Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sunny Dry Days

What a good week.  The sun has been shining, the sky clear blue and the rain has stayed away. We have therefore been able to get all of the weather dependent jobs done with the sheep.  I think the sheep were happier too.  The teaser who had been showing signs of bloat, has deflated, the fly strike lamb's sore back is healing nicely and we have had no more lame sheep.  The good weather has also brought on the wildflowers and I was pleased to discover, when checking a boundary hedge, some Nettle-leaved Bellflowers...I never realised how hairy they were.

The warmth has also got the butterflies going.  Each year I intend to get to grips with identifying the different Blue butterflies that are so common in this area but I never seem to find the time.  This year is no exception and again I keep seeing different Blues but don't really know what they are.  This is one I saw at Saltbox SSSI the other day.  I think it is an Adonis Blue as there is a lot of Horseshoe vetch there and it was a very bright blue but if I am wrong please let me know:)

Last year I caused some controversy by mentioning that we were pulling Ragwort at Saltbox SSSI as some people thought it shouldn't be done because it is a valuable plant in its own right.  Besides it being listed as an injurious plant under the Weeds Act, the picture below shows another reason why one has to try to control it. This is the same area of Saltbox that we cleared the ragwort from last year but it is there in abundance again. No one would dispute that this attractive yellow plant is valuable to invertebrates but if it isn't controlled it quickly chokes out other valuable plants. Now, because there was not time to gain control of it before flowering and seeding, it will pose a threat to the whole site as well as the neighbouring grazing land and livestock:((

I have enjoyed this week so much more than the previous week where I felt quite stressed with the various ailments of the sheep. That was until the old grazing officer phoned and said, "You seem to be coping, so why are you worrying?"  It was a very good point.  I have never had any doubts that I could cope, one has to when looking after animals.  Also my husband pointed out I am not doing this alone as besides him there is also a very competent trainee, other staff members, plus a great bunch of volunteers who have all had years of experience with livestock.  When I actually stopped to think about it, I felt quite silly, but it shows how quickly things can get out of perspective when one gets tired. Thanks P for the phone call and pleased to hear you, your family and Jack are settling happily into life in Wiltshire

One of the jobs that needed to be done in dry weather was to spray the sheep with a fly repellent.  The first lot we did were the 30 breeding ewes. We also had to dose their 46 lambs with wormer so that meant that all 76 sheep needed to be collected in. We no longer have Jack the sheepdog so, expecting it to be difficult, we asked all our livestock volunteers to come along but ended up with rather too many people. Consequently the first attempt went a little awry and there was a farcical few minutes with people and sheep running everywhere but getting nowhere.  If it hadn't been so hot, I would have found very funny:)) We decided to let everyone, sheep and humans, cool down and calm down. After an early lunch we put out some more netting and had another attempt but with just myself, hubby and our trainee rounding the sheep up while the volunteers hid behind the landrover. Thankfully it was successful.  It was a good opportunity to check over the animals who were all fine and because we needed to weigh some of the lambs to work out the correct dosage for their wormer, we were very happy to see how much weight they had gained in just one month.  Even the younger Jacobs are looking good and robust.

The next group to be sprayed were the replacement ewes who are grazing a small scrubby enclosure up a steep bank.  There is, at the moment, no entrance that is accessible by the landrover so we hauled the hurdles up the bank by rope and handed them over the fence.  All went well and again I was pleased to see a sheep, who a few months previously had suffered a dog bite to her muzzle, was now looking much better and was regaining the weight she had lost.  Another interesting discovery at this site was that of a nude sunbather !!:))) Quite amusing but also a nuisance as we feel that the lone females should not stock-check this secluded little site so my husband and I will have to do their days until the sheep are moved on. You will be pleased to know I don't have a pic of Nudy Man..not a pretty sight!

The last group for spraying were the boys.  Firstly, the ones still at the farm following shearing, had to be transported to a field at Tatsfield, a site pleasantly situated on the side of the North Downs and this time I managed to refrain from telling hubby how to drive :) Four of the sheep were Herdwicks that needed to be reunited with the other Herdwicks who were grazing an adjacent field.  All went well and we were all feeling well pleased when the phone went.  It was Reigate Animal Health who have to do various inspections of animals in their area.  In this case they were wanted to arrange an appointment to inspect our goats where they will need to take blood samples from them all.  When one considers that it took us 10 hours the last time we caught them to trim their hooves and move them to their present site you can imagine we were not too happy.  We have referred it to 'the boss' but meanwhile hubby and I have been working out some tactics.  A few days before we had managed to catch one of the goats by hand to replace a lost ear tag and I know a couple will go into the holding pen for food so I think it will be a matter of using a combination of methods.

They might be difficult to catch but they are still well worth having as they have done an amazing job of controlling the regrowth of scrub at Saltbox SSSI in the areas that have been cleared.  This picture shows how it was last year before the goats.  The whole area was covered in regrowth and a vast number of Aaron's Rod...

Now, after four months of the goats grazing, it is looking a little less like a jungle with an emerging covering of wild Marjoram, Wild Basil, St John's Wort, Birds-foot-trefoil and more:)

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sunday Drama at Little Chump

I was just poised over the computer ready to do a post when the phone went.  Overnight a car had demolished a section of stock fencing at Little Chump, the field that holds the Downland Project's 76 ewes and lambs.  Our trainee, who was stock checking at the farm, kept the sheep in the field and luckily there was a group pulling ragwort in another part of the farm who were able to get over and help put the sheep in another field.  The car, a Mercedes, had apparently crashed at around 2.30 am!  It must have been a bad crash as it demolished a double line of fencing including several heavy straining posts but all that was left in the morning was debris and a number plate.  How the car had been removed we have no idea.  I am just pleased the sheep hadn't strayed through the large gap that was left.

We are half way through our time filling in for the absent grazing officer and assistant.  It has so far been made difficult by the weather but today the sun is shining and the forecast is for a dry week:))))

Last week we gave the boys (sheep that is) a health check, trimming their hooves, checking their teeth etc.  All were in very good condition except for our teaser (he does as his name suggests, teases the ewes with his good looks, personality and a few hormones to get them in the mood before the ram is put in)  Unfortunately he has been showing signs of bloat ever since we brought back to the farm for shearing. His stomach is very distended but strangely he is still eating, ruminating and going to the toilet as normal and didn't show any signs of discomfort when he was sheared.  The vet confirmed it looked like bloat from the photo but as there were no other symptoms just to monitor him. I am very worried about him as he has now been like it for over a week, however, today I think he looks just a little less fat, so fingers crossed he will soon be back to normal as he is rather an important chap.

We have had quite a few other problems especially with lameness but I think the wet weather has had a lot to do with it so hopefully, if things dry up, it will all improve.  We have also had a lamb with fly strike on its back, a ewe with an abscess on its neck and a lamb with what looked like Shelly hoof where the wall of its hooves were separating from the underlying tissue.  Unfortunately a stone had gone up one of the hooves and when removed it bled like mad.  These things all came to light on the same day after we had finished the boy's health checks so it was very late when we got home and I was filthy covered in sheep poo, puss, blood and maggots..for once I didn't feel like eating:)

I am finding it all quite stressful and spend half the nights awake worrying or looking things up on the computer.  Luckily my husband is his usual calm self and very tolerant of me especially when we are towing a trailer load of sheep where I become a very bossy back seat driver, even telling him (an ex-fireman who drove fire engines) when to change gear! I feel awful but can't seem to stop myself.  I am not usually like this and even when I was with the old grazing officer, who was driving quite fast down some narrow lanes because we were running out of daylight, I managed to keep my mouth closed, although, I did have my eyes closed too...perhaps I that is what I should try when my husband is driving:)

Suddenly I am finding that I am quite envious of the volunteers going off to do tasks like ragworting and when we cleared the barn of all the bedding from where the sheep had been housed prior to shearing (to keep them dry), it quite went to my head and I enjoyed every moment of it (I had had rather a lot of caffeine though, which might have helped:)

I always thought I had quite a wildlife friendly garden but since it has been so neglected this year it continues to surprise me with even more wildlife than usual.  Without the demarcation of the cut lawn several common lizards have found their way in to be discovered under discarded weed collecting bags left from last year, a Blackcap has been visiting the Hogweeds which have an abundance of mating cardinal beetles on them and some of my favourites... a Green Woodpecker has been a regular visitor, searching out bugs from the lawn..

A beautiful Comma butterfly has been visiting the Lavender..

And a good variety of dragonflies and damselflies have been visiting the ponds..

I really must make sure that I somehow retain this level of wildlife in the garden next year.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

I Wish I was a Frog

Why are frogs so happy?
They eat whatever bugs them:))

After the freezing temperatures of the last few winters our garden frog population seemed greatly reduced despite having three deep ponds in which they could hibernate. I am therefore really pleased to see their funny little faces popping up from the ponds again especially as we have an explosion of Mosquitoes...

The garden continues to be neglected due to our lack of time but the self sown wild flowers are making the garden look quite pretty.  In particularly the Red Valerian and Purple Toad flax...

It is a great relief that the garden isn't looking too bad as time is so short.  We have now completed one month working for the Downland Project, filling in for the absence of a Grazing Officer, and have just done our first week without even the Grazing Assistant to advise us.  So far all is good, although the days are long and physically very demanding.  The longest day (so far) was the first of the shearing days when we started at 9am but didn't finish until 9.50pm!  Unfortunately the shearer's trailer had broken so she was 4 hours late arriving but at least we got the job done.:)

The sheep being sheared in this first batch were the non-breeding ewes, the Herdwicks and the breeding ewes, 58 sheep in total.  The ewes and lambs needed to be separated so we took the opportunity of dosing the lambs against a parasite called coccidiosis which a faecal egg count had shown they had in high numbers. They didn't mind having their medicine but they did object to being separated from their mums and persisted in making a terrible din...

The mums didn't seem to mind one bit that they were not with their progeny and happily awaited their turn at the hairdressers...

........and then, turning their backs on their offspring, enjoyed a tasty hay supper:)

The shearer was also able to tell us what to do about a horn that had grown uncomfortable close to one of the Herdwicks eyes....

"Get some loppers and chop it off," she said, so we duly passed the loppers to our trainee lad saying it would be 'good experience' for him!!:))) So under the shearers guidance the deed was done and I'm sure the Herdwick (who didn't seem to feel a thing) will be a lot more comfortable.

Now the sheared sheep need to be moved out from the farm and back to their conservation grazing sites.  Last week we took he non-breeding ewes to Hutchinsons Bank, a largish area of chalk grassland that has expanding areas of Kidney Vetch, the food plant for the Small Blue butterfly caterpillars.

The sheep were going into a small scrubby enclosure yet to be clear enough for Kidney Vetch to survive as it doesn't like competition from other plants. However the enclosure is adjacent to an area where scrapes have been dug into the bank for the Kidney Vetch and where it is growing prolifically.  We wondered if we would have trouble encouraging the sheep up the steep bank into the enclosure but we needn't have worried as with one shake of a bucket of nuts they trotted up with no hesitation (there is actually netting running along the right side to stop the going on to the scrapes on their way up)...

We have also just put the ponies on to another enclosure at Hutchinsons Bank that does include several scrapes with areas of Kidney Vetch in. In general the ponies don't eat many of the wild flowers but we are monitoring it carefully.  The ponies looked like children in a sweet shop when they first arrived as they had come from a field of predominantly rather boring grass.  Tavey immediately started pigging out on Hog weed and was eating like there was no tomorrow.... not good when he is already overweight.....

Needless to say by the next morning he had a tummy ache and didn't look too happy.......

Young Rufus, who is more sensible, was ok though and as we got to the field gate the next morning, he buried his head into the long grass and lifted it up with a bucket in his mouth that he had pulled out from under the water bowser.  Then, looking very pleased with himself, he proceeded to wave it up and down in greeting to us. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera but I'm sure you can imagine it.......

I have become very fond of the ponies, especially little Rufus.  He was so brave when he first arrived  at 18 months old, just a baby really. My husband and I were their first stock checkers and being  horsey people, we soon became involved in working with them so that they could be caught and handled without problems. Tavey was fairly confident when he first came but unfortunately someone must have frightened him when he was grazing a site in Chipstead as he is now very difficult to catch. It will take a lot of input to regain his confidence.  Rufus, although nervous to begin with, is now a lot better.  He always tries so hard to understand what is wanted of him and really wants to interact.  He's very intelligent and inquisitive and I love him to bits.  Unfortunately, because I am one of the few people that have consistently been around him since he first came, he is beginning to form a bond with me (and me with him).  That would be ok if he was my pony but he is not and I am not always happy at where or when the ponies are sent to graze, especially this latest move (for several reasons which I won't go into) and I am beginning to find it quite upsetting. So I have decided that when the assistant grazing officer returns I must try to back out of their care and return to just being a stock checker for them:(((