The lambing season is here

The blog fell on the wayside, not only because we had a busy year with plenty of guests at Casa Ceoil, but simply because it slipped down the very long long long list of to-dos that we have. New projects, old projects, family commitments, and just life. But we are giving it another breath of life, and no time is better than when the first lambs are born.

So at the first most intense week of the year, I decided to get back to the blog. Intense as the lambing has started and this week, I have had two sets of twins and a single. Unlike other years, not only do I have a better eye for when a ewe is due, but I have lovely stalls organised for them. I keep them out as much as possible, but under a watchful eye as a gauge their due time by checking udders and a few more signs.

One set of twins were born in our top field, a favourite place for the lambing ewes. As my gear demands more hands than I have, I decided to facilitate the transport of the lambs by simply stuffing them in a bucket. Problem solving through a spur of the moment inspiration is my bread and butter on this farm. When moving my lambs I now always carry:

She doesn’t look it, but this one is a fairly fierce and protective ewe. Her name, simply…The angry one.
  1. Bucket of feed to entice the ewe to move away from the birthplace (often a difficult enough task).
  2. Large lamb bucket (in case of twins), with straw.
  3. Straw for the bucket and when I pick up the lambs (to avoid transferring much of my own smell and possibly cause the ewe to reject the lambs).

This prep makes the process a lot simpler. Not only can the ewe follow the lamb or lambs in the bucket easily, we can also move quick enough. One of my ewes bucks me every time I come close to her lamb, a good mother but makes it hard to handle the lambs. As this was the first lamb and it was also pre-lamb bucket inspiration, I had to walk backwards most of the field keeping the lamb between us, all to avoid getting headbutted by the annoyed ewe.

Billy the visiting billy goat

I’m also waiting for my pygmy goats to deliver, which I think will be early to mid-February. We had a loan of a very friendly puck from a very friendly couple in west Clare. While the puck was no trouble, I was more than happy to not own one, I have never come across such a strong-smelling animal. “Don’t pet him” was my neighbours’ advice, but it didn’t help, his pheromones were so strong it was enough to stand beside him and his smell stuck to you; a very strong smell of overly ripe goats’ cheese.

To our dismay the smell stuck even after washing your hands with dishwasher liquid and heavy scrubbing, never mind the clothes. Some research, after spending a day or so of constantly smelling goat cheese (and not the good kind!), I found the solution; wash your hands with a bit of toothpaste or goat’s milk soap.

Last year saw plenty of changes, while only one of our four cows had a calf, we discovered that this cow in particular (Oprah) is a high yield milker and a good foster mother. Oprah reared an additional two calves along with her own, plus is currently with two more, but she will, of course, get a break.

The land of rainbows.

Re-organising a bit, I decided to swap two cows for four calves. While it is periodically labour intense, we will have calmer periods as well. Another plus is that all the calves are heifers, so no crazy young bullocks for me. If you don’t know my history with the male side of cattle, have a read of my blog “Frenemies on the Farm” and you’ll understand.

Our poultry population has dwindled as well, thanks to Mr Fox. The only good thing the fox did, was to target the hen that was pecking the eggs and thereby saving me the hassle of trying to figure out which of my identical looking hens was the culprit. I never got to try the “fake egg” trick on them, but I have them saved in case there is another instance of egg pecking. Supposedly putting fake eggs where they lay will teach them a lesson.

There may be plenty to do, but the rewards are immense and few things are as satisfying as seeing the delivery of healthy animals. It startles me at times, that I am living this very down to earth and very real type of life, not something I expected growing up in the city. I would not change it for the world.

A busy beginning – the 2018 lambing

Lambing season 18 (Mar 2018)

You would think that I would have written a load of blog entries for this year considering the amount of farming adventures that have happened, but it is just because of these adventures that my time has been eaten up.

We are almost done with our lambing, we have lost our ducks, we have bought chickens and pygmy goats, dealt with a surprise storm that brought a surprising amount of snow. I’ll break all these adventures up into blog entries, because most are unique experiences worth reading about, nothing out of the ordinary for most farmers, but worth noting regardless.

The first twin lambs born this year.

The kids and I were abroad over Christmas and New Year, and we slightly jolted out of our holiday bubble when Kevin called to tell us that our first lamb had been born, a few days after the new year. We fretted slightly as we were not present to mind the lamb, my daughter got reassurances that her dad had indeed put the ewe and new born lamb into the shed. When we got back the lambing came in regular intervals, one ewe after another.

There is a surprising aspect of farming that I had not expected, the more I learn the more complicated it gets. I am able to deal with more problems and issues, but they seem to be appearing more often than before. For some reason we haven’t had much trouble with the lambing previously, but this time round there has been more intervention needed than ever before. As always, the intensity of the learning curve for me is staggering and exhausting.

As we only have a modest flock of sheep, the new born lamb and mother are brought into the shed, to better be able to observe them and to increase the lamb’s survival rate in the cold winter months. Getting the ewe to move away from the birth place is not always the easiest thing to do, but I have over time learned a few tricks. I make sure the mother and lamb get time to bond before I grab the lamb with a bit of hay, which slightly masks my scent, and entice the ewe to follow, stopping every few metres to make sure she gets to sniff her lamb and continue towards the shed.


Not the best of mothers, but we still got her going.

Apart from the bonding with the ewe the next thing high on the list at lambing is making sure the lamb gets the colostrum, the first milk, rich in antibodies and nutrients. This first milk will define the lamb’s growth and health, and I spend plenty of time making sure the lambs latch on.

One of the ewes was under strict supervision this year, last year she showed a significant lack of motherly dedication when she continuously walked away from her lamb distracted by greener grass, you can read about it in my post “Farming reality slapped me in the face”. The dehydrated and weak lamb died in my arms as I tried reviving it. Looking back at the pictures and knowing how she’s acted this year, I can conclude that she didn’t let the lamb feed enough as well.

The only reason she was kept is that she is one of my daughter’s pet lambs and hand reared by them. As she was a first-time ewe, we agreed that she would get a second chance. So, once she started showing signs of oncoming lambing, she was put into her own pen in the shed. The lamb had to be pulled out but was healthy and strong. I noted that the lamb wasn’t drinking yet but decided to give them the night before I intervened.

The morning after the ewe kept going around in circles trying to avoid the thirsty lamb. When I checked the ewe’s udders and could feel that they were hard with milk and slightly hotter than they should be, intervention was now necessary.

The ewe was pinned against the wall and I pushed the lamb towards the teats. This also not the easiest thing to do, you’d think the lamb would throw itself with gusto and drink up easily: no, lambs dislike being pushed into the teat and you have to patiently guide it that direction by slowly bumping the lamb’s bottom. Thankfully the lamb latched on and emptied a teat but would not empty the other. Fearing a possible infection due to milk stuck in the teat, I had to hand milk the ewe.

Now, let me tell you that milking a cow is a lot easier as you can get a right hold of the teat and use your full hand to squeeze out the milk (see my post on hand-milking Raw milk in the house). You’d be lucky to get three fingers around a ewe’s teat and milking by pinching is fairly hard work. As this milk was possibly high with colostrum it went into the freezer, as a precaution for future complicated lamb births.

Little Emmy  loves visiting the lambs.

I have taken a good few rounds of pinning the ewe, two to three times a day, for us to feel more comfortable that she will let the lamb drink it’s fill. After a few days it was enough that I got into the pen and she’d let the lamb suckle; today I was happy to see that the lamb was suckling away without my presence in the pen. I did have to milk the ewe again, a few days after the birth, and that milk was used to do the white béchamel sauce of a very tasty lasagne. I might not want to drink the creamy and thick sheep’s milk and there would not be enough to make cheese, but I certainly wasn’t prepared to waste it either.

We are still undecided it she will have to go, once she’s out on pasture we will have to continue to observe her unreliable mothering instincts. It is touch and go and would be completely go except for two facts; one, she is one our girl’s pet lamb, two, she actually has really good fleece for spinning and wool projects (read our post on wool adventures, Making use of all my wool). If not for these two points she would be sold as she requires a lot more work. She will not ever be let out into pasture until we are confident that the lamb can almost fend for itself or at least be strong enough to demand a feeding.

Sheep chores

Sheep Shearing Jun 17

There has lately been a lot of practical farming being done. Kevin 1 and Kevin 2 (my husband and a friend of his), have been fencing a bit around the fields. It is a hated and heavy chore, definitely not made any easier by the amount of rock around the place (read Stony Gardening and you will understand). You can be assured that any time you try to push down a stake, you will hit a rock.


The two Kevins, No. 1 in the back, preparing the sheep for shearing.

Another task, coming into the summer, is the sheep’s yearly hairdressing appointment, the shearing. As Kevin’s back has at him and he’s been walking around like an old man for weeks, we were very lucky to have the other Kevin’s help. I wasn’t looking forward to handling and turning the heavy ewes on my own.


I almost missed the shearing and the very taciturn shearer was in the middle of it when I got back from town with the kids. The sheep had been all penned in the shed, Kevin 2 grabbed one at the time as and handled it over to be sheared in rapid succession with an electrical shearer.

Grabbing the sheep was probably the most difficult task, once the shearer had it on its back the sheep went limp and let him get on with his job. Quick, quick, quick and done in no time. Next!

It is a real pity that the wool is pretty much worthless; a “waste product” the shearer said. I will bring it up to a mill and what I get will probably just about cover the cost of the shearing, which is fine I guess. I will probably keep one fleece, as I have a friend that has offered me how to spin with a hand spindle. It will hardly be a project for an Aran sweater, but it would be fun to try it out. Felting is probably an easier project, but I just love learning anything.


Checking that all sheep had been marked. Each one got a de-worming dose.


The sheep we have are of meat or milk stock, and their fleece is primarily used for carpets or maybe house insulation. They are by no mean bred for their wool. As I understand it the finer sheep for good wool not only have a fine fleece, but also have a longer hair which facilitates the spinning.


Once they were sheared the sheep looked relieved and happy. To the rest of us they looked very skinny and bare, but in the weather we have had lately, it is really the best for them. The lambs, which were not sheared, look huge in comparison. In fairness, they are pretty big lambs, which will be a good return for us.


The last one to be dosed. A quick squirt of a syringe down the throat.

A few days after it was time to deworm them. I noticed, and was quite disgusted, red slug-like worms in the faeces of one of the ewes. A clear indication of parasites in their bowels. So again, they were penned and an oral dose was given to each of them. Kevin pushed it down their throats with a large syringe, giving each of them a few seconds of discomfort.


Apart from these few chores, plus keeping a check on them every so often, there is little less that needs to be done with the sheep these days. I check them every few days, to make sure to note any worms, maggots, foot rot, or other discomforts they may have. They are thriving in the fresh grass and feel a lot more comfortable in the strange summer heat we are having.

It is just as well they require less attention, as my focus has been on other new animals here at Casa Ceoil. You might have seen a sneak peek on our Facebook or Instagram pages, a fluffy yellow duckling. That story though is for another blog post.

A life or death situation


Early on a Sunday afternoon, one of my girls and I decided to have a look at the animals. Since our first lamb was born we have been and still are in constant suspense about the next births, whether these be lambs or calves.

In one of the more sheltered fields we could see something and decided to investigate. One of the cows lying down and as we came closer we could see two legs of a calf in mid birth. It was time to get the only person with experience, so we ran back to the house to get Kevin. My daughter easily left me behind and ran into the house panting “calf…cow…field!”

Calmly and well used to the situation, Kevin asked me to get a rope and he brought an armful of hay. The cow was lying on her side and caught in some brambles, we could see the two front legs of the calf sticking out. Grabbing a handful of hay we took hold of the slippery legs of the calf and pulled. When this wasn’t enough, Kevin tied the rope around the legs and pulled, while I pulled at the legs. Suddenly the calf slipped out and our first calf was born.

The poor thing looked wrecked but healthy. Once we got the cow out of the brambles she vigorously started licking her calf. We stayed with them for a while and felt some worry that the calf seemed weak and was not suckling immediately, as other things needed our attention we left them for a while in the sheltered and sunny field.

Later that afternoon I went over to check on the calf, but there had been very little improvement. As Kevin was out, a neighbour helped me and advised me to get the calf and cow into the shed. We loaded the calf into a wheelbarrow and tempted the cow with a bucket of beef nuts (cow food that looks similar to dry dog food).

The tongue of the calf had been sticking out since she was born and looked a bit swollen, we later realised that this was part of the problem with the inability to suck. As she had not stood up for long, she was also cold. She was weaker now than when she had been born. My neighbour generously lent us his infra-red heating lamp, which did wonders for the calf.

Once Kevin was home, he milked the cow and we force fed the calf with an empty half-pint Jameson whiskey bottle. The neck needed to be long enough to reach far down the throat as the calf was not suckling, not even your fingers when you stuck them into her mouth and tickled her palate.


The shed became a calf ICU as we all checked on the calf regularly. Another neighbour, a very experienced cattle farmer, came over with a feeding tube. We got electrolytes to mix with the milk, which is a re-hydration solution, and had to tube her through her mouth into her stomach to give her milk. She also developed a fever and pneumonia, and we had to give her antibiotics. As she improved every time she got a bit of milk, when she looked at her worse I got up in the middle of the night to feed her.

I cannot explain the fear we had a few mornings when we woke, wondering if the calf would still be alive. What was I going to say to my girls? And how had I suddenly developed so much fondness for this cow and calf?


Such a delight to finally see her suckling!

You might have read my post on my very strained relationship with our bullocks, my frenemies on the farm. Well, I had hoped to get a better experience with the females of the species, and I can now say I am converted. Cows, particularly these three cows we have, are lovely, calm, easy to work with and even friendly. They are still lumbering hippopotamuses, drooly and poopy, but their calm nature makes me forgive all that.

In a slow but steady pace the calf improved and finally recovered. She is a beautiful calf, a golden brown with a blond crown of curly hair on the top of her head. Once we felt secure that she was out of the woods, it was the most natural thing to call her Goldie.

There is no direct connection or symbolic meaning in the name, but we thought it would such a cool name to call a cow (not insult intended, rather a lot of admiration) that we named her mother Oprah.

Now Goldie and Oprah spend the days out in the fields and the nights in the shed. I know, I’m being a bit of a mother hen, but I dote on my girls and want the best for them. I also hand milk Oprah each morning and she generously supplies plenty for both the calf and the house.

Who would have thought it, that I would feel such affection for Oprah and Goldie. It is barely a chore to care for them, as they both recognise my voice and know what needs to be done. I also truly enjoy these few farming tasks I have each morning and evening.


Goldie is getting an unwanted cleanup from her mum.




A farrier’s visit


We have a visitor that has been with us for over a year, Sheila the pony. She belongs to a family member that is currently working abroad and we agreed to mind her for the period.

To be perfectly honest, we know pretty much nothing about horses or ponies, but Sheila is a very placid pony, easy to mind and requires very little attention. My riding skills leaves much to be desired, but with help of horse aficionado neighbours and friends, we have learned a lot.

I have learned to lunge her, which has amazed me. Tied to a long rope I get to play the circus tamer and exercise her in circles, making her walk, trot and canter, while also changing direction and speed. To able horse lovers this is probably small potatoes, to me it was incredible that I could have such control over a big animal and see her enjoy the attention and exercise.

The last year has been quiet for Sheila and she has kept company with our bullocks.  Sheila minds herself most of the time, and needs very little supervision. She has unfortunately gained too much weight while hanging out with our cattle, and has had to be separated to a field with less grass. There are regular visits and plenty of attention from our kids, myself and our horse friendly friends and neighbours. On one such visit we were very worried to see that she had developed a severe lameness.
A visit from a vet and the farrier was arranged.


Farrier visit to pare Sheila’s hooves.


 The farrier, Darren Howard, had a good look at her and noted the extra weight. Sheila patiently stood by as he gave her a horsey manicure and paired her hooves back.  Darren showed us the cause of the lameness, which resulted in a small gap by her hoof where possibly a stone had dug through the hoof and found an outlet in the soft part where the hoof ends and the leg begins.

“There’s nothing you can really do about it. It just happens” Darren said.

So, with pretty hooves, Sheila was put into on a diet and again in a field with very little grass growing. This has not been enough and her sensitive hooves have caused her a lot of pain. She is now stabled in a very kindly neighbours farm, and very well looked after.

I never knew that horses where such sensitive animals, and while it at times has given us a lot of worry it has also been so rewarding to learn about these fantastic animals. What is true is that you truly have to love it, as they require a lot of your time and there are no half measures when you want to have a well behaved pony.

 One last note, in case someone wonders. No, we do not do pony treks at Casa Ceoil holiday home. We will bring you over to pet Sheila, who is as placid as the day is long as we are a long cry from experienced horse riders. On the other hand, there are plenty of horse trek centers in the vicinity we can recommend.