A tough few months

Avian flu restric­tions then sheep scab have hit Don­ald Mac­sween’s croft on the Isle of Lewis

Country Smallholding - - World -

As a keeper of sheep and poul­try, it’s been a re­ally tough few months. We all know about the avian flu is­sues that have been af­fect­ing poul­try keep­ers through­out the UK, but my own local com­mu­nity has been hit by a sheep scab out­break. Up un­til a cou­ple of months ago, I had heard about scab but I had never seen it or re­alised how quickly it spread. Un­for­tu­nately, I am now an ex­pert on it, as are most crofters around me!

I live in the north end of the Isle of Lewis and my district of Ness is ac­tu­ally 14 croft­ing town­ships sep­a­rated from other dis­tricts by miles of open moor. The town­ships are very close to­gether, so the scab spread quickly in our area, but looks like ge­og­ra­phy is re­strict­ing it to that.

Why is this a big deal, you may ask? Well, I didn’t realise how big an im­pact scab can have on the wel­fare of a sheep, and how quickly it can spread. Left un­treated, sheep will lose con­di­tion, suf­fer and even­tu­ally die.

It ap­pears to have been brought into the district some­time early this year and had spread be­fore we had re­alised there was an is­sue. All our sheep lo­cally are ei­ther dipped or treated with an in­jec­tion/pouron com­bi­na­tion in the au­tumn but very few have pro­tec­tion in the early months of the year. Com­bine this with the fact that sheep min­gle with each other on com­mon graz­ings and move be­tween hold­ings and you get a fast-mov­ing mite.

Sheep scab is a no­ti­fi­able dis­ease, so the local vet and An­i­mal Health of­fi­cer were in­formed as soon as crofters be­came aware of the is­sue. My­self and some other crofters treated our heav­ily preg­nant

ewes in early April to try and tackle the is­sue, but matters came to a head in May when rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ev­ery town­ship were called to a meet­ing with the local coun­cil’s An­i­mal Health of­fi­cer. We had an ex­tremely pro­duc­tive meet­ing and set about to work to­gether to try and erad­i­cate the scab.

We all had to gather our an­i­mals from com­mon graz­ings by May 6 and treat them all by May 13 , with no move­ments per­mit­ted for 16 days. All an­i­mals have now been in­jected, in­clud­ing new­born lambs, so we wait and see the re­sults. One of the big­gest is­sues is that the sheep scab mites can sur­vive for 17 days on pieces of wool or fence posts, so there is al­ways the dan­ger that sheep can be re-in­fected if they were treated at dif­fer­ent times.

I must ad­mit that this has caused plenty of sleep­less nights, at a time when we’re all lack­ing sleep due to lamb­ing com­mit­ments any­way! It was the worst time of year for it to strike, not that there is ever a good time. We have to cross our fin­gers now and hope that the treat­ment has worked.

Lamb­ing goes well

Hope­fully, by the time you read this, I will have fin­ished lamb­ing. I am feeling quite drained now, af­ter five weeks of early starts. I started off in early April and would carry out my first check of the ewes at around 5.30am, but with it get­ting light a lot ear­lier now, I am out­side shortly af­ter 4am. Hooded crows and black-backed gulls are the preda­tors I have to look out for and pre-dawn checks are vi­tal for beat­ing them to any weak new­borns.

Lamb­ing has gone re­ally well, though. I am at around 100 lambs and have only lost five. The main thing to re­mem­ber is that where there is live­stock, there is dead­stock. My job is to min­imise the dead­stock. This is my best lamb­ing to date and I put a lot of that down to de­lay­ing the ma­jor­ity of the ewes un­til af­ter April 23. I missed the cold and wet spells, which are so dis­as­trous for young lambs, and I hope that there will be no check in their growth later, as there should be grass grow­ing by the time they start graz­ing. One of the ma­jor down­sides of so­cial me­dia is that I’m very jeal­ous of all the grass that’s grow­ing down south!

It’s a bit of an ex­per­i­ment this year and I won’t know the re­sults un­til I see how the younger lambs progress be­tween now and au­tumn, but it’s look­ing pretty good so far. I have been par­tic­u­larly happy with my Zwart­ble cross lambs. They’ve grown re­ally well and they’re easy on the eye too!

I do love lamb­ing. I get ex­cited at ev­ery sin­gle birth, but I re­ally hope they fin­ish soon!

A few days in the peats

May-July are busy months for many is­lan­ders. We’re just com­ing into the best months of the year, but we’re al­ready start­ing to pre­pare for win­ter! One of the big jobs of the spring and sum­mer months is cut­ting, lifting and tak­ing home the peats. Peats are usu­ally cut (by hand or low­im­pact ma­chine) in May, ‘lifted’ by hand to al­low them to dry in June, and then taken home be­fore the tra­di­tional heavy rains of July.

The is­lands have some of the high­est lev­els of fuel poverty in the UK and peat­cut­ting does help al­le­vi­ate that a lit­tle. Given we have next to no na­tive tree cover, there isn’t an­other fuel source that’s as plen­ti­ful and cheap. I’ll go into more de­tail about the peats the next time.

Don­ald has been very happy with the Zwart­ble cross lambs, like this one out of a Che­viot

Crofters in North Lewis are co-or­di­nat­ing treat­ment of sheep and lambs to con­tain a sheep scab out­break. They are sub­ject to a 16 day restric­tion of move­ment.IN­SET: Don­ald, left, and his brother Innes in the peats in 2013

Don­ald has had his first ever He­bridean lambs. More on them next month.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.