Sunday, 27 September 2009

Sheep School

You see those little specks in the distance along the track?
That's Chris leading Rosie and Braeface back to their own field yesterday. Today I repeated this performance because folk keep leaving gates open!

Now all this stomping about wouldn't seem so silly were it not for the fact that I own 2 sheepdogs who really ought to be making my life easier!
Fox works pretty well and is a useful fell dog, but he is so pushy that light sheep dash off into the distance as soon as look at him.My Shetlands are not used to being worked by a dog and throw a hissy fit as soon as Fox comes out. He can run round and head them in the right direction, but they get rather upset and are a nightmare to get into the pen. They will all follow a bucket fairly well (some of them too well!) but when it comes to penning there are inevitably a few who simply do not want to go in (you hear me Rebecca and Lunde?!).

I also have Whisper who desperately deserves to be in training now, but have no quiet sheep to run her round...
The solution?

Make a concerted effort to "dog" my naughty sheep and make them workable!

Lesson 1
Put sheep in pen and allow dog to run around. Persuade small dog to go both ways around the pen of sheep in a wide circle. When dog is doing the required action, put a command to it.
Sheep learn that presence of sheepdog does not mean instant death.
Young dog learns "Away," "Come Bye," "Lie Down" and to come away from the sheep without a fuss. She can also be taught to keep out and to move to 12 o'clock and stop. We also started to do a couple of outruns.
Whisper is a little star. Soooo much easier to train than Fox! When I say stop, she believes that I mean it :o)
And to all you sheepdog nerds, don't worry, I won't let Whisper spend much time "working" penned sheep or going round and round. I'm just trying to settle her and the sheep a bit!

Friday, 25 September 2009

Beaver Experts Unite

I've been in Lithuania since Sunday at the 5th International Beaver Symposium. These happen every three years and are a special opportunity for people working on this amazing species to get together and compare notes. I've met some of my idols and even managed to impress them enough to get some collaborative research opportunities so watch this space!
So what happened when 105 beaver experts from across Europe, Russia and North America got together?
There were a whole lot of presentations about research, reintroductions and beaver management...
Plenty of exciting discussions and ideas being floated around...
A fair bit of feasting on Lithuanian specialities (which ment a lot of cabbage, buck wheat and meat... and starving vegetarians!)...
A spot of dancing to a traditional Lithuanian Folk Band (that's me in the jeans being twirled about at speed by an enthusiastic Lithuanian bloke!)...
Outrageous consumption of alcohol until the small hours of the morning...
Fascinating field trips to see beaver sites (unfortunately putting 105 hungover/still drunk ecologists on a stuffy coach and driving them down lithuanian roads was not very wise!)...
And a bit of sight seeing in Vilnius to round off the trip.
We even visited the Geographical Centre of Europe!
And now I'm curled up on the sofa with the pooches :o)

Saturday, 19 September 2009


Whisper has done it again, and yet again I've patched her up. Every night when I spend some quality time with the dogs, I go over them for any ticks or injuries, and every night I find that Whisper has picked up yet another scrape. She simply doe not seem to have any sense of self preservation and while Fox always looks pristine and hardly ever hurts himself, Whisper I'm afraid is rather like me: frequently covered in mud, bruises and scabs!

This time she has somehow sliced her carpal pad. It is always a pain when we have to try and get her to rest and yesterday we gave in for a while, bandaged her up and took her for a little walk... we just kept her away from her beloved beaver ponds, lochs and streams!I tried to get some photos of Whiper sporting her smart bandage fashioned from one of Chris's old sealskin socks. The trouble is that, even when injured, Whisper is a rather speedy subject to attempt to photograph.
Eventually though, even she will stop for a moment!
I'm off to Lithuania today for the International Beaver Symposium, but here's a sneaky peek at someone you'll be hearing much more of on my return...
And of course, it will be about time for a sheepy update too... hopefully a happier one than last time.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Worst Week

This last week has been my worst in the time I've been working with and keeping my own sheep.

First two went missing very mysteriously from their field. A ewe and her lamb. I walked the boundary - which of course I did before they went in there weeks earlier - and found that all of my repairs had held and that there was no clue as to where they might have got out. I've walked miles looking (and so have my friends!) but to no avail. So I've no idea where Russett and Kylie are, nor how they got out.
Then 8 weeks to the day since their last dose of Crovect, I got three cases of fly strike, all in tup lambs. I'm pretty gutted at having had to make holes in the beautiful fleeces, but I've treated everyone now. I've never had fly strike in a Shetland before and generally try to keep use of crovect to a minimum (ie. don't constantly reapply) but it seems essential in Argyll. Any alternatives anyone?
One of my favourite tup lambs, Sullivan my grey HST, started scouring and the vet found that he had a high temperature so he is on antibiotics. My sheep never scour.
After a couple of days, the remaining twin Tavish (whose brother Tomas died a couple of weeks ago) appeared to be clear of his flystrike (the skin had not been broken in his case) but would not stand up and looked thoroughly miserable. I took him to the vet and she found that he had a heart murmur. I decided to put him to sleep and cried in front of the vet, and then again in front of my friends, oh dear :o(

The vet told me that the other twin may well have had the same condition. So all this time I've been beating myself up over them not doing well, and the fact that I didn't give one of them to Robina, and wondering why the ewe wasn't particularly interested in them, and now I know the real reason for them being so small.

Thankfully everyone now seems to be on the mend, and only my pocket is still hurting! Worming and fluking all the sheep this weekend.

Any tales of joyful shepherding welcome!

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Fungal Foray

I must say that, while I lament the lack of a summer this year, I do love Autumn. I love the colours, I love the cold frosty mornings (no doubt soon to come) and I love the foraging!

Yesterday my friends Diane, Hannah and Philippa and I went along on a "Fungal Foray" to learn more about the fascinating world of mushrooms, toadstools and the like, of Taynish National Nature Reserve.
We were under the expert guidance of Liz Holden who is not only an expert mycologist but also proved to be an excellent and enthusiastic tutor.
Despite the rain, there was an excellent turn out and together we explored the woods and wild flower meadows in search of interesting specimens.
The array of colours, smells, textures and tastes (!) were amazing and I learned a great deal.
Such as using this "cobweb" of tissue, called a "cortina" to recognise a poisonous Cortinarius mushroom from the edible blewit.
Despite expert confirmation from both Liz and my SWT collegue Angela, Chris still does not seem to trust these beautiful chanterels that I collected. Ah well, someone will just have to eat them herself :o)

Friday, 4 September 2009

Adder at the office

The sun has taken its chance to peep out from behind the thick blankets of rain clouds in the last few days and the wildlife must be enjoying the feeling of warmth. I found this adder soaking up a few rays outside my office.
The adder is the only venomous snake in the UK. We actually only have three species of snake in total and only the adder lives as far north as Scotland.Their venom isn't particularly powerful, although I do remember a sheep dieing of a bite on the farm I worked on as a child. It's not a pleasant experience however I'm sure and so these little guys are worth treating with respect. I used to earn a bit of pocket money every now and again in the village I grew up in, moving adders out of people's gardens!