The ewes and rams are settled in and Sirius and Shurper are hard at work, plenty of red bums appearing. Last week on my way down to the sheep for the daily check I came across a very unexpected sight. There were the seven black Hebrideans trotting towards me on the bridleway. They were as surprised to see me as I was them.
Luckily Archie was with me in the Polaris ranger so we very slowly continued forward and they turned around. Before we knew it they shot off the bridleway cutting through a hedgerow and up toward the beehives and freedom on Lewesdon Hill. Archie jumped out and cut them off in the nick of time. I went ahead and opened a gate into the pond area which leads in to the woods. It was a miracle we were able to guide them on through. How did they escape? Not my fault! We discovered an unlatched gate, where Dan had left them a trough with some sheep nuts. It now has a chain for extra security.
The Highland calves were born in April (excepting the white calf ‘accidentally’ appearing in September) and November is weaning month. We called two mums and calves into the holding area, separated them and loaded the cows onto the trailer. One cow is old and I don’t want to breed with her again. The other has been a very indifferent mother (rare with Highlands), has small teats and small calves. She will be culled and become mince and sausages, on the recommendation of my butcher. The older will be culled and probably become dog food. The life and death of a Highland cow. I remind myself of the decent life they have lived, and that I am a farmer and a carnivore.
Next day we gathered in the other three seven month old calves, walked their mothers back to a far field, and borrowed a pair of electric cattle clippers from our dairy farming neighbours. Although their winter shed is open on one side and very well ventilated, the calves still get sweaty. Archie became a barber and snipped a nice wide band of hair from the middle of their backs. Although held in a the cattle crush, the calves behaved very badly and one almost managed to leap out. So we were very pleased to finally get them settled in the shed.
All night long I heard the mooing and moaning, calves calling for their mums and mums calling back, the quiet night carrying their voices. I did feel very badly for them all…until the following morning. Archie and I had begun the annual apple juice production (eighty two bottles so far) when we looked up from the barn to see Morag strutting down the bridleway heading for the calf shed. As the heavens opened with freezing rain we forced her into a turn-about and whacked, pushed and shoved her all the way back into the field.
Archie found the spot where she had jumped over the fence onto the bridleway and promptly reinforced it. We do have very good fencing, but if a cow really wants to, she can jump over a very high barrier. At about two in the morning I heard mooing outside my bedroom window. There were three unhappy cows in the field by the house. My Highlands had become Show Jumpers! For whatever reason, they become rather defeated in this field, spent the next day bawling, and agreeably walked back to their proper home the following morning. Calves quieted and peace was restored and I hope I never have a weaning episode like this again.
A few days later we had very heavy rains, apparently rainfall for the month in less than 48 hours. Rivers of water poured down the bridleway. The next morning I went to check the stock as usual and there on the bridleway were five steers! They had been in a field at the very far end of the farm, up by the top of Lewesdon Hill. We think they got spooked by the ferocious winds and rain and five jumped a fence. They stopped and settled on the bridleway by another field of Highlands, hoping to join them I guess. As they were due to be moved soon, that is just what we let them do. Later we collected the other five better behaved boys and walked them to their winter field. The cattle rings are now filled with bales of haylage and all is calm.
Dan’s seven Hebridean sheep were purchased to live in his woodland. Instead they have been in a field behind the barn, living it up, as Dan has been giving them sheep nuts to ‘tame’ them. Dan is away and Archie and I decided it was time to move them to their proper home. The bribing did not work! They were crazy, almost impossible to pen. Twice we managed to catch them and some jumped over the hurdles and out! Very frustrating, but on the third attempt we managed to squeeze the hurdles around them in a tight little bundle. They did try to climb over each other but with a channel running up to the trailer we quickly loaded them up. They are settling into the woodland, and easy to spot with their black coats.
The two rams will soon be introduced to the twenty nine ewes, “tupping” season. The ewes have been on good grazing, getting in top condition for pregnancy. On Wednesday I gathered them all in to give them a careful inspection and then Archie, Matt and I set about doing their feet. Foot trimming is necessary, as the hoof grows, a bit like human fingernails, and must be cut back. If you ever see a sheep kneeling on his front legs while eating grass, he is not praying. Or he might be praying that the shepherd comes and trims his sore feet!
We also trimmed the lamb’s feet, the wethers (castrated males) and the rams. A long morning and a rather sore back from leaning over. Some of the lambs needed worming, the rest of the flock did not, so another job completed. We loaded up the lambs and put them all together, except for the two ram lambs staying with the big boys.
Late last week we gathered in the twenty nine ewes. Archie loves the new race we bought for sheep handling. They run through the race and with a small swinging gate can then be separated into two pens. I had my clipboard all ready with ewe tag numbers listed and marked left or right, thirteen in one pen, sixteen in another. There is not a terribly large population of Portlands, so we must be very careful about inbreeding. Luckily our Breed Group has a very smart piece of kit, computer software that compares the relationship between rams and ewes. This Kinship Analysis is vital at tupping time, and ewes are allocated to the ram they are least related to.
Next we loaded them into our little sheep trailer and transported each group to different fields. Now for the rams. ‘Raddles' were clipped on, each holding a big red crayon. I will know when Shurper or Sirius have serviced a ewe when I see a red patch on the ewe’s back end.
Time for mutton sausage making! We allowed the carcass, prepared last week, to hang for six days. Matt, a trained butcher was in charge and Archie and I were his enthusiastic apprentices.
We set up our work station with mincer and sausage making machine. All of the meat was minced, only saving a shoulder for a mutton tagine I’ll be make for the weekend. I had spices, herbs and dried fruit flavourings and we made Merguez and Moroccan Spice sausages. The mutton is perfect for richer spicy flavour. And they are delicious!
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.