Monday, 12 August 2013

Meet the biomowers

The biomowers, enjoying the shad. The one in front is the
As you know, Ian has spent a lot of time mowing the grass to try and keep the ground elder at bay and the fly numbers down. It's been hard work for him, so when a friend of ours asked if we wanted any sheep we said "yes." We have been talking for a while about getting some, just to keep the grass down, particularly in the harder to reach areas that are more difficult to cut, like between trees and on steep banks. Sheep are easier to get hold of than alpacas and maybe only a stop gap until we have enough alpacas to keep the grass down anyway, although there is one advantage of sheep over alpacas. Alpacas are relatively tidy animals who have a poo pile, but that is not good for randomly distributing manure around the grassland to improve it, so it might work to have a mix of animals, maybe sheep with good fleeces that can be mixed with the alpaca fleece. A while ago I was talking with a weaver who wove with alpaca wool and said a mix of 25% sheep wool and 75% alpaca wool meant that the wool garment would hold its shape better. Something to bear in mind!

Inside the hutch. They've been seeing rather a lot of that
hutch just lately. Oh yes! They are still in bad books.
Our introduction to the sheep was not endearing to Ian. I got the look that said "And whose stupid idea was this and there had better be some improvement fast." We did quite well .... for the first five minutes. We picked them up from our friend's place, took them back to ours. Lined up the trailer with the gate, I stood on one side to stop them escaping and the gate was used on the other side to stop them going the other way. Ian got into the trailer and directed them out and off they charged, straight into the paddock. Result! They even went running off a bit and then stopped to start eating. It was at this point we made the fatal mistake, we went to see how they were doing. Even though we had quite a powerful electric fence on, the fear of us was enough to make one bolt through the fence and then quickly followed by the other two. For the next half hour, we vainly tried to get them back but all we succeeded in doing was herding them into a spot where they were content to graze and could keep them contained but not secure. I have to add at this point I was meant to be resting and so I need to back track a little before carrying on the saga.

Thee little fellas though are getting much better behaved.
They have really learnt when it is time to put themselves
away now.
Earlier on in the day I went to the dentist, if you follow my blog then you will be familiar with the description of a big Russian speaking guy with tattoos up his arms. I also found out, due to the type of white coat he had on this particular day, he was tattooed across his chest too. Not the kind of guy you would want to bump into on a dark night, only really he's a big softy at heart. I had gone to get my tooth sorted that had been temporarily filled before I went to Florence, but half way through he suddenly stopped and started chatting to the assistant. I could tell at this point something was not right and they told me to phone my friend. Out comes the trusty translator, my mobile phone and I phoned through. Apparently I had managed to crack the tooth vertically and the only option was to extract it, was that okay. Ooerrr! Yup! Not much choice really. It was at this point I was really glad that he was kind of this big scary looking guy and not some wee slip of a lass like the last time I had a tooth extracted. The last instruction though from my translator was that I needed to rest afterwards. Right! Well out came the tooth and the dentist patted me on the shoulder reassuringly, I think it was more to reassure himself than me though, so I patted him on his hand reassuringly back and laughed. He even showed me the tooth - good job I'm not squeamish.

Ooh! Ooh! What are those woolly scary things?
So back to the sheep. I didn't chase the sheep around the field, I just walked, honest! We phoned our friend and asked her to come over, as we thought they might respond to her better, and she was rather more clued in about them than we were. She might be but the youngsters were not and they were not going to cooperate with anybody. Eventually, however, we managed to get them into the alpaca paddock, as that was easier and shut them in. That was where they stopped overnight. The next day we let the alpacas out and they were not happy. Our three big brave lads, hared around the paddock a bit and when they ran, the sheep took the cue and ran with them - well that's what herd animals do isn't it! Eventually they settled down a bit, but the three brave fellas spent the day crowded together at the top of the field in the corner in the blazing heat of a very hot day and if the sheep - who by now couldn't care less and were more interested in just eating grass - came anywhere near, they started off haring around the field again, first of all followed by the sheep. After awhile the sheep gave up the game and either concentrated on eating or sat in the shade of the chicken hutch. We were beginning to wonder at this stage who had the most brains, the alpacas or the sheep, after all the sheep were only lambs really, born this year, in other words three very young females as opposed to our alpacas who are at least five years old and above.

Hmmm! Clover
The next day, they were left in the paddock and each night when Ian fastened up the other animals he fed the sheep too and they soon forgot their fear. Sheep concentrate is far more interesting after all. The day before I went out to the land, Ian fixed a long corridor to the sheep paddock and before we let the alpacas out, the idea was that he would entice the sheep up to the place where they should be and I follow quietly with the mobile gate that we had had to use to block a potential bolt hole in the alpaca paddock - one that the alpacas never bother to try and get through, but we felt sure the sheep would and they are smaller too. Well that was the idea! When we got there one of the sheep was out of the paddock, there was by this time too little grass to keep them interested and one had pushed through the fence. Eventually after a bit of a song and a dance we got her back in the paddock and managed to electrify one of the strands and that concentrated their minds somewhat. We let the alpacas out and let everyone settle down a bit. We hadn't bothered electrifying the fence, as that one is rusty and needs replacing and the alpacas never bother to try and get through it. Needless to say, it will be sorted before next year when we have young cria.

Phew! Glad they've gone now
After a while we decided that they had settled down enough to do something with them, so we fastened up the alpacas and the chickens - who will cooperate reasonably well with bribery and proceeded to entice the sheep towards their enclosure. It worked and this time we decided to let them settle down before going to see how they were doing. I'm glad to say that they seem to have quite taken to their new enclosure, although we still half expect to see at least one of them running around where they shouldn't be - at least we have warned the neighbours that we have some sheep now. We were a little worried though that the low shelter that Ian had made for them to protect them from the elements seemed to be an enticement for them to jump on, they are still lambs after all and boy can they jump high - I've never seen sheep of that size jump and I've been around sheep a lot. We were surrounded by fields of them back in Derbyshire where we used to live. Maybe their a special breed of woolly jumpers (okay I won't give up the day job!) They also like the trees to shelter under and spend quite a bit of time  under them. We did wonder if they would only eat the very green grass around the edge that had been cut, but they have started to make in roads into the long grass too, so it appears they are doing the job we wanted them too. Phew!

Some buckwheat hanging to dry, ready for threshing. The
rest was baled as an experiment, but once again we are not
sure if it was dry enough, like the oats we tried earlier.
Still the chickens will get some of it anyway and if the
experiment works it is a fast way of preparing buckwheat
for the winter and the chickens can thresh it for themselves.
As for the rest of the week, it has been a time of harvesting tomatoes, onions, tomatoes, beans, tomatoes, buckwheat and did I mention tomatoes. Oh yes! The tomato glut has begun. Apart from eating tomatoes till they come out of our ears I have been mainly just bunging them in the slow cooker and making sauce for the freezer. I will do other things with it later like make our own jars of baked beans, but for now it will do to just get them cooked down and frozen. Yesterday I had tomatoes in one large slow cooker, some yellow ones in a small slow cooker, a large metal tray and a large glass dish full of tomatoes in the oven. Our house as you can imagine smells of a very rich tomato sauce.

The buckwheat all harvested now
We also had a visit from friends, one of them a fellow academic, so it was time to unwind and retell the conference to someone who could relate to it around a barbecue fire. We baked, we did and not just the food, as it was another glorious summer's day. They were a little disappointed that we hadn't got the new alpacas yet, but our boys did put on a display of rolling around the field to compensate, as it was before they were perturbed by the sheep. I also had some feedback from one of the keynote speakers at the conference. I hadn't had time to talk to him as there were some others I really needed to speak to and he had a long queue of folks waiting to speak to him anyway, so I emailed him to tell him how much I appreciated the work he was doing and thought it would have some value for my own work too, as he was re-evaluating the value of allotment gardening as not just a reactionary move governed by poverty but a lifestyle choice of people who valued tasty, organic food, no matter how much they earned. When I am examining the lives of rural inhabitants it will be great to have such a positive piece of work to reference. Anyway, as I said I emailed him and today I had a reply, apparently he had sat in on my presentation and thought I had done some good research and presented the work well. This is brilliant, as it is the first proper piece of feedback I've had about my presentation and I wondered how I had come across. I was satisfied that I had done okay, I had my work done to time and didn't go over, despite the tight time frame and so I was happy enough, so to have confirmation that it went well was quite a relief.


  1. Wow! Now sheep! I can see this wool industry taking off - a step at a time and when all the pieces of the jigsaw are in place, the house move. I might just be imagining things but that is what came to my mind as I read this week's blog.

    Congratulations on the feed back to your presentation. What an active and varied life you lead. I love reading all your anecdotes of daily life.

  2. Thank you Mavis. I was wondering about the house this week.

    Active for sure in the summer and definitely varied. It keeps the weight slipping off slowly and I don't even have to watch what I eat, just how much :D

  3. congrats on the good feed back. i'm praying for a local labourer for you.

  4. Thanks Liz. Also pray for the means to pay them please as well :)


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