Sunday 23 September 2018

Separating the rams

I love keeping native breed sheep. They are so much more suitable to my style of smallholding than any of the larger breeds. My chosen variety are Shetland sheep.
For a start, they don't demand acres of lush green grass. In fact they seem to prefer my rougher pasture. Most of all they would like to get in amongst my young woodland where they would for certain make short work of the trees and saplings.

My Shetland sheep demolishing some sow thistle plants I've thrown in for them.
Rambo is the gorgeous boy in the foreground.
Come lambing time, they are not trying to give birth to ridiculously large little monsters which are basically too big to come out, so there are few problems and very few occasions to call the vet (an arm and a leg would seem cheap). This makes lambing time slightly less stressful, for I do not come from a farming background and do not have the experience for this not to be a tremendously worrying time.

The downside is that they do not produce a massive carcass and, despite leaving the young rams entire this year, they would still provide relatively slim pickings if I sent them on their way now. Instead we keep them through to a second year and look forward to what is known as hogget meat.

This brings its own complications too. Firstly they need enough pasture to support the adults and this year's young through the winter. But as mentioned before, they get by on very little so this is not too much of a problem. The bigger problem is that of separating related males and females.
Native breeds have a shorter breeding season than other sheep, but by mid-August the males start getting ideas!

So a few weeks back I erected a short stretch of stock fence to divide my paddocks into two. We already have electric fence, but for the sake of getting to the girls the rams would probably be prepared to take the hit.
Luckily we got enough rain just in time for me to knock in the posts. Prior to that the ground had been like concrete.

My ewes stripping some willow for me.
All the rams have settled in well and Rambo is tolerating the presence of his five sons. The ewes are enjoying the lack of male attention too. They do in fact have one male lurking amongst them but he is not interested as he got the chop last year. He is known as a wether. It is useful to keep one such boy to keep the ram company if he ever needs to be away from all the others.

We will wait till early November before letting Rambo in with the girls. That way we reduce the risk of poor weather at lambing time and if we are lucky lambing will coincide with our Easter holidays. There is no hurry to get the lambs out early in the year as we are not aiming to fatten them up before the grass dies down in late autumn.
When this happens any of last year's ewe lambs (Rambo's daughters) will need to go into a third separate paddock away from their dad and brothers.

Luckily the grass has grown back strong after the early summer drought so there are no problems going into the autumn. I have stocked up on hay for it will be in short supply this year and the price will rise steeply if availability becomes a problem. I hardly need to use any in normal circumstances, but you need to have it in just in case.

Friday 21 September 2018

Duck Apartheid is Lifted

Well, it's been a while.
With the summer hols finished, the return to work did not go quite to plan as Sue and I found ourselves in at the deep end.
All our enthusiasm and fresh ideas for the smallholding have had to be put to one side. Having said that, the wheels are slowly being put in motion for an ambitious new project.

Big ideas are all well and good but it is the small details that make the smallholding such a special place to be.
This week we are celebrating the end of duck apartheid.

A little duck history first. We originally had three white ducks which were passed to us by an ex-smallholder. One of these still survives. We also had a small flock of black Cayuga ducks which we thinned down to a trio. Unfortunately one of the females then died and the male just vanished - presumably taken by a predator or a dog.

So for a while we had the old white duck and the old Cayuga with her limp, a droopy wing and a bald patch.

When the Pekin meat ducks came along, black duck completely disappeared. We presumed she had come to some unfortunate end, but a brief sighting a week later was followed by another after a further week.

Eventually we discovered her sitting tight deep in the lovage patch. Meanwhile old white duck teamed up with the new white ones. In fact despite being half their size they respected her seniority and made her their leader.

Skip forward a few weeks and black duck finally realised that no amount of patience was going to make her eggs hatch - hardly surprising since there was no drake around when she started sitting.
But now her best friend was gone, leading the white duck gang, and they were having none of it. It was like a duck version of Westside Story.

Black duck tried her best. She hung around on the outskirts but old white duck had forgotten her, moved on. Every time black duck tried to join the gang she was pecked and pushed away. Fortunately a duck's beak is no lethal weapon.

Since I dispatched a dozen of them for the table 
the ducks have been much less approachable! 
Look carefully and you can see black duck 
with her white pate near the back of the flock
Don't let it be said that persistence doesn't pay. Last night a lone dark figure, barely visible in the gloom of dusk, followed the white duck gang into their night stable.
And this morning black duck and white duck led the gang out! They have all hung around together all day long.

Duck apartheid is over. This is one smallholding tale which has a happy ending.

As peace breaks out we had our first dramatic and chilly autumn sunset of the year. 
The seasons they are a-changing.

Looking Back - Featured post


Ten years and a thousand blog posts! Enjoy. Pictures in no particular order.  

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