Lamb Tales

Our frosted hills and fields, for so long hushed in a quiet stillness of waiting, will soon be alive with the joyous sight and sound of new-born lambs, and the low chunnerings of their attentive mums. Snowdrops will give way to daffodils, and our hearts will be gladdened by the promise of longer, warmer days ahead. This is lambing season: the busiest time in the calendar for sheep farmers, signalling weeks of early starts, late nights, and back-breaking work.

In 2017, respected landscape photographer, Roy Carr, spent an intensive year recording the work of sheep farmers in South Wales, and he has very kindly agreed to share an extract from his chronicle of this project, ‘A Year In Their Lives’, accompanied by his atmospheric and intimate photographs of the sheep and their lambs.

A Year In Their Lives

I spent a year following four sheep farms in south Wales during which I captured key events for the animals and the people who work with them across a year.

My photographic background is rooted deeply in classical landscape work, with people largely absent from it. This project posed the challenge of working with people, largely in their ‘home’ environment where the building of relationships was as important as photographic skills. It also demanded, at times, a quick reaction to what is happening in front of me, in contrast to the slow deliberate approach of my landscape work. At times the compositional approach and the patience I learned from my landscapes were important for this project as I waited for the animals or people to come to me to create the images I wanted.

I brought both ignorance and curiosity to this work, learning so much from the people I observed. It afforded me an insight into the challenges of their work and their generosity in accepting me. Not for them the shelter of an office. Their work makes huge physical demands in all weathers.

Waiting to give birth

Waiting to give birth

Lambing marks the beginning of the new cycle for the sheep farmer, providing the next generation of stock. Great care is taken to monitor the ewes as they approach lambing. Some farmers scan their ewes to indicate how many lambs they are carrying, others simply rely on their years of experience. Where there are concerns about the well-being of the ewes, they are brought in to pens where they can be closely monitored, ensuring help is on hand to deliver the lambs.

“New Born”

“New Born”

This lamb had been ‘pulled’ from its mother just five minutes before by Sue, the shepherdess. The ewe called to her offspring, enticing it to stand and feed. Licking the lamb helped the two animals to bond, as the ewe learned the scent of her new born which enables her to recognise it within the flock. This also provides vital nutrients to the ewe, stimulating the production of milk.

“Feeding”

“Feeding”

“Orphans”

“Orphans”

Not all lambs are able to feed from their mothers. Some ewes may die during the trauma of birth — fortunately a rarity on the farms I visited. Others may reject their young. In either event, they need to feed if they are to survive. Here the lambs are bottle fed in the shelter of a barn. Others may rely on their shepherds to ‘dress’ them in the skin and fleece of a dead lamb in order to trick the ewe into feeding the orphan in the belief it is her own, as she recognises the scent of the orphan’s ‘jacket’.

The ewes are immensely protective of their young, keeping them close to hand.

Lambs quickly gain their independence, though they will bleat for their mothers if they become distressed or their mothers will call for their return.

Curiosity quickly gets the better of the lambs as they bravely venture out into their home environments.

“Protection”

“Protection”

“Independent”

“Independent”

“Tentative”

“Tentative”

The work from this project fed into an exhibition at the Cynon Valley Museum, Aberdare, which ran from 15th June until 21st July 2018. If you would like to find out more about Roy's work, you can discover his site here.

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Many thanks to Roy for sharing these fascinating, informative, and sensitive insights into this busiest of farming seasons.

If you fancy experiencing the excitement and joy of lambing time for yourself, there are plenty of ways you can do this. Check out Farmstay.co.uk or BestofWales.co.uk for a selection of holiday accommodation offering the chance for you to get up close and personal with lambs, from watching them being born, to bottle feeding the orphans, and everything else besides! However, may I sound a note of caution: living as I do in sheep farming country in North Wales, I have heard many a horror story relating to lambing time from local famers and shepherds, so I am making a plea to my fellow dog owners - if you are taking your dog out for a walk in the countryside, please, please, keep it under control. Sadly, the NFU reports that there were in excess of 700 cases of sheep and cattle worrying on farms across the UK in 2018, the cost to farmers was in the region of £1million, the cost to the animals, immeasurable. The instinct of even the best-behaved dogs can cause them to chase lambs and ewes, so please keep yours on a lead around them and other livestock at all times, and don’t forget to pick up after them – their mess can contain parasites which are harmful to farm animals.

Finally, some sheep facts for you! These animals have been farmed in the UK for over 8,000 years, and while today most farms are geared towards meat production, in medieval times wool was the driving force of the economy, with many a wealthy town and shire being built on the proceeds of the fleeces. Of the entire population of sheep in Europe, one quarter are here in the UK, and far from being the dull, stupid animals they are often perceived to be, they are, in fact, rather amazing animals. Having horizontal pupils with a 320 degree field of vision, they can see behind them without turning their heads, and amazingly, when running they can reach speeds of 25mph – what’s more, recent studies have shown that they are able to recognise the faces of others in their flock, as well as those of people!

Wherever you are this spring, look out for those first cute new-borns of 2019!

 
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Sonia Goulding

Sonia lives with her other half, Jon, and her two gorgeous dogs Alfie and Seren, in the pretty hill village of Cilcain, in the glorious Clwydian Hills. She is passionate about rural north Wales and enjoys researching and writing about the people she meets and the beautiful businesses on our doorstep. Sonia and Jon consider themselves very lucky to be able to live and work in such wonderful surroundings, counting their blessings every day!

How to Attract Wildlife to Your Garden This Winter

As we near the shortest day of the year, the nights draw in, temperatures drop and native animals like hedgehogs need to find a safe, cosy spot to hibernate until spring. Food sources can also be scarce so turning your garden into a sanctuary for wildlife can make all the difference to our native species' survival.

How to Attract Wildlife to Your Garden This Winter - The Hills Countryside Blog

Mark Sage, head of horticulture at Wyevale Garden Centre, believes caring for wildlife in winter is important wherever you live.

"Whatever size outdoor space you have and whether you live in the country or an urban environment, I guarantee you’ll be able to see and support a range of species over the autumn and winter," he says. "Protecting wildlife over the cooler seasons is extremely important – it’s also a great way of getting your children excited about – and closer to – nature. Whether it’s a mammal, bird, insect or amphibian, nature enthusiasts can use our tips to turn their gardens into a wildlife haven for winter."

Helping our Birds

Many of us are familiar with bird feeders and try to encourage birds into our garden. This winter, feed a variety of birds with their own favourite foods to see a flock of variations in your garden.

Try placing fat blocks in wire cages (balls in plastic nets are not recommended as birds such as woodpeckers can get their tongues caught), or create your own fat blocks by melting suet into moulds such as coconut shells or logs with holes drilled in. It is encouraged to alternate different recipes to entice a range of birds; peanut cakes for starlings, insect cakes for tits and berry cakes for finches! Also, snacks such as finely chopped bacon rind and grated cheese are fantastic for small birds such as wrens.

Although fat is important, do also provide a grain mix or nuts to maintain a balanced diet. Sparrows, finches and nuthatches will enjoy prising the seeds out of sunflower heads, and whilst no-mess mixes are more expensive, the inclusion of de-husked sunflower hearts means there is less waste. Watch out though for inferior mixes which are often padded out with lentils.

In terms of delivery methods, use wire mesh feeders for peanuts and seed feeders for other seed. Specially designed feeders are needed for the tiny niger seed, loved by goldfinches, and feed placed on a wire mesh held just off the ground will entice ground-feeding birds such as robins and dunnocks.

On the other hand, thrushes and blackbirds are known to favour fruit over nuts and seeds, so scatter over-ripe apples, raisins and song-bird mixes on the ground for them. Maybe in the spring, consider planting berrying and fruiting trees and shrubs such as Malus, Cotoneaster and Pyracantha to fill gaps ready for next year.

Garden Maintenance for Other Species

As temperatures continue to drop, keep an eye on water sources. If ponds freeze, melt a hole in the ice to allow the wildlife to drink, and enter and exit the water. Simply fill a saucepan with hot water and sit it on the ice until a hole has been melted. Try not to hit or crack ice as this can send shockwaves through the water that harms wildlife. Additionally, provide a shallow dish or container of water at ground level, for those who do not venture near your pond (or if there aren’t any nearby) this will benefit other garden wildlife that needs to drink, as well as birds.

If you can, put a few clay (not concrete) roof tiles in the pond to provide cover for overwintering frogs and other aquatic wildlife.

If you have a compost pile in your garden, be careful when turning it. The centre can be a warm and cosy winter resort for lots of animals such as a frogs and toads, so let them enjoy a little heat by neglecting your garden duties for a couple of months. You can make a hedgehog house from wood piles, which will give spiky friends somewhere to hide, sleep and hunt for insects. Shelter is essential for a hedgehog’s survival during the winter so choose a quiet spot that is unlikely to be disturbed from November to March when they will be hibernating. On the theme of neglecting, try to leave healthy herbaceous and hollow-stemmed plants unpruned until early spring as these can provide homes for overwintering insects. If this isn’t possible, consider making an insect or bug hotel and put up in a sheltered position for any ladybirds and lacewings looking for a place to overwinter. 

The RHS encourages gardeners to make a significant contribution to supporting wildlife over winter, and it is surprisingly easy to do something to help garden wildlife in the lean and cold months of winter. Something as simple as filling up your bird feeder, leaving your compost heap to nature or adding a few late-flowering plants will attract more animals and ensure your new guests are safe, fed and watered until the cold months have passed.

Even if you carry out just a few of these tasks, it can make a difference. It is also a great way to watch wildlife even in the smallest of gardens or balconies, often at very close quarters so grab your binoculars or camera, and see what you can spot from the comfort of your own home.

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats , four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

Keep your pets happy and safe this Bonfire Night

As bonfire night approaches, animal welfare groups have issued warnings to pet owners: this can be a frightening and even dangerous time of year for pets. The main issue is the extremely common problem of pets being seriously spooked by the sound of fireworks. 
This is the time of year that so many owners dread, when their normally happy pets suddenly become quivering wrecks, completely traumatised by fireworks. Bonfire Night might be just a single date on the calendar, but from October to New Year the night air is filled with bangs, crackles, and flashing lights as people host celebrations.

Keep your pets happy and safe this Bonfire Night

The Blue Cross animal rescue charity state that ‘animal hospitals across the country see a marked rise in pets requiring medication during such stressful times, and many pets are brought into Blue Cross rehoming centres having run away from home.’


Did you know, that firework noise can reach up to 150 decibels (as loud as a jet engine) and dogs, cats and other pets have hearing that's far more sensitive than our own. Animals have very acute hearing. Loud bangs and whistles may cause them actual pain in their ears. But by following these simple guidelines your pet need not suffer.

The British Veterinary Association has issued five top tips for 5 November.

  1. Exercise your dog during the day ensures that you won't be walking around at night with the fireworks going off which would increase the chances of your dog becoming stressed. It will also tire them early, increasing the likelihood of them finding a quiet spot to sleep.
    For cats that go out during the day, consider closing the cat flap a little earlier than usual. If they stay out for long periods of time or are hard to tempt indoors, you may want to keep them inside all day. It is not just the noises that can be stressing for a pet but it is also the flashes. Closing the blinds, curtains or shutters means they will only see a familiar space which will reduce the chances of stress.

  2. Prepare a ‘den’ for your pet where it can feel safe and comfortable – perhaps under a bed with some of your old clothes. They may like to hide there when the fireworks start. Use pheromone products next to the den and around the home. These are scents that we can’t smell but reduce a pet’s stress.

  3. Put on some music or turn your television up a little louder than normal as well to help muffle the sounds. Having some of your pet’s favourite toys laying around may also help them to focus on another activity rather than the noise.

  4. Remain calm yourself. In the same way that children look to their parents and take cues from them, your pet will too. If you don’t seem bothered by the noise, then your cat or dog will feel more relaxed. Try not to reassure your pet as this often inadvertently reinforces anxious behaviour. Never punish your pet – remember, if they have a little accident in the house it’s not their fault.

  5. Move small pets, such as rabbits and guinea pigs, to a quiet place indoors when fireworks are expected, and give them lots of bedding to mask the sounds.

It’s not just animals in the home that can be scared of fireworks - horses, cows, sheep and hens are too! The RSPCA share their tips for keeping your horses safe during firework season. 

If you have a horse out in a field, check locally to see if there are going to be any firework displays in your area. Where possible - tell the organisers of firework displays that horses are nearby and ask them to set off their fireworks in the opposite direction.

Remember, this is a festive, happy time of year so make sure the whole family is happy by using these simple top tips. If you need specific advice suited to you and your pet, we advise talking to your vet.

We love this video for advice on Pets and Fireworks: 

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

The Hills Meets - Lady and the Tramp

As you well know, here at The Hills we are crazy about our pets and all wildlife, and we take great pride in giving our furry friends the best lives possible. We have our resident vet expert Dugie here to give advice on their health and wellbeing, and we’re now lucky to have Bradie Falshaw from Lady and The Tramp in our Directory to get help them look as cute and clean as possible (a challenge given many of our rural locations)!

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I had the pleasure of catching up with Bradie, a friend of mine whose talents I can wholeheartedly vouch for as she often waves her magic wand on my Westie who goes in like a tramp and returns looking like a fluffy cloud!

How did you first get started as a dog groomer?

I wasn’t very scholarly, in fact I didn’t enjoy school at all and wanted to leave as soon as possible. I was certain, even at that age that I wanted to go straight into a vocation of my own when I left. As a child our family pet was a very hairy New Foundland dog that I used to shave in our garage with horse clippers to keep him groomed, so I knew I enjoyed caring for and grooming animals. My mum suggested I should explore it as a possible business, and thankfully at just 16 years old, I was eligible for funding from the Welsh Government to do my training! 14 weeks later I had my advance qualifications! Then, one of my friends who I met in college opened her own salon so I worked for her for a couple of days week to build my experience.

And your next step was your own business?

My grandad used to own ‘Falshaws’, a shop in the main square in Caerwys for many years, and so my dad managed to persuade him to let me open my own salon in his store room! I saved up for 6 months for clippers, hydronic table, bath, blaster (hair dryer) blades and scissors, and my dad built the dog pens at the back!

What was it like when you opened?

It was great! I loved it. My first client was an apricot standard poodle who still comes for hair cuts now so I can’t have done such a bad job!

How did you grow and what are your dreams from Lady and the Tramp?

At first, I built my client list by doing local leaflet drops, posting on my Facebook page and via word of mouth. Gradually the business has grown and now I have a waiting list and clients need to book well in advance. My daughter is 3 now though and off to school in September, so I will be able to include a couple more mornings to my working week to reduce the wait for my clients, and hopefully remain busy. My dream for the business is to remain small and local, and just to be fully booked as I add more hours when Delilah is full time in school. I currently work with 30 dogs a week over 3 days, and I am proud that I know all my customers and all my dogs names - that’s how I would like it if I was to take my own dog somewhere.

Do you have any advice for dog owners on grooming their animals?

One of my main aims is to encourage owners to read more about the dog they are buying before they take it on - I’d really like more families to do their homework properly before they decide on a suitable breed. I would advise all dog owners to research the grooming requirements of a dog, who may need professional grooming every month to 6 weeks to maintain a healthy condition, not simply receive a pamper once a year. Even if I think that the owners may not be totally receptive to my advice, I make sure I say it anyway. It’s my business and I will run it for the good of the animals first and foremost. For example a dog that has hair so matted will be sure to be in a a lot of pain when I groom it. It is totally unfair on the poor animal to put it through the discomfort of living with matts and the pain of grooming them to remove them!

What do you love the most about running your own business?

I love every second of running my own business, and always have - I’m the one in control, am able to take holidays when I need (even though I’ve not had time off this year at all)! My work can be as flexible as I wish it to be. However, it can be quite stressful when we are busy and I often work long hours so that my clients don’t have to wait too long to book in. I have a lovely connection to my clients and their dogs, and all my bichons wave at me now! I love my waggy labradors (even if they do get you soaking wet) and I am delighted to be back living and working in Caerwys where there is such a tight community.

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 18. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.

The Hills Meets: Dugie Gemmill

As you know from our last ‘The Hills Meets’ article, we have a local business directory that is steadily growing with talented, interesting and all-round fabulous members. This is one of my favourite activities, exploring the local area and getting to know the fantastic people who live and work in our communities, and in return I have the pleasure of sharing their products and expertise with our lovely readers! Today I would like to introduce you to my good friend Dugie Gemmill, our resident vet and pet expert. Dugie accepted my invitation to join The Hills to talk to us about all things pet care and answer the questions you have always wanted to ask about our furry friends!

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It’s no secret that we are massive dog lovers here at The Hills, they are even made welcome at our members’ monthly meeting! Last time Dugie myth busted the real reasons our best-friends like the taste of poo, today he’s here to discuss another question that dog owners often ponder – should we be spaying our female dog? It has long been accepted that we should consider spaying or neutering female dogs. However, as it is a choice that we, as pet owners have to make, we should ask ourselves what the reasons for this are.

 Over to Dugie…

Why should we think about spaying our dog?

The simplest answer is population control and the avoidance of unwanted pregnancies. On the other hand, there are social reasons around the prevention of a bitch coming in to heat – vaginal bleeding or being chased around the park by overly enthusiastic male dogs. Also, there are health benefits to your bitch which for some reason, we often forget about. The Royal Veterinary College in London has a detailed disease surveillance programme, involving many veterinary practices and literally thousands of dogs. One of the simplest statistics to come from this is simply that neutered dogs live longer than entire or un-neutered ones. Mature bitches who have never bred or who haven’t had a litter for many years can commonly develop a serious and potentially life-threatening womb infection, called a pyometra. Pyometra can be treated surgically but surely this is best prevented? If a bitch is spayed earlier in her life there is a dramatic reduction in the incidence of mammary carcinomas (breast cancer) in her later years. We see this in practice today – many years ago, surgery for mammary tumours was frequently performed in the surgery, but now, with the majority of older females being spayed, we perform significantly fewer procedures. Spaying your female dog is an important part of preventative health care.


So, we have decided to neuter our lovely female dog. What does this actually entail?

The traditional spay performed in the UK would be an ‘open’ surgical procedure. This means that the surgeon creates a wound in the abdomen, large enough to allow direct access for the fingers, hands and surgical instruments to the contents of the abdomen. The operation usually involves the removal of both ovaries and the uterus. This is called an ovariohysterectomy (OVH). Sometimes surgery involves the removal of only the ovaries (an ovariectomy or OVE). Surgical procedures can involve complications, however rare, but studies have shown no difference between OVH and OVE regarding the incidence of womb infections or incontinence.


Now we know just a little about what the neutering surgery entails do we have any other considerations?

Well, yes! Nowadays the choices available are further broadened by the development of Minimally Invasive Surgery (MIS) or laparoscopic assisted surgical techniques, you might know the more common term ‘keyhole surgery’. The range of surgeries we can perform laparoscopically mirrors that of human surgical practice. Neutering a female dog and removing retained abdominal testicles (which have a high risk of becoming cancerous) in a male dog, are surgeries that lend themselves to MIS. Rather than completely opening the body cavity we place surgical tubes (between 5.5mm and 10mm in diameter) through the abdominal wall to gain surgical access, using special scissors, forceps and sealing devices. The patient’s abdomen in inflated with carbon dioxide gas to create a space in which to perform the surgery. The whole procedure is viewed via a digital camera on a high definition monitor.


Is laparoscopic surgery better than open surgery?

This is a question I am often asked. There is nothing wrong with traditional open surgery. It is safe and surgeons are well practiced with techniques and in fact when performing an MIS laparoscopic procedure we are always prepared to convert to an open procedure. What else could we do if our camera broke for example? However many studies in both human and animal surgery have demonstrated lower complication rates with wound infection or haemorrhage, lower pain levels and a more rapid return to normal activity. A study in 2009 showed that female dogs undergoing spaying by open procedure were 62% less active in the 24 hours after surgery, while those treated laparoscopically were only 25% less active. Typically laparoscopic patients are exercising normally a week after surgery.


Are there any disadvantages to laparoscopic surgery?

Laparoscopic surgery has a steep learning curve but as with all things, with experience the procedure becomes straightforward. It is more expensive because of the high cost of equipment and the extensive training required. However for reasons of reduced post-operative pain and a much reduced return to normal activity, laparoscopic surgery offers a very good alternative to traditional open surgical neutering.


Dugie is the Clinical Director, and principal surgeon in his own practice on the Wirral, with a particular interest in laparoscopic surgery and orthopaedics. He has been performing laparoscopic surgery for over eight years and as well as offering the procedures in his own practice, also operates at practices in North Wales.

 
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Janet Hill

I’m Janet, and I live at the foot of the beautiful Welsh Hills with my children Mary, 21, and Mark, 17. We share our four-acre plot with our six dogs, six cats, four hens, an assortment of wild ducks and all the other wonderful wildlife that visits our garden.