Tuesday, 4 June 2013


The geese are now sitting on just 3 eggs, down from the original 16. And yesterday even Tatty Anna came off the nest, having been sat there for over two months. Although the last couple of eggs are still attended day and night, the dream of having 16 goslings to fatten themselves up on my rapidly growing grass has faded to a distant memory.

But there are more efficient lawnmowers. The couple of lambs we got in last year were such a success that we decided we would definitely be getting more this year. 
One of last year's lambs.

Sheep were never in our original plans. Read up on keeping them and all you read about seems to be maggots, bums and rotten feet! Compare this to pigs, which if you believe the books are impregnable, built like tanks and spend their whole lives on a trail of desruction and hatching escape plans.

There's a small element of truth in all this. But what the books don't tell you is that once a pig reaches little pig size, it is built like a brick ****house and stubborn beyond belief. It's a good job they can look after themselves, as administering medicines or inspecting them closely is nigh on impossible.
Whereas sheep are easy to catch - for they are much, much tamer and friendlier than we ever imagined - and are light enough to pick up.
OK. So they can wriggle and struggle a little, but overall they are manageable. The maggots, bums and feet thing is just a matter of vigilance.

The other advantage of sheep is that they actually do a service as they grow, keeping down the grass and so saving time and money on mowing. And you don't need to buy in loads of extra food pellets for them. With the price of food rocketing over the last couple of years, this has made lambs a much more economical choice than pigs. I can't help thinking too that it's much more environmentally friendly to keep animals which feed on what's already growing where they are.

But this year, getting hold of lambs has been more difficult than usual. On top of Schmallenberg virus, we had a very cold and extended late winter period, which had a disastrous impact on lambing. Fortunately, we are not yet (notice the use of the word yet) into breeding our own sheep.
But the impact has been that there are far fewer lambs to go around this year. Also, many sheep had multiple births, meaning that a high percentage of lambs had to be taken off their mums and hand-reared.
This may sound cute, but it's very hard work, expensive to buy in milk powder, and a complete pain if you're a commercial farmer with a sizeable flock.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, through a well-connected friend we managed to get hold of four very scraggy cade lambs. Cade refers to those which were the extras, those taken off their mums and hand-fed. They grow more weakly than their siblings and their futures are not so bright.

So a couple of weeks ago four little, scraggy urchins arrived on the farm. They are no special breed, just scruffy little crosses. One was very skinny and one had a niggling cough - the same one whose tail never fell off when it was docked as a youngster. They just put a band tight around it at birth and it dries up and drops off. Why? Well, we're back to bums and maggots again! I don't think it's painful for them, and the same treatment is applied to the boys' bits. Now that does bring water to the eyes.
Anyway, this scruffiest little urchin has also turned out to be the most adventurous and the friendliest. Its cough has now gone, though it has been passed to one of the others. Again, though, it seems to be on the way out - the cough, not the lamb.

But they enjoyed the fresh, lush grass in the paddock and have settled in very nicely. They are growing at an astonishing rate. We probably won't name them, beyond their numbers, but they do have their own very strong individual characters.

The four of them all decided to use the goose house (originally a dog kennel) as a night-time shelter, but they have gradually outgrown it and now only two and a half can fit in. Besides that, they leave it in a foul state so it has now been closed to them.

We did originally intend to move the four lambs down the land, in to the meadow, to strip-graze it and hopefully keep the sward at a reasonable length. However, the grass is growing so quickly at the moment that the four lambs are barely even keeping up with the small area of grass in their paddock.

We had decided to move them down at the end of the half-term holiday. Then the geese could have their paddock back too.
However, then I noticed that one of them, the one with the black face and the very spotty legs, was limping quite heavily. We caught it and were surprised to find that its toenails were already in need of a trim. Otherwise they grow beyond the bottom of the hoof and can curl into the foot. This is when sores and cuts can rapidly turn into foot rot - more maggots!

And so Monday evening was appointed as the time to trim all the lambs' nails. This is a bit of an operation, but one which we can manage without too much problem.
The poor lambs weren't sure what was going on, and one was more strong-minded in its wriggling than the others, but eventually all feet were trimmed. That's sixteen feet, and the cloven hooves effectively double that.

It was a lovely evening for the job though and all went well.

Except that the lamb is still limping! We couldn't see any particular problems with the feet, so it seems that it may have hurt its leg at some point. The plan for the moment is to observe. It doesn't seem to be causing any distress, apart from the limp. With a bit of luck it will get better on its own, otherwise we may have to give the vet a call. This would not be a particularly economical move, but we would never see an animal suffer unnecessarily.

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