Sunday, 23 December 2007

Oh dear it's Christmas!!!

Well there is no such thing as a free lunch and they had fun while it lasted.

Wishing all fellow bloggers and readers a very Happy Christmas and a creative New Year.

Normal blogging will resume in January.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Death in the Afternoon


It was April the 18th and we were about to move the ewes and lambs on to Far field, as this field was closest to the neighbours with the dogs, we phoned them to say that we were about to move the sheep. They assured us that the dogs were under control at all times.

April 19 morning, we moved the ewes and lambs to their fresh grazing and very happy they were to, lots of lush grass and Spring sunshine. One of the real pleasures of sheep farming is to watch the young lambs playing tag, they are like unruly school children who have just been let out at break time. Charging at full pelt from one end of the field to the other, rushing up the banks, jumping onto the fallen trees to play King of the Castle. I have spent some hours watching spellbound by their absolute exhuberance for life. And even the ewes will rush onto fresh pasture jumping into the air like lambs themselves, having headbutting contests over the juiciest patches , and moving quickly eating as they go, worrying that there might be even better grass further into the field. Not wanting to miss out on anything.

And so it was that morning. We walked back to the house happy to have seen such obvious enjoyment from the ewes and lambs.

April 19 afternoon, we took a leisurely stroll across to Far field with the milk for the Orphan lambs, the sun was still shining, it had been a lovely day. As we approached the field we heard the distinctive bleating of ewes and lambs in distress, in the distance TWO DOGS running away fast across our neighbours field.

In the middle of our field A EWE WITH HER TWIN LAMBS PAWING AT HER DEAD BODY. There were no other ewes or lambs in sight. We spent the next hour rounding up the flock from all corners of the adjoining fields,they had crashed through barbed wire fences, ploughed through streams, jumped wide ditches and generally scattered in all directions.

TWO LAMBS were so badly injured that the OH had to kill them in the ditches where they lay, one other was in a bad way but we brought her home in the hope we might be able to save her. Many of the ewes and lambs had rips and scratches from their flight through the undergrowth and the barbed wire fences. And lovely G74 was dead, there were no marks on her so she must have had a heart attack whilst defending her lambs from the dogs, so we had two more orphan lambs. And having rounded up the ewes and lambs we were still missing one lamb. The OH spent another hour trying to find the lamb as it could have been injured or even dead somewhere, eventually he gave up that day as we had to move the flock and tend to the wounded. As you can imagine we were in a state of shock and so unbelievably angry that the dogs had been allowed to wreak more carnage on our sheep.

It was too late to do anything that evening but first thing next day we called the farmers. One of them arranged to call on us with his Insurance agent. Later that morning when they came he was visibly shocked by the trailer load of bloodied corpses.

Now this may seem harsh to some people but we now insisted that both dogs should be shot otherwise we would take our complaint to the Gendarmes. The farmers agreed relunctantly, one claiming that the dog was his little boys but we could not risk the lives of anymore of our flock, nor could we live with the uncertainty that they might strike again. I felt so strongly about this that we even insisted on seeing the dead dogs, it was the only way we could be sure that they had carried out our demands.
Two happier endings, we found the lost lamb, the OH spent several hours beating through the undergrowth and eventually found one very frightened, hungry lamb who was very pleased to be reunited with his mum and the badly injured lamb recovered and was able to rejoin the flock.

The whole dreadful episode had lasted from the first attack on November 26th to the last on April 19th, approximately five months of constant worrying.We had lost FOUR EWES and TWO LAMBS plus all the losses at lambing time and without our willingness to seek veterinary attention and spend a lot of time treating the injured we would have lost more.

Probably the worst experiences we have encountered in our time as Sheep farmers.

So maybe HEIFERS would be less stressful!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, 5 November 2007

When dogs go bad.

Days such as the 8th December leave you feeling completely drained and wondering why you spend so much effort looking after the flock only to have it ravaged in that appalling way. When the OH returned we went to all the local farms again and further afield in an effort to trace the dog[s] responsible.
We couldn't rest easy knowing that at any moment there could be another attack. We didn't want to leave the farm for any length of time and spent a lot of time checking the ewes. I was still treating Autumn and the other ewe but they would survive which was in itself a small miracle.
On the 20th December we were treating one group of ewes in our Bergerie when suddenly the other group of ewes came charging down the field and trying to leap over the fence, two dogs were behind them. And behind the two dogs a man and a boy were trying to catch them!!! It looked very much like we had found the culprits. The man was someone we had already spoken to and he lived across from our top fields were the previous attacks had taken place. Apparently one of the dogs was his and the other belonged to a neighbouring farmer. The problems occurred when the two dogs got together. And to answer JJ these were ordinary domestic dogs, a family pet and a farm dog that went wild when they got together.
We went to see both owners and left them in no doubt that if were any further attacks we would go to the Gendarmes to get the dogs destroyed. They assured us that the dogs would be kept under controll, in the meantime their insurance would cover our losses to date. We also pointed out that our ewes were all in lamb and we could well experience further losses before or at lambing time. They agreed that we would also be compensated for unusual losses of lambs.
The compensation did not of course make up for the ordeal we and the ewes had been through but we felt that with the dogs identified we would have no further trouble!!!!!
Lambing in 2000 started in January and our worst fears were realised, all the trauma the ewes had suffered had a pretty devestating effect. Ewes were lambing up to a week prematurely, this may not sound much but a lot of the lambs growth occurs in the last few weeks, so we had lots of small weak lambs and many didn't survive. We had quite a lot of lambs born dead, and it was obvious they had been dead in the womb for some time, there were also more breech births which meant we had to be even more vigilant than normal. We had several cases of mastitis and one ewe died. There were also a number of ewes that should have lambed but must have aborted after the first attacks.
If I say that our mortality rate is usually about 3or 4% then 16% that year was APPALLING and that didn't included the losses from the aborted lambs. We found it quite devestating to be continually burying dead lambs. We were compensated for the losses but not for the heartache, all that effort and the sleepless nights only to deliver another dead and sometimes rotting lamb. By the time we were nearing the end of lambing we felt completely exhausted, physically and emotionally. We had just a few of the agnelles left to lamb, it was April and the days were getting longer and warmer, the ewes and lambs were enjoying the Spring sunshine.
We hoped that that was the end of our troubles, we needed a rest.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Will she live?

Sorry to JJ, Zinnia Cyclamen and Lane for leaving you in suspense but I have to get readers somehow!!!
The vet was not too optimistic on Autumns chances of survival, her back legs had big holes which went right through the muscles, he said the biggest threat would be from infection, if I was prepared to wash out the wounds twice a day for two weeks she might have a chance, he also put her on large doses of anti-inflammatories and antibiotics. He also said that the wounds had almost certainly been caused by a dog and we would have to be vigilant as once a dog had tasted BLOOD it would be back!!! If we could move the sheep to another field as far away as possible it might prevent another attack.
I returned home and put Autumn and her mum in a pen so I could treat her, we had to hope that she was a fighter. It was too late to move the ewes then so we would do it first thing next day. Everything seemed calm and we hoped that it was a one off.
Next morning we went out to the field to move the ewes, they seemed nervous and distracted but that was only to be expected, we did our usual walk round to check that they were all together. Over by a hedge we saw a ewe stretched out and not moving, we ran over to her, she was alive but had an enormous chunk of skin that had been RIPPED away leaving an expanse of FLESH exposed. The OH ran to fetch the jeep and once again I was on the way to the vet, he moved the ewes to our farthest field.
Again the problem would be infection, the vet decided to stitch the flap of skin back in the hope that it would act like a sterile bandage that would keep the wound clean while it healed. He was not that hopeful but it was her only chance. She also needed high doses of anti-inflammatories which he warned us would cause the loss of any lambs she was probably carrying.
I had to hold her down as he stitched her, the STOICISM of sheep never ceases to amaze me. What they can endure and survive is incredible.
I took her home and put her in another pen where I could treat her aswell. Only time would tell whether either of them would live. In the meantime we went to see the Gendarmes. They were sympathetic but could do nothing unless we found the owner of the dog[s]. They also told us that we didn't have the right to shoot a dog if we found it worrying our sheep, but if no-one knew --------?
We decided to visit our nearest neighbours to see if any of them had seen any stray dogs around, no-one had but all said they would keep their eyes open. We are the only sheep farmers round here so there had been no other incidents.
We also visited the President of the local chasse, he was sure that the dog[s] would not be hunting dogs as they are trained to ignore all farm animals, but nevertheless he would be on the lookout for any stray dogs. And that was as much as we could do.
We spent the next week checking the ewes several times a day, all seemed quiet. Autumn was making progress, the wounds were healing although I don't think she ever forgave me for the pain I must have caused her as I washed them twice a day, she has always been wary of me. And the other ewe was recovering too, the flap of skin stayed in place long enough for new skin to grow back and she was able to go back with the flock.
THEN the OH had to go back to England and we had to move the ewes to a field nearer to where they had been attacked!!!!! It was an unavoidable move. Everything remained calm.
On the 8th of December I spent a very enjoyable few hours in our nearest town doing some Christmas shopping. I arrived home at about 3pm and as I parked the car I knew immediately that something was WRONG, the ewes had broken out of the field and were milling around the farm buildiings and I could feel their DISTRESS, it was hanging over them. I had been in such a good mood. I got them back into the field and spotted a small group of sheep huddled by the ram paddock. I ran over and found one ewe who appeared to be okay with THREE AGNELLES ONE WAS DEAD AND THE OTHER TWO WERE BADLY INJURED. And I was on my own. I managed to get the two injured sheep into the jeep and sped off to the vet. There was nothing he could do for them, so I brought them home again. I phoned a friend who came out and shot them for me.
Now you may be surprised by what I did next. I skinned them and gutted them and hung them. It seemed right not to WASTE them, I didn't want to THROW them away. I cried all the time I was doing this but it just seemed the right thing to do. It helped me to have something to do, it took my mind off the terrible events of that day.
Something else has remained with me from that day. When I found the dead and injured agnelles I said there was a ewe with them, she was unhurt. I made a note of her number so that I could check her properly later. When I looked at the tag numbers of the dead agnelles I realised why the ewe had stayed with them, they were HER LAMBS. All the other ewes had ran in terror but her instincts had kept her with them, she hadn't been able to save them but she had stayed with them. I shed another tear for that ewe.

It would not be my last TEARS.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Now where was I? Autumn the Lamb and DOGS.

It seems a long time since my last post about Mist. I have been seduced by big cities and having fun now it's back to the laptop and writing. My typing has lapsed aswell so this is going to take a while!!

I'll start again in Autumn 1999. The rams had been in with the ewes since September and done their work well, but one of the ewes who had until then always been served without a problem had not been covered. On looking at her a little more closely it was obvious that she was already pregnant. Shock horror I hear you say, well may be not, but we were surprised. The rams are kept away from the ewes except at tupping(when they strut their stuff] so how was she in lamb? And when would she be due? Then we remembered that one of the rams by the name of Wally [by name but obviously not nature] had been in with the ewes for a few weeks in May. Now normally ewes would not be receptive in May but there is the exception to every rule and Number 8 was it!! One mystery solved and it also meant we would have some idea of when the ewe would lamb.
On the 12 of October we bought the ewe into one of the buildings so that we could keep a closer eye on her. During that night I woke up and felt that I might aswell go and check on the ewe, and I'm glad I did. She had started lambing and when I checked her the lamb was in the breech position, i.e. back legs coming first.With this presentation it's imperative to get the lamb out as quickly as possible otherwise it risks drowning in it's birth fluid, this is because the cord breaks before the head is out of the birth canal and the lamb takes it's first breath. So I grabbed hold of the legs and pulled the lamb out, cleared its mouth and it was fine. Luckily for me and the lamb the ewe was quite happy for me to assist her in this way. If I had had to go for help from the OH it may well have been too late! Waking up in the middle of the night was also very lucky.
So one healthy lamb. After a few days in to get aquainted we let Mum and lamb out with the other ewes, we named the lamb Autumn, well you would wouldn't you? I think it confused the other ewes to see a lamb at that time of year and the Agnelles[that seasons ewe lambs] were very taken with this funny looking creature. Life was proceeding smoothly the weather was mild and we were enjoying one of the more peaceful times on the farm.
Then on the 26th November the NIGHTMARE began. We were working outside when the ewes started bleating loudly, and not a bleating that we recognised. You may think that one bleat sounds much like another but this is not the case, we had learnt to recognise the usual calls that the ewes made to each other but this sound was very different, it was urgent and you could hear distress in it. We ran to the field and found the ewes huddled in one corner and in a far corner Number 8 was standing by Autumn who was laid out in the grass, we thought she was dead. Her back legs were covered in BLOOD but she was still breathing, when we looked closely she had big holes and tears in both hind legs. We took her straight to the Vet fearing the worst, and not knowing what animal had caused the damage.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Back to reality.

Last Saturday we were in Marseille for the quarter final between England and Austalia. It was AMAZING. We have had an AMAZING few weeks. I have never been to any Internatinal Sporting events before and have been bowled over by the whole experience. Rugby has a reputation for good natured rivalry between fans and so it has proved.
On Saturday we were surrounded by Aussie fans but they took DEFEAT very well. Oh it was just so good. They beat us at everything normally but atlast it was our turn.
In the evening we sat in a Bar in Marseille and cheered on the French to their victory over the All Blacks, even more AMAZING.
Now we are back home and preparing to watch tonights match "LE CRUNCH" and whoever wins we shall have a team to support in the final.
You may think I have been a bit liberal with the word AMAZING but it sums up the last few weeks perfectly. We are in a very rural part of France so visiting Toulouse, Nantes and Marseille in the space of four weeks has been tiring but brilliant.
And without our good friends who have been looking after our animals in our absence it would not have been possible. THANKYOU.
Normal service will be resumed next week. Whatever that means!!!!!!!

Friday, 21 September 2007

Home then off again!!!

Just a fleeting visit to say that the Sheeps tale will continue after the Rugby!!!
The picture shows the first match with Fiji doing their version of the Haka to Japan, the stadium was packed, a sellout as was France v Namibia.
The first matches we saw were brilliant, the atmosphere was electric. I have never been to World Cups in any sport so it is an amazing experience. So far the organisation has been spot on with Free Parking and Shuttle buses to the Stadium. I am very impressed. Tomorrow we are off to Nantes to watch England play Samoa, a game they must win. It should be another cliff hanger.

All the travelling does take up quite a lot of time and energy so writing and blogging has to take second place for the moment. I will pop in on fellow Racers when I have the time.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Off to the Rugby World Cup

We have tickets to watch six Rugby Matches over the next month, mostly in Toulouse but also one in Nantes and a Quarter-final in Marseille, so I will be off-line on and off over the next few weeks. Will pop in on other blogs when I can, see you all soon.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Sheepdog's Tale Part 2

As a puppy I fitted in to my new home very quickly. At the beginning I was on my own but in my first Summer another puppy arrived. I've never seen anything quite so funny. Her name was Fleur, well that was funny for a start, then there was her shape, short legs, a long body, very long ears and she always looked sad even if she wasn't and she had a very funny accent. She said she was a Basset Hound from England. I'll let her tell you about all the fun we had and the mischief she got me into!!!

Now I was growing up and was getting impatient to start work. I sometimes went with the Boss to check on the sheep but just as I would be about to go and round them up she would call me away. I didn't understand what the problem was until the day she said we were going to "school" for ME to learn to work with sheep. It wasn't me that needed lessons, it was MY SHEPHERD who didn't know what to do!!!!!

I must admit the first day was a bit scary. She gave me a pill to calm me down for the trip in the "metal box"[ I still hate them now] but I think she should have had one aswell. When we arrived at the "school" I had to wait in the "box" all morning, apparently the Shepherds were signing up for the lessons[I knew it was for them!] And talking about their dogs and their experience. There were lots of other dogs in their "boxes "but they were all those black and white collie types so I was going to stand out, but I didn't mind. I was confident but I don't think she was judging by her face when she came to fetch me!!!!!!

We went into a field to start the lessons. All the other Shepherds were males and the collies were sniggering amongst themselves. "Have you seen the size of that bitch[me] and she's so old[2 years] and her Shepherds a female, oh this is going to be fun to watch." They [the dogs and shepherds] were all waiting for us to make fools of ourselves.

The first task was the RECALL, well how simple is that, or so I thought. But only the second Collie to be tested, a male with other things on his mind and a totally ineffective Shepherd, took off and kept running. He was put on his lead when they finally caught him, how embarrassing. I had a little smile at that. Then it was our turn. I could see how nervous she was, all those males looking at her, waiting for a mistake, waiting for me to run off. But of course I didn't, I went straight to her and waited for my next command. That kept them quiet. After that we were given a bit more respect.

As the weeks passed she was really getting the hang of the commands and we had just started working with small groups of sheep. She was still a bit nervous about letting me work but I was beginning to enjoy myself, atlast I was doing what I had been born for.


Our flock of sheep where attacked by MARAUDING DOGS, and they became terrified at the sight of any dog, me included. They started running for their lives as soon as they saw me. I tried to reassure them but the trauma they had suffered was too great and they would't listen. She said I had to leave them alone until they had recovered. No more fun for me. It was a long time before she was able to let me help her again.

I think Number One is going to tell you all about those TERRIBLE DAYS as I didn't see what happenned to them.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Review of Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann

As The Guardian said "the best sheep detective novel you'll read all year"
It's a very entertaining book and it's obvious to me as a Shepherd that Leonie Swann has done her homework on the ways of sheep. I particularly like how the sheep use their superior sense of smell. You may think it strange for George the Shepherd to read aloud to his flock but I regularly talk to mine and know that atleast some of them understand perfectly what I tell them!!!

The discovery of Georges body, apparently murdered, sets the sheep on the trail of the Murderer. There are some clever twists and turns, some very funny bits and good observation of the human condition. Some of the ways the sheep use to find out information are a bit contrived but hey this is fiction!! A very original take on a detective novel, and as we all know there are only a finite number of stories so finding a new angle is important if you want to be published. I also like the addition of the sheep on the bottom of each page, if you flick the pages the sheep gambol, a nice touch. All in all a good read especially for sheep lovers. And always a good sign for me I will read it again. Just wish I'd thought of it first!!!!

Friday, 31 August 2007

The Sheepdogs Tale

I have recently read a book called "Three Bags Full" by Leonie Swann, I will write a review soon, but it set me thinking. I have been rather authoritarian in telling all my stories myself, there are others involved who should perhaps be given a voice. It would also allow me to concentrate on my wip for a while, if it doesn't work then I won't have lost anything, except my fellow bloggers maybe!!!!

So here goes, over to you Mist, you can go first.

Woof woof woof, oh sorry I got a bit excited then, forgot you lot have a funny language, luckily us sheepdogs learn it an early age, at our Mama's knee to be precise. Sheepdogs are born not made, it's in the blood. Anyway this is my story, from the day I was born, how I came here and what I do every day.

Mama is a Belgian Sheep Dog, type Malinois, now I know that lots of you will be surprised to learn that I am a sheep dog[I know she was] as you will be more used to those black and white Collie types, they are not bad at the job but they don't have our presence. You never see a sheep talk back to us! Papa was a lurcher, "flighty" Maman called him but luckily the only traits I inherited from him were speed and the dislike of being treated for anything!!!

There were just two of us puppies, born in November 1996, Maman called us the "Chosen Ones" I'm not sure why.[*Note from Sheepish: there were actually 13 puppies but only homes for two so only two survived, I never told Mist.]

We had a great time ,free to roam the farmyard from daybreak to nightfall, as much milk as we could drink, bedtime stories from Maman, the occasional visit from Papa but he was always in a hurry. It was Maman who taught us our manners, what to do around the humans, they had to be obeyed, but they were fair and mostly left us alone. That is until the day they came with more humans, Maman told us to be brave as we now had to leave her for a life elsewhere. We would be working for these other humans who, if we behaved ourselves, would look after us.[* Collected at six weeks old from the Pig farmers.]

So that was when I first met them. It wasn't a good start. The first thing they did was put me in a big metal box[*a landrover] that seemed to float and bump over the ground, we sped away from the farm and I could see the fields moving up and down, closer and further away, it was a nightmare. I'm afraid to say that I disgraced myself I couldn't help it. I felt so dejected by the time the box stopped moving, but they were very kind, no raised voices or slaps on the nose. Maman had warned me what would happen if I didn't do as I was told.

I soon worked out that she was the Shepherd and she was the one I had to obey, she was the Boss and obediance is what I do. She was surprised at how quickly I learnt, I couldn't understand why until the other puppy [*a Basset Hound] arrived from England, but then that's her story. It did explain though why she was so delighted with my desire to please her!!!!!I had my own place in the Barn, they seemed to know that us working dogs need a space to call our own, where you can relax but be ready for any job that comes up. I like my freedom, come and go as I please, and because I know my boundaries I do not abuse this freedom. Unlike some dogs I could name!!!

I like the summer best when I can wander in and out of the space they call the kitchen, I have to knock in winter, they are not very hardy and have to shut the wind out. I am getting older now and spend more time with them than I used to when I was young, there were always so many exciting things to do then. I will have to tell you another day as I have some work to do now, she who must be obeyed is calling, and I must go. Back soon I hope.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Back to work. Morning Pages.

Monday morning I celebrated an anniversary.
On Monday the 26th of August 2006 I started writing Morning Pages, basically two or three pages of whatever came into my mind, every morning except Sunday. And one year on I am still writing my Morning Pages. I am quite proud of this because as an inveterate procrastinator it is an achievement for me to stick to something for so long.
I came across the idea of these pages via Fiona Robyn's Creative Living blog although I think it is recommended by several writers. The idea is just to help the creative juices to flow by sitting down every day and writing two or three pages of whatever comes into your head. And to make a habit of it so that it becomes second nature to you. And that's what I have been doing for the past year.
I have to say that what goes on the page is quite often of very little consequence, in fact it's very often complete drivel but it's words and it's a good habit. I also use them to set myself targets each week in an attempt to keep the PROCRASTINATOR in me at bay. It works sometimes, not always of course, but sometimes is better than not at all!!!!
So I'm back from my holiday and ready, more or less, to get back to work. I have set myself some new targets which I shall rely on my fellow to help me achieve.
Target 1: 1st draft of Novel [90,000 words] to be finished by the end of November. That is basically 5,000 words a week.
Target 2: Blogging back on track, aim for two posts a week.

There I've said them out loud and I am hoping that the act of committing my desires to the page will help my motivation. Feel free to berate me if I appear to be failing, but be gentle as I am hard enough with myself.

"Goals are simply dreams with a deadline" So I have set my dreams a deadline.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Taking a break

Just to say that we are off to our house near Carcassonne towards the end of this week, we shall be away for about 10 days and do not have internet down there yet so will be silent for a while. We have some friends arriving tomorrow who will be looking after the animals while we are away. One of the downsides of sheepfarming is not being able to go away without organising sheepsitters.

I expect to return with a renewed enthusiasm for my blog and my novel both of which have suffered recently.

I hope that the foot and mouth outbreak in England will soon be over as the last outbreak was devestating. I can imagine the heartbreak of seeing your livelihood destroyed in front of you, and I know that for many farmers it is their lifes work and not just a job. I can remember the feeling of panic when some cases appeared in France, the thought that I might lose my flock was very stressful. Atleast this time all exports have already been stopped. I fervently hope that the outbreak has been contained.

Anyway I'm off to pack my bucket and spade see you all soon.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Pedicure for 70, oh dear!!!

One of the hardest jobs we have to do with the sheep is foot trimming, which is done twice a year along with worming.
The photo shows our sheep turner, complete with sheep to model it, which is probably the most useful piece of equipment we have bought over the past years of farming. When we first started we had to physically turn each sheep over, then trim their feet which required leaning over the animal, this was back breaking work and very tiring. I would trim the feet and administer the wormer while the OH restrained the ewe. As the size of our flock increased it became our most dreaded job. At a Sheep show we visited we saw a sheep turner being demonstrated, it seemed to be the answer to one of our most difficult jobs. As these pieces of equipment are quite expensive I decided that I needed to try it first to make sure that it was as easy as it looked. As was always the case 10 or so years ago I would be the only woman asking questions or demanding demos, so it was with some trepidation that I stepped up to the man who was handling the equipment. I could feel all the farmers looking at me as he showed me what to do. I succeded in pushing the sheep into the turner and then pulled the various levers that lock the ewe in position, and then with a bit of effort I managed to swivel the ewe back into the work postion. A small round of applause followed at which I turned a delicate shade of pink.
It was after that demo that we bought our own sheep turner and now cannot imagine having to do 70 or more ewes without it. Admittedly we still have something of a struggle to get some of the bigger ladies in, we really must put them on a diet!!However you can see from the photo that once they are in they are quite calm and it actually makes trimming their feet much quicker for all concerned. At the same time as the pedicure they also receive a routine worming.
However an even worse job that has to be done sometimes is dagging, this involves cutting away "dirty" wool from around their tails. We used to do all the ewes before lambing but as numbers increased it became impossible so only the ones at risk are done now. Dagging is neccessary in Spring to avoid "Fly strike" a very unpleasant problem that can occur before shearing. As I have explained before a particular type of fly lays its eggs in the wool and these turn into maggots which feed on the animal. They can also affect their feet which is one reason why we have to keep them trimmed. Often the first indication of "Fly strike" is when the ewe becomes depressed and stops eating and often moves away from the flock. It can take several weeks of care to get the animal back on form so it is obviously better to avoid the problem if at all possible.
We have noticed over the years that the ewes have become more demanding and are no longer content with a simple pedicure and haircut they now want red nail polish and a blow dry. We think we are too soft with them sometimes, although we have drawn the line at botox and colonic irrigation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Lets face it the rams don't care what they look like.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

A Pink Quill, a surprise gift.

I had a lovely surprise last week, a dear friend who had gone back to England for a few days saw this beautiful plant called a Pink Quill [Tillandsia] and thought of me and my efforts at writing, perhaps she hoped it would inspire me. So she bought it back for me. It now has pride of place amongst my virtual sheep. I can see it from my desk[aka the dining table] and it has already inspired this post so it must be working! It is a really amazing plant, the gorgous pink quill has a succession of deep violet small flowers along each side of the quill. The photograph doesn't do the colours justice. Nature never ceases to amaze me with it's truly infinite variety.
Thank you again to my very thoughtful friend.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

In Search of Adam

I have just finished reading the novel by Caroline Smailes. I can honestly say I was blown away by it. I had avoided reading other peoples reviews until I had read it myself as I didn't want to be influenced or have other peoples views of it. I was also a little nervous about what I would do if I didn't think it was good, I think I would have had to keep quiet. But it is good, very good.
It is not an easy read because of the subject, child abuse, but Caroline has an amazing way with words that draw you into the book from the first paragraph and holds you til the last, in spite of some very difficult scenes. You want to fold Jude in your arms and make life better for her, she is as real as your own child and her pain is very hard to bear. This is a very unusual book in its perspective, told from the childs point of view, and with unique use of language which works so well. You never question that it is Jude a small child telling her story. Despite some very harrowing scenes it is never gratuitous and the other characters are very well drawn, you can picture them all, they come alive on the page.
Caroline has achieved a remarquable first novel and I shall look forward with impatience for her next book.

Monday, 2 July 2007

What Daisy did next?

Actually there were lots of FLAWS but the main oversight was the fact that the piglets were not used to coming down into the building and would not follow me under any circumstances, not even for the yummiest of apples!!!!. So the plan failed at the first hurdle. Caroline you were right about it being the piglets but you weren't very specific so no prize for you. And Zinnia would probably have been right aswell if we had got as far as the Oak door!!!!
So that attempt was abandonned, our friends went home pigletless. We never did find out what the two townies intended to do with the huge gloves as they had returned to England before we made another attempt to remove the piglets.
I spent several days coaxing the little dears into the building so that when we tried again they were quite happy to follow me. The rest of the CUNNING PLAN went quite well. The OH had modified the door so that it had a handle he could hang onto and it was wedged against the outer wall of the building so that Daisy was pushing against the wall not just the OH!!!!. The piglets went into the horsebox with a bit of prompting and our friends duly drove off with them all.
Daisy calmed down in a few hours and stopped calling for her little ones. She was happy to eat that evening and two days later we brought our two piglets back and kept them out of earshot as planned.

However it had all been pretty traumatic and we weren't sure if we were prepared to keep animals that could do us considerable harm if they felt like it. At that time we made one of the few big mistakes in our farming life. We decided to get rid of Daisy. If we had thought about it more rationally we would have realised that her behaviour would have improved with time. It had been her first farrowing and she was learning as much as we were. But we didn't give ourselves enough time to reflect and not long after we had taken the piglets away we sold Daisy.
I am sorry to say that she went for slaughter. As I say it was a big mistake. We reared the piglets as planned and had them slaughtered at the farm by our friendly retired butcher.

It was 6 years before we decided to keep pigs again. All our friends were encouraging us because of the truly wonderful taste of home grown pork. So we took the plunge again and made another big mistake but that's another story.

I think it's time to get back to the sheep as I seem to have been neglecting their story. So the next post will be a footy tale!

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Now where was I ? Oh yes, the CUNNING PLAN!!!!! BUT DON'T MESS WITH DAISY!!!

We had to find a way to get Daisy's piglets out of her sight and earshot without being mortally injured by a very large very angry mummy pig.

The CUNNING PLAN included the following elements [in no particular order] : a large HORSEBOX, four enthusiastic friends [2 farmers and 2 townies], 2 pairs of HUGE PADDED GLOVES [used for handling liquid nitrogen], a NIMBLE OH [hummmmm], a large heavy OAK DOOR ,copious amounts of APPLES, 4 cooperative PIGLETS [aaarh!] oh and ME!!!! Plus a building through which we intended to move the piglets[ from their playground].

The CUNNING PLAN went something like this, in principal anyway: four friends arrive with their horsebox and park it in our back drive by the door to the building [which by the way had no doors!!!!] but leads past the pigsty to Daisy's outside run. I use the bucket of apples to lure the piglets through the doorway[no door] past the pigsty and out towards the horsebox. The OH hauls the very large and very heavy oak door across the doorway and uses his considerable strength to stop Daisy barging through the said doorway after her little ones. He weighs about 170 lbs she weighed about 350lbs. Meanwhile the four friends are there to ensure that the piglets calmly follow me up the ramp into the horsebox.

With me so far, now do pay attention, as I shall be asking questions!!!!!!!

The friends then drive away with all the piglets to their farm. I take the bucket of apples round to Daisy as a treat, she has barely noticed that her precious darlings are missing. The following day we drive over to our friends farm to fetch back our two piglets and put them in the wood out of Daisy's sight and hearing.

SIMPLE I HEAR YOU SAY! What could possibly go wrong?

Answers on a postcard to a very sheepish via the comments please.

If you can see any possible FLAWS then you can advise on future CUNNING PLANS.

Monday, 4 June 2007

Little Bo Peep lost her sheep!!!!

Last Thursday we went off for a cycle ride in the morning, we usually drive somewhere with the bikes on the back of the car. This is because its very hilly where we live and we are not sadists!!! We did a 2 hour cycle route around part of the Marais Poitevin also known as the Venise Verte, its very beautiful, tranquil and more importantly flat. The weather was changeable and we only just avoided being drenched by sheltering under some very convenient trees. After the ride we always stop for lunch, there has to be some recompense for all that exercise. There are lots of very pretty villages dotted along the rivers and canals that make up the Marais, and plenty of restaurants and bars as it is a popular tourist area. At this time of year it is fairly quiet and more enjoyable than in July or August. We arrived home about 4pm with weary legs but it had been very pleasant. If you want to know more about this lovely region then go to this site, its in French but there are lots of photos.

I spent the rest of the afternoon making a large raised Veal and Ham pie for a friends picnic that we were going to on Saturday. At about 6pm I went to check on the ewes. They were nowhere to be seen. Now this happens from time to time, one of the ewes gets wanderlust and the rest [being sheep] have to follow!!!!!!!!

Over the years we have got used to the various ways they go and we had a good idea where they would be. I had by this time collected reinforcements i.e. the OH. We set off round the field they had disappeared from to find the tell-tale gap in the hedge. NO GAP!!! I would just add that its a 3 HECTARE FIELD[about 7.5 acres]. There was no sign of them. We had to go on instinct alone. We went back to the house and got in the car to check the neighbouring farmers land. Still no sign. The OH took the car back and I walked back through the woods to check for woollies there. NOTHING not a baaa anywhere. I trudged wearily back towards the house wondering where we could look next. It was already 7.30 pm and my legs were protesting. As I walked past the field which is directly behind the house and next to the field the sheep had been in I caught a glimpse of something WHITE AND WOOLLY!!!!!! At that moment I heard the OH calling that he had found them. They had been in Home field all along. No we are not blind but the grass in that field is very long and they had been lying down and completely invisible.

We had spent nearly 2 hours looking for sheep that were in the adjoining field. I then had to count them to make sure they were all there. That wasn't easy either.

Oh the joy of being a Sheep farmer.

Friday, 25 May 2007


Continuing with the story of the piglets, after a few days Daisy became less precious about her babies and the OH managed to take the dead piglets away. Then she would come away to eat and we were able to see what we had got, 4 females and 2 males.

The book explained how to castrate the little boys but we didn't like the sound of it, no anaesthetic and the swift use of a scalpel. We could of course have taken them to the vet but I'm afraid cost has to be considered.

We decided to overcome the castration problem in what we thought was a fairly novel way. We would EAT them before they got too big, ie as suckling pigs. We arranged for our friendly retired butcher to come and slaughter them. However we didn't want Daisy to know what was happening to them and we were worried about Daisy's reaction if she heard them squealing, we could imagine her chasing us and the butcher until she got them back, and an angry pig is not to be trifled with.

Another novel solution was required, the answer was to take them out of her earshot. SIMPLE!!! Well not that simple actually. What we came up with was to load them up in our stock box and drive them into the wood, where we would get the butcher to do the deed!

The only problem was explaining to the butcher that we wanted him to go into the woods with us!!!!! He looked somewhat bemused at us not wanting Daisy to be upset but luckily he had got used to our strange English ways and was happy to do as requested. We had 2 lovely suckling pigs which we popped in the freezer until we were ready to eat them, and Daisy still had her 4 little girls to look after.

The photo was taken shortly before the boys had to leave, they were enjoying a family wallow in the mud. Some friends wanted 2 piglets to fatten for themselves which would leave us with 2, perfect as this meant none of the piglets would have to go to the abattoir!! The only difficulty would be getting them away from Mum.

Yet another novel solution would be required but it was going to prove much more problematic. See the next post for our ingenious efforts and whether they worked!!!

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

Daisy does it all by herself!!!!!!

Back to Daisy's story, we had made her a really nice farrowing pen complete with rail to stop little piglets being squashed by rather large mummy pig. Unfortunately she didn't like it, maybe it was the Nursery rhyme wallpaper or lack of satellite TV, who knows but she wouldn't stay in it and if a very large pig decides not to stay in a pen then she doesn't and that was that.

We left the gate to the pen open and fed her in there in the hope that she might decide to avail herself of the facilities we had laid on, but no. And she gave us a lesson in the real nature of pigs.
She made herself a nest in a thick patch of brambles and other shrubs, she had made a tunnel through the undergrowth and there was only one way in, which she could easily defend!!! The nest was scooped out of the soil, and because of the thick undergrowth even when it rained she didn't get wet. What a very clever pig!! But then why not it's what pigs or any other animal knows how to do instinctively, otherwise they wouldn't suvive.

July 3rd 1997 and Daisy starts farrowing, we were very excited, and watched what was going on from a distance, she wouldn't let us get very close. Little pink piglets kept popping out effortlessly and seemed to know what to do, how to find a teat and hang on. We couldn't see exactly how many because Daisy got upset if we tried to approach. In fact we felt pretty helpless especially when she inadvertently squashed three of the piglets. We couldn't even get the bodies away!!! She had made her nest safe from predators and she counted us amongst them.

Now as you know I am a great believer in books and despite the panic that the Pig book had caused me previously[see The three big pigs], I had studied the book for farrowing tips. It recommended iron injections for the newborn piglets, so I had collected the appropriate solution from the vet. It also recommended cutting the piglets tails short to avoid tail biting, and of course castrating the male pigs to avoid tainted meat. This is where luck and Daisy came into the equation. We were quite prepared to attempt the first two recommendations but Daisy was having none of it. She was not letting her little darlings out of her sight, and although the OH had managed to remove the dead piglets [I haven't seen him run as fast since!!!!] we had no chance of sneaking the live ones away even one at a time. I think I have mentionned the noise a piglet can make.


And as it turned out there was absolutely no need for iron, they were free range getting all the minerals they needed from the soil, and they weren't interested in biting each others tails as they had lots of other fun things to play with outdoors. Such problems only affected housed piglets but the book didn't mention that!!!! So lucky for the piglets that mum knew best.

And as for CASTRATION we only had two males and I'll come back to them later.

But once again I had been led astray by a book, and the moral of this tale is leave nature alone as she generally knows best.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Ironing Ducks

Just to let you know that the ewe is recovering from her nasty experience with the flies and all the rest are okay at the moment, so fingers crossed.

Now to something funny as requested by Sylvie from the Ile de Re.

Having successfully kept Hens and Turkeys we decided to keep some ducks, for the table of course, so off to the local market where we bought 6 ducklings. Oh they were so sweet, little yellow fluffy things, to die for. How would I ever let the OH kill them? I had the feeling that we would have those ducklings for life.

To start with they were in an outbuilding with straw in one corner and a little tray of water, then as soon as they had settled in we began to let them out into a courtyard during the day. While they were small everything was fine but as they grew, which was very quickly, they were like naughty children,making as much mess as possible.They had graduated from a small tray of water to a large bowl and they paddled the water and other unmentionables everywhere!!!!!!!. Wherever they went a trail of smelly mud followed them. It was impossible to keep the area clean.
I began to count the days to when they would be big enough to slaughter, so much for keeping them forever, I couldn't wait to be rid of them!!!
The day finally arrived for the little dears to meet their maker and as usual we had a book to tell us what to do, "Poultry Keeping for Peasants" or something like that!!

The OH ignored the method given to dispatch the ducks because it looked too awful, instead he used his tried and trusted method[no I won't go into details but it's quick and painless].
Then we did the plucking, we had a duck each and quickly got rid of the feathers,or so we thought. Ducks being water birds have a layer of very fine down to protect them from the cold, and these fine feathers were resisting our efforts . I went back to the book to see if there were any hints on removing these feathers.

This was going to be another occasion when I was glad we had no neighbours. I read with disbelief the instructions for removing down feathers, but felt I had to give it a try.

I followed the instructions to the letter: take the duck and lay it on a flat surface, cover it with a clean cloth, take a moderately hot iron and IRON your DUCK!!!!!!

Yes I know what you're thinking, did she really do that? YES I DID. And I ended up with a duck with perfect CREASES and nicely ironed DOWN FEATHERS!!!!! Of course it didn't work, how could I have thought it would?

I always meant to write to the Author of that book to ask him if he had ever IRONED A DUCK but I suppose I didn't want to admit that I had tried it.

The moral of this tale is don't believe everything you read in books!! And to prevent any of you from trying the above method a blow torch quickly and easily singes off the down feathers!!!!

We haven't kept ducks since!

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

Flystrike strikes

One of the most appalling problems that sheep encounter is something called Flystrike[Myiasis].This occurs in spring and autumn when the weather is wet and warm and the sheep have long woolly coats. At this time of year it occurs before the shearer has been and in the autumn it's when the coat is growing for the winter.

There is one species of fly that lays it's eggs in the damp wool of sheep, the eggs turn into larvae that feed on the wool, these then turn into maggots that feed on the flesh of the poor unfortunate sheep. If it's not detected quickly enough the animal will literally be eaten alive. So at this time of year we are constantly on the lookout for the first signs of flystrike, this is usually a ewe looking miserable and not staying close to the rest, dark stains also appear on the wool.

I was checking the flock as usual yesterday when I noticed one of the oldies looking depressed, I went to check her and there were the telltale signs I hate to see. I went back to fetch the OH and the scissors, antibiotic spray and fly reppellant. To treat the problem you have to cut away all the wool that is infested with eggs and maggots, then spray the whole area with the antibiotic spray and finally put on the special fly repellant. It's one of the most unpleasant, no disgusting jobs that I have to do for the sheep but if it's left untreated it must be the most horrendous death imaginable. You can understand where the saying "to make your flesh crawl"comes from. It makes me shudder just writing about it. I finished cleaning her up and had a good look at all the other ewes but they seem to be okay. We left her in the field with the flock. I went out later to check on her and as she was still looking very sorry for herself I decided to bring her in for the night, it would make it easier to keep an eye on her. I also brought in Number One with her to keep her company.

She looks clear of any reinfestation this morning so we put the two ewes in a small paddock where we can keep a close eye on her for the next few days. Now we know that the flies are about we shall have to be extra vigilant until they are shorn. Luckily the flies need atleast 2 ins of wool to lay their eggs so the sheep are safe for the summer months. If it's a mild wet autumn then we treat all the ewes with the fly repellant, it's expensive but worth it for the peace of mind.

I remember Tony Robinson used to do a TV series called "the worst jobs in the world" and cleaning up sheep with flystrike was one of them, and I would agree whole-heartedly. I hope that this will be the only case this year but it's unlikely considering the warm weather we are having at the moment.

One of the least pleasurable aspects of sheep farming!!

Sunday, 29 April 2007

A beautiful day

The bottom photo was taken in our wood this spring, it's wonderful to be able to walk amongst the wild flowers with just the sound of birds singing and the occasional bark of a deer as it takes off in fright. Sometimes I am quiet enough to see a group of two or three deer grazing close by but usually I have the dogs with me which sends any wildlife fleeing in panic. There are Red squirrels in the wood and the mad March hares have been having fun. I wonder sometimes why we are moving when we live in such beautiful surroundings. But I know the answer and it is time to move on to pastures new.

The top photo is my two horses taken in the field in front of our house.
Not a bad life really!!

Friday, 27 April 2007

Daisy does it!

Congrats to Cally you were pretty well spot on although I think Caroline and Ms M were on the right lines, although I did give you a big clue. Yes the pretty curly pink thingamy is for introducing the sperm into the sow, and yes apparently Boars, as well as having curly tails have CURLY WILLIES!!!

The AI man introduces the tube into the sow using a clockwise[or is it anti-clockwise] movement, another little known fact for the uninitiated and possibly where the phrase `a good screw` comes from!!!!!!!!!!!,the sperm is then squirted in from a small plastic bottle on the end of the tube. It's all over in seconds. Not exactly romantic and poor Daisy hardly knew what had happened.

When I asked the AI man if he had a photo of the Boar so that Daisy would have something to remember he gave me a very strange look. He wasn't sure if I was being serious or not!!

The whole process has to be repeated the next day and normally the AI man would leave another tube of sperm for the farmer to do himself, but he said as it was our first time he would return himself. I think both Daisy and I were quite relieved.

We then had to wait 3months 3 weeks and 3 days, or thereabouts, for the arrival of the piglets, assuming that all had gone well with the little PINK THINGAMY! We could expect a litter of anything between 2 and 20 , but 6 to 10 would be more likely for a first litter.

In the intervening weeks Daisy and I read the book from cover to cover and did all the breathing exercises and watched her diet. The OH put a farrowing bar in the sty where she was due to give birth[to stop her inadvertently squashing any little piglets] and all seemed set for the great day.

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

What is this object?

Answers on a postcard to Sheepish or better still please leave a comment, but I reserve the right to censor!!!!!

As a clue refer to previous post!!!!

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Riding Miss Daisy

Finally back to the pig tale! Daisy spent the Winter in a paddock at the back of our farmhouse. We made her a shelter from breeze blocks and a corrugated tin roof and filled it with straw and she seemed very happy. She had a voracious appetite and we were glad of stale bread and windfall apples that our friends continued to supply, Daisy of course had top quality feed!!! She spent her days rooting around in the undergrowth and the nights tucked up in her little house.

The only time we were concerned for her was when the temperature dropped to - 12 centigrade, however she had plenty of fat to keep her warm and the only inconvenience for her was walking on the frozen ground, imagine a large pig on stilettos and you get the picture.

Spring arrived and it was time to think about a nice young boar for her. We went to see the Pig farmer and he told us that Daisy would have to make do with AI[artificial insemination] no nice boar for her. She was disappointed of course but there was no choice. The farmer also told us how to judge when Daisy was ready for the AI man to call.

Now a sow will only accept a boar [or AI man] for approximately 2 1/2 days so its vital to call him in as soon as the sow is ready. This was when we began to suspect that the farmer was having a joke at our expense!!!!!

Apparently you know when the sow is ready when SHE LETS YOU RIDE HER. OMG. Did he really think we'd fall for that one. After we had fallen about laughing the farmer assured us that he was not joking.

Now you all know who gets the really plum jobs on this farm!!!!!!!! Yup the OH was going to do the pig riding. He had to go out each day and attempt to RIDE DAISY. This was another instance when we were so pleased not to have any neighbours, as we were not entirely convinced it wasn't a "blague" and that Candid Camera were hiding somewhere closeby.

I thought it could be grounds for divorce. But one morning he came in with a smug grin "come and see this, it's amazing!" The farmer had been telling the truth Daisy was more than happy to be ridden. We then knew that we could call in the AI man 21 days later when Daisy would be ready again. And that's another story!!!!!

Monday, 23 April 2007

Back to normal!!! Well almost.

I was all set to get back to normal posts last week after the disappointment of the sale falling through when we lost the internet for two whole days!!!!!

It's not until you haven't got something that you realise just how much you rely on it. And trying to get through on the phone for help can be a nightmare and add to that the problem of me looking at a screen in English while the procedures to be carried out are in French and even worse the fact that I am virtually computer illiterate and it wasn't much FUN.

I love computers while they work but absolutely hate them when they don't.

It all means that I haven't made any progress with my WIP or done any 'proper' blogs, but I am determined that I shall get back on track this week.

I refuse to let the set back with our proposed move interfere anymore.

LIMBO is good, long live LIMBO. I will be creative in limbo. Is it a place? No it's a state of mind and I am in charge of it!!!!!

Now I'm off to check out some of the other Novel Racers to see how they are doing.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Farm sale collapses

I feel really depressed because the sale of our farm has fallen through. The prospective purchasors couldn't come up with the money. It wouldn't be quite so bad if it hadn't taken 6 weeks to get to this point. Now we have to start all over again.

I find it really hard to keep the house gleaming and then there is the garden, everything is growing like mad at the moment and gardening essentially for other people is not one of my favourite pastimes.

Once you have made up your mind to move on then all you want is to get on with it. It's hard to concentrate when all you can think about is the next viewing.

Anyway enough moaning. Back to normal posts tomorrow or Friday. Easter Bunnies and lambs.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The Three Big Pigs

First a word about the house sale. SCREAM no news!!!!! We still don't know whether the sale will go ahead, but we will definitely know by the weekend. This is proving very unsettling and is affecting my ability to concentrate on anything, and thats bad enough at the best of times! So fingers crossed for good news soon.

Back to the Three Little Pigs.

By October we had three BIG pigs and as I said last time all good things must come to an end. We had found a retired butcher who had already slaughtered some lambs for us and he would come to the farm to slaughter and butcher two of the pigs .

Caroline, vegetarians and people of a sensitive nature should read no further!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As I mentionned before I like to read up on a subject first and killing a pig was no different. I was however rather worried by the description in the book. I know that pigs in slaughter houses, after being killed by a captive bolt, are dipped briefly into boiling water to get rid of the bristles. The book gave the slaughter method as follows: place the pig on the slaughter table and slit its throat, catch the much prized blood[for black pudding] in a bucket, then using a block and tackle lower the pig into a large oil drum full of nearly boiling water to remove the bristles, having heated the water by means of a large wood fire round the drum to a fairly specific temperature!!!!

I could see immediate problems with everything except the block and tackle[we had a front end loader on the tractor which would lift the pig carcass with ease] everything else looked like the stuff of nightmares!!!!! I have already said that a pig will squeal if you just look at it so the thought of trying to manhandle a large screaming pig onto a table seemed an impossibility. And how could we find a large enough oil drum let alone get it filled with nearly boiling water? The Butcher had not asked for anything special for the day he was due to come so I had to hope that he would bring whatever was neccessary, but I spent many sleepless nights worrying about the whole terrifying scenario as described in the book and the thought of a nasty end for our two pigs.

The day finally arrived, we had bought one of the pigs in to a pigsty overnight and we awaited the Butcher. I felt awful, my imagination was running away with me and it seemed impossible that the pig could be dealt with humanely, my main concern was that the pig should not suffer because of our ineptitude.

Not for the first[or last] time I had worried for nothing. The most traumatic moment of the whole event was the OH trying to slip a rope round the back leg of the pig. Not because the pig objected particularly but because the OH is left handed or should that be cack handed and made a real meal of this simple task. After that the pig followed me out of the sty and as she was eating an apple the Butcher dispatched her instantly with a captive bolt. She didn't feel a thing and hadn't squealed at all. Removing the bristles was equally simple, he used a large gas powered blow torch!!!!

All my panicking had been completely unneccessary. The Butcher returned next day to turn the carcass into chops, joints, sausage meat and all manner of delicious goodies. The second pig was slaughtered a few weeks later leaving us with Daisy to breed from the following year.

Our friends were very happy to help us eat the large amount of meat that comes from a pig and were astounded by the flavour of naturally reared and humanely slaughtered meat. It has to be tasted to be appreciated and is far superior to mass reared meat.

I could accept the slaughter of our animals at the farm because I knew that they had a good quality of life and that the end was swift, painless and stress free. It was more difficult to send animals away to the Abbatoir but with the lambs it was unavoidable. When it came to sending a pig then that proved distressing, but more of that later.

For the time being we had a freezer full of delicious meat and a sow who would provide us with piglets. Now where is that book, what do we do next?

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

These little Piggies went wee wee wee!!!!!!!

In 1996 we decided to branch out from the sheep and get a Pig. Usually the choice of animals is down to me but this time it was the OH who fancied ,no wanted, a pig. I talked to the ladies at Travail Manuel and they told me there was a pig breeder in the village. I went to the farm and it was a very strange experience.

The farmer and his wife were quite young but lived in dreadful conditions, they were renovating an old farmhouse but that wasn't the problem. They allowed all sorts of farm animals to wander in and out of their kitchen!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And their children were not renowned for cleanliness. As you can probably imagine it wasn't very hygienic and I declined a coffee.

However the pigs were free range and in good condition so I had no hesitation in ordering three little piggies. You may wonder why I said three piglets as we only really wanted one to keep for breeding and one to fatten to eat. I can point the finger of blame at the ladies. They were adament that if we had the piglets at two months[which was the age the farmer said we could have them] then we would probably lose one. So we ordered three little girlie piggies.

We went to collect them on 17th April and the first thing we learnt about pigs is the amount of noise they make. You only have to look at a pig to make it SQUEAL and SQUEAL and SQUEAL!!!!

By the time they were safely in their pigpen we were reeling from the assault on our eardrums. We had decided to keep them shut in for a few weeks while they got used to us and to keep a close eye on them for any signs of illness.

We had of course bought a book on pig rearing and were busy reading the relevant chapters on feeding etc. and diseases of pigs of which there seemed to be a large number. In the weeks that followed the piglets grew at a rate of knots eating vast quantities of food with no signs of ill health. It quickly became obvious that the ladies had been overly pessimistic and we had three very healthy piggies who were eating us out of house and home!!!!

We passed the word round to friends and neighbours that pork would be on the menu in 5/6 months and all scraps would be gratefully received to help fatten three rapidly growing piglets.
The photo shows the piglets at about three months when we had started letting them out into a courtyard during the day. The next things we learnt about pigs is how intelligent they are and how quickly they learn, and that they are also very clean and do not smell if allowed enough living space.
The spotty pig was named Daisy and we intended to keep her for breeding, the pink pig was Rosy and the black pig was Maisy. All three pigs spent the summer of 1996 in a large field enjoying their freedom and EATING, EATING, EATING to their hearts content. As the weather warmed up they enjoyed mud baths courtesy of the OH who would get the hosepipe out to fill up their wallowing place. They had a shelter built out of straw bales and corrugated iron, and luckily for them WOLVES are thin on the ground here so the shelter stayed up!!
This lovely lifestyle continued uninterrupted until the Autumn when all good things came to an end, well atleast for Rosy and Maisy. Find out more next post.

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Nothing to report!

We are still waiting to hear if the prospective buyers have got their loan. We hope to know by Tuesday until then there is not much we can do. It's very frustrating, life seems to be on hold.

I am finding it hard to concentrate on anything. And it's wet and miserable and cold, where is Spring, I need some warm sunshine.

Hoping for better news for next Sunday.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Birthdays and Big Hairy Donkeys!!

It was my Birthday last weekend and it reminded me of my first Birthday here in 1992. I was on my own which was a strange experience for me. I decided to go out for the day as I didn't want to be depressed all by myself. I had heard about some Big Hairy Donkeys and thought it might be nice to go and find them. It was a beautiful day, so warm in fact that I went in shorts and a t-shirt.

I had the address of the Haras National at Dompierre sur Boutonne which was the home of these donkeys. I arrived just after lunch, I was the only visitor and was shown round by the gentleman in the picture who was in charge of the Haras[stud]. He told me a little about the actions being taken to save these amazing animals from extinction. The Baudet de Poitou as it is called is indigenous to the Poitou -Charentes region of France and is a very impressive animal being much bigger than most Donkeys with fabulous ears and a rastapharian coat, it is also incredibly gentle. The animal in the first picture shows a mother and foal, the second photo is an entire male.

On my first visit there were many new born foals which I was able to stroke and fuss it was a wonderful way to spend my Birthday and I fell in love with those gentle giants and would love to own one. Maybe one day!!! Since that visit I have been back many times taking friends to see these glorious animals and they all fall in love with them. I am glad to say that the number of animals has risen to the point where they are no longer endangered. The Haras has expanded with a new visitor centre, special visits for schools to teach the children of the need to preserve their heritage and better facilities for the Donkeys. A real success story.
But for me my first impression has remained the most vivid in my memory not least because of the passion of the Director at the time, he obviously loved his Donkeys and was determined to save the Race, which he has done. I have included a website with more info and pictures, it is in French but the photos are great and it's fairly easy to follow I think!

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Back to little lambs.

One of the most time consuming but ultimately satisfying jobs is looking after weak lambs[if they survive of course]. As I have said before it's vital for a lamb to start feeding straight away,any delays and the lamb gets cold very quickly and once it gets cold it becomes too weak to feed so it is something of a vicious circle.

The first job therefore is to gently warm the lamb, firstly by rubbing vigorously with a towel this is often enough to stimulate the lamb to suckle. If the lamb is small or too weak to suckle then I draw off some milk from the ewe into a baby's bottle and try the lamb with that. If that doesn't work then it becomes a litttle more complicated. To warm the lamb from the inside and get rid of the meconium that stops the bowel from emptying I give the lamb an enema, this consists of gently inserting a small rubber tube into the rectum and introducing warm soapy water[about 60ml depending on the size of the lamb] then holding my finger over the rectal opening to keep the soapy water in the lamb until it strains to expel the water and the tarry faeces. Once this is done the lamb then needs some form of energy, as it is too weak to take milk then I give a sterile glucose solution as a subcutaneous injection, about 20ml slowly under the skin in several sites, this is repeated every few hours until the lamb is strong enough to take milk. The lamb is kept under an infra-red lamp close to it's mother while these procedures are being carried out. As I have said before it is important to keep the lamb within sight of it's mother to stop her rejecting the lamb.

In most cases with the above care the lamb is quickly restored to the point were it can suckle unaided. I have to thank a friend for giving me a little booklet entitled "Detecting, Diagnosing and Treating Chilled and Weak lambs by Laura Lawson", this has proved invaluable and has helped me to save many little lambs.

When I have successfully brought a lamb back from near death the bad experiences fade a little and it helps me to deal with them. It makes all the effort worthwhile, of course it doesn't always succeed and occasionally the lamb will die but I know that I have done as much as is possible.

The one thing I have learnt is that with the best will in the world you cannot save all the lambs and sometimes ewes will die, but if I have done my best then I can cope with the losses. If you can't deal with this then you cannot be a farmer.

Sunday, 25 March 2007

Moving On.

In February 2005 we bought a house in the Aude region of France .We were beginning to find lambing something of a strain and felt it was time to move on. We lambed in April 2005 and decided that it would be the last. In May 2006 we put our Farm up for sale. We had plenty of viewings last year but no offers, we still had all our ewes so had enough to keep us busy, we just felt unsettled by the uncertainty.

In January viewings started again, we were surprised that people were already looking for property. On the 21st February a couple came to view and they were bowled over by the place, they made an offer that evening[just as we had done 17 years ago]. By Friday we had a deal and the Compromis de Vente was signed on the 1st of March. If all goes according to plan we will sign the Acte de Vente in mid June and we will be turning another page in our book.

As I said in my profile I am giving up my life as a Sheep farmer, it will be quite a wrench to leave here but we are very happy with the house we are moving to and are looking forward to new experiences. We have quite a lot of work to do on the house including building work so we shall be pretty busy for some months, but I am determined to keep my blog going and keep on writing.

Several of our friends have asked for updates on the progress of our move so I thought it would be simple to use my blog, so I intend to make a Sunday post with details of the whole moving event. I think it may get fraught at times so being able to let off steam will be good. The posts during the week will continue to be about sheep and life here in general.

At the moment we are waiting for the Purchasors loan to be approved, once that is through we can start packing up as the deal should go ahead. If the buyers pull out after the loan is agreed then they forfeit their deposit. We shall have about two months to get ourselves organized, I feel as if we could do with a lot longer!!!!!!!!!!!!

As with all aspects of life in France bureaucracy takes centre stage , it is one of the very few aspects of the country which drives us mad at times. We are waiting for planning permission for the work we want to do to the house we are moving to and as usual it is taking longer than anticipated. The plans were submitted in January and we have only just had a request for more details, we are not sure what they want to know but have sent the letter to our Architect asking him to deal with it as quickly as possible. Our original plans were submitted early last year but we then found out that we had to have an Architect so this has already been dragging on for quite some time. We had hoped that the building work would have been completed before we moved in. SOME HOPE!!!!!!!!

Not to worry it can't be any worse than lambing!! Actually it probably will be as we had some controll over lambing whereas I feel this moving business could easily get out of controll.


Thursday, 22 March 2007

Much Better News

Lambing proper started on the day that the ewe died. So I'll describe what occurs in a "normal " 48 hours.

15th March 02

3.30am The OH gets up to check on the ewes, one of the ewes is lambing so he gets me up. Red 21 has twin lambs, I give each lamb a rub down with a towel then put it to the ewe to suckle having first made sure that the ewe has milk in both udders. The lambs navel is cleaned with iodine to prevent infection. We then move the ewe and her two lambs to one of the bonding pens where they will stay for 24/48 hours. Write up the birth in the lambing book and on the board[in the lambing shed] note which pen the ewe and lambs is in with the date.

4.30am back to bed for a couple of hours.

7.30am get up, check the ewes and lambs, all quiet. Have a cup of tea!!

8.00am feed ewes then feed and water ewes in the bonding pens. Buckets are no longer left in the pens after a lamb drowned in one overnight!!!!!. We have 12/14 individual pens so when they are all full it takes quite a while to feed and water them all.

8.30am Number 1 has twins as does Yellow 26. Deal with the ewes and lambs put them in their pens. Write up book and board. Let the rest of the ewes out. Go and feed the other ewes.

10.30am check ewes

12.30pm Red 27 has twins out in the field. Dry the lambs , bring in ewe and lambs to pen. Write up book and board.

3.00pm check ewes

5.00pm bring in ewes , feed, Yellow 32 has twins, deal with them as above. Feed and water for the ewes in the bonding pens. Feed and check the rest of the ewes.

7.00pm check ewes

9.00pm check ewes

11.00pm check ewes. Bed.

16th March 02

3.00am OH gets up to check, there is a ewe starting so I get up. Red 11 has twins. Back to bed by 4am.

7.00am White 17 has twins, Blue 33 has twins

12 noon Green 73 has twins

3.00pm Red 26 has twins

3.30pm Yellow 24 has twins

5.30pm Red 28 has twins.

Next day starts again at 2.00am!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In between dealing with the lambs we also have to put clean straw down each day in the lambing sheds, fill up the hay racks, fill up the water troughs in the buildings and in the fields. And each day we have to move ewes and lambs from the bonding pens to the field, and then clean out the pens ready for the next occupants.

When the ewes with their lambs go out to the field there are a number of things we have to do first.
Each ewe has a number sprayed on each side of her body, the same number is sprayed onto her lambs[red for single lambs, blue for twins and triplets] if a lamb and it's mother get separated we can reunite them quickly. It took us several years of trial and error to come up with this system. Each lamb has a band put on it's tail and if male will have a band on it's balls aswell OUCH!!!!! Then a lamb tag with our herd number and an individual lamb number goes in the lambs ear. The lamb is then ready to go out to the field. We take the ewes and lambs in small groups to the field but it can be quite a struggle to get them all moving in the right direction, we often have to carry the lambs. Not easy when they are wriggling and bleating.

After the first few days we have the ewes that are due and being brought in at night, the second group that will lamb after the first group, the third group that we are not sure about but still need checking and of course the ewes with their lambs who require extra feeding and surveillance. Our other animals also need the usual attention, we are the last on the list!!!!!!!!!

Some days seem to be endless but when you have bonding pens full of healthy twins it's worth all the effort.

And then of course there are the orphan lambs, the triplets and the quads but that's another story!!!!!!!!!

Friday, 9 March 2007

Doom and Gloom.

Sorry for the gap between posts but life has been a bit topsy turvy for the last couple of weeks, hopefully it will be a bit calmer for the next few weeks. So back to the story.

Lambing was due to start on the 14th of March [02], the ewes were due to be moved closer to home on the 8th to start the round the clock surveillance and shutting in at night from the 9th.. On the 6th I was doing a routine check on the ewes when I noticed a ewe standing alone away from the rest, as I approached she ran off and I saw what looked like a foot sticking out of her rear. As I couldn't catch her on my own I rushed home to get the OH and the lambing equipment. We managed after some chasing around to corner her. It was a head and one leg presentation, I managed to deliver the lamb but it was in a very stressed condition, still breathing but only just. With any aided delivery you have to check for more lambs, in this case there was another lamb in the canal and it was a breech presentation. This means that the back legs are coming first, these lambs have to be delivered as quickly as possible because the cord breaks before the lamb is out and it risks drowning in the birth fluid, this lamb had already been waiting sometime behind the first lamb. I pulled it out quickly and we set to work on getting it breathing. If you have ever seen James Herriot swinging a lamb round his head then that is exactly what we do, we also have something called Respirot, putting a couple of drops of this up the nose of a lamb often has the desired effect of starting it breathing, or even a straw poked gently up the nose can make the lamb take a breath. The lamb started breathing but both lambs were in very poor condition. We had to get them into a warm environment as quickly as possible, we have a suzuki jeep and we loaded up ewe and lambs and got them back to the lambing shed.

One of the most important things to do with premature or weak lambs is to warm them up and get some colostrum, the ewes first milk which has more fat than normal milk and is full of antibodies to protect the lambs against various bacteria and viruses, into them. Colostrum warms the lamb from the inside and starts the digestive process working by clearing out the gut of the meconium [faeces] which has been collecting as the lamb grows in the uterus.

One of our lambing pens has an infra red light in one corner where we place poorly or cold lambs, it's important to try and keep the lambs within sight of the ewe otherwise you run the risk that the ewe will reject the lambs. We did everything we could for those two little lambs, and in another post I will run through the sort of things we try, but it wasn't enough and within two hours they were both dead.

What a start!!!!!

The poor ewe had to be dried off and kept on short rations for a few days before going out with the non pregnant ewes. We immediately brought the rest of the ewes close to home and started the round the clock surveillance as we didn't want anymore unpleasant surprises.

Four days later one of the ewes was standing in the field looking distressed, she was staggering, her eyes were staring and her ears were flat. Ewes are vulnerable to two serious problems just before they are due to lamb, one is hypocalcaemia, a low level of calcium in the blood, the other is pregnancy toxaemia, the breakdown of their metabolism and a lowering of blood sugar levels, both have similar symptoms and both are fatal if untreated. Both problems are due to the high demands of the growing lambs on the ewe which is why correct feeding is so important. But it's not always possible to ensure that all ewes get their fair share!!!

I couldn't be sure what was wrong with the ewe so I treated her for both conditions, sub-cutaneous injections of calcium and a drench to treat the toxaemia. We bought her in and kept a close eye on her. She was no better by the next day which pointed to pregnancy toxaemia so we loaded her into our truck and I took her off to the vet. The vet confirmed toxaemia and said her only hope was if the lambs were born quickly, he gave the ewe an injection to start her lambing and I brought her home. I had only been back for about half an hour when the ewe died, I couldn't bear the thought of the lambs dying slowly in the womb so I decided to cut the ewe open and try to save the lambs.

It's not easy manhandling a very large dead animal but I succeded in opening her up but it was too late.

Three dead lambs.

In four days we had one dead ewe and five dead lambs!!!!!!!!!!!

At times like this you feel a complete and utter failure. It's hard to pick yourself up and keep going. You feel responsible for their deaths. Did you miss the signs? Could you have done more?

In the end you have to try and learn from the disaster and hope for better things to come. Look forward to the triumphs which make the bad times bearable.

Monday, 26 February 2007

Down to the Nitty Gritty.

Before starting this post I want to answer a question by Liz Fenwick I had no farming experience before moving to France neither did the OH, we were both complete novices and have learnt as we have gone along.

I want to describe lambing 2002/3, it was the most ewes we ever lambed and shows clearly the highs and lows of being a shepherd. The ewes were due to start lambing at the beginning of March so preparation starts 6 weeks before.

First task is to split the 100 ewes into three groups, the first group will start lambing first, the second group approx. 4 weeks after the first group and the final group are the late lambers and the ewes that probably won't lamb. We have to split them up because we don't have enough buildings to bring all the ewes in at once. Anyway lets go back to the beginning, we start feeding group 1 in mid Feb. week 1: 100gms of sheep pellets per ewe, by week 6 just before they are due to lamb they are on 600 gms each, split into two feeds. So for 30 ewes that is 16 kgs per day,plus the other 2 groups are also being fed. By the time we are well into lambing we are getting through in excess of 50 kgs of pellets per day. And it all has to be carried in buckets to the fields where the sheep are.

We found out early on that sheep will kill for pellets so we had devised a system of feeding areas that kept the sheep out until we had put the feed in the troughs. It was the only way to avoid being trampled to death!!!! Many times I would be filling a trough only to find myself with a large ewe pushing through my legs to get at the pellets, not a pleasant experience, and really quite dangerous. We also came up with systems for feeding the ewes in the buildings, we had to be inventive as none of our buildings were purpose built for lambing so we got very good at improvising.

Okay back to the preparations, three weeks before they are due to lamb all the ewes have to be vaccinated, this is basically to protect the lambs from a variety of serious diseases. For this we have to bring them into a building, the OH has to catch each ewe and I give her an injection under the skin of the front leg. This has to be done for all the ewes and its pretty tiring and tough on the back.

One week to go and I check out my lambing kit. See picture.
Five days to go and we start bringing the first group of ewes in at night. They are out in the fields during the day but come in each night. Three days to go and the 3a.m. checks on the ewes starts. From now on we will be checking the ewes every 2/3 hours during the day and every 3/4 hours during the night.We were once told by a French sheepfarmer that there was no need to check the ewes at night because they didn't lamb then, unfortunately no-one told our ewes, so we continued to check and saved many lambs by doing so!!!

One of the problems you have to be on the lookout for as the ewes get bigger are vaginal prolapses, because the lambs are taking up so much room in the uterus sometimes a part of the vagina is forced out, it looks like a pinkish lump about the size of a grapefruit. If it's not dealt with the ewe cannot wee and she may rub it and damage the vagina it is therefore dangerous if left too long. The procedure is, first catch your ewe[not always easy!] then the OH upends the ewe so that her back legs are up in the air, he hangs on to her[not always easy!] while I clean the protuding vagina with an antiseptic wash, lubricate it with the lubricating gel then gently push it back into place. A vaginal support commonly known as a "spoon" is then inserted [the red object in the photo] and the flat tongue goes into the ewes vagina with a gentle twisting movement. This spoon stays in until the ewe lambs and although they can lamb through the spoon it is better to remove it just before the lamb is born if possible, so we keep a special eye on the ewes with spoons. We usually have two or three prolapses each lambing and have always delivered the lambs without trouble. The ewes don't seem to suffer any adverse reaction either.

Next post : we start lambing with a disaster!!!!!!