There are aspects of this job which are just not really very pleasant. I write on Tuesday morning, after a very few hours sleep.
On Saturday we had a visit from a couple of lovely black Labradors, which we first saw running around in a patch of fenced-off bush. They came to our calls very readily, so we tied them and called the animal-control man, through the local council. He, on his way here, found the owners of the dogs out looking for them. So the dogs went home, with promises from their people that they'd not be let off together again, the older of the two never having roamed before, but the young one being a bit of a hare-brain, following the slightest smell wherever it led.
Last night there was some unusual noise amongst the sheep. It sounded simply like a ewe had mislaid her lamb around the other side of the house or something, which doesn't usually happen in the dark, but conceivably might, so we carried on catching up with 'Monty Python's Flying Circus'. But on hearing Isla yelling from further out in her paddock, we decided to investigate further. Our black visitors were back. Isla and the calves and other cows were ok, but there weren't enough young sheep in their paddock: two were missing.
Half of the lambing mob weren't where they should have been and we discovered that one of the missing hoggets from the other paddock was amongst the ewes. Out towards the road, having obviously run through/under two or three electric fences, were the rest of the ewes and lambs, except for one lamb, still missing.
We spent two hours wandering up and down the river banks and drains looking for the hogget and the lamb, finding neither. Then another couple of hours, first waiting for and then dealing with, the animal control guy when he arrived to impound the dogs.
Up this morning and out, to see if we could find the missing sheep. We've debated the insertion of the following picture, but this is an issue for anyone, anywhere with a dog, there being few places in Aotearoa where there are not sheep within running distance.
Dogs are fun-loving creatures and it is probably for fun that they chase things, including terrified sheep. It was probably mostly for fun that our visitors grabbed this one by the back of the neck and maybe for fun they gave her a good shake. But it probably wasn't fun lying cold and alone in the paddock dying, and it wasn't fun this morning finding this no-longer-lamb.
Stephan has just returned from looking further for the other hogget, with news that it too is dead, in the river, possibly just chased in in the dark, but we will investigate further shortly. Sheep, although pretty stupid, don't wander into rivers in the dark and they don't run headlong through fence after fence, unless afraid and chased.
This is a small tragedy in the wider scheme of world affairs, but it's pretty traumatising for those of us involved. It is so wasteful. All of the animals this morning are quietly watchful and are not approaching us in the usual way. Stephan is usually mobbed first thing in the morning when he throws maize out for the ducks and for once has missed it.
The owners of the dogs on Saturday said, like the other owners of the other dogs which have attacked our sheep over the last couple of years, "our dogs are safe with stock, they never chase our sheep". Our experience is that ANY dog, when left to its own devices, whether it is accustomed to sheep or not, will potentially chase them, and any dog has the potential to then grab a sheep (or two, or twenty) and kill it or maim it so it must be humanely killed as a result. Most of the sheep killed by dogs aren't then eaten, they are left and the next victim grabbed. That sort of scenario occurs on a regular basis all over the country on any day, it just doesn't generally make headline news. Often the dogs aren't caught and go on to repeat their activities and sometimes the dogs are caught in the act and the owners will swear that it can't have been their little poochy doing that sort of thing.
I respect the right of anyone to own a dog and to enjoy the benefits of that companionship and I'm sure that any dog-owner visiting here will be a responsible one, but remember the heritage of your nice domesticated pet and remember its potential to return to a wilder nature.
On a more fortunate note, while first out checking the young sheep last night, we noticed that the pregnant hogget (Lulu's lamb last year) was lying down, trying to birth her lamb, so stopped to assist her (probably saving the life of at least one of them), it being a pretty big lamb for such a little sheep. Here she is this morning...
I'm glad we were there to help and I'm very impressed with the two of them. This is the first successful hogget lambing I've seen here.
Please let us know if there are any updates you'd like to see on stories and animals covered in other weeks' pages. Often things and situations just improve and are forgotten as soon as they require no more attention.
Tuesday afternoon, we went to collect the rest of the pregnant cows who were still at the back of the farm. Instead of only one surprisingly early calf (which is now a couple of weeks old) we found two. I'm very disappointed... it feels a bit like finding someone has already opened my Xmas presents! So, we have only 10 to go (before checking on Wednesday morning).
The expected due dates for calves are based on veterinary examination, when most of the cows are around 2-4 months pregnant. Usually the estimates made by the vet at that time are pretty accurate. This year for some reason, about a quarter of them were well out! In fact my own dates, predicted from both insemination records and careful observation of the cows, have been proved far more accurate.
The lambs and ewes are still pretty upset, with a lot more frequent calling between them. We're pretty jumpy too, checking outside after the slightest noise. The owners of the dogs have not been in touch. I'm not sure if I expect them to be or not.
We eventually got around to doing the docking, using the almost drug-dependent-like reaction of some of the sheep to maize, to attract most of them to the temporary pen, built for the purpose and then just chased the others in the same general direction. We managed to collect all but two of the lambs (plus the newest one) the others will get done in the next few days.
All in together girls! We marked all the ewes with raddle (chalky marking substance) so we could tell who was who from a distance (the sheep ear tags are small and get quite dirty and hard to see).
Each lamb is caught and held while a small rubber ring is stretched out and applied to its testicles (if it has them) and tail. Sheep farmers traditionally crop the tails very short, but with a mind to the strength of the sun here and the fact that we don't have huge numbers of sheep, we leave enough length to cover the ewes' pinky bits.
We vaccinated each one for various nasties from which they
might fatally suffer, particularly bearing in mind our interference with them
in the docking process. We put a
numbered tag in each one's ear, weighed them and drenched them all (oral
medicine to kill intestinal parasites). Finally we marked them with raddle (except
those we recognised
already) so they could be matched with the ewes on release for our
The lambs all flop around for a couple of hours and bleat pitifully because they are in pain! But later in the day most of them were gambolling about as before.
Docking is not a terribly nice job. Hurting little lambs isn't something we'd choose to do if we felt that in our situation it was sensible to do otherwise. On my arrival on the farm 5½ years ago, there were a number of long-tailed sheep living at the back of the farm, the remnants of Stephan's previous flock, who'd bred on their own out there and so had never been docked. When we did bring them in, they were always a pain to shear, with their fluffy urine stained tails and prone, if not really well looked after, to flystrike by the new and very vicious Australian blowfly which has been increasingly present here over the last few years. Many people are disinclined to dock sheep tails, especially those of an organic bent, who would prefer the animals to live in their natural state. I agree with them in many many ways, but I would rather dock a lamb and have it live a trouble free life thereafter than find it struck and dying because I simply don't have the extra time to spend in sheep care that that management scheme would require.
We gathered in all the sheep (we had to get the ewes and lambs out of the way as the others we knew, would come through the as yet not renovated fence and through the house paddock). The ewes and lambs just hung about eating while we subjected the hoggets, the ram and Damien to haircuts. We were glad to find no further obvious damage to any of them as a result of the dogs' attack. All but one of last year's lambs is pregnant! We didn't specifically plan for this, but we chose not to avoid it either, figuring that only a couple of the lambs would have been big enough last March/April to conceive. We will have to watch them quite carefully as it would appear from the help we had to provide to some of the older first-time lambers that the ram produces fairly sizeable lambs.