Sunday 27 April 2014

Winter is over when you hear the first cuckoo

Cuckoo flowers are easier to photograph than cuckoos
This year I heard my first  Cuckoo on Thursday 24th April, its arrival coincided with the first Cuckoo  flower of course. There are earlier signs of Spring such as the arrival of the Glasgow University geology students in March and Calmac's summer timetable.

On the BTO (British Trust for Ornithology) website the "Bird track" map showed the most northerly cuckoo report on 24th in Northumberland so we are ahead of the game. Despite Cuckoos now being on the red list, "endangered" after a 60% drop in numbers since the 1960s here in NW Scotland numbers have increased slightly.

One of the reasons cited for cuckoo decline is of course modern agriculture; lower insect numbers due to pesticide spraying has reduced host species numbers; meadow pipit and dunnock, in England and presumably S. Scotland. Here with crofting agriculture, bogs, upland heath  and scrub woodland the host species still flourish as does the cuckoo's main food species the hairy caterpillar.

Thursday 24 April 2014

Lamb killer about

Forty something years ago when I was doing a hill  lambing in Glenisla I did my first round of the lambing ewes at 4.30 am, one morning I found 12 dead lambs, most headless and some legless.  A fox had done it in a killing frenzy.

The severed leg
At lunchtime Kate found the fore leg of a newborn lamb by the gate to the hill park. It had been severed from the body as if by an axe, cut clean through the bone a fox modus operandi.

How the leg got there I don't know, it wasn't there in the morning when I took the goats up. Perhaps a bold daytime traveling fox dropped it or it had been picked up by a crow or buzzard and then dropped.

There is a lamb killing fox about, Rosie, Hughie and Elaine have all lost lambs in the last three days.    
A walk round the hill with the rifle before bedtime might be a good idea.

Thursday 17 April 2014

Easter chicks a day early

The Bresse Gauloise eggs from Ralf in Germany weren't supposed to hatch until tomorrow, Good Friday. They started hatching today. I thought that the incubator was running a little on the high side, 37.8 C instead of 37.5C  even such a small difference over 21 days can make a difference. But there is always a normal distribution of things in biology, the "bell curve" , in any population some individuals are early, some are late and most are around average. So some start to hatch on day 20 and there will still be some to come on day 22 with the majority on day 21......... Enough of statistics!

There is an early little black chick because I also got some of Ralf's "Copper black maran" eggs, these lovely black hens with copper neck plumage lay eggs with dark chocolate shells that are good for farm gate sales. I got eggs from Ralf and an English breeder so that the two lines are as genetically distinct as possible and will produce very fertile eggs.

As I explained to the Editor (Kilchoan Diary) in the pub earlier. ......In the past I could have rattled off a post like this in minutes, now I have to switch between computers, the new "tablet" which is like learning computers all over again and the old laptop that has all of then images on it.  But its always the same when I change computers it takes forever to learn the new systems.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Gambolng addiction

When I go out for a last look at the lambing ewes after the 10 0 clock news its quiet in the lambing shed. Often the only sound is the grinding of twenty of so pairs of teeth as they chew the cud. I am looking for ewes that are likely to lamb during the night because this is usually when more than half of births happen. But not this year, most lambs have been born in the morning and afternoon, convenient for the Shepherd but unusual.

Birth is preceded by a period of intense maternal restlessness, getting up, lying down, pawing the ground bending the neck to look backwards. Again this year, the behaviour has been different, everything has happened very quickly!

The shed is by the roadside and open to view so visitors often stop to see what is going on and of course very few have had the chance to see farm animals born, when they do they are surprised to see that  most lambs are standing 30 minutes after they are born and have begun to suck within an hour. In the first week the lamb might suckle 60 or 70 times a day.

Kids do it too
When they aren't suckling or lying in the sun or the lambs are gamboling; racing around the field or playing king of the castle, play which I suppose develops social behaviour and fitness..

All of my lambs born so far have been female, Charollais crosses for future breeding.

Friday 4 April 2014

Kid rearing the African way

Night time creche for kids
You have two choices when it comes to kid rearing. If your aim is to maximise milk production the kids will be removed from their Mothers after two days and reared on a bottle until they are eating enough hay and concentrates to be weaned. Its expensive, time consuming ( 6 feeds a day at regular intervals to start with) and labour intensive. We have adopted the African method, well the African method for cows.

African peasant farmers are interested in yield security, they will sacrifice high yields for low cost and regular, secure output of animals or crops. They rear calves by letting
Just born and not quite ready for the creche
them suckle but they also milk the cows, when Crofters had milk cows they did this too.  Its cheaper, easier and more humane.

Once the kids are about two weeks old; at about eight in the evening I remove the kids from their mothers and put them in a pen by themselves so that they don't suckle. They have water, hay and creep feed. Next morning the Mums are milked but not milked out completely, then they are reunited.

Its important that the kids start eating solid food as soon as possible as this speeds up development of rumination and once the rumen is working they can be weaned." Weaning" according to Dormouse is another agricultural weasel word or euphemism she sees it as, "tearing the little critters from their Mother's breasts".