Wednesday, 24 March 2010

We are Expecting!

Of our 153 ewe lambs we have 23 not pregnant, 117 expecting one lamb and 13 expecting twins. I was initially a bit disappointed by this but as the whole flock are first time mothers and we are first time shepherds it is no bad thing for all of us to have a slow start.

We had a man called Gus to scan the sheep, he brought a little trailer with all his gear in it, which fitted onto the end of our handling system and unfolded into a small cabin with space for him, a chair and the scanning machine. The sheep ran alonside in a race and he held the scanning head underneath them one at a time. He had a small screen in the cabin to see what was going on inside each animal. I had the job of spray painting the sheep to reflect their status, a blue spot for twins, a green spot for singles and a red spot for any we were worried about, the empty ones were left spotless!

I think I will have to get more practice in before next year as they are more Focus DIY than Pantone coloured sheep.

We took advantage of putting them all through the handling system to vaccinate them, its a basic all in one vaccine for sheep that will protect the lambs as well. Needless to say they are not cooperative and its a matter of grab them and jab them.

We use a gun to do this as it's much quicker and safer for the user, the Heptavac bottle comes with a loop in the base to clip to a lanyard so you can wear it round your neck. The system really comes into its own when you have huge flocks to vaccinate but even for us it saved loads of time and R only stuck it in himself once!

It automatically refils itself when you release the grip and we change the needle when it gets blunt or bent! As you see the whole kit fits nicely in an old icecream tub which stops it from sliding around in the back of the landrover.

We have to give them all a second dose in a few weeks time. Meanwhile the 4 tups are back here looking bored as they are on holiday till this november.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Play dates for the livestock

We dont have a sheepdog of our own, 160 sheep would not really be enough work for one and I hate the idea of keeping the dog on a chain in the yard for large parts of the day.

So when we need to move the sheep we get our friendly local slaughterman to come with his dog Moll. She is beautifully trained and lives to work sheep, John only has 20 sheep but helps out for several farms with only small flocks and it fits in well with his dayjob.

On friday John rang to ask if we wanted the sheep moved as he had a buyer for one of his puppies and he wanted to demonstrate Moll's (the puppies mother) working skills. We didnt need the sheep moving but said he was welcome to take Moll over for a quick "play" with them. John, Moll and the buyer all had a lovely time, I'm not sure whether the sheep enjoyed it as much but frankly they need the practice.

This week we are ultrasounding the sheep to see how many lambs we are expecting!!!!!

Monday, 15 March 2010

More catching up!

I was laid low with a cold last week, I thought I had got away with no colds this winter but the fates were listening and the children must have found a new set of bugs to bring home from school.

I think I have already mentioned that all this computer technology is a bit of a struggle, likewise I only gave up my trusty film camera for digital a few years ago. When we got this computer it came with Adobe Photoshop album starter 3 on it, and since we just empty the camera when it gets full and leave the pictures there, we have hardly used it and we hadnt bothered to register on it, just kept pressing the "register later" button. Last week it warned me that I only had a couple more uses unless I registered, so finally I did........ to be sent a message saying that Photoshop album starter was discontinued!!!!!! and I basically would have to buy another photo management system. As you can imagine I was ticked off and decided to consult the local computer shop about what they recommended, in the meantime I googled it and after wandering through some advice forums found someone who had the same problem and had found a solution.

This gave a false email address to register with and when you sent it there was also a log in code, obviously I couldnt get the right one as 1) its discontinued and 2) it wasnt my email address. Anyway I considered what could go wrong!!!!! and used the code and HEY PRESTO it all works, I can access the photos already on there and continue to use the programme. Result.

The farmer behind us has a shoot accross his farm and raises pheasants for it , he also shoots over us, we are not into guns and our landlords rent the shooting rights to him, in return for the battle of the Somme being re-enacted a couple of weekends each winter he brings us a bag of game. I was a bit wary till I found that they are already plucked and drawn, I do know how to do it but its right there with gutting fish in my least favourite activities.

He usually brings a mix of pheasant and mallard ducks, I love pheasant casserole so we use them up but the ducks just get chucked in the freezer. Last week I got some of the ducks out in the interest of using them up and made a casserole with bacon onion garlic and redwine, people it was awful, truly awful and went to the cats. I have no idea how long they had been in the freezer but it was too long, and the next day I chipped my way through the last iceage and any remaining ducks have gone to the bin. Just in time as the game keeper came over the next day with some more, needless to say I have put the date on these and we will use them up quickly. Once I can persuade the children that they will be edible this time.

The three small ones at the top are ducks the rest are yummy pheasants.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Catching up

Oops a few days seem to have sped by, in my defence friday was a bit of a blur after the late night before.
Mumford and Sons were fantastic, the best gig I've been to in a while, they were very enthusiastic and rather sweet about how many people were there, before this tour they were playing pubs so the Manchester Academy 1 must have seemed huge.
As expected there were lots of students there, I got my hand kissed for helping one young man find his very drunk girlfriend in the crowd....... it must be the parent in me as I find it hard to pass by on the other side.
We had to move our small flock of sheep before the weekend as the parkland they are on is needed for a Farmers Market the first sat of the month, we got our friend Murphy (the local slaughterman) and his dog Moll to come and help us and she did the job in a few minutes, she loves to work that dog and would rather have spent the rest of the day sorting them into different groups, height order, colour, length of ears, anything rather than get back in the truck and go home! Still I'm sure we will need her help again soon.
We have just bought a mobile sheep handling system, which is a load of hurdles, gates, handles and the like that sit on a trailer or can be set out as pens and races to group sheep so you can sort them and do any jobs like foot trimming.

R set the whole thing out on the yard yesterday, well not all the hurdles, and the children played at being sheep, they particularly liked the guillotine gate, but managed not to trap any heads in it. We have about 20 sheep back here in a small paddock for remedial foot care and they are getting a bit less jumpy around us, helped by extra feed! but strangely none volunteered to try out their new play equipment.

We have also got some of the ploughing done that didnt make it last autumn, most of it is being sown with Triticale, which is similar to a cross between rye and barley and does well on an organic system. It seems very spring like to have the plough going under a lovely blue sky till you look and the hedges which have no signs of growth and the grass which is dry and shrivelled, even the cows are not interested yet.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Great News

Today is the second part of our TB Test, on monday the vet came to inject each bovine animal on the farm with 2 samples of TB.
They are injected in the side of the neck with small gun like devices, this means getting each group of animals out of the buildings and putting them in the crush one at a time, then injecting them and putting them back in the buildings.
For our 60 cow herd plus young stock it takes about 2 hours, they dont like it and we worry that they will show signs of TB when the vet comes back to check.
Today was come back and check day and HOORAY no TB, so now we have 12 months till the next test.

We never used to worry about TB here as in the 13 yrs we have been here we have always passed the test. We dont buy any cows in and though we have an active badger sett on the farm we assumed they must be TB free.
But last spring we FAILED the TB test or at least 2 cows did, as per ministry rules they were taken away, slaughtered, autopsied and samples taken for culture. We could not sell any animals so the bull calves had to stay. We were paid the standard compensation for the lost cows which didnt take any notice of our organic status and we were retested 60 days later.
We had another reactor then who was also taken and again we were retested in 60 days, fortunately that time we were clear and the neither the autopsy or tissue culture confirmed TB.

This week was our next 12 monthly test and we are so relieved to be officially TB free.

We dont know what caused last years problems, possibly the badgers who travel far and wide, but since they are protected we can do nothing about them, we dont buy cows at all so it remains a mystery.

We are off out tonight to see Mumford and Sons play in Manchester, I have heard them described as indie folk or folk rock, I never really understand some music classification.
I bought the tickets months ago after hearing an ad for their CD and buying a download of it.

I have solved the logistical nightmare of three children,brownies, guides and a babysitter with very helpful friends, all we need now is no agricultural disasters and we are set.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Feels like Spring

Its gorgeous weather here today, blue sky, a few clouds, still. The birdies are giving it whatfor while the cats slink about looking hopeful.

However the illusion of perfect spring day fades when you go outside as R is mucking out the cow shed. We keep our herd of 60 milkers on deep straw, no cubicles, which means that we add a covering of new straw every day, the bedding needs completely removing every 4 to 5 weeks. R uses a Manitou digger thing to do this and the muck is pilled in a field to compost till it can be spread as fertiliser and soil conditioner.
The cows love the large quantity of new straw they get to start again and run around like preschoolers, this does a good job of spreading it evenly.
The only downside is the smell that hangs around while its going on, specially annoying when its a good drying day.

Still the sun is shining .