Saturday, 16 May 2015

A Rare Moment With A Rare Sheep - The Birth of Twin Lambs

Today we witnessed something rather special.  One of our Boreray ewes gave birth to twins and we were able to watch it from a distance.  Zelda was born in 2011 and this was her 3rd lambing.  I think she has only given birth to singletons before, but she seemed fully in control of the situation.

She could have picked a better day - we're unseasonably cold here in Orkney at the moment, with frequent heavy showers and very strong winds.

I've been advised by my friend, Bob, who has kept Boreray sheep for many years, that it is far better to leave them well alone at this time and let them follow their primitive instincts.  So the photos below were taken from just outside the field and we used binoculars to follow the progress.

Zelda has shed most of her fleece, so she is sporting the 'lion's mane' look at the moment.  Borerays are one of the few breeds that do shed their fleece.  She has the unusual dark colouring that a few Borerays have and it looks as if the 2nd lamb may also turn out to be darker than average.

The first photo was taken at 1.03pm just after, by chance, we spotted that she was about to lamb.  The first lamb was born at 1.14pm and the second at 1.25pm.

 You can just see the bag of fluid under her tail above.

 Bag has burst and membranes visible

 A minute or so of pushing and the lamb can be seen coming out - head out in first photo and body emerging in second photo.
 Zelda turns round to start licking the lamb.  The lamb was seen kicking immediately as it was born.
 Lamb now has its head up.

 A lot more licking from Mum before she lies down for the second birth 10 minutes after the first.

 The second lamb can be seen emerging in the 2 photos above.

 Here is Zelda turned round and licking the second lamb.

 Above Zelda is Blanche with her first lamb who was born in the early hours of 13 May, also in atrocious weather.
 You can see how quickly the first lamb got up on its feet and how alert the second one is after a couple of minutes of life.

 This photo was taken at 1.36pm.  Lamb 1 is 22 minutes old, Lamb 2, getting up, is 11 minutes old.

By 1.37pm Lamb 2 is up and standing well.

The two photos below were taken a couple of hours later at 3.15pm. Both lambs up and lively and eager to feed.  Zelda still has to deliver the placenta, but when she does she'll lick and eat everything, leaving the ground clean.

As you can see from her wary expression she spotted me looking at her from by the fence.  We'll wait a few more hours before very quickly checking the lambs, finding out if we've got boy(s) or girl(s) and putting iodine on the cords.  Although she is a very attentive mother we don't want to interfere with her bonding with the lambs by going up to her and them too soon.  Once the checks are done then we'll be keeping our distance again.  Gorgeous though the lambs might be they are a primitive breed, more feral than domesticated, and sadly not for cuddling!

ETA - 3.45pm.  Zelda has delivered some of the placenta, and is eating it, but there is more to come.

These last 2 photos are a bit grey and blurry because they were taken facing into driving rain - it's freezing and really wet outside at the moment.  Hopefully she'll take the lambs to a more sheltered spot when she's finished clearing up after the birth.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Looking Forward - changes to the Woolsack website

Some of you may have noticed that the Woolsack website has become somewhat larger over the last few weeks.  Since Christmas I've been having a mammoth 'push' to get through the huge list of bookmarked websites that I've accumulated over the past few busy months.  These are websites I've come across that look as if they may be selling at least one British wool product, but where investigation is needed to find the best url to link to so that people can quickly find the British wool product(s).  At 1am this morning I finally got the last one onto the website and that bookmark folder was EMPTY!

I can now sit at the laptop without 'that list' looming over me.

When people contact me about their British wool products then they get onto the website much quicker - I'm getting into a good routine now of a weekly session of updating, which gives a good balance between speed of responding to email requests and the most efficient use of my time. 

There are also a couple of new pages - the Events page is back for this year, and I intend to keep that as an annual page.  There is also a completely new section, Learning Wool Crafts, where I'm listing links to courses, classes and workshops to learn or improve skills in Woolly Crafts suitable for British wools, including spinning, knitting, weaving, crochet, felting.

I've also been researching mills where people can get their fleeces processed and that page should be going up soon.  This should help crafters wanting to have as few as one purchased fleece processed, through to farmers considering maximising the return on their wool crop.

The Woolsack website was an invaluable part of the 2012 Games British wool cushions Inspire project and it was always anticipated that it would be left as a legacy of that successful project, helped by the fact that  it has been archived by National Archives.  Then I had a conversation with a stall-holder at the cushion stuffing event at Wonderwool Wales.  At that time I had no idea that there was such a thing as google analytics or other ways of tracking traffic to a website.  She was delighted to tell me that a significant proportion of the traffic to her website with her British wool products came through the Woolsack website.  At the same time her sales had increased.  A little asking round at the event showed that this wasn't an isolated occurrence.

That of course got me thinking, and wondering how useful it could be for the British wool industry at every level if, after the Games when LOCOG restrictions were lifted, the website could list every British wool product.  Then after making it easier for people to source and purchase British wool products it could perhaps even help raise awareness among consumers about the unique qualities of varied properties of  British wool from the UK which has the largest number of different sheep breeds in the world. 
At that time I was confident I could create enough time around my other activities and responsibilities to run the website and associated social media, so the decision was made and Woolsack as it is now became one of the true legacies of the 2012 Games Inspire programme.

Skip the next few paragraphs if you're busy and just want to read about the Woolsack website.

Then in 2013 my husband and I moved to Orkney and I became a sheep farmer.  Here are a few of my Borerays in the top field on this very snowy morning.

What started off as a spinners flock of 'pet' sheep has become an expanded sheep and poultry farm that will hopefully have its first Boreray mutton at our local butchers in the next few weeks.  Anyone reading this who farms will know what this has meant to my 'spare time'!  Life now is physically demanding but I'm loving it and there is the added excitement of Borerays just having increased enough in number to have moved from Critical to 'merely' Endangered on the 2015 RBST Watch List

But time has now become a big issue in my life.  This lovely Foula wool cardigan has been at the point of just needing the sleeves knitting for some months now.

And this is my daughter's Christmas present - a Shetland black lace handspun stole.  Spinners will be quick to spot that while the singles may be nearly finished, plying hasn't yet started, let alone the knitting!  And yes, that is a bit of dust on the wheel now I look closely...... Fortunately I have a very understanding daughter who is looking forward to this for her birthday or next Christmas.

So, as we're surviving our 2nd winter here and looking forward to lambs in late April and May, I've had to seriously evaluate how I spend my time and what is most important to me and to things that mean a lot to me.

My passion for British wool (some people may prefer to insert the word 'obsession' or 'crazy' in there) would be very dry if I weren't using my fleece and enjoying working with fleece, fibre and yarn from so many of our varied and diverse British breeds.  I love my sheep and I'm proud to be one of the newest people joining the group of enthusiasts who have kept the Boreray breed going for decades and have expanded the numbers from 6 individual Borerays to over 300 registered breeding ewes.  The breed has properties that may well prove invaluable in future years for contributing to  commercial breeding.  Want a sheep that can live on a swampy bog with no foot problems, will eat almost anything, good worm resistance and rarely scours - you want a Boreray then, or at least some of its genes.

I've been able to use the experience I've gained in 18 months of farming to plan changes for this and future years that will enable me to run the farm more efficiently with no impact on animal welfare, and without spoiling the enjoyment I get from my sheep and the relationship we have with each other.

So, back to Woolsack.

I've realised that I've been ignoring an incredibly valuable resource that was vital in the success of the Woolsack 2012 Inspire Project - Team Woolsack.
These were volunteers throughout the country who did what they could in their local area or in specific areas of the running of Woolsack and I don't know how we could have pulled it all off without them.

Now that the website is 'up to date', as I've evaluated the time I spend on it in routine maintenance and normal adding of new links, I've realised that there is one vital task that can easily be spread around a number of volunteers.  Time to issue the call to a new TEAM WOOLSACK.

A list of website links is only helpful if those links go to the right place.  People change their websites and sadly sometimes companies close or stop dealing with British wool.  It doesn't sound much to run down a page of the website clicking each link to see if it's still working and correct, but it actually takes a huge amount of time.  Especially on the dire speed of broadband that BT sees fit to supply to rural Orkney.

So I'm asking for people who would like to join Team Woolsack and 'adopt' a page or part of a page of the website and check the links every month or so, for a length of time that suits them.  If things get busy in your life then you just need to let me know that you need a temporary or permanent break from the Team. 
Also people who would be happy to check a page once as a one-off will be most welcome. 
Then list checkers can just send me the list of links that are broken and I can find and insert the correct one or remove a listing if the company has closed or stopped selling British wool products. 
If any Team Woolsack checkers would like to take up the Miss Marple challenge and search for the correct url to add to the listing that would be absolutely fabulous, but just having a list of broken links will be a great help in itself.

So if you would like to join Team Woolsack as a link checker please contact me

One thing to mention now I'm asking for volunteers to give their time to help run the Woolsack website.  Behind this is the decision that I won't be monetising the website and there are no plans to introduce any paid advertising - for a number of reasons.  I do this as a volunteer and that's how I plan to keep it.

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Looking Back

2014 has been a year of learning and experiences, but one where time became most valued.  We've had births and we've had death.  I'm sure someone has eloquently written a quote about the times when you have most going on to blog about, are the times when you have least time to do it.  But I'm sure you get the picture.

In retrospect farming sheep and a lot of poultry, running Woolsack, starting a business, everything we've been doing on the farm, keeping up with family and old friends and new ....... well, the blog was pretty high up the list of things I didn't have time for.  I've also not done anywhere near as much spinning as I'd have liked, nor growing food, well this list could get very long!

However I've no regrets, and despite the considerable physical challenges and having to learn so much (not least farm paperwork!) I'm glad this is where I am now.  There will be some changes next year, learning from our experiences of this year, but I will keep running Woolsack and even bringing back the events page and adding a new page I've been researching.  As for the farm, well I will try and find time to blog about the sheep because a LOT has happened there.

Orkney is a pretty magical place.  Even when coping with being icebound as we were on 27 & 28 December when the entire farm was covered in sheet ice, (anyone for downhill skating?) we could look up and see the promise of longer days and sunshine.

So now, time to leave 2014 at sunset with images of young Borerays on the moor and the Boreray Boys in the field at the top of the hill.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Season of mists, mellow fruitfulness and unsolicited calls

First the mellow fruitfulness - we seem to have gone from summer to autumn overnight.

One of the joys of moving to Orkney has been a lack of unsolicited phone calls.  In Newcastle, despite being registered with TPS and meticulously searching all forms for that tiny hidden box to tick or un-tick to deny permission for our telephone number/address to be sold to unscrupulous cold-callers we were plagued by them.  Most days we received more than one unsolicited phone call.  Exceedingly annoying when in the middle of a long row of complicated lace knitting to say the least!

Today, along with the mist - time to play 'spot the sheep' - I got a second unsolicited call in 2 days.  Both from a company offering free house insulation.  I'm not sure how much free insulation they think an old stone croft house with solid walls and built straight onto solid rock can use - but then these companies don't actually research who they contact.

Anyway, having pressed option 5 yesterday to get through to a human so that I could tell them we were registered with TPS and should be removed from their mailing list immediately, today it was gloves off.  I clicked 5 again so I could get the name of the company.  When I asked that they put the phone down.
So I went to the TPS website.  As I thought, unless you have the name of the company you aren't able to make a complaint.

Which is pretty frustrating when errant company puts the phone down on you when you ask for the name.  However, for the first time I saw the link to ICO (Information Commissioner's Office) and followed that up.  It appeared at first that I'd ended up in some catch 22 since it looked like I was being referred back to TPS, so I rang the enquiry number for ICO.  Which was an incredibly useful thing to have done because I got a very helpful gentleman who explained a lot about the system that I didn't know.  So this is what I'd like to share here because if enough of us act we can move forward the process of making it more difficult for these obnoxious companies to blight our lives and get away with it.

So, first important thing to know, TPS only covers calls made from within UK and made by a human being.  If the initial call is automated, even if you then click to speak to a human being, it's not covered by TPS.  That's point one in my letter to MP and MSP - TPS must be expanded to cover these automated calls and put the wishes of the public to choose not to receive these calls above the lobbying power of the cold-calling companies.

Second, as explained from the very helpful gentleman at ICO, they have never heard of anyone successfully being removed from one of these calling lists even after speaking to a human to request this.  So the advice is NOT to click the button to speak to a human.  Just put the phone down, dial 1471 to get the number, and use the form at ICO to report the call.  Choose the option of an automated call which ends up taking you here.

Next interesting thing I learnt is best explained in this blog post from ICO:  An effective regulator needs effective powers. 

The measures they are able to take are limited by current legislation.  So the more of us that contact our MPs, and MSPs for those in Scotland, the better.  There is a huge industry built around the annoyance and disruption of unsolicited calls and that means the cold-calling industry lobbying our MPs and delaying legislation to give us, the public, what we want and need.  So we need to put pressure on our public servants to put our needs first and get this legislation passed sooner rather than later.

I know from past experience that writing to my MP really does make a difference.  If you don't do anything else this week, please take a few minutes to make a difference for yourself and other people and write that letter or email to your MP.   Read the blog post from IOC first - it will take only a couple of minutes and enable you to put the appropriate content in your letter, asking for the threshold to prove substantial distress from a nuisance call to be reduced or removed.  We shouldn't have to reach the point of  'distress' in order to get unsolicited calls stopped.  This legislation needs to be changed NOW.

When I made my report to IOC today I could feel the sigh of relief that I was able to explain that rushing into the house to pick up the phone, thinking it was an important call I was expecting, meant I had to release the bantam I'd just caught.  Next job for me is to try and catch her again -  and it's Medusa, so that is an extremely arduous and distressing task!

Report back - Medusa has made herself very scarce and is nowhere to be seen.  I thought you'd enjoy seeing a photo of my escapologist bantam, but you'll have to make do with my youngest clutch of chicks, also running fast away from me.

Their broody mum is an extremely nervous and over-protective bantam, so I'm not attempting to train them to come to the bucket until they've left her and moved into the teenage chick housing in one of the fields.

My older chicks really enjoy living away from protective broody hens and hanging around doing the chicken equivalent of getting up late and imbibing questionable substances

So, to summarise, feel-good job for as many people as possible to do this week,  for the betterment of all our lives, is to read the IOC blog and then write to your MP.  Let's give IOC the powers to give the spammers the kicking we'd all like to deliver.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

End of Summer

The final day of August gave us the glory that is Orkney in sunshine with light wind - plus a smattering of midges, but it's a small price to pay for days like this.

I thought I'd do a photo-census of the 'beasties' as we move from summer to autumn.  The nights are noticeably drawing in now; it's not yet 9pm but I'd need a torch if I went out now.

So let me introduce you to the current inhabitants of the farm, starting with the bantams who have each hatched and raised a clutch of chicks.  Sadly too keen on the grain to pose for the camera - they are Anne, Emma, Harriet and Medusa.  Not forgetting Andrew the Pekin cockerel who fails dismally on the fertilising eggs bit.  He just falls off on the few occasions when he tries.  So sadly no bantam chicks this year.

Then we have Gertie and Gloria who are two year old geese.  They just graze on the lawns and let us know when anyone comes to the house.  Their enthusiasm for hissing is greater than their desire to get friendly with me, but they're pretty easy to be around as geese go.  They did amuse us for a number of weeks with the 'incubating broken crockery' event, but that deserves a blog post of its own.

 Next we have Albert and his harem of 7 ducks.  They provide endless amusement and some rather good eggs.  They even lay in a nest they make every night in the duck house rather than just dropping their eggs randomly on the ground.
 Time to move onto the chickens.  George still rules his roost but with some Marans added to his Light Sussex girls.  They've been doing a good job with eating sheep parasites during the year.  Faecal testing on the sheep has been consistently negative for fluke and only minor levels of other nasties.

George is moulting at the moment so he's not looking his best.  There are chickens in each of the fields and the chicken house on the moorland field is where we keep the surplus cockerels.  Fighting is kept to a minimum by not having any hens with them, but any sign of aggression is a swift move up to the top of the roast/casserole list.  Free range, foraging cockerels of at least 8 months age are totally delicious and quite unlike what you buy in supermarkets.  Plus knowing they've had a fantastic life and a very stress-free, quick end only improves the feel-good feeling about our home grown meat.  Sadly the current inhabitants on the moor were deep in the heather and camera shy this afternoon.  I did allow some of them a little holiday with groups of hens, so not all of these chicks below that we've hatched under broodies are from George.

This is the oldest group above - some of these boys will soon be moving to enjoy many months on the moor.

The two most recent hatchings are still with their broody mums on the lawn, protected from Hen Harriers, Hoodies (the crow variety) and the larger seagulls.  The Maran hatched 10, which was a lovely end to a summer of looking after broody hens.

The black chicks are from our group of Black Rock hens, and these young chicks were fathered by a new cockerel, Gandhi, who is a cross between a Black Orpington and Jersey Giant.  He's also a lovely gentle cockerel, so hopefully that characteristic will be passed to his sons.

I also put some duck eggs under a broody and had 2 hatch - they are now living in the area where we try and grow edible stuff in the hope they will keep the slugs down.   The Saxony, Cherry Valley cross has produced very attractive, large ducks.  These are just 8 weeks old.

So what about the Boreray Boys?  Well they now number 8, the original 5 having been joined last November by a ram lamb of a different blood line and two older wethers, William and Wesley.  The ram was named by my 'darling' children.......... Bollocks.  Well, it had to be a 'B' name since he was born in 2013.
 Bollocks is on the left of the photo above - note his splayed horns which come from his English father.  Rams from the Scottish bloodlines have tighter horns like Boris.  William is the grey sheep just to the right of Bollocks.

All the Boys are looking very smart in their summer fleeces - I'll post more photos another time of their glorious winter fleeces, now all rooed or blade-sheared off.
 Here they are following me up the hill - in front is greedy William, then Bollocks and Bertie, Boris behind them, and the 3 in the back from left to right are Wesley, Bilbo and Brookes.  Broder is just out of the shot, but here he is below with Brookes, both hoping I'll hand feed them a little treat.  These 2 twin brothers are my tamest sheep.
Many of you will know that Boris fathered twin ewe lambs from a lovely Shetland ewe we had.  I will blog about her story, but if you can't wait then Sue shared her story here.  Warning - you may need a tissue.

Here are the lambs with Zena shortly after their birth on 14 April.

 Penny is on the left, Tuppence on the right.

Here they are today, 4 1/2 months old and around 2 feet high at the shoulder.  Too heavy for me to pick up now.  Affectionately known as the Heffalumps due to their size and large rear ends.........

In both photos Tuppence is on the left and Penny on the right.  They will be getting friendly with Bollocks in late 2015 in the hope that motherhood will settle them down a little.  Early signs are that both have some degree of their mother's gorgeous fleece.

So now we start getting ready for winter - lots of things to tidy up and tie down outside before the September gales start.  The 'beasties' are all enjoying the glorious sunshine while we have it.  For around 6 weeks in mid winter the sun won't make it high enough above this hill to the south of us to shine on the house or any of our fields.