Saturday, 27 February 2010

pregnancy scanning - a management tool

As already mentioned pregnancy scanning is now getting well through. I skipped over it the last time, explaining what happened at the actual scanning, it's now time to explain to you why it is a useful management tool.

Hill ewes carry more single lambs than they do multiple births. They live out on the hill only coming in closer to home to be lambed. There are still some which remain out on the hill and are lambed out there.

Any twin lambs born to these ewes which are lambed out on the hill have to be walked in onto better ground to give the ewe a sporting chance of rearing them. Even those brought into the fields to be lambed need the twins walking off onto kinder pastures.

Once scanning came to the fore it soon became apparent that from an early stage you were aware which sheep were carrying more than one lamb. These could be brought off the hill much sooner than all the single bearing sheep and looked after. They can be trough fed, ensuring the lambs are strong when they are born and the ewe will hopefully milk well and be able to rear them.

The result has been an increase in quality lambs available for sale in the back end, as they have had a good start in life, in fact they have had a good start prior to life due to their mothers being fed supplementary feeding which is high in energy and protein in the later weeks of their pregnancy.

Single bearing ewes are usually given some form of feeding prior to lambing but you don't want the lambs to get too big as this may cause lambing difficulties, therefore it is very useful to know which ewes need more feeding than others.
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Sheep can be fed at troughs, wooden or metal troughs which keep the sheep cake off the ground. These are put out in a line and tipped over once emptied to prevent them getting full of water/snow or whatever. Every feeding time they have to be turned and filled manually with cake out of a bag.
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This can be a precarious job, sheep get very keen for feed and those with horns know how to use them. It can be a matter of speed, getting the feed into the trough before a flock has you down on your backside or the bag tipped and all emptied out into the first trough, made more difficult when the conditions are clarty (muddy) and you struggle to make purchase with your feet as many bodies push in to have the first mouthful of feed. Bear in mind these ewes weigh anything from 50 - 70kgs and believe you me they can shove their weight about!

Snackers have come to the fore in later years. A contraption which is towed by a quad bike, it releases the feed out in heaps, with the operator safely out of harms way whilst driving the bike. Sheep can however have suicidal tendencies as they run around the front of the bike - care is needed. Although as with the troughs it often pays to have a dog at hand. A dog at your side whilst filling the troughs keeps the greedy so and so's at bay and the same if the dog trots along in front of the bike - just makes life a little bit easier!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Pulling your hair out.......

Shep is losing hair - by the handful - as I pull it out in frustration.

A busy ten days lay ahead, four farms to gather for and assist at the scannings, that was the plan, - it is already beginning to go pear shaped .

Yesterday saw snow falling, now Shep had a tight schedule. Away by 6.20am would see stock fed for the farmer recovering from his operation before heading out bye to gather by 8am. Nae bother! Except, the slushy snow fall prevented my car from climbing out of the village resulting in returning for the quad and leaving a note for the better half (who was still tucked up in bed) to ring and warn the shepherd out bye I was likely to be running late.

The journey on the quad in the gloom and driving cold slushy snow was not a pleasant one, all the same I was impressed to find myself home to collect the dogs by 7.45am, no mean fete! Except there was a message that visibility was poor and to wait 'til 9.30 to find out how the day was panning out. Oh! I could have had an extra hour in bed!!!

The day panned out to be snowy and miserable with poor visibility and no gathering got done.

Today I was to gather on another farm, thick fog prevented this from happening also, again, I rose early to get the sheep fed before setting away to gather, again I could have had another hour in bed!

Tomorrow I will attempt to head out bye once again to gather, again I will leave home at 6.20am ensuring sheep are fed before reaching my final destination around about 8ish. It is foggy tonight but I daren't presume that will be the case in the morning, I need to get up and get on.

As the weather is preventing sheep being gathered more problems are coming to the fore. The shepherd out bye scans on Tuesday coming and needs three days to gather at the least. The farm I was meant to help gather today scans on Sunday coming and needs at least two days to get everything forward. Both places are considering they may have to contact the scan man and change their dates, an inconvenience for them and the person coming to scan. As for Shep? Well, as two other farms are to be scanned later next week and Shep has the sheep to gather there also it is possible that for all the efforts spent accommodating everyone, organising the diary and ensuring everyone gets the help needed Shep may well find it's not possible to re accommodate them if dates begin to clash.

Shep may find many early mornings getting sheep fed ready to go and help gather and scan only to have the rest of the day off. Days which can not be caught up on, days which do not pay the bills!

Scanning is the only time in the year when sheep must be forward on a set day at a set time. Every other time throughout the year when you gather it is a matter of as and when you can, a day or two lost is not the end of the world. However, with the scanning there is an outside influence - the contract scanning man who has you penciled into his diary and will arrive on that day. Force majeur is always accommodated but these men have hundreds and thousands of sheep to scan and run on a tight schedule. The end of the season is looming for them, which means if you have to re organise your date you may not have to wait many days.

Shep is praying that tomorrow dawns bright, that gathering can commence, scan dates are held to and valuable work is not lost, otherwise the busy ten days will result in many early mornings and very few days work.

On the bright side though.... Oh yes! there has to be a bright side! I have just about completed my books, these past few days of un accommodating weather have forced me into the office, along with the super ser gas heater, I have knuckled down and just about managed to make sense of all those scraps of paper that have been floating around the house for the past year. Books will soon be heading to the accountant and another job scratched off the list. And as for pulling my hair out? Well, I'll save a fortune on hairdressing fees!!

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Pregnancy scanning of sheep

Here we are in the middle of the scanning season.

Pregnancy scanning has become an important management tool for the shepherd and farmer.Breeding sheep are scanned from ten to fifteen weeks from the date the tup was introduced to the flock. Anything tupped earlier than the alotted time can still be diagnosed in lamb but it is not so easy for the operator to be able to tell how many lambs she is carrying as the foetus' are too big. The same applies for anything tupped up to a month prior to the scanning taking place, a build up of fluid in the ewes uterus is a guideline to her being in lamb but again it is not possible to tell how many lambs she will be carrying.

Should the tups still be running with the ewes when they are scanned there is a possiblility that any deemed empty (barren or geld) may well be in lamb as the operator can not yet pick up the actual fertilisation of an egg! Another good reason to pull your tups off.

The wintery conditions did cause problems with tups being brought off the ewes this year. I always used to like to have the tups off by 5th January at the latest, that would see the lambing draw to a close by the end of May/first week of June. It is always good to know it is over. Whereas when tups are left running with the ewes lambs can still be appearing in the early summer and these later born lambs don't always grow quickly enough for the sales in the autumn.

An ultra sound scanner is used, very similar to that which would be used to pregnancy scan women. Sheep are scanned standing up, in a crate provided by the person who is doing the scanning. The crate is designed to ensure the sheep will be standing in the correct position to enable the scanner to access her tummy. The probe is moved over the skin infront of the udder region and the resulting pictures appear on a screen in front of the operator. Most scanning machines are now battery operated therefore enabling sheep to be scanned anywhere where there is penning available.

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I first saw sheep scanned in the late '80's and in those days there was a great deal of man handling needed. The sheep were caught, turned and sat on their backsides with the wool being pulled or cut off their lower bellies before then being presented to the scanning person in the sitting position to be scanned. Things have moved on a lot and today it is easier on both man and beast with the ewes just having to be fed into the crate one at a time whilst the operator sits (usually in an old car seat) and just has to reach his arm under the sheeps belly to be able to scan her tummy - no wool removal or anything - wonderful!

The skill of the person doing the scanning enables them to read the screen infront of them and work out how many lambs the sheep is or is not carrying.
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A keyboard is pressed enabling the computerised monitor to count each single, twin,triplet or geld reading which is taken therefore giving a total count and lambing percentage at the end of the proceedings.

The picture below shows the farmer putting his own mark onto the sheeps wool to represent what ever it is she is carrying. Most scanning operators do now prefer to mark their own sheep as they find it easier and quicker. Most hill sheep will have a single lamb in them so these tend not to be given a mark. Twins will be marked with a different colour to any which are geld enabling you to know what is what at a later date.
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You'll also notice that the scanning man has his hand on a handle which he is about to pull to enable the front of the crate to open and so release the sheep ready for the next one to walk in. He needs his wits about him as he also has to shut the front of the crate before the next sheep escapes and there are many of the woolly critters who try to seize the opportunity of a get away only prevented by the speed and dexterity of the guy operating the crate.

I'm sure I would be useless at it - by the time you've read the monitor, pressed the keypad, released the handle and then closed it as quickly as possible - reminds me of rubbing your tummy and patting your head, a thing I'm not capable of!

Friday, 19 February 2010

Spring is in the air

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Thought I'd share this with you all. I'm a bit late in getting the photo as this lamb is now a month old, didn't have the camera last time.

When the weather picked up in mid January Shep's first port of call was to get over to Cumbria to dose and copper a flock of sheep. I have known this particular farmer all my working life, we met initially at Galloway cattle sales, he bred them and I went with the boss looking to buy them. When I ended up self employed he found out and duly employed me to assist with his flock.

When I turned up in January he was telling me he was soon to have his eightieth birthday, which did surprise me somewhat. Anyhow, I went off to gather one lot of sheep whilst the farmer stood on the road to stop the traffic and turn the ewes in the right direction. As I entered the field I could see the lamb with it's mother at the far side and said "see you've got a lamb". It fell on deaf ears (quite literally), I raised my voice and repeated the utterance to get the reply "Er, Aye" which basically meant he had heard me but had no idea what I had said.

However, once we had the sheep in the pens and we were at close quarters with them the elderly farmer said "there's a lamb! I've no idea how that happened" I couldn't help but laugh and have a bit leg pull " If you don't know how that happened at your age there's no hope for any of us!"

Obviously the farmer had meant he did not know how a tup had managed to have access to one of his ewes but it did amuse me for the rest of the day! What is it they say about simple minds........?

The lamb looked far cuter a month back, being only a matter of days old it was like a breath of fresh air after all the snow we had been battling through. Mathematics showed the ewe would have been tupped in August.

Anyhow, as said, I was back there to inoculate the flock prior to them lambing, they are due in the third week of March - slightly earlier than around here. They are actually meant to be lambing at Easter as the farmers grandson was to take time off work to lamb them - the dates for Easter must have got mixed up as they are going to be a fortnight into the lambing before Easter arrives, I'm told this was due to a 'senior moment'!

This farmer in Cumbria has always enjoyed his sheep and loved his Galloway cattle. In 2001 when foot and mouth ran wild throughout the country the farmers in this particular area were told to have their sheep culled in order to try and keep their cattle safe. It was a couple of years before sheep were re introduced onto this farm, by this time the farmers son had taken the helm and really did not like sheep, however his father did and couldn't help but get some more.
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Having always had Greyfaced ewes that is what was bought back onto the farm. Greyfaced ewes are the same as what we call Mules except these are the cumbrian version and are out of the Swaledale ewe to the bluefaced leicester (there are many in Northumberland the same way bred and we still call them mules).

Anyhow, after a year it was decided to reintroduce a few more sheep, the farmer had heard of Lleyn sheep (pronounced Clin (I think)), these are a welsh breed and meant to be an 'easy care' breed which encouraged the farmer to give them a go. The sheep which he bought seem to have many variations of the type but basically they are a mid sized, white, tight skinned creature.
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These photos give you a vague idea of the beasts, you might also note the tup in the fore ground. I said in an earlier blog I'd met my first Berrichon de Cher tup, well, this is he. Just a tup hogg at the moment and it will be interesting to see what he breeds like.
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The Lleyns are not such prolific breeders as the Greyfaced ewes and are apparently lazy when they lamb. Having been crossed with a Texel in past years the lambs are often very short but the ewes seem to share this tendency, so it's not likely to be the fault of the sire.

It is refreshing to work for a farmer, now in his eighties, who is still trying new ideas - it gives us both something to look forward to and discuss. I wont be back there 'til well after lambing time but I will be looking forward to seeing the lambs off these 'strange' sheep.

Monday, 15 February 2010

February 14th ?

February 14th is a date Shep had pencilled into my diary; very important date, one which I wanted to take note of and find out what the outcome would be in due course.

Here we are on the 15th and I can share my news with you all.

I can almost hear you waiting with bated breath, what next. February 14th - Valentines day, what could that possibly have held in store for good ol' Shep? Well, you call all forget about that mushy stuff, I learnt that a few years ago, I don't even bother dropping the hints anymore!!

No you silly lot, February 14th saw the new moon arrive again. I'm still trying to work out if there is any truth in that saying which suggests the new moon has an affect on the weather we are to receive over the following month.

A good friend, and sound shepherd was quizzed on such matters the other night over the telephone, he did indeed say there would have to be a let up by the new moon if we were to see any change in the weather, so I've waited patiently to see what the new moon would bring.

The past month has thrown most of everything at us. Snow which lay for a day or two then passed until the next time. Many frosty mornings, some followed by bright days, others dull and overcast. A limited number of damp days. There have been a number of raw days, chilling to the bone days even though the temperature and wind haven't been too severe - lack of sunlight possibly causing the effect, or easterly winds, or else I'm getting old - Don't even go there!!

The moon and the weather my last (and first) posting regarding the new moon tells me the new moon brought in a bit of everything, which you could say we have had over the past month. So! This new moon? Well last night it was a fine rain, this morning it was a pea souper (fog) and mild, the wind rose during the morning from a westerly direction, there were one or two sunny blinks before the clouds thickened and it rained this afternoon - proper rain, y'know that wetting stuff. The rain brought a drop in temperature or was that coz Shep got soaked and was riding a quad? On darkening we had snow - great big flakes which came dancing out of the sky.

So, where does this moon leave us? Again I really don't know but truly hope it ain't gonna rain 'til the next one.

There is still snow lying, including odd bits left over from the snow we had last week when it kindly plopped down another fresh covering which was slow to shift due to frost and can only be found now in the most sheltered of areas. The remainder of lying snow is on the highest ground only and is bound to shift if this rain continues.

Why the fascination with the weather? Farming and the weather work hand in hand, the weather calls the shots and the farmers work around it, simple as that! It is a subject guaranteed to crop up in conversation between farmers and the like minded. There are times for some, other than the collie dog it is the only company they have - the weather!

On a brighter note, let me share with you the fact that I saw a peewit (lapwing) last week, unfortunately not quite in Tarset but close enough to almost count. I was driving along following the North Tyne river when I noticed a flock of seagulls, in their midst was one lonely Peewit and I thought "Oh, there's a Peewit", followed almost instantaneously by "OH! that's a peewit!" the first I had seen this year, not a matter to be overlooked and a glimmer of hope that Spring really is on the way - exciting or what?

Followed by a handful of minutes spent watching a fox, or in actual fact being watched by a fox. Likelies a youngster or vixen as it was slightly built and a light sandy colour with distinct black legs and lug (ear) tips. I'd passed it's tracks in the snow and thought they seemed quite fresh when a movement in the corner of my eye took my attention and there it was, watching me, and so I watched it.

After a while it lumbered off over the hill top and out of sight. I lumbered in the same direction. As I had both dogs with me and they were gooning (fooling) around like a couple of badly behaved pups I didn't think I'd see the fox again. However, I came onto the hill top and there it was, yards away, watching me, so I watched it. It then trotted onto some rocks and sat, tail outstretched behind it and again watched me. Now I do believe this fox has probably seen me and the dogs more than I have seen it, either that or it was a foolish fox as it showed little sign of trepidation only being moved on eventually by the crows which turned up to mob it and even then it just trotted off to the next hill top to turn, sit and watch me - I was beginning to get a complex!

Today I found myself herding (shepherding) a lump of hill ground which I have never shepherded before. There is a forecast for snow and therefore I deemed it sensible to go to the hill and acquaint myself with the ground as the farmer is laid up due to an operation. I had to laugh as I set off with directions on board, the farmers parting words were "there's a spade on the front of the bike if you get stuck (bogged)" I couldn't help but think my reputation went before me.........

The ground which neighbours this particular farm I know only too well. I was looking across onto this neighbouring ground reminiscing about the good ol' days, the many years spent there held a lot of happy memories but unfortunately the parting was a painful one and somehow these memories came to the fore. It was pouring with rain, Shep was wet and getting cold and somehow managing to feel gloomy when a bird took to the air from the burn (stream) in the bottom - A goosander! As it took to the air I knew it wasn't a mallard, it very kindly flew at eye level and gave me a good view, the rusty red neck being a sure give away as to what I believed it to be, definitely a goosander. My heart lifted immediately, some of the simplest of things in life can give you so much pleasure. However, had I been an angler/fisherman my reaction would undoubtedly have been totally different as goosanders are very good fishermen themselves.

And guess what? I didn't need the spade !!

For all the snowdrops are struggling to bloom in all their finery at the moment they are out and the daffodils are busy pushing their leaves through the ground. The days are lengthening with both the mornings and nights cutting out dramatically and for all we have been having many hard frosty mornings of late Shep is already scrutinising puddles, drains and any wet spots in the quest for frogspawn, wishful thinking no doubt under the present conditions but there is no doubt about it, spring is around the corner I just don't know whether it is a long corner or a short one!

Friday, 12 February 2010

coppering ewes

Ten weeks before they are due to lamb is the optimum time to copper ewes, or so it says on the label. We don't rightly know at which date each ewe is going to lamb so tend to go from ten weeks from the start of the lambing, which does actually give a bit of lea way if necessary.

So why would you copper ewes? Copper deficiency causes something called swayback in the lambs when they are born and once born with swayback there is no way of curing the problem (or not that I am aware of).

Swayback (sometimes called swing back) is exactly what the word suggests, the lambs show swaying in their backs, sometimes so severe it almost looks like a paralysis of the back end with hips and rear legs trailing behind them. Milder cases often don't show unless the lamb is stressed. For instance they can trot along merrily with their mother in the fields and possibly appear almost normal, set the dog around and try to gather them up and the lamb will start wobbling on the back end, the back legs will tip over as it rushes and panics and the signs of swayback become only too obvious.

Treating sheep with copper is a preventative approach to the problem. Not all the lambs will suffer from swayback but those that do have a difficult existence and are unable to be put forward for sale, it's often kinder to put them down at birth and adopt another lamb onto the ewe. Therefore, it is kinder all round to prevent the problem from arising in the first place, especially when the cost could work out at less than 20p per lamb.

There are some sheep which don't suffer from copper deficiency. Hill ewes, running on black ground (heather) do not suffer from the deficiency, obviously heather must naturally harbour copper enabling the sheep to have sufficient in their system. Pure bred Texel sheep are also able to retain copper in their systems and so don't require coppering.

These are important facts to know because not only do sheep suffer from copper deficiency but they can also suffer from copper poisoning, the last thing you would want to do is administer copper to animals which don't require it. Over the years through trial and error it has become apparent to farmers and shepherds which sheep are susceptible to either complaint. Basically, those running on green ground or less acidic ground are the ones often vulnerable to copper deficiency.

One farm I work on has a black heather hill, the farmer took the tenancy for this farm a few years back and knew the ewes wouldn't need coppering, he kept the older ewes in the field ground and started a fresh flock of in-bye sheep which were retired off the hill, ewes which had never had any trouble with a deficiency of copper, within a couple of years he was having swaybacked lambs born to these ewes, not many but too many. That in-bye flock is now inoculated with copper and no swayback lambs are born anymore. The hill ewes are still fine as they are still out on the heather. Lesson learnt.

A few lambings back there was trouble in the shed I was lambing in. Hired to do a night lambing on mule ewes which were housed in a shed and things started to go wrong. A few sheep were 'going off' pre lambing. Odd ewes were beginning to go dour, lethargic. Now there are a number of reasons for such things, mild twin lamb disease was suspected, however after lambing down more ewes were going off - lying around, not interested in their lambs. The nearest thing I could put it down to was milk fever.

There is nothing more frustrating, you want to do a good job, do the best for the sheep and nothing seems to work, a truly disheartening position to be in. At the time lamb prices were very poor, sheep had little value and vets bills were high. Eventually the farmer succumbed, I whinged sufficiently until he was either going to sack me or call in the vet, I was lucky the vet was called in.

Blood tests were taken from a cross section of the sheep, healthy ones, poorly ones, in between ones. A couple of days went by and the results came through - mild copper poisoning! The problem was rectified by turning the sheep out onto grass during the day and the feed merchant was notified and swallowed humble pie. The wrong sheep feed had been delivered with the last order and it contained copper. It was a hugely frustrating time for Shep but an interesting one too. A situation I had never come across before - a learning curve.

So, in January ewes are finding themselves being either injected with a copper solution or having copper boluses administered orally. Some administer these boluses at tup time as they are slow releasing and cover the copper problem for six months, others wait until the ten weeks before lambing to administer them.

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The above ewes are a prime example of the in-bye type sheep living on green ground which require copper. The ugly whiter faced things in the foreground are the bluefaced leicesters, the browny faced ones are mules and one white faced one towards the rear left corner is a texel cross which wouldn't have been coppered.

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Above we have a 'gun' used for the administration of copper bullets. The nozzle of the gun is put into the sheep's mouth and pulling the trigger operates a spring which then shoots the bullet to the back of the throat, care has to be taken as you don't want to damage the sheep's throat and you don't want her to spit the bullet out either. The bullets are full of small copper filings and the coating 'melts' when in contact with moisture (can be difficult to use on wet days). The bullet finds itself in the stomach where the coating dissolves leaving the copper filings to be slowly absorbed into the bloodstream.

The other option is to inject a copper sulphate solution by means of an automatic syringe (see below) attached to a bottle of the solution. This is injected directly into the muscle, again taking care not to inject in a site which may cause tendon or nerve damage. There is a plate of muscle either side of the tail head which many years ago a vet student who was lambing with me advised was one of the best places to inject as there is nothing sitting in there which could be damaged, however, on lean sheep this is not always the ideal place due to it being a small area of muscle. Everyone has their preferred sites.
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Occasionally syringes break down, bullets get spat out and aren't noticed until they are on the ground, or sheep break out of the dosing pen and mix with others. It's a shepherd's worst nightmare and one thing we dare not do is treat the whole lot again in the hope of catching the ones which were missed. We would not like to inadvertently poison the sheep. When such problems arise fingers are crossed and it is hoped the one or two which somehow missed treatment will be the one or two which weren't likely to give birth to a swaybacked lamb.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Otter Tracks for Jilly

A comment was posted, by Jilly, regarding otter tracks
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Their tracks have been noticeable in this wintry weather, having been easily seen on the main North Tyne river and it's tributaries. A good few years back I had a crack (conversation) with a lad from the otter trust and he confirmed that there was a good population to be found in the North Tyne area, they are also to be found on Kielder Reservoir where a hide at Bakethin is often used in the hope of spotting them.

It seems many years ago now since I tagged along with a neighbouring farmers wife to go on a hunt for otter spraint. She had volunteered to help some conservation lot cover our tributaries to see if there were signs of otters. It took no time at all to find what she was looking for.

I did worry that my street cred may be lost forever as I paddled about in the burns scrutinising rocks then sniffing piles of poo (spraint), at the time I truly hoped no one was likely to see me. Sniffing poo? Well, this was either a very clever piss take or else it was cosha - after looking over my shoulder many times to ensure I was not being watched and going to turn up on some weird TV programme I did finally submit and sniff. Mink and Otter have similar toilet habits, their spraint looks slightly dissimilar and believe it or not they smell slightly differently too - at least they did to my nose!
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Otters are related to the ferrets I keep, very similar creatures just a darn sight bigger. Possess one of those hinged jaws which if anything like a ferret wont be easy to extricate yourself from. They have been around for years, like the adder they are thought to be rare but most probably due to the shyness of both species it would mebbes be fairer to say they are difficult to spot, preferring to sidle away than be in the limelight.

Although noted for being aquatic they cover a lot of ground on foot but tend to do most of their travelling at night. Again undoubtedly difficult creatures to find as the lad from the otter trust also informed me that they had huge territories and travelled miles in their quest for food, needing to eat something like 15-20% of their body weight every day.
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Mainly fish eaters but apparently will take mammals as well, they have caused havoc in the area with fish ponds and fowl in the past. When I enquired if they would take lambs I was told if the opportunity arose and they were hungry then yes they would. Apparently they only like fresh food, quite capable of eating the tastiest bit then discarding the rest and wont then return the next day to clear up - fussy things!

There have been a number of sightings in Tarset, one caught in car headlights eating an eel which apparently is the otters favourite food. They've been seen in the forestry even and out following drains on the hill which proves they do like to cross country. Personally I have never sighted one in Tarset although I do believe I've heard them (they omit a high pitched whistle). Many have heard splashes consistent with something large entering the water and I guess other than good luck or a very sound knowledge of their holt(home), that'll be about the best you'll get.
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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Year End

Umm, end of January sees Shep's financial year end, that means books need sorting and sending to the accountant, Umm....

Never have been fond of paperwork, in fact not at all fond of anything that might tax the brain and especially so if it involves being stuck in the house. Now I do believe some folks are tremendously well organised and do their books, weekly, monthly or some of the more lax do theirs quarterly. Umm.....

I do send bills out, try to do it monthly but then some folks I'm working for overlap the month so it runs on until another month, but they do get sent out eventually and when I get down into town they get paid into the bank.

I keep all my receipts in an unorganised fashion. There's a file of course, then there's the mantelpiece, kitchen bench, car foot well and a hundred and one other hiding places for these important little bits of paper.

Oh Lord! Guess I'm going to have to try and find them all and make some sort of sense of them coz the accountant will be in touch. I'm not quite as organised as those who do their books weekly, monthly or for that matter quarterly....... annually?!!!

Now Shep was fairly idle for the first couple of weeks in January, lean times. Inclement weather does not suit a self employed shepherd, services aren't required when the weather is lousy, only eight full days pay in three weeks. What an ideal opportunity to have sat down and sorted up my book work, except the weather was too nice. I say it was too nice, it was snowy, cold etc but it was not piss wet and horrible so there was absolutely no incentive to barr myself up in the office and knuckle down and if there had been any incentive it was soon lost coz it was so blinking cold in the house.

That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!!

So now I'm in the position where I really ought to be getting the job sorted, except everyone has got so behind with their seasonal work that Shep's services are required and that old saying 'there's no peace for the wicked' comes into play.

Saturday saw me in a whirr, away from home in the dark to assist with a pregnancy scanning, then off to feed stock for someone on holiday before heading into the next valley to gather then feeding someone else's stock on the way home. By the time I returned at night I hardly knew which way I was heading!! Thrown in for good measure was a landrover to use which you have to hit with a stick to get the diesel pump to work........ I sure don't lead a 'normal' life!

Am I complaining? - No not really, the deficit of work had to be made up somehow. I do have a living to make, this is what happens when the weather holds the job up. Sheep needed coppering, fluke dosing and then the scanning season commences and we're still all chasing our tails. That's life - there's nowt like a challenge!

But then there's the challenge of doing my books........ Umm.....

I dare say we'll get some miserable wet days before lambing time, the accountant seems to be an understanding sort of guy, after all I'm far too busy!!! More scannings, still covering for someone on holiday, then have to cover for someone getting an operation, have vets appointments to keep (dog down), more sheep to dose, more sheep to gather, some stone walls to rebuild if the weather will ever co-operate, Oh! and some blood testing to do for the vets, then it'll be time to innoculate....... Ach, there'll be some wet days before long........