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.