Thursday 6 December 2012

Sheep, hens and shorter days

Sixth of December; it wasn’t light until about 8.15, it’ll be dark again at 4.30 and still two weeks until the winter solstice.  Its raining, I can’t see Mull.  All is sodden, the hens are standing dripping under a tree the ducks are feasting on drookit worms only the goats look happy in their warm dry shed ruminating and belching from time to time. Normally I welcome this kind of opportunity to sit at my kitchen table office with my back to Rayburn doing a bit of writing, domestic admin or book keeping but, today the power is off, I can only work as long as the battery lasts and with only one good eye I need an oil lamp to read stuff.

For the sheep shorter days mean sex on an industrial scale. Eric the tup’s testicles have grown to the size of aubergines just as well really as he has 30 ewes to serve and as they come into heat every 21 days he is busy. Ideally we want them all in lamb to first service so that the lambing period is compact and over as quickly as possible.
Pia the BT goatling is in kid; she hasn’t come back into heat, and will hopefully kid around the end of March. The other two are only seven months old and won’t visit a stud goat until next autumn after the days shorten.

Shorter days mean a holiday for the hens, as day length decreases egg laying falls away until the days begin to lengthen in spring. They need 16 hours of daylight to maintain peak production. This is why commercial battery houses are well lit.  Over the year lit and unlit hens will lay as many eggs just the distribution is different and I want eggs for sale in late winter, spring and summer so it suits me to keep them in the dark. No one seems to have told the cockerels about day length and mating, they are as horny and active as ever from dawn till dusk , but then they are French.

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