Sunday, 30 April 2017

Strawberry Delight


Every solution brings a new problem. After our tricky lambing and bottle-feeding, we moved Rubitu and son into a pen in the greenhouse. Life is like that around here – lamb was undersized, probably a bit premature, shivering in the northerly wind and in need of somewhere warm. Greenhouse – obvious, yes?

Moving a lamb is easy – you pick it up. Getting the ewe to follow is as easy as the ewe chooses to make it. The technique is to carry the lamb so that she can see it whilst doing your best cry of mah, mah if the lamb refuses to call for mum.

As it turned out, getting them in was easy. Rubitu was cooperative, probably helped by the fact that we had spent the last couple of hours with both of them, in a confined space, trying to get lamb to suckle.

After two days of warm and safe, we reached the trade-off point between keeping lamb warm versus teaching lamb to follow mum. To complicate matter further, Rubitu wasn’t eating properly – yes the sheep nuts were very nice, but what she really wanted was fresh greenery. The odd large handful of dock leaves went down well, but we couldn’t spend all our time picking salad for her.

The morning of the big day felt a bit too cold, but shortly after lunch we decided it was finally warm enough. The plan was for a simple division of labour: my partner went to let Rubitu out and see if lamb would follow, I went to install some new cat-flaps as the rodent-suppression team need access to some more out-buildings.

The thing I really need to emphasise is that Rubitu and lamb were in the greenhouse, which is fenced off from the sheep to protect all those young plants being raised just outside the greenhouse. Sheep have no respect for the plants you care about. There is a hedge just inside the fence protecting the trees and we had to beef-up the fence to stop them reaching through and eating said hedge.

It turns out that Rubitu likes strawberries – not the fruit, but the plant. In fact she more than just likes them, but if she can’t have strawberry plants, well those young willow saplings look tasty. Are those raspberries at the back? Rubitu was in sheep gastro-heaven. So much to choose from, but she couldn’t eat a whole one, or at least not before my partner intervened and shooed her off.

It took two of us to get Rubitu and lamb out into the field, one to move the lamb, one to defend the plants. Junior now goes out during the day, but he has another few nights in the warm, so Rubitu has those brief few moments, morning and evening, to give the strawberries a good look, or perhaps a quick munch if we’re not paying attention.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Wash With Trouble

A day with a long list of jobs is almost a guarantee of something going wrong. As a matter of practicality, I started with laundry, hanging out the wash whilst my partner went to feed the sheep. It’s been a nice, bright and sunny day with a crisp and bone-biting northerly wind so you stay awake to enjoy it. I was in the middle of juggling pegs when my partner shouted for help.

In the hour or so since I last checked, our final ewe for the season went from nothing to lambed. And in trouble. On a day with serious wind-chill.

Shove over, I'm older with more insurance - Cilla (foreground)
 making her bid for the lamb
Around about this time last year I wrote of our ageing ewe Cilla trying to take a new-born lamb from it’s mother, and here she was, at it again. With a side-order of Idris the gander being an aggressive nuisance. Last year I had to handle it on my own – it’s so much easier with two. We led the ewe into the barn, got her settled in and shut everyone else out. Job done. Crisis over. Back to hanging laundry and feeding sheep.

Not too long after, I went back to check. Soay are outstandingly self-sufficient, but things do sometimes go wrong. The lamb had found a gap and gone behind a barrier – easy enough to fix, so I settled him back with mum and headed off to tell my partner. Naturally, we drifted by for another look – basic precaution, and Soay lambs are outstandingly cute.

We only have a small number of sheep, and we’ve only been doing this for about ten years, but sometimes you look and you just know something is wrong, even if you don’t know what. It took a while to figure it out, but the lamb was not suckling, which is high on the list of terminal bad news for a new-born.

Here, right where I'm pointing
I stood him up and pointed his nose in the right direction. How hard can it be? Lambs have been finding the teat and sucking for thousands of years. Junior would suck on anything except the teat. So I stepped back and my partner took a go. Pick up lamb, guide nose, contact with teat... Seriously, it’s not us, it’s the lamb.

Imagine a multiple choice exam, Just to make it simple we’ve made every answer A. There you go, try your best. This lamb just keeps ticking D.

Feed me, sucker.
Let the dribble and drool commence.
There comes a point where this is truly life-threatening. My partner drove to our local farm supplies store to pick up a pack of commercial ‘colostrum’ substitute (the extra-rich initial milk the ewe produces to help jump-start the lamb). We already had some that we bought just in case, but now years out of date – our Soay rarely need this stuff. So rarely in fact that this is the first time in ten years.

So, lamb has had a few feeds. He keeps standing and heading for the udder, but it’s those last few millimeters where his nose veers away from the teat. Left a bit, right a bit, bang on, go for it... what’s this over here?

And now the final problem. We think he’s actually premature. After a lot of staring and muttering, we’ve narrowed down one of the things that bothered us at the start: his head is the wrong shape. It’s remarkably hard to explain. Think of an inflatable toy that just needs a few more puffs of air to push the nose out to where it belongs. We have seen this sort of deformity once before in a pair of lambs born to a ewe who was very ill, but at least hers got the hang of suckling promptly.


On the bright side, the laundry is drying. We’re going to need that later. Hand-feeding a lamb is a messy business.

PS
Just as I post this, junior appears to be suckling at last.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Milking It

Thug (aka Drang, aka the Purring Death) continues to visit. He dropped by on Sunday afternoon whilst we were out, sitting in the sun, watching out for the fox that has been killing our chickens. It was a nice day – perfect to set up the chairs, the camping table, have lunch, read a book...
Then Thug arrived, and all other cats vanished. As always with a cat, given three chairs, one of which was empty, he came and sat on me. Attention is required, and stroking, and my nose needed some firm adjustment upwards and to the left... no, upwards and to the right...
And then he moved on because my partner’s nose clearly needed adjustment.
What he really wanted was food. This option is not available. Adorable as Thug is, he is not allowed in the house due to his predilection for visiting violence on the other cats. Likewise, feeding is also not allowed, because it encourages him, so no food. Sorry. Being adorable is just not enough.
Thug jumped up on to the ageing camping table, but the plates were empty. Normally we would intervene – cats are definitely not allowed on the table – but encumbered with books, laptops and a joint curiosity over what he would do, we watched...
He inspected the tea-tray - nothing there except the milk jug. Small, glass, a bit of milk in the bottom...
He stuck his nose in, just enough to get a sniff. This has echoes of Tigger, a cat we had many years ago, and one of the first things he did was try to get his head in a large blue ceramic milk jug. He couldn’t actually get in, but Tigger had a purr designed to register on the Richter Scale, which reverberated inside the jug. Thug was working on a really small jug, so just the tip of his nose fitted in, and with no interesting sound effect.
So Thug did an Arthur. That probably doesn’t mean anything unless you’re old enough to remember adverts for wet cat food with a white cat eating from the can with his paw. Thug did just that, dipping a paw in the milk and licking it off. It would have taken him a while to get all of it but he chanced on an even better strategy – he tipped the jug over, into the tea-tray. Clearly if people will not put milk in a saucer, Thug will improvise.

Thug is a bright cat. I fear he will rule the world one day. Now that he knows how to milk a jug, there will be no stopping him.

Friday, 14 April 2017

A Cute Lamb Syndrome

Say Ahh! No, not like you’re at the dentist. More like you’ve just seen something amazingly sweet and cute and adorable. So, say Ahhh! because this is the Easter gratuitous cute lamb blog written purely because our first lambs have just been born and because they are just so amazingly cute.
Pretty much everything new-born is cute. I’m sure there are creatures out there who produce plain ugly offspring, but once you get onto cats, chickens, sheep... everything is cute. But some are cuter than others and, for whatever reason, cute as the average lamb is, the Soay lamb has extra-added cuteness.
Wait, I know I'm cute, but is this my best side?
I have done pictures for this blog because you have to see this sort of cuteness. There is a degree of tradition that says the photos ought to have a cute girly holding the lambs, just to emphasise how much cuter the lambs are. Since we are currently out of cute girlies, you will have to make do with middle-aged bloke with beard. Now how cute is that?
Once you get past the initial ahhh! moment, lambs move on to higher levels of cute, with added gambolling and playful curiosity. Last night they were digging up the special SoftSoil(tm) Luxury Kitty-Poo facilities (mole hills), which is seriously cute and, even at a couple of days old they have the sense to not disturb the ones already used by the cats.
No, I'm the really cute one.
At present, the lambs are working on keeping up with Mum, but soon they will work on the next cuteness skill which we refer to as zoom. It needs more than one lamb to be properly effective, so having the twins is an ideal starter-pack. Once a few more have been born then we can have proper zoom - high speed, formation running, over the molehills, up and down slopes, around slow-moving ewes, over sleeping ewes. Zoom is the natural lamb expression of having legs. Sturdy, powerful legs that are functional within the first hour of being born. Legs that let a lamb keep up with the flock. Basically, legs that go zoom.
Either these legs really go zoom, or grown-ups are just very slow.
Lambs are the equivalent of an eighteen year old human male, with full testosterone-induced mental impairment, given the keys to the motorbike/hot hatch/Daddy’s mid-life crisis sports car – the only thing to do is find out how fast it goes.
So, lambs go zoom. And as with the sports car, we have trees to help them stop.
And finally there is the naming, but the twins are rams, and due for the snip, so no names for them, right? That was the rule/agreement/convention which we settled on when we started with the sheep. The ewes get names. The rams get names. The wethers are just known by their ear-tag numbers.
Ginge is also very cute and came to supervise
We only intended to start with a few, maybe as many as six, just to see how we got on, but there were twenty-six, the last of a flock in need of a home following the death of a Soay breeder. Rosie, Rhoda and Ruby were the ewes born that year, and the boys just had a number - we still have numbers Thirty-seven, Thirty-Eight and Forty.
So Bonny’s twins Ocean and Sea don’t really need names, and maybe they won’t be called Ocean and Sea... but lambs are so cute, they have to have names. Even the ones that don’t need it.

There you have it, the gratuitous cute lamb blog, the annually recurring outbreak of A Cute Lamb Syndrome, which will clear up by the autumn.