Hill Farming, Sheep, Welsh culture

Highlight of the Farming Year

Llanidloes Ram Sale — a proper country Sheep Fair — where breeding sheep are traded locally just before the onset of the proper farming year, when the tups are turned out with the ewes at the beginning of November — for lambs in the Spring!

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All the sheep looking their best and relaxed — no frayed tempers today even if the hormones are beginning to flow.

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Perhaps the tups are a bit too laid-back — but then the ewes are down wind on the other side of the marquee.

Here’s a pen of fine young Blue Faced Leicesters —

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They may end up servicing  these beauties —

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–or these very tidy Black Faced ewes (I think they may be Beulahs)–

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to produce a valuable breeding Mule.

But best of all (to my mind) are the lively and hardy White Faced Welsh Mountain sheep.

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Best behavior in the ring but glad to be out of it!

High Flighers!

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animal psychology, Babies, Humour, Lambing, Sheep, Welsh culture

When is a sheep not a sheep?

Years ago, long before we knew anything about sheep, fate presented us with an orphan lamb.

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Here she is, still nameless and rather thin, at the foot of her ailing mother.  Our subsequent experience “bringing up Aby” (that is her name) forms the basis for some of my recent book, Iolo’s Revenge.

I don’t want to spoil the book for you but can tell you that it was a very steep learning curve and taught us a great deal that we had not previously realized about bonding, despite having five children!

And it’s not just humans that are suckers for baby things!  Here is Pedro our tough and, then, sometimes wilful, dog (who would kill an adult rat or rabbit in a trice) cleaning up Aby with puppy love.

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Here she is a few weeks later and a lot more confident.

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Queen of her domain.

She has had ten lambs of her own now, always helped into the world by yours truly, (though they never really needed it).  She would always lie as close as she could to the kitchen door and call for her private midwife.  She would make a terrible fuss if I went in for a cup of coffee or a call of nature and when the lamb was almost out I would gently help and present it to Aby.  It reminded me of a cat we used to have who would not have her kittens unless my dad was standing by with sterilized nail scissors.

I’ll save you the slippery, slimy pictures.  All cleaned up next day –note the number one –that’s Mum’s number — she was, after all, our first.

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Last October we sold our breeding flock and Aby has retired.  She runs with the new flock that graze our land.

Last week they were to be moved to the farthest field, beyond the woodland.  Now when sheep are faced with a scary predator their instinct is to flock together.  Aby took one look at the enthusiastic sheep dog, a Huntaway bitch, that had come to do the job and she peeled off from the flock and hurtled (she doesn’t hurtle often) towards the sound of Alan’s voice.  She hid with him in the orchard until the job was done and when shepherd and dog came back to the house Aby was standing with Alan in the garden still absolutely confident that when people say “sheep”, they don’t mean her.

She stayed in the garden all night, eating forsythia to which she is rather partial and which had only just recovered from its last assault, and I walked her up to join the other sheep in the morning which she did quite happily but in her own time.

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animal psychology, Humour, Neurophysiology, Sheep

Why don’t sheep laugh?

When I fell over in the snow the sheep didn’t fall about laughing, they were just perplexed — couldn’t work it out.  They know, you see, that humans are vertical creatures (everyone knows that!)  Horizontal humans just don’t make sense — it’s unthinkable.

When we humans have our preconceived notions challenged, when a paragon of respectability is caught with his trousers down or a judge is spotted slumped in a corner with a glass in his hand and his wig skew-wiff, we giggle and move on.  A sense of humour helps us think the unthinkable, it is great, it helps us accept the apparently unacceptable and we enjoy it.  I think that’s part of what it’s all about — broadening our minds!

Poor sheep: no sense of humour and they still can’t get their heads around it.

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Medical, Sheep

The Mystery of the Missing Ears

Our friend Tony told me about the flock of sheep fed on oil-seed rape, when it first became a popular crop in Britain. (It might have been in 1976 that famously hot dry summer.) The sheep gained weight like never before but lost their ears! It was a mystery.

oil seed rape field

Oil seed rape field curtesy of Bayer Crop Science UK  CC BY 2.0

 

Photo-toxicity is something I learned about in another life when a lady gardener showed me the livid, blistered scalds on her arms, as if she had been whipped with a red hot flail. In fact she had been lightly brushed by the cut, sappy ends of giant hog weed, angelica and cow parsley that had taken root and flourished amongst her parsnips that hot summer and which she had been cutting down.

Phototoxic chemicals, which occur in all these plants, increase the reactivity of the skin to ultra-violet and sometimes visible light – they are the opposite of sun screen and can produce the most bizarre patterns of sunburn. You can get them onto your skin directly, like the sap, or be effected by eating them, as with the light sensitivity that can occur with certain drugs.

Bergamot oil is another phototoxic agent, giving a puzzling blistered burn on the neck of a very smart but distressed lady who did no more than spray herself with expensive perfume on a sunny day.

I think that the sheep with the missing ears got such bad sunburn on their ears (their least woolly part) after eating or brushing through oil seed rape that they ultimately lost the tips of their ears– like our lamb here.

SONY DSCTwo of our triplets this year seem to be effected. They are the small ones who have had less milk and, early on, foraged more widely, nibbling in the hedgerow and tasting all sorts of plants at an earlier age than usual, when their hair was thin and their skin sensitive. The bigger one has gained weight but has lost his ears!

 

The little one has done better, now we have worked it out, and she has had treatment and gets my sun screen (factor 20) liberally applied on sunny days!

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Twts (they never have names!) She’s better with antibiotic, steroid and sun-screen

Whatever next?

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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, 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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