Challenging weather and more

Highland cattle enjoying extra food

The last few days have been tricky. The weather has made travelling around awkward and the snow has made it a bit more difficult for the livestock. We planned ahead and had supplementary feed available and distributed to local volunteers. In general our rare breeds and hill breeds are perfectly capable of dealing with this weather, certainly for a few days, but they do enjoy an easy feed when the opportunity arises.

Exmoor ponies with additional winter food

If it had just been the weather it would have been challenging enough but on top of it someone decided to cut the fence at Linton Lane enabling our Soay sheep to escape. This is difficult to deal with at the best of times but really unhelpful when other matters are taking up our time. The sheep are all back where they should be now. We just have to hope that the fence remains intact now.  These little Soays are probably the hardiest of our sheep originating as a breed from the St Kilda group of islands and putting up with whatever the weather throws at them.

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Identifying our animals

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Ponies and their new sign at East Chevington
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Hebrideans at Hauxley

We are in the middle of a small project to install small signs on sites that we graze to help visitors identify the grazing animals.  The project was funded by the Postcode Local Fund of the People’s Postcode Lottery and involves simple and discrete signage to be put up and changed as necessary.  We have breed notices for many of the animals we graze and we can put these in the frame as they are moved around.  We also have general information posters for when the field is ungrazed or where none of our posters are applicable.

In the last few days signs have gone up at Hauxley, where we have Hebridean Sheep grazing, and also up on some of the fields at East Chevington.  In one of these it was a choice of posters as there are Shetland sheep, an Exmoor pony and two Highland ponies.  The Exmoor poster seemed a little confusing with the mix of ponies so the Shetland sheep poster was the one that was eventually installed.

Spring on the Carr

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Ponies and sheep at Prestwick Carr (c) Duncan Hutt
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Female wheatear (c) Duncan Hutt

Checking the livestock sometimes provides a wonderful opportunity to get out and enjoy the countryside, especially on a beautiful spring afternoon.  The ponies and sheep were easily found on Prestwick Carr on Sunday, meaning there was more time to enjoy the wildlife that could be spotted.  It wasn’t the busiest of days but a butterfly passed by at speed, too quick for a positive identification, and a lapwing flew over the site but in the distance.  A better view was to be had of a female wheatear, recently returned from Africa and on route to the uplands where it will breed.  Overhead skylarks gave a wonderful musical accompaniment to the trip and with the sun warm and the air relatively still it did seem like spring was finally here.

Inconvenient Ponies

Why is it that if ponies, sheep or cattle are going to escape they have to do it on a Friday afternoon (or over the weekend)?  So it was today that we learnt that the ponies were ‘in a hide’ at Druridge Pools.  It was quickly ascertained that while not actually in a hide they were close by and not in the field where they were supposed to be.  They must have crossed the broken fence to get away but they seemed very reluctant to do so in the opposite direction.  Eventually they were persuaded but the fence still needed an emergency repair – not a very neat and tidy job but functional.  Hopefully they will stay where they are supposed to be until the next inconvenient time to get out!

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Emergency Friday fence repairs

Two days training

Gathering sheep ready for the training
Gathering sheep ready for the training
Fleece folding
Fleece folding

Stephen spent two days this week training some staff and volunteers working on Northumberland Wildlife Trust’s Magnificent Meadows Project.  This HLF funded project is managing some important grassland areas in south Northumberland, particularly those on the Whin Sill and other ‘calaminarian’ sites along the River South Tyne.  Some of these sites are being grazed by Flexigraze.

A sheep is caught
A sheep is caught

The day was used to introduce those attending to handling sheep, shearing them and general sheep management.  The two Exmoor ponies on the site were also brought in to consider the different needs of these larger animals.

There were plenty of chances for hand’s on as well as more theoretical aspects of grazing.

Jess enjoys the company
Jess enjoys the company

The course included getting to grips with the terminology used in sheep farming, all the names used for different ages and stages that confuse most non farming folk.

Jess had plenty to do gathering and helping out but also enjoyed the company when not on duty!

Nine deer grazing

Racing Exmoor ponies (c) Duncan Hutt
Racing Exmoor ponies (c) Duncan Hutt

Livestock checking continues through the holiday period.  Today’s visit to Prestwick Carr was certainly a fruitful one from a wildlife perspective and a successful one in ascertaining all the livestock was OK.  There are 4 new Exmoor Ponies although it was the resident 6 that had a good race around a new field as they were let out to wander further afield.

Roe deer (c) Duncan Hutt
Roe deer (c) Duncan Hutt
Short-eared owl (c) Duncan Hutt
Short-eared owl (c) Duncan Hutt

The wildlife sightings are certainly worth a mention.  There was a herd of 9 roe deer gently grazing and about 12 snipe flew up from the rushy sward.  Redwings and starlings put in fly-pasts and a buzzard circled overhead.  It was, however, a short-eared owl that put in the most impressive show, flying up from close by then circling before settling in a hawthorn along one of the field boundaries.

A Spring Evening on Prestwick Carr

Exmoor Ponies on Prestwick Carr
Exmoor Ponies on Prestwick Carr

A quick check of the sheep and ponies at Prestwick Carr yesterday evening confirmed that all was well, although one sheep played dead to make us get almost up to it before it jumped up and ran off with its field-mates.

Resting sheep
Resting sheep

Five lapwings put on a fine display over the site, wheeling around and calling overhead while a skylark sang from on high. A kestrel hovered over the site too and a few mallard lifted as we crossed a field to count the sheep.

Photos © Duncan Hutt