Harvest challenges

Things have been busy here, we are well into the harvest season and I have to admit it is getting to be a bit of a struggle to keep up with everything! I do think we are doing better each year with the animals and growing, but there is still so much more we could harvest and could be doing with the land.

I’ve actually decided to join in with a challenge that I saw on another smallholding blog, Holding On 4. The aim is to harvest 5lbs of something each day for 50 days. It can be fruit, veg, nuts, seeds, meat, eggs, well pretty much anything. On her blog she wasn’t counting anything that she was eating that day, but I’m not quite that hardcore. We are including things that we pick to eat or put out to sell but we aren’t including the eggs. I do find that it can be quite easy to get bogged down in the jobs that keep things ticking over, especially in the house, and leave things unharvested, so I am hoping that this keeps me going out each day. I started on Friday and smashed the goal with a harvest of 11lbs. 2lbs 10.9oz of cucumbers, 10.2 oz yellow courgette, 11.7oz green courgette, 3lbs 11.9oz of yellow plums, 1lbs 2.4oz of cooking apples and 2lbs 4.3oz of red onions. The next day we were away for the day so I only collected a few apples to take with us. 3lbs 11.1oz of Beauty of Bath apples. And today we were out again so we didn’t harvest anything at all.  14lbs 14.5oz over 3 days. Sam isn’t sure we will manage to have 5lbs of things to harvest each day, and days we are away it will be hard, but it’s a fun little challenge.

Speaking of daily harvests, we now have another incentive to get out and picking each day. We have started putting some of the veg out on the stall to sell along with the eggs. We haven’t had many sales yet, but I am hoping that, like with the eggs, it will pick up soon. We just need people to take a chance on us and then hopefully they will come back based on the taste. Our tomatoes this year are delicious.

Our ‘farm gate’ stall

I’ve set myself another mini challenge and this one might actually be achievable. We were getting quite behind on the harvesting and the fridges and freezers were filling with the things we had harvested. To work our way through I decided to try and harvest at least one thing a day and do at least 1 batch of preserving each day. That could be freezing if needed, but also includes dehydrating, jam, wine, chutney, juice, fruity spirits, or sauce. Last week I turned my hand to drying plums (purple and red) and tomatoes, plum (purple) and blackberry wines, plum brandy, blackberry rum, blackberry and plum jams, passata and a cucumber and apple chutney.

I spoke a bit about preserving last year, mainly saying that I hadn’t done much of it so far! We did a little bit last year but chutney and jam were still new to me this year. I was quite nervous to try them but so far they have gone down a treat with everyone who has tried them. I’m really looking forward to trying to keep up this harvest 1/preserve 1 a day, it’s making it manageable and keeping the gluts under control. I’m open to all kinds of recipes so fire away if you have any. Especially anything with cucumber that will keep!

Between all the harvesting, preserving, cleaning out sheds, getting set up to sell more complicated food items, and dropping my laptop (which means it will no longer run chrome for some reason) I just haven’t been able to come on here much. I am hoping that now I’m a bit more comfortable with internet explorer, I’ll be on more regularly. I need to update about the geese, and the chickens, and all the things we are growing.

Dans

Tooth and Claw

This is a bit of a long one.

Smallholding has its ups and downs. It’s highs (home grown food, births, wildlife spotting, summer days) and it’s lows (pests, mud, frozen water, deaths). On Wednesday we reached our lowest low.

I went to bed at about midnight the night before and all was peaceful. I woke up at about 8, late for the day and heard a goose calling out. It kept calling intermittently and we thought the gosling was running through the fence again, as it often does. It wasn’t a panicked call, more a ‘where are you’ call. We rushed about to do the morning things, I took Chi off to one of her groups and Sam did the letting animals out before a morning meeting.

On the way back home Sam called me. The geese had escaped sheep field 1 and were in the veg patch *sigh*, but one of the geese and the gosling were missing. He thought it was likely April (the more mothering one) taking shelter from the rain. He searched for 30 minutes but couldn’t find her. Not too unusual, she she would happily sit with the gosling under her without making undue sound. I asked about feathers but there were no clumps of feathers indicating an attack.

When I got home I changed and set about looking for them. I checked the back garden first, then the orchard (where the geese normally are). The triangle was next as it has a few sheltered spots then a quick look around the fruit and veg patch. Then I got to where Sam had penned the geese up, I then saw that it wasn’t April that was missing. It was Athos. My heart sunk a bit. If I had walked past where Athos had the gosling he would have charged me, he wouldn’t have sat idly by. So no chance that he was anywhere I had already been. I checked polytunnel way, listening for his hiss. Then I heard the geese calling again. I ran back in case they had spotted him but they were just standing in the middle of the area. And that is when I heard it. Silence. Athos is a pain but he is a good gander. If his girls called to him he would always respond. Silence meant he couldn’t reply. I prepared myself to find a body.

I checked sheep field 2, which they had to go through to get to the veg patch, expecting to see him in a bush dead or dying. No sign. I went into sheep field 1, where they had been, stepping over the fence that they had knocked down. I saw some feathers, but not may, could have just been a fight between the girls, as they do, or the start of a moult. In the very corner of the field, along the road and the side boundary of the land (where a dry ditch runs) I found him. He was pointing towards the fence and his head and neck were missing.

My thought was that they were sleeping there, they have been known to, and a predator went past, maybe a dog, fox or badger. Athos went into protective mode, and stuck his head through the fence, which he always did, and the predator got hold of his neck. At some point the gosling went through the fence and was taken too. The girls, in their panic, ran away and knocked down the fence in the process. We wondered why the others were still alive and figured that it must have been a dog or badger, too big to get through the fence. That assumption cost us dearly.

We went to bed at around midnight/1am and again all was peaceful, except Abigail’s occasional calls to Athos, she had been doing that all day. When we woke, again at about 8, there was silence. I thought maybe she had given up calling. I got Chi ready and Sam went to do the morning run. He came back in and just said to me ‘it got them all’.

Barbara was in the middle of the area, intact but her neck had been bitten. Abigail had been dragged towards the fence that borders the road, her head and neck gone. April was deep in the dog rose bush and I had to get to her from the road side. She was missing a head and neck and had been partially skinned.

I have all kinds of regrets, as you do with any preventable death. I should have realised it was a fox and it could get in, I should have taken extra precautions, I should have locked the geese away that night, I should have locked the geese away every night. We had our reasons for leaving the geese out overnight. Neither of the people we got the geese from, both local, locked away. Abigail was incredibly mean, she would attack April if she got too close and I was worried she would do her damage if locked together. We bought Barbara to give April company but April in turn attacked Barbara in the same way Abigail attacked April. Athos tried to keep the peace but confining them over night seemed like a recipe for trouble. When we lost Athos I spent the afternoon looking at goose houses and finding ads for trailer bases so we could get to work building a portable secure shelter for the geese. Too little too late it would seem.

Aside from my recriminations, and the lessons we have learnt, I have been struck by how this has affected me. Anyone who has talked to us about the geese know that they are not our pets. We may not cull as quickly as some smallholders or farmers but Abigail was on probation because she hadn’t laid eggs this year and Athos was frequently eyed for sausages in the breeding season, his only redemption being how good he was with the girls, and his respect for us most of the time. If he stepped over a line where we felt safety was a concern he would have been gone for meat and I would have thoroughly enjoyed eating him.

Despite the fact that we are perfectly happy killing and eating our animals we were devastated by these attacks. It wasn’t just the loss of the gosling (who was set to be Christmas dinner), or the loss of 3 egg layers, it was the manner of their deaths. The fear and panic they will have gone through. The brutality of it. I am a pagan and a biologist. I understand Tooth and Claw. I understand the need for survival. But still these attacks still shook me.

We came to smallholding to know where our food comes from. Not just our veggies but also our meat. We are moving towards buying the meat we cannot produce ourselves from other smallholders. It matters to me where my meat comes from, the life and death it had. And I think that is the root of my upset. I do everything I can to make sure the animals in my care have good lives, with all their needs met, safe, happy and healthy. I name them all and know them individually. When the time comes for their end, I ensure that it is unexpected, quick and painless. My poor geese were given none of these and they deserved better.

I guess that is what sets humans apart from the world of Tooth and Claw. In Tooth and Claw there is no deserving better. Life is a battle to stay alive and your end is met through disease or a predator. It is only my sentience that can allow me to stand apart from that and wish for a peaceful end, not just for humans but for the animals around me.

Night before last we set about working on our defences. We haven’t arranged to have the fox shot. Looking at the time of year it is likely a vixen with cubs to feed. She is looking for food for them and saw an easy meal in a gosling, that was likely more than she bargained for when Athos came into the picture. She won though, came back for the rest of the meat and found 3 defenceless geese. We wanted to make sure she doesn’t get a third free meal. I understand and respect Tooth and Claw but that doesn’t mean I can’t tip the scales in favour of my animals.

We moved the sheep out of the field that borders the dry ditch and has long grass, into the Triangle with shorter grass. We bottled up some human pee, apparently it has to be male, and sprinkled that around the edge. Radio 4 is being played in the polytunnel where the light has also been left on. The automatic pop hole has been disabled on the chickens (it shut away at dusk and let out at dawn) so that we can let them out later in the morning. A motion sensor light is over the chicks (our most vulnerable housing) and we will set to work on a secure pen on Saturday. The pullets were literally barricaded into their house. The fox passed us by. Maybe because our efforts made it too risky or maybe because she and her cubs have full bellies. I am writing this at 4am (more about that in another post) so I am hoping we make it through tonight ok.

Our geese weren’t pets but 3 of them were part of our first livestock and we had come to care for them. RIP Athos, Abigail, April, Barbara and gosling. We’ll miss you

Dans

Gosling(s)

I mentioned in my last post that we had our first gosling and were hoping for the other two to hatch in the next few days. We also had 4 new eggs appear in the nest.

Unfortunately when Sam next checked one egg was sitting outside of the nest. We thought it might be a dead egg so I went to collect it for candling. It had gone and we assumed that the goose had taken it back under her. We waited and waited but no other goslings appeared.

Then we went out a few days after the expected hatch day and saw all of the geese out with the gosling. I approached the nest but there was no reaction from the geese. A bit of digging revealed 4 eggs but no markings on any of them. The other two eggs that I had set were gone. We can only assume that they weren’t viable and the geese got rid of them. Where to though I have no idea, we searched the area top and bottom but no signs, not even any shells.

All four off the nest with April looking worse for wear

April looked quite awful but later that day she was sitting again on the eggs. As far as I could work out the new eggs were just over a week old by this point, we couldn’t let her sit for 4 more weeks, she was losing the energy to even threaten me when I approached the nest. The decision was made and we took the eggs away.

We have an incubator that we bought as a back up in case any chickens got bored of sitting halfway through a brood, it made no mention of goose eggs though and looks quite small. We decided to risk it and try and fit in as many of the eggs as we could. We were very happy to discover that we can in fact get 4 goose eggs into a Brinsea Mini Eco!

4 goose eggs in a Brinsea Mini Eco

There are no instructions with the incubator for goose eggs, no automatic turner and no way to monitor humidity so we are absolutely winging it here, but we wanted to give the 4 eggs a chance. We are trying to turn them 4 times a day and going with the instructions for chickens on humidity. We candled the eggs last night and saw movement in 3 of them, the 4th one doesn’t look promising but I’ll check again in a few days. I’ve no idea if this hatch will be successful but it’s worth a try.

If anyone has tips on hatching goose eggs in an incubator I’d be very welcome of them!

On an even better news front, our first gosling is doing well. It wanders around with its 4 bodyguards. I was worried about the crows getting to it, but it is one well protected gosling!

1 gosling with 4 bodyguards

Dans

The birds and the bees

Time to talk about something other than the sheep!

The geese are doing well and we are expecting our first goslings on Thursday. We had 3 eggs under April and she was sitting really well but last Thursday I could have sworn it was her rather than Abigail off the nest. The next day I was certain and Sam checked to see that there was indeed a goose on the nest. It turns out Abigail and April have swapped. I don’t know if April was getting worn out and Abigail stepped in (April wasn’t in the best condition to start but we just could not break her broodiness). Or it could be that as we are getting close to hatching day the eggs have made Abigail go a bit broody too. Either way when I looked again on Saturday April was back on and Abigail was off. On Monday evening we got a surprise, a little gosling running around outside with April, Barbara and Athos. Abigail was sitting on the nest still.

When I finally got a peek at the nest today there were 6 eggs under April. It would seem that Abigail was sitting on the nest to lay eggs. Unfortunately, we have no way of knowing which are the new eggs and which are the old ones with soon to hatch chicks. I think we will wait until the end of the week then try to candle to work out what is going on. We may have to take away the newer eggs to stop April from running herself into the ground sitting.

It’s the season for broodiness and Alice, one of our Brown Marsh Daisy hens. went broody 4 weeks ago. We popped 2 eggs from our Cream Legbar hens, 2 eggs from our Cuckoo Maran hens and 2 eggs from Brienne (a hybrid) under her. All fathered by Aramis of course. We candled the week before they were due and all 6 eggs were fertile and developing well – go Aramis! Friday before last we spotted 2 chicks.  One from a Cream Legbar egg and the other from a Brienne egg. The next day when Alice got off the nest there were two more slightly damp chicks and 2 eggs under her, another Cream Legbar egg and a Cuckoo Maran egg had hatched. She had a poop stretched her legs and I removed the old egg shells. She went back into the nest box and sat on eggs and chicks, I figured all was fine. Unfortunately, when we went out 3 hours later it turned out she had left the remaining two eggs, they were cold. It could have been from me removing the shells but it may also have been the older chicks being 2 days old now and running about. We had a similar thing happen last year and we lost those two eggs. We bought an incubator as a back up after that.

First two chicks!

We dug the incubator out and got the two, now very cold eggs, inside. As I put the eggs in I saw that there was a large bit of shell missing from the underneath of the Brienne egg. You could see the chick’s back and there was no movement at all. I put the remaining Cuckoo Maran egg into the incubator and slowly peeled off the shell of the Brienne egg. There was a fully formed, ready to hatch (yolk sack completely absorbed) chick inside but no movement at all, even on the eye. The only thing I can think is that Alice either stepped on it as she left the nest or crushed it slightly while sitting. As it has been so hot she removed all the bedding from around the eggs and had them on the base of the broody coop. I waited patiently for the Cuckoo Maran egg to show any sign of hatch and my hopes dwindled.

Egg in the incubator

They were restored two days after we popped the chick in when I saw a small crack in the egg. It was pipping! We were away during the day and when we got back a bit more of the shell had been cracked open. We kept checking that evening but nothing. The next morning I heard a cheep and I cheeped back, it got very excited, cheeped at me and rolled the egg! We managed to actually be there for the hatching which was amazing to watch and we got a video so you can watch too. We let the chick dry off, and gave some crumb and water in the incubator. It was 3 days younger than any of the other chicks but we decided to try and have Alice raise it. We went out after dusk the day it hatched and slipped it under. Sam waited to hear any sounds of Alice rejecting it but there was nothing. We left it and crossed everything we had.

Freshly hatched

The next day we couldn’t see a chick, but we couldn’t see a body either which gave us some hope. Later that evening we finally saw the chick all fluffed up. The chicks all ran under Alice when I approached but when I spoke a little black one ran out, it had remembered my voice! It’s doing fine now, and although it’s a bit behind the others in development it’s still firmly one of the brood. As with the sheep it was another lesson in sitting on my hands and leaving nature to do its thing. If I had intervened too soon and ‘helped’ the chick hatch I could have ruptured blood vessels and caused it to bleed to death.

Alice and her babies. The incubator chick is the black one with the small dot on its head.

Just as we thought all the broodiness was coming to an end Brienne went broody. We decided this time to get some pure breed eggs to go under her. The Derbyshire Redcap is a British rare breed that is on the Priority list according to the Rare Breed Survival Trust. They are meant to be a good duel purpose breed and lay a good number of large white eggs. The only other white egg layer we have is Buffy and her eggs are on the small side. They also look very different to any of our hens. I had looked for some Derbyshire Redcap eggs when Alice went broody but I couldn’t find anyone selling them or adult birds. When I went searching for rare breed hatching eggs for Brienne I was very happy to find a listing for Derbyshire Redcap eggs, and not too far away so we didn’t have to worry about postage. We popped them in a new broody coop (needed something large enough for Brienne!) and she sat immediately and has been quite rooted. I do hope she makes a good mum. We will miss her monster eggs though!

A broody Brienne

It also turned out that the breeder had some pullets for sale. We have been running out of selling eggs quite quickly. When we first started we liked to have 4 boxes of eggs on the gate. We even got a back log a few times and took selling eggs into our own usage. Now we are struggling to keep even 1 box in stock and quite often a box is gone within half an hour of me putting it out. People had said we should advertise on the main road, and I did make a sign but we are selling out without it! It is great but I also hate disappointing people and we certainly have room for more hens. We would have liked POL hens, but finding POL rare breed hens that haven’t been vaccinated seems to be ridiculously hard. I have been searching and searching and finding very little. These pullets are only 17 weeks old so a few weeks off laying still but they should help us out. We bought 3 and haven’t given them any names yet. They are quite skittish at the moment but I am hoping they will settle down.

Our 3 Derbyshire Redcap pullets

Right the thread title promised birds and bees. Weekend before last we went to the Rutland show, as a day trip out but also to scout it out as a potential place to show our sheep in future. It was a great day out and at the end we stumbled past a ‘bee tent’. The Leicestershire and Rutland Bee Keepers Association were there and they literally had a tent full of bees. They had suits for people to put on and go and have a bee experience. We have been very keen on the idea of bees, they would be great for increasing our pollination, provide us with some honey (possibly for mead) and would do our bit to help out the bees. We even bought a bunch of second hand equipment from some smallholders who were selling up last year. We have been a bit nervous though as Sam doesn’t think he would have the balance to work with the bees and I wasn’t sure if I would have a panic attack being cooped up in a suit and surrounded by flying things.

It was the end of the day and we were all tired but I couldn’t walk past this opportunity so in I went. It was brilliant. I was very nervous to start with but I found the suit reassuring and felt surprisingly calm in with the bees. It was great getting to see a hive up close and be hands on. It wasn’t a full hive but it was a still a good experience, exactly what I needed to make me think more seriously about courses and our local bee keepers association. The only worry I have now (other than swarms) is how heavy the hives can get when full. My back is such a weak point on me that I’m worried I would have trouble lifting things. It’s still worth further investigation though, I’m over my first hurdle in the journey to beekeeping!

All suited up

Right I think that is enough waffling for today. Should be some posts on blade shearing and what we are getting up growing fruit and veg soon. If there’s anything you would particularly like to read about from the smallholding then just leave a comment and I’ll do my best to do a blog post on it.

Dans

 

Lambing recap

Well it’s now been a week since our last ewe lambed. Of course we still have Anya and Aelin but we are now just under 5 weeks from the last possible lambing date for them and they are showing no signs at all of being in lamb. We’ve brought them back across the road and onto better grass so we will see what happens.

Sam and I are so tired it’s unbelievable. I’m not quite sure how people go for weeks lambing hundreds of ewes, I think 4 is about all I can manage! We’re starting to catch up a bit on sleep though, it helped a bit that we took the weekend off to spend time with some friends that we hadn’t seen in a while. Although, of course, now the jobs are starting to pile up again.

I thought I’d do a little recap of lambing.

We started on the 6th when Arya lambed. We almost missed it but managed to watch her have a pretty perfect outdoor birth. It was amazing to watch. Nice and quick, no assistance needed at all. She had a good sized ram lamb, weighing 2.85kg, with well developed horn buds. We named him Crichton. There’s a full post on Arya’s lambing here.

Arya with a 7 day old Crichton

According to the  raddle paste we should have had 2 weeks before the next lambing. For a recap on how raddle paste works and what it tells us see this post. In fact Aeryn lambed 4 days after Arya, on the 10th. For some reason the tup must have covered her again, even though she was already in lamb. Thankfully, we now knew the signs of imminent lambing from watching Arya and we kept up the regular checks as we thought Aeryn would be early. We settled down to watch her but after watching her struggle for a while with no results, and a chat with a vet, we decided she needed help and brought her in. I had my first experience of pulling a lamb, well two as the second needed a bit of help too. The end result was good, 2 healthy ewe lambs, not as big as Crichton but still a good size (2.5kg and 2kg). We named them Celaena and Caitlin. There’s a post on Aeryn’s lambing here.

Aeryn with 4 day old Celaena and Caitln

We had some nervous moments surrounding the first 3 lambs getting enough milk and Aeryn’s mothering abilities but we managed to stand back and let them get on with it. We learnt a lot with those 3 lambs about how the early days go and how our breed of sheep manage compared to the commercial sheep you seen on TV.

Alanna and Arha were actually due on the same day, they were tupped morning and night of the same day. I was a bit nervous of managing that but we kept an eye out. Arya had lambed 1 day before her due date and Aeryn 2 days before. I’m pretty sure I didn’t sleep at all the night before the due date just in case someone lambed.

Alanna went into labour in the afternoon. We kept an eye on her and she had her lamb on her own outside no problem. Then I noticed a water sack hanging down from her. She scanned as a single but I had joked to Sam that she was looking bigger than Arha (scanned singled possibly twins). I spoke to our vet friend and she also suspected a second. I kept an eye and sure enough a second set of feet appeared. The first lamb was up and feeding but Alanna wasn’t pushing at all. She stayed like that for quite a while, not pushing but the second lamb slowly but surely appearing. It dropped out and it looked as though Alanna hadn’t noticed, then she turned. She gave a little lick, thankfully around the nose, but then went back to the first lamb. I could see the lamb was breathing so stayed back. She wandered away from it a bit whilst it was still down so I ran in and checked the nose was clear, it was so I backed off again. I suspected a ram lamb as I could see the horn buds. Half an hour later, although the lamb had lifted it’s head it still hadn’t stood and she hadn’t properly licked it down. We penned them up in the shade so that the confident lamb couldn’t lead mum away from the struggling one.

The books say you want colostrum in the lamb in the first 2 hours, everything I have heard about Castlemilks says you want to not get involved as much as possible. We decided to wait until 1hr40 after birth then get involved. We made up a bottle of colostrum and went out. Lamb was still down whilst the other one was starting to bounce around. Restrained mum and tried to get lamb to suckle but it wasn’t successful. Turned mum over (and got a headbutt to the chest for my efforts – I’m not very good at turning sheep) and managed to latch the lamb on there. It drank a little which was good but it seemed quite tired and struggling. I let mum go and got the bottle. Offered it to the lamb who had some, but it had cooled a lot in the time it had taken us to get to that point. I went to warm it but when I got back the lamb was feeding and Sam said it was doing well. We left well alone.

Nearly 2 hours later and second lamb not up yet

The lamb was indeed a ram lamb, we called him Crais, he weighed 1.3kg. So small. The other lamb was a ewe, we called her Caprica and she was a bit better at 1.6kg. I think something must have been wrong with Alanna’s placenta, she and Arha had more feed than the first two to lamb and these lambs were so tiny. Crais did better over the next few days but he doesn’t have a great relationship with Alanna. Caprica stays with Alanna but Crais wanders away. When he starts bleeting for mum she sometimes calls back but rarely goes over and he doesn’t respond to her calls. We kept them penned for the longest of all our lambs.

Penned up outside but feeding well

Arha was the last to lamb and decided to break the new tradition of lambing by the willow trees and settled down in front of the polytunnel. I think she wanted to be closer to Alanna. Her lambing seemed to be going quite well, we checked back on her regularly and all seemed fine. The feet and nose appeared in the right position. Everything came out a little more but then things seemed to go wrong. She was pushing and pushing and the legs came out further but the head stopped coming out. I had read about Castlemilk ram lambs getting a bit stuck coming out if the horn buds are well developed so after she started to get a very uncomfortable looking bulged I intervened. Things were incredibly tight but I managed to run my fingers round and use them to help the horn buds out while I pulled. It was a huge ram lamb, the horn buds were well developed and you could tell it was a boy from quite a distance! He weighed in at a whopping 3.2kg and we called him Cisco.

 

That was us done with lambing. I ummed and ahhed about giving Crais a bottle as he seemed to be so slow to get going but the biggest thing I have learnt from this lambing is to step back and let the sheep get on with it. Obviously I ended up getting involved for three of the lambs so I didn’t stay back all the time but those times I waited a long time before I first felt the impulse to dive in. It’s hard to trust in the process but with them being a primitive breed it’s better that way.

I had felt awful about approaching lambing with my only knowledge being lambing live and my reading. I had hoped to go on a course but it just didn’t work out. The ewes were kind to me, giving us an easy introduction into lambing (no limbs to untangle or lambs to turn around) and it all worked out.

All the lambs are now together and running around. It’s taken me a week to write this so the youngest lambs are now over two weeks old. I’m quite proud of us, ewes and humans, 6 lambs from 4 ewes and no losses. If we can keep that up each year I will be really happy!

From left to right: Caitlin, Crichton, Cisco, Celaena (behind), Caprica and Crais

Dans

Twins and an assisted lambing

In the end we didn’t have long to wait for Aeryn to lamb. We checked on her before dinner last Wednesday and there were no signs. Went out after, at about 7:15 pm, to put everyone to bed and there was a water bag. I had read that the waters breaking was a fairly quick affair, blink and you miss it kind of thing, but when I checked her again it was still there. You could see that water was pouring from her, but a bag was still firmly in place. She was licking it all up so we waited. And waited, and waited. She seemed quite unsettled.

We decided to keep a close eye on her. When Arya was lambing she stayed in one spot and was pretty calm. Aeryn on the other hand was very worked up and was running all over the place, lying down and standing up. We aren’t very experienced but she just didn’t seem right. After about an hour a foot appeared and I relaxed a little. Over the course of the next 45 mins the foot kept going back in and coming out again, not very far out, just the tip. She kept doing the run around the field and appearing very unsettled. I spoke to a vet and there was the possibility that the lamb wasn’t presenting right and was stuck. We tried to pen her up to have a check but she ended up going into the lambing area with the other ewes (now in for the night as it was getting late). We’d have rather she lambed outside on her own but at this time of night, inside where we can help if needed was preferable.

Aeryn with the foot sticking out

I gave her a quick exam and could feel the nose behind the foot that was sticking out and the second foot just behind that. We waited a bit longer but she didn’t seem to be making progress. I called the vet and was advised that she may need help. She had been pushing for quite a while so it seemed like the lamb was stuck.

Being our wildest ewe it wasn’t easy getting hold of her but I managed it and managed to pin her and attempt to pull the lamb. I have to say it was one of the most daunting things I’ve ever done.  I was worried that the lamb was dead already. Between the birthing fluids and the lube I had covered my hand in the lamb was quite slippy. I pulled the leg that was currently jutting out a bit first, then reached in and pulled the other leg to straighten it up. With both legs straight and out I pulled in earnest. Whilst I was doing so I heard the lamb make a sound which was such a relief! I finally got the head out, but the light had gone by this point and I panicked seeing how big the head was and suddenly thought it was the bum and I was delivering the lamb breech. I briefly considered pushing the lamb back but gave another pull and the lamb was out to about the abdomen. I stepped out of the pen to see if Aeryn could finish it herself but she just ran around the pen with the lamb dangling. It finally popped out but she stood licking the fluids on the ground and ran from the spot where the lamb was, I had to pull it closer, rubbing some straw on it’s nose at the same time, and to her head.

I checked she was licking the first lamb then stepped out. I looked up and saw the second lamb was already half out. One leg was extended out like superman and the head was out past the neck. I rubbed at it’s nose a bit just to make sure it was clear. The second foot was nowhere in sight. I put a hand in and unfolded the front leg (it was bent under the lamb) and it just fell out. Much smaller than the first. I checked that she was licking it as well and that both lambs were breathing before I peeled off my gloves and went inside for a bit of sloe gin! Both lambs had been born by half 9, just over 2 hours from when we first noticed labour.

I went back in later to check that they were feeding, spray the navels, weigh them and check them over. Two ewe lambs, one 2.5kg and the other 2kg. They both seemed to be feeding ok. We named the lambs Celaena (bigger and likely first) and Caitlin (smaller and likely second). Of course, over the next day or so I worried about their feeding. Like Crichton they weren’t doing the big stretches and didn’t have nice round tummies, in fact these girls were slightly sunken. We saw that each lamb was getting feeds, and Aeryn had milk but it was like she didn’t have enough. I attempted a bottle but had no luck. I later found out that the teats have to be cut!

As with Crichton the lambs did seem very active despite the thin look so we decided to leave them be and get them all onto grass as soon as possible.

That happened on Saturday once we had set up the storage polytunnel as an additional shelter. Getting them out didn’t quite go to plan though. We tried leading Aeryn out with ewe nuts (had worked for the Arya) but she was more interested in the grass. Managed to get one of her lambs but instead of following it she stayed grazing as the other one was by her. Popped that lamb down in the area we wanted her and went to get the second lamb. Arya came running over to the twin lamb and nuzzled it. It started feeding, she sniffed it’s bum and then went crazy butting it. We managed to get that lamb away from Arya and get Aeryn and second twin into the area. But I think by that point Aeryn and figured she was down to 1 lamb and just ignored the bleating of the other twin, which ran after Arya who was not happy with it’s advances. Got the twins together and with Aeryn and kept an eye on them. Arya ran over to the twins to still butt the one that had fed from her but Aeryn stood her ground and chased off Arya.

Arya and Aeryn came to an understanding

Things have seemed fine and settled since them. We set up a second shelter area and was planning to leave them out Sat night as it was warm, but do regular checks to make sure Aeryn hadn’t abandoned or forgotten one. We ended up rushing Chi to A&E with breathing difficulties and staying in (she is ok now), so the sheep were left to fend for themselves. When Sam came home early hours of Sunday they were all ok. We’ve left them out since and everyone is ok, the lambs have now even started playing together and seem to know who is mum and who to stay away from. I’m really looking forward to seeing them all running around like crazy things.

Dans

PS I’ve finally worked out Youtube, so have a look on our channel for more videos from the smallholding.

Our first lamb

As it turns out, we didn’t have to wait long for Arya to lamb. On Saturday morning we noticed her vulva was looking really pink and swollen. Then, as I was doing the washing up, I noticed her lying down and standing up repeatedly in the triangle, she was separate from the others as well.

I had however been thinking she was going to lamb the night before, so we weren’t putting much faith in my guesses. We desperately needed to make a trip to the local tip – trailer full of dog rose – so I went out and studied her for a bit. She was very interested in a particular spot and looked like she was licking the ground. I actually walked around her just in case she had a lamb in the long grass but there was nothing there. She wasn’t pawing the ground to make a nest, she had stopped the lie down – stand up routine and she wasn’t raising her head to the sky or showing any other signs of pain (possible contractions). Our plan for lambing was to do 2 hourly checks and the tip run should take us about an hour and a half so at 2:45 we decided it was safe to go. I now know that was a rookie mistake and she was actually licking the ground to clean up from her waters breaking.

We got back at just coming up to 4:15, to get home we drive past the area the sheep are in. I looked out and said to Sam ‘I think Arya’s lambing, or maybe I’m just seeing the tree behind her. It looks like something is sticking out of her bum.’ Sam parked up and I left him and Chi and legged it up to the field. Sure enough she was lambing. Just as I got there she was lying down and doing the classic star gazing. Sam came up shortly and asked if I was videoing, of course not, I was just standing there in awe! Sam got a little video.

It didn’t take her long at all. She put her head down to graze and the lamb popped out. She kept eating for a second and I panicked thinking she might just not notice it, possible with a first time mum, I ran to grab something to clear the nose just in case but she turned around and started licking the lamb. I’m pretty sure I held my breath at that point but then Sam heard bleeting. I have to admit my knees went really weak, it was so amazing to just watch her give birth and this new little life start moving around. I had to go and start getting the pen ready for them and check on Chi (sleeping in the car) so Sam stayed to watch them.

We have a nesting pair of crows who having been scavenging and killing things left right and centre all Spring. One of them got very interested when the lamb was born and came and sat on a fence post right by her. Crows can be really vicious and take a lambs eye or even tongue

Arya was so smitten with licking the lamb she kept jumping over him when he tried to get to her teats. Again I worried, I think it’s my superpower, that she wasn’t going to let him but within about 30/45mins she let him. The other possible danger with her lambing outside is another ewe either getting aggressive with her and/or the lamb or it going the other way and another ewe trying to steal her lamb but not having milk to give it. The other three did approach once the lamb started bleeting but as soon as it moved they scattered. I think they were actually scared of it.

Not sure what to make of the new arrival.

We gave them an hour to bond in the field. We kept watch in that time as the crow was showing a lot of interest. By then it was starting to get nippy for the evening and we had seen him feed so crossed our fingers that the bond was ok. I did my best interpretation of what I had seen on lambing live and dragged the lamb slowly whilst bleeting to encourage mum to follow us.

First feed

The lamb had not been watching lambing live and was not as placid as the ones on tv, he wriggled quite a lot and I had to pick him up a few times. I did get to see that he was a boy though! I discovered that the ewe gets very confused if you lift the lamb past thigh height. She just starts looking elsewhere. She also got really confused when we went past the other 3, she turned to go to them but when I bleeted again and put him on the floor she came running back. That was the longest it has ever taken me to walk that distance but we got there in the end.

Sam had set up the pen with fresh straw, hay and water and we penned them up for the evening. I gave his navel a quick spray to avoid infection as we had brought him in and had a go at weighing him. I need a better set up for the next lambs as he was a bit precarious in the bucket, but he weighed in at 2.85kg. No idea if that is good or not but it’s the start of our record keeping. I was really happy with how everything had gone. One of the things I had read was that humans jumping in to ‘help’ with lambing too soon was one of the biggest causes of issues to do with bonding and ending up with bottle feeding so I was really proud of myself for keeping my distance. She passed the afterbirth about 5 hours later and all was well.

Of course I soon found something else to worry about. Whenever he went to the teat he would faff about and then you’d see the teat beside his mouth and he would give up. I had heard a couple of tests to check if a lamb is feeding ok so I tried them all. The first was, when the lamb is sleeping stand it up. If it is full it will stretch and have a round belly, if it is hungry it will stand with all four feet in one spot and its sides will be sunken. Well lamb did neither of these. He stood for a moment, wandered to mum and did the faffing then lay down again, and his sides weren’t rounded but they also weren’t sunken.

Just after a feed

The second trick is to hold lamb up by it’s front legs supporting it’s back with your legs. Again you should see a round stomach if full and sunken if hungry. But no, his sides were pretty flat. The third trick was to see if he pees when he stands up, like in human babies, weeing and pooping is a sign they are drinking. He peed but it was a drip drip affair rather than a stream. I then checked that mum actually had milk, she had a good sized udder (in my inexperienced opinion) but maybe there was an issue. No hard spots, lumps or heat (signs of mastitis), but I also couldn’t really get any milk out (two spots on my hand) did she have no milk or was I just rubbish at milking?

It was getting late by this point, and I had read that lambs should have colostrum in the first 6 hours so I made up a bottle. I offered it but he flat out refused. I went to bed very worried we would have a dead lamb in the night. We got up and checked regularly, ready to bring him into the house or tube feed him if he went downhill. Morning came and he was still with us but much the same as the night before. I messaged a local smallholder with more experience to come and have a look. He did and said lamb was doing ok. He got lots of milk from the ewe as well. I found out from the lovely people over at TAS that primitive sheep aren’t the same as the commercials I’d have seen on lambing live, they don’t tend to be as rounded with milk and as long as they aren’t sunken will be ok. I probably interfered with them a bit too much at this stage but thankfully the bond seems to be strong with them. I will know for next time and be able to be more hands off.

The polytunnel started getting a bit warm on Sunday afternoon, our main concern with using it for lambing. We decided to close off access to the polytunnel and let Arya and her lamb out of their pen. They would have access to the whole lambing space, including a penned off area outside where they could feel the breeze and cool off. We moved them down to the polytunnel doors and had to go collect some muck so off we went. When we got back it was getting a bit nippy and the lamb seemed a little unresponsive. I carried him back to the pen with mum following and headed inside to deal with Chi. We had a look on the camera and sure enough the lamb had been running up and down the polytunnel the whole time we were out. Not at death’s door at all! I was finally able to stop worrying about his eating.

We let them out into the post-lambing area on Monday afternoon as Arya was getting really depressed and not eating anything but the ewe nuts we offered. She just wouldn’t touch the hay. She got straight to eating and her lamb followed behind. They are out in the day and in at night at the moment as the nights have been a bit nippy but from tomorrow they will be out full time.

Out in the grass

We named the lamb Crichton and he is just so wonderful to watch, running around and nibbling grass already. We are looking forward to him having some little friends. No-one else is due until the end of the month, but Aeryn’s bagging up already and is quite huge so she may have been caught on the first tupping as well.

Crichton at 5 hours old.

Dans

PS I think I have fimally worked out Youtube, so have a look on our channel for more videos from the smallholding

Lambing preparations

We are a bit late this year but it’s nearly lambing time here at Six Oaks!

There are two options for how to lamb. You can lamb indoors, like you may have seen on Lambing Live if you ever watched it, or you can lamb outside. Generally the more commercial, ‘softer’ breeds will lamb inside as they may need more help, whilst the primitive ‘hardier’ breeds will lamb outside, are more likely to get on with it on their own and are able to cope with weather changes. It also depends somewhat on the shepherd.

Our sheep are a primitive breed, one of the reasons we got them was their reputation for being ‘easy lambers’. Despite this it’s our first time lambing, as well as theirs, and there are a few more dangers when both parties don’t know what they are doing. As such we decided on a compromise in terms of lambing. During the days the ewes would be out and we would check them regularly. In the evenings we would bring the ewes inside where we can easily check on them. Once lambed and bonded the mother and lamb(s) will go into a mothering up pen for a day or so and then be turned out into a new area. We had a plan in place.

You may have pieced together from our posts that whilst we are well endowed with polytunnels we don’t actually have a shed that we can have animals in. It’s on our list of things we would like to have but we haven’t got there yet. Our first thought was to use the storage polytunnel, we used that when the ewes first came, for shearing and when Akbar came. The shearing was in May last year though and I had been very worried about the ewes being in there with the afternoon sun. We decided that a sunny May afternoon it may be too hot for a young lamb. So time for plan B.

The girls in the storage polytunnel last year

The second thought was the shade polytunnel. This has fine netting over it and is much cooler, but it does get wet. We need a way to keep the rain off. We bought a very large blue tarp and threw it over the top (somewhat comically, it took a fair few tries!). We pegged it down to see how it coped with the wind. Suffice to say it didn’t cope very well with the wind, and after a few tears we took it down. Time for plan C.

Our makeshift cover

We started looking at temporary structures we could put up, in my searching we came across polytunnels with mesh sides. I briefly considered if we could alter the cover and structure of our storage polytunnel before I realised that our big polytunnel has mesh sides. We have planted half of it with veg beds, the other side has these large sliding tables that we don’t really use. Time to convert it into a lambing area.

The polytunnel when we first moved in.

We started by cleaning up the whole area which was long overdue. Then we lifted one of the table tops up and popped it on top of another. Tied the other two tables together so that they no longer slide. Next we put weedproof fabric over the bare earth floor and got the hurdles in. Straw down and it was ready to use for this year’s shearing.

After shearing we turned the ewes out into polytunnel way and the triangle. From there they can access the polytunnel freely but not get through to the veg beds. Plus there’s plenty of grass there.

Free access in and out

The final touches were to get the lambing box in (£100 worth of equipment, most of which we hopefully won’t need). Move across the tea urn, so we have some hot water for handwashing. Set up the security camera, so we can be nosey from inside the house. And lastly, remove all trip hazards for when we are stumbling out there at night.

Everything we could need

So that was housing sorted. Now for where to put them after. We have an area called Car Park area, just between the gate and the storage polytunnel. We haven’t really grazed it and there is no fencing separating it from the outside veg beds, berry patch or polytunnel way. Sam set to work putting up some temporary fencing, we still don’t know exactly how we want to use that area so don’t really want to hammer fence posts in only to need to move them next year. His solution used up bits of fencing we had left over from other areas and bamboo canes. Despite being primitive sheep our girls don’t test our fencing much at all, and as long as there is an upright barrier and food on their side they will respect it. We have a couple more fence posts to put in to give the fence along the road a bit of support but that goes on our list of jobs for today.

Bamboo fence posts

It’s all sorted now. I’d still like a shed, but I think we have made the best of what we have, which is a big part of smallholding. I’d have liked to remove the supports for the table, but they are cemented in and if we took the arches away there would have been stumps sticking out of the ground.

Now we sit and wait for the lambs. Arya is due today or tomorrow, has a nice big bag and a swollen vulva so fingers crossed!

Dans

Edit: This was written Saturday morning and just needed the pictues adding, then Arya lambed and everything got delayed.

Shearing

Shearing was a bit up in the air this year. Last year I had wanted them shorn early May but we couldn’t get a shearer until late May, it wasn’t too bad but our sheep shed their fleece and we lost a lot of wool. This year we are lambing in May which meant that we had to carefully consider when to shear. If you shear too early the ewes can get cold, if you shear too late then you increase the risk of fly-strike. This is where flies lay their eggs in the sheep’s fleece and then the larvae eat away at the sheep. It’s not nice at all and can be fatal. After a bit of reading I decided that shearing pre-lambing would be best for our situation.  There’s a good article here listing some pros for shearing pre-lambing.

The girls pre-shearing 2016 with a lot of wool already shed.

Last year the shearer cut through the fleece and got a lot of new wool through. Each year there is a ‘break’ in the fleece which is a weaker point. When you’re working with the fleece for crafting getting the new wool along with the old wool means lots of little pieces that come away, it makes things a lot harder. This year I looked for a shearer that would cut the fleece for crafting, thus just cutting the old fleece away. I found one who said he would, but he wouldn’t touch the ewes until 3-4 weeks after they have lambed. A lot of shearers are reluctant to deal with in-lamb ewes as it can risk abortion premature birth. Later shearing would put us into late June/early July and really increase our risk of fly strike. It looked like we would have to wait until after lambing though if no-one would do it.

Then a nearby smallholder posted photos of his newly shorn sheep by some handshearers. I didn’t have anything booked in with the shearer so I contacted these guys, the Two Stand Blade Gang. I have always loved the idea of hand shearing and would love to learn to do it myself. It’s a bit harder on your hands but is meant to be on the ewe and less stressful as you don’t have the heat, vibration and noise of the electric shears. It’s also meant to be easier to cut just the new wool. There’s also the fact that it is a traditional skill. I’m all about trying to preserve the ‘Old Ways’. It’s often interpreted as me taking the hardest route to do things, but knowing that our ancestors worked for centuries to find the best way to do things before the invention of all this electronic technology, and that in some cases the knowledge is at risk of being lost really saddens me.

They were happy to shear for us but preferred to shear pre-lambing rather than after. That’s what I wanted to start with but we were now 2 weeks before Arya’s due date so cutting it quite fine. It was the Sunday that I messaged them and they were able to come the Wednesday. Getting the lambing area ready and all the girls in before the rain hit was a challenge but we managed it.

It went really well. They were nice and gentle with the ewes and limited horn handling which was refreshing. The ewes seemed less stressed by the shearing than last year, which may be due to the lack of machinery or could be due to it being their second time. We had the pregnant girls penned up separately to the empties, we had tried penning together but the empties started chasing and butting the pregnant ones almost immediately. We got nice clean cuts on the pregnant girls and the wool looks really nice, no breaks.

The empties had started to shed and this is possibly due to being on rougher grazing. The guys had a bit of a harder job with those two but they still did a good job.

Aelin (left) and Anya (right) were a bit harder to shear

Unfortunately, the weather decided to batter us with hail and sleet just after shearing so I think I will keep them in for a couple days. They should be ok outside with a bit of shelter as hand shearing leaves a bit more wool on them than machine shearing, but we also have the hassle of taking the empties across the road which will be easier when it’s not throwing hail down at us. Friday should be nice and clear and we don’t have groups that we need to take Chi to which makes life easier.

Just a little bit of hail

The pregnant girls have eaten the grass down in the area they were in. So, despite Sam having come up with a race system to get the ewes into the polytunnel for lambing, we’re going to move them into the Triangle for the time before lambing. The lambing box is all set up with everything we should hopefully need so now we just sit and wait.

One of the upsides of having them shorn is we can see them a bit better. Arya is starting to bag up (that’s when they start to fill up with milk), but surprisingly Aeryn (carrying twins) and Arha (possibly carrying twins) are not far behind Arya in terms of bagging up. So they may actually lamb sooner than we thought. We’ll be keeping a close eye on all of them.

You can just about see Aeryn’s bag starting here (second from left)

Dans

The Woodland Chicken Coop – Chicken Coop Company

We were a bit rushed into our first attempt at hatching chicks. One of the Brown Marsh Daisies went broody and we scrambled to get things together for her. As such we ended up with a less than ideal broody coop. The chicks quickly outgrew this and despite building an additional run for them it was soon evident that they needed to move to larger accomodation.

Our broody coop

Between my poor woodworking skills, Sam working full time and us trying to keep Chi entertained whenever we do anything we realised that we wouldn’t have time to build the kind of coop we would want. It needed to be not too large (as we weren’t wanting to having many chicks at one time), easy to clean out and moveable.

I searched the net and came across the Woodland Chicken Coop from the Chicken Coop Company. It seemed to tick all my boxes, I especially liked the slide out tray and the ability to open both the side and the top. It was on a special sale as well so we quickly bought it, there was less than 24 hours of the sale left.

Unfortunately, as with most rush purchases, all was not as it seemed. We put it together easily enough (of course with help from Chi), and moved the chicks as soon as possible. I was really happy with it, until I went out the next morning to let them into thier new run. It was 8am and the house was in the shade of a large mirabelle plum tree but the window was steamed up. I quickly let them out and when I opened the roof door the heat hit me in a wave. I then realised there was absolutely no ventilation on the coop at all. Sam quickly got to work with the drill to get some holes in the highest point. I went and looked at the website again to see if I had missed some instructions about ventilation but there was nothing. I was surprised to see that the coop was on sale again, at the same price we had paid, but that sale was also ending soon. Ah the eternal sale.

Makeshift ventilation

Within the first week we noticed the second problem with the coop. The nesting boxes are level with the perches. Chickens like to perch at the highest point and so you want your perches higher than the nest box to keep things clean. The chicks were sleeping in the nest box or perching on the edge and then pooping in the nest box. I cut out some of the cardboard packaging that came with the coop and created a false wall so they could no longer access the nest boxes. Afterall no-one in there should be laying. Bodge job #2.

Nest boxes level with perches

The coop was moveable, which was an important factor for us as with such a small run we were moving them to a fresh patch of grass regularly. A nice feature would have been a way to keep the ramp lifted up as trying to stop it from hitting you in the face when you are lifting the coop wasn’t the easiest thing.

The coop then seemed to be ok, until one day in the autumn I opened the roof door to find black mould along the underside. The ventilation job Sam did must not have been good enough. Unfortunately he had drilled holes on all the available ‘good’ space. They say for ventilation it shouldn’t be level with the birds heads so that they don’t have a draught, but the way the roof slopes that is only possible on the top most corner.

The roof got a bit mouldy and damp

Then the final problem hit on a slightly windy day. We were under the bird flu prevention zone and I had covered the run with tarp held down with some bricks. I went out to check the tarp was in place once the wind died down a bit. I was very surprised to see the tarp in place but 3 cockerels running around the field and the roof door, that I had been so in love with, over the fence and in the other field. It had ripped clean off it’s hinges. Although there were good locks on the run, the side door and the nest boxes, there was no catch at all on the roof door. The wind must have got under it and raised it (it has handy locking arms to keep it open for you), then taking all the force of the wind it would have been too much for the screws, especially with the damp damage from the lack of ventilation.

The roof blew right off the coop

The upside of the coop was that it was indeed very easy to clean out. I had read about small openings and hard to clean out coops but this one was a dream. I think the multiple entrances, sliding floor and removable percehes really help.

Sliding base

In short I think I have learnt my lesson and will stick to things we have built (should be easier now Chi is older) and sheds we have modified. Having the problems with this one has really made me appreciate our job on converting the shed into a hen house. We’ll fix up this coop, see what we can do about ventilation and use it as a quarentine coop for new or sick birds.

Dans

A journey into smallholding