Thursday, 31 March 2016

A Thanks to M&T Readers

I've been thinking about this blog. I enjoy writing it, even though I too often go weeks without a new post. Some of you may remember that I started it to keep up with my family in the States, a kind of group-email with photos. Then other people started reading, some lurking and some leaving regular comments. I appreciate both types.

Anyhoo, I also realised that I don't always return comments unless someone asks a question. If I get an email via the blog, I make sure to write back. I have never had anything but kind and supportive emails. I keep all of these in a folder.

As if that wasn't enough, I even get people sending me gifts - warm socks, a duck feather ornament, sorrel seeds and a lemon pie recipe, a tote bag with flat-coated retrievers on it, just to name a few. How cool is that?!? That someone I've never met would think to send me something, would spend time and effort (and money - not too much I hope!!) to send me a gift.

I think it's my turn.

When we moved to Herefordshire, I sent my best shorn fleece to a mill for cleaning and carding. I've been spinning it a little here and there over the past 18 months. For Christmas last year, I knitted some of the wool into hot water bottle covers for members of my family (those who live in cold states). I knitted an extra one for myself and a spare, which I would like to send to a reader.

As a long overdue thank you.

It's very good for warming cold beds or sore muscles.

If you would like to have the knitted cover (I will send a new water bottle too, if you don't already have one), simply leave a comment on the this post. In particular, I would love to know what you'd like to read more about, read less about, or what you might like to have explained more thoroughly, with photos. Questions are always welcome. If you prefer to remain a lurker, that's cool too. All readers are gratefully received.

I will leave the comments open for a couple weeks, then chose a name at random and send on the hot water bottle cover. It's only a small gift, but it's a product of the farm, like this blog. And it will travel better than goats cheese or turkey eggs.

I will keep writing and, as my sister sent me a GoPro for Christmas, I will post more videos. I thought maybe some training videos of the dogs, from how we train the gun dog basics to the more advanced training. Lots of people have dogs and their own experiences of training them, their own successes and failures. We all have successes and failures in common!

Speaking of successes, failures, and photos - here's today's new mother and babies

Still sticky and muddy from the birthing ordeal!

That's ewe 0042, the one I kept back from a sale of breeding lambs, She is my best quality ewe and produced two ewe lambs last night. Like Grumpy, she started lambing just before I was due at work, but I can forgive her. I had to help both lambs out. The temperature was dropping quickly so Mike took over when I left for work and put the family in a small trailer bedded down with straw. 

After work, I fed the ewe by torchlight, topped up her water, and felt the lambs' ears to make sure they were warm, felt their bellies to make sure they were full of milk. The new family was safe and well, so we all slept soundly. At least until the next flock check at 6am.

Between flock checks today, I took Dakota to the vets for some dental surgery, and to have a growth on her eyelid removed. Four teeth had to be taken out. All went well and she's recovering in her day bed. 

A dozy, post-op Dakota

Her vets bill was double what my cull ewes made at market last week (the cheque arrived today). I wish there was a National Heath Service for dogs.

I'm not work for the next few days, and the ewes seem to know it; they were all laid down and chewing their cud on my 6pm check. No evening lambs tonight, when it would be convenient. At least the weather is set dry for the rest of the week. 

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Babies are Arriving

Lambing kicked off early, thanks to Grumpy Ewe. I was just off to feed the horse before my evening shift at the pub, and I looked over into the sheep field and saw Grumpy ewe stood alone, pawing at the ground. And her water bag was already visible.

She has yet to deliver a lamb without help, so I called work and told them I was running late. I threw a waterproof suit over my work clothes and tried to help Grumpy deliver her lamb. She of course ran off, because, you know, we don't go though this every single year together. Mike lent a hand and we wrangled her into a pen.

Grumpy Ewe only ever has single lambs, and each one is always monstrous, both in size and temperament. I'm grateful she's only produced ram lambs, so at least I can eat them instead of perpetuating her crappy attitude in my flock. It only took a few minutes to help the lamb out, though Grumpy moaned and wailed the entire time. She should get an Oscar for her performances, (or whatever the sheep birthing award equivalent is.)

Meet Gigantor -

I shouldn't have watched a re-run of Night at the Museum over Easter

He's not even a whole day old in this photo. No wonder he came early. He was probably running out of space in there.

Gigantor is fine and I was only a half hour late for work. One down, eighteen to go,

Mike has his hands full with babies too. He found this last week -

The first pheasant egg of the season. Then, on Easter Sunday, we collected this -

Hatching season is already here. Get ready for lots of babies.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Pre-lambing Countdown

Our ewes are due to start lambing in 10 days' time. April Fool's Day. Make of that what you will.

I had the ewes scanned back in February, and I know who is expecting singles and who is expecting twins. Expectation and reality are two different things. Some ewes absorb multiple offspring, some slip their babies too early, some even have a extra one that the scanner missed. Then of course the lambs have to survive the birthing process, which is a tricky and tiring ordeal for mother, babies, and shepherdess. There's plenty of room for mishaps is what I'm saying.

Don't count your lambs before they're up and suckling.

Two of my wonderful old ewes - 2841 and 2836 - were scanned with twins. I was hesitant to put them to the ram one last time. They breed good lambs and they are good mothers, but they both have worn down teeth so it's harder for them to keep their own weight let alone feed growing lambs. Their udders nearly drag the ground after so many lambing seasons.

I did let them go to the ram, and like good breeders, they both got in lamb. With twins. Like good mothers, they have put everything into their babies and both ewes are far too thin for my liking. I marked their rumps with a big purple dot each, as a reminder to check their weight and health every day.

This week I will move those two old ladies into the garden for extra feeds and, if they do produce two live lambs, I will take one lamb away each and bottle feed those. The old girls can enjoy one lamb without the pressure of making milk for two,

All the ewes are vaccinated 4-6 weeks before lambing. This way important antibodies can be passed onto the lambs. I condition-checked all the mums at the same time, an easy process that just requires a good feel of the loins and the top of the tail. If there's fat and muscle in those places, all's well.

Gathering the ewes. I'll process them in pairs.

Taking names and marking butts!

Digging deep under the wool to feel that loin. This one's in great shape!

Any that felt thin (like 2841 and 2836) had a dose of liquid vitamins and micro-nutrients. I have injectable calcium and liquid glucose on hand too, the emergency treatment for hypocalcaemia and twin lamb disease respectively. Both can affect thinner, older ewes.

My pre-lambing box of goodies

It's so easy to get attached to the old ewes who I've cared for every day for many years, through their bouts of lameness and my bouts of sickness, through wet winters and dry summers with little grazing, through breach births and flystrike, The flock even moved house with me from Dorset to Hereford, a four hour trip in a sheep trailer (Pumpkin only just survived that trip.) I'm happy to let them graze away their old age unless illness takes over.

Ewe L845 and ewe 0001 both went to market yesterday. They had bouts of mastitis previously and teeth so worn they couldn't eat winter hay. Neither got in lamb again, even after two attempts. So before they lost condition I took them to market to sell as cull ewes.

It's the first time I've ever sent some of my own breeding flock to market. It was upsetting. They are "my girls".  They were relaxed about the process and set about making friends with the sheep in the neighbouring pens either side while the bidding went on around them. They are so used to people, they sought out a scratch behind the ear or middle of the forehead. I still feel like crap about it, but the reality is cull ewes are making £100 a piece in the run up to Easter, and letting them die of starvation in a green field because they couldn't chew grass would be cruelty.

Winter pasture - beautiful views, dry weather and a copse of trees for shelter in cold snaps

These are the realities of being a farmer. Heart and head rarely agree. L845 was one of my original ewes and the Queen Sheep of my flock. Ewe 0001 was the first ewe lamb I ever bred myself.

But new replaces old, and the lambs born from my new horned ewes are thriving. I have chosen Heed to keep as a future breeding ram on the farm. He's a little cutie -

For now anyway. In a year's time he will be a hulking, testosterone-fuelled beast with great curling horns. Handling him will take three people and a rope harness.

They grow up so fast.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Hunt

l-r  MFH (Master of Foxhounds), Mike on Bruce, Me on Dai

The day's hunting was exhilarating. By "exhilarating" I mean fun that occasionally bordered on terrifying. Jumping rustics fences and logs was fine, but there were a few flat-out downhill gallops in slippery mud that made me glad I wore my mismatching underwear. My loaner horse Dai was very athletic and sure-footed and kept me safe. The rest of The Field - the other riders - looked after Mike and me too. Mike did 3 hours and skipped the jumping; I finished out the whole day and popped over any jumps 3 foot and under. We both ached some the next day, but it was totally worth it.

We won't be able to hunt often unless invited. A day's hunting costs more than I earn in two days. As guests we weren't required to pay the £100 cap, though we did make a donation to the hunt, and of course we tipped our grooms.

Accompanying the hunt on horseback was a tick off my bucket list. For Mike, it was a politically savvy move. I didn't understand that, in the past, gamekeepers and huntsmen could barely maintain a grumbling tolerance of each other. I suppose that gamekeepers see foxes as hungry vermin, and the Hunt view foxes as sporting quarry. One wants to eradicate the threat, the other wants to preserve a population for sport. Traditionally anyway. As I said, hunting foxes is illegal since 2004.

Mike & his young groom /minder Alice

On an estate, the landowners are most often both shooters and riders, so gamekeepers and hunts had to co-exist. But Mike is a rare keeper that supports the hunt (though it is drag hunting now) and wanted to show his support by attending a meet on horseback. In fact, it's so rare a relationship that supporters took photos for a hunting magazine. Our day's hunting opened the doors for a good working relationship between riders, supporters, and shooters in future.

After our pre-hunt glass of port, just about to mount up

Neither Mike nor I joined the Tumblers' Club - that's hunt code for falling off your horse - but my elderly tweed jacket couldn't take the strain and both shoulder seams split over my first jump. That old jacket is now officially retired. I'm back to my mostly-daily hacks on Kitty, whose steady pace I have come to appreciate after Dai's hell-for-leather one.

Terrible leg position!