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.