Today is the winter solstice, when the sun sets tonight it will start the longest night. I’ve celebrated Yule (the solstice) for about 17 years now but my understanding of it has really changed since becoming a smallholder.
I started on this smallholding journey because I felt called to becoming more in tune with nature, not just growing our own food and raising our own animals but doing it whilst following the seasons and working with nature.
It’s really worked well in that respect. You can ask Sam or I at any time of year what time sunset will be and we can tell you (we still aren’t great at sunrise, my bed calls to me too!). We can look outside and tell you how much light is left in the day. In short, smallholding has made us very aware of the sun.
The shortening days have been hard on us, especially as we were doing the bare minimum during my pregnancy. The jobs have piled up and now, when I’m starting to be physically able again, the days are so short.
Walking back from the sheep this morning I felt quite disheartened. Sam, Chi and Rowan are sick, Rowan with a very high temperature. I’m the healthiest of the lot but I’m still sniffly. The sheep are just finishing off the last bale of hay, I’ve never reversed the trailer and Sam still can’t drive the Honda with his broken foot. We need to move the sheep on but the rams broke a load of fence posts which need replacing. The bigger cockerels need slaughtering so that the smaller ones can grow. The new chicken house needs a roof. That’s just the urgent stuff, there are jobs everywhere I look and things have started getting muddy.
It feels like an awful lot on a day where my scar is hurting and a sick baby means I’ll likely be sat cuddling and worrying if he’s getting better. Our solstice morn had been bleak, I was up for sunrise but the rain made it a bit anticlimactic.
Now, walking back and feeling overwhelmed, I was blinded, the sun had broken through the clouds and was returning. The days will stop getting shorter. It was a bit of a beautiful and hopeful moment. I enjoyed it for a while and then took a picture.
It’s not all sunshine and roses though. Our weather patterns are all over the place and winter has been very mild so far. I’m fully expecting things to get worse before they get better, more mud, frozen water buckets, frozen taps and snow, but the sun is returning and every day brings us closer to long warm summer days. I’m going to try and hold onto that between now and Spring.
Solstice blessings to you all, may the sun shine brightly on you and your lands.
P.S. Sam came up with a hay solution. We can get 6 bales in the back of the Honda so I’ll do that, which should last us until he can drive the Honda again.
*TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES* There are pictures on this post but unfortunately they aren’t showing up. Please let me know if you can see them, as it’ll help me fix this.
Our first homebred lambs were 18 months old in November. Cisco was a really lovely ram in looks and a good temperament so was traded to another smallholder in exchange for Django, our new ram. Cisco has 6 girls of his own and I’m crossing my fingers that we hear of some lovely lambs from him next year.
The shearling ewes were put in with Django along with our 3 mature ewes. If everyone lambs then we’ll have a lot of sheep on our 2.5 acres, especially if the shearling ewes have twins. If that happens then I think we’ll be looking at selling some ewes with lambs at foot. We could also sell some stock at weaning. Everyone has been covered by Django at least once so its a wait and see what we get now.
That left Crichton and Crais. Although Crais had done a lot of growing he was still smaller than Cisco and his horns weren’t quite growing in the right direction. As he was kept intact there was no option of him being a friend for a ram. Crichton was lovely and friendly but that also made him a bit dangerous. He thought he was people but he was also most likely to butt you. He did it a few times to me through the fence if I wasn’t scratching his chin right. Both boys were destined for the freezer.
The night before they went, after they had been penned up safe, Sam and I had a discussion about meat. We raised these lambs. Crichton was so friendly. Could we eat them? Did we want to eat them?
The answer to the latter for me was yes. I am a meat eater, I don’t see that changing, and with the way my gut is, meat is one of the few things I can eat without trouble. Despite being a meat eater I also care passionately about animals. Some people find that hard to marry but I believe that it’s ok to eat animals if they have had a good life and a good (quick, low stress) death. I’m not completely there yet but I’d like all my meat to come from animals we have raised or have been raised by people we know. As to the former question, I feel that if I can’t eat meat I have raised then I shouldn’t eat it at all. I guess I believe that I should be aware of the animal and the life that was sacrificed.
The hogget from our homebred sheep wouldn’t be our first homebred meat. We have eaten chickens that we have bred. Sam felt that the sheep were closer to us, more relatable and that made it more difficult. We both went to bed with slightly heavy hearts that night.
One thing that came out of the conversation was looking at our consumption of meat in general. As a family we eat a lot of meat. We also have a lot of meat on the freezer. We talked it through and realised we were saving our homegrown (and other smallholder grown) meat for ‘special occasions’ and sharing with friends and family. Whilst it’s nice to share, doing this was keeping us away from the aim of only eating meat from known sources. We need to stop ‘saving’ meat in the freezer. We also decided to make an effort to reduce the amount of meat we buy in. I am working on buying only 2 fresh dinner meats a week. Everything else should come from our freezer (or kievs and pizza – our meals for overwhelmed days). Lastly, we decided to reduce down our consumption. See about meals without meat where we can and reducing meat portion sizes where we do eat meat.
When we got the meat back I have to admit I was nervous. As they were intact rams which were living close to the ewes I was worried about ram taint. I didn’t even advertise the meat for sale in case it was inedible. As soon as I got the meat into the fridge and freezers I cut a bit of us and fried it. I’ve never sniffed meat with such suspicion. Thankfully I needn’t have worried. It was delicious and we tucked into fried chops that night.
Despite not advertising we sold 3 halves by word of mouth. Selling always worries me in case people aren’t happy with what they bought but everyone reported that the meat was the best they’ve had. It’s a wonderful feeling producing good meat.
We got the horns and skins back as well. The skins are salting on the polytunnel and will be sent for tanning in the new year. The horns are outside waiting for nature to work it’s magic and the cores to come out.
All in all I’m feeling very positive about the whole thing. Now that Django has covered the ewes the ball is rolling for the whole process to start again.
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Well we have now had our first large animal scare. This is a pretty long post about Crichton. Sam went out last Weds to mow some grass after work and thought Crichton didn’t quite seem himself. He let me know and went about the mowing. Another check once he had finished revealed that Crichton was lying down in the hedge, shivering and non-responsive to food or much else but at least conscious.
I facebooked my vet friend (not sure what we do without you Cassie!) whilst calling the vet. We had an extra slight drama as the vet said they had reduced the practice boundaries and we were no longer covered so he can’t come out, he did give phone advice though. We managed to get Crichton into the polytunnel and gave him some antibiotics (the first dose was subcutaneous though as I was panicking and both vets advised a second intramuscular dose). We also gave an intramuscular dose of ivermectin wormer in case he was carrying a high burden or had haemoncus. He was very pale in his gums and eyelids and very sluggish although at least he was standing in the polytunnel. Checked his temperature and it was 35.6C, sheep should be 38.5C ish so things weren’t looking good. The vet advised to keep him warm and call in the morning if the sheep is still alive.
We set him up a pen on top of an empty veg bed with straw, hay and water and put a fan heater nearby (but not too close) to hopefully help him warm up. The vet said painkillers might help but as we didn’t have any don’t worry. I went back in after a bit and he had moved off the straw to be closer to the heater so I covered him in the straw and moved the heater a bit further in the hopes we didn’t set fire to him overnight.
It wasn’t a good night. I tentatively went into the polytunnel in the morning not sure if I would find him dead or alive. Opening that door was nerve wracking. He was alive though. He had also been eating the soil, it was between his teeth. I stood him up to take his temperature which was up at 37ish, so much improved. Once up he went over to the water and had a little drink which made me feel much better, I got him some nice fresh green hay which he had a bit of then lay down again. I took Chi off to nursery at this point and called the vet for advice. Apparently we were actually still clients, it had been a mix up and the vet would call me back when he could.
The day started heating up, Crichton seemed to get more lethargic and the polytunnel was getting hot so I led him out to the orchard where he just stood whilst I moved the hurdles to pen him there. He ate a bit of grass then lay down again. The vet called back in the afternoon and said he could come if I wanted, 10 mins away. He agreed that Crichton looked very depressed and was very lethargic. Checked the guts in case there was a blockage but everything felt and sounded fine. He was very pale so he gave an intravenous vitamin and drew some blood at the same time. Actually got a really big clot from that so despite being pale he wasn’t very anemic. He gave the painkiller and Crichton did stay standing for a bit more. He got the ultrasound out of the car and checked the guts with that, absolutely fine, checked the liver and it was pretty huge. The bile ducts were quite enlarged and fibrous too. His best guess was that it was either plant toxicity or fluke, with the slight possibility of haemoncus still on the table as it can be ivermectin resistant. The good news was it was unlikely to be clostridium as Crichton would probably be dead already so it wasn’t the delay in heptavac.
The vet left us with some painkillers and vitamins and recommendation to get an adult flukicide (closantel based) as he didn’t think it was juvenile fluke. I got my microscope out and did a quick (well longer than I wanted) fluke count on the sample I had grabbed from Crichton the night before. Absolutely no fluke eggs but a lot of worm eggs. The fluke test is a sedimentation test, you don’t normally see worm eggs in there unless there is a very very high burden, so the amount I saw in Crichton’s sample was surprising. I called the vet to see if the diagnosis was still the same on the basis of a 0 fluke egg count. Unfortunately I didn’t get a reply. I could have headed out to the agri store but at that point Sam was eyeball high in work, I would be rushing to get there before closing, I was beyond shattered (had said to Sam on the Weds afternoon that I needed some really good rest or might crash) and Chi hadn’t napped, if she napped at 4:30 we would get no sleep that night. Crichton was looking better so we made the decision to wait until Friday morning for the wormer and hopefully the vet would get back to us. He didn’t.
I made the decision to go with the closantel based wormer despite the 0 fluke egg count. It should also kill the haemoncus if the ivermectin didn’t and was a different class of wormer that I could use on the others as we wormed with ivermectin last time. Unfortunately they only had a £66 bottle which made me cry slightly but not much I could do about that, other than calling the day before so they could order in a smaller one. If I hadn’t been so worried about Crichton I could have gotten them to order in a smaller, injectable closantel based drug that would cost a lot less but it wouldn’t get there until Monday (which I doubted as it was bank holiday) and it’s an hour’s round trip if you don’t get stuck at the level crossing and don’t count the time spent there.
Once home we saw that Crichton was doing a lot better. He was loose in the polytunnel with a grassy area penned off outside as it was a cooler day and he was much harder to catch (although still not difficult). He had his daily jabs and the wormer. He kept on like this for a couple days, each day being a bit harder to catch, standing up for longer and eating more. He is still very thin but he is back out with other boys (went back with them on the Monday) and seems to be doing well.
My only guess is that when the grass was low in the other field he ate something he shouldn’t have, or a higher quantity of something he shouldn’t have. None of the others seemed ill, though we gave them all a closantel wormer anyway based on Crichton’s count. The BCS of all the others is pretty good, even runty Crais is looking much chunkier than Crichton. My July sending for meat has been pushed back due to the wormer and I also don’t think there will be much on Crichton at that time. We may have to hold onto them for longer and just hope we manage the grass ok. Maybe a Jan sending off, we’ll see. The ewes are in fighting form, literally, I have bruises from worming them and straddling them to do the wormer was quite difficult, they are solid girls. I think my sheep wrangling days are getting numbered too as bump is getting bigger and making bending hard. Hopefully just to heptavac them sometime this week and then again in 3 weeks time for the ewe lambs and that should be our wrangling over for the summer. Debating treating for flystrike, we were fine last year and we check the sheep quite regularly, but it would give us a bit more peace of mind.
Sometimes you can make the best plans in the world and it all goes awry. We’re having a bit of this at the moment.
Easter weekend seemed like it would be a great time to get on top of some of the jobs that had piled up. Sam had 4 days off and we’d just had our first real taste of Spring the weekend before. We started really well, getting into the polytunnel on Friday and doing a good tidy. The chickens we had in there had merged all our beds into one which we worked at sweeping into individual beds. We are planning to make the polytunnel beds raised beds this year, we have the wood for it but we will see how that goes. On the upside they should have done a good job at removing pests and added a bit of fertiliser. I’d quite like to let some chickens loose on empty beds each year. Whilst sweeping and weeding the beds Sam spotted two parsnips we had missed, they were huge. He also managed to start work on getting our muck heap fenced in as the chickens have been spreading that too.
I busied myself with doing the second coat of varnish on the new poop tray for the chicken house. The plan was to get that in on Sunday when the weather would be drier, it will massively reduce the amount of time spent cleaning the chicken house and hopefully give us some cleaner eggs. I then cleaned out the chicken house in the polytunnel as it was no longer in use, Aurora being back in the main flock and Chihiro being in the freezer. Whilst the varnish was out and as it was nearly finished I threw a coat onto the inside of the roof. The ventilation on the house isn’t great and we found that some days there was condensation inside which was rotting the inside of the roof. It isn’t a brilliant house, I did a review of it here, but it works for housing chicks and broody hens, newcomers and anyone we want to isolate. I know the varnish isn’t a proper fix but hopefully it will help. Chi was kept entertained once she realised she could get into the house. We even managed to play a board game that night, things were looking good!
Saturday was a Chi day, we took her to her first cinema trip which she seemed to enjoy. We were meant to go swimming after but she was very tired and ratty which should have been my first clue something was up. She was asleep by the time we got home and we managed to get another game played. Sunday we had swimming in the morning then the plan was home to make the most of the dry spell. The forecast lied. There was no dry so we went to a soft play instead. Whilst there I noticed Chi was getting ill again, which resulted in a 3 day stay at hospital. Bang went the rest of the plans for the weekend and the next week as I really struggle to take her outside in the cold and wet when she isn’t well. We seemed to be getting better but something else has cropped up that the GP is looking into. Over a week after getting out of hospital and I am still worried about taking her out. Children really can add a random factor into smallholding that you just can’t account for.
On top of that the rain hasn’t helped things. We haven’t been hit as badly as some people but the land is pretty saturated, we’re about to buy even more hay, in April. It feels wrong but there just isn’t enough grass.
The chickens are laying like mad, but we’re getting less people stopping at the stall to buy eggs. Plus the chickens have muddy feet so we’re getting a lot more dirty eggs that I feel bad trying to sell. We have 20 boxes of eggs in the fridge right now for our use. I have to admit I’m feeling a fair bit overwhelmed! There’ll be a post soon about the different bits I’m doing with eggs. On top of that I was so glad to see 4 boxes had gone from the gate yesterday, only to find out that once again no money has been left. We have a repeat offender who will help themselves to several boxes and leave no money. It’s depressing to put so much work in and have people take advantage, especially when you are producing on such a small scale so every sale counts.
It’s also starting to get impossible to get to the Derbyshire Redcap cockerels as the entrance to their polytunnel is flooded, they have also started to fight with each other. The geese still aren’t laying and have eaten through their grass. We’ve made the decision to send the geese for meat. We really wanted to keep the descendants of Athos, April and Abigail but they are all boys and we are struggling with the workload this year. It will be very strange not to have geese on the land. The two cockerels are going too as they are well past time and I don’t know when I will get to killing and butchering them.
Last bit of news was some mucky bums on two of the ewe lambs (Celaena and Caitlin), they hadn’t been wormed when we did the other lambs last year so they got their first dose of wormer. Not before Celaena jumped straight over the hurdles and went for a wander around the area though. She takes after her father I think. We did Caprica at the same time as her bum was a bit mucky. I would have liked to do a worm count first but honestly I’m struggling to get things done. The ram lambs are showing no signs of needing and neither are the ewes so we left them be. They are starting to look quite smart, I’m thinking about trying to sell Cisco for breeding, he’s a great ram lamb, when he isn’t putting his head in a fence, but that’s probably to do with the lack of grass.
All in all we are finding things hard right now. We make plans to get things on track but other things crop up. There’s lots to do, the year is ticking by, Chi isn’t well, I’m pretty useless and the weather is literally raining on us. It’s probably the hardest we have found smallholding since starting and we have had thoughts about packing up. We won’t make a decision now, not in the midst of the bad, but we are longing for some good weather and a bit of a break from all the hardships of winter.
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So I thought it was about time I treated you all to another update.
The last couple weeks have seen a few events around here. The big news I guess is that we are expecting a new life at the smallholding this summer, but of the human variety. We’re having our second (and dare I say final) baby in August. Although we are very happy about this it does have it’s downside. I now can’t lift, carry, pull and push the weights I could, which is what we really need me doing to catch up on all our jobs. In addition I don’t do pregnancy very well, my hips were really bad last time and 1st trimester nausea hits me hard. Nonetheless it’s only 9 months and we will get through it.
We’ve had a little issue with the sheep. Starting back in Jan when they really upped the hay intake I noticed a bald patch on two of the ram lamb’s noses. As time went on it grew and got a little scab. Nothing on Crichton’s nose though. Then the a couple of the ewes got the same thing. I spoke to the vet who asked for pictures and was a bit baffled. She suggested it could be a bacterial infection where they are rubbing noses on the hay rack. We gave a long acting antibiotic and sprayed their noses blue. Sure enough the next day there was pretty much no sign of the blue spray and when watched they do rub their noses in those exact spots when eating from the rack. Not sure what we can do to stop it but we are moving them to some fresh grass soon and I keep hoping the grass will start growing again! If anyone has any ideas on stopping them rubbing their noses it’d be much appreciated!
The next event we had was the Beast from the East. We actually got off quite lightly in terms of the weather. We had a couple of days of the weather being bitterly cold but at most we only had about 3 inches of snow. We saw worse snow when we lived in Scotland. The big issue we had was with freezing water buckets, but I think a lot of smallholders faced similar issues. Our remedy was to have spare buckets and fill them up in the bathtub. Then once in the morning and once in the evening we’d take the fresh warm water out and bring the solid buckets of ice in for thawing and refilling. Sam had to do most of the traipsing around in the snow as my hips were really bad that week. I did get out once to see to the animals and take some photos though. Chi also got a trip out in the sledge but I did have to take a crutch with me for that one!
I’m happy to say that we had no cold related animal losses. Despite Awen (one of the original Cream Legbar hens) looking pretty rough since autumn 2016 she is still happily scratching in the garden, on the wrong side of the fence might I add! Despite that we did have one guest hen for the cold snap. Two days before the snow hit, Sam found Burnham (one of the Rhode Island Red hens) just sitting in the nest box, he had to move her to change the bedding but she hobbled and flapped her way around then lay down. It didn’t look very good at all.
I gave her a once over whilst Sam saw to the rest of the animals. Wing seemed fine. The scaly part of her leg was as cool as the other side, the feathered part was as warm on the other side. Nothing felt floppy, at the joint or within the bone, and she could grip my finger with her toes. I used some warm water and a cloth to wash away the caked on mud from her foot in case she had something stuck or a cut, but there was nothing I could see. Her leg was shaking like anything but the rest of her was fine. Her comb was nice and red, her eyes bright and she didn’t feel skinny. She was also eating and drinking well when food was brought near. We brought her in in a dog crate and crossed out fingers that it was just a sprain.
I called the Vet the next day for some advice and she suggested tissue damage or possibly Mareks. There’s a good page about it here if you want some more information. The vet said we were right to bring her in and confine her, if it is Mareks she will go further downhill, if it isn’t then the rest should help her. From what I can see from that page it would be the neurological form, but the leg wasn’t really paralysed so much as she didn’t want to put weight on it. We put her out the next day as I was worried about her in the warm house all day on her own (we were going to be out) but when we got back she was lying in the same spot.
We then kept her in for about 4 days before giving her a bit of a stretch in the conservatory. She hadn’t been laying but she had new feathers coming in on her clipped wing so she may be moulting a little. I had a feel but couldn’t feel anything like an egg so I suspect the stress of being ill or moulting has her off lay for a bit. She was much better in the conservatory, a limp for sure but no longer flapping her wings with every step.
A few days later she started getting much more lively in the pen. Arguing with me when I lifted her out to clean the cage and making much more noise. We had lost all the snow in the garden and it was sunny enough that some chickens were sunbathing so I popped her out. I kept an eye on her throughout the day. She was still limping, but not really hobbling. She didn’t run around the garden but she did move about and seemed happier. In the evening she took herself to bed, although she slept on the floor of the house rather than on a perch. She’s been out a few days now and we haven’t seen her lying down exhausted once. She is still limping but she is a fast mover when she is out with the corn and there’s no signs of any of the other hens bullying her. It is possible she will now always have a limp but her spirits are high so I’m feeling pretty happy about it.
The last bit of news is really non-news. We still don’t have goose eggs. I’m starting to be convinced that we have a gay couple of geese, they are certainly bonded, going everywhere together and leaving the 3rd goose on its own a lot of the time, but neither one is being submissive in the mating situation. They get into the water, make all the mating sounds then run in circles pulling at the feathers on each other’s backs until one gets pushed out of the pool. Then they both flap like mad. I was hoping the third was a female at least but no sign of eggs or a nest and it is much later than when the previous generation of geese started laying. Maybe it’s just the cold snap. I’ll keep holding out hope.
My laptop had a slow death and went completely out of use a couple of months ago. Since then I have been limping along with my phone but it was a lot harder to get things done. Now I have a nice new laptop I’m back again. I’ll catch you up with the various goings on as new stuff comes up, but I want to do a post about our first experience of sending sheep to the abattoir and getting the meat and other products back.
You may remember that we ended up getting more breeding ewes than we thought we could have in the long run. We wanted to see how they lambed and then cull down to our final number of breeding ewes (3). Two of the ewes, Anya and Aelin didn’t get in lamb, there was a chance they would if we gave them a second year but we just couldn’t justify keeping them on. They were earmarked for meat once we were certain they weren’t carrying lambs.
Lambing went pretty well for our first time. Alanna’s lambing stood out though. She scanned as a single and had a small lamb with no difficulty. We saw another sack but she showed no sign of pushing. A very small lamb literally wriggled it’s way out of her, it dropped to the floor, she looked behind her and then continued licking the first lamb. I waited a bit to see if she would do anything but then cleared the airways. We gave her 2 hours and still no mothering towards the second lamb. We did finally get the lamb up and feeding, which she allowed after a bit of a fight. She never did ‘mother’ Crais though. She would allow him to feed if he was by her but she never answered his calls or went to him. Both lambs were a lot smaller than any of the others and Alanna got marked for meat once her lambs were weaned. Her not looking after Crais gave us so much extra work.
So weaning time came around and we booked the ewes in. I spent the week before trying to come up with ways to avoid it. Maybe we could sell them – but we want meat, if we sell them we have no mutton. Maybe we are being too rash in writing them off – but if we keep them we have 12 sheep on the land over winter, far too many. It really was a decision I wrestled with and I am kind of glad I did. I hope I always feel at least a little tug in sending animals off for meat.
Abattoir rolled around quickly, the trailer had been scrubbed out, the sheep dagged and checked over, everything was ready. We got a little lost driving to the abattoir, despite doing a test run a couple days before, we pulled up at the butchers expecting the side road to be a route to the abattoir but it turned out it was further so Sam had to do a u-turn in the trailer! The animals unloaded fine and we had all the paper worked needed to get back our Category 2 animal by-products. We drove back home feeling a bit solemn but not with the tears a lot of smallholders had reported.
I was back there a few hours later though to pick up the skins and horns. It would seem that the abattoir aren’t used to people doing this, they weren’t sure about the paperwork at first and the horns were cut at varying lengths, they did apply an initial salting though which was nice.
When I got them back home the skins were laid out and any flesh removed, in future I think I’d actually ask them not to do the initial salting if I’m going to collect them so quickly (they were still warm), as it seems to make the flesh harder to remove in places. I got them as clean as I could though and covered with salt. A week or so later we covered them again and then about a month later we sent them off to be tanned. I’ll try a do a more in depth post about the skins once I get them back.
The horns I had much less of a clue about. I’d read about burying them, or putting them on a high roof far away. Unfortunately we had neither of those and so we popped them in a dog cage near the back door until I could read more about the boiling method. As it turned out when I next checked on them the maggots had loosened the core on one despite the cold weather. I left them longer and the maggots loosened the core on 3 more, not really much of a smell at all until you removed the core. There are two more and they are now in the conservatory. I should give them a try again soon.
Collecting of the meat was ok. The butchers got a couple cuts wrong which was annoying as I had to drive back to get it corrected, I didn’t want to disappoint the customers. We sold 5 halves in the end, keeping one half back for ourselves. One was collected fresh from the butcher, one was collected fresh from us, two were frozen and then collected from us and the last was posted fresh. The last one was probably the most nerve wracking for me. I pretty much loathe polystyrene so we went for Woolcool packaging which is cardboard boxes lined with a wool insert. We sent it next day delivery via courier and it arrived fine thankfully. I think we’d definitely be open to posting in future.
We ate our first home grown mutton the next night and it really was delicious, just a quick dish of chops lightly fried but the meat wasn’t tough at all. We saved a leg for Christmas dinner and slow cooked it, the meat really is different to lamb, it is genuinely richer. We’ve had lots of positive feedback from the customers which is really nice.
We should have a very limited amount of hogget over summer, so if you’re interested get your orders in, I have a feeling it will go quickly!
I had been trying to do posts on different topics here, but things pile up, I find myself waiting to post until a particular project is finished and finding lots of other things that I’m wanting to talk about but feel I should wait until the earlier stuff has had a post. So I’m going to try forgetting about all that and have a go at doing a post once a week on the various goings on. I can always do a special post on a particular project/adventure when they occur.
So I guess I’ll do a bit of a catch up starting with the livestock. All of the chicks are going like weeds. We found Alice randomly joined the flock one day and had no inclination to go back to her chicks so I guess she was done with motherhood. Her chicks (the cross breeds) will be joining the flock in a couple of weeks. We managed to get 3 definite hens and 2 that I think are cockerels but they have no tail feathers to speak of so far.
The Derbyshire Redcap (DRC) chicks are so flighty that we are having a bit of trouble keeping them contained, they just fly over the heras panels, but we got 4 hens and 2 cocks, 1 of which is really quite stunning so will try selling him. We are about a month of having them join the flock. I was a bit nervous given how much trouble the DRC pullets had given us but thankfully they are all now going into the house and have even started laying (had to wait until 30 weeks!). Just waiting for the eggs to increase in size a bit and then we shall hopefully start having eggs on the gate again. We’ve been in a bit of a low patch and I’m pretty sure we have an egg thief/eater. We’re getting a camera set up in the house to have a peek.
The lone chick (Ixworth) is starting to feather up now, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for a hen. It won’t be ready to join the flock until Christmas time though. Not our greatest hatch ever but Aurora is happy with her chick.
We also had some surprise hens. A neighbour is moving away and had 3 hens that she wasn’t taking with her. We agreed to take them in so have 3 Rhode Island Red hens that were born in 2016. They are laying well so should have their eggs in our boxes soon. We’ll introduce them to the flock at the same time as the cross breed chicks. They aren’t a rare breed but I’m a bit of a sucker for taking in animals.
We lost Boomer, one of the Cuckoo Marans, about a month ago. Like Aino we have no idea what happened. Happy and healthy in the run up, no marks, no swelling and a good body weight. I guess it will just be one of those things. So we started the year on 8 hens and a cockerel and now have 23 hens, 3 cockerels and 3 possible cockerels. I have a lot of naming to do! The chicken house had a bit of an update so we have more space and better perching in there for the birds. Just need to update the poop trays and nest boxes.
The geese really are growing like weeds. They are huge. Really huge. They still have a couple of their baby feathers but are well on their way to adulthood. There’s at least 1 gander, possibly 3. They have just started making adult noises so we’ll be watching for their behaviour and sounds to attempt sexing them. The two white ones are destined for the butcher but I would like to keep the other 3 if we can. We are just in the process of getting them some new housing built (our first real building project) but for now they are in the trailer, safe from foxes at least.
The sheep are doing really well. We have just separated off the lambs from the ewes, and the ewe lambs from the ram lambs and Cisco was having a bit of a try with one of the ewe lambs. Really hoping we didn’t leave it too late and aren’t surprised by lambs in January! They have all just turned 4 months. It’s a bit noisy out at the moment but that should settle . Once the ewes have dried off we will put the ewe lambs back in with them.
Three of the ewes are off to slaughter at the start of next month. I’m quite nervous but so far things are coming together. We have people interested in the meat and will hopefully secure the orders and get deposits before they go off. I’ve talked to the butchers about cuts, the food safety officer should be coming around soon to give us our hygiene rating for selling the meat, I’m looking into distance selling as one buyer is quite far away, I’ve applied for our registration to handle Animal By-Products so that we can get the skins and horns back and been in touch with the tannery so they can process the skins. I’m also doing my food safety course, although we won’t actually be handling the meat. There seem to be a lot of different plates spinning with this but it should be a good learning experience. The abattoir is a small one, attached to the butchers and there has been some good feedback about it so hopefully the girl’s last journey will be as smooth and non-stressful as it can be.
So I guess that’s a very long way of saying that despite being quiet on here we’ve been busy busy, and that doesn’t include all the harvesting and processing. More on that in the next post!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
PS I’ve finally worked out Youtube, so have a look on our channel for more videos from the smallholding.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PS I think I have fimally worked out Youtube, so have a look on our channel for more videos from the smallholding