Sheep chores you try to avoid

 

 

Disgusting sheep chores Aug 17

It is probably high up there on the most disgusting chores to do on a farm. Thankfully it is not something that has happened to us too often, but a fly strike and getting rid of the maggots in sheep is not for the faint hearted.

Our lambs were not sheared when the shearer came by (read Sheep chores), when I asked about it he simply said it was not done. Fair enough, thought I, but what I didn’t count on was that the early born lambs had pretty long fleeces by high summer and the weather made it a perfect nesting ground for fly eggs.

My mother, visiting for a couple of weeks, spotted a lamb with what looked like mud on her back. She asked me if the lamb was dirty, but it wasn’t until the next day when I investigated more thoroughly when I saw the maggots crawling around.

A neighbour helped us to dose the lamb, by pouring anti-maggot liquid over the fleece. Unfortunately, this didn’t dent the maggots’ advance and the lamb was only slightly better the day after.

Because these things ALWAYS happen on a Saturday, right after the farm shops close, I could not pop-in into town to pick up the right chemical dosing. My neighbours were of course out of it and I had to research for alternatives.

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Lamb with ewe. Next year the early lambs will get sheared as well.

I got stuck into my computer doing research, as I had very little information on how to deal with it and no access to the proper maggot killing chemicals to use. Weighing options, chemicals, traditional cures, organic or herbal cures, prevention strategies, signs to look out for, weather impact, and finally settling on a mode of attack.

On Sunday morning, I made up my own concoction to kill maggots and went looking for the lamb with one of my daughters. The other had had a look at the lamb and maggots the previous day, and it had given her with nightmares that night.

For anyone that may need it, this is what my concoction had. Now, before you go writing it down for your own use, let me make it perfectly clear that this was purely put together in desperation and not based on years of experience.

I mixed a bit of water, paraffin and all the tea tree and eucalyptus essential oils I could find in the house.

We got hold of the lamb, tied up its legs, and while my daughter literally sat on it to immobilise it I started cutting the fleece with my kitchen scissors. Yes, I know, I will get a proper shearer…soon.

I cut and cut, and scraped off maggots as I went along. Following all the paths they made from the rump onwards, making sure I left no maggot trails untouched. One side, then the other, plus the rump and down the legs.

“Can I go and get a book mum?”, my less than interested daughter asked me as she was sitting calmly on the lamb.

“Are you cracked?”, I answered just as the lamb took a chance and tried to shake us off. There was no need to explain further that she needed to pay more attention.

I was finally satisfied that I had gotten almost all the maggots, to my charging I could not get at the smallest ones. This is where my concoction came in handy.

I poured the liquid over the lamb’s affected areas and was able to get a lot of the smaller maggots off, as they tried to get away from my home made mix. I still knew I would have to get stronger stuff to fully kill off the maggots, but this at least helped the lamb survive until Monday. We could tell that she was doing a lot better after this rough treatment, and I could go to bed satisfied that it would survive.

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Nosy ewe in the morning.

A few days later, I realised another thing I hadn’t counted on; in the scorching sun we had over a few days, the lamb got sun burned. Calling in to the vet, he just recommended cream, which was fine. But I brought it a step further and got Aloe Vera gel cream that I put on the poor lamb’s sunburned skin.

Not only that, I took and old t-shirt, cut it up a bit and fitted it onto the lamb back to front. The back legs through the arms of the t-shirt and the front legs through holes I made close to the bottom seams. Again, this home made solution proved to be a good one.

Now, I wish I had the presence of actually taking pictures of the whole process. Not that you’d like to see pictures of maggots, I presume. But the whole ordeal took so much out of me, that waving around my mobile phone was the last thing on my mind. So you’ll have to excuse me, that this post is a bit more wordy than usual.

I never expected the paparazzi

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Until lately, I have in a very small scale, experienced what it might be like to be persecuted by adoring fans or the paparazzi. It has calmed down a bit, but I am still conscious of what door I use to exit my house.

No, I have not overnight become a media star, my blog is not that famous and it is much simpler than that, although almost equally ridiculous and unexpected. It all has to do with the abundant TLC I give our animals on the farm. I still have many of my city girl sensibilities left, they have not yet been erased by the harsh reality of farming (see Farming reality slapped me in the face post).

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“The kind one”, our most placid ewe checking me out and looking for a treat

So it is no surprise really, with the level of coddling I give my animals, that they watch me and often follow me wherever I go. Our farm is small and many of the fields are facing the house. Depending on what door I exit, I am constantly greeted by one group of animals or other.

Now that that the pasture is plentiful their attention has lessened, but when I fed them animal nuts daily up to late spring, I could hardly leave the house without having hearing intense baaing from the sheep until they’d lose sight of me.

If I by chance am carrying any type of bucket, even now, there is literally a stampede to get at me. The sheep are bad enough, as the larger ones could easily knock you over; or as it also happened, they would run in between my legs and lift me off the ground. No, I do not relish riding an ewe and particularly not ones with wet wool.

At times, even without a bucket, they decide I am somehow feeding them and follow me around the field until I get to a gate. They then proceeded to stare at me and continue baaing, which clearly means “Feed me! Feed me now” in sheep.

The cows and calves are calmer, but once they spot the bucket I would imagine myself the middle of a rugby field with the ball in my hand and the other team coming against me. It makes me laugh to see them run at full speed towards me, but quite scary as well as I wonder if they will stop in time before they maul me. After being shoved and pushed around a few times when I was trying to empty the bucket in front of them, I quickly learned to be a good bit more imposing with my normally very calm cows. Lack of respect from their side would end in me being trampled.

 

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The cow rugby team coming against me. Scary!

Thankfully the cows are lazier than the sheep, and they will not follow me for long. On very hot or rainy days, they won’t even bother to look my way.

The ducks are smaller and easier to handle, but no less loud when they see me and know it is time to fill their buckets. They run towards me like a feathered cloud giving their cute quacks. I feel bad at times passing their pen, without any treats to give them as they follow me in their loud and cloudlike fashion.

At times I had to consider what I was up to and which would be the best door to leave the house from. While very cute at times, having 20 sheep baaing every time they see you definitely gets on your nerves after a while. I would take the roundabout way, just to avoid their demanding attention.

The positive of all this attention is that it is very easy to round up the animals. I can get both the sheep, cows and ducks into almost any pen or shed, with a little patience. As long as I am carrying a bucket they don’t care where I’m going or where I bring them. It is very handy at times.

 

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I need better shoes, I have had enough of being stepped on by sheep looking for a treat.

 

Kevin no.2 asked me a couple of weeks ago if I spoke some secret sheep language, as they followed me without any problem at all; this after he and Kevin had spent some time trying to chase them into a pen. I guess that is the upside of being a celebrity on this farm.

In all this paparazzi-type of attention I have forgotten to mention my most celebrity-like accessory, my very own body guard. Our dog Bella seldom leaves my side when I am working around the house, farm or polytunnel. Even when I write my blog she lies beside me, perking up the minute I make for a door. Undemanding and constant, my own unobtrusive and constant shadow.

Ah! The life of celebrity, but in a farm-like way.

 

Ducklings are a blast

I never liked chickens, or to be precise, I have always been afraid of them. There is something about their beady eyes and the sharpness of their beak that puts me off. I doesn’t help that I was chased by them as a child.

I am not too keen about birds either, so it was a great surprise to me how I have taken to my ducklings, literally like a duck to water (if you can excuse the weak pun).

Ducklings fitted snugly into a small crate.

The ducklings came as a little bit of a surprise and was as usual not the most organised or planned activity. I always had in mind that ducks would be ideal for the natural pond and turlough Kevin has been cleaning out in the last year, but as the chicken coop is in production on site, I figured ducks were a project for later.

But around here things fall naturally into our laps and we tend to go with the flow when opportunities appear. One of our neighbours had a large selection of ducklings for sale and it was just a matter of going and picking up the breeds we wanted. As ducks where my interest and I had done the most research, I was sent to pick up “about ten, I guess”, said Kevin, from our very entrepreneurial neighbour Fergal.

Now, let me tell you about my neighbour Fergal, who also sold us our cows. A lovely fellow, into about everything you can think of related to farming. Very down to earth and helpful,
but a salesman through and through.

“I’ll take ten, Fergal. A mix of laying ducks and ducks for the table”, I said.
“Did you say thirty? I know you have the space for it. There’s as much work in feeding ten as feeding thirty”, says he.
“Fine, I’ll take fifteen”, says I.
“I’ll give you a few for free, just for you”, says he.

Today I am the proud owner of 22 ducklings, which I bought at a week old. There are seven Aylsbury, table ducks, two mallards (which Fergal assured me wouldn’t fly off, fingers crossed), two unusual Cayuga, a couple Indian Runners and Khaki Cambells.

 

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Aylesbury duckling wondering if I have more worms to hand out.

My lovelies started off residing in a long cardboard box in my utility room. While I could have put them in the shed, I was afraid they might be killed by rats. During the sunny days we have been having, they have been out on the lawn in a temporary pen.

 

The ducklings are so much fun! I can spend ages looking at their antics and listening to their funny little quacky squeeks.

 

As they cannot swim yet, they don’t have feathers only down, I made up a shallow pool (compliments from Pinterest) for them. It is simply a large plastic painting tray, that with water looks like a miniature children’s pool. They just loooove the water and as the days are warm and sunny they don’t get cold.

With the dry mealworms I got in the pet shop, I am slowly taming them and when they see me they stand attention to see if I have any treats for them. I also fill their pool with chopped up weeds, herbs and lettuce, and you would be hard pressed to find happier ducklings when they dive after their treats.

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The ducklings just love the mealworm treats.

Now here is another strange development, I now scour my polytunnel for weeds such as the previously hated bitter cress and check my lawns for dandelion leaves, all used as treats for my ducklings who simply love them. I caught myself today, thinking that I might leave the cress to grow a bit more around my tomatoes, just to have more to give my ducks. I had to pinch my arm, just to make sure I copped on to myself.

They grow at an alarming rate and grew out of their box in no time. The ducklings, not so small any more, now reside in a handy pen in the shed. They still get the chopped weeds, but have now grown onto the grower feed.

The best thing of all; this is the first time I have lost my fear of fowl. Ducks are fun, they leave a mess and are extremely dirty, but will put a smile on anyone. They might lose their duckling cuteness as they get bigger, but somehow I doubt the funny quacks or the waddle gait will dampen their charm.

Will I be able to eat them? Yes. I love duck meat. Also, not all are meant for the table, most are actually meant to keep for eggs. Although a few of those might go, depending if they are ducks or drakes (females or males).

The golden rule in this house is “don’t name anything you are planning on eating”. With the farm animals as with the garden, what I grow is to be eaten, has an additional benefit or uses. This is why we have very few decorative plants and only one pet, our dog Bella. Even these earn their keep; the plants by attracting bees and other useful bugs, and our dog Bella is a great companion and watchdog. Useless with the sheep though.

I did my gardening best

My gardening best

I promised I tried my best, I promised myself that I would not have an overflow of seedlings this year, I restrained my hand as much as possible while planting seeds, I have generously given away as many as I could, I even had seedling funerals and ate many of them in micro-vegetable state. And still, I am being drowned by them.

There are tomatoes galore, enough kale to plant a forest, cabbage for all, more celery than I ever wished for and so many flowers. My green fingers worked against me, as even the oldest seed sprouted into vigorous life. Who knew.

My sheep were kind enough to thin out many of my brassicas and kale seedlings, both planted in the beds and in the pots, when they ventured into the polytunnel a few times. At least they mind the plastic, unlike my bullock frenemies, and left my precious tomatoes alone.

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This cauliflower is begging to be planted, but I already have so many!

 

 

I have given away as many seedlings as I can. One friend commented that it was like going to a garden centre, as I loaded her with stuff.

Almost all my tomatoes have been planted, but I have a few tough and thriving ones in pots begging me to find space for them. I have cherry tomatoes, yellow ones, oval ones and I am very excited about the blue ones.

There are also peppers, both sweet and spicy. I never truly realised that Habaneros (very very spicy chillies) are from tropical climes, really needs a lot of heat. It is growing extremely slowly. Fingers crossed.

I never thought I would have success with artichoke seed I came across, now I’m wondering where I will have the space to plant these very large plants. A few years ago, I bought three seedlings that turned out to be Cardoons and not globe Artichokes. They are hardy, easy to maintain, tough and come back year after year in the outdoor garden, without me so much as looking in their direction. I didn’t even realise you could eat them until recently. Does anyone have any Cardoon recipes?

This year I thought I’d make everything that little bit prettier and I will end up having to create a flower border of some kind. I literally have a sea of flowers waiting for their forever home. It will look lovely though, I just don’t know how I will have the time to weed and maintain a flowerbed. It will probably look spectacular for a couple of months, and very sad for the rest of the year.

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A suprise crop of Globe Artichokes. I never thought they’d be so easy to grow.

I have tried making use of the flowers by interplanting them between the veg and in every pot I can find, and it looks very pretty. I always plant marigold between my tomato plants. This year, as in my plant plan, I also planted Calendula flowers to make hand cream. As a novice in flower gardening, just like vegetable novices, I did not realise how large those plants can get inside the tunnel. You learn something every year when gardening.

Again, the sheep have been kind enough to de-head most of my planted flowers. They will be taking a trip in the trailer to the butcher or the mart if that type of kindness continues.

Next year I will have to revise my gardening plan again, be stricter and harder. I was so proud that I had only planted the six cucumber seeds I needed for six plants. No more, no less. The sheep unbalanced the scale when they bit the top of two of the planted cucumbers. I’m sure I will find something to fill that gap, but six just looked so right in the spot.

My climbing rolet squash will do the trick. I have too many of those anyway, or maybe it is time for another polytunnel?

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RTE show, Nationwide with Anne Cassin, being filmed at the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day.

 

One bit of saving grace was the Irish Seedsavers’ plant swap day a couple of weeks ago. I happily brought my babies and gave them away to other loving homes where they will be appreciated. Thankfully we arrived quite late and there were not many seedlings to bring home; I did of course manage to grab a few odd ones…just for the craic of it. RTE was there that day filming a sequence for Nationwide with Anne Cassin, something that made my kids very exited.

The Irish Seedsavers have lovely gardens that have a wild touch to them. They are not like the tidy and perfect castle or walled gardens, but free, large and a great place for an outing in East Clare. The Seedsavers are specialised in native fruit trees and bushes, there is a lovely coffee shop and they also have a great array of workshops of all kinds, from beekeeping, gardening, beermaking and more.

A friend of mine has also given me a load of raspberry plants, which I hope will thrive by our back wall. There may be no jam this year, but I am sure these hardy plants will thrive.

Apart from a few stragglers of all kinds, it is only the celery and ginger that are giving me a bad conscience. There is a bit much of them and they are waiting to be planted. I am waiting for an overcast day to get them and my sweetcorn into the ground.

The tunnel is thriving and there are still hopes that this year will be the best year ever.

The bees love the flowered Pak Choi, I don’t have the hearty to pull it out yet.

Farming reality slapped me in the face

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When you read my blog you probably sigh over the idyllic country life we have, and for most part it is true. There is always a “but” of course.

Beyond the times you have to walk out in the dark, in the rain, the cold, early in the morning when you’d rather sleep in, work in wet clothes, with cranky or stubborn animals, there are other downsides. Beyond the muck, the dirty sheds that need to be cleaned out, the fact that you become immune to the smell of animal poo, whether it is on your clothes, shoes or hands, or that you suddenly don’t have an issue with walking in in dirty wellies, dragging muck into the kitchen because you are gagging for a warm cup of tea, there are of course other things that really make the dream of an idyllic life on the farm wobble.

It is not a bad track record that out of 10 ewes, seven of them being first time mothers, we have only lost one lamb. But that this one little lamb died in my arms and it was a standard lesson of the reality of farming. My heart was on a thread when we almost lost our first calf, Goldie, earlier this spring (see Life or Death situation post), but having a living creature die while I held it in my arms was completely new to me.

The lamb was about a week old and was unfortunate enough to have a distracted mother. The two were put into the mothering pen for a couple of days, but while they bonded well once they got out, the ewe still easily walked away from her lamb while eating. The lamb did it’s best to follow, but did not get enough milk and I had to go looking for it a couple of times. The last day I found it sprawled out on the top field in the surprising heatwave we had this year in May. Poor little thing was dehydrated and very weak.

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Feeding the lamb milk with electolyte solution for intense hydration.

We did our best, hydrated it, milked the ewe, tube fed it, but that night it died in my arms. I had just fed it and as it seemed unresponsive I picked it up, trying to rub it and to give it warmth. I looked at Kevin and said “I think it is dead”. The worst part is that I wasn’t sure, it seemed to be moving, but it could be just me breathing. I put it down and we concluded that it had just died. I burst into tears, knowing very well that this is the reality of farming. But it was so heart-breaking, after having tried everything and it dies in my arms.

This lamb was born to one of my girl’s pet ewe, one they had hand-fed last year, so there were more tears in the morning. The reality of farming had slapped us in the face, and as my hardier husband explained to both myself and my girls in very simple terms “this happens, often, and is part of farming”. Knowing it and experiencing it are two different things, but know at least we have both.

We might give the ewe another chance. It is something my daughter must make a decision on, as it was bought as her pet and it is her choice whether we keep or sell the ewe. The one thing I am very decisive about is that our farm is not a pet farm. Animals we keep or plants we garden all need to have their use. If this ewe is a bad mother, then there is no point keeping her. If we think she will treat the next lamb the same way she needs to be sold.

It may sound callous, this cost benefit attitude towards farming, but when you have to put in so much time, commitment, physical effort and even emotional attachment, you will be less keen on wasting it. If the ewe is a bad mother, we will either end up losing the next lamb or having to hand rear them. Both options are situations any farmer will gladly avoid.

I have for years been mad about having one or two alpacas. While it might be an interesting project, the monetary return would be close to nothing. They are expensive animals to buy, and the price for one or two fleeces will not even cover their feed.  I’d rather put my effort into getting and keeping bees; not only do they provide honey and bees wax, but are also excellent pollinators for the garden.

We are not dependent on our farm, it is a choice to have it. While we probably just break even from a money point of view, our true return and payment comes in other forms, such as the learning, living, own produced milk, cheese, vegetables and meat, but most of all real life experiences for the whole family…that is unmeasurable. Still, no alpacas or bad mothers on this farm, as there are only so many hours in the day and we do more things than just farming.