Sunday 24 June 2007

Flaming June!!!!

Flaming June doesn't mean hot weather, it refers to the horrible weather we are having at the moment.

This week we have seen so much rain, the sheep have webbed feet!!!!! and the girls with the most fleece are really struggling with the weight of their wet fleece.
Denise has been frantically packing Alpaca fibre most nights, in readiness for Woolfest next weekend, signs have been made and business cards printed. Now the question is, will it all go into the truck!!!
Because of the rain we decided to bring the ewes and lambs into the barn on Thursday night so that they would be dry on Saturday for Andrew to shear them. Because the weather has was so bad once the door was open to the barn, they ran in!!! Warm shelter and fresh hay, what more does a sheep want. By Saturday morning they wanted to be out, the barn and hay had out lived its fascination.
Saturday morning saw is moving the ewes and lambs, into half of the barn so that we could clean the area to be used for dagging and wrapping fleeces. We'd already hurdled off the area Andrew and Denise were to use for shearing the sheep, so that was already clean.
By the time we had finished getting the barn ready, but then there was a down pour of rain and we decide to put the boys in the large trailer, good move as once we started to shear we had 2 thunder and lightening storms. We also decided to remove the lambs from the barn so we could move the ewes into a smaller space to make them easier to catch. Big mistake every one complained!!!!!. But if we had left the lambs in the barn, it would have become a logistic nightmare, do we leave the sheared ewes in the barn with their lambs, or do we put them outside, for not only them to complain, but their lambs as well. Either way we would have sheep bleating VERY LOUDLY, and non of use were wearing ear defenders.
There was not a lot of spare time before Andrew arrived. The idea was, that Denise would start shearing some of the smaller sheep and Chris (a local spinner) would dagg and wrap the fleeces.
Well we got Brazil done, she had already started to "roo" (that means cast her fleece), so the had shears were used. When Denise started to use the shears on the next sheep, she really struggled.
Andrew arrived and got set up, he sheared Berniece first, not problems, then he finished off the lamb Denise had started, and struggled, the fleece was sticky. Strange!!!! Why was her fleece like this. As Andrew sheared more of the girls, they too were very sticky!!!!
The only thing that makes fleeces sticky is molasses, but we don't feed our sheep sugar beat, so we were at a loss as to what it could be. Tim realised that this year we had given the sheep more mineral licks than usual and wondered if that had made their fleeces sticky. Only when we sheared the boys would we know if this theory was correct as they had not been given any mineral licks this winter. Well it proved to be correct. The boy's fleeces were not sticky at all and were a dream to handle. Though they were a challenge for Andrew to shear. Tim has requested that Alex's fleece be spun and knitted into a jumper for him, so that is one fleece that will not be going to Woolfest.
All of the boy's fleeces were damp and so are spread out on the tractor trailer in the barn to ensure that they dry out completely before being packed into paper sacks.
It was a long afternoon doing the shearing. Andrew finally left at 19.00.
Next year, on advice of Andrew, we will be shearing in July as most of the sheep's fleeces have not "risen" this means, that during the winter the sheep's fleece has more lanolin to protect them from the bad weather of winter, during the spring and summer the fleece has less lanolin which makes shearing so much easier, the lanolin doesn't clog the shears. It's easier to see and feel rather than explain.
But the sheep are now done and so the worry of fly strike is not a problem for a month or so at least. Bum watch is on hold for a while!!!!
Next weekend is Woolfest - the biggest fibre festival in this country, a great time to meet up with customer, friends and suppliers. So if you are at Woolfest please say "hello".

Sunday 17 June 2007

Wet week reeks havoc with weekend plans

We should have sheared the sheep on Saturday, but after 24 hours of constant rain following a week of mist and drizzle meant the sheep were wearing soggy wooly jumpers, not a pleasent prospect for shearing, just after shearing one wet sheep your legs are soaking wet and the idea of another 28 to do is not fun. Also wet fleeces can't be wrapped and stored and where do you dry 29 very wet fleeces!!!!!!! So instead of shearing Denise spent the day getting to grips with a new accounting software package and Tim put a new roof ridge on the shed where Hissing Sid and Lady Friend live.
Hissing Sid and Lady Friend are settling in we are seeing them more and more over the last week. Lady Friend sits and waits for Tim to put the food in te bowl for her, Hissing Sid is risking life and limb eating our other cat, Garyling's food!!!!!! You stroke Grayling and then check you still have all of your fingers.
Saturday night we were invited to our local feed merchant's retirement party, it was a great night, especially when his and his daughter's dog (Fallon & Abbi) worked the tables for scraps. Needless to say we were a soft touch and gave them something!!!!!
Today, Sunday, our smallholder friends from Teesdale were to visit, mainly to look round and catch up with the gossip, but also to select 2 or 3 lambs as payment for helping sell Dan our male alpaca cria a couple of months ago. But a case of fly strike in their pedigree Teeswater flock meant they had to cancel so they could shear all their sheep and spray the lambs against fly strike, they also have had 2 lambs die for reasons unknown, so life is a little rough for them at the moment. They will be speaking to their vet in the morning to see if she can cast any light on why the lambs have died. So we will rearrange a new date to meet.
So Tim took the opportunity to finally tidy his workshop, it actually has a concrete floor!!! Denise planted the rest of the hedge saplings and got the labels ready for the Alpaca fibre bags for Woolfest, and guess who ran out of plastic bags to put the fibre in!!!!! Panic order now done. Hopefully they will arrive over the next couple of days.
Hoping for a fine week, as Andrew the sheep shearer is booked in for Saturday to help Denise. Dry sheep a necessity. Will let your know how it goes next week

Monday 11 June 2007

Testing out the Sheep Crush

Saturday was spent just catching up on the usual jobs that need doing around the smallholding. Made sure we had all the medicines etc to deal with the sheep on Sunday. Tim had mended the grass cutter so it meant we were able to trim the grass in the wooded area. Denise raked all the loose grass up and the wooded area certainly looks a lot better, hopefully over time the grass will become finer. I doubt if it will become a bowling green, but it might improve to become to some sort of football pitch for the nephews.
On Sunday, Colin and Gerald came to help with the sheep, as Tim's back is still very fragile. Tim had created a run to funnel the sheep into the crush. So with medications and foot trimmers at the ready we started.
The crush was set up for the Shetlands and after a few teething problems we got into a routine. The idea was that Colin/Gerald would move the sheep into the crush, Tim could manage the crush door and Denise would catch and hold them in the crush then do the injections and trim the sheep's feet. But with the Corridales, the crush was set too close and so the brake could not be applied, so Tim held them in place with the foot pivot whilst Denise continued doing the injections and foot trimming. So this was the routine for the rest of the sheep and it worked well. Colin devised a gate so that the sheep didn't come back down the race, which helped and in future we will ensure that sheep of the same size go through at the same time followed by the larger sheep so that we can make the crush larger or smaller dependent on which sheep are going through. But you have to learn as you go along.
By the time we got to the end of the sheep, none of us felt we had been wrestling with the sheep and in truth the sheep were a lot less stressed, it was so easy to do everything, especially the feet and dagging out Missy, again!!!!! A good buy
Now all we have to do is shear them. That's next week's job!!!!!!!


Northern Sheep - Wednesday 6th June

On Wednesday we spent the day at the National Sheep Show near Bishop Auckland. The day started cool and misty and when we arrived at the host farm, the choice of shorts and sandals worn by Denise, did seem a poor choice, though as the day progressed the weather got warmer so it was not a bad choice after all.
A first glance the show only looked as if it was all in one field, but going passed the farm house there were several large barns which held all the sheep societies and all sorts of suppliers specialising is sheep equipment.
We has arranged to meet some fellow smallholders and the plan was that we would ring them around lunch time to arrange meeting. Slight problem mobile phones did not work, or only intermittently, we did manage to have a disjointed phone call, but that was it, anyway we will be seeing them this coming weekend when they visit, so nothing is lost by it.
We did come away with a purchase, a sheep handling system, which we had seen a couple of years ago and had been imported from New Zealand, it is now being manufactured in this country and is a lot cheaper. Turns out that one of the reps is the son of our alpaca shearer and when he delivered the "sheep crush" the following day, he also brought Denise several bags of Alpaca fibre from his Dad as promised. Result all round.


Monday 4 June 2007

Another Busy weekend

Knowing that the sheep have a lot of fleece on them and it's getting warmer we are on "blow fly watch" so we decided that we would spray the sheep to give them some protection for a couple of weeks until a shearing day can be arranged. So again we've been watching the weather forecast as the sheep ideally need to be dry to ensure that the spray stays on their fleece, and for various reasons Sunday was the best day to do the job.
Saturday was a day of "silly" little jobs getting done. Some fencing moved near the small barn by a 3 or 4 metres, not much, but it means the sheep can keep a ditch clear of grass etc rather than either of us having to scythe it every couple of weeks.
Now that we've been here nearly 4 years, you start to notice bits of land that "if we moved that fence, some more grazing for the sheep" and to quote the youngest nephew "sheep are just woolly lawn mowers". How true!!!
Sunday we sprayed the sheep against the dreaded blow fly and part of the prevention is also to "dag out" i.e Clip the soiled fleece from around the sheep's bum!!! Guess who gets that job!!!!!
The trouble with having to use the blow fly spray, you need to be well protected, gloves, mask and overalls. So after a couple of hours you have broken out into a sweat.
Thankfully not many of the girls needed "a Brazilian" so to say!!!!!!! They are in need of shearing so that is a job for this month to arrange help for.
Here's the list,
Andrew to shear the large sheep, Denise being the light weight she is can't hold them to shear,
people to catch and turn the sheep,
wrap the fleeces,
keep the shearing area clean and
man the strings to turn the shearing machines off and on as required.
We try and make a fun day of it and on the whole everyone seems to have a good time.
Will as usual post on this blog when it's arranged


Alpaca Shearing Day

Everytime we come to shear the Alpacas, it's cold and wet. So on Bank Holiday Tuesday, it was no surprise it was cold and wet. We had put the girls in the barn and the boys in the trailer on Monday night so they would be dry for when Bob the shearer arrived.
Bob was due to arrive at 09.30 so help was arranged, Colin, our neighbour, (it's usually his son who helps, but it's a little difficult to help shear with a broken ankle) and Sharon another alpaca owner.
Bob arrived, an hour late, due to traffic problems in Middlesbrough, but he was soon ready to shear.
It takes 2 people to put the alpaca on the floor and one then to hold whilst Bob fastens the feet to a pole to stretch the alpaca out. Sounds worse than it looks. Whilst Bob sheared Colin held the alpaca's head, myself and Sharon collected the fleece grading it into bags as we went, one for the best fleece, one for the legs and neck, and finally a bag for the rubbish. Each bag has the name of alpaca, date of shearing and grade of fleece. This helps later when I bag it all up into 100g bags for selling. It took about an hour to shear all 5 alpacas and with the new blades that Bob has, leaving a short layer of fleece on the animals they were not as cold on previous years. We all then went to Sharon's to help with the shearing on her 10 alpacas, which turned out to be 9 for shearing as 1 of the girls was 2 weeks over her due date. She delivered a lovely little female cria (name for a baby alpaca) 2 days later.
So that's their shearing for another year. Now just the sheep to do!!!!!!