animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

A Bad Start!

This ewe gives no hint that she is labouring until the last few minutes.  This morning she pushed out a large ram lamb just as I was feeding the others — I could see the lamb moving but by the time I got there things were not looking good — I pulled a great wadge of membranes from his throat but he did not react.  I swung him and pressed rhythmically on his chest.  I blew in his nose.  I even gave him mouth-to-nose ventilation (I really shouldn’t do that) but he was dead.

What a waste!  What a blow!  Fifteen seconds earlier, half a minute perhaps and it would all have been different.

I started to take the dead lamb away and the ewe wailed — I put it down again and thought, I wished she could have a live lamb…  Then I remembered!

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Here she is a few hours later with her new lamb. (Can you spot the deliberate mistake!) He’s wearing a sheepskin overcoat!

Thanks to two neighbours this little orphan lamb now has a healthy young mum with lots of milk and the ewe, well, she is none the wiser.  Her lamb that would not move, nor baa, nor feed, that lay in the pen unresponsive to her pawing was taken away for a moment by the big man who comes in the red truck and the next minute her lamb was right as rain — so right, he has two tails!

A little deception and the application of an old country skill and the dead lamb was skinned and the skin with all its associated love is transferred to the orphan (acquired from the other neighbour) and everyone is happy.

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Pink rinse from being rubbed with placenta and mud from earlier pawing.

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animal psychology

Change in Management

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If you are conscientious about studying this blog, which I doubt, you might remember that we have two farm cats which, as the taxman knows, control our vermin.  One works, he’s called Midnight, sleek and black, he catches the mice, voles, rats and the odd mole, while the other, Guinness, the fat cat, manages; he is the manager; an agent if you like, he takes a cut of the quarry, and a percentage of the pay — 60%, I think. He’s never gone out much but he coordinates from his office by the fire while Midnight is out in all weathers …  That is until recently.

A little while ago I came down in the morning and stepped over Guinness, sprawled in front of the fire, basking in the heat.  But, hang on a minute, the fire was out.

“Is that cat dead?” said Alan and I’m afraid he was — it was all rather unnerving and sudden, though he had climbed a 15 ft pollarded tree  the previous week-end which was so out of character that Alan had wondered if he might have a bucket-list.

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Perhaps he did.

The amazing thing is the change in Midnight, the worker.  He didn’t go out for three weeks.

“He must be grieving!”

“No he’s not — he’s inherited the territory, the house, the staff, you and me.”  Always a cat of very few words, within weeks he is waking us up, caterwauling at the bedroom door, demanding food, chatting, complaining about the weather, knocking my handbag off the kitchen table if I put it where he now likes to sit —  I don’t know what will happen when the spring comes and all the vermin start to reappear.  Perhaps he’ll advertise for an assistant.

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animal psychology, Communication, Doggy, Hill Farming, Humour

Working dog? Superdog

Here he is!

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Not working!

Is he a Welsh Sheepdog?

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Well, sort of.

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He certainly understands sheep.

He knows when they are ill.

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A caring-dog for any of our lambs that are poorly.

He’s much more than that.

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Intrepid mountain-dog and finder-of-the-way-home-dog.

‘Responsible-adult’-dog.  Always alert, sensor-of-danger-dog.

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Night-hound, watcher-of-your-back-dog.

Ratter, humane catter, licker-up-of-mess-dog.

He’s a parson’s nose disposer.

He’s not a ‘blind-dog’ but he’s a seeing-in-the-dark-dog, a hearing-for-the-relatively-deaf-dog and a sniffer-dog for the finding-something-dead-job.

But most important — he is a remembering-dog.  Working with the terminally forgetful.

If the chickens have not been turned out or the cratches not filled with hay he will fix the farmer with his beady eye (see above) and throw glances at the chicken house or the cratch until the farmer says,”Oh yes, we’d better see to the chickens,” or the hay or the 101 other forgettable chores on our little farm.

spring 2012 209 Pedro

Pedro

 

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Sheep

Predator!

Wolf alert — Mid-Wales

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Well– not quite.  But it gave us quite a turn.

I was innocently photographing lambs at play when they yelled ‘Wolf!’ and hurtled towards me in panic.

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Don’t panic!

I didn’t believe them but have a closer look at the photograph

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Can you see it?

It is, in fact, a very well behaved cousin of wolf, the DNA is unmistakable even to a two week old lamb — they and their mothers cleared the paddock near the road in seconds — I didn’t even know they had a major evacuation plan.

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They don’t like big cats either, or little ones — there is something about their shape that is hard wired into their perception of danger.  It’s a shame because Midnight, one of our farm cats, likes to walk around with me.

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He takes an interest in sheep

But they will not tolerate him anywhere near when they are about to have their lambs!

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 Clear off!

 

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

Numeracy

Sheep can undoubtedly tell the time.  However I fear their grasp of numeracy is in doubt.  Number 39 is a good mother she has raised  one fine lamb each year since 2014.

Here she is again this year — ‘This is my lamb!’

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’39’ and lamb — 2016

So, ’39’ whose is this?

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Just born and all alone — too young to be all alone!

This year she had twins which confused her — she knew they were both hers when they bleated or came close enough to smell — the trouble was she couldn’t count so when the second one went to sleep she’d wander off and forget it.

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What do you mean — where’s my other lamb?

Thus it was that in the midst of a ferocious blizzard, I was seen running across the above field with a wriggling lamb under each arm, hotly pursued by an angry ewe, trying to knock me over sideways.  Anyway, the penny dropped that I wasn’t trying to abduct them when I plonked them both in a nice dry pen where mum was happy to join them and start her crash course in remedial numeracy, we’re only going up to two this year and she’s picked it up already!

But then, we all make mistakes: meet 33’s lamb!

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Sleep deprivation? — or the reason I can’t back a trailer!

 

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animal psychology, Hill Farming, Lambing

Snatched within minutes of birth!

What a tragedy when a baby is taken from its mother…  But spare a thought for the perpetrator — sometimes they are victims too!

Two new lambs are born before dawn, they are lying with their new mother under the hedge — both healthy.  Above the hedge I spot another ewe so, before marking the new lambs, I go to check the other ewe.  She is licking the ground and chewing on membranes in the grass; from her rear dangles other membranes and her large udder is streaked with blood — she has obviously just given birth, but there were no lambs.

I hunt up and down behind the hedge — there is no trace. Several neighbours have been troubled by a predator this year.

Damn!  Damn!  I should have been up earlier — That damned fox has had a new born lamb…

Unless…  Something in the manner of the ewe with the two lambs, below the hedge, had not been quite right — as I approached her she had looked excited, not wary, she had given me that Oh-good-time-for-breakfast-look.  Sheep that have just delivered usually have more on their minds.

I rapidly fashion a pen out of hurdles and lift the new lambs into it then let the new mother in and examine her pristine rear — it is clean and dry, she has stolen these lambs.  More accurately she has kindly fostered them after they rolled through the hedge, probably because of over-enthusiastic cleaning by their old mum.

I return the lambs to number 1 mum who looks doubtful.  She smells the first lamb and nuzzles it but pushes the other gently  away, it rolls through the hole in the hedge and bleats.  Foster mother screams from the pen and tries to jump out, collapsing the whole caboodle.  The lamb rushes to her and suckles.

Plan B — I carry the lamb down the not inconsiderable hill (up and down which I have now been running for some time) The foster ewe follows me complaining and I shut her in a more substantial pen, then re-patriate the lamb, which is surprisingly vigorous, with its real mother.  ‘Not mine!’ says the real mother and knocks it over.

‘Yes, it is.’

‘No it isn’t  — look!’ she’s pushed it through the hedge and it’s running amok, bleating and several of the other ewes are coming up to investigate, including Number 19 who was involved in a custody battle a couple of years ago.

‘I think it might be mine,’ says Number 19,’ I do vaguely remember giving birth,’ she sniffs it, ‘Yes! It’s definitely mine!’

That’s it!  I’ve had enough — I bundle the troublesome lamb over the fence, reunite it with it’s real mother and sister and then we painstakingly  walk them, with much arguing and to-ing and fro-ing, the long way round to the barn where I shut up mother and both lambs in a small pen.

After such a long and tiresome walk so soon after giving birth on the frosty hillside where it is now raining, the sight of a warm, dry pen and a bucket of feed persuades the mother to concede, ‘Alright they both might be mine, but I still don’t like the look of that big one very much!’

She has now fed both lambs and Alan has bought me a cup of coffee, but still the cries of injustice from the kind, obliging foster mum can be heard — I hope she has her own lambs soon.

And to reassure any farmers reading this, just to be absolutely sure, I go and find the placentas and they were both above the hedge.

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The following morning things are not looking good.  The mother is butting the larger lamb who is starting to look wary of her.

‘Smell her,’ says the mother, she’s not mine!’

I sniff  her — she smell terrible, like a dog that’s rolled in rotting fox-pooh.  I sniff the little one — she smell all lamby and nice.

So, while waiting for a friend to bring us a lamb-adopter, I wash the offensive creature with clean warm water — she doesn’t like it much, then I dry her with kitchen towel and finish her off with her sister’s woolly back, then we exercise the human lamb-adopter who has come to investigate — he holds the ewe and the big hungry lamb has a feed and we squirt her with milk.  The mother is sniffing them both now and looking confused — hopefully she can’t count.  We withdraw and hope for the best.

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animal psychology, Ecology

The Cynic and the Bunny

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Here’s the Bunny — he’s started hanging around our yard — not very sensible as you know we have killer cats who eat a baby rabbit  a day at this time of year.  This bunny is larger than the ones they usually catch but he would still fit through the cat-flap so he’d better look out.

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He sits (he could be a she)  and he watches (can you see that his eyes are arranged like a sheep’s, so that he can see almost all around himself) so he knows I’m there — clomping up behind him in my wellies.  He doesn’t lollop off until the dog bounds up to sniff him.

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Off he lollops with his bobtail flashing

Pedro, the dog, can kill rabbits, but all he wants to do with this one is sniff it — perhaps he needs to know exactly what it is as it is behaving in such a peculiar way — this bold bunny.

When Pedro was young he used to bring in live baby rabbits, we called them punk rabbits as he licked their fur into spikes, he would put them down in front of us and cock his head enquiringly, ‘ Can we keep it?’ he seemed to ask.  They were all liberated into the big outdoors and probably eaten by the unsentimental buzzard — ‘This rabbit tastes odd!’

Next time I see the bold bunny, I’m inclined to feed it some sheep nuts; perhaps this is how rabbits were domesticated or, more likely, it’s a sick rabbit — it’s wits dimmed by disease and protected from predation by the instinct of predators not to eat infected meat (unless they really have to).

It doesn’t seem to have any features of myxomatosis, its eyes are clear and not running with pus, it has no obvious tumours, though now I come to think of it, that cheek is rather chubby.  British rabbits are supposed to be getting some degree of resistance to myxomatosis which we haven’t seen since we’ve lived here but I still remember the short-lived delight I had as a child — being able to run up to a furry creature and it not to run away and my mother’s panicky ‘Don’t touch it!’

Perhaps I will offer it some sheep nuts if I see it again — you never know — hope might triumph over cynicism, just occasionally.

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