Thursday, September 30, 2010

Big 'Un

Priscilla's lone lamb lad is growing rapidly, helped by her copious milk supply and a complete lack of competition. The lack of competition is also a lack of potential playmates and although he doesn't know it yet, Big 'Un is missing something. The party is yet to really start. Judging by previous year's lambs, when everyone else arrives it will be a circus. Until then he only has Mum to play with.

Big 'Un was nicknamed this by SO due to his 10 day advantage over the next nearest Little 'Uns, who are still confined to quarters whilst they finish their colostrum, graduate to normal milk, get a bit stronger and used to the cold. Big 'Un might be lonely but they've discovered him and can't wait to come out to play.
Big 'Un for his part is amazed to find small sheep that look like him.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Gate Operator

With all the fuss about lambs going on lately Gem finds that sometimes breakfast is late and he just has to start the morning routine himself. Like letting the equine contingent into the raceway in search of their hay ration. The raceway gate, as mentioned before, is not the most robust of farming contraptions and really only works on the honour system.

Most of the time the horses pretend to respect it and stay on the outer but when he's really hungry Gem just gives it the old heave-ho. Having first wedged his dextrous muzzle into the gap between the ancient strainer post and all the makeshift piping, chicken wire and baling twine...

he opens it wide enough so that he and the girls can saunter down to the pine tree to make their presence known in the yard.
By standing where we can see them from the shed and whinnying at us whenever we pop into view they ensure they won't be forgotten. As if they would be, but some mornings with the sun well up before their food orders have arrived they feel the need to harrass the waiters and remind us.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Peacock sail

This is what happens when you try to be too much of a show off in a high wind. You get the Marilyn Monroe skirt flip without being sexy. It is, however, rather amusing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Two for one offer

SO did the 5:00am shift this morning and discovered Annaliese's prolapse occurring again so he walked her round and round the yard until all her bits settled back where they should be. It only took an hour and twenty minutes. The birds singing, the rooster crowing and the sun well up by this time meant he went back to bed, planning a sleep in to compensate. I tag-teamed him at 7:00 and did the morning feeding rounds before our very own dawn chorus of several species all yelling at once got too out of hand. All was normal.
Returning to the lamb yard at around 9:00, I found Dawn bleating softly and licking the ground. I also found lots of wet stuff but no lamb. Checked the perimeter fence. No sign of crushed grass or drag marks, no sign of blood. She surely could not have had her lamb and a fox taken it?
No, the lamb was yet to come and she was just getting in some last minute practice before the real birth, which turned out to be a bit tricky. Her twins, a ram and a ewe, got tangled up. Both wanted to be first to come out and jammed in the doorway cartoon-style. Also, courtesy of Wilberforce our new Merino ram, they have quite big heads. Coupled with the giraffe-like legs of their Border Leicester ancestry and Dawn being an absolute beginner at all this and it was an hour after her water bag hit the deck before one tiny foot appeared in the outside world. Upside down. This is Not Right but probably the reason it was taking too long. So much for SO's sleep in, the lamb shed was turned into Sheep ER, I gloved up with the box of first aid supplies out and he was roused to help.
Being midwife is very much seeing with your fingers like a blind person. What I could "see" was a head alongside an upside down foot. Clearly not both belonging to the same lamb, or if they did it was a contortionist. Everything got pushed gently back out of the birth canal into the uterus with a bit of hope. (I find the application of hope helps, if only helping me) Quite often, as everything slides away into the dark out of reach, a suddenly-freed lamb will kick or move and right itself for the next shot at presentation. However, sometimes it doesn't. What we had with the next contraction was a foot - this time the right side up - and a head. Now, most lambs have two front feet and therefore you want two showing up. I went in search of the other one which was folded back and (get your little head out of the way please, I can't feel your foot) eased it forward by a finger under it's knee.
OK, two feet, a head, the usual lamb combination. I remembered to breathe and eased the feet out in front of the nose in position. As another contraction crushed my wrist I suddenly remembered our Operational Procedure last year had been to call the vet first on such occasions, then do what we could until they got here, being rank amateurs ourselves. This would ensure help if we couldn't sort it out. That was a year ago, I had forgotten it and the phone was in the house a long way away. There is no mobile phone reception here so we didn't have one of those either, and at any rate SO was completely tied up holding Dawn whilst I was completely tied up untying completely tied up lambs so there was really no choice but to just get on with it.
Poor young Dawn had a time of getting the lamb's head free whilst applied traction to it's front legs but once it did it was born in a rush. The usual frenzied sweeping of the muzzle and vigorous rubbing of a limp lamb commenced, followed in this case by a complete lift, downward head tilt and bit of a swing as the lamb lay still, unresponsive, and I was hoping to clear it's airway more definitely. Another application of hope and the little ewe lamb lifted her head momentarily declaring she was alive but had been through a hell of a time, could we just give her a minute, please?
Meanwhile Dawn was licking her frantically, either delighted, relieved, concerned, trying to get the human smell off or all of the above. Nothing else. No other heaves, no second lamb. Both water sacs were long broken and every minute was a minute without air for the lamb left inside. With a sigh SO caught the poor ewe again and she just stood there resignedly whilst I fished the second twin out, one leg also folded back behind her pelvic opening and his head just as large. He was very distressed by now, and another desperate revival session was needed. Both took a long time to breath, both would have died stuck together in the womb possibly taking their mother with them and both were exhausted. To say nothing of Dawn. Or us.
Still, they're here. They're alive. We've seen both suckle and Dawn has an udder like a Jersey cow. The next 24 hours will tell whether any lasting damage was done, but they've made it through the first 12 and I'm very happy with that.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Neighbourly help

With a list longer than a country mile of tasks, jobs and things to do the last thing we needed was the phone ringing at lunchtime today and our nearest neighbour's forlorn voice asking, as it always does, "Er, what are you guys up to this afternoon?" Actually we were up to our necks in tree debris but that phrase always means he needs help with something and this time it was with loading sheep into a trailer. He's the nicest chap in the world so of course we went over to help. It was only five sheep and they were already held in their smallest paddock. How hard could it be?

Forty minutes later he and SO had bodily carried each struggling, kicking woolly bundle one by one about 100 metres to the trailer rather than the sheep being herded anywhere in any coherent fashion. One did a superb display of showjumping, one went through a fence, taking the whole length of wire with it, and one went up a tree. Eventually they were all loaded and he drove them away with promises to come over later. Come over he did. With a bigger chainsaw than ours.His chainsaw refused to work initially, no doubt scared to bits by the sheer volume of wood spread all over what was our driveway. The driveway that had to be cleared before the farrier arrives tomorrow. There's no way he'd carry his anvil and tools from the gate all the way up to the horse yard, so the chainsaws had to work. A few screwdrivers and several pokes with a piece of wire got it going again and the chaps, wearing their chaps, worked away the afternoon.

What our neighbour did in an afternoon with a bigger saw actually saved SO about a day's work on his own so we are very grateful. My job was to cut up all the leaves and smaller debris ready for feeding to the hungry mulcher and getting the machine-wielders drinks. I did five barrow loads of debris before the blisters got too niggly and I decided a cup of tea and a lambing-check was in order instead. The working blokes continued to work and so did their chainsaws. They did an awful lot but there's still a lawnful and another five trees to go yet.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Tree fellas

We had tree fellers in today and they were quite amazing.

Actually there were five of them and they were tasked with taking down 7 huge eucalyptus trees too close to our house in soggy ground of winter, the wind storms of spring and the fire danger of summer. Much as we love them they also drop leaves - and limbs occasionally - all year round and their roots invade every garden bed we have. We are sorry to see them go but are trying to make up for it by planting about 500 more on the property. They were far too big for us to cut down ourselves, ranging from about 20 to 40 feet high and sandwiched between fences, gates, heritage garden and other things we didn't want to squash. Like the chicken house. So professional Tree Fellers were called in, complete with abseiling harness, chainsaws and slight madness.
The tree fellers were not at all phased by the lack of space to actually fell the trees. They just went up there and brought them down, bit by bit. Dropping great branches accurately between the 40 year old camellias, the flimsy bit of wire holding back the woolly horde and a lonely garden tap. Grinning all the while. They came from all over the place, a Canadian, a New Zealander, a New South Welshman among them. They laughed and joked and had games of duelling chainsaws.
The morning started shakily when SO declared they'd be here between 7 and 7:30am, but he didn't expect them until after that really and at any rate they'd have to set up first so he wasn't going to get up too early. I was unpopular due to making him get up at 6:00 after checking the ewes all night, but the tree feller fellas were here, chainsaws revving, at 7:15.
We were then treated to a wonderful show of aerobatic wood cutting, trapeze tree trimming and gravity defying gum grooming all morning. The pregnant ewes, in the paddock we optimistically call "The Orchard" closest the house, were a bit alarmed at all the noise and gathered together in the farthest corner whispering among themselves. The alpacas were completely unfazed.

The tree feller fellas worked on the five biggest eucalypts first, all together in what could not be called a small copse at the back of the garden acre. The pile of wood and leaves there now cannot be traversed. It will take us several weeks with our own little chainsaw and mulcher to clear up, but at last the trees are down.

When we eventually let the cats and dogs out of the house again after all was safe Jelly pretended to be sad about the loss of the trees, then spent the afternoon being a tiger in the branches and leaves and running and jumping from log to log having the best of times on her own little assault course.

Friday, September 24, 2010


Feeding the free range sheep this morning I heard an unusual metalic rattle among the bleats and baaas. It was one of last year's ewe lambs sporting the latest look in designer fencewear.

An old 6 foot length of the classic number 8 gauge wire was wrapped around her and dragging along behind. We keep the place as free of wire and other rubbish as possible and have cleared loads but the place has been through fires and floods for more than a hundred years and deep in the forests of bracken there could still be ancient lost temples. Obviously there was a bit of old fence. As SO was in his sleeping time I tried to remove the offensive fencing by standing on it to catch her. She wasn't impressed. Neither were the other sheep.

I tried to catch her bodily but by myself in the middle of our largest paddock with the other sheep all milling round demanding service, breakfast or to see the manager and I should have known it would be hopeless. She seemed to be tangling the wire closer to her as well, trying for the crinoline look.

I had no choice but to wake up SO and he came to all our rescues yet again. One advantage to being tired and fed up is that you don't muck about, you're beyond being careful and you just lunge at the animal you want and secure it in a vice-like grip. SO did this. He also got the wire in a vice-like grip or at least in the wire cutters' grip and little miss was freed relatively easily. There were no cuts, lacerations or other injuries so we let her go pronto to feast with her friends.

She left so fast that we didn't even get her name.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Training for cats

Jeremy likes to practice catching rats and mice in the hay shed. He'll sniff around and wait for hours. It's not bad waiting, it's out of the wind and the hay is warm.

He also knows you have to go like this:

but need to have a mouse to pounce on to make it work. The chances are best when someone has just shifted a bale. He knows they're in there somewhere.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Invisible to humans

Imogen is soaking up the warmth from the top of the rocky outcrop and is obvious for miles in daylight. Belinda is impossible to see from the bottom of the hill when she lies against a black rock like this. The morning sun has picked her out and so have I. No doubt so would foxes were she to go into labour. Unfortunately she can't hide the smell of newborn lamb.

In another week or two as her time approaches she and the rest of her comrades in pregnancy will be moved to a fox proof shed. We'll leave them out as long as we think safe though, living the most natural life possible. There is nothing better for them than to enjoy the fresh air, new grass and spring sun.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Black and white menace

This beaky fellow is nesting in an ancient eucalyptus tree near the old sheep yards. Which is fine, we're happy to share. He's not. He firmly believes we should not set foot, hoof or paw in his territory and swoops us every chance he gets.

He's a White-Backed Magpie. It's been explained elsewhere that Australians like to call a spade a spade, a white faced heron a White Faced Heron and a glossy, black cockatoo a Glossy Black Cockatoo. We are not into fancy bird names when coldly descriptive will do. You may be wondering why, then, his back seems to be not white, but motley grey? Or indeed, since this is a nesting bird, her back is motley grey. Did the black paint and white paint get smudged? Actually, the grey paint is an undercoat. This is still a fairly juvenile bird and will get a truly dazzling white back after the next moult. In the meantime it's not her back we're looking at. It's that beak. Aimed like a missile straight at our heads when we least expect it.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Spring snow

Sometimes it gets very cold here, but it doesn't snow. (Except for the winter of 1996 but that was a rare exception) The closest we usually get is the result of a gust of wind in the blossoming pear trees. It's very pretty as the petals flutter down.

The falling blossoms are also irresistible to our cats who play like kittens amongst it. They are 10 years old but spring brings out the youngster in all of us.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

First one

Finally, after weeks of waiting and getting ever more anxious we were given a small reward in this little chap born at 11:00pm last night. I know the exact time because he was halfway out when I did the 11:00pm check. I could hear Priscilla's groans from the house. His head and front feet were ready to dive into the world but she was just having a bit of trouble with his shoulders so I did the vet nurse thing and helped. She proceeded to clean him up a bit before he could see company.

There are several tasks we do when a lamb is born, after the desperate clearing of mucous from their mouth and nose if the lamb hasn't shaken it off immediately. Healthy lambs can be born perfectly easily only to die from asphyxiation from the birth sac still encasing them. Most of the time they or the ewe get it clear but we like to watch and make certain. Paper towel is brilliant for this purpose as although it's not reusable this does mean it is perfectly clean on the first use and it's so absorbent that it grips well and slides all the extra stuff away and contains it for disposal. It isn't always easy to clean little muzzles with just your hands in an emergency, in my limited experience, newborn lambs are quite slippery.

The next step is to dip the broken umbilical cord into iodine solution to stop infection. This is easiest as soon as the lamb is breathing and upright but before he's learned to run away. Again, although there are probably specialist veterinary things on the market for this purpose (I don't really know, are there?) we've found the best thing is to pour an inch or two of iodine into a wide, shallow glass jar with a screw top lid. Although it's glass - which we generally avoid around animals - this does mean it can be sterilised and is spill proof. If it does spill you only lose that bit and not the whole bottle. Best of all for clumsy would-be vets like me it's easy to catch the dangling bloody bit in a wide jar which is helpful when it's the middle of the night and your body's working solo because your brain is still asleep.

The last thing to be sure of before getting back into a warm bed is that the ewe's teats are clear and the lamb has had a draught of colostrum. Now vets will tell you - and they are right - that a lamb can go for about 12 hours without colostrum before it runs out of reserves and starts to get too weak. Of course, but why make them wait if you don't have to? Also, knowing this place, some disaster will occur that takes all our energy, attention and time during the next 12 hours and we can't watch the lamb constantly to be sure. If it then gets sick what do we know of it's feeding history? So we reckon it's better to see it happen as soon as possible, put a brisk tick of completion against that box and hop back under the quilt. On tame ewes, a light squeeze of the nipples is easy and unblocks the little wax seal (like a fine wine this colostrum stuff, it's been brewing for months) which lets both the colostrum and the smell of said colostrum out. After that it's generally minutes before canny lambs find the source. Sometimes dopey ones need a hint, but they all generally get the idea pretty quickly if not fussed over too much.

We are aiming to breed coloured lambs this year. This chap is white. We'd prefer ewe lambs to start building up the coloured breeding flock. This chap is... well, a chap. Still, the thrill of a new lamb is enough to keep going through the nights of broken sleep and so what if he's not exactly what we wished for? He's not coloured or female but he's gorgeous and healthy so we're over the moon and just don't care.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Weed inspection

I was weeding the larger rose bed today, quietly minding my own business, when a representative of the Garden Weed Scratchers Society demanded to know what was in my bucket and was it edible? If so, why was I taking work from them?

When I asked why they didn't scratch up the weeds in the garden beds, only the flowering plants, herbs and vegetable seedlings, they all pretended to be very, very interested in a gravel-dwelling microbe for the moment.

Then they pointedly looked at the state of the yard with it's covering of weeds that I hadn't got on top of anyway and wondered out loud to each other what on earth I would do without my little flock of portable scarifiers regardless of what they scratched up. Without them the place would be a jungle...

... and what was in that bucket anyway?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Chair for two

Snowy isn't actually allowed in her favourite armchair, which is why it has a makeshift cover in the form of a towel to deflect all her white hair. There's no keeping her out of it when we're not looking. Tonight she even tried to hide behind a cat.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Lamb envy

The Merino crosses across the road have had lambs. Lots of them. Several weeks ago. This ewe seems to be the babysitter of the group, or she collects lambs. She issued a challenge to Snowy and I as we passed by,

and then proceeded to muster her charges over by the creek and well away from us. She reminded me of a primary school teacher I used to have.
I wonder if these lambs get stories told to them under the trees. I wish we had lambs. I know we will eventually but I'm impatient. The ewes are incredibly, overwhelmingly, mind-numbingly patient and will take their sweet time. This ewe let her lambs spread out to graze and play again as soon as we moved on. Just to taunt me with their cute antics.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Celebrity dog

Walks with Snowy the beagle are quite often interesting, occasionally adventurous and sometimes eventful. Tonight she collected an entourage of fans in a group of young Murray Grey steers. She was just nosing around after foxes near their fence, one of them spotted her and said something like "Phwoaaarrr, lookit the redheaded dog!" in cattle-speak and they all crowded over to ogle her.
They were fascinated with her. Being adolescents they all had to jostle and crowd and follow her along the fence, calling out comments (which I could only understand as "mooooooaaww!") and asking for her autograph. Snowy declined, donned dark glasses, turned up her collar and held a paw to the camera, shunning fame. She hurriedly took an alternative route along the verge.

The steers continued to follow her for the length of their paddock, peering between bushes and trees hoping to get another glimpse of their idol before she disappeared from view altogether.

Then they went back to grazing until the next interesting thing came along.