Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Maternity refectory

Every evening now the pregnant ewes (and some of them are very pregnant) get a ration of Lamb and Ewe nuts. These differ from ordinary sheep nuts in that they have more protein and as the ewes are now on the home stretch (and some of them are very stretched) they get the extra good stuff.

The troughs are where they are, and it takes two to sate the ewes now, so that I can just tip the nuts out unmolested from the other side of the fence. You may think it awkward to have the troughs so close to the fence but actually it's a lot less awkward than putting them in the middle of a paddock where you have to make a dash to them, holding heavy buckets of feed out of sheepy nose-reach. It can be really difficult to walk through a sea of pushing, jumping, woolly, pregnant, clumsy, hungry beasts. They're lovely, but downright dangerous. They'll mob you. It gets ugly. Which is why alpaca guardians Ori and Siri remain aloof and dignified well away from the melee. They don't like sheep nuts anyway.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Ducks on the pond

It seems Mr & Mrs Wood Duck have been making use of the ammenities here at the miniature Celestequest Wildlife Sanctuary.

Plans to widen the pond and perhaps build a refuge island plus the planting of rushes and other water plants may have to wait. We don't want to scare them off. The amount of rain recently means the water is constantly renewed and a lot of frogs have also moved in. They sing about it in the evenings. Ducky Decoy however has been washed against the overflow so many times he is now in temporary dry dock.

Or should that be "dry duck"?

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Guarding the gate

Having found a comfortable hollow in the sun, Adele the Border Leicester lamb waits in case this gate to new pasture should just happen to open.

She's also in a good position to sight anyone walking past with an armful of hay and is ready with her hind leg to "accidentally" trip them up.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Shake your tailfeather

Trying to find something feathered and female to display to means the peacock-in-unauthorised-residence is sometimes reduced to putting on a show for a captive audience. The lawn in front of the henhouse makes a good stage and he's got room to turn around there doing the seductive dance of the feathered fan.

He never seems to display to the hens when they are freeranging. Perhaps hens out on the town in a group scare him (they seem to scare most blokes). The presence of Silver Boy, the aggressive Araucana rooster may or may not have something to do with his sudden shyness when meeting hens in a more informal setting but whilst the hens are confined to quarters he's all dazzle and confidence.

Silver Boy may not be impressed but whilst the peacock is showing all his eyes all other eyes are on him. The hens all crowd forward to the viewing area making appreciative cooing noises or suggestive cluck cluck clucks and watch for the duration whilst Silver Boy hovers behind hissing at them to be ladylike and behave.

Friday, August 27, 2010

FBI cats

I don't know what these cats are up to, but they posted on either side of the driveway and as soon as Snowy the unruly beagle had gone obliviously past, they exchanged a meaningful glance...

...and turned to follow her. The Feline Bureau of Investigation.

They're either monitoring her movements closely or they are now her bodyguards.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Lady in red

Imagine you slog through the mud pushing (and sometimes, in this slush, pulling) a wheelbarrow with a bale of hay for your sheep to where they are typically waiting on a winter's morning for such a breakfast to find, not your flock, but this large, red lady instead:

It's hard enough to feed everyone at Celestequest without the neighbour's cows joining in. Placid as they can be, they eat an awful lot. Including our precious pasture. We're trying to make it last all spring so this lady had to go home. Fortunately this wasn't far. Unfortunately there was only Snowy the unruly beagle and myself to drive her. Fortunately there is a connecting gate to the neighbour's place. Unfortunately the cow turned uphill instead.

That's the open gate behind her, all she needs to do is go down the track and through it. Yes, it appears simple. A lot of scrambling and yelling later, sometimes even with waving hands when they were free of keeping balance on the muddy hill, and she was home.

Snowy enthusiastically made sure she was well through the gate and then, finding herself in a new world to explore, kept going. Beagles do that. At an excited, cracking pace. The neighbour's property is all one big paddock, but fortunately it's only about 40 acres of gullies, steep slopes and scrub. A short extraction mission later and Snowy was out of the restricted zone and back on home turf. The next job was to find where the sheep had got to.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Trouble looming

We are often asked, with all those sheep, what do we do with all the wool? Our flock is too small to sell the wool clip commercially, and having coloured sheep and all sorts of breeds in the mix doesn't help. I actually spin a lot of it into yarn. Then it's either sold or knitted into things or both. Lately I have taken possession of a small table loom. This came at a negligible cost (fixing someone's spinning wheel, a quick lesson and a couple of batts of wool roving ready to spin) and it was probably free because it's ancient and hasn't been used in 30 years. I know this because of the dates of the newspapers used as loom papers for the old project still on it. Still, I was willing to give it a crack, although the small furry bodies circling like sharks really should have warned me it wouldn't be that easy.

Warping a loom is the most difficult aspect of the whole process, requiring lots of long, even, straight, untangled lengths of yarn ready to be put on as the basis for the weaving. Not tested as a possible musical instrument by the cat.

Those yellow threads are ment to be neat and straight, looped around the chair, not played like a harp.
It didn't work as a guitar either, or even a hammock. It was useless as a bed to lie on, and although Jeremy did try to straighten out the mess, having three out of four paws caught in it made this impossible.

With the rain bucketing down outside I thought it would be a good afternoon's project but made a mental note to move anything like this to a CEZ (Cat Exclusion Zone) first.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Forest creatures

The valley is deceptive at the best of times, it's a lot further to the head of the gully than it looks. So those white animals in the forest on the first inspection tour this morning could not possibly be sheep. This is a good thing, as we have sheep. It may be a bad thing for next door, who keep cows.

More of this type of creature, captured here wondering why this tree didn't provide the same shade as the other trees. It was a good scratching post anyway.

This was a neighbour's young steer, in with about 30 others. The storms lately have had us all out checking fences, checking trees, checking no trees had fallen on fences, but mostly checking no animals had got out through the gaps caused by said trees falling on aforementioned fences. By some miracle we have escaped this event so far. Still, there they were, a group of rather large four footed animals where no domesticated animals have ever been sighted before.

The forest is approximately 100 acres giving it the rather appropriate nickname of the 100 Acre Wood. It belongs to people who live on another road entirely about 3 km around by road. There's no other direct access to their property. This means losing stock in there is problematic. Losing anything in there entails a lot of walking - or rather - thrashing through underbrush so thick you can't see more than about 10 metres. It's wild. Eagles live there, and foxes. Probably fairy tale donkeys, bears and piglets too. Actually the donkeys and pigs are quite possible, they're both feral animals in Australia. Kangaroos certainly do, and Rabbit and all of Rabbit's friends and relations. But I didn't know of any cows.

The usual phone tree operated and it was determined that these were probably not the nearest neighbour's wayward Murray Grey bovine group, but belonged to the owners of the 100 Acre Wood. They must have been driven in there by the storm. With various work, school and other commitments, no-one was home to do anything about it anyway. We won't really know to whom they belong until someone musters their lot and counts a few short, by which time the mysterious white cows will have long since melted into the undergrowth.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Gentle Giant

The bachelor lads were crutched separately due mainly to the innocent young females in the rest of the flock not ready for breeding but still very attractive to rams. Putting the lot together would probably result in unwanted teenage pregnancies. The only ram here is Wilber the coloured Merino who is a gentleman but a slave to testosterone nonetheless. Gimli, the older pet, and Elrond, last year's orphan live with him for company. Gimli had been through this crutching business before and looked for an escape route.

Elrond had no idea what crutching was, who the new voices were or anything much outside his breakfast. Sometimes being blind has advantages.

Being pets, they follow us like dogs and Mr Shearer had no problem tipping them over for a quick shave. Wilberforce is a little more wild, having lived in an enormous commercial flock previously. Several months of living with sheep who think they are humans has rubbed off though, and he submitted quietly to the new haircut. He ended up with a mohawk.

It's not really his look although he has the pierced ears and tattoos to go with it. He could probably pretend to be a big, mean, wild ram but his good breeding and sweet nature mean
he is not deceptive. A little puzzled at the world perhaps, sometimes scared and often contemplative, but generally just wanting to mingle with the flock and graze. A gentle giant.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Mission accomplished

The sheep have finally been crutched, dagged, clatted, whatever you may call it. Their back ends are now clean shaven ready for a cleaner clip come shearing time or - in the case of the pregnant ewes - a clear area come lambing time. The wool around their other ends can be a problem too. Belinda the black ewe is from Corriedale stock and can hardly see now. Her Border Leicester companion on the right doesn't have this problem, nor that of grass seeds getting caught around her face which was one of the reasons we bred to Border Leicester rams in the past.

The day started out with showers which was mildly alarming as the previous date with the shearer was cancelled when he stood them up due to inclement weather and the yards nearly being under water. Everyone was put in the shed under cover which they didn't mind at all as they were warm and out of the wind.

It was about as packed as a mid-billed rock concert - crowded but everyone could see. Except those Dorsets like Isabelle.

Part of the whole crutching show was a part called "wigging" which is basically a short back and sides for those endowed with more facial wool than others. The sheep blink afterward with amazement as they haven't seen most of their surroundings for a few months outside the twin periscope sized areas through their fleece. For the lambs this was their first encounter with Mr Shearer and his noisy portable plant. It's run from a little generator on the back of his ute. His stand is a rubber mat which the sheep slip on so he can throw them over easily. The lambs, despite all my advice and encouragement, still kicked like mules, making a fiddly job just that more exciting.

Some of the end jobs were a bit rough around the edges, but they were clean nonetheless. Only one had started to clot up with dags and she was taken care of in minutes. The part Finn, part elephants we have in the Finn wethers got grunts from Mr Shearer with the effort of getting them down, but they were dealt with no less quickly.

Slowly the number of crutched and wigged individuals, dazzled with new sight and cold around the rear, increased in the yards and the number of waiting, pushing, shoving woolly bodies in the shed decreased to a comfortable level when only the pregnant ewes were left. For a while the sun came out, Mr Shearer's young sons came out, the birds came out and it was almost like we were running a real farm.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Battening down

It's rained pretty solidly for the last 24 hours, which is wonderful really. Our tanks are overflowing, the springs are full and the pumps are working overtime. I will remember this come January and wish for it again. Right now it means dashing out when the showers lighten to do jobs outside whilst trying not to get stuck in the mud. Our little valley is a natural waterway but even without interpreting the lay of the land in a geographical fashion the layman could tell by the water flowing over his ankles. The dogs are largely confined to quarters and are largely over it.

They'll get a long walk as soon as we have more than 15 minutes of clear weather at a time. The cats handle confinement much better. They just settle down and wait. Minor disputes over prime sleeping spots notwithstanding.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Like a pig in mud...

...but hay is so much warmer. Especially when the sun comes out. The neighbours' pig Buddy is quite happily oblivious that he has bedded down in the middle of the cow's dinner. It's warm. They're out in the fields and won't bother him for a while. Why not make the most of it?

He is a blissed-out peace pig.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Peacock parade

Lately, when getting up in the morning to face the day from the main entrance to the house, we are greeted by this.

It's not an explosion in an orchid bed or a solidified fireworks display or even the beginnings of an exotic dance. Rather it's this fella, the peacock-we-don't-officially-like-but-will-tolerate, fluffing up for the day.

It takes him some time to limber up because it's quite an effort to walk around, as a peacock at this time of year and in want of a wife must, like this:

Its such an effort. He tries so hard. I'm flattered he's displaying to me and just can't help but to be impressed. Pity I'm entirely the wrong species.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Lady in waiting

This is Annaliese. Her mother was the late Annabelle the beautiful silver grey sheep. Annaliese has met and spent some quality time with the black fleeced Wilberforce. We have high hopes for a coloured lamb from her and the odds are better than good that she will have one - genetically speaking. Luck will play it's part though. Perhaps we should run a book and take bets on whether or not her lamb will be white or if coloured and if so what colour?
Sometimes, in a certain light, or when her fleece is arranged in a flattering manner (which usually means stuck down by rain or spiky after she has a good shake) she doesn't look pregnant. She looks trim and neat, but not pregnant. Sometimes she looks very, very pregnant. This is usually when she's trying to get up from a sitting postion. I wish it was easier to tell, but it's still an agonisingly long six weeks or more to go before we will know for certain. Ultrasounds are expensive and as this is not an economically important flock we don't do them. Usually it becomes obvious eventually, in the final week or so. Even then ewes have been known to surprise us by acting normal until the last minute when they turn up with a couple of lambs and a suddenly full udder. We do check them every day but they probably think it's funny to keep us guessing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Singing sheep

Sometimes, to pass a long, cold afternoon the alpacas get a sing-song going. They rally round the sheep and start up a few old favourites to get everyone singing along.

Slowly the sheep join in, taking up the tune. I can never quite tell what they're singing. Perhaps traditional folk songs their ancestors heard on the hills of Dorset, the Border counties and Finland, perhaps sea shanties the first immigrants learned from the sailors on the voyage to the antipodes. All the different voices can be picked out, Chester's deep "maaaawwww" and the lambs' higher pitched bleats. Sometimes they even hit harmonies.

Anyway, its a cheery way to pass the time until the afternoon grazing starts.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shed for blokes

Part of the rearrangement of accommodation required for the shearer to do the crutching was moving the bachelor boys to a smaller yard. Since the ram yard is - most helpfully - inaccessible to vehicles and the only other small yard is the lamb yard, that is the one the boys got. Imaginative names for yards aside, this one has a shed for shelter rather than trees. We thought they'd miss their huge old pine tree but they've all huddled up to the shed with enthusiasm. Cold southerly winds probably helped.

Before we landed here it was a pony shed. It even has a wash bay, where Gimli is sitting nicely out of the wind, confidently expecting not to be hosed down. Wilber is standing in front of a little shed the former owners used for feed storage. It's supposedly vermin proof but we think that was a sales pitch because if you open the door you are stampeded by mice and rats. We think they can get in but not get out again.

Elrond spent the summer of his youth (one, given he is not yet a year old) in this yard and gambolled into it like meeting an old friend. He does tend to gambol everywhere but we know he likes it here because he takes advantage of the sun's winter angle and spends most of his time basking on the hay in the lamb shed, despite all the good grass in the yard. We fox-proofed the front with gates and wire but he doesn't see it as a prison. He seems to see it more as holiday home.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Mud pack for the beautiful

Gem got a new rug recently, and as it was the only rug ever bought specifically for him and not a hand-me-down from all our other rescue horses over the years, he was determined to keep it in good nick. After two weeks of wearing it in the winter landscape, he's doing remarkably well to keep it as clean as it is.

Princess, on the other hoof, just loves to roll and roll and roll. Preferrably in the muddiest place she can find. Perhaps she thinks it's good for her skin?

She also knows, being a Princess, that her 24/7 entourage of carers (all two of us) will brush her off when it's necessary that her golden colour be admired by all. Or when they don't want to be too embarassed by the state of their animals. That rug is actually green, by the way, although ultimately horses don't care what colour clothes they wear. In this weather, Kalara's just happy to be warm and dry at all.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Rain stopped play

The sheep proved a bit difficult to get in last night. We did it in the end, in the dark, in the rain, well mostly. Half a dozen of our prized pregnant ewes made for the open hills instead of coming home on a stormy evening. It wasn't their normal behaviour making every tiny move, every step in the right direction and every turn towards the yards So Very Difficult. It was those darn Camel-lads.

Ori and Siri have never been out of the paddocks closest the house before. They've bonded rather well with their girls and protect them in a manly fashion from foxes, dogs, cats, magpies, and anything unusual. What they haven't done is realise that they won't be crutched. Alpacas have no need for it. We were just taking them along for the ride so they wouldn't fret about being away from their flock for 24 hours. Instead they fretted about going into the yards and wouldn't. Not even when all their ladies were munching happily inside. Us dancing about on the hill above them, lunging like mad tennis players every time they saw a gap and waving our arms like scarecrows in a hurricane did nothing. The yard was scarier than we. In the end they took so long that Belinda the black ewe and five of her cohorts legged it out through the open gate before we could scramble down the hill to stop them.

A very long time of climbing steep, slippery hills in the dark, breathing very hard and shouting at each other, the sheep and the alpacas ensued. We navigated by the movement of the white sheep, finding our way by trees (walking into them) and rocks (falling over them) and the sheep obstinately kept moving the wrong way. The alpacas thought it was marvelous to be out and free and kept going to the tops of hills to have a look. In the end we gave it up for the night. In a rather bad temper.

We'd collected two mutton carcases from the butcher that day and still had a kitchen full of meat to trim, sort, bag, label and freeze so we went back to that job for a couple of hours. We had discovered that it would only fit in our collection of freezers if we did trim, sort, bag some and cook some instead of just throwing it all in willy nilly as was the preferred and tired option. At least the dogs were quiet with their surprise bones. Having been completely immersed in sheepiness for too long we had fish for supper.

The weather forcast kept getting worse. So did the actual weather. After a night of raging storms I got up early as usual to find SO, out earlier than I, trying to fix last evening's mistake by crooning to the wayward ewes, who had come back to find out where all their friends were and why they didn't have breakfast. He looked pleadingly at the open gate, and pleadingly at the ewes and pleadingly asked them to Just. Go. In. Quietly nipping round behind them up a clay hill in my gumboots and raincoat - so not very quietly really - we managed to get them all in and shut the darn gate.

After we leaned on it just breathing for a while I went off to feed the other animals and SO went to answer the phone which was ringing. At 7:30am. It was the shearer. The rain was belting down hard where he was, the rain radar showed two fronts approaching and the forecast was for more of the same so he couldn't operate his portable shearing plant in this weather. He couldn't do any crutching today and he wasn't coming.

We let the sheep out and went inside by the fire instead.