Sunday, 18 March 2018

When Smallholding Calls For Resilience

Tuesday 13th March 2018
Peace and Quiet
What a lovely, quiet, peaceful day. They can shut the road more often if they like!

I cut the dogwoods back today. It's always hard to know how much brightly coloured growth to keep and how much to chop away, for it is the new growth that will look good next year.
I went pretty drastic this year, so we'll see how they are looking come next winter.

The fresh new growth offers a lot better material for taking cuttings too. Again this year I took about 30 cuttings and would expect to end up with at least twenty healthy little shrubs from this.

I took this lovely photo of the river on the evening walk with the dogs. 
On a more worrying note, one of the pregnant ewes is limping really badly. Oddly one of the electric fence posts was lying on the floor and another was way out of place. I do hope she has not been the victim of dog harassment.
To be on the safe side, I moved all the sheep a couple of strips down toward the house. I had to lead the ewe very gently indeed, letting her take a few steps at a time. 99% of the time a lame sheep will be completely better within a couple of days, but this looked different. She was only just able to walk and was clearly in difficulty. The thought of those electric fence posts worried me too. Occasionally they lean over or the wires come unfixed, but never before have I found one just lying on the floor unattached to the fence. 

Wednesday 14th March 2018
Bad News Comes In Threes
Smallholding can occasionally kick you in the teeth, usually just when you are starting to think that everything is going smoothly.
I came home from work to a triple hit. One of the dogs had left a mess in the kitchen which was not much fun to clear up.
But things were to get much worse. The lame pregnant ewe from yesterday was sat on her own in the field in exactly the same place as this morning. She had not moved all day, meaning that she had not eaten beyond where she could reach. I took the decision to move her up to a stable - not a decision taken lightly for it is not good to move a heavily pregnant ewe. But with further cold weather in the forecast I felt she would be in real trouble if I left her outside. I was on my own and all I could think of was to lift her as carefully as possible into a wheelbarrow. Fortunately I did not have to tip her upside down and she did not put up a fight - a sign of just how poorly she was.
A sad sight - I've never had a sheep so ill that she couldn't walk herself to the stables.
I set her as comfortable as I could in the hastily prepared stable and surrounded her with food and drink. For the moment there was not much else I could do than to leave her in peace for the night.

I still hadn't given the chickens their late afternoon feed. But as I entered the chicken pen I noticed one of the black Silkie hens flopping around on the floor near the food tray. She appeared to have a broken neck, but I couldn't feel a break. Her neck was writhing around and I can only describe it as her head being upside down! My best guess was that Cocky had been too rough with her and I would surely have to put her out of her misery.
By this time I was beginning to wish I had not come home from work today!

I checked back on the ewe. She was still in the same place but was breathing very heavily. Sue and I decided we would keep an eye on her and make a decision in the morning about whether to call out the vet.

An internet search for Stargazing Chicken revealed exactly what was wrong with the Silkie hen. Wry neck. What an appropriate name. There is actually a bird called a wryneck which does something similarly weird with its neck as a display.
This condition is peculiar to Silkie and Polish chickens. It may be genetic, but probably comes down to lack of Vitamin E. So if there is a solution, it is to somehow administer Vitamin E and Selenium which aids absorption of the vitamin.
Fortunately sunflower seeds are a good source of both. If only we had known, we could have been feeding sunflower seeds to the Silkies since I buy big bags of them for the wild birds. It seems far-fetched that such an acute condition could be caused by  vitamin deficiency, but we'll give it a try. 
For now, the two black Silkies have moved down to the stables too, for this girl will need hand-feeding until and she recovers (if).

One thing that smallholding teaches is resilience. You wouldn't get past the first year without plenty of that particular quality.
Endless optimism comes in handy too!

And just so that the day didn't go completely badly, quite by chance somebody I was messaging on Facebook just happened to put up an advert for a second hand meat slicer, a proper butcher's one. I responded immediately for I have been waiting a long time for an affordable one of these to come up somewhere.
I am picking it up on Sunday.

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