Saturday, 26 February 2011

D'y want a laugh?

There was a little bit of a 'do' held recently, an opportunity to see a local artists 'work in progress', invitations were sent out to all and sundry with those who could attending.

Now Shep trundled along in the customary wellies and leggin's, it was a kinda outdoorish studio you appreciate and I had been kinda working and just trotted along on the way home. I knew the artist wouldn't mind and most of the folks there would know me well enough not to be offended.

It was an interesting hour or two, much to take your interest and many to have a crack with, there was also mulled wine, homemade biscuits and buns (modernly known as cup cakes). Have to say I quite enjoyed myself.

The other half unfortunately was unable to attend, probably more conscientious than myself he was working (I had been - honest!). However, the hostess kindly offered a goodie bag for him, some biscuits and buns were wrapped in tin foil and off I went, heading home with 'offerings'.

I remembered I had to call in with a message for a neighbour as I passed their house and duly shared a cup of tea with them and a bit more crack - I was having a grand time, the dogs however were probably not too impressed at being stuck in the car and missing out on the socialising, although they ought to have been tired and enjoying a bit of a rest.

The following is a version of the e-mail I sent later that night to the hostess, hope it raises a smile!

"Err, umm............

I got home, after quickly calling in to see my neighbour, and thought it best to drag out the suspense for the other half.

I told him to close his eyes and hold his hands out whilst I explained how kind you had been and that you had sent him something as he had been unable to attend your thingy this afternoon.

He opened his eyes and stared in wonderment at the tin foil lying in his hands, I could see the excitement building as he moved the tin foil around between his fingers, however, his imagination was lacking and his face soon took on a quizzical look.

"what's this?" he asked
"a gift from the artist" I replied
"Bits of tin foil?"
"Well, yes.......... well no, not really. Y'see there were these nice biscuits with pink icing and then there were the buns, which also had icing and chocolate stars on them, all wrapped up in tin foil, except they're not there anymore. But you have got the tin foil!!"

I then made the mistake of adding how tasty they had been and how kind it had been of the artist to think of him.


"No, NO............ it wasn't me........"

Oh dear! very sorry, it was a bit late on dawning on me when I was in drinking tea that my young dog may well have helped himself to the other halves goodies - I wasn't to be disappointed as I found shards of tin foil all over the front of the car but not a scrap of anything tasty left.................

On Monday I had been working in Cumbria, I always get sent home with sausage and cheese for the other half (it's a long story), anyhow, I called to see my 'mother-in-law' on the way home and never thought about the sausage and cheese on the front seat of the car, happed up with coats and things I may add.

Y'see my two older dogs will not take anything from the car, or anywhere else. I can trust them not to thieve and take it for granted, however, the young fella obviously doesn't know this particular rule because on returning to the car I had tiny fragments of sausage and cheese wrappings all over the drivers seat and no signs of the sausage or cheese......................

It has been a bad week, no sausage, no cheese, no biscuits, no cake......... and a car full of shredded wrappings!

The other half did very much appreciate your kind thought though......... thank you very much from Kale"

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Lice and de-lousing

I have already said that the elderly sheep keepers sheep were found to be lousy, it was time to do something about it. Unfortunately horrendous wet days prevented treatment for a while. Eventually the weather looked up and the sheep were fetched in.

I had opted to use a pour on (known as a back liner in Australia). It is an easy, simple approach to dealing with the problem, puts the sheep under minimum stress and is relatively effective. The injectables on the market only seem to cover sheep scab and not lice. The pour ons only seem to cover lice and not sheep scab. Never mind, lice is the problem to be dealt with so all will be well.
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Many of the sheep showed no outward signs of having 'the itch' however this ewe had managed to scratch on at herself until a bald area had appeared on her flank. Note the wool on her horn.
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Closer inspection shows exposed bare pink skin beneath the wool, must be chilly for her!

There are a number of pour ons on the market. Some which just require a 5ml spot of the chemical placed onto the skin, others which require a pin stripe run down their backs. I opted for the latter.
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Administered by way of an automatic gun (similar to a dosing gun) the chemical is squirted along the back line of the sheep as a stripe, reaching from shoulder to tail head. It has a dye to enable you to see which sheep have been treated, this dye wears off the backs of the sheep in a day or two.

Have to say I had great fun trying to photograph myself but hey! succeeded! You may notice that I am wearing disposable gloves. It is precautionary, one ought to wear protective clothing and wash any splashes off your skin.

In actual fact this particular product and I do not see eye to eye. I have dealt with many chemicals, doses and dips over the years and this is by far the worst, I now have a low tolerance should any get onto my skin and as there is always the fear of a gun leaking I tend to err on the side of caution. Waterproof leggings wrinkle and blister if they get too much of this stuff onto them - slightly unnerving!

The pour on works by spreading through the natural grease of the wool therefore spreading across the body and presumably poisoning those nasty little lice. The sheep do not get immeadiate relief, the product needs time to work and the sheeps skin needs time to 'cool down' and stop itching. As each day passes the sheep will be feeling more comfortable until the day comes when their itch is just a distant memory.

In actual fact I could find no reference on the bottle regarding use on dry wool or that it had to be in place for a number of hours before rained upon. Maybe I could have treated these sheep on those wet days? Not to worry, they are done and with no fear of the pour on being washed off before it had time to work, which is good.
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It wasn't just the sheep which were happy to have been treated, the elderly sheep keeper also seemed quite happy, even though I had been repeatedly told that she had never had lice in her sheep before "mebbes you haven't, but you have now!" was my reply.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Lousy sheep

On a bad day I can often utter "lousy sheep!" Although that is probably a polite version! Lice and sheep is what I am going to rabbit on about this time, lousy sheep!. I am naturally moving on from the last three postings - Ornate horns, Dancing sheep, and Itchy sheep, we have now progressed to Lousy Sheep.

Lice in sheep is becoming more prevalent in the British Isles, as are other ectoparasite problems such as Sheep Scab - the reason? Well, up until 1992 it was compulsory to plunge dip your sheep in a diluted organophosphate solution. This had been common practice for many years in an attempt to eradicate Sheep Scab from our country.

Our servicemen fought in the gulf war of 1990 and upon their return some complained of something called organophosphate poisoning, which the government swept under the carpet and refused to acknowledge. Shortly afterwards our government deemed it was no longer necessary to have to compulsory dip sheep for sheep scab, even though the problem had still not been totally eradicated from our sheep flocks. There was even a new dip came upon the market, a more user friendly one, a cypermethrin based dip which by chance has now been taken off the market as it has been proven to have adverse affects on the environment. Interestingly enough regulations were brought into force where upon anyone wishing to work with OP dips had to either go on a course (which cost a fair bit of money - I know!) to become certified in the safe use of organophosphate dips or they had to work alongside someone who had attended and passed the course.

So all in all, since 1992 it has no longer been compulsory to plunge dip your sheep. Many were relieved. Hill men continued the tradition but even they got lax as the years went by and less staff were available on the farms. Other products came upon the market, injectables and external 'pour ons' became available. These all made the job far easier. However there is no product available which will control every external parasite on the sheep other than an organophosphate. Those that deal with scab don't cover for lice and vice versa. The most successful option to control external parasites on your sheep flock at the present moment still remains to fully submerge your sheep by plunge dipping with an organophosphate solution, however, it is not always the most favourable.

The conclusion of all this is that sheep lice is becoming a common problem amongst our flocks and sheep scab too is on the increase.

Sheep scab is far more severe than lice, however lice themselves can cause a great deal of trouble to a flock, especially as it seems to get a good hold in the winter months when ewes are in lamb, grazing is poor and life can be tough enough for sheep without ending up being itchy with it.

January to March seems the optimum time for louse infestations in this country, sheep can be carrying lice for a long duration, when they are clipped a high percentage are lost from the body via the fleece that has been removed, the remainder slowly go about their business, until their numbers gradually increase and the conditions on the sheep become favourable to the louse, which seems to be during the winter months. This almost proves the tales I was brought up with of lice 'lying dormant'. The fact that sheep lice only live on sheep and don't survive for long off sheep probably disproves the tale I was accustomed to that they can pick them up from the hay they are being fed on.

Louse activity has been linked with poor health conditions in the sheep. I am apt to question this. I'm not a scientist, or a veterinarian, I have no letters behind my name, didn't go on to higher education so probably am not in a position to speak authoritatively on the matter. However, my observations lead me to question that an under lying health issue may be the cause of lice. There is no doubt that in some flocks it may well be the cause but on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week I found myself in Scotland working with the sheep which I lamb. I haven't seen these sheep since I clipped them, they are running on high ground in the Scottish borders and have had a rough winter (as have many flocks), I was gobsmacked at how fit they were, not just fit but bordering on fat. They were full of life, carrying a lot of fettle and they had lice. I can safely say that in this instance I do not believe poor physical health had any connection with the sheep being lousy.

There is however, no doubt in my mind, that lice can cause poor health. Bearing in mind that the lice seem to multiply and go forth during the winter months and through to early spring. Sheep can find themselves heavily infested if left untreated. Pregnant ewes especially are reaching the later stages of their pregnancy and they are exerting energy scratching, biting and rubbing on, their wool begins to drop out exposing bare pink skin, the weather proof coat is dropping off allowing the cold and wet to get in and chill. Stress. The sheep are finding themselves under physical stress at a time when they need all their reserves to keep themselves and their growing foetus' going, surely this is going to help cause poor health? I believe so.

Regardless, I'm sure that anyone with any pride in their flock will want to treat their sheep should they show signs of scratching and discomfort. Once it is clear in your mind which parasite you are dealing with (should their be any doubt a vet will soon be able to confirm which creepy crawlies are to blame)there are a number of products available on the market to get the problem under control.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Itchy sheep

Okay, I've kept you all on tenter hooks all week, sheep with wool on their horns, dancing hoggs....... The title ought to give the game away - ITCHY SHEEP - quite simple!
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The above ewe set the alarm bells ringing. I had gone for a quick gander around the elderly sheep keepers field. The weather had been atrocious and I doubted whether or not she would have been and looked her sheep for a day or two, so off I took myself for a wander. I needed to check the walls hadn't blown down, there were empty feed tubs to collect from the corners they had been blown into and of course the health of the sheep was also high on the list, a quick check to ensure they hadn't taken too much hurt during the previous squally days.

I saw this ewe almost as soon as I entered the field and wasn't too chuffed. The fence was a bit of a give away also.
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Having walked around ensuring all was well with the boundary walls and fences I headed back to my car, picked up the camera and went back to the flock. I knew there would be explanatory photos to take and the five minutes ended up being more like twenty as the sheep didn't seem to wish to show off to the camera, they would turn their backs, hide behind another....... basically do anything but pose for the shot! I persevered tho'!
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When sheep get itchy they like to scratch - don't we all? Horned sheep turn their heads back and dig their horns into their shoulders and flanks, having a good old ratch on, all sheep will bite back at themselves, scratch up at their bellies with their back feet and rub themselves on fences, walls and any suitable scratching post.
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This hogg (the star of the very shaky video clip) doesn't have horns to help her reach that itchy spot, she is biting back at herself, throws her head around abit in the hope that itch in the neck may just abate, basically she becomes frustrated that she can't just reach the spot.
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Sitting down on her backside may just help, can she reach around and hit that spot, get rid of that itch? She did finally lay herself down and wriggle around on her side (which is how sheep can get cast on their backs and end up kessing) So frustrating for her not to be able to ease that awful itching sensation.
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This ewe faired better, managing to stick her horn just in the back of the shoulder to have a good howk on. Is she smiling? probably grimacing! They can look as though they are smiling because their lips will often be moving at the same time, a desire to nibble and chew on at the annoying itch which they really can't reach.

It is this scratching on with the horns which causes wool to get wrapped around the horn, or hang off the horns which is the reason alarm bells rang when I first spotted the sheep with wool on her horns, it is a sure sign something is amiss. Sure enough something was amiss.

Sheep can get naturally itchy in the warmer months prior to being shorn, they get sweaty and uncomfortable under their heavy fleeces and can feel uncomfortable. This is not an excuse for them in the colder winter months.

When there are itchy sheep and many of them at that it means one thing - parasites, some creepy crawlies creepy crawling over the sheep's skins and causing discomfort, either due to the little blighters biting their host or a reaction to the parasite and whatever it discharges from it's body.

These sheep have got creepy crawlies. Left unattended the condition will worsen, their wool will fall out, their skin will get sore and their condition will melt (they will lose physical condition). The parasites themselves do not kill the sheep, it is the permanent discomfort, the never ending desire to scratch, bite, rub against something which drains the sheep physically and could probably eventually kill them. There is also the worry of infection from sore skin should the condition be left untreated.
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The fleece will eventually take on a scraggy look about it, the above could well be mistaken for a wooled sheep which has been stuck in wire or some such, however, closer inspection will reveal bare patches of skin below the fleece, the fleece is literally becoming unattached from the skin, and not like shearing time when there is a new growth of wool left on the body, this is quite literally down to the skin.
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The above photo shows the exposed skin of a sheep which had been affected for some time with creepy crawlies. Pink bare skin, with a crusty look about it, not very pleasant.

How does this happen? Where do the creepy crawlies come from? Well, I don't have all the answers, some are able to live in the ears and around the eyes, others can lie dormant for a long time waiting for a host to trot along and pick them up. In this case I'm presuming that as there are no neighbouring sheep through the fence that the itch either came from a neighbours sheep which crept into the field and remained there for the duration of the snowy weather or else it has probably come from the hay which they are eating.
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There is no doubt that the itch will have spread throughout the flock by them having contact with one another whilst feeding at the hay heck.

So what parasite have they got? Again I don't know, I would very much hope it isn't sheep scab and would tend to presume it is lice. There are many ways of treating the cause. The ideal solution would be to dip the sheep(submersing the sheep in a 'bath' of diluted sheep dip). Sheep dip would eradicate any of the external parasites which can affect sheep. There are also chemicals which can be poured along the sheeps back and their are injections available.

I intend to treat these sheep with a pour on, it is kind to the sheep and very effective against lice. Once I have them in the sheep pens I will check through their wool, lice are quite easy to spot and once I've got my eye on the little blighters I'll feel a lot happier as sheep scab is a greater problem, extremely smitten and can easily pass from flock to flock and takes a bit more dealing with.

The weather needs to fair up as the pour on has to be applied to fairly dry wool and preferably not be rained upon for a few hours. I will let you know how we got on at a later date.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Dancing Sheep?

The last posting showed a ewe with wool on her horns, comical character she was. I did promise to reveal all in this posting ( YIKES! I think I ought to rephrase that! explain all is what I mean), but instead decided to share with you this clip of a dancing sheep. Sad I know!! Apologies for the dreadful camera shake, think I was probably dancing more than the sheep was.

Anyhow, this may not have revealed why the sheep had wool on her horns but it is another vital clue, as this particular cross bred hogg belonged to the same flock as the ewe with the woolly horns. I'm sure you must have all sussed it out by now, and yes, I will explain it all in the next posting - promise!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Ornate horns?

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How peculiar! A sheep with wool hanging off it's horns. Let's have a closer look....
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She really does look quite comical. 'S'pose sheep with horns are bound to get wool tangled up on them, when they run past the other sheep it'll naturally happen - won't it?

Well won't it?

I'm going to leave you all to ponder on this one, the next posting will reveal the answer, in the meantime, don't laugh at the poor ewe too much, she might just get a complex about herself!!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

The horror of it....... and power cuts too!

Mother nature has been up to her antics this past week. Tarset has found itself under attack by the vengeance of the weather. Fortunately nothing like the weather in Australia or even America but still wild, unkempt, untamed and ferocious.

Wet and windy would be a slight under statement, wet and wild even sounds slightly tame. Gales and pissistently horizontal rain kinda sums it up. Now I don't know how the wind strength is recorded, we have been told we've had gusts ranging from 60 - 80mph, I'll take the met offices word for that.

My own personal observations were that the gusts of wind easily knocked you off balance, opening and shutting gates were mammoth tasks requiring a great deal of strength and the rain which was powering down from the skies managed to do so horizontally, often appearing to be pouring from the ground as much as it was from the sky.

Thursday night was a corker.

It's quite interesting as Wednesday was a foul sort of a day, Shep ended up doing the dreaded book work, the year end has arrived and they have to be done, can't upset the tax office by not getting my yearly returns in (I would sooner pay my taxes than face the fines). There is never a good day for the job but a squally, wet,windy miserable day is about the best you can get I guess and so that is what I did.

Now Thursday saw Shep assisting at a scanning. It was a mild day and very windy which saw the ground drying up after the conditions of the previous day, the weather forecasters had warned of severe weather conditions coming in later in the day and we weren't to be disappointed.

I said it was quite interesting......... well it is, the way the weather turns. Wet and windy on Wednesday followed by drying winds on Thursday.... then followed by an onslaught........ Interesting!!

The weather started before darkening and it was wild, truly wild. Tucked up in the house we sat wondering what would be the first to succumb. Would it be the roof, the chimney, maybe the tree outside? Oh! we were going to go to the village hall weren't we?

Once a month during the winter nights we have a film screening at our village hall and this was the night, oh! Did we really want to drag ourselves away from the warmth and safety of the house to trot along to the village hall? The truthful answer was no, most definitely no. However, Shep has a penchant for scary films and the viewing that night was to be 'The Birds' a film I'd never seen,a film made before my time, a film which I had heard was really scary, so scary in fact that the other half thought he'd better accompany me to hold my hand. Good grief - MUST be scary!

So off we went to our local village hall to be scared, on what was already a naturally scary night.......

There was a great deal of surface water on the roads, gusts of wind buffeted the car and even once inside the wooden village hall I was envisaging the tin roof lifting off whilst we sat there.

The atmosphere was set. Wind howling and whistling outside, rain lashing at the windows and a horror film to watch............ The heart was pounding!!

The film was in colour. Colour! I thought it was a black and white world in the early sixties, I was obviously mistaken.

What a hilarious night, I am so pleased we dragged ourselves out.

The film was not proving to be terribly scary but was truly amusing. The highlight of the evening had to be that every time we reached what might have been classed as a nail biting scene - wait for it - the power failed. The electric went off and we found ourselves sitting in the dark with the wind and rain howling and lashing down against the walls of the village hall along with something mysteriously clattering in the kitchen.

The power would resume, the dvd would be fast forwarded, we'd all sit transfixed, waiting expectantly for that next terrifying moment and just as it was about to spring onto the screen............. the power would go off and once again we were all plummeted into darkness - hilarious!! What with the power cuts (of which there were many) and the imitation clock work birds which were to be seen in the background of the scenes, oh! and the teetering around on high heels in the sand, the indestructible suit which never creased, wrinkled or appeared to pick up any dirt for all it was worn for days (unfortunately it got ruined by the birds in the final scene!) the whole evening turned into one of those that "could only happen in Tarset". A night I will remember for a long time to come!!

We got home safe and sound, the power flicked on and off most of the night as I lay in bed wondering if this WAS the night, would our ancient little wooden cottage finally succumb? Would I awaken in the morning to find the premises had collapsed around me and I would be lying there in full view of the outside world? I wrapped the quilt tighter around my body in the hope that should the worst case scenario happen I could save some dignity during the proceedings!

Friday dawned and the cottage was still standing, somehow Kale's kennel door had managed to come open during the night and the foolish little soul was to be found sitting outside in the weather. The electric was still on and breakfast was made before heading off to gather.

The weather worsened, on arriving to gather it was wet and windy, half way through the proceedings the weather picked up strength and conditions became very poor. All credit to the dogs for hearing their commands against gale force winds. Sheep were eventually dropped into ground nearer at hand and Shep returned home, the weather was foul and there was no point in pushing the sheep into the pens and dosing them, it wasn't fit for man nor beast.

On returning home I found the power was off. The better half was grumbling that he couldn't get a cup of coffee. Are we really that dependant on electric power?

In this household the answer is no. But for many life grinds to a halt without electricity. We are getting far too dependant on a commodity which we take for granted. An issue which never fails to amaze me, especially with living out in the sticks - in a rural area.

We are prepared for power cuts, not by having camping stoves on hand to cook with, not because we have a generator for back up. No, this house was built many years ago when electricity most probably wasn't taken for granted, when people appreciated the wonderment of electricity and could recall the days without. Our house is fitted with what I believe is known as a "Triplex"

An open fire with back boiler for heating the water, a grate which has two trivets which can be rotated to be positioned over the burning fire where pots and pans can be placed for heating and cooking, an oven at the side of the fire which is very simply operated by pulling a handle which opens a flue at the bottom of the fire and draws the heat through into the oven. Very simple and a god send on the rare occasions we have power failures.

The other half mebbes couldn't manage a cup of coffee but within twenty minutes I managed a cup of tea.
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The oven cooked the casserole that night, which is pretty much the norm as the electric oven is just a back up, the majority of our cooking throughout the winter months is done in the oven next to the fire, the fire is on anyhow so why burn electric? The electric rings are usually used for the pans however as the fire has to be low to use the trivets.

Living in a rural area I honestly think we ought to accept that the power may well fail and there ought to be back up plans in place for such happenings. Many farmhouses have rayburn or aga cookers but many of those are now dependant on oil for running them, there are fewer and fewer which can be fed with coal or logs. A cottage in the area was 'done up' a few years back and the self same fire as our own was ripped out in favour of a log burning stove, this is a rural cottage, a distance from a tarmac road and one which you would imagine would be more prone to weather induced power disruptions than those nearer to civilisation.

We were fortunate and the electricity resumed on darkening. I had the candles lit, the flashlights out, batteries in the radio, dinner prepared during daylight and hey presto! power returned! Some weren't so lucky and had to wait until the next day to get their power back on. The electricity board did well under poor working conditions to sort the problem for some of us so quickly.

Why do we presume we'll always have electricity at the flick of a switch? Why are rural properties not better prepared for a power cut? Why are some rural householders not prepared for lengthy spells of snow bound weather? Why are old horror films funny?

I guess we ought to be prepared to expect the unexpected. After all, the unexpected can often be more than you expected!