Latest news from Shaun the sheep

About a month ago we took Shaun to the vet because he suddenly stopped taking bottles. Of course I went into panicked mummy mode and rang the vet straight away to make an appointment. We decided to take Shaun to work with us and leave for the vet straight from there. He didn’t mind at all as he loves car trips and going to new places with us.

He lazed around the Backpackers while we cleaned showers and toilets, attracting attention and praise. Then we set off for the vet, two towns over.

Shaun lounging by the cleaning supplies shed in the shade.

Shaun lounging in front of the toilet door

Shaun lounging in the outdoor eating area
At the vet’s office

He’s such a patient little boy
After much undignified poking and prodding (which he politely tried to decline) the vet decided he was just beginning to wean himself. However the vet noticed that his legs are shorter than usual and that he is sort of disproportionate. It is hard to tell without genetic testing (expensive) but it looks like our Shaun is a dwarf sheep. Apparently this can be caused by genetics, mother’s diet and heat during pregnancy. It isn’t very common and we aren’t sure if it will effect his life span.
Apparently there was another farmer named Wright who managed to breed dwarf sheep, which he called Otter or Ancon sheep. Unfortunately they were prone to all sorts of health problems like arthritis, joint problems and digestive upsets, all things that Shaun has had trouble with. After a lot of reading and thinking about it I have decided that Shaun will probably not make the usual ten year lifespan of an ordinary sheep. Whatever his lifespan though, Shaun will have a home with us and we will do our best to keep him happy and healthy for as long as possible, because he is family now, and we love him.
Sid; Shaun’s brother, is growing up fast. He is such a sweet and caring boy.

You can see Shaun’s stumpy legs and bent ankles in this photo

He does look a bit like the photos in the journal article above.

Update on Shaun the sheep – seven weeks old

Shaun has come a long way in seven weeks.

Shaun is growing so fast, he is seven weeks old now and is beginning to behave like a two year old child. He has discovered the container cupboard and loves to pull things out while I wash up, he is shy of strangers but really curious at the same time and he loves to run and play outside.
Having him live with us is just like having a baby again. We take him everywhere with us; to town for job network appointments, to social gatherings, on quick trips to the local shop (a half hour drive away). We have to consider bottle times and pack a ‘nappy bag’ with towels , bottles and wipes when we go out. Recently we started a new job and luckily the boss allowed us to take him with us, we are cleaning backpacker accommodation and he runs around outside the toilets and showers while we clean, attracting attention and becoming a Facebook star. He can’t come to work every day because sometimes my long suffering partner is cleaning on his own while I work at our local primary schools, luckily my mum was available to Shaun sit for a few days.

Shaun with Bandit, Jess and Big the rooster…some of his herd.

Shuan with Spot and Bandit

Cuddles by the fire in the evening

You may ask why we don’t just stick him in a cage and leave him while we go out….and I would say, because sheep are herd animals. Sheep spend all their time with their mother until the age of about twelve weeks, unlike calves whose mothers hide them and go off to graze for hours at a time. Even as adults sheep do not feel secure unless they are with their herd. Consequently we are standing in as Shaun’s herd until we can pick up another orphaned lamb as a mate for him. I take the responsibility of caring for another being very seriously and that inevitably includes psychological well being as well as physical health.

Shaun in the park in town

Shaun ‘helping’ me spin

Shaun meeting a fibreglass lamb at my mum’s place.

Our next move is to find another lamb as a friend for Shaun. Animals who are raised as ‘poddies’ often become aggressive as they mature, maybe because of familiarity and a lack of fear as most people say but I believe that the animal becomes used to being the centre of attention while they are young and cute and have problems adjusting to being just another member of the herd when they grow up. In effect they suffer from a form of ‘only child’ syndrome; where parental bonds remain stronger than other social bonds past their useful life.  To answer this problem we are going to try to raise Shaun with another baby, the idea is that they will bond like siblings. The sibling bond will become stronger than the parental bond during adolescence and hopefully they can move out into the wider world together without severing any bonds, the parental bond will be allowed to whither naturally.

Hopefully we can raise a well balanced, fully functional sheep (except the reproductive function). Watch this space. I also hope to return to sewing my own clothes soon, there has been very little time recently for extra play.

Mowing the lawn with sheep

The lawn has become a bit wild over the last storm season; with waist high grass in some places. In contrast outside the home yard is mowed like a bowling green to a distance of 30 metres or so. The reason for this is sheep. My girls (and now three boys too) mow the fire breaks for me by simply doing what sheep do; eat, poop and do complex mathematical equations in their head while chewing cud. The sheep have not been allowed into the yard for months because when they are in there they eat everything they can get their hooves on; the vege bed in an old trailer, anything in pots, fruit trees and I have even caught one licking the rabbit (she looked very guilty when I caught her). However, the lawn needs mowing…so I have put wire covers around the trees, moved the pots and let the vege bed go to seed, something may survive.

This is the edge of the driveway outside the yard. You can see how low the girls keep the grass (except bladey grass)
Kraken hiding by the pond

Yes, it’s a mess. No excuses, I just got lazy

Using sheep to mow the lawn is hardly a new idea; lawns were around long before mowers were, in fact lawns were created by the grazing of animals around a building. There is even a landscaping feature designed to prevent livestock from straying onto the garden while they mow the lawn, called a Ha Ha wall. Paris (the city in France, not the socialite) began the move back to sustainable lawns last year by introducing rare breed sheep as lawn mowers in some parks, if it proves efficient, the system will be extended into the city (and beyond).

Woodrow Wilson used sheep to mow the White House lawn during World War 2

The girls look a bit ragged at this time of year, they are in the process of shedding their wool.

So I am continuing, or rediscovering, an ancient practice which feeds the sheep, trims the lawn and fertilises the ground. If only I could train them to stay away from the garden plants all would be perfect.

Lambs update – they grow up so fast

The lambs are growing up so fast…
They have been locked up in the lambing paddock since they were born but now they are big enough to be let out. Yesterday I opened the gate for four very bored and demanding ewes and four very excited lambs. They all ran around and rolled in dirt piles before settling down to some serious nibbling. The lambs are now eating grass and leaves as well as drinking milk.

Nut making sure I get her good side

Everyone down by the duck dam

Tired babies

This is Wolfie, the youngest lamb. Growing up fast

Stag; the Wiltshire horn ram- welcome to the family

We have a new member of the family; Stag. He is a Wiltshire horn ram. The original  idea was to have sheep as lawn mowers to keep the fire breaks clear and to provide some meat for the freezer in the form of lambs each year. So far I have avoided breeding my girls because I didn’t want to face the idea of eating their babies, but the time has come to let them fulfill their maternal drive. I think I will try to sell as many babies as I can.

I found Stag on Gumtree, on a conveniently situated property only two hours drive away. After a visit to check him out in person, we decided to buy him. He came home with us today and is now happily eating with the girls. We will have babies to look forward to in early August.

Our first meeting; Stag loves white sapote leaves.

As you can see in the video, he arrived a little stiff and sore, with a limp from lying on his leg for an hour or so, but within a few hours he was feeding well and walking around with the girls.
Interestingly, Stag’s breeders regularly fed him handfuls of white sapote leaf (his favorite food), a little research has revealed that these leaves have a sedative and blood pressure lowering effect on mammals. I hope this doesn’t mean that his quiet nature is due to being mildly sedated most of his life.

The guinea fowl were very worried to discover a new sheep in the home paddock and told everyone about it for a few minutes.

The girls were nervous about having a boy in the paddock at first.

But it didn’t take them long to figure out the possibilities.

We put new bedding in the shelter and added a hay net and a mineral lick, now all we need are some rose petals and the romantic scene is all set.

Desperate times call for desperate measures…or shearing sheep with scissors.

The extreme heat of the last few weeks has driven us to take our sanity to the edge in regards to our sheep.
They have been shedding their wool very slowly over the summer and I have left them to it as shearing in the middle of summer can sometimes lead to sun burnt backs (for the sheep as well as the shearers), but now they are beginning to grow their winter wool underneath the old fleece it is time to tidy up their haircut (woolcut?) a bit. We discussed getting someone to come and shear them for us or buying/hiring some shears but in the end decided that money is just too tight, so out came the scissors. We looked at a few ‘how to shear sheep’ sites and decided to have a go at shearing them while they were standing up.

First we haltered one of the girls, in the handling pen with her sisters. That way she was calm and happy to be played with. Then my eldest daughter and I took turns cutting the old fleece off while the other held the lead rope. The sheep were surprisingly patient and calm while we did it, which helped matters immensely.

We sheared (clipped?) two of the four girls each one taking about an hour and a half to do. We had originally planed to do one a day as it its hard going and very frustrating work, but when we let the one shorn sheep go her sisters butted her and chased her from the herd (she looked different) so we caught the worst bully and gave her a clipping too. This seemed to even out the odds and they all got along again.

I managed to salvage two shopping bags of usable wool from the two girls, the rest had started to felt and is too matted to use. Next year I will have to clip them in the spring so I can get better wool. I got shedding sheep so that I didn’t have to worry about shearing if I had no use for the wool,  but it seems I will have to shear them anyway. However, this is only their second molt, so it is possible their shedding will improve next year (I hope so anyway).

This is Gaia before her clipping

You can see where they have been shedding…and where they haven’t.

This is Gaia after her clipping, somehow she looks smaller.

She really appreciated the cool breeze on her skin, and being able to scratch every itch.

This is the usable wool from Gaia and Kraken (sorry about the terrible photo), after I took all the felted stuff out and the really dirt stuff around the edges.

This is the wool close up, it looks like clouds to me.

I hope I can get enough usable wool from my girls to make something to wear (it’s been a dream for a long while). The girls (Gaia and Kraken) certainly appreciate the new coolness, now to do the last two; Nut and Kore.

What do you think I should make from their wool?

Hugelkultur beds update

Stage four of the Hugelkultur beds has not yet been completed, but stages one, two and three are producing lots of food. The beds look like a jungle with plants fruiting, seeding and new plants emerging, there is a good mix of vegetables and flowers too. At the moment everything growing in these beds are annuals as I have plans to top up the soil at some point and I don’t want to move perennial plants to do it.
The jungle on the right are the Hugelkultur beds, the potato towers can be seen on the left, against the fence and the whole floor is layered with cardboard. The chooks stare longingly through the fence at this little oasis of green.

The corn is doing well in stage three, but there will only be enough for one meal from this tiny planting. I need to put more in, looks like another bed building day is required.

The zucchini are producing lots of fruit and providing shelter for eggplant seedlings.

Green and purple sprouting broccoli are still producing enough heads to feed us. 

Roma tomatoes are giving us enough vine ripened fruit to qualify as a glut.

Good old silverbeet just keeps on giving, although only one plant remains of the original three; the other two have gone to seed. The climbing beans are picking and the second lot of bush beans are almost to flowering now.

The amaranth towers above it all and provides some colour to the scene as it seeds. After collecting seed from it for more plantings, I will give the seed heads to the chooks.

I am really pleased with the Hugelkultur method of building garden beds; it retains moisture, it is an attractive looking bed, it makes piles of rotting wood useful and it encourages me to build new bed space. I will be continuing to build more beds in the future (as time permits).

This is me, mowing the lawn. We put up an electric fence around all the stuff we don’t want them to eat first. Sheep are nature’s mowers and whipper snippers.

Wiltipol sheep

Let me tell you the story of our sheep………………
Four years ago I began to worry about bush fire danger to our humpy so we began to mow around the general human habitat with a push mower; laborious and boring work (I can tell you). The procedure involved having my two daughters walk in front of the mower and clear a 10 meter wide strip of bush of sticks, rocks and clods while my partner and I took turns pushing the mower (with a catcher) and emptying the wheel barrow of clippings from the mower.
Although this process yielded lots of kindling for the fire (sticks) and mulch for the garden (clippings), we soon got sick of it as it needed repeating on a monthly basis over summer and it took a whole weekend of 8 hour days to complete. So after two years; a new plan was hatched……
We decided we needed to let animals take over some of the work as they didn’t have to go off and earn a living and study too. After a lot of research into suitable animals for the purpose of fire hazard reduction we settled on sheep as the most useful; horses are too delicate and browse branches in preference to grass and ground cover; goats are the love children of Houdini and an old world daemon and will escape a maximum security enclosure in order to eat your favorite shrub; geese are too susceptible to predators, eagles, foxes and dogs; cattle need more feed than we can provide on our poor land, so sheep it is.
I didn’t want a breed of sheep that required tail docking, mulsing and shearing so I looked around at the older varieties of sheep who shed their wool and are capable of surviving without massive amounts of human intervention. I came up with Shetland sheep and Wiltshire horn sheep as my preferred breeds because both have usable wool but don’t need a lot of attention.
As it turns out, Shetland sheep are impossible to obtain in Australia so I began looking at Wiltshire horn sheep and discovered that they are wild and wary creatures who never tame fully. I kept asking around and talking about the idea until I ran into a local lady who breeds…Wiltipols.
Wiltipols are a newish breed of sheep made from crossing Wiltshire horns with Dorpers (another shedding breed). They are reasonably docile, shed their wool and do not require a lot of care or intervention. I asked the local lady; Evelyn, to let me know when the next lot of lambs were ready to go. Meanwhile we began to save for fencing and managed to build two smallish paddocks by the time our babies were weaned and ready to come home.

They eat everything and anything; lantana, bladey grass, native grasses, the lot.

You can see the old wool gradually shedding and the new fleece below.

 give them a handful of mixed grain of a morning to keep them coming to me and so I can check them over

They came when you call them and I love their playful yet gentle natures.

We eventually moved to electric fencing to make paddocks for them as that has proved to be the most flexible method of getting the firebreak mown.

They do a brilliant job of clearing the fire breaks and they are just going into their first moult. I believe that getting our four girls (and the later addition of Kitty, another story) has been the best labor saving initiative we have ever instituted.
I have yet to figure out how to collect the shed wool in any useful amount, but it will happen if I keep thinking about it.

Hugelkultur mind map

Here is a Hugelkultur mind map that I hope explains the basics.

I have been learning about mind maps at university and I thought I would combine my interests.

My sister just came for a visit to check on the new bed and she raised an important advantage I hadn’t thought of; the bed I have built retains moisture for the plants but it also keeps the plant roots above the water logging zone, which has been a problem over the last few years of higher than average rain. Thanks Sis.

I am now looking for the next experiment in the garden/ hobby farm; maybe something to do with living fences? I have a need to create escape proof paddocks for my sheep.