Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Fun at the Farm

I can't believe that lambing is nearly over, with only one ewe still left to deliver..it has really gone very fast this year.  It has also gone very well with a good batch of healthy, strong lambs and no problems (yet) other than a particularly difficult presentation where both twin lambs were trying to exit mum at the same time.  Luckily the Grazing Officer managed to get there in time and was able to decipher which leg belonged to which lamb, untangle them and successfully deliver them both alive!!:)

A neighbour recently asked if I get bored just waiting for sheep to give birth but it is not like that as there is a lot of work to be done.  When we arrive, providing there are no ewes in labour, we assist the Grazing Officer with tail docking, castrating, ear tagging, numbering up, worming etc. and either moving the older ones out to the fields or, if the weather is inclement, into the nursery pen. Then if the weather is good the pregnant ewes are let out into the adjoining field; the whole barn has to have fresh bedding put down; the ewes in the mothering up pens are given hay and fresh water; the round hay racks are replenished and troughs refilled.  Then all the animals are given some sheep nuts.  This is interspersed with hourly checks for signs of labour and other jobs follow such as checking all the lambs in the field are ok, disinfecting any hurdles that have got dirty, washing out water buckets, getting in more hay and straw.  In the afternoon more fresh bedding is put down (this is very important to prevent infections), more hay, more fresh water etc. At the height of lambing it can be a busy day and very tiring but I really enjoy tending to the sheep and their lambs at this vulnerable time in their lives and love watching them bond and hearing the variety of intimate little sounds they give to each other..it is very special:)

Some of the sheep are quite friendly to us humans, some not so friendly but all tend to keep a certain distance...except that is, when there are sheep nuts in the offing, when suddenly we become very attractive.  I was out in the field with a bucket of nuts feeding the pregnant ewes and was soon being bundled by a whole flock of over enthusiastic sheep.  Unfortunately, one Jacob caught its horn behind my right knee, while at the same time as another caught me behind my left knee...and down I went...lol.  It felt like I was drowning in sheep as the sky closed in above me to be replaced by woolly, gobbling, creatures happily standing on me, over me and around me furiously eating the nuts which I had managed to spill.  There were so many sheep it was hard to even sit up let alone stand up (plus I was laughing a lot)!  I would think it looked very funny but luckily no one was watching and it was not an experience I wanted to repeat.  However that is just what I did the very next day and I am sure it was the same two Jacobs that ambushed me:)))

I think the picture below may be of one of the culprits as feeding became a lot less risky after she had given birth. She took a long time producing her first lamb which didn't look too good to begin with but with a bit of work he took his first breath and soon had his head up looking at his new world:)

...15 mins. later he was standing up looking for sustenance...obviously takes after his mother...that will serve her right for knocking me over twice:))

...40 minutes later and the twin brother arrived.

...and an hour after that they were all happily settling in to their cosy mothering up pen getting to know each other.

Along with our lambing duties we have also been helping out with the cows on occasions. In the past I have had a bit of a problem with cows as they always seemed to chase after me or at least moooo a lot, so much so, that friends and family won't walk through a field of cows with me:) Now, at least with the ones at the farm, I actually quite enjoy working with them...however... that was until Wellington, the bull, was added!!  He is a good natured chap but his huge size makes him very scary and it has again made me apprehensive of entering their barn.

Knowing that one of the cows would need treatment for an eye infection I decided I would not arrive too early for my lambing shift in the hope that one of the other volunteers would have already assisted the Grazing Officer with the task. However I was out of luck.

Over the years I have found that if someone thinks you can do something, then usually you can, even if you're convinced you can't and the sense of satisfacion afterwards is well worth the discomfort, so when the Grazing Officer told me to go and stand right by Wellington in the barn, to make sure the cow with the poorly eye didn't duck past the door we were trying to get her through, I duly did as I was told (I must admit to mentally muttering a few 'bad' words though).  It all went ok and Wellington didn't seem particularly interested in what we were doing but I was very relieved when the cow and ourselves were outside with Wellington shut inside...it seems my jinks on cows is lessening although my daughter still says she won't go anywhere near them if I am around:))))))))

Having got the cow through the door, we needed to get her into the crush (sounds horrible but its just a small, strong enclosure that safely holds the cow still for treatment).  We gently chivvied her along from behind and for a bit of extra encouragement the Grazing Officer patted her rump. I held my breath expecting the cow to kick out (I had once given a friendly pat to a horse on its blind side which made it jump so much that it kicked me painfully to the other side of the stable!!) but this lovely cow just plodded calmly into the crush where her eye was treated.  I am pleased to say that after several treatments her eye is now beginning to look a lot better so hopefully the sight will be saved which is really good especially as it is Curly (mentioned in a previous post) who is one of the prettiest cows I have known and one of my favourites.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Quick Update

This is just a quick update as time is short and destined to be even shorter over the next few weeks as lambing has started and also a few projects closer to home, including my daughter and grandson possibly moving in with us (plus their cat and a houseful of furniture!!) while they await completion of their new house.  My daughter says,"It will be fun!" and it probably will be but at the moment all I can think of is the extra cooking, shopping, washing etc. I think I will be taking lots of walks in the valley which was always my way of de-stressing when the family drove me mad:)

The trouble I find, when someone I know is moving house, is that it makes me restless to move house myself.  I love my valley... I step into the garden and look out over fields and woods, hear birds singing and lambs bleating...idyllic except that there is a constant drone of traffic, interspersed by sirens and planes taking off or flying in to Biggin Hill Airport.  It is a compromise we had to make to be able to afford a place adjoining open countryside but near to London  (at the time of purchase hubby was in the London Fire Brigade) but I dream of one day moving to somewhere rural and quiet.  Recently the perfect place came on to the market.  It is not very far away but has 5 acres of chalk grassland and woodland...I can just imagine walking through my own wild flower meadow and on in to my own woodland full of Aconites, Blue bells and Wood Anemones...all I need is a couple of million pounds:)))))

Luckily I get to visit lots of lovely chalk grassland sites when doing the Livestock volunteering with the Downlands Project. Here is a quick run down of some of the things that have been going on since my last post:

Early on a cold misty morning we made our way down the steep hill at Tatsfield to where the ponies were grazing.  Over the last few days we had got them used to being caught again in readiness for a visit by the farrier to trim their feet.  It always makes me a bit apprehensive as being conservation grazing ponies they are not handled much so can be unpredictable, however, they were very well behaved although Rufus did try to jump on top of me a couple of times when the farrier dropped his tools.  Last week we had the more enjoyable job of worming them...it is genuinely more enjoyable as the wormer, which is cinnamon and apple flavoured, is mixed with pony nuts so we are greeted by lots of excited whinnies when they spot us making our way down the hill:)

There have been quite a lot of sheep related jobs too with several sheep moves, collections of faecal samples for worm egg counts and when needed, the administration of wormers for them too (not so nice as it is injected down their throat..but they don't seem to mind), more hoof trimming and because of the exceptionally warm weather that brought the first flies out, a spray to prevent fly strike.

Everything has now been prepared for lambing; the hurdles used to make the pens were scrubbed and disinfected along with the barn floor and walls....

The pens have been constructed and filled with straw bedding.  The first lot of ewes are in and due to lamb anytime now with the lambing team on rota to check them. You can guess what my next post will be about:))

Last week we also helped move five of the Project's cows to one of my favourite sites, Park Ham, near Caterham.  I hadn't seen the cows for a couple of months and was amazed at how much their horns had grown making them look very handsome..

At Park Ham they are sharing the vast grazing area with the Herdwick sheep.  It was a new experience for both and at first the cows ran away from the sheep, then the sheep ran away from the cows but by the time we had finished our picnic lunch, looking down from the edge of the bowl, they were all grazing happily together:)

Lastly, back to the ponies. Because of the warm weather they are shedding their winter coats which is making them very itchy as Rufus demonstrated.

First he had an itchy leg...

Then it was an itchy ear....

Then Tavey came to the rescue saying, "If you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours."

And for a short while there was a nice bit of mutual grooming before Tavey got bored and bit Rufus's bottom!! :)))))))))))))