This weekend I collected all of sheep together in a pen, then separated the lambs. I had already determined the two ewe lambs to keep for halter training. These are the two I think are the best representations of the breed. In reality, it is extremely difficult to predict their eventual outcome. And I am very inexperienced, but gave it a go. When I trimmed their feet a couple of weeks ago I got a close up look and eliminated a few due to stripey feet, dark horns, poor colouring, etc.
We had a good look at the six ram lambs, chose two to keep as rams. So now it was time to call the vet…castration required for the remaining four.
The vet arrived Monday. Four rams patiently awaited their fate. One by one they were turned on their back ends, held firmly and given a shot of painkiller…right in their sac. We expected some fight in them but they took it well. And once numbed up a big pincher was placed over the top end to cut off the blood flow. This all takes quite a bit of time but they never flinched. My fabulous boys! Now they have a solid 12 to 18 months of eating and playing and growing before they are sent off to the abattoir and become the most delicious hogget meat you may ever eat. Hogget is a sheep over 1 year, so no longer 'lamb'. Mutton is over two years. Portlands are too small to kill as lamb.
Halter training started today of my two ram lambs, Caraway and Chicory, and two ewe lambs, Cardamon and Chipolte. The challenge begins.
Bee situation still not completely settled. There are two hives, and now three nuclei with frames of bees, which could turn into 2 or 3 new hives. As husband only home for weekends, this is not looking good for my bee avoidance stance. However, the 2nd bee sting has really put me off any kind of bee involvement. The sting on my lower cheek has turned into a severe allergic reaction, and my cheek, chin and neck look disgustingly bloated, red and itchy. I am living on antihistamine tablets and rubbing on antihistamine creams by the tube full.
Our annual Stoke Abbott Street Fair did very well this year, we think we had a record number of visitors. Great weather, not a hot beach day, just lovely and sunny. I organise the Teas in the village hall. We work very hard but still have loads of fun. All the stalls did well…but one. Son Archie and Richard ran the Skittles in the pub garden. The night before the big day I was at the computer madly trying to do posters, set prices, etc. They suggested One Go for £1.50, 3 Go’s for a fiver. Sounded good to me, and all was fine…until a maths teacher brought to the attention of A&R that £1.50 times 3 equals £4.50! All the other participants had happily handed over their £5. But they still managed to lose money, They had set the prize money too high. Minus £15 so not too great a loss. Will do better next year. And the village hall teas were as popular as ever, with the most gorgeous homemade cakes and scones.
Big metal gates going up across the open shed. I’ll be all set to keep calves inside over the winter once they are weaned. The calves do lose some condition over the winter months. So my plan is to bring them into this open shed in November, time to be weaned. They will spend their days getting fat and happy and I will have much more contact with them. Maybe some lovely bonds will be formed and they may be halter trained…watch this space.
I have a flock of 45 Portland sheep.They are a rare breed of native British sheep, originating on the Isle of Portland, by Weymouth in Dorset. Many native breeds of sheep, cattle, pigs, goats and horses almost disappeared by the 1960’s. Some did. The RSBT, the Rare Breed Survival Trust, was founded in 1973 with the sole purpose of saving these breeds for future generations. It was through the dedication of many farmers that these rare breeds are doing better, but, as the commercial value of rare breeds is not great there is always a worry.
As people get more ‘foodie’ our breeds are finding a niche market. They really do taste better, the meat has more flavour, welfare standards are high, and that matters to many. Celebrity chefs also help promote our breed. James Martin visited one of our breeders for his programme, Home Comforts.
I didn’t want sheep. We have our fold of Highland cattle, and that was enough for me. I took a Smallholders course at Kingston Maurwood College which convinced me I was correct. Sheep are very complicated lawn mowers, they escape, they get lots of diseases, they die. Husband thought they’d be great for keeping grass under control in our fields, as they eat the grass differently than cattle and it would be good for maintenance.
We went to a couple of Agriculture Summer Shows and looked at various breeds. Dan wanted Dorset Downs. I still didn’t want any sheep. He then met some Portland breeders who were friendly and helpful. So in April 2012 we found ourselves the owners of 3 ewes and two very little lambs.
I then took a dedicated Sheep Course at Kingston Maurwood College. Because I knew in my heart of hearts that I would be the one taking care of these little darlings I never wanted.
So I find myself three years later, with 3 rams, 2 of which I have reared, 16 lambs and 16 ewes, 8 shearlings, and 2 wethers. I have had three lambing seasons, I have taken some to slaughter and sold the meat. I have learned to cook cheap cuts of lamb, which are very delicious! And I love MY sheep.
Bullock on the loose continued…Poor frightened bullock is ready to flee, panicked as he is all alone. So next step is to bring back some of his buddies, who are already happily grazing on the other side of the pond in a field full of lovely grass, while he was on the run.Nothing will coax any of them out, and I waste 15 minutes shaking a bucket of cattle cake. That usually works, but they are not leaving, no way heading away from the lush field.
Another field across the bridleway, Holes Ground, holds the bull with his seven cows and four calves born in the spring. They were all put together a couple of weeks ago. Frazzle Dazzle is doing his work. This is the only work he does. (Many men say they would like to come back in the next life as a Highland bull). Two cows get quickly commandeered to bring back the crazed bullock. They happily follow me out while I shake a bucket of cake. All is fine, the bullock comes down to see his friends, they bat him around for a little while, but then all return to Holes Ground. Job done, taking one and half hours instead of 15 minutes.
Bees situation is still a bit dicey, but getting sorted. Fantastic bee people spent two hours on Tuesday evening transferring bees into two nuclei. Queen cells on frames in the other hives were moved in with these renegade bees. And, magic happened. They have settled down and are happy bees again. I know this because I was instructed to have a look yesterday and, fully kitted out in husband’s bee suit, I had a peek. The only mistake was not lighting the smoker, so bees were a bit annoyed, but I stayed calm, did my inspection and got the heck out of there. (I don’t quite know why, but bees stay calmer when they are puffed with smoke from a specially made bee-smoker).
This Saturday our village has their annual summer fete. Funds raised support our village hall (old building, expensive to maintain) and our church (REALLY old building - 12th century!). I run the Teas in the Hall and it takes much effort to get organised. The build-up to Saturday seems to occupy us all this week. But I was still determined to get my lambs penned, feet checked, etc.
That doesn’t sound too complicated. I have 16 lambs, 16 times 4 is 64 feet to trim. My sheep are simply gorgeous and I love them. Most of them are also very greedy so shake a bucket of sheep nuts and they come running.
The bee saga continues, bees still not quite right. Bees are VERY complicated. More complicated than people, I think.
Yesterday, Sunday, was bleak. Rainy, misty, humid and a really ugly day for July. Poor bees were sad as confused. When bees swarm they have a leader, a queen. But this queen failed her bees. She probably died and now they are hanging out on the mini hive (the nucleus) in the rain, feeling aimless and lost. This evening some bee experts are coming to help…but in the meantime there are 10 highland bullocks and young heifers needing to be moved.
Two huge beech trees were blown over two winters ago in the winter that devastated the Somerset Levels. West Dorset had extreme rain through late December until late January. Winds and water did so much damage to trees, landslides contributed to the devastation. So now, with a winch grabble, log splitter, tractor, digger and some other bit of equipment, they are ready to attack the beeches, laying precariously on the hillside. ‘They’ being son, Archie, (week off university job placement), Richard, major helper, and Matt, lovely local chap, hard worker. ‘Hard worker’ is an understatement for many of the boys around here. They get stuck in, go hard at it, never complain, have a good laugh, tea and homemade cookies always appreciated, with cider after!
Now to the Highland cattle…some are in the same field as the fallen trees. So we move them to a nearby field, out the gate and down the bridleway. Easy. Not today. As the group is led out, ready for new richer pastures, and very used to shifting up and down the bridleway, one idiot bullock decides to jump over into a woodland area, charging around, while the others have their little jog into the next field.
There is nothing worse than a young bullock on his own. Panic. This field is actually a set of three fields, all together. The top is flat, the middle a steep slope and the bottom more level. So idiot bullock runs up to the top, threatening to jump fence into either a field of dairy cows, or into the wood of Lewesdon Hill. Not good.
Stay turned, haven’t even mentioned my gorgeous rare breed Portland sheep.
Husband home for the weekend, back from London, announced he would spend the entire weekend working on his term paper. (doing a masters degree in forestry, along with a full time job in the city and ‘helping’ run the farm).
Suddenly a frantic call from the barn. His Bees have swarmed. They have found a lovely spot in a very crooked tree, down a steep slope. So Richard (helper lurking around the farm) is sent to rent a cherry picker and I am off to collect a nucleus. I have no idea what a nucleus is, although I took very a intensive bee course that ran over several weeks with hands on experience. After which I decided I NEVER wanted bees.
The little buggers stung me in my calf the first time I was asked to feed them. (Because husband in London earning to pay for the farm). That is pouring sugar syrup (I now buy 20 kilo bags of sugar) into plastic bottles, lugging them to the hives, lifting the top, then pouring the sticky liquid into a plastic dish while hundreds of little disturbed bees surge out of the slots and buzz angrily around you. I made the mistake of leaving a gap around my trouser leg. One bee was all it took. A bee sting feels like someone throwing a dart into your skin. I pride myself that I have a high pain threshold, but this REALLY hurts. I ended up on antibiotics as my calf became infected. I hope this doesn’t discourage anyone from having bees…
Jo Stover has daily adventures on her small farm, together with her Highland cattle and Portland sheep, bees, a few hens, dogs, and some two-legged family and friends.