females joined Enrique's flock and the boys went to Ice Camp. As turkeys are too big to run over our plucking machine, they had to be plucked by hand. So it was a trip to Ice Camp via the Plucking Log-

It's a long old job, so what's the point in standing when you can sit and pluck in relative comfort, in beautiful surroundings? We ate the weakling stag turkey the following evening and it was delicious! So delicious that it totally made up for the blisters I got from plucking. I will definitely hatch and raise more for the freezer. I might even cut some cup holders into that log, and invite friends over for a cider and plucking party next time. 

Mike is busy too. Besides being gamekeeper, he is also a water bailiff for the estate's fly fishing lakes. (There are no weird uniform requirements for a water bailiff.) The season opens soon and the fishing club wished to stock the pond with trout. However, carp have been slowly taking over and they both muddy the pond by feeding, and take up space and oxygen in the lake. Last Friday a specialist company came to remove the carp.

The carp is a crop like the pheasants, and the estate was able to sell its surplus carp to a carp fishing club, to restock their lakes. Our lake was drained, and the carp netted and placed in buckets. Mike helped ferry the buckets to a truck with a tank on the back and the fish were checked for condition and counted in. The carp will go into quarantine and be fully health checked before release.

Buckets of Carp

From bucket to tank, ready for transport

Fish are not my department. I only get close enough to take photos and ask questions. The chap in charge showed me some of the carps' tails, which had been bitten off squarely. It means an otter is working the lakes, probably feeding young. Otters bite the tails off of fish in order to disable the fish so their pups can practice hunting and catching fish. I have seen the evidence of adult otter kills on the big lake: a large carp with its scales pulled off and scattered, and only the middle of the fish has been eaten. I hope I get to see the otter one day too.

We have finished gathering the pheasants into laying pens. We will feed and shelter them in these pens for the next couple months in order to collect and hatch their eggs. When we have enough eggs for this year, the laying hens and breeding cocks are released back into the woods. Mike found the first few eggs already and we will start collecting eggs after Easter, and our dinner of Easter turkey. (It's a thing now. Tell you friends.)

Molly the new puppy is doing great. She's smart and energetic, aside from power naps she takes in the truck -

Spring, winter....it's all the same when you're young.