Friday 3 June 2016

Two Fat Ladies

Continuing to enjoy those blue skies and
getting great blocks of pure azure into as
many pictures as we can! 
An hour ago I was sitting on the parapet of our local bridge with the dogs, watching a sparrow hawk soaring in the thermals while being mobbed by 5 house martins (the hawk - not us!). From there back here to lunch and finding superb left overs in the fridge (beef liver cooked in cream with onions and mushrooms) and a tray of very generously gifted eggs, the answer was a liver omelette. Next I wandered round to look in on an elderly lady neighbour with whom we catch up periodically and was fed her home made treacle-bread and 'tay' in her lovely old kitchen. Coming home through her gorgeous garden I noticed that her yard-wide clumps of poached egg plant were a-buzz with 30-40 (of presumably our) honey bees. This truly is a small bit of Heaven which I must have done something really good in a former life to have inherited.

Generous gifts of eggs and a couple of all-spice cookies to
try out. 
Ah well, enough of this indulgence. I will change subject or risk starting to be horribly smug. Too late? Those podgy wenches of my post-title? No. It is not Jennifer Patterson and Clarissa Dickson Wright of whom I speak nor indeed any human females*  but , on this occasion, sheep. Specifically two of our ewes, Lily and Myfanwy.

Myfanwy is now lifted off the ground
when her "baby" lambs try to suck
In the last post you will have read that we were visited by Carolyn and Charlotte of the Mini Horses, here that day to collect the guest-goats whose work here was done. Charlotte is our go-to advisor on all things sheep-health and we are always happy to receive her comment, criticism, advice etc. This especially regarding what sheep folk call "condition" or the fatness of the animal particularly around the spine.

Polly (grey) is a nice 3.5 condition. Lily here is way too fat at
around 4.5
You may have seen judges at sheep shows prodding and poking the back of the sheep, squeezing up into the pelvic girdle and behind the ribs. They are feeling for the 'processes' of the vertebrae which stick up (spinous processes) and out sideways (transverse processes). If they can feel them sticking up and out sideways through the muscle blocks then your sheep is down in the 'under-fed' area (Condition 1+). If you can't feel them at all and there are dimples where they should be, then she is up to condition 5. As you would expect, somewhere in between is about right.

Rosie, our 'keeper' ewe lamb is nice and chunky at 3.5 months
Now that our ewes are sheared you can see a bit of this. An expert would be able to judge them without the prodding but you should prod to confirm your visual assessments. Charlotte could see that where I had continued to feed the sheep plenty of crunch despite the grass now growing and becoming quite plentiful, my two Suffolk-y ewes were getting decidedly porky though Polly, our Jacob cross, being more of a range-y, goat-like mountainy beast looked OK at maybe 3.5.

Poached egg plant - great for the bees.
This wouldn't be a problem now but come November and we would be trying to get the girls back into lamb, the condition has a huge effect on fertility. Your ewe wants to be between conditions 2.5 and 3.5 to be at her best, and preferably rising through that range, not falling. We therefore need to get this weight off them through the Summer and Charlotte and Carolyn have jointly advised some changes to grass regimes (rotating and resting various bits of lawn and field) as well as cutting the crunch right out to 'tit-bit' levels. This is especially so because this Autumn our 'tup' is likely to be Sue and Rob's "Silas", full of hormones and teenage vigour but not necessarily that knowledgeable on how the biology works. He is one of the 'suck lambs' from this Spring and not yet 3 months old. We need our ewes to be cracking out multiple eggs to have the best chance of getting more than one lamb per ewe next year.

More blue skies for these '365' pics.
Small quantities are allowed (and even advised) because they make it easy to see all your sheep every day and quickly let you spot any lameness or other health problems. The 'diet' though, is not so popular with the girls themselves and there was much 'Baa-ing' at times of day formerly know as 'elevenses', 'lunch' and 'supper' (yes, I know - there was NO grass and those ewes were all trying to suckle multiple lambs). In fact I think I heard a Management Meeting going on at one stage and the hot headed young lambs were planning to march on a certain house in Sligo with flaming brands, pitchforks and a signed petition. Oy! We want a WORD with you, Charlotte!

Darina Allen's trad Irish nettle soup. Superb!
Of course, in practise, the front lawn was so shaggy with long, rested grass that the sheep have gorged themselves in the sunshine, laid down in the shade with their tummies all spherical and rotund with grassy largesse, fallen asleep and forgotten all about being hungry for crunch and marching on Sligo. They have settled into the new regime quite happily and the out-of-time baa-ing, when it does happen is all a bit half-hearted and unconvinced. Baa????... maybe?... worth a try?

Our Cuckoo-Marans hen 'Squawk' dust bathing
Meanwhile, you may have heard me speaking of the ambition to evolve our chicken flock over, by natural wastage, to just the variety Buff Orpington. Well, it turns out that we are both in love with the oldest hen in our gang, 10 year old 'Squawk', our Cuckoo Marans girl who is still laying lovely dark brown speckledy eggs. The Marans are an all purpose (Western) French breed from down in the 'Charante-Maritime' area.

Happy Birthday Blue, 4 today.
So we have decided to go with Buffs AND Marans and we have been looking around for possible birds or 'hatching eggs' and, once again, step forward Carolyn who tipped us off that Mayo-Liz (our sheep supplier) has a farrier named Roy, who happens to breed three different colours of Marans - Cuckoos, Coppers and Golden. We have put our name down for a dozen eggs of unknown colour hoping to get some Cuckoo birds out of this or, failing that, Marans of other colours which we will probably fall in love with just the same.

Poppea at 4 years old.
Finally I need to wish Happy Birthday to three of our animals. 4 years ago today (June 3rd) while we were anxiously waiting on news of the whelping of Lily (bitch this time, not ewe) down in Silverwood, unbeknownst to us, just around the corner a rather disreputable she-cat (several handsome strangers had been there and she was "no better than she should be" apparently) was kittening to beat the band. Mrs S joyfully phoned her chum round the corner to tell her "our" good news and could hardly get the story out before chum was bubbling back about kittens.

Towser at 4. Please turn a blind one to the grubby wall.
Towser's decorating I think.  
Anyway, long story short, we ended up with 2 pups and 2 kittens. Blue's brother Rolo sadly 'lost' in a fight with a vehicle in the lane a couple of years back and has since been replaced by Soldier whose birth date we know not. Many Happy Returns, then, you lot. Live long and prosper.

*There may be bit of a health-kick going on here at present - no wine, less booze, cream, butter and rich sauces, more exercise etc but nothing is to be inferred from that re any words in my title.

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