Sunday, 29 April 2012

An antisocial update

We're almost to the first Tuesday in May - my god! already! The last Tuesday in April was more than alright for Shep away over the border, apparently there were monsoon rains over home - poor souls! Not to worry, I was dry for once, and warm although it is hard to believe now, just under a week on.

 I have been invited out to supper tonight, with long standing friends who shepherd next door to where I am working. What a grand feed, lamb shank (that's why we work with the buggers - so's we can eat them!), pudding too which was delicious and then here am I being antisocial, sitting infront of their coal fire and blogging!

The dongling thing is a pain in the proverbial and basically I have given up, I dread to think what it might be costing me to get no where fast, in fact I can spend a great deal of my very valuable spare time getting no where slowly let alone fast, and so it is that I have commondered the computer here at my friends house and am frantically trying to get you all up to date on the crack.

 The lambing is getting through, shed in over the back with only 30 left to lamb at the 12 day stage, there are far more left over the front and I have yet to shed them in. There have been many trials and tribulations but a lot of fun (!!??) It is perishingly cold at the moment and Shep has got chilblains for company, probably thanks to the soaking on THAT Tuesday.

 There is much to report but not the time at the moment, or ought I say not the internet connection. I am going to have to pack in here tonight as the laughter is causing a great deal of lack of concentration, apparently my typing away sounds like a mouse scurrying around in the loft, also we have just worked out that I first worked for this particular shepherd 22 years ago and over the years clocked up at least a dozen lambings for him. He eventually moved into Scotland and hoped he'd got shot of me and then lo' and behold, I take the lambing job next door!!

 Enough of the anti socials, I've had a great supper, enjoyed human company for a change, have a fortnight left at the lambing, all is going well, there are many stories but no time to tell them, thanks to those who have sent goodie bags, bubble bath, letters, e-mails (when I get them) and of course texts. I'm having a ball, divvent worry about me.

 I'm gonna sign off and enjoy the crack as it'll soon be time to head 'home', we still all have to rise early in the mornings, tomorrow sees both my company tonight and myself reaching the 14th day of the lambing (17 day cycle), it is slowly getting through!

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Another Tuesday! (17th April)

That is what I was told this morning “Way..... it’s Tuesday you know”. The remark was in answer to my question as to whether or not the day was going to fair up. 6am and I was heading to the hill, if it was going to fair up I would have waited - what a foul morning! The shepherd had shot down to check the shed, all 7 of them! I had looked them before retiring for the night, he looked them in the morning to ensure I wouldn’t be held up heading out to the hill. A wicked smile as he told me he was heading back in for his early morning coffee as I headed out - happed (covered) up like an Eskimo, or so I was told.

Tuesday? Yup, that atrocious arctic snowy day was Tuesday 3rd April, Tuesday 10th April, the day my hill ewes started to lamb, was an equally atrocious morning and here we were – yet another Tuesday, the 17th, and truly abysmal weather, thank fully there is now only one Tuesday left in April, should the trend continue!

Shep and Moss headed out on the quad. Very strong, bitterly cold wind which drove rain, ice and snow right through you, ugh! It was awful. With hindsight (such a wonderful thing) I ought to have turned around and had a second cup of coffee, but I didn’t!

By the time we reached the top of the Dodlaw I was nithered (very cold), everything felt saturated. Raising my head against the onslaught was painful on the face; eyes were screwed up to stop the cold icy whatever stinging the eyeballs. I had passed a new lambed pair, busying themselves getting footed, that natural instinct was driving them on.
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Once up on the top of this carbuncle it is necessary to get off the bike and walk down the hillside a short way to allow a better view of the ground. Shep ain’t good at heights, this is steep ground to what I am accustomed to and it doesn’t always take much for the vertigo to set in. This morning was no exception as Moss went sideways and I wondered if I would topple over. The strength of the wind out on the top there was unbelievable, I made a mental note to eat more chocolate, more ballast was obviously needed!

Over the top and onto the two cuts of sheep away over the back saw more shelter, still bitterly cold, still wet and icy but definitely more shelter. My face was stinging, my hands getting cold, for all they were encased in a good pair of gloves and the bike has heated hand grips they were still suffering. As was my backside, it was getting colder and colder and feeling wetter and wetter. I was half way round my trip around the hill when I realised what a plonker I was. My discomfort found me sheltering from the onslaught in the back of a dyke (wall). Gloves off and I rolled a fag, it was bliss to crouch down out of the unrelenting wind and shite that was being thrown at me, Moss cuddled in, he too appreciated the few moments of shelter.

Down on my honkers in the back of the wall I caught sight of my leggings – what a prat! Neither wonder I felt so bloody cold. I have two pairs of wellies and leggings with me, a fair weather pair and a wet weather pair. Basically, a brand new set and a set which are ripped and shredded, fine for keeping me warm and clean but no use for keeping me dry. Which pair had I put on?? Need I tell you? Some folk just don’t have the sense they were born with!

There were lambs a plenty, regardless of the weather conditions the ewes had been spitting them out. Most were new lambed, all were footed, nothing was taking any serious hurt. I eventually got in for my breakfast as the weather started to improve.

It would have been a strange sight should I not have been living alone, as I dropped my britches (trousers) peeled soggy knickers off my now numb arse then opened the top oven door of the aga and turned my back to it in an attempt to get some feeling back into that expanse of myself I had been sitting on for the past few hours. I feel sure that if I had wet myself I would have been drier and probably warmer than I was at that moment in time. The offending wellies and leggings found themselves pushed away into a corner, no fear of jumping into them again in a hurry as I depart in the mornings in a sleepy haze.
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Thankfully the day improved. My next lap and all subsequent journeys were done in the dry. A cold, cold wind but sunshine did grace on occasions. There were a couple of lambs not sucked on my return, they got sorted and all was well. Full tummies and they will survive the rigours of the weather.

I had the pleasure of being able to sit and watch the dipper for a short while later that morning. I have seen it fly down the burn at ‘my’ spot once in the time I’ve been here, so I knew it was still on the water. Whether the same one that I have seen over the past five years I wouldn’t like to say but it definitely uses the same stretch of water. Today the burn was full and the little cheerful dipper did his bobbing act on a stone in the middle of the burn, then kindly dived into the water, swam under before once again appearing back up on top of another stone. He did this twice as I watched before heading further downstream and out of sight. I really do have a penchant for dippers, such cheery little things; memories of the early morning onslaught soon began to vanish as I went on my way with a spring in my step.
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Not wanting to sit still for a photo, preferring to sniff his armpits !
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Then deciding the smell was too much - time to leave!

The buzzards were busy today as well, soaring up and up and up on the thermals. Ravens too were to be seen and of course the corbie crows (carrion crow). There was another bird............ I need my bird book. I have borrowed one from the shepherd but it ain’t up to scratch. I’ve seen this bird once before, two years ago and whilst I was lambing here. It’s huge - massive wingspan. I’d like to think it’s an osprey; however, I may well be wrong.

A wheatear on the final lap tonight kindly alighted on a fence post right beside me; they are bonny in their own right and cheerful with it. The day finished on a high, a slight shower saw a rainbow arc across the sky – a grand way to put the day to bed!
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Monday, 16 April 2012

Lambing a ewe

Sometimes sheep need assistance to get lambed succesfully. By succesfully I mean that hopefully the outcome will be a live sheep and a live lamb.

For what ever reason ewes do occasionally struggle, it is our job to try and work out when to intervene and when is best left alone. I always prefer leaving alone but there are times when intervention is necessary.

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Ewes tend to pick their spot, both indoors and outdoors, they choose where they intend to settle down and lamb. They sniff the ground, sometimes scratch at it, turn around a few times to decide which way they want to point before lying down to commence labour. Restless they can be. They can be up and down like yoyos whilst lambing, often turning around to check whether it is there yet or not, huge look of disapointment on their faces to find that it isn't! That is exactly what the above ewe is doing, her waters probably broke and she is dismayed to find that is all that happened.
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Time to lie down and have another go.
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and smile for the camera at the same time, I don't think she'd be impressed if she thought she looked cute or comical, she'd probably sum it up as uncomfortable at the very least

This ewe put a great deal of effort into her labour, there were some enormous pushes came out of her
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Finally something was happening, there was a foot - definitely a foot and a front one at that, excellent! Lambs ought to come into this world with two front feet and a nose, this was a pretty good start.
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A great deal more effort was put into the proceedings, and even more effort still. For all the effort this ewe put into getting shot of her lamb the view remained the same - one foot.

When a ewe really pushes and strains on for a duration it is expected that the view might well change, two feet? a nose even?
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In this case there was just a foot, one very lonely foot and one ewe tiring. Shep intervened.

On further inspection there was no doubt a big lamb was trying to head into this world, the size of the feet and the strength of the bone on its leg said it all, the other leg was tucked up, doing a grand job of putting the brakes on, making the bulk greater than it ought to be for sliding out of the ewe.
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The second foot was encouraged to come and join it's mate, make life a bit easier for the ewe.
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Once both feet were out the legs did follow along with the first sighting of a nose.
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Then the head began to come into view.
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It was a big head to match the big feet and strong legs. I applied pressure to the legs, not pulling, just keeping taut. As the ewe pushed she found the lamb edged out easier with the assistance I was giving
eventually even more lamb came out into the open.
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Success! Even though the lamb isn't completely out of the ewes body it is already lifting it's head, she will soon be up on her feet.

This lamb had found the mucus removed from it's nose as soon as the nose had come into the open, do to my intervention, it is one of the first things we all do, ready for it's first gasp, the least slutter there is for it to draw onto it's lungs the better. The above photograph also illustrates how easy it can be to lose a lamb at this stage. Should the sheet on the lamb not have broken and the ewe decides to take a well deserved breather before springing to her feet the lamb will find itself either breathing in all the fluids or basically suffocating in 'a plastic bag'. By the time the ewe gets to her feet it is all too late. Lamb is dead. Suffocated.
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Sometimes these lambs appear all twisted in their shroud, due to the fact they were trying to breath, their bodies start to flail and twist, unfortunately though, unless the bag breaks they will inevitably smother. Known in the trade as sheeted. Can happen even in sheds with people on hand, takes no time at all for a lamb to find its first breath is going to be its last.
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This lamb was going to be fine, mother was soon up on her feet and beginning to lick the lamb, bonding with it, cleaning it, drying it, stimulating it.
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The instinct is to get footed on unsteady legs like when some of us who have partaken in too much falling down water
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But eventually with a sturdy leg at each corner the lamb manages to balance it's bulk and remain in an upright position.
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Once footed and balanced there is only on objective - head for the bar! Milk bar that is. Amazing how the instinct is there for the newborns to get up on their feet and head in the right direction to find food.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Friday 13th

They say it’s unlucky for some, not so for me, turned out to be a great day. The shed ewes had kept me busy during the night, not so much lambing but with the number of problems lying around in the individual pens. My god it was a cold night, my lower legs were fair aching with the cold biting in to them, not having the sense to don willies and leggings in an attempt to have an extra layer of warmth I wandered backward and forth all night in boots and jeans. As soon as daybreak allowed the sheep found them kicked out into the field, believe it or not but the wide open space was warmer than the shed, probably due to the shed consisting of concrete and lying in a sheltered spot.

I trundled off to the hill, fingers tightly crossed that not too many problems may be facing me this morning. None. Yipee! There had been two pair lambed and I managed to walk the pair in from the day previous, all was well on the home front. Shep was happy and a beautiful morning it was too.

Back in in decent time saw me rush off to do some shopping. Food - that necessary evil. I had been trying to get away all week and failed on all counts but this morning luck was on my side. I have to say I had tried to do the “you shop, we drop” internet shopping thing but after 20minutes of trying to do my internet shopping I had only managed to get signed in, dongling is painfully slow and my patience had had enough and after all, I did have food.

I returned triumphant, if not somewhat ashamed that I hadn’t changed before heading to the shops, Friday morning is obviously a busy time for food shopping in the borders, my smelly lambing clothes did however afford me plenty of room whilst rumbling around the aisles, everyone I met were only too keen to ‘give way’ and let me through.

A quick bite of lunch and to bed I headed, the intention was to rise about tea time and head to the hill. That went by the way side as I didn’t come around from my comatose state until 6.30pm, which in all fairness had only been 5 hours in bed.

The postie had been, the local rag was through the door, not the local rag for this area but for back home. I take out a subscription for the six weeks I’m missing – terrified that I miss out on the local gossip, something might well happen when I’m away – we couldn’t have that!

I headed out to walk the dogs and peruse sheep (sad I know), get the wind through my sails and generally waken up. The lambing field appeared emptier than this morning. Soon they were heading into the shed, a total of 20. Woo hoo!! Just 20 left.

The shepherd had gone through them today, as often said these sheep aren’t scanned so geld (called eild in the borders) ones would be running with the flock, I had mentioned this morning that I thought a couple were indeed geld, not in lamb, they were beginning to bloom and peel around the neck and sure enough their company is missing tonight. Just twenty left – Soooooooo exciting!!

I’ll soon be able to kip at night and be awaken during the day – I just can’t wait!! There will be a transition from now onwards, me checking the shed later at night and earlier in the morning so as to enable some hours of sleep before heading to the hill, then before long it will all be over for Shep and the nights.

I set about making supper, lemon sole with salad followed by strawberries and banana – lovely! Nice food for a change to the meat and veg thing. I like meat and veg, in fact I live on meat and veg, unfortunately, to make life easy I make a big pan of mince, or stew, or cook a chicken, or a joint. Then for the following three nights I reheat the same meal, by the third night I’m looking at it wishing it could be something different, god help if it runs over to a fourth night!! So it was lovely to have a refreshing meal before commencing my night duty.

I also sat down to read the local rag, catch up on the gossip, of which there was none. There was however one article which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. Titled “Inner city children are mesmerised by farm visit” and written by Emma Andrews who always manages to capture the moment and relay it through words, words you can understand which is even better.

A farm had had a visit from school children at lambing time, townie kiddies, many of whom have no idea where milk, meat and cheese originate from, it sounds like the visit had been a huge success and the children had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

It is great to know that some farmers are willing to go to the effort to help educate those who aren’t fortunate enough to be able to enjoy the countryside, it is so important for us in the sticks, who are the minority in this country, to be able to share and hopefully gain an understanding with the majority of the population of the country, those who live in the towns and cities, those who ultimately we are aiming to feed.

It has always been something close to my heart. Many farmers criticise the ignorance of the townspeople, which is justly unfair, it all boils down to education, how can anyone be expected to understand or be able to relate to our world if they don’t know about it and no one has the patience to explain?

So - the local rag gave me a boost, as did the supper of fine food, as did the fact there are now only 17 left to lamb in the shed, with another busy nesting at this very moment. Friday the 13th it may have been but unlucky it definitely wasn’t.

Eeh........... I'm sooooo excited! Not long now 'til I go to bed at night!! Woo hoo!!

Friday, 13 April 2012

Bright eyed and bushy tailed? - NOT

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The 10th April dawned, Shep left the shed and headed out to the hill. To find a lamb, as shown above, not only a lamb but a hungry one at that, it had not managed to find out where the milk supply was - great news as the weather worsened.

Shep continued around the hill to find another sheep had lambed out on the Crunchylaw, the only cut of sheep which are brought in to a field to lamb. Unfortunately this was a dead lamb. The weather was still worsening.

A quick turn around, dry top coat gathered up and back out to the hill to attempt to resolve the problems. The wind was cold, as was the sleet. It really felt like a grey day!

Problems got sorted and Shep got into the cottage at lunchtime, falling into bed without a bath only to rise again at 5pm and set off to gather the Crunchylaw into the enclosure, if they're wanting to cause trouble they ain't gonna do it out on the open hill if I've got anything to do with it!

The sheep in the shed that night kept me busy which would be expected when the hours of sleep had been few. They had once again found themselves housed all day due to the weather and had obviously hung on as long as possible in the hope they might get out into the fresh air to have their lambs, they couldn't hang on any longer...

Fortunately the 11th dawned fine, a greater bonus was to go around the hill and find there had been no fresh arrivals - yipee! Although the hungry lamb had still not quite connected with the tit and more assistance was required, but she and it were held in a secure area, there was no running around out on the open ground to try to sort the problem.

The cruchylaw were dropped into the pens upon my return from the hill and hoggs run off, there is no need for them to remain in the enclosure, they won't be having lambs so they found themselves with their backsides kicked back out onto the hill ground out of the way.

It was almost mid afternoon when I hit the sack, sleep came easily, rousing didn't.
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No more lambs until the 12th April, well, no more lambs on the hill is what I ought to say. I had already come across a pair in the field out on the top of the auld faulds cut, they were both sucked and full, not a big pair of lambs but a very kind mother who would keep them safe and sound, hopefully the next day they will be footy (lively) enough to walk down into the twin field. (remember - none of these sheep are scanned)
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Having passed one lamb on little heugh I then passed another, both were sucked and full. All was well. A total of three lambed that morning. It was the 12th April, these sheep aren't due to lamb until the 17th, or is that the 16th due to it having been a leap year?
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Shep got back in from the hill and did a head count as I passed the field of early lambers, the beasts I tend to throughout the night, there were still over 40 of them - 40! Sigh!

It is that transition which I really don't look forward to, when nights become days and days turn into nights. There is nothing can be done at the moment, all sheep need tending to. I really hope the hill sheep behave themselves - break me in gently, coupled with a deep longing for the shed sheep to put a spurt on.

Unfortunately all is not well within the shed, or ought I say field, depending on day or night. It would appear lambs may be suffering from dysentry. A problem I had on the hill a couple of years back and is now resolved by the ewes being innoculated. The field sheep however aren't innoculated, due to the fact they've never shown signs of dysentry before, it could make my blood boil if I let it, having dealt with the problem on this farm it is hard to believe that not all the sheep are covered, so much for the idealism of organic farming.

There's not just the problem with lambs, I mentioned that one night I had treated a sheep with calcium and magnesium, a sheep which had gone down. Well there have been odd ones and it was whilst studying one one night in the shed that I thought I may have come up with what the problem was.

I had been toying with mild twin lamb disease, or mild staggers when as said I spent a fair bit of time studying one particular sheep, one which I had treated the night previous. She was lying with her neck outstretched and nose pointing skywards, occasionally she would stand and do the same. I was racking my brain. Something in my head was telling me about 'stargazing' but I was struggling to recall what it was.

I usually carry my bible - the tv vet sheep book - with me at lambing time, but forgot this year so was unable to rifle through that for inspiration.

By morning I was able to ask the shepherd if he thought it could possibly be listeriosis, an illness caused by soil in the fodder, an illness I had only seen once before many years ago. Linked to feeding silage to sheep, soil collected in with the grass then wrapped ferments along with the grass and as I don't have my bible on hand I can't really tell you what happens next, except I was pretty sure 'stargazing' was a symptom and it definitely makes sheep poorly.

It is thought that it is possible this could be the problem, I thought these sheep were only fed on hay but apparently they had been on silage, I am also told that there is a months incubation period before the symptoms show and that basically there is no succesful treatment - Aah well! there you go then!!

So, nights are turning into days, there are still a number of shed sheep to lamb, there are problems on the ground and in the tummies. Pre and post lambing issues coming from all directions - happy days!

They are! Happy days! Life can be too short to let them be anything other than. Frustrating, annoying, tiring, of that there is no doubt but as I often say - character building! Definitely educational.