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.