We have had a bit of a problem over the last few days. One of the ewes who had healthy twins (a boy and a girl) was causing concern. She would not let the boy feed and would head butt him away quite vigorously whenever he came close. Sometimes she would toss him up into the air and over a meter away from her. It was quite distressing to see.
We were worried she might have mastitis and that pain, when the lamb suckled, contributed to the problem. Therefore we needed to get her to the vet for review and possible antibiotics. Now this is sometimes easier said than done. It is fairly easy to catch the ewes now that they are bucket trained, but it is a different matter to get 40kg of reluctant and annoyed ewe into the back of a pickup or into the vet’s surgery. Though goats may get all the praise for being nimble and quick I can assure you that a sheep that wants to escape to somewhere else is no slouch. They will wriggle, jump and run; it can be quite a task at times.
I wasn’t looking forward to this when my wife had an idea. We had recently invested in a macho harness for our German Shepherd – perhaps we could press this into use for the ewe. After a minor skirmish it was on and all of a sudden we had a ewe we could move at will without hurdles or a sheep dog – it was a sheep with a handle on it and it made life so much easier. It may look odd (see the picture below) but I can commend this strategy to any other smallholder with wily ewes and large fashion-conscious dogs.
After the vet had reviewed her it seems unlikely that mastitis is at the root of our problems. Sometimes ewes will just take against a specific lamb, it seems that there is just something about the look of their face to which they take objection. We are assured that often this can be overcome by just ensuring the lamb does get to feed regularly whether the ewe wants to or not. So we have a period ahead when we have to immobilise the ewe every two hours while we let her son feed. Our other cunning plan is to smear some poo from the bum of the lamb she has accepted onto the bum of the lamb she rejects- apparently this sometimes fools the ewe back into acceptance.
Hopefully these strategies will work and will avoid us the need to start bottle feeding as I think I am too old to go back to night bottle feeds.
It is often the case that someone’s rubbish is someone else’s treasure. This sharing of rubbish is well organised in our valley. The woman above us keep horses she need to get rid of large amounts of horse manure, we shift it and convert it into a valuable feed for the vegetable garden. The joiner who lives to the north creates lots of wood chipping and sawdust which he needs to move. We take it to augment our animal bedding. There are few things which don’t have a use to someone.
This week our neighbour down the valley was felling a large old oak to make a lintel for their new hearth. Prior to felling the tree they needed to clear the decades of ivy which had grown on it and, as a consequence of the prevailing winds, was unbalancing the tree which would have made a simple felling awkward. They had trailer-fulls of ivy which they were considering taking to the dump. Fortunately, they discussed it with us first and we happily informed them that goats and sheep are extremely partial to ivy. At this time of the year there is little else green for the goats, as they are not keen on grass, and both they and the sheep find it an excellent supplement to their diet.
The pleasure of finding a new use for something discarded has even extended to junk mail. I am not a very good consumer and don’t get very much of this unsolicited bumpf, but my wife daily receives leaflets and brochures urging and luring her to buy the new fashions. I am not sure that the sheep and poultry will find the new styles in the Johnny Boden catalogue to their taste and, to be fair, my wife rarely does more than browse these booklets. But there brochures have their uses. After shredding they help bulk out the poultry bedding. Once they have been well soaked in bird poo they compost down well for further recycling. They can also be made into briquettes, if they are made into paper mache blocks, which are a good replacement for firelighters in starting a fire. For both of these purposes it would be better if they had less glossy pages, indeed newsprint would be better, and I will need to write to them to suggest they use less expensive paper and fewer inks (It could save them a few bob and me a bit of work; a win-win situation).
However, the best thing about this junk mail is simply its delivery. When it appears on the mat it dilutes the other mail and reduces the obviousness of bills which is to be welcomed. It also ensures that nearly every day we have some mail rather than none. It also lets us know that the postman has been even on days when nobody in the real world had wanted to communicate with us. However, this is a double edged sword – is it better to know that the postman has been and nobody in the world wanted to talk with us ? Or is it better to look at the empty mat and think, he’s not been yet, perhaps that important missive will arrive later on?
A very handy way to recycle the plastic containers is to use them as temporary cloches. When the cauliflower have 3 or 4 real leaves they are ready to be planted out. However they could still benefit from some protection and these containers are ideal. All that you need to do is to fit a hold in the base to allow air to circulate. They are also good protection against chicken attacks. Normally the chickens are helpful in the vegetable garden as they eat the wire worms, leather jackets and other nasty visitors. But sometimes, just out of badness, they will go for the seedlings and this is a handy defence.
I am always keen to recycle as much as I can, especially when this also saves me money or sorts a problem. I need to do some work on the pasture this year, to clear the thatch that has built up, and as a consequence need to use something like a tine harrow on the fields. I had mulled over many possible plans but always come back to the problem of the tines. Nothing seemed an easy and cheap solution to this problem until I was clearing up after we re-roofed the barn. As I was taking down the old guttering I discovered my tines !
The old supporting brackets were clearly almost ideal tines and there were serendipitously enough for my project. They would only need to be removed from the wall and a minor modification.
The tines needed a small hole (4mm) drilled in the metal head to allow me to screw these into the frame in a way that they would resist the tendency to rotate.
The times were then mounted onto two bars. They were sited 16cm apart and offset between the two bars. These were then set in a frame with a long-enough handle to allow me space to walk along with the two-wheeled tractor without my feet getting fouled up.
I discovered that I needed side struts to brace the two bars against the tendency to rotate round. I have kept the heads of the brackets in place as they add to the weight of the harrow and give me, if needed, somewhere to add extra weight (I can run metal bars along these hooks). As a temporary measure I have pressed an old copper pipe into use as the mechanism to attach to the tractor. This gives adequate flexibility to allow the harrow and tractor to move freely but I have my reservations about whether this will be strong enough in the long term.
Over the next week we can see if this will sort my problem or whether I need to go to my second plan (which involves an old gate and a lot of welding !