March finally brings with it some long-awaited, decent weather (and that's 'decent' by Shetland standards, which basically just means it's not blowing a gale along with horizontal rain!). I'm able to start working my way through the seemingly endless list of 'outdoor' jobs, a high percentage of which need to be completed before lambing starts mid-April.
First up is a new hay feeder for the Shetland sheep in the top West field. These sheep have just been moved from the main flock as I've started feeding the in-lamb ewes their special 'ewe nuts' in the final 8 weeks before lambing whereas these ones (who I didn't put to the ram) just get the standard barley blend. There's no hardstanding area in this field for me to put the hay onto so, as the ground is still so waterlogged, a feeder is essential for keeping it off the ground. It's nothing fancy - a pallet and offcuts of wood - but it does the job. The sheep are a bit wary of it at first but soon find the hay, which Curly Wurly promptly claims as his throne!
The hens can't wait to get their feed in a morning and, last month, Partridge (the brown and white hen in the foreground) started launching herself onto the buckets as I would come through the byre door. Daisy has now joined her in a double-pronged attack and I'm hoping Bluebell (the third hen) doesn't think 'what a great idea!' as it's not easy to fend off hens and sheep as well!
Amelia looks about as fed up as I am with the current state of the fields - it has been so wet that there is still barely any grass growth and I feel sure that last year we had new grass well before now. There is so much mud that I do wonder if it will ever grow!
Towards the end of the month we get a day of fantastic weather - blue skies and lovely sunshine all day long. I make the most of it and start off by getting the four rams dosed and treated for lice & ticks, before moving them up to their new field. 'Dosing' the sheep is something that is done several times a year and protects the sheep from worms and nasty things like liver fluke - they get about 10-15ml (depending on body weight) administered orally with a gun-like attachment which automatically refills with the correct dosage. Once the rams are done I get in the sheep from my East parks - these are mainly the year olds (which were born last year) and all my 'special cases'/pets! Running the croft on my own means that some jobs can take quite a long time, working single-handedly, so I try to be as efficient as I can with my set-up: I bring about four sheep at a time into a stall in one end of the byre, where I sit them up against my legs so I can check their feet and give them a trim if needed, or a bit of antibiotic spray if they have any sign of foot rot. Then they go through a bit of a hurdle 'funnel', which holds them in an enclosed space and stops them turning around while I dose them and apply the lice/tick treatment along their backs. Then it's out the door at the other end and they're free! Although it's not their favourite activity the sheep were all really well-behaved, with Humpty and Sage being particularly affectionate!
Other exciting things that have happened in March include Dana at Uist Wool (where I'm having the fleeces of my pure Shetland sheep spun into wool) sending me some photos of the next stage of the spinning process - here the fleece has come out of the picker and is ready to be oiled before being carded. Dana described the fleece as being so energised when it comes out of the picker that the oil is used to calm it down - a bit like hair conditioner! Two Christmases ago one of my neighbours gave me some narcissus bulbs and - despite them receiving very little care or attention from me since they bloomed and died last year - they bloomed again this year and have been so cheery to see each day on the windowsill. In knitting news, I finished the prototype of my 'Rainbow Sheep' jumper, which I absolutely love, although it was rather difficult to take a photo of me wearing it to send to my mother and sister!
I hope you have all had a good March and look forward to updating you again next month!