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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animal psychology, Ecology

Opportunist crime in the South West

Mastermind and Lookout

Mastermind and Lookout

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At The first opportunity they swoop

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They divide the loot.

Intrusion from a rival gang

Intrusion from a rival gang

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Rich chippings!

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Bold, remorseless and organised

Never underestimate the adaptability of a Corvid — this gang of rooks cooperate to exploit the opportunities at the beer garden at the Ship Inn, Pentewan, Cornwall, ousting the traditional scavengers.

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animal psychology, Humour

Domestic Deity or Just a Damned Cat

The cat sits, ears a point, disdainful of his subjects, on a laundry basket throne or next to the TV.  All eyes upon him, (of course) he gazes at nothing in particular, waiting to be served.  I have never questioned this — I am a cat-person, in his thrall, trained since birth, a hand maiden of the mighty Mog.

‘Don’t get up and feed him the instant he meows!’

‘But he’s hungry.’

‘He’s just a damned cat!’

My husband is not a cat-person — here’s the dilemma — the main cause of tension in our household.

Guinness

Guinness, The Fat Cat, epitomises the power of self-confidence.  He strutted into our house three years ago, stood his ground when the dog rushed up to him. Their noses touched for an instant, the dog was transfixed, then wham, the paw of steel, the dog was dismissed, blooded, dominated.

Guinness moved in with his own household — his man, Midnight.  Cat psychologists say domestic cats are solitary, that is nonsense — Guinness has a butler, his own Jeeves, someone to see to his personal grooming, to suffer fur balls on his behalf, to hunt for him, to taste his food, to intercede with the other servants (me and the dog) and to do his meowing.

Guinness and Midnight

Midnight, (‘now he’s a proper cat!’ says Alan) is The Fat Cat’s batman, they met in a previous life, not in the army, but in prison — prisoner of war camp — Stalag 46, in Brighton, in the war on the Feral Feline Freedom Forces.  The Fat Cat was in charge of escape and very good at it, but so confident was he that he would present himself every morning outside the prison, at the camp commandant’s bungalow for breakfast.  After breakfast he was marched back to the pound where the other prisoners greeted him as a hero ( the Steve McQueen of the Cat Rescue).  He would eat again and sleep all day, Midnight, The Proper Cat, watching his back.

He, The Fat Cat and his side kick, were released on licence to live under house arrest in Worthing, that pit of iniquity (I was chased by a mugger once in that East Sussex town fallen from glory).  Once respectable, it is now a forest of parking meters roamed by drug addicts, prostitutes and cats. Still uncontainable, it was here that he forged links with the underworld — colluding with local foxes, pimps and mini-cab drivers, wandering the streets at night, his were the green eyes under every illegally parked car, his DNA was on every discarded take-away carton.

He came to Wales, under cover — he’s a sleeper, don’t tell anyone.  Urban gangster lying low — some say he worked for a Russian bank, no one knows the full story.  Now he’s free to come and go he mainly does what he does best — he’s a sleeper after all.  Under his protection, Midnight (his faithful lieutenant and proper cat) does the rest — Farm Cats Inc.  (Non-exec. Chairman: Guinness, ‘The Fat Cat’)

Farm Cats Inc. — FC and the Hit-man

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animal psychology, Sheep

The Missing Link?

You might think that, at the time of a General Election, being born without ears would be a good thing, but Gladstone the lamb, now more generally known as Gladys, can actually hear quite well.  When a bird squawks or the pigeon that has moved into our expensive new barn owl box starts cooing (as well it might) Gladys pricks the tufts, where her ears should be, and cocks her head towards the sound.

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She is very active and, although someone I thought was my friend accused her of having knobbly knees, she appears to be growing and developing normally.  We bottle fed her for three days by which time she had cottoned on to the workings of her mother’s udder and dismissed us.  This was very gratifying!

Here she is with her friends — running her mum ragged — mum doesn’t notice that she is any different but then mums don’t — in fact she gets quite muddled about which two lambs belong with her!

Sheep express themselves with the subtle waggles of their ears and their angles of elevation so it is no wonder that Gladys is becoming very loud — compensating vocally for her lack of ability in the semaphore department — the missing link to talking sheep?

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animal psychology

Get a Good Dog

When I was a little girl I spent my time in the cow shed, I felt really at home with those steaming beasts and they with me, after all — they were dairy cows and their calves were taken from them at birth and I was a tiny creature struggling up and down the gallery behind their stalls carrying a galvanised bucket of oats, half as big as me. All amidst that yearning maternal love, they nuzzled their pig-tailed attendant — but not all of them.

"Holstein dairy cows" by Original uploader was Ellmist at en.wikipedia

“Holstein dairy cows” by Original uploader was Ellmist at en.wikipedia (CC BY-NC 2.0)

I soon learned that personality was not solely a human trait – there were cows with great empathy, kind cows and ones you had to watch – grumpy, irritable cows who would swing their heads and knock me flying but the more you knew them – the more you understood.

I was allowed to name cows – a great privilege, and I named them according to their personalities, after people of whom they reminded me.

There was Eve the scrawny, vociferous brown cow who mooed her demands at me but never ever knocked me over but watched me carefully, following me with her eyes – Eve was the name of the farmer’s wife.

Grace was a slim and youthful, clean and crisply marked black and white cow with sad, moist, longing eyes – she was named after my mother.

My names for the animals used to amuse the farmer and his lad, I liked them and I liked making them laugh, they were my friends.

As I grew up I found that the world my parents inhabited, for they were not farmers, was a lot more complicated and that people had to be judged according to peculiar criteria which made no sense at all – you were not supposed to choose your friends from the people you liked but from designated groups selected by age and gender and social class – more particularly by the way they talked (and in rural Lancashire the Queen’s English was hard to come by) and where they lived and by something called table-manners (unless you were French) — I never could quite swallow this.

As I have got older I find (as with many things for I am unattractively opinionated) that I was right all along and when people talk about the University of Life, I think one should attend an elementary school of the farmyard – where what counts is not species (you can’t help your species) but character!

I have one or two friends who live their lives with people with whom they have nothing in common – different wavelengths completely – and I think to myself that they would be better offP1040486- cropped with a good dog.

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