Sunday, April 29, 2012

Green grass

Here are the ewes and lambs doing what ewes and lambs should be doing -- eating green grass. Friends and family reading this from Britain must think it strange that we have to wait until nearly May to get enough grass for sheep grazing, but that's what it's like around here.

Here too is Jewel, now in solitary confinement and awaiting The End. She was given one last chance. She and Tillie were both separated from everyone else several weeks ago for bullying Molly badly when Molly was trying to defend her lambs. They were all reunited, and within two minutes, Jewel was bullying Molly again.

Unfortunately for Jewel, a barren old ewe can't be allowed to bully a productive young ewe, especially one with lambs. That's the law of sheep, and so Jewel must go to the butchers as soon as the butcher is ready. She complains mightily every time I pass, but I won't relent.

Finally, a shot of the garden with all the cold climate crops in, the new greenhouse which has stood up well to this month's several gales, and my own shadow. Darn shadow -- always getting in on all the shots.

The lettuce and mustard and kale that we earlier sowed in the new greenhouse are doing fine, and some will be ready to snip in about three weeks, a record for us, summer salad before June.

(Because we don't eat grass -- or we'd be "all set" as Mainer's say.)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Remembering the Kinder Trespass

Tomorrow, the 25th April, is the 80th anniversary of the Kinder Trespass, one of the world's first environmental protests. Upwards of four hundred working class ramblers marched over a property line to protest the closure by wealthy aristocrats of grouse moors and ancient footpaths where the 'right to roam" had long been thought an inalienable British right.

As a result, today there are no such restrictions and free access to mountain and moorland country is untrammeled throughout the United Kingdom as a matter of right.

I have a family connection to this important piece of British history. My paternal grandfather was one of the organizers.

Here are some links:

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Lambing done for 2012 and other notes

Our 2012 lambing season came to an end the weekend before last when little Salsa came in to the world without fanfare early on Friday (the thirteenth!) morning. Actually, I'm not certain of the day or the time because we had a fairly busy weekend, but she's definitely here, so that's the main thing. I forgot to post notice of her arrival, too. Apologies for that. It must have been a routine birth, the only strange thing perhaps being that all the ewes and lambs except the retired two were confined in the barn, because of the sighting of that murderous dog again.

The final tally was six lambs from four mothers, including one male and one female singleton, a set of male twins and a set of female twins. They all seem to be doing just fine. We're pleased we didn't lose a lamb. Partly this is the result of good husbandry and vigilance, and of course the dreaded night check routine now done for another year, but of course some of it is just good luck.

We had a group of students out Sunday to trim hooves and dung-tag and give shots, and so the sheep are in pretty good shape, all the necessary husbandry taken care of until shearing time. It's now my job to arrange the shearer's visit as soon as possible and before fly-strike season really gets going.

In other farm news we have direct-seeded the spinach and peas and the spinach is already coming up. Leafy greens and kale sprouts are coming along in the new greenhouse, while tomato, pepper, basil, and squash sprouts are doing well in the regular greenhouse. The grass is only growing slowly so far. The days have been warm enough and very sunny, but there's been no rain and the top surface of the soil is dryer than I've ever seen it this time of year.

This lack of soil moisture is keeping the weeds down in the main garden, which seems like a good thing but it's not. We use tillage as a primary form of weed control, and I know the soil in the main veggie garden is just full of windblown grass and weed seeds, as it always is. I'd like them to sprout soon so I can till them under before we plant out.

There's a good steady rain forecast for the weekend, so we may be on time for tilling the resultant weeds and planting out the rest of the main crops right after graduation.

Part of my own serious business last week, and one of the reasons I forgot to post news of Salsa was that I was forced to track down the owner of that bad dog. I wanted to talk to him face-to-face because I felt that the authorities were soft-pedaling things. I was furious to see the bloody thing on our land again, especially during lambing season, but now we know who the owner is and where he lives, I was able to confront the guy (as politely as I could manage) in his own driveway and we had a "full and frank" exchange of views. He promised to be more careful. I promised him faithfully I would try my best to kill the thing the next time I saw it and so he'd better be more careful.

I have his phone number now and so if I see it again but can't get a safe shot, he can at least be called to come and get it. If I have a good safe bead on the thing though, and if it's on our own land, I'm shooting it, and have told the owner so. I want him under no illusions as to what will happen if he relaxes his vigilance. He's a family man and the kids apparently like the dog. Hopefully he's motivated to make sure it stays tied up so he doesn't have to explain to them why it's dead.

I spent a good deal of time trying to explain to him just how I felt about such a horrible killer being so close to our lambs. I hope I got through to him. I don't want to kill any dog, but if the owner can't or won't control the thing, I'll be glad to kill it just to see the last of it.

One thing that was reassuring was that it's possible to drive by and look down his driveway and see if the brute is tied up. If I'm ever in any doubt, I can drive by there and make sure the dog is secure.

I'm still flabbergasted, though, that this fellow has been so blase about letting this killer dog run. It defies common sense. Now every farmer in the district knows which dog it is that's been killing livestock, and he's bound to be held to account. Chickens are one thing, but suppose it kills a field full of lambs, or worse yet, a stupid alpaca baby. Aimee and I have no truck with the silly things ourselves, but those alpaca farmers get thousands of dollars for one baby. Our own lambs are worth hundreds to us, and it's clear that a brute like this would kill every lamb it could catch if it went on the same kind of spree that took our five chickens in less than an hour.

A fellow might be bankrupted, owning a dog like that.

In happier news, last weekend we also went for a nice drive in the pick-em up truck, ostensibly to look at a bush hog for sale (which turned out to be an overpriced piece of rust-garden junk). Alongside the road we saw one of those tiny tillers for sale. I'd been wondering how I would handle the extra weeding we expect to have with the additional garden space we've brought under cultivation. The owner demonstrated it for us, and I could see that it ran fine and had little visible wear, so I was surprised when the asking price was just $50.

We paid down our fifty dollars and took it home. Later that afternoon I started it up just fine and tilled up the inside of the big greenhouse a second time, just to see how it ran, and it did fine. But it wouldn't be shut off. I had to go away and get a pair of insulated-handle pliers to pull the plug cap off.

While most folk would be unimpressed by finding something wrong like this after making such a purchase, I was happy because I'd found a good reason for the price to be so low. And something easily fixed to boot.

So we're now a three rototiller family. Six lambs and three tillers.

Indeed, we're rich.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Exercise bike

We noticed that Flame loves to chase machinery like the tractor around. Even a push cart or rotor-tiller is fair game.

So we offered up the bicycle.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Oh no

That bloody murderous dog may be back. Last night I saw, and our dogs chased off, a similar grey husky-type thing to the one that crushed five of our poor chickens to death several weeks ago. I went out with the rifle and tried to track it down, but no such luck. With lambs now (even a brand new one this morning), I wish some people would keep their rotten, spoiled, untrained, bloodthirsty, animals under control. Or just leave the neighborhood and go back to whatever stupid city or suburb they came from. If you want to live in the countryside, you have to respect country values: Either don't spoil your animals, or keep them on your own property.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Nice pad

My parents' house, which my sister and I have up for sale, now they are both gone.

I'm continually amazed that anyone can afford to live in the UK at these prices. Our whole farm, plus additions, plus repairs and retrofits, cost much less than the realtor's asking price for our little house in Wales.

But, I suppose, house prices are much more expensive in popular markets in the US.

Obviously, Aimee and I will be much better off once this sale has taken place. We won't have a mortgage any more. I'm looking forward to it.

But I'd rather have my mum and dad.

In particular, I'd rather have my mum and dad as they were before the scourge of Alzheimer's Disease wiped their memories. I'd like to hear the stories about the family and the War, and ask questions about events and context that haven't occurred to me before.

Big things, like whether on not they were scared during the blitz. I can't believe I never asked them that.

Or little things. Like just yesterday, I remember when I was a small boy my gran telling me in great detail about a beautiful dog she once owned, and how she took care of it even through the Depression by feeding it the scraps from a cafe where she worked.

At least that's how I remembered the story, as I watched Aimee play with Ernie and Flame. Particular Ernie, whose coat is as glossy black as the coat of the dog in my gran's story.

But I don't remember, and will never know, if I remember it right!

Mum would have known.

Things like that, and the fact that on the basis of my mum's whole life of scrimping and saving and working, I'll be able to pay off this farm thirteen years before I otherwise could, make me just want to weep.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Samson's little drama

On Saturday we had both noticed that Quinn was looking more and more uncomfortable. Ewes can begin to look and act awkward many days before they give birth, but by nine in the evening, when all other sensible sheep were bedded down and sleeping, Quinn was still pacing, so I caught her and put her in the lambing pen.

Nothing happened right away, so I went to bed early, expecting a busy night, telling Aimee to be sure to do a last minute check before she came to bed. Aimee woke me at midnight and I struggled into my overalls, a little groggy, and went out to the barn to join my wife.

There I saw a typical first-timer ewe struggling to learn her job.

Quinn is a two-year old ewe out of Maggie, who was put down because of tetanus soon after Quinn was born. This despite having all her shots, and on time. Tetanus vaccine doesn't necessarily work every time. But it's best to be sure and do everything by the book. It's a horrible disease, and a horrible painful way to die. It's especially hard to put down an animal that you raised yourself from a lambie.

Despite being an orphan Quinn is fairly well-adjusted for a sheep. But she was trying to give birth to one big lamb, and her birth canal was just a little tight. The lamb was presented more or less correctly, with feet and nose together. In an experienced ewe, this is no problem, feet and nose together are just a kind of rounded, slimy, bullet-shaped object when covered by the caul, or embryonic sac, and often the whole bag will just plop out after a little straining.

In last night's exhibition, the caul was long broken, and the birth canal too tight to allow all to come at once. The proper procedure is to push the head back, get the feet out one at a time, and then pull everything out gently on the next big contraction.

But Quinn's contractions seemed to be stalling or weakening. And the head wouldn't go back, or forward. It was stuck, as were the feet.

After a few minutes of trying just with my fingers, I asked for a piece of twine, which I looped around both feet in a larks-foot knot, and by this means was able to get the feet out a little further, although not all the way. I wasn't very optimistic at this point. The lamb's tongue was sticking out and I thought for sure it was dead, having tangled it's own umbilical.

But Quinnie gave one last big push and everything came out properly. The lamb tried one breath, and then seemed to give up on life again, but I swung it once by the back feet to help clear the airway (centrifugal force often does the trick), and the breathing began, although not not yet at a healthy regular rhythm.

The lamb, quite large but certainly not the biggest we've seen, was placed at Quinn's head and she began instinctively to lick it. Bit by bit the breathing became regular.

Then we watched with bated breath to see if it would get to its feet and suckle. I'd had to pull quite hard on the string and was worried that I'd damaged the lamb's lower front legs. After a little help from us the lamb stood, and so any damage was surely minimal, but things were still going a little slowly so we took the final measure of forcing Quinn to the ground and putting the lamb directly on the nipple. It drank for a long time, what seemed like ten minutes, and then began more forcefully to stagger around and learn to use it's legs.

Thus our little night-time drama, a microcosm of the season that has for six thousand years been played out each spring in sheep barns and home fields and on open prairie and grassland all over the northern hemisphere, came to an end. With ewe and lamb doing fine, we went to bed. I checked again at four and six thirty, and all remained well.

And such, dear readers, is the life of a shepherd in lambing season.

It's a rewarding occupation. But occasionally there's more drama than you bargained for at any given point.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sadie and Sylvia

I made sure to come home at lunchtime Monday because we still had three ewes to give birth. I found Nellie with two healthy white babies under the ash trees in the North Paddock (west).

It was cold and windy, so mum and babies were easily moved inside using the tried and tested, "if I pick them up, mum will follow" technique. Actually, I saw a variation on this theme on telly last night, on my BBC farm show "Countryfile, where a farmer in Sussex would put the lambs in a shopping cart to move them around the farm, and of course, mum would follow.

These two are to be Sadie and Sylvia, according to her Aimeeness.

Molly's two were ready to go outdoors on Monday morning, but our older retired ewe Jewel decided she was jealous of Molly's lambs and started beating seven shades of s**t out of poor Molly.

Jewel would ram her Moll and again, and then back up ten fifteen feet to do it again, on the head, in the side, where ever she could land a blow, bruising her for sure, and threatening to hurt her badly. I had to put a stop to this after Tillie, apparently another old grouch, also joined in the bullying spree, and put Molly and so mum and lambs went back to the safety of the lambing pen for another day.

Then on Tuesday with both Molly and Nellie's bairns now ready for some fresh air, I tried it again, to no avail, Jewel still being a total snot-head and beating up on poor Molly.

So Jewel is slated now to go to the butchers at the first opportunity. She has a partial reprieve, because our butcher's shop burned down a few weeks ago, and they don't plan to be up and running until May 1st.

I put Jewel in a different paddock with Tillie, and so let all four lambs and both mums have access to the fresh air, unmolested by mean old ewes.

Lambs need to be outdoors where they can run and jump and play and test out their legs.

Grouchy old ewes, well, there's no place for them on our farm.

Aimee has always said that I would never butcher Tillie, who has always been the head ewe, and is very personable and lets you pet her, but we'll have to see now whether or not Tillie will mind her manners after a few weeks in sheep-jail with Jewel.

If she won't be good, she'll have to go too,

This sounds cruel, pronouncing a death sentence on these two just because of some grouchyness and bullying, but it's the reality of farming. Both are quite old at this point. We don't know for sure how old because they weren't born on the farm, but they are both at least eight and Tillie is probably more than a decade old. At this point, if they're not butchered, they'll get one or another of the dread diseases of sheep and die a much worse death. Jewel has already had Listeriosis and almost died of it.

If they go to the butchers, they get an easier death and we get the meat, a lot of it. Enough ground lamb and stewing meat to keep me in shepherds pie and lamb vindaloo for a year, or two.

They are also adding to the costs of keeping the herd, and haven't been used for breeding for several years. We generally like to keep one or two older retired ewes around because their experience and level headedness is helpful to have around, especially in the summer foraging season, but grumpy old so-and-sos are no help to man nor beast.

As for Molly, she's still scared and won't go out of the barn with her lambs. She'll have to eventually, because outside is where the hay is, but for now she thinks Jewel might still be out there somewhere and is playing it safe.

That's no life for a new mum.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Shawn and Sherlock

Here's Molly with her twins. Aimee's photo, stolen from her Facebook page. Although I bought yet another (secondhand) digital camera (my fifth), and although it takes photos, I haven't yet figured out how to make it download.

Molly started showing "signs" Friday afternoon, and I stuck her in the lamb pen Friday evening, but when nothing had happened by morning I kicked her out again. By Saturday afternoon she was again showing signs, more definite this time, doing the pawing up the dirt thing. Back in the lamb pen she went.

I went in to make some dinner, and when I went back out just before eating said dinner, there was one lamb. I went in to get Aimee and when by the time I got back out there was a second.

These two are apparently to be named Shawn and Sherlock.

Shawn may be the one we keep as our own ram for the years after we get done with Bentley. Molly has a different sire than all our other breeding ewes, and there are none of her own daughters among the flock, so if we let Bentley go after one more year and breed Shawn to the other ewes the two years after that, we won't need to buy or borrow a new ram for four more years.

The sheepdogs are very excited to hear the lambs in the barn. We'll have to be careful with that, as these two dogs are still very young and rambunctious.