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.

Lambing crash course

The lambing season is over, the last ewe rounded up a shaky and eventful season with an unsupervised easy birth of twin lambs. The ewe was brought into the shed during the heavy snowfall a few weeks back and didn’t seem to be in a hurry and I almost started doubting myself and wondering if she was ever going to lamb.

This year we’ve had three twin births all in all, two went without a bother and one required very hands on intervention. On the day we noticed that one of the ewes was restless, bleating repeatedly, separating herself from the flock, alternating between laying down and squatting.

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Lambing was rounded up with an easy birth of twins.

After a couple of hours, with the help of a good neighbour, we got the sheep into the shed. It was time check her and possibly pull out the lamb. The hours of waiting did not go to waste, I devoured articles on the internet reading up on lambing, birth positions, pulling lambs, sheep anatomy, birth hygiene and so forth.

When it was time to check on the lamb, I had my nails trimmed, arms washed and disinfected, latex gloves on and plenty of lubricant just in case. My experienced neighbour had the sheep pinned in the pen and asked me if I wanted to check on the lamb or if he would, and there was no doubt of my response

“Of course I’ll do it”, I said and kneeled at the back of the ewe and put my hand in to check on the lamb.
“Make sure that if you pull two legs it is the legs of the same lamb and not a leg of two separate lambs,”, says my neighbour and I feel myself blanching. How in the world would I be able to figure that one out?

It resulted in being a very unimportant point, the lamb had his head down and was trying to come out neck first. I pushed the lamb back in, pushed up his snout, got hold of his legs and started pulling. I don’t know why we think we need to pull straight out, with my neighbour’s guidance I learned that I needed to pull down towards the legs.

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The ewe we lost and her orphan lamb.

My mind was incredibly focused during the birthing, I felt no worry or stress, instead images of lamb birth positions and anatomy passed through my head as I tried to visualise the whole process. I also kept thinking of my own experience giving birth naturally to my twins and it made me wince every time I lost hold of the little hooves and had to dig for them again.

The lamb came out, warm from the womb, but we quickly saw it wasn’t breathing. We tried rubbing it with a clean towel and clearing his airways, I even swung it by the legs in a half circle to make sure all the mucus was out. It was of no use; the lamb was dead.

At the time we had an orphan lamb (a story for another day), my neighbour asked me to rub the dead lamb onto the orphan, to see if the ewe would take it on. It was no good and the ewe kept pushing away the orphan. As we were contemplating a second, quite gruesome solution where you skin the dead lamb and cover the orphan with the skin to fool the mother, we realised something.

In the middle of this ER scene from revival tactics to possible organ transplant, we realised we should first check if the ewe had more lambs coming. The orphan was put back in his pen and I prepared for another vet experience.

On with new gloves and as I examined the ewe I felt two little hooves pointing towards the exit. I grabbed hold of them and pulled a beautiful live lamb out. To be sure to be sure, I checked for a third one but none was present.

I fretted for days that my hygiene precautions might not have been up to scratch or that my lack of experience would result in the ewe would getting an infection or some other horrific internal injury.

We may have lost a lamb, but I am delighted to report that the mother and her second lamb are strong and healthy.

This is the first time I had to pull lambs in such a fashion, and as I have been saying, the more I know the more complicated the farming seems to get.

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.

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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.

Eating my home grown produce

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The time has finally arrived, when I can walk through my tunnel and “shop” for what need for today’s lunch and dinner. The fruits of my labour are paying off and are both abundant and full of flavour.

There are still ways to go to get a balanced diet, the meat protein is missing as it is not time yet to kill our lambs and too soon for the ducks to lay their eggs. It is still amazing how much you can do with the glut of squashes.

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Traditional deep red beetroot.

My private veg market, i.e. my polytunnel, is currently providing for 90% of all the veg we are eating. I am still learning the knack of spacing out the gluts and providing veg out of season. So, the only veg I am currently buying are onions, garlic and lettuces. You might be surprised at the lettuces as these can literally be grown all year round, but I had problems with sheep breaking in and seed not sprouting, my next crop is still in the early stages.

My beetroots are just beautiful, not only are they gorgeous to eat but are so pretty as well. I have the traditional deep red variety, but also bright yellow ones, light red, white and striped ones. I simply roast them with my potatoes, onions and a few garlic cloves; and serve them with crumbed up feta on top. Sweet, warm, smoky and so good.

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Curly kale, one of the most hardy veg to plant.

The kale, curly and other, is a powerful addition to pretty much everything. Such a hardy and easy veg to grow, and it lasts forever. We particularly love it in soups, but it also works well in stir-fries, salads, risotto, steamed on its own and in colcannon (an Irish dish of potato mash with green cabbage through it).

I didn’t have time to sample my greyhound cabbage, which I particularly love in salads. I will be planting a good few more of these next year, they take a lot less space than the traditional cabbage. A lot of my brassicas are interplanted with nasturtium flowers, which supposedly attract the caterpillar away from the cabbages and broccolis.

This year I have hunted for caterpillars with a much happier outcome, as my ducks simply love them and they are a great treat for them. I seldom have the heart to kill the butterflies in the tunnel, which leaves me at war with their progeny. I don’t mind sharing a bit of my brassicas with the caterpillars, but when they take the mickey (go overboard, Irish idiom) I get really pissed off. This year’s sprouting broccoli is doing pretty good, but I need to keep on top of the harvesting. Again, the ducks do love the flowered broccoli for a treat.

My tomatoes are almost ready, just a few more days of warm weather and we are there. I can’t wait to taste the Indigo Blue variety, which I’m hoping will taste as interesting as they look. While I have tasted blue tomatoes before, not shop bought tomato can be compared with what you grow yourself.

In an earlier post I told you about the Rolet squash (see Curbing my seed frenzy), a huge favourite in our family, and I can confirm that it still an excellent veg to serve. It is so easy to cook and can accompany almost any meal. Boil or steam for about 15 minutes until soft, cut in half and eat the soft inside with butter and a bit of salt. Some people also eat the skin, but I find it a bit bitter.

In the Clare Garden Festival last April, I bought two types of pumpkins or winter squash if you prefer, from a fellow selling a good variety of seedlings. A bright Ushiki Kuri (red kuri), which already has provided me with a few, and a secret type that the fellow said hailed from Catalonia, in Spain. He couldn’t remember the name but said that it had tasted fabulously when he tried it during his holidays. I will get back to you on that when I taste them. I am training them up to the rafters of the tunnel, which they seem to enjoy.

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Spagetti squash, a great low-carb alternative.

This year’s newbie success has to be my spaghetti squash, which are almost impossible to find in a shop and a meal by themselves. This is my first year growing them and they are doing really well. You eat them by cutting them in half and roasting them, you serve the spaghetti looking flesh inside by scraping it out with a fork. If you are doing a low-carb diet you could not ask for a better option.

I will leave you with a very cheap, tasty, fresh and a true the low-carb option. It is a favourite as a side dish or salad – zoodles – zuchini noodles. This is so tasty, particularly on a hot day, served with fish.

 

 

Zoodle Recipe 

3-4 zucchini or other soft squash
2 finely cut onions or handful of spring onions
Lemon juice
Olive oil
Salt
Handful of finely chopped coriander (optional)

• Cut the outer part of a zucchini or soft squash into julienne strips. I only use the more dense outer meat and throw out the soft core with the seeds. Do not use a grater for this, either cut with a knife, use a xxx or ideally a xxx. The xxx is a great investment which I would highly recommend for any kitchen.
• Mix it with the onion and salt, let it rest for about 10 minutes. Throw out the excess water and mix in the lemon, oil and coriander (after your own taste, like a salad).
• Serve as is or chilled, by putting it in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

I’m not going to give you recommendations on how much lemon juice, oil or salt to use, as I love lemons I tend to do my salads a bit on the sour side. Just do a bit at the time and find the balance that suits you best.

I know a lot of people don’t move away from the turnips, carrots, spuds and cabbages; don’t get me wrong, I love them but there are so many more veg to try and they are not difficult or complicated, but often surprisingly tasty.

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.