Under the weather – but the animals just don’t look after themselves…

By Tria Stebbing.

The bugs finally got us. Having avoided Covid-19, flu and seasonal bugs, we were finally caught Christmas week.
When you are unwell having the animals is a real eye opener as to what you can achieve if you have to. They do not see to themselves and still need our input daily to ensure their needs are met.

We went over today, coughing and spluttering, and found one of this year’s ewe lambs running up and down the paddock next to the one the rest of the flock were in. The little thing was distraught it was not with the others – they were happy with their heads down grazing, while she was shouting in her best ‘baaa’ that she was in the next paddock.
Sheep are not known for their intelligence, and she appeared to have become scared of the gap in the gateway – every time she ventured closer, she would appear spooked and run off again.

I ended up walking over to her, shaking a bucket, and as the others had followed me, she happily skipped through the gate as if nothing had happened.
The cold weather recently bought its own challenges. The frost on the grass stayed all day limiting grazing and the water froze solid.
The other half found me a brick to start chipping at the solid ice and encouraged me NOT to drop it in the water once I had found it. You guessed – I bashed it so hard the brick flew out of my hands down to the bottom of the tank, and that water was so cold. Farmers encourage you to take every scrap of ice out, making it harder to freeze back, by which time my hands were blue.
This made me a bit more sympathetic to the temperature, and we supplemented the hay with some dry mix, which looks like muesli for sheep with added molasses.
We are running low on grass now and will be moving them back to their home village in the next few weeks. Historically, the few weeks after Christmas always seem to be a bit rubbish and they will be pleased to get their field shelter back, also making it a bit easier to keep the feeding hay off of the ground and dry in the racks.
It is always interesting to watch them return ‘home’, as they do remember the field, and each have their own favourite spot.
The field has had to endure frost, mud and two resident deer, so we hope it will now provide us with the home the flock needs until lambing at Easter.
We have a barn full of hay ready for them and if the weather changes again we will be ready.

For those of you interested in all the paperwork aspect of sheep keeping, we have just filled in our annual flock count in which we count sheep and ewes in lamb and send the results off to DEFRA.
We are double in size currently as increasing the numbers to accommodate a new piece of land. After Christmas we will also send off information to the Zwartbles society about how many Zwartbles we have and how old they are.
We keep meticulous notes in my ‘sheep book’ about who is grazing where, who has had foot spray and who needs replacement tags etc. As well as the official paperwork the notebook keeps track of the various friendships, sheep limping, what we did – it is a steep and ever changing learning curve.

After another year, we will remember Gizmo and Gemma sadly taken from us too soon, but celebrate King and all the other lambs from this year. Here is to a successful year for all our smallholding colleagues.

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