So after we had the hedges and the grass all cut back recently we decided to move the chickens out of the orchard and into the field. There were a couple of reasons behind this. Firstly the grass in the orchard needs some time to recover from the girls pecking at it and creating dust baths so we’re going to reseed it and give it a bit of tlc. Secondly, it was a right pain trying to mow around the chicken pen as there wasn’t really enough space to move the electric fence easily so you had to mow a bit, then move it, then mow a bit then move it etc. If they are in the field then we can just mow half the field, move them permanently and then mow the rest. Thirdly, we were actually missing having the orchard as a place to spend time in. We really liked the orchard and had a couple of barbecues there last summer and wanted to get back to it being more of a social area to spend time in as a family. So our plan was simple, move their Eglu and then remove the fence and herd them into the field. We figured that the chickens would follow their home as it moved. By gosh we were wrong. So first we moved the Eglu, the chickens were mildly interested in what we were doing but mainly focused on pecking at the area where the Eglu had once stood. C and I tried to bribe them to come out of the gate in their fence using meal worms. No luck. So we started taking down the fence, again they showed a mild interest in what we were doing but then just decided to explore the rest of the orchard.
So my father in law began to mow the orchard to even up the grass where the fence had been removed. Admittedly they did move away from the mower, but only a little bit and still stayed determinedly in the orchard. By now they were getting a bit more confident and were exploring the full reach of the orchard, but still stopping short when it came to moving towards the field. Now we had kept Jessie inside whilst we did this as we thought she’d be a bit of a hindrance (I did want to keep C away too as she was equally a hindrance but you can’t really lock a toddler in a cage) but we then thought we could use her to help encourage the chickens into the field. She has only seen the chickens from behind the electric fence before and so we figured she would relish the idea of chasing them. If only we could manage to get her to chase them in the right direction. The result…she had a mild interest in the chickens but was more interested in exploring the orchard. We tried leaving them in the hope they would go by themselves but we were worried about them not managing to get home before it got dark and we know there are foxes about (hence the electric fence). Eventually we used all of our resources (me, my husband, my father in law, the dog and some netting) to try to trap one or two at a time so we could then carry them to the field. I don’t have any photos of this because I didn’t have a free hand to take photos! We managed to get five up there but Dorothy (remember her, the elusive let’s hide our eggs chicken) decided to hide in the hedge between the orchard and the field (which she couldn’t get through because of the fence). We ended up leaving her and coming back a couple of times and we eventually managed to pick her up and get her there but it was hard work. This is their new home in the field.
They seem to have settled in quite nicely. Once they’ve been there for a couple of weeks then we’ll give them the chance to free range even further into the field.
So, apart from the sheep escaping escapades of the past week, the sheep have been fairly low maintenance. They also haven’t really interacted with us at all. C has been really keen to try and play with them but they have tended to bolt whenever we come near them. However, we now have at least one on our side. I have nicknamed her ‘Bluey’ as she is the only sheep with a blue marking. The farmer has given all the sheep numbers to help match up mums and babies. Those who were twins were marked in red, and those for whom it was a single birth, in blue. We only have one single birth and hence ‘Bluey’ is quite easy to distinguish. The feeding started by C insisting we take weeds/hedge trimmings to the field with us on our jaunts as special treats for the sheep. The other day we finally managed to coax Bluey to try some and now that is it. Every time we go into the field she comes up to us desperate for treats.
So, the weather has been rubbish for the first week of June. We’ve had torrential rain, hail and heavy winds. There have been some glimpses of sun but not enough for my liking. Whilst the rain has been great for the garden the wind has unfortunately caused some damage. We’ve had the ornamental quince tree which is up against the coal shed come away slightly to hang into the drive. We will need to remove this tree anyway as it is where we will hopefully have bifolding doors so that’s just another job to add to the to do list. However, the wind has given us a bigger problem. A fallen tree branch. In the field. On our wonderful new fence.
Now how did we discover this? Well on coming back from our evening chicken check we stopped to chat to our neighbour at the end of the drive who mentioned that some of our sheep had escaped earlier today into his field but that he thought they had gone back now. Cue my racing to the field to count the sheep. Right at the back of the field I came across a sheep who was behind our fence and between our field and the farmers field at the back.
Unfortunately this has not been the first instance of sheep escaping this week. My husband and I erected a barrier of sorts to cover the where the tree had pressed down on the fence.
However, the barrier has proven pretty useless as we’ve had to chase sheep back in twice since then. Including this evening. In the rain. Not fun. We’ve now tried using twine to tie up the barbed wire and the fence together to prevent gaps but as we’re not entirely sure how they’ve escaped it’s been pretty hard to be sure we’ve got the problem solved. Fingers crossed our temporary patch job works as I don’t fancy chasing sheep around a field every evening!
To be honest I think the pictures say it all today, when walking to the field J and I encountered a lamb with her head stuck trying to sneak into the fenced off area we have in the corner of the field. We headed towards her but she managed to wiggle herself free and run off before we got there. Thankfully not before I’d managed to snap a couple of pictures!
So I’ve probably already mentioned the field, it’s where we put our lazy beds, but I thought I’d divulge a little bit more about it. Having a field sounds very impressive and like quite an exciting thing to own but when you think about it what would you do with a field. The obvious answer would be to rent it out to someone to use, where we live there are always people looking for someone to keep their horses. But for some strange (read stupid) reason we just don’t want to. Last August when we just moved in I discovered that the hedges that border the field were heaving with blackberries and C and I spent many an hour wandering round and picking them and I don’t want to not do this.
J and I have bandied about ideas for what to do with the field for some time and I don’t think we’ve settled on a long term plan yet but we have a short term solution at least. The grass on the field needs to be kept down and it seems ridiculous to either pay someone to mow it weekly or for J to spend every Saturday mowing it. So we’re having sheep on it. They aren’t our sheep as we know even less about sheep than chickens and we just don’t have the time to commit to learning how to look after them. Whatever we were going to do, the field needed a bit of prep work doing to it as it had been left unattended for a while. Cue calling in the professionals to help us out.
So in January J organised for an old school friend of his to do some big outdoor works for us. So in the coldest couple of weeks of the year we had the hedges circumventing the field cut right back and then post and rail fencing put round it so it kept any animals we had where they should be. We’ve also had a corner of the field fenced off separately (where the lazy beds are and where the caravan will go eventually, but more on that later), new secure metal gates put in and a couple of mounds of earth removed. There was an old pig shed in the field which had to be knocked down and a diseased ash tree which had to come down before it ended up collapsing on our new fencing. It was a massive load of work but they did an amazing job, I would highly recommend them. So the field is now sheep ready. I’ve put some pictures of the work in process below to give an idea of the scale of the work.
I figured you might like an update on what it’s been like having sheep in the field. Well, it has been fine. We’ve had to make sure that the water is topped up which has been a daily thing whilst the weather has been nice but as we would have had to head up to the field to water the potatoes (which show no sign of growth by the way) it isn’t too much of a chore. And as a bonus we get to see how excitable young lambs are. I’ve noticed that there is a little gang of about four or five that hang out together. They tear around the field together and try to explore the fire (which is still going after a week but is well fenced off) and the mound of rubble that we haven’t disposed of yet.
They also keep trying to climb up the tree in the corner of the field and climb over their poor mothers. Occasionally they get a little too eager and a call from a mother soon gets them back in line. Some of the others are still staying closer to their mums and only rarely joining in the others fun.
Now I’ve learnt some very interesting things from the sheep man. Firstly that we can expect their tails to fall off as they have been banded (known as docking). The reason behind this is to keep them a bit cleaner down the bum end and make it easier to detect potential problems. When they arrived a number of the lambs had obvious bands around their tails, hence the sheep man explained what it was all about. So we have been warned we may see a tail drop off. And we apparently also need to watch for their balls to drop off. Yes that’s right. We need to watch out for stray testicles in the field. Apparently the male lambs have also had their balls banded to castrate them. The reasons behind this are to prevent them getting a bit too randy with their siblings. Hopefully we won’t actually get to see that as I don’t fancy trying to explain that one to C.
So today the sheep have arrived. We have spent the past couple of days ensuring that the field is ready for them, clear of as much debris as possible and with a hose up there ready to supply water. We’ve also fenced off where the latest fire was as it is still slowly burning and we don’t want them to have a mishap. These are not our sheep, which works well for us as it means that we don’t have total responsibility for them. Rather they belong to a local farmer who breeds them for slaughter and puts them on local land for a period of time to graze. This is a win win situation really for us. We get our grass kept trimmed, we still have full access to our field and can have the sheep removed If required. And as a bonus we get to have some of the products of our mowers when the time comes (we get some free lamb). So this morning we had 9 sheep and their 16 lambs arrive.
We had been explaining to C for a couple of days that we were going to be getting sheep but this morning, when we’d had the heads up that they were on route, and asked her if we should get some sheep and her response was “No, I don’t like it”. This was not going as planned. It was a proper battle to persuade her to come outside with us. However, this all changed when we heard the sheep trailer arrive and she started asking what that was when she heard the sheep bleating. The look on her face when they all tumbled out into the field was priceless. She was so excited. She kept trying to follow them around and feed them grass. It did end up leading to a few life lessons though, she was fascinated by the lambs feeding from their mothers. I tried to explain that the sheep ate the grass and then it went into their tummy and made milk for the baby sheep. Not sure she quite got it but she adores them nonetheless. We’ll have to keep an eye on her with them for the next few days until they’re properly settled in, especially as the mothers can be quite territorial and protective until they realise you’re not a threat. So for now we’ll have to watch from a distance and save our cuddles for later.