Friday, 30 April 2010

Having a wretched time?

I guess the last few postings may well lead everyone to believe that I am having a wretched time.

There is no doubt about it that for a couple of days at least my humour was anything but sweet. I did eventually knock on the big house door, the morning I came across three little stiff bodies on my first round. Three perfectly healthy lambs - lying dead. I knocked on the big house door and requested they looked further into a remedy my vets had vaguely mentioned. My mother would have been proud of me as I remembered my upbringing and my manners, trying to be courteous and managing to hide my anger. It was my last ditch effort to do my job to the best of my abilities, I was clutching at straws, remaining forever hopeful, unfortunately to no avail.

However, life is far too short to let such matters overtake ones sanity (my sanity has always been questionable anyhow). When working with livestock there are always highs and lows, it’s a fact of life, this low was preventable and that caused me much anger and frustration but there are far more positives in life to concentrate your mind on.

There have been some powerful highs – the hung lamb (big fat head sticking out of a ewes backside) which came out alive and she adored it, the gimmer I dropped down one morning from the furthest end of the hill, she was obviously struggling to lamb and I eventually got her into a net; the lamb had a leg back and she was tight, I eventually got her lambed and before I could place the lamb in front of her she licked my hand, sounds soppy I dare say but these cheviots are wild, gimmers (first lambers) more so, here was one prepared to ‘eat’ me in her impatience to get to her lamb, no need to put her in a parrack to calm down, no need to shut her in the net, just leave her at peace with her lamb and her natural kindness.

There was the twin lamb, probably unfortunate to have been the second born to a gimmer and overlooked in the proceedings. Lambed on a hard frosty morning, never licked and never footed, I honestly thought it was dead. It wasn’t, I stuck it inside my jacket and continued on my way. It went in the bottom oven of the rayburn at breakfast time and had rallied sufficiently to be given some colostrum before I headed back out. By lunch time it was footed and by night time it was making such a racket it got shoved out into a shed. It has since been set on to one of the field ewes (there are still 4 left to lamb), a real kindly ewe who adores this little mite, every now and again I pop my head over the wall and check how he’s doing, he’s doing just fine.

I am also extremely lucky to be lambing in such a beautiful area as this. I have a whole month to enjoy the ever changing scenery. I thought a few years back when I found myself lambing in the Breamish valley that I had landed in heaven, I believe I am a step closer in this area. It is breathtakingly beautiful.

The landscape is also quite diverse. Climbing out to 1400ft on the tops and down to grassland and burns (streams) in the bottoms, this also leads to a great variation in the flora and fauna to be found. I’ve noticed the primroses are beginning to show along the bank sides of the burns, the sparsely populated gorse bushes down on a neighbouring farm have been slow to come out but they are almost in their full glory. The daffodils lining the grass verges have finally given a tremendous show of colour and on a warm day the scent is quite pleasant wafting in the air as I drive past.

The birdlife is astounding. I have seen my first ever whinchat, a beautiful and striking little bird. There are the curlews, skylarks, meadow pipits, and even a pair of snipe ( this is dry ground and not ideally suited for snipe) out on the hill tops. There are also Ravens and Carrion Crows (corbies) nasty little blighters who can easily peck the eyes and tongues out of any living thing that finds itself unable to get out of their way, these birds are however useful for locating problems – bit like vultures I guess, can’t help but home in on something in distress – so I suppose you could say they have their uses, pointing me in the right direction occasionally.

Wheatears are dancing around any rocky spot, be it a rocky outcrop or a stone wall, they are in abundance all over the farm.

There is a woodpecker (greater spotted) at the cottage most mornings when I come in for breakfast, drumming away on a telegraph pole at the gable end, it amuses me due to the fact it likes to drum on the metal sign attached to the post, obviously realises the sound resonates far better off metal than wood.

There is a Luing bull in the field back of the cottage and again it amuses me to see the jackdaws ploating (plucking) his back until their beaks are full of red hairs presumably to be used to line their nests, he doesn’t seem to mind in the least, probably only too pleased to receive help in shedding his winter coat.

Birds of prey are in abundance, the area seems to be overrun with them. I have buzzards and kestrels nesting in the planting next to the enclosure the Crunchylaw sheep are lambing in. I also have buzzards nesting over the back. One extremely windy day my attention was drawn to the top of the Dod Law, the ground rises up like a huge carbuncle and above this there appeared to be a kite flying, I couldn’t help but wonder who on earth was braving these strong winds to launch a kite, binoculars to hand I soon realised I was looking at a Buzzard struggling to get airborne with a cleansing (afterbirth) trailing from its talons. Quite a sight.

This is the only place I’ve been at for a duration where you can look down on these birds and see them from a totally different perspective – quite a treat I can tell you and one which leaves me awestruck every time.

There are birds to be found at the water side, Mallards, Goosanders, Herons, Wagtails and my favourite, the Dipper.

During the spell I was on night shift I often had a Tawny Owl for company, never saw it but we had some grand conversations, cupping my hands together and blowing between the thumbs produced a hoot which invariably raised a reply and often brought the bird in closer.

Over the back where my twins are held in there are pheasants galore. The cock birds are resplendent in their mating plumage; they always fascinate me with their ‘ears’ which stand quite erect whilst in show off mode. There is one bird in particular seems to have a harem of five females and spends most of his time fighting off other suitors, there have been some true cock fights but to date he has always come out victorious.

Animal life is also never far away. I have never been in an area with such a population of hares, they are everywhere and a joy to behold. Almost every morning I have three deer for company on my journey over the back to Little Heugh, I’ve concluded they must be like the sheep and have their own little heft, if the weather is harsh I find them down in the bottom where more shelter is on offer. I rarely don’t see them, as with the hares they are always about.

Mr Fox has been spotted on three occasions, ’he’s’ a dark golden peaty coloured fella of a fair size. One morning he was jogging home at 6am as I headed out onto the Dod Law. I stopped the bike and sitting down wind of him I watched him sauntering along until he dropped into the planting on the edge of the enclosure the Crunchylaw sheep are lambing in, the same planting which is home to a pair of kestrels and buzzards. A couple of nights ago I set him up on the hill ground of the Crunchylaw, he sharp bolted out of sight over the hill top.

There was a stoat one afternoon, I was at the parracks skinning a lamb when a movement caught my eye and there it was, a stoat bouncing around, if I hadn’t had a dead lamb and hadn’t needed to set one on I wouldn’t have been at the parracks and wouldn’t have had the privilege of watching a stoat for a few minutes – there’s always positives to any negative!

There’s also the sheep, I really do admire the Cheviot breed, there is something about the feisty, determined little blighters that strikes a chord in my heart. They can be quite a challenge but a fulfilling one at that. A challenge which both Moss and myself rise to and enjoy.

So? Am I having a wretched time? Not at all, there have been one or two frustrations but then there always will be. To date I have never had to dry my coats, precipitation has been minimal, a rarity and one which I appreciate.
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I have to share with you the story about the above bird. It is a dipper, it also happens to be my favourite bird which stems back to a miss spent youth; the days when sauntering along the banks of the South Tyne River were more important than attending lessons in school. It was during these days that I became acquainted with the dipper and his cheery bobbing on stones, darting flight along the water and diving for feed into the river. I was fascinated by this little chap, a fascination which remains to this day.

Every morning I head out to the hill at about 6am, my first port of call on my journey is the Dod Law, as already said it rises like a huge carbuncle with one side of it being easier to view from off the road, so my first duty is to drive along the single track road to a turning point where I can view the west slope of this hill. Halfway along the road it runs parallel with the burn (stream) and every morning to date, without fail, on a rock jutting out of the water, is a dipper. Whether it be frosty or mild he is always there or there abouts. Now if that isn’t enough to set cheer into some ones heart what is? Every morning he raises a smile.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Dysentery update

Well, they are still dying but there are live ones too. The twins are getting thinned out without a doubt and I am getting ready to keel the backs of the heads of some lambless sheep if necessary. Red keel on the back of the head is the traditional mark for a geld sheep, makes it easy when looking the hill, you know not to look for a lamb belonging her if she has a red head. That could well be my only option shortly rather than split good twins off the other cuts.

As for the vets? well I spoke to my contact who was going to get back in touch once she'd read her medicine bible to see if there was anything available on the market. To date I've heard nothing. However, I did mention to the shepherd that I was in touch with my vets and wanted some sound facts before I went and knocked on the big house door.

Now whether he took fright at the thought of me knocking on the big house door, especially as I'm not worldly renowned for thinking before opening my mouth, or whether the cogs had been turning anyhow but apparently the big house had contacted their vets to see what was available.

The result? Well, due to the fact it is no longer necessary to have a serum for new born lambs there isn't one available off the shelf. A fresh carcase could be sent to the laboratories and a serum could be produced from it apparently. I presume by that they must need to have the 'bug' in their hands to be able to produce something to innoculate the new born lambs with.

Anyhow, the conclusion is that by the time this happens, I am writing this on Saturday night (24th), Monday would be the earliest a lamb could be taken in and it would have to be fresh, so what if one didn't want to die on Monday? We both believe there wouldn't be a 24 hour turn around in getting the serum made, probably have to wait a week? By which time it is really too late as the vast majority of the lambs will be born by then.

Hugely frustrating scenario.

What will be will be, it is out of my hands, I am powerless to do anything about it. Fortunately not all the lambs are being affected. I don't quite know how lamb dysentry works but there must be an immunity with some of the lambs. There are more live ones than dead ones and lets hope that is how it goes. The other three cuts are showing no signs, due to the fact that they have all suffered from it in the past and are now innoculated..........

I am singing my own rendition of Queen's hit "Another one bites the dust". Nothing quite like a bit of gallows humour to help the situation along!!

Not to worry, next year all will be well !!!

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Colonic Irrigation

I’m sure I’ve heard somewhere that some foolish souls take the detox thing quite seriously. Now Shep doesn’t do nowt like that, this abstaining from all the unhealthy things in life would surely kill me; imagine a life with no chocolate, no tobacco, no whisky or even port for that matter? To be sure, as the Irish would say, there’s more to life than drinking water and eating yoghurty things, after all yoghurt is just curdled milk ain’t it?

Anyhow, as sure as I am that some folk’s do this detox carry on I am equally sure that I’ve heard of colonic irrigation. Now that really is taking things a bit far, unless you’re suffering from watery mouth or something why on earth have your back passage flushed out? And to pay for the privilege as well? The world has surely gone nuts.

Anyhow, to anyone out there tempted with all this flushing of orifices I’ve found a far cheaper remedy. Not just cheaper I may add but actually totally free. The first rhubarb of the spring. Oh yes! Lambing time isn’t lambing time without those first few virgin sticks of rhubarb.

I couldn’t help but ask the shepherd if he had any growing in his garden and duly some very short sticks of the red peril arrived on my doorstep, being slightly tart (bitter) sugar was duly added as I stewed it with mouth watering anticipation. I have to say it was lovely, I thoroughly enjoyed feasting on the first rhubarb of the season.

The following morning, out on the hill, setting a gimmer away in front of me which was hanging a lamb I found I suddenly had an urge to ‘go’. My greed the night before had been my downfall. There are times in life when you have to prioritise, I’m not too sure I got my priorities right but the lamb was born alive and in the future I’m going to steer clear of the natural remedy for colonic irrigation!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Rantings of a lambing ‘man’

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As you can tell by the above picture there are lambs being born, this pair on the first lap of the morning out on the top of the Dodlaw, catching the sun as it rises.

So the lambs are being born – great news! The ewes are kindly and carrying plenty of milk and most of the lambs are very strong. The 20th saw arctic gales with a flightering of snow in the afternoon. It was a dismal day but fortunately dry. I felt as though the wind was peeling the skin off my face as I went around the hill, down at the steading (farmyard) it was far more sheltered and I couldn’t help wonder what the fuss was all about, that is until I ventured out onto the tops again. Since then the weather has settled down. The air is still very cold and frosts down to -7 degrees in the mornings but with brightness and sunshine during the day, which when in shelter feels very pleasant.

All in all life seems to be looking up......... Except.............

Shep has been losing lambs. By losing lambs I mean they are dying. All belong to the Crunchylaw ewes. The first was a twin, a strong lamb, mebbes 4 days old, totally unexpected to find it lying dead in the morning, I had been unaware of there being anything untoward regarding its health, big, fit, well nourished, healthy lamb, lying dead. Not to worry, these things happen and at least she still had a lamb.

The Crunchylaw are the only sheep lambed in an enclosure, which I am thankful for as they are becoming a lot of work.

A day after the twin was dead there was a dead single in the enclosure. About three days old, well thriven, getting plenty of milk – again an unexpected death.

Then a twin disappeared out of the twin field. Gone. Vanished. Must be fox or badger, not to worry, she still has one.

Yesterday morning (21st) I was greeted by a dead lamb on my first lap around the sheep, again a few days old, again totally unexpected and again a well thriven well nourished lamb and again belonging to the Crunchylaw. I also had a ewe frantically looking for a lamb and a twin which was yet to be walked off into the twin field had also lost a lamb.

The lost lambs were never found, the single ewe kept running to one spot and sniffing the ground, a fairly sure sign the lamb had gone. However, I hunted all over, leaving her until well into the afternoon before concluding the lamb was not likely to reappear, it was not in a drain or a rabbit hole and definitely appeared to have vanished. Again fox or badger was held to blame – opportunists, lifting a sleeping lamb whilst mother was away grazing. Highly frustrating but there you go – that’s life!

During the day however yet another lamb ‘dropped dead’, the lap I did after breakfast, mebbes 3 hours since I had first seen them, another lamb had died, again with no reason. I was starting to get concerned. All lambs to date had signs of milky tails, which is good; they are getting a good supply. However, one had shown slight signs of scour ( a paler, waterier yellowness on the tail) but the alarm bells really began to ring when the first of the morning had obviously passed blood prior to dying.

Doubts were starting to creep into my head. The first doubts are that you’re not doing the job right; you’re overlooking the problems, not keeping on top of the job, missing the first signs of something not being right. I’d already chewed over this, given myself a doing for not concentrating sufficiently. However, these were now different alarm bells. I’d seen this sort of thing once before, two years previous and on this farm. Lamb Dysentery.

Surely not. A directive had been passed from the organic organisation and these sheep were now inoculated prior to lambing – weren’t they? The cold wind could have taken its toll, chilling the tummies of the little blighters and possibly causing them to die, that would be a sensible explanation, would it not?

Now I had been lead to believe that these sheep were now inoculated to prevent Dysentery in the sheep, how was I to broach the subject with the shepherd in a way which would not cause offence? It’s not like me to think long and hard about a discreet and diplomatic approach to a problem, but I did. The conclusion? Say nowt, whatever I say will sound like I am accusing someone of something. The problem will pass and all will be well.

As happens daily the shepherd enquired how things were going, my reply was almost non committal, a slight utterance of a dead lamb passing blood, the Bermuda Triangle was mentioned along with the possibility of fox trouble followed with a shrug of the shoulders and an utterance of ‘that’s lambing time for you!’

This morning the proverbial shit hit the fan. I dropped down into the enclosure off the hill at about 8am and came across a lamb in absolute agony and close to death. I knew what the problem was, the same problem I had two years ago which I had finally been told had been Lamb Dysentery. I left the enclosure with a heavy heart. The ewe could wait until the next lap and I’d set a lamb onto her. I was hungry and feeling slightly despondent. I checked the twins and found another one had vanished – there last night, gone this morning – sod it!!

After breakfast off I went to the hill, dropping down into the enclosure just before dinner time knowing I’d have a lamb to set on. I definitely did not expect to find yet another lamb in absolute agony and close to death. My eyes stung with tears, not a thing I’m proud to admit but a mixture of despondency, despair and sheer disbelief struck me, along with anger and a questioning of what on earth I was doing here – anyone could pick up dead lambs.

I didn’t get in for my dinner; I sorted the problems, lifted twin lambs, skinned dead lambs, set on the twins I’d lifted, stomped around muttering under my breath, grumbling at the dog. Poor Moss, he does lick his lips when I’m skinning a lamb! My thoughts were racing all the time, a cloud was gathering. For all I tried desperately to remain rational and logical about the whole affair I was failing dismally.

The shepherd turned up, enquired how things were going................ All thoughts of a diplomatic and discreet approach to the matter went out the window as once again I felt the tears sting my eyes. Trying to hold onto my composure I explained the problems I had been having; multiple sudden deaths and now dying pain stricken lambs, lambs disappearing off the face of the earth - but had they been live lambs lifted whilst slumbering or had they been dead or dying lambs taken as easy fodder?

“Aye, no doubt about it, it’ll be dysentery I’d say” My rantings as to the ewes being inoculated and that it couldn’t possibly be were brought to a sudden halt when I was informed that as the Crunchylaw had never had problems with Lamb Dysentery in the past then it hadn’t been deemed necessary to inoculate them. The wind was momentarily knocked out of my sails, probably a gasp of disbelief followed, I really can’t recall as I turned my back and rubbed my bloodied hands over my eyes.

I was informed that the farmer ( or ought I say owner) of these sheep would be notified immediately, this could not be allowed to go on and without doubt the problem would be rectified by next year – NEXT YEAR?

There are a 130ish sheep on the Crunchylaw, they’ve been lambing for just short of a week, to date I reckon on a loss of 15%, there are still many left to lamb and “we’ll have the problem sorted for next year”.... unfortunately that is how it seems to stand.

A quick reference to my bible – the TV vet sheep book – tells me “this is without doubt the most dangerous of all sheep diseases, it attacks lambs under a week old” seemingly caused by some clostridium germ which multiplies in the small intestine of the lamb and excretes highly lethal toxins and apparently the first signs noticed are sudden death, the book goes on to say that once symptoms have developed then treatment is a waste of money and time. It also goes on to say that “obviously this disease must be controlled, and it can be by vaccinating the ewes”.

I was beginning to feel like a pawn in some sort of evil experiment. A disease which is talked of often by the older generation and never seen by the rest of us due to a revolutionary vaccination which was introduced years ago and here I was seeing it, but for the second time on the same farm – humph!

I eventually got into the cottage for lunch at about tea time, the radio annoyed me; wittering on about politics, the status quo tape was played instead. For someone who enjoys peace and solitude an overwhelming feeling of loneliness overcame me, the four walls of the kitchen seemed almost overpowering and claustrophobic. I felt a desperate desire for human company.

The shepherd walked in and said all was sorted with the owner of the sheep, he was down at heart too, which instantly made me feel so guilty, a lovely guy who’s suffered many hardships since the turn of the millennium and a guy who does seem to get down in the dumps anyhow and here he was looking his age, weary and low in spirits. Chocolate was immediately administered – my answer to everything – good ol’ chocolate!

I have been around the hill tonight and my mind has once again been racing, I’m hired to do a job which I am paid to do to the best of my abilities. It isn’t really my place to tell someone they may as well get rid of the lambing man and let nature take its course – which is exactly what I did say and to be honest with you that is how I felt. I don’t know whether the inoculating issue is due to the organic organisation which this farm is involved with or whether it is down to the idealism of the owner of the sheep, what I do know is I am awaiting a phone call from my vets to see if there is anything these new born lambs can be injected with to give them a fighting chance against being hit by this curse, I am hopeful that there may be as a serum is mentioned in my ‘bible’. Once I have hold of the facts I will attempt to bring them to the attention of the owner of these sheep, after all, I’m here to do the job to the best of my abilities and should that mean catching and injecting every new born lamb then that is what I will do.

You may not have reached the end of this posting, it is undoubtedly long and quite possibly depressing but it has done me the power of good to get it off my chest. I have slowly accepted the worst possible scenario, I have also accepted that it is no reflection upon my abilities; I am also hoping that it is a blip, probably brought on by the stress of the weather. Tomorrow is another day dawning and life may well be looking up.

In the mean time I’ll end on a high. I saw my first swallow today (22nd April), totally unexpected and in an unusual spot I thought, it would be roughly 7am and was sitting on the fence wire of the field that lies at the bottom of Little Heugh, the field that I put my twins into over there, the frost was just beginning to give and I’m sure the little chap was dreaming of Africa at the time.... If you look closely on the photo below, not only will you see a live lamb but also behind the ewe, on the fence wire, is a swallow, summer is coming! I’m told the swallows were in Tarset on the 13th.
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Saturday, 24 April 2010

Thank the lord for small mercies

That is how I feel at the moment; we need to thank someone for small mercies. Why? I hear you ask. Well, because it’s dry – it’s not raining, that has to be something to be thankful for.

Let me explain.

I did say in a previous post that things were looking up, specifically meaning the weather. We’d experienced a mini heat wave. The ewes had settled on the hill and no longer chased the bike looking for feed. It was short lived.

Temperatures have once again plummeted. There is a strong, bitterly cold wind astir and what little grass there is has a blue look about it. heat would be good, heat with moisture would be even better. Unfortunately where I am it is actually cold enough for snow. Now I can’t speak for Tarset, but as in the past we generally have slightly better weather up here in the Borders than them I can only surmise life ain’t much better down there either.

I am writing this on the eve of the 20th April. The winds are of a northerly aspect and strong with it. I set off to the hill with three base layers on, a fleece jacket followed by waterproof and windproof jacket followed by down filled waistcoat (gilet to posh people) – I’m sure I must resemble the Michelin man. I also don gloves and hat. It’s nearing the end of April and I’m wearing the same as I had on in January – what is life coming to?

I’ve never introduced you to the hill ground yet. There are four cuts of sheep which Shep is responsible for. The Dodlaw, Auld Faulds, Little Heugh and the Crunchylaw. The first three are lambed out on the open hill, the latter being the only cut held in an enclosure to be lambed.

This is the third year I have lambed here and it is interesting to compare the behaviour of the sheep over that duration. The first year was a wet one, Auld Faulds and Little Heugh were lambed in a field, it was exposed to the weather and got quite muddy therefore the following year (last year) I opted to lamb them out on the open hill. They were settled, there was less trouble with pinching of lambs, it was a ‘growy’ type of spring and the ewes were content. This year these two cuts are quite a handful.

Opting to lamb on the open hill once again as the field was bare (no grass) and basically the sheep fare better out on their own ground. They are nowhere near as cooperative as last year. Once the mini heat wave subsided they took to running to the bike once again, causing mayhem amongst any twins which were strong enough to head in with their mothers. (After a few days the twins are walked in off the hill to a field, none of these sheep are pregnancy scanned).

Now these sheep have taken to heading onto the Crunchy Law as the ewes are off there and obviously these two cuts of sheep must think there is more grass on that side of the hill. They really are terribly unsettled. I have thought of barring them into the ‘lambing’ field but then that is so bare of grass it is pointless. I did open it up for them to rake into in the mornings, which was fine for the first couple of mornings; however they’ve taken the top off the field now and aren’t quite so enamoured with the idea as they first were.

Where the hell is the grass? Now you may well have cut your lawns and be wondering what I am rabbiting on about but bear in mind that there is nothing grazing your lawns. The sheep are eating any fresh growth as soon as it is showing, they’re almost standing over it waiting for it to pop it’s head up ready to munch it off as soon as.

We definitely need to be thankful. When it is as cold as it is at least we don’t have driving rain too, even hill lambs could succumb to that.

Talking of which........... I saw the news tonight – on the telly!! It was quite exciting to see the telly again and watch a weather forecast. Anyhow the Scottish news channel had coverage of the bad weather experienced at the end of March beginning of April. There have been many, many lambs lost, and ewes too, amongst the earlier lambing flocks. One farmer in the Peebles area reportedly had two one ton dumpy bags loaded with lamb carcases waiting for the dead cart to collect – heart breaking, another in Aberdeenshire reported losses into three figures. The Scottish Government are subsidising the collection of dead stock and looking in to the cost of the winter to their farmers, it’s good to hear that those in authority take the situation seriously, makes me wonder what the British Government might consider doing for their farmers?

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Glen, the sheepdog, and his chequered life.

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As said previously Glen was born in September 2000. A winter pup, he grew up through wind, rain and snow. I remember coaxing him over a drain (ditch) in flood when he was a tiny bundle of fluff, once home he got towelled off and allowed to dry on the hearth.

All my dogs are kenneled outside until the time comes they need more comfort in their lives. This little pup used to be wet and clarty (muddy) would be towelled off and allowed to have a spell on the hearth rug before going to bed in the kennel. This could be a give away to his rather 'soft' nature.

To this day if he can creep into the house and get on the hearth rug he's happy, he almost manages to flatten himself and lie absolutely still as though in the hope you wont notice him and put him out!

All his life he has required a fuss, more than capable of getting anyone to give him a stroke and they're not allowed to stop, Once you've stroked him that's it, he just wants more and is very adapt at nosing his head under your hand and lifting it up so as it drops down over his brow, he really can make you stroke him!

Rightly or wrongly pups go with me and the other dogs everywhere, they walk to the hill and if they tire they'll find themselves inside my jacket and getting a lift, they'll be tied up at the sheep pens out of danger of being attacked by the sheep and watch what's going on, they'll sit on my lap on the quad bike until they are big and strong enough to sit unassisted on the back.

If they reach an obstacle they're not happy of they have to work a way around it. A shut gate for instance can be quite a challenge to a pup, I coax and wait patiently until they have the job sussed, I make them use their brains, I do not want an adult dog which I have to go back and retrieve because it can't find a way through.

And so it was for Glen, in the cold winter months as a little pup he was introduced to all sorts of obstacles and weather conditions. Feb 2001 saw a tremendous fall of snow, five foot drifts and Arctic conditions, Glen was 5 months old and had to learn how to accommodate snow. At 7 months old he was walking the hill on a chain at lambing time, often abandoned - tied up to a sprig of heather or fence whilst I dealt with any problems.

By 8 months old he no longer got to see sheep on a daily basis. 2001 is a year etched in my head. Foot and Mouth. Many sheep were slaughtered.

So for Glen he found himself wandering around aimlessly, still learning about the everyday obstacles but missing out on the sheep thing. He learnt to swim! There is a linn (waterfall) near at hand which I would go and splash around in (I'm a poor swimmer), anyhow the 9 month old pup decided to join me whilst old Tyne stood back totally perplexed. To this day Glen will take to water like a golden retriever. He absolutely loves swimming and has to be watched if the burns are in flood. It's a great way of cleaning him off when he's had a dirty day in the sheep pens.

By the time Glen got to see sheep again on a regular basis he was well over a year old and seemed unsure of life with sheep. However, eventually, it all clicked together and off he went, in fact he basically taught himself and was always biddable, stopping every time he was asked to (usually young dogs try it on and like to have a bit of fun).

I always thought him to have a poor out run, he didn't run as wide as I would have liked and I never felt totally confident on big areas of hill ground. I always took Tyne along too. The shepherd out bye told me to take Glen on his own and leave the better dog behind. Unfortunately I never did this, my confidence in the dog wouldn't allow it and I continued to take both together. Tyne always got there and did the job whereas there was always a question mark hanging over Glen and his capabilities where there was a large expanse of ground to cover.

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Eventually Tyne got old and weary, Moss was very small and I was left with Glen, the younger fitter dog. I had to gather vast expanses of ground with the one dog, the dog I never felt was capable of doing such a thing. I was proven wrong. He worked a treat on his own, did have a good outrun and could gather a big hill. If only I'd listened to the shepherd from out bye! Obviously Tyne (who was the apple of my eye) had the upper hand of the younger dog and had him beaten into submission. Poor Glen who had been so maligned.

However, for all these years Glen had his place in life. Tyne was a powerful, strong headed creature and could be too much for field sheep, whereas Glen who was so biddable and steady was ideal for field sheep. Horses for courses.

So, eventually, at six year old, Glen came into his own, was top dog, could handle any gather that was necessary, good in the pens, perfect at lambing time - life was looking up. Until......
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He had an accident........ Tup time 2007, Glen was now 7 years old, Tyne had passed away, Moss was coming on but Glen was top dog, capable of anything asked of him, living life to the full until I set him down a bank side to turn some sheep, he stumbled, went arse over tit and rose with a limp but continued to go around the sheep and turn them back. I rested him but he didn't come sound. It was ten days before I took him to the vets to be told he'd snapped the ligament in his 'ankle', I think it's called the cruciate ligament.

Now I acted like a tough dog owner and weighed up the pros and cons. Would he ever work again? How much will it cost?

All credit to my vet, he wanted to get the dog back to work and did eventually succeed.I was told the injury was worse than a broken bone. An operation which involved drilling the bones on either side of the joint to enable an elasticated 'tendon' to be fitted whilst the original was stitched together. Glen returned home with a plaster cast on his leg.

He got to lie on the hearth, he had an old quilt under the table which was his bed and he was to have no exercise at all, only allowed out for the toilet. Within a week the better half had had to heighten the fence around our garden, Glen had jumped out, pot leg an' all, nothing was going to stop him in his quest to find something dead and rancid to eat!

During all this time the dog never let on to being in pain, he is a softie but is actually really tough, throughout his lifetime he has never shown self pity, always wants to work even with a serious injury. I've prodded and poked a lame foot and he doesn't even wince, he never fails to amaze me at how tough he can be (Moss will squeal like a pig if you pull his hair, Glen would put up with anything).

Plaster cast for six weeks, dressings changed for even longer, five minute walks, then ten minute walks and so on for weeks, many friends and neighbours rallied and let him out whilst I was away working, took him for his five minute walks (on a lead), his ten minute walks and so on. Some even collected him from the vets, I always tried to take him in on a mart morning, the vets would keep him until a farmer could pick him up and fetch him back!

The vet thought hydro therapy was a good idea, I didn't admit to this being in the cold water of the burn but Glen was happy, swimming away like a good one.

The vets were taken with him as a patient, initially I had to leave him to have his dressings changed, however, once I realised this was to allow the anaesthetic to wear off I had words with them. You can literally do anything to Glen and he wont retaliate, I asked them to give it a go and they were impressed. Apparently he would lie down, roll over and put his bad leg in the air to allow them to deal with it - no need to subdue him with anaesthetic. The perfect patient!

During Glen's long winter the young Moss came to the fore, he soon became top dog and as I was totally reliant on him he came on leaps and bounds, poor Glen, under the shadow of another dog once again.

He wasn't fit enough for lambing time but a farmer's wife took him to walk twins out of fields and do light duties. By the summer he was fittening up well when an infection got a hold. A stitch from the operation had decided to try and dislodge itself. Once again Glen was laid up.

Eventually he was fit and well. The vet had succeeded in getting him back to being a working dog, the bill had been less than the cost of replacing him. Life was looking up. By now he was 8 years old.

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Glen came back to full working fitness but unfortunately has slowed down, he is getting older after all. He does gather hills but only the kinder ones, he's back to being number one field dog. Where I lamb the ground is very steep and this worries me, he has been lent out to others at lambing time who are working kinder ground.

This winter was a struggle to him. Once again he went lame, on his 'bad' leg. Gathering in the snow he fell through the crusty surface and duly carried his leg, again he was rested, again he didn't come sound. Again he found himself at the vets. He had injured his foot but it appeared to be a soft tissue injury. More rest required. Glen lost fettle, appeared to be depressed, lethargic and off the stott. Finally he surfaced one morning with a fat face. Antibiotics and dentistry work fettled that, another x-ray on his leg showed bad arthritis........

The good news is he is happy again, putting on fettle, living on anti inflammatories and most probably being molly coddled. It seems very likely that by next winter he may well have his life long wish of lying on the hearth mat at night!

Friday, 16 April 2010

Life is looking up

The weather is at long last picking up. In fact we seem to have had a mini heat wave. Wellies and leggings have been discarded, with boots being the order of the day. Top coat off and shirt sleeves rolled up – life really is looking up, long may it last is what I say.

When I think back to the 2nd of April, my first morning off to the hill here in Scotland to feed the hill ewes, it now seems a lifetime ago.
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“The snow lay all around, nice and crisp and even”

I have to say the beauty of it all that sharp frosty morning was absolutely stunning and the ewes were pleased to see their new shepherd.
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The last of the snow shifted on the 10th April and the ground is now more as I remember it from last year.

The 10th April brought another change, not only had the snow finally all disappeared from every nook and cranny but the sheep settled down also.

Every morning when I headed out to feed them they came charging towards the bike, desperate for their cake, so desperate in fact that some mornings the next cut of sheep would appear over their hill top (which would be at least ½ a mile away), like a bunch of wild Indians they would charge down the hill side towards the cut I was feeding. A hungry bleating almost sounding like a war cry as they careered towards me. The dogs valiantly managing to cut them off at the pass and turn them back to where they belonged.

These sheep are never going to knock you down to get at their cake, they may well chase the bike and get over enthused at the thought of food but they truly are wild. I walk along, tipping the cake out onto the ground out of the bag and these sheep run around and around you in sheer excitement and anticipation of receiving food but all the time keeping their distance, never prepared to drop their heads until you are well out of the way. The wild instinct is never far away, doesn’t matter how hungry they are they still refuse to make contact – sheer bliss I can tell you, being able to feed sheep without the fear of being knocked to the ground and trampled.

So for a good week I had ewes desperate for their morning feed, then it stopped. I found myself having to set them all in to a spot to feed them, they no longer chase the bike, they no longer try to leave their ground and join the cut being fed before them. They have settled. They have to be gathered with the dogs to receive their feed, no longer volunteering to be first at the ‘trough’.
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What a great feeling. The ewes are due in on the 17th and I was becoming concerned about their well being - and mine! Normally the feed is knocked off them once they begin to lamb, it can cause mayhem with little lambs running around out on the hill so the ewes no longer receive the hard feed, there are mineral/feed buckets available for them ad lib but no cake. It was beginning to look like I may have to cake them at lambing time, I didn’t relish the prospect.

Mother Nature has waved her magic wand and here they are, settled and content with what the hill ground has to offer them. The warmth has fetched a fresh growth of grass and the ewes are more than happy to eat this - the natural approach. Hill sheep ain’t so stupid; they know what’s good for them. Let’s hope this really is spring on the way, it ought to be after all we have waited long enough.

P.S The ewes started to lamb on the 13th - they came in early last year as well so this is nowt fresh. The weather cooled down but remained dry and to date the ewes are lambing away merrily.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Moss, the sheepdog - an introduction.

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Moss, commoner garden farm bred border collie sheep dog. Moss was a January 2006 pup,from my own blood lines. The shepherd out-bye very kindly let me line his good hill bitch with Mosses father - Tyne. This has enabled me to keep a hold of the blood line which I have had since I first went self employed, Moss is now the third generation.
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Choosing the pup was easy, a litter of three and only one dog pup, the shepherd wanted a bitch so the dog was mine for the taking. I was also very lucky as Mosses mother was black white and tan, for some reason I've never been keen on tan on a dog and do like a black dog, mother nature must have been looking down on me! Believe you me I would still have taken the pup if it had had tan on it, it is not easy keeping the blood line going and beggars can't be choosers!

How did he get his name? Well, unlike Glen this little fella was called pup for quite a while. I just couldn't think of a name that suited him. You need a short name, preferably one syllable, one which doesn't catch the back of the throat when you shout it. The pups father was called Tyne (after the North Tyne where I live), his mother was called Grip and I just couldn't find a name I liked which had a link with either parents. There is a Northumbrian song which mentions the mossy banks of the Tyne and it is from here the pup eventually got his name - Moss.

Moss is a totally different dog to Glen and unfortunately not one that can be trusted. At the age of six months he bit my landlord......... not the wisest of moves! To this day I cannot trust the dog and never will be able to. He has nipped since but not for a long time now and is fine with anyone who shows no fear. I'd like to think he would be no bother but believe you me it isn't wise to assume such a thing. Fortunately he has proven to be a very good hill dog - a sound worker, otherwise he would have been down the road.

There's more on Mosses life to follow, watch this space.......


Shep is finally in Scotland for good (actually just for a month) and decided to get a mobile internet dongle. Now I'm impressed, not so much with the dongle but more the fact I have found myself 'up' on modern technology. This 'ere dongle involves me and laptop heading in the car for a lay bye with mobile reception.

It reminds me of the good old days when we used to have dial up internet as opposed to broadband. However it does give me contact with the outside world, can catch up with e-mails and check the weather forecast (the radio tends to forget about anyone not in the south of the country)

These postings may well become fewer as I no longer have to try and keep myself awake at night by typing away on the computer - I can go to bed like 'normal' people. I have however stacked some postings up to be published as and when so you might not even notice I'm missing for a while.

I do believe there are great celebrations going on in Tarset - a month of peace and quiet from Shep! Can't blame them can you?

I never thought I'd see the day when you could use the internet quite literally out on the hill - what is life coming to?

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Manic Fortnight

Yep! Shep has had a manic fortnight. The inclement weather at the very end of March saw the start of it, then off night lambing in Scotland on the 1st April.

I have a habit of committing myself to things with little regard of my own well being or sanity, this lambing time was no different.

A night lambing is one thing but I had volunteered to return to Tarset everyday to keep an eye on a flock of sheep which were lambing there also, however, I had stipulated right from the off set, from the day the tup went to the ewes, that I was only available for ten days. They were a very long ten days.

The elderly sheep keeper whom had been involved in a sheep trampling incident in mid December was the person I was assisting.

Now they say tiredness can kill, it’s true. There was one evening in particular I could have cheerfully throttled this old dear with my bare hands. You’ll be pleased to hear I refrained from doing so, drove to Scotland like I was possessed by the devil himself and had a Status Quo fix at full volume showing no regard what so ever for the elderly couple in the cottage next door – a truly selfish moment but one which I relished all the same!

It is necessary when over committing oneself to set priorities. These were relatively easy. I was getting paid to work in Scotland, therefore my priorities had to lie there, and no matter how late the morning was getting I would not leave and head south until all was well. I would then find myself in Tarset an hour later, deal with whatever misdemeanours were going on at that end and head for my bed by dinner time. Rising by 5pm to eat and head back to the Tarset sheep, sort any problems, drive for an hour and get back into Scotland to spend my night in the shed. – Great fun!!

The 10th April saw the over commitment of them all. I really did push the boat out this time.

By this date the better half had concluded I was getting weary, didn’t know what day of the week it was, couldn’t find the simplest of items and struggled to speak in a coherent manner. In actual fact I thought this was pretty observant of him as I’m sure I’m like that most of the time anyway!

And so, a couple of days previous he had offered to feed these sheep first thing in the morning, to save me feeding them in the late morning, he would also text me to let me know of any problems. Mobile coverage is poor at both ends but get onto a hill top and its fine, there are plenty of hill tops around here and as I was feeding the hill ewes in the morning I would receive a text filling me in on the goings on of the Tarset sheep. Very convenient. A good text meant I could head straight for home and bed – bliss!!

The 10th April I had agreed to head into the Rede valley and gather some hill ewes for a farmer I work for, I had warned him it could be lunch time at the latest, and so it was, the text that morning was not a good one. To cut a long story short I found myself hitting the sack at 4.30pm, near enough 24 hours from last being there. Two hours was all I could afford before setting off on my ‘rounds’ again. I stopped on the way to Scotland and bought a frozen roast dinner to shove in the microwave, it seemed a long time since my porridge at 6am.

The frozen dinner proved to be a rubbery affair; it was hot though and did hit the edges. I most definitely wouldn’t like to have to eat too many of them though.

Needless to say the 10th of April saw my ten days assistance in Tarset draw to a close, I travelled home for a further two days to gather bits and pieces, sort out any necessities at that end before finally departing for good into Scotland. A fortnights night lambing was drawing to a close, my car could have a rest (having clocked up nearly 1,000 miles and gaining a few rattles) and I could go to bed at night, rise in the morning and settle to what I enjoy doing – lambing those wild cheviots.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Lambing Problems

When I arrive at work the first thing I do is head for the shed. It doesn’t matter what time of the evening it is, whether I am early for my shift or not. Hours don’t matter to me. I am paid a set amount for basically a 12 hour shift. Should that be an 11 hour shift or a 14 hour shift the pay is the same and the work is done the same.

And so it was this particular evening, actually an hour earlier than meant to be but that is immaterial. I headed for the shed. By doing this I know exactly what is going on and whether or not I can afford a cuppa after my hour’s drive or whether more important matters are on hand.

I cast my eyes over the ewes to get an idea of what, if anything was going on. One sheep had a bloody backside, she was just standing, not lying down or pressing on. Just standing, no lamb with her or anything else. Just standing, with blood on her backside. Alarm bells immediately rang.

Now lambing is a bit of a gooey carry on, there is a lot of fluid and blood involved and it is not unusual to see a sheep with blood on their backside or tail. However it is unusual to see it before they have actually lambed, unless, the lamb is coming arse first.

Breech presentation for them that speak properly, arse first for the rest of us, or even backside foremost, sometimes tail first but for Shep it’s definitely arse first.

The ewe was duly caught and a quick examination did indeed prove that there was the hock of the back leg pointing like an arrow head out of the cervix – not a good position to be in if you’re a lamb, or a ewe for that matter. It was quickly ascertained that the lamb was dead, it had a decidedly ‘soapy’ feel about it, the ewe was quite dry too so lube was required.

On inspection of my hand when it resurfaced from being up this ewes backside I soon realised the lamb wasn’t just dead it was also rotten.

Lube was liberally poured into the ewes orifice, hand followed. For an older ewe she was very tight of the bones. Not a good sign. Finally, after much grunting from both parties, both back legs were visible. Time to pull.

It pays to pull a lamb from a ewe as she puts in her contractions, in actual fact pull isn’t quite correct, you tend to keep up a firm forwards pressure and the ewe does the rest, as she pushes and you keep the tension on, the lamb will finally come out into the world. Unfortunately this wasn’t going to be the case with this sheep.

Dead lambs don’t help the ewe when she’s giving birth, the ewe doesn’t always open up right and due to the lifelessness of the lamb it is of no help to her when she pushes, it isn’t eager to get out there and see what it is missing. So was the case with this sheep. Pulling was needed.

That string that a shepherd always has in the pocket came to the fore, attached to each back foot it was used to straighten the legs out. The top of the back legs are big, doubled up they are even bigger, they have to be straightened out to narrow the body of the lamb.

If this had been a live lamb I had reached a crucial point. A lamb coming out arse first will find its umbilical cord is broken whilst the lambs head is still inside the ewe, it then needs to take its first breath and at this point it can drown. Once its legs have been released it is important to try and get the rest of the lamb to follow as quickly as possible, being drawn out of the ewe in an upwards direction also so that once it is out in the open it ought to be almost hanging upside down in your hand by its back legs, this is to enable any fluids it has picked up in its lungs to drain off as it is brought into the world.

Obviously none of this was necessary with this dead lamb and just as well.

A pull of the string on the legs found Shep with two legs out in the open – quite literally! This is a rotten lamb, they do tend to fall to pieces. The string was then tied around the torso and more pressure applied. Now this lamb was stuck by the ribcage in this ewes bones and the torso removed itself to this point. Shep was beginning to sweat. You do not want to be in the position where you can not remove the lamb as that has only one outcome.
Much fiddling about inside the ewe eventually saw a front leg come out, followed by another, the torso was shrinking all the time until eventually a ribcage and head came into the open.

The whole scenario took over half an hour, the ewe had had a very rough time. So now what?

Believe it or not but I went and got a lamb to set on to her. The adoptive lamb was covered in smelly goo from the bits of lamb lying around and presented to the ewe. The ewe was not keen to rise to her feet and who could blame her, however, enough of her bag was showing that it was possible to suckle the lamb. A huge shot of antibiotic was injected into the ewe to try and prevent any infection. A bucket of water was placed beside her and she was left quiet.

Now I expect you think this all sounds very cruel, this poor beast had had a traumatic lambing, had been carrying a rotten lamb, was worn out and exhausted, in quite a bit of discomfort and Shep sets a lamb on to her.

Sure, it does sound cruel. But bear this in mind, the ewe needed an excuse to live and whether or not she would be able to rear this lamb was immaterial, what did matter was that it gave her a reason to live, she was a mummy, she had something to care for, she had a reason to gain her strength and try to get up on her feet. As for suckling the lamb? Well, being sucked helps the ewe, she can go on and cleanse and close up, it’s all part of the process and after such a tough lambing there is always the fear she may cast her lamb bed (prolapse of the uterus), by being sucked hopefully this may prevent such a thing from happening.

That ewe never looked back, she was on her feet within an hour and within 2 days was in the field with her lamb as proud as punch. Successes such as this make it all worthwhile. That ewe would never have lambed herself, she would have slowly died of septicaemia, due to human intervention she is able to go on and enjoy being a mother.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Watery Mouth

“There’s aye something” is what the shepherd said that night when we were looking at a pair of lambs falling to watery mouth.

So what is watery mouth?

Basically constipation with a splash of E. Coli for good measure, but there are many factors and from my experiences lambing in sheds seems to produce more cases than sheep which lamb outdoors.

As already explained there are many important issues necessary to the lamb having a good start in life. It needs to be born alive, it needs to get footed (stand up) quite quickly, get its first feed of ewes milk known as colostrum and also get its plumbing on working. From being born to having a full belly of milk will be no more than half an hour on average. It will then settle and sleep. Waking invigorated, ready to suck again and ready to pass muck.

The lambs in question which we were studying had been slow lambs, slow to foot and needed human intervention to get their bellies filled although they did suck themselves once latched onto the tit. They were what I call dour (dozy), sack less creatures, born outside on a wet day they would have perished. Nature would have sorted them out.

So, back to watery mouth, also known as slavvers or rattle belly. Slavvers coming from the salivation, or mucus, that forms around the mouth in the latter stages of the illness and hence the name watery mouth. Rattle belly comes from the fact that if you shake the lamb its belly will rattle/splash/gurgle.

The lambs can appear quiet in the early stages of the illness, however, full lambs will also appear quiet as they sleep off their full tummies. Lambs going down with watery mouth appear to be full due to the fact they are constipated. It may appear that it would be a difficult call as to whether or not you have a perfectly healthy lamb or an ill lamb in front of you; it pays to know the lamb’s history. Anything which like these two had been slow to do all the normal things a lamb ought to do, or may not have had enough colostrum in their tummies are susceptible to going down with watery mouth.

There is another way of finding out whether your lamb is healthy or otherwise, that being to waken it up and stand it on its feet. I usually do this by lifting the lamb to its feet by picking it up by the skin in the middle of its back, sounds cruel I guess but it is loose skin and it also gives you another pointer to go by. A lamb that is roused from sleep and lifted to its feet ought to stretch, just as we do when we waken. This is a good sign. The loose skin which you’ve picked it up by ought to fall back into place, should it not then this is a sure sign of dehydration. Therefore, if the lamb you have just lifted to its feet stands lethargic looking with the skin raised on its back then sure enough there’s a problem.

So what can you do? An enema is the obvious solution. With a syringe, liquid paraffin (I often use warm soapy water) can be released into the back passage of the lamb in the hope it will encourage it to pass the faeces. (I’m being terribly polite here as we just call it shit). It is also necessary to get fluid into the lamb, even if this just being a small amount of rehydration fluids, what we call a scour formula. However in the latter stages the stomach will be seriously distended and septicaemia will be setting in, by this stage success in reversal of the illness is highly unlikely.

The lambing sheds I’ve worked in in the past have given the lambs a squirt of an oral anti bacterial medicine as soon as they are lambed, blanket treating every lamb as soon as it is born in the hope of preventing both scour and watery mouth. I also used to carry a 10ml syringe in my pocket at all times. I am talking now of sheds which would have 1,500 to 2,000 ewes going through them, sheds which would see many sets of triplets born, many lambs susceptible to falling foul of watery mouth. The 10ml syringe? Well, whilst doing my rounds of the individual pens, checking all was well or otherwise, any lamb that I felt was showing the first signs of watery mouth I would give it a gentle squirt of water up its anus and hopefully get it to pass the meconium (foetal muck), therefore hopefully getting it’s bowels on working properly, 9 times out of 10 this did the trick.

Most important of all the lamb must receive colostrum, the antibody rich milk the ewe produces when she first lambs, there are powdered substitutes available should the ewe not have sufficient of her own. This will save many lambs from going down with watery mouth but not quite all of them.

The farm I am lambing on at the moment carries the organic status. With organic farming it is not acceptable to blanket treat animals as a preventative measure (unless there is a confirmed problem within the flock). Any problems have to be referred to a vet, even when the shepherd is well aware of what the problem is it is still necessary to have a vet confirm the problem and authorise treatment. This can take days and with a problem such as watery mouth the lambs will be dead.

Now Shep ought to have more sense than to admit to misdemeanours over the world wide web, especially as I am becoming increasingly aware that my attempt at anonymity is not working, however I am going to admit to breaking the rules.

I have to admit to the fact that I anticipated there may be one or two problems with watery mouth, the way the weather has been and one thing and another you would expect to find odd lambs getting a poorer start in life and so I arrived at this lambing with my own bottle of the oral medicine for these lambs.

I have however abided by the rules. The two lambs in question died and the shepherd admitted to losing a couple of others before I played my ace card. I was straight and up front and offered the bottle for the cause, it was gratefully received. We are not blanket treating these lambs. The bottle I bought is only sufficient to treat 100 lambs, to date only a handful have received it, those we deem susceptible, at risk to falling foul of watery mouth are getting a squirt. It is early days and there weren’t many affected before treatment commenced but to date there has been nothing else gone down with watery mouth, let’s hope it continues along the same vein.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Glen, the sheepdog - an introduction

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Glen - a sheepdog, collie dog for that matter, probably even a border collie. He has no papers and no pedigree - a farm bred border collie, born in September 2000, bought by Shep as an 8 week old pup and been here ever since.

He is a dog dog, entire and full blooded but has never sired a litter, the few bitches he has lined by mistake have been given the morning after injection and of the two bitches he lined on purpose, one didn't breed and the other died. - It's a dog's life!

How did he get his name? Well as a little kid I spent a lot of my holidays on my Uncle's farm and he had a dog called Glen.I've had a few dogs over the years, all barr two from being pups, but never had one I thought suited being named after my Uncle's dog, until this fella came along.

When I went to look at the litter there were nine pups, some hid in corners, some came and climbed all over me, this one sat in the middle of the rabble, like a real old fashioned character and just looked. He wasn't shy or over excited just looked like he'd been here before. I chose him.

When the better half and myself collected the pup he sat on my knee in the passenger seat on the way home. Pups usually dribble and get sicky when in a car, not him, he sat there and watched the world go by with great interest. On arriving home he took to his life as though there were nothing untoward. Eventually I had found a Glen, like the dog I so loved in my childhood; the quiet, unassuming, faithful sheepdog my Uncle had had. And so Glen was christened.

He really is an old fashioned character, quiet, unassuming, well mannered,steady and a good worker, a genuine dog with not an ounce of bad in him. You should never trust a dog but this one I would trust 99.99%, he was even borrowed by the children from the farm I live on to be taken to school on pets day coz they thought he was nicer than their dog!! He did however relieve his bladder on the teachers leg........

Totally without fault? No, not at all, that would be asking far too much! He has an insatiable appetite for anything. He can find a dead 'something' from miles away, loves fox and badger shit which he can scent from hundreds of yards, will eat sheep feed, hen corn, sheep muck, foot parings......... anything which is left lying and he deems is there for his taking, except tomatoes!! Having said that though he will not thieve, shopping can be in the car and he wont touch it, food can be on the kitchen bench and he'll leave it, he does have some manners.

A dog that has had a chequered life, which I will fill you in on shortly. Watch this space.....

Friday, 9 April 2010

Lambs first hours

“There’s aye something” the shepherd says to me as we stand pondering a couple of lambs, now 48 hours old and dropping with watery mouth.

These lambs had been a dour(quiet) pair to say the least. They had lambed on me the previous night to an extremely kind ewe, had been slow to foot (stand up) and even slower to suck (suckle) with Shep intervening and putting them on to the ewe twice during that night and the following night. This entailed sitting the sheep onto her backside and laying the lambs down, then getting the tit (teat) into their mouths and encouraging them to suck. In all fairness the ewe’s tits were a bit low hung but to many other lambs this would have been no problem. These two were just dozy, quiet, sappy individuals whom you couldn’t help but think had no will to live. They may well have been slightly premature, or they may have been born with a defect which wasn’t obvious to the eye, either way they were going to get their wish, death was heading their way.

There are a number of factors important to a lamb’s survival and well being in the first few hours of its life.

Firstly, that it is born. Mal presentations can cause death. The lamb is supposed to be presented in the ‘diving’ position. Two front feet and a head, coming together. If you imagine your arms outstretched you’ll realise that it narrows your shoulders, this is the required position for a lamb to be born successfully, narrowing its body sufficiently to enable it to pass through the birth canal.

Secondly that the ewe stands up and commences to lick the lamb. Lambs are born in a sheet filled with amniotic fluids. A bit like a bubble or balloon I guess. Often this sheet will break as the lamb is being born, occasionally it doesn’t and the ewe standing and turning around ensures it does break, releases the fluids and allows the lamb to breath. Once born the umbilical cord naturally breaks, once the cord is broken the lamb needs to breathe for itself. If it is what we call ‘in the sheet’ it has a strong chance of suffocation or drowning, this doesn’t take long, there’s been many a time over the years I have run to release a lamb out of the sheet and as many times one has died in the sheet.

By licking the lamb the ewe is not only drying and cleaning it up but she is also setting the lambs circulation away; she is almost massaging the lamb with her tongue; she mutters away lovingly at the same time making that first vocal connection with her new born. The lamb responds by beginning to move as life fills its little body. Its head is the first to be raised and an important sign to look out for. A ‘slow’ lamb will not rush to raise its head, ideally the head should be up within no time, if not there may well be a problem.

Quite literally within a number of minutes the lamb will be thinking of getting footed (standing), a kin to watching someone drunk trying to master their legs. The lamb will wobble and struggle on until finally it succeeds and stands up, this will warm the body and also get the circulation pumping.

Once up on its feet the lamb has a built in instinct to seek out food – milk. Lambs do not graze for a number of days, they are totally dependent on milk to begin with until their stomachs alter and allow them to accept solids.

This is the third important factor towards the survival of the lamb. Colostrum. The name given to the first milk it receives from the ewe. The colostrum is a rich milk, full of natural antibodies which gives the lamb a good start in life. By sucking the lambs digestion kicks in, it’s circulation is already up and running, now it is necessary to get the stomach working well too. As this first milk enters the lambs body you find the lamb begins to shiver. A full lamb will often be seen lying quiet and ‘shivering’ away. I take this as a sign that the milk is working, not only is it warming and feeding the lamb but it is also setting the cogs in motion to get the plumbing sorted.

Because the fourth factor to a lambs survival is that its bowels and waterworks work. A lamb is born with faeces inside of it; this ‘first muck’ has a name which at the moment I can’t recall. It is black in colour and needs to be passed; a lamb which does not pass this muck is susceptible to watery mouth. From then on the colour of the muck takes on a milky look. As in a milky look I mean yellowness. Depending on how much milk and how rich depends on the colour but those who really are getting a belly full will pass muck that is bright yellow, of a claggy consistency and smells like cream cheese ( which in actual fact will be all it really is).

When the lamb heads in for its first suck the ewe will be seen to lick the lambs tail and bottom. Not only is she being motherly and still licking her lamb clean, she is also encouraging it to make its bowels work. This nuzzling on at the lambs backside is yet another vital factor to all things kicking in and getting the young lambs system up and running.

The majority of the time these four factors happen quite naturally. Occasionally they don’t, a lamb doesn’t foot, doesn’t get sucked and doesn’t pass muck. This is where the shepherd comes in to try and sort these problems, keep the lamb alive and prevent it from going down with something such as watery mouth. Which takes us back to the beginning and the shepherd saying “Aye, there’s always something!”

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Morning Has Broken

Let me fill you in on the scenario. It is 6am and the new day has dawned. I’ve just completed my third night shift.

I have a cottage to bide in for the six week duration of my stay on this farm. It is basic but warm. An oil fired rayburn is an absolute god send for cooking, drying and warming. In the sitting room there is a bed and couple of chairs and an open fire, outside there is a dumpy bag full of logs and some coal.

The shepherd here tells me I fetch too much stuff...... Has anyone ever moved from home for a month and had to live in basic accommodation and cater for oneself? There are two pans, one casserole dish, 1mug, 4 plates and that is it other than a washing machine and fridge/freezer.

At the moment I am heading home every day and returning with things I need. Last night I turned up with brush, shovel and poker for the fire, 2 more mugs, dishcloth and ‘phone charger. Tonight it will be kindling sticks (to light the fire), a pen and some paper and anything else I can think of.

Night before last it was the faithful radio, there is no television or for that matter aerial in this property, the radio is a necessity. Now in the summer the aerial of this radio broke and I now rely on a coat hanger for reception. Where the radio worked last year in this cottage it quite flatly refused to pick up reception this year. I moved it and spent what felt like hours twiddling the knob, I was picking up clear reception on a number of channels but once the music playing stopped the DJ’s began talking in foreign languages – not a lot of use to someone who even struggles to understand broad scotch!

Here I am, 36 hours on and I’ve mastered the beast, it is sitting on the little table in the kitchen and Radio Two is coming out of it as clear as a bell, at last I have company and contact with the outside world.

I switched it on this morning whilst the kettle boiled and was taken aback to hear Cat Steven’s rendition of ‘Morning Has Broken’. What a grand way to start the day. One of the few hymns that I really, really like. I’m sure it’s due to the fact it’s one of the few I can remember from my schooldays. It is so significant but even more so at the present moment.

Every morning dawns a new day, the old day goes into the past and the new day is to be lived, new challenges, new surprises – everything is new.

I poddle (wander) around during the night, no flashlight, just my eyes getting accustomed to dark and light. I can’t see the weather. I am aware if it is wet, cold, snowing, windy but I can’t see it. A frosty night stands out bright and starry, the dark nights are just dark nights, I have no idea what the clouds look like or anything, only spotting occasional wildlife through the half light of the shed. A cat, mouse and barn owl were spotted last night.

Eventually morning dawns, this morning is overcast and gloomy – I can see it! ‘Morning has broken, like the first morning’ Mother Nature and luck has allowed me to see yet another morning in all it’s glory. ‘Blackbird has spoken , like the first bird’ – the morning chorus sets up just prior to day break, the birds tweeting and twittering away as though it is their first morning, they are as excited to see it as I am and eventually as the morning dawns I am also allowed the pleasure of seeing them.

Early morning is such a magical time, whatever the weather conditions, it is a marvel that it has come around again. A fresh day ahead, something new to look forward to. And off to a good footing this morning thanks to Cat Steven’s rendition of ‘Morning has broken’. It’s Easter Sunday apparently by the radio, to me the days are all the same, I need a diary or calendar to remember where in the week I am, at least I don’t have to remember where I have to be!

Monday, 5 April 2010

In like a lion – out like a lamb.

That’s what the saying is for the month of March. If it comes in like a lion it will go out like a lamb. This year it worked in reverse. March most definitely came in like a lamb. Snowfall at the end of February ceased and March saw still, frosty days.

The frosty days continued through into the middle of the month and probably beyond. Good weather to work in and dry underfoot, it made life quite pleasant. There was a drawback however, seems like everything comes at a price. No Grass.

The cold weather was again preventing any grass from growing. Tarset was barren, fields were brown and bare. Not just Tarset but further beyond as well. A farmer headed over west on Mothering Sunday to find there was no greenness over their either. We weren’t the only ones suffering at the hands of the long winter.

Eventually life looked up slightly. It would be over enthusiastic to say the grass grew but the ground did freshen up. A few wet days basically washed the ground and gave the grass that green hue it is meant to have. Exciting times, optimism was growing that the nearing lambing season may well be saved by grass finally growing.

Unfortunately the weather worsened. March had come in like a lamb and believe you me it went out like a lion – teeth barred the lot, she was mean as she took us into April.

Cold winds from the North and East swept the countryside and brought with it the weather so accustomed from that art – cold weather, wintry weather.

The 31st March was lamb killing weather. Those due to lamb at the beginning of April were having lambs arriving and the weather was trying very hard to take them away again. Driving rain, sleet and snow with a perishing cold wind was what we had to endure. Shep wasn’t happy, cold and wet, barely able to lift my face to the weather but my problems were nothing compared to the stock who were desperately trying to seek shelter from the driving, persistent cold.

The 1st April dawned white in Tarset, this was no April Fool, this was for real. The shepherd out bye would be worst affected in the area, his rough hill ground appeared to be lily white, a sure sign of depth of snow. A surreal morning, one could have been forgiven for thinking you were in the depths of the winter months, except – the skylarks and curlews were calling, our spring ground nesting birds were going about their business most probably wondering why on earth they had bothered to come back and visit.

I headed off lambing that night in the knowledge that 6 inches of snow had fallen where I was going, the electricity had been off for 36hours, trees had been brought down with the weight of wet, heavy snow. Needless to say a shovel and bag of salt travelled with me over the border and into Scotland.

Here we are, nearing the end of the first week of April and life is cold. Grass is none existent. Sheep are hungry. Lambs are being born onto wet, cold ground. These aren’t the hardy hill lambs which are being born at the moment but the softer, barer skinned in-bye type lambs; lambs less capable of coping with inclement weather, weather which is hitting both in-bye and out-bye places.

Ewes are feeding their lambs but as the lambs grow they want more milk, there’s no grass for the ewes, no natural way of boosting their fitness and milk production. Supplementary feeding is being shoved into these sheep but still lambs are beginning to lose their ‘bloom’, the signs are there that milk supplies are not lifting as they ought. Ewes are still grateful to receive hay as well as the hard feed, although many are now getting painfully short on the hay and silage front, the long winter having taken its toll on the reserves which were harvested last summer.

There ought to be grass, sheep ought to be going off the idea of eating hay preferring the sweetness of the new growth which ought to be showing in their fields, that’s how it all works. This year it isn’t working at all. All it is doing is causing a great deal of hard work and heartbreak.

Tales are already filtering back of great losses of lambs in the stormy weather from a few days back. Anything which did not have a full tummy would succumb but seemingly even those lambs carrying a bit age also dropped. Heart breaking.

Tarset is lucky in one respect that the early lambings are only just beginning, maybe the weather will pick up next week? The ground is so cold and wet now that a dry warm spell is desperately needed. A warm spell would suffice if necessary although the idea of dry too would be gratefully received.

Hill sheep are weakening as their burden is getting heavier, some are being lost to drains (open ditches) which are full of flood water from the wet and snow; the heavily pregnant ewes are struggling to navigate these obstacles. Twin lamb disease is still a problem and not one easily resolved. Life at the moment for the sheep is shite – no polite way of putting it I’m afraid. That’s life. Not always rosy and often a challenge.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Lambing time

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Shep’s away night lambing. 1st April was the date and off I headed over the Scottish Borders to lamb Cheviot sheep in a shed. Cheviot sheep in lamb to a Suffolk tup.

These sheep get out during the day and are usually only housed on darkening. However the inclement weather of late and the fact this area had suffered a good 6 inches of snow meant the ewes had been held in the shed for a number of days.

I don’t rightly like lambing in a shed but it’s the season and work is needed. I am also tiring of lambing at nights, although my choice of nights has a sound reason. I find there are too many distractions during the day time, people coming and going and on the odd occasion too many chiefs.
At night you’re on your own and can concentrate on the job in hand.

I wasn’t exactly rushed off my feet on my first night shift, but then as I am lambing a very small flock I never will be. The days of lambing 2,000 ewes seem distant, in those days it was usual to have 70 – 100 ewes lamb at night (there were two of us!) I had the grand total of 7 on my first night! Hence the chance to get these photos.
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The ewe is very close to giving birth and looking for a comfortable spot to lie down.
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She puts a bit of effort into the job and out pops the lamb. It has caught the attention of another ewe - a thief!
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Helpful for getting the lamb licked clean but the thieving ewe finds herself penned up out of the way as the lambing ewe has another lamb to arrive yet.
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This scenario is where the thieving ewe would have caused a lot of bother, coaxing the lamb away from it's mother whilst she was giving birth to the second lamb. Fortunately the offender is in a pen out of the way of temptation.
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Job done, the ewe is left to bond for a while with her new born before they are moved into an individual pen. Lambed outside this wouldn't be necessary, they wouldn't have to be penned up as they would have more room away from other sheep to settle down and lamb. There is the exception though....pinching ewes seem to be able to hone in on lambing ewes from a great distance!!

And so, one of the seven I had lambed on me. It was a bitterly cold night, hard frost. The ewes lambed throughout the night at a steady pace (as 7 would!) Thief's were on the go, ewes yet to lamb who think it would be a lot easier to pinch someone else’s lamb than have one themselves. These are highly frustrating sheep and can cause a great deal of trouble, if they succeed in pinching a lamb often the true mother wont have it back, she no longer recognises it as hers – not a favourable scenario. You need to keep your wits about you when these thieving sheep are on the go.

Morning dawned and I had a chance to regain my sanity by going to the hill to feed the ewes I will be lambing in a fortnight. I waited until the sun got up a bit as the temperature was decidedly chilly, a very hard frost and snow lying all around. It rounds my shift off nicely to go out and see the hill ewes, feed them and check all’s well. I’ll be at my happiest when they come on to lamb and the shed lambing is over.