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, 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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Hill Farming, Sheep, Uncategorized

The Worrying Case of the Good Friday Lamb

Considering it was born just after dawn with cloud resting on the hilltop and rain dripping from the trees, our first lamb seemed reasonably robust — it was standing but, ‘It looks a bit torpid,’ Alan said as he handed me the binoculas.

We watched — it had done the two most important things — it had breathed and it was on its feet but it would not suckle.  Our most skittish ewe had delivered it onto the moist leaf litter behind the hedge and it teetered around under its mother’s belly looking for something (it did not know what) but it tired and slumped down onto the wet grass when its mother pawed at it ominously  with her foot.  It stood again and she nudged it backwards along her side. Half heartedly it butted the ewe’s back leg, missing her udder, failing to let down any milk and not sensing the teat at all.  Again it flopped down in the mud.  This happened over and over and the ewe looked pitiful — uncharacteristically she let me come very close.

Something would have to be done — the lamb was getting weaker, the ewe was pawing at it more roughly, more desperately.

Worried ewe -- over 2 hours and the lamb has not fed

Worried ewe — over 2 hours and the lamb has not fed

A makeshift pen was constructed nearby and I carried the lamb into it, it was female, her mother followed without any fuss — even human mothers comply with their attendant’ suggestions when at their wit’s end.

Makeshift pen

Makeshift pen

The lamb didn’t like being picked up and a little surge of adrenaline probably did it good.  As I placed it on its feet, it ran to its mother (now restrained by a hurdle) it butted her udder, which is what they do when they run home for safety, and I squeezed the teat which squirted the lambs face with milk — she latched on immediately and fed.

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Full stomach, ears up, baa working, bowels working, bladder working, numbered like Mum (number 12, on the other side) and tummy sprayed with iodine, she is ready for a healthy sleep and not the engulfing drowsiness of hypoglycaemia that can carry off even a healthy lamb if she cannot achieve all three gaols of her birthday — breathing, standing and feeding.

Now she can do them all!

 

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Doggy, Humour, Pedro's glog, Sheep

Pedro’s New Year Glog

I wasn’t born to be a sheep dog — more of an urban animal really — bit of a Jack-the-lad, I suppose.  Not a yobbo — urbane, they say — I’ve been to the theatre twice — outdoor, don’t you know — I’ve seen Hamlet!

Sheep Dog or what?

Sheep Dog or what?

I’m a Generic Hound, sometimes called an Original Dog, with nothing added and nothing taken away — they haven’t nibbled away at my genome (that’s what I’m told by my friend, the geneticist), I came with all my natural potentiality then just had to find a niche — that’s where I live now — in my niche.

Supervising Shearing at the Niche

Supervising Shearing at the Niche, thanks to Peter Jenkins for the picture (all rights reserved).

It suits me, I like the out-door life and the rain and if you have a good brain and understand their lingo (human’s that is, despite their undoubted intelligence, sheep have little conversation) it’s not difficult.  One starts by just ‘helping out’ a bit and before you know it you’re on ‘One Man and His Dog’, except that she’s One Woman and, quite honestly, there is very little chance of us attaining celebrity because of her, what shall I say, declining powers.  I can understand  her perfectly but she doesn’t always think situations through or, indeed, even close the right gates, but we muddle along.  It’s not that she doesn’t understand me, one flick of the eyes and she knows exactly what I mean but she’s wilful — thinks she knows best and, to be honest, since the operation I really can’t be bothered to assert myself.

Ady -- my trusted lieutenant.

Aby — my trusted lieutenant.

Aby helps, she’s my ward, I raised her from  a new-born lamb when she was orphaned and had to live in the new wet-room, then the kitchen — she’s the only creature that I’ve ever allowed in my basket.  Not now — she’s got very big and clumsy but she still talks a lot, much more than the other sheep.  She’s had lots of lambs of her own now but none of them are quite like her.  We have a soft spot for each other, she and I, she lets me lick her new lambs which the others would never do — they stamp their petulant little feet and I wouldn’t mess with any of them.

Abby and others 2012 073

Aby with her 2012 lamb who is called Eighty-one and will be having her own lamb in April.

Proud Guardian!

Proud Guardian!

I do most of the remembering, I’m the time keeper, I know when things should be done, and I deal with security and pest control — I manage the cats and catch the adult rats (they really only cope with the young ones).

Protecting Boss from pesky cat (demonstrating sophisticated emotion) Jealous dog -- they do PhDs in that.

Protecting Boss from pesky cat (demonstrating sophisticated emotion). Jealous dog — they do PhDs in that.

It’s not all work, I have holidays, mainly beach retrieving holidays.

Here I am in Ireland.

Here I am in Ireland.

Wishing you all the best for 2015, Pedro

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Hill Farming, Lyrical, Sheep

A strange, still wind

Crow craw and jack-daw puncture the sound-scape of hills and meadows – aerial battle resounds – broadsides ricochet in the pale sky above the passerine chit-chat and base-line baas of our valley.

A new chord rises – the dog points, ears pricked, and sniffs.

A strange, still wind?

Rumble of some terrible upheaval?

Discord?

Birds pause. Listen!

It rises from the supernatural, our eternal underworld – louder – voices more distinct — celestial choir – angel voices.

Twenty-five thousand souls look up from grazing and acknowledge their lord, each with a different note from the human range – angel range.

Audible crescendo from three miles away — each note swelling with excitement, a wave of emotion to touch the very core…   Now the melody is with the base – diesel baritone — and percussion over the cattle grid.

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Hill Farming, Relationships, Sheep, Uncategorized

Love Potion — Or why you shouldn’t wash new born babies!

The secret behind creating the most powerful emotional bond ever known is revealed — remembered from our primaeval past.  It occurred to me as it probably did to our ancient ancestors — when it went wrong.

Yesterday we had to leave our lambing flock for a few hours, it was an imperative.  A friend had agreed to come as a locum (in between lambing a 180-ewe batch of his own sheep) but he wouldn’t get here until after we had left.

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I rose at 5.15 am to check and feed the flock — chaos reigned.

Two ewes were fighting ferociously over a new born lamb that was trying to suckle from the younger one, Number Nineteen (you know they are not supposed to have names).  Every time the lamb got near the teat the older ewe, Square Sheep (who you have met before) interposed herself with frantic baaing and butting of the younger ewe.  I chased her off but she would not leave the lamb and with her four-wheel drive and superior power-to-weight ratio I was not going to prevail.  I looked around for inspiration.

All I saw was a square wooly bottom.  A long silken thread of liquor glistened from it in the morning sun.  Square Sheep had given birth, she was right — it was her lamb.  She looked at me accusingly and who could blame her?  Still the battle raged.

The fence was nearby — I ran down the steep hill to the barn, 200 meters away, and returned with a hurdle (a galvanized fence panel — 2 meters long and quite heavy) then I got the other one and a pocket full of baler twine.  I tied them in a V to make the apex of a triangular pen with the fence as its base.

At this point there was a brief intermission in hostilities — Square sheep lay down suddenly and heaved out a second lamb which Number Nineteen licked and looked at me making the purring call that sheep make after birth, ‘look, I’ve got another lamb — I told you it was mine!’   Square sheep struggled to her feet, this was  her 10th lamb — she didn’t need this hassle.

Hostilities resumed — lambs were knocked in all directions but now I knew what to do — I grabbed both lambs and bundled them into the pen.  Both ewes stopped and looked at me as if to say,’That’s a good idea, now let me in.’  I opened the apex of the triangular pen to let in Square Sheep, Nineteen hurled herself into the pen.  I secured it with us all inside  and stirred it until Square Sheep and the two lambs were on the far side , then I opened it and gave Nineteen a monumental shove and ejected her.

Nineteen now danced around the pen, distraught, wailing and I had a sudden nagging little doubt — it could just be that the first lamb was hers — I had to examine her to see if she had just given birth.

We have a permanent pen by the house, but how on earth was I to get her there?

I climbed out of the pen and leaned over and picked up the first lamb, let Nineteen sniff it, and started down to the house carrying the lamb and encouraging Nineteen to follow.  A third sheep now started to wail further up the hill and my husband came out of the house to remind me it was time to go.

With lots of running back and forth and sniffing  and bleating and baaing we got down to the other pen and got her in.  I ran up the hill and returned the lamb to Square Sheep, pending further tests, then ran down — the other, third, sheep now wailing more urgently, husband tapping watch.  I pressed Nineteen in the pen, inspected her pristine, dry and tightly closed vagina and booted her into the next field.

As I ran up the field with a bucket of water for Square Sheep and some feed, by way of apology, I noticed the wails of the third ewe were now closer together and more imperative.

Now I applied myself to the wailing ewe — she had been lying on her side in strong labour but had now rolled almost onto her back with her legs kicking in the air, which was a bit of luck because I could catch her more easily.  I fell upon her and turned her on her side, she tried to get away but there would be no second chances — I was not letting go, we rolled over as she pulled me down the hill but she remained in my tight embrace.  We lay panting when the cavalry arrived to hold her head end.

The lamb was well positioned, just huge, I freed its head with the next contraction, which shook liquor all over my face and the half-born lamb baa-ed, it needed a big pull to deliver the body which was presented hastily to its mother who licked it.

We rushed off to our appointment, face and hair still splattered with the magic liquid.

Around the time of delivery it is the smell and the taste of the liquor that switches on the maternal behavior in sheep, and probably in humans.  That is how a curious young ewe (like Nineteen), nearly due herself and programmed to sniff out her own lambs which might be born in the black of night can accidentally get bonded to the wrong lamb.

This love potion is powerful stuff.

What happened to poor Nineteen?  She’s fine, within 24 hours she had twins of her own.

 

Number Nineteen earlier today with her lambs born a few hours earlier.

Number Nineteen, earlier today and none the worse, with her lambs born a few hours earlier.

 

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Hill Farming, Sheep

Not a Dying Day

sheltering under the trees

sheltering under the trees

Torrential rain all night — sodden ground but not all that cold — not good lambing weather but ‘not a dying day’ the farmer said as we both looked out across the valley and, for a fleeting moment, the sun came out.

Disgruntled of Mid-Wales -- Horizontal ears -- Aby is not one to hide her emotions

Disgruntled of Mid-Wales — Horizontal ears — Aby is not one to hide her emotions

That was what we needed to hear.

Later in the day the rain abated and someone was baa-ing loudly up by the hedge.  Like humans some of our ewes labour stoically in silence, perhaps with the occasional muted grunt at the very end but some labour vociferously.  Number Twelve is a pretty young ewe, lively and highly strung, she shouts in labour.  Today she shouted that she was at the end of the first stage and I ran out with my binoculars to supervise — that is our arrangement.

They lamb out of doors but not in the laissez-faire, survival-of-the-fitest sense.  We watch and only intervene if they need it and if they need it there seems no problem in them accepting it — I guess it’s all in the timing but our days of chasing the two-headed sheep are hopefully over — that’s a sheep with its own head one end and its lamb’s head sticking out the other.

Ovine obstetrics makes me think of childbirth before the days of modern medicine when more deaths were caused by officious intervention (with dirty hands) than from the complications of birth.  We watch and the more we watch the better we grasp what is normal and what is usual for our individual animals and we do it quietly and from a distance.  Just like humans,  a relaxed and confident mother is the key to a happy outcome.

Here she is, first lamb -- shot from the cannon of her healthy young mother midst  a salvo of baa-ing

Here she is, first lamb — shot from the cannon of her healthy young mother midst a salvo of baas.

Next came our friendliest ewe — I don’t know why she is so tame — she’s never been singled out for special treatment — not bottle fed and never ill.  She took herself off into the hedge, as they do, and silently produced a male lamb.

Friendly Sheep has an immense fleece (descendent of Square Sheep) and has thick wool all over her udders — she is perfectly adapted for life in a testing climate but her hirsutism presents a problem for her lamb — lambs are drawn to the teat by its smell and its heat — insulated teats are hard to find.

In the midst of this hunt while I am considering how to wax a sheep’ udder (ouch!) something else happens — something falls to the ground and rolls down the hill — it is a second lamb and the mother is completely unaware of it.  When it bleats she looks up for a moment then goes back to nosing her first.  Second Lamb shakes his nose free from the membranes with an extravagant gesture and bleats again — no response.

I pick up the lamb and clean its face with my hand then give it to the mother who looks pleasantly surprised and interested and she starts to lick it while I grab Number One Lamb and go hunting the teat.  I plug it in and beat a retreat.

Cleaning Second Lamb

Cleaning Second Lamb

By 10 o’clock at night, Second Lamb is teetering about the hillside, meters from its mum, bleating weakly.  I take it to its mother, ‘Not mine,’ she baas and gives it a gentle butt, then a not so gentle butt.

When my husband gets home from his Domino match, dropped off by a farmer friend he says to the friend, ‘Oh God — you know what’ll happen next — it’ll be in our wet-room.’

‘It is already!’

I tell him that I have prepared a pen in the shed and the friend offers us an adopter — a sort of anti-butting crate.  The next hour is spent slippy-sliding up and down the sodden hillside in the rain with Number One Lamb bleating in a bucket and Friendly Sheep following then panicking and running back up the field to something she couldn’t quite remember.

The other sheep are baaing their conflicting advice.  Eventually our old cade lamb, Aby, comes to the rescue and walks with us, Friendly Sheep was reassured and follows to the pen in the barn where we re-unite her with Second Lamb having warmed and dried it and given it a bottle of colostrum and washed its under the tap, dried it with hay and rubbed it on its big brother so that it smells more-or-less right.

Friendly Sheep settles immediately in the security of the shed, knows she has two lambs though she can’t count and is letting the now vigorous second lamb suckle.

Next morning they are a picture of domestic harmony.

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