Friday 27 July 2012

The clipping

With only 30 sheep to clip and plenty of help on hand shearing has become a spectator sport. John Alec the ambidextrous shearer had seven of us watching at one point on Wednesday, but of course that means more hands to catch sheep, roll fleeces and fill the wool sack.

In late Spring / early summer this year's fleece begins to grow and the old and the new fleeces separate. This is the time to shear them, here its usually mid to late July.


I always feel it must be a huge relief for the ewes to get rid of all that wool and grease. Its not the best quality wool and much of it is used for stuffing mattresses in Italy.

Last one!

The tup "Big Eric" was last one, he must now weigh 100kgs and its a struggle to sit him up but once John Alec had him there he was quite docile in fact he almost seemed to enjoy it.

Sunday 22 July 2012

Not many people know this!

Not many people know this but goats can be taken for a walk, on a lead, like dogs. I hope that the hill park will be fenced within the the next week or two then they can be free ranging up there, with a field shelter for bad weather days. Until then they are in the loose box in the byre. For exercise and browsing on roadside shrubs and herbs they get two walks a day. Today the Ed. of Kilchoan Diary and wildlife photographer "Raptor" were taken for a walk by the goats.

The loose box is 2.2m x 3.5m, big enough for three adult goats so there's plenty of space, ventilation and light and an extra accessory......a big rock for them to jump on, hopefully this will help to keep their feet in good shape. Mac the dog got too close to them yesterday, without any evil intent and got head butted for his pains. That will keep him in his place.

Goats are browsers, they don't graze pasture like cattle and sheep they go for leaves, flowers and twigs and like to stretch up to get their browse. Same goes for the hay, I think they would rather stretch.

Saturday 21 July 2012


Generally you need six fine days of sun, breeze and low humidity to make hay. Silage takes two days, its cut on day one and usually chopped and carted to a clamp on day two. We make "Haylage" a halfway house between silage and hay, its baled one day three as a rule then  wrapped in plastic to ferment. This week Elaine did it all in two days because the crop was light and the weather perfect.

Mowing Thursday afternoon

Spreading to dry in the sun immediately after mowing
Rowing up for the baler Friday teatime

Unfortunately the crop was light, only seven bales from my two acres compared with twelve last year so we will have to have a plan to cope with the shortfall. More old ewes than usual will have will have to go at the end of August.

Wednesday 18 July 2012

The goats arrive

There are now some puzzled looking Toggenburg goats in the byre. After two days on the road when they slept most of the time, the goat kids, Hebe and Acorn, are inspecting their new quarters. When they were introduced there was some initial headbutting and pushing but an agreement must have been reached as they now appear to be best of friends.

Acorn below the window, Hebe on the bench
They will have to be confined to the byre until the hill park is fenced, hopefully next week. Each day they can have a walk, they've been trained to walk on a lead.

Thursday 12 July 2012

The Geese Police

The goose patrol
 Those  fluffy goslings hatched in April are now monsters; big, bold and bossy. If they think the ducks or the hens are enjoying something they are on the case to  put a stop to it.

Flocks of starlings have been eating almost as much hen food as the hens themselves so I put one feeder and drinker inside a wire netting pen to deter them. The hens and ducks have to go inside to feed, the geese have decided to put a stop to it by patrolling the entrance and chasing them off.

Luckily geese have a short attention span  they only do this for short spells. They get bored and wander off to graze, find something to vandalise, or just run around flapping their wings and screaming.


Sunday 8 July 2012

Mac's progress

I buy most of my books secondhand on Amazon, its much cheaper than Ebay, thinking I'd bring myself up to date because I haven't trained a dog since the 1970s, I bought, "Clicker Training for Dogs" Basically its, click and reward, when the dog does what is desired or what is on the way to desirable.
Border collies know how to look appealing

So far , after two weeks, Mac comes when called when off the leash, he sits on command ( the easy bit) but is still not walking  beside me in a good mannered way when on the leash. This is a slow process because for an eight month old puppy the world is full of distractions.

 I am following the advice of my neighbour in Kent, Ted Hope, he was a master dog trainer and sheepdog handler. Ted had two maxims; perseverance and patience. If you are interested in how this quiet, gentle old shepherd did it , Google, "Ted  Hope, Sheepdog Training" for a short masterclass.  I still use the crook he made for me over twenty years ago.

Mac can't be allowed near sheep until he stops and lies down on command, then he can be trained (I hope) to run to the right or left on command.

At the moment he is housed in the goat pen. His kennel is under construction.

Friday 6 July 2012

Austrian scythe (Part2)

Its only six weeks since I cut the bracken and it has re-grown to head height in some places. Cutting it with the scythe is more like felling small trees than mowing but the aluminium snath and a smaller, tougher blade does the job well leaving neat windrows that wilt and dry quickly.
Aluminum snath and giant bracken
It's been a good year for bracken its grown higher and faster then in any previous years . Perhaps it was the very wet winter, who knows? Anyway, after this second cut I intend to follow up with spot treatment using Roundup (Glyphosate) on the surviving plants.

"The Austrian Scythe (Part 1)" has been one of the most read posts so perhaps its appropriate to give some more information on this superb lightweight tool the fusion of a few thousand years of design with modern technology. If you want training or to buy a scythe have a look at Simon Fairlie's website; there should be a link from there to The Scythe Shop.

Setting the handles 1

Some ancient wisdom! If you set the two handles the distance from your elbow to outstretched fingers that distance will be correct for you height and build.

Setting the handles 2

Standing on level ground the bottom handle should be the height of your hip.

Then of course you have to learn to peen and sharpen the blade which will have to be the subject of a further blog, " The Austrian Scythe (Part 3)".

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Transporting the goats

"Hebe" the kid
 The goat pen in the renovated byre is ready. Sleeping benches and hay rack are installed, just need to fix the feeding buckets in place and to find some hay, not easy here on the West coast in July, we all make big bale silage now. Next week I take the trailer down to Warwickshire and then to Cumbria to pick up the kids. Transporting farm livestock is now highly regulated.

The driver
 If you want to transport animals you have to sit a proficiency test. If you pass, I don't know anyone who has failed,  you get an official certificate of competence that the Police can require you to produce. This is all to ensure high standards of animal welfare when they are  in transit and is very worthwhile. Mine is for journeys up to 8 hours. 

The plan is to pick up Hebe from Fay Ogden in Warwickshire on the morning of 17th, drive up to Cumbria ( 7 hours) unload her into a pen with feed and water, stay overnight then load up both kids, Hebe and Acorn,on 18th and drive to Scotland ( 7 hours). As these two are very well bred they are used to traveling as they have been exhibited at agricultural shows already this year and they will take it in their stride. Despite all of this Dormouse still thinks its too traumatic to transport animals by road for eight hours.