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.