Nov 242013
wool fleece cushion

 hand woven wool cushion

Description of hand woven cushion

The front is made using fleece or wool from sheep reared on our Scottish smallholding.They are hand crafted in our farmhouse in Fife Scotland and have simple rustic qualities. Every cushion front is unique but also blend together, complimenting similar colour and texture themes. The sheep wool or fleece is naturally coloured (white/brown/grey) – the colours are original as nature intended, and a range of textures are available depending on the breed of sheep used. You can also commisssion 100% (including filling) fleece or wool cushion.

Inspiration behind sheep fleece cushion

Our hand woven sheep fronts are produced from the fleece or wool from our sheep, I prefer to work with fleece (unprocessed wool) as it has a raw/wild or more natural look (showing the product as close to that found on the sheep). The fleece is washed and then hand woven on a simple wooden peg loom to an orginal design. No harmful chemical dyes are used in their production. Shearing is undertaken on welfare grounds and the fleece is a sustainable resource. I have a range of primitive or traditional breeds including Shetland (known for their fine soft fleece) and Herdwicks. The simple process of hand weaving and using sheep fleece in a raw state supports a local cottage industry and maintains the link with old traditions and crafts.

To purchase or find out more click here.

Dog Hair Cushions 

If like me you have a hairy dog that gets clipped and want to use the hair to make a gift, then contact me to discuss commissioning a cushion or piece of felt that will incorporate your dogs hair.  Felt fabric can be used to make a mobile phone or glasses case for example.  The dog hair would be washed and carded with sheep fleece that can then be woven into a cushion or made into felt.  The perfect gift for a dog lover who has everything, a momento of a long lost 4 legged friend, or an ecological way of using up the tumble weed that develops when you have a constantly casting retriever!  I do not spin, but can provide carded fleece and dog hair that someone could spin into wool to knit up a jumper or scarf.  The options are endless.  

 November 24, 2013  income, sheep Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Oct 162013

The strange things that smallholders find!

I came across some star snot tonight whilst closing up the pigs.  What is it I hear you say?

“Suggestions include that the substance is a type of mould, an animal excretion or even ‘star snot’ from meteorites.”

There are many theories about what this stuff is, and more qualified people than I can tell you about it.  (Although being a self-confessed Trekie you can guess what one I like to think is the answer. )

 Click here for the link to one of my favourite radio programmes BBC Scotland  ‘Out Of Doors’ debating the subject.

Live Long And Prosper :0)


star snot

May 122013

Bible for Beekeepers & Smallholders who garden in Scotland


What to plant to attract pollinators, insects, bees, moths and butterflies to your garden.

Register with this site and request your free ebook through the contact button.

May 062013

Best foot forward

Lambing time is an exhausting roller coaster of highs and lows, you go through the lambing process and come out the other end (sleep deprived) and breath a huge sigh as your last ewe and lamb goes out into the field.  Time to get back to normal……..But do not make the mistake of thinking that this is you finished.  Young lambs are very vulnerable to a range of factors that if not dealt with can impact on the welfare, and weight gain of the lamb.  However, if you keep an eye out you can spot an issue and deal with it quickly, saving you and the animal a lot of pain and expense.

 One problem that can occur is a lame lamb who may limp, lie down a lot, or be seen on its knees.  This lameness can be caused by a range of factors, from the physical (mud ball in the hoof, thorns, injury to the legs) to bacterial (footrot and scald) and viral (orf).  I would always recommend that you discuss with your vet in the first instance before attempting any self-diagnosis and/or treatment.

“Sheep that remain lame despite treatment and a period for recovery do not have a life worth living.  Sheep that are lame for one week or longer lose body condition and, as a result of lameness, they are debilitated and less productive. Lame lambs do not thrive and can lose body condition.”

There is no magic bullet or one vaccine that will prevent all the problems.  Prevention and prompt action are crucial.  Here are a few things that we have experienced over the years:

Orf (scabs and sores on mouth) in lambs

Orf is spread by direct contact.  It  is a zoonotic disease, which means that it is easily transmitted from animals to humans. SO BE CAREFUL. Outbreaks occur more frequently during periods of extreme temperatures such as late summer and winter.  Or infection can be caused by scratches from thistles of both growing and felled plants. Symptoms of Orf include scabs and sores on the lips and muzzle, and less commonly in the mouth of young lambs and on the eyelids, feet, and teats of ewes. The lesions progress to thick crusts which may bleed and cause secondary infections. Orf in the mouths of lambs may prevent suckling and cause weight loss, and can infect the udder of the mother ewe, thus potentially leading to mastitis. Sheep are prone to reinfection. Occasionally the infection can be extensive and persistent if the animal does not produce an immune response.

The virus is epitheliotropic, which means that it has an affinity for the skin. The period of incubation is relatively short. Susceptible animals usually develop the first signs of the disease 4 to 7 days after exposure that persists for 1 to 2 weeks or for longer periods. The disease affects sheep and goats.

“Extensive lesions on the feet can lead to lameness in adults and young animals.”

The infection is spread by direct and indirect contact from infected animals or by contact with infected tissue or saliva containing the virus. Lesions can be treated with a single application of 3 percent iodine solution. In severe cases of secondary bacterial infection, the usage of a systemic antibiotic is recommended.

Young animals are the most susceptible to contracting the disease. Lambs can contract orf after a few weeks of birth.
However, outbreaks in young animals are most frequent during postweaning.  Smallholders can help by applying antibiotic sprays on to large scabs, ensuring infected lambs receive sufficient milk and separating out the infected stock to slow down cross-transmission to healthy animals. It is advisable for those handling infected animals to wear disposable gloves to prevent cross-infection and self-infection. Vets need to be contacted if there is a risk of mis-diagnosis with other, more serious conditions.

Joint ill in lambs

Infectious polyarthritis (joint ill) is acquired during the first few days of life with lameness visible from five to 10 days-old. Typically only one joint is affected in approximately half of lambs with 2 to 4 joints in the remainder. The affected joint(s) are swollen, hot, and painful. Infection causes considerable muscle wastage.  You need to catch the lame lamb and treat it immediately with antibiotics.  Penicillin once daily for at least five consecutive days administered during the early stages of lameness effects a good cure rate in many infections.  Lambs with joint ill that continue to show moderate to severe lameness after two courses of antibiotic therapy do not grow well and represent a major welfare concern and you should consider having them culled.

  To prevent or reduce the incidence of joint ill, ensure that ewes are lambed in a clean, dry environment and that lambs take in adequate amounts of protective colostrum within six hours of birth. Dipping navels and providing clean lambing pens or dry lambing fields also help to protect lambs.


Scald or footrot

This was a hard lesson for us to learn.  If you do not identify and treat scald it can lead to foot rot which can then lead to fly strike.  These are issues you do not want to have to deal with and can cause severe health and welfare problems for the lambs.
“Scald is the most common cause of lameness in sheep
and is most prevalent when conditions underfoot are wet.”
Scald can be a precursor to some other more severe causes of lameness so needs to be treated promptly. It can affect all age groups but is more prevalent in lambs than ewes. Foot scald (interdigital dematitis) is an infection and is not contagious. Foot scald causes lameness, frequently on the front feet, and lesions are found between the hooves. The tissue between the toes of a sheep with foot scald are generally blanched and white, or red and swollen. Foot scald is much easier to treat than foot rot. Footrot is a very common condition, it is extremely painful and very contagious. Affected feet have a very characteristic foul smell and may be fly-struck.
It is recommended that you do not breed or buy replacements from sheep that have had scald or footrot, and that susceptibility to footrot can be inherited. However the plus side of this is that you can breed for improved resistance.  I know this is hard for smallholders when you pet lamb or favourite ewe is the one that you have the most issues with, but try to tough about this for the welfare of the flock.   Some breeds do fare better than others,  we keep a range of breeds and it is my experience that the more primitive or historic breeds are more resistant.

When treating, and YOU MUST DO SOMETHING, use an isolation pen for sheep with scald or footrot.  Move them immediately (for example to a pen) and consider using hydrated builders’ lime (or purchased from an agricultural merchant)  around water troughs and feed areas.

 Footrot is probably what will happen if you ignore the scald.  It is a highly contagious disease, caused by dual infection with the bacteria Dichelobacter nodosus and Fusobacterium necrophorum (which also causes scald). F.necrophorum is widely found in the environment, especially in dung. D. nodosus survives primarily in infected sheep, although the duration of its survival on the pasture is not clear, probably a number of weeks. These two bacteria are closely connected and thrive on the by-products of each other.
Sheep that have been infected with or exposed to footrot do not develop any significant natural immunity or resistance. Short term immunity can be achieved using vaccines.  Spread is primarily from foot to foot via pasture or mud. Goats, cattle and possibly vehicles can act as carriers. However moist pastures, laneways and muddy yards are the main areas where footrot is spread.
“Older ewes, ewes rearing twins and male lambs are at higher risk of footrot.”
Affected feet have a characteristic foul smell and a grey ‘ooze’ may be seen. It causes extreme discomfort to the sheep and leaves the animal highly vulnerable to blowfly strike in the foot or along the flank where the sheep tucks its foot when it lies down.  The most effective footrot control were using an injectable antibiotic plus an antibiotic foot spray and treating a sheep as soon as lameness became evident. I is also recommended not to trim or footbath feet at this time as there is the strong risk that you will make the damage worse and transfer it to other sheep.  Leave the trimming until the lameness has gone.
Footrot bacteria are readily killed by dry heat, sunlight, cold, dry environment and a number of different chemicals. It is said that most domestic disinfectants will destroy D. nodosus but are not registered or recommended for treating sheep as they are easily de-activated by dirt contamination. Zinc Sulphate, “Radicate” and formalin (Formalin, Formol) are the chemicals currently registered for the treatment of footrot in footbaths.

Other lameness causes in lambs

Although we have no direct experience of the following – here are some other causes of lameness in lambs.

Erysipelas is caused by a bacterium present in soil. It is an uncommon condition in sheep but can cause outbreaks of lameness in lambs; if left untreated, lambs become severely debilitated and should be euthanised promptly.

Interesting related articles:

Apr 152013

From A to B

 Moving sheep can be a particularly challenging time for smallholders.  If like me you rent fields elsewhere, or have divided up your smallholding into more usable spaces. Then you may have to move your sheep regularly. However, smallholders rarely have a trained sheep dog, or access to expensive sheep handling equipment. Furthermore, smallholders often have rare breeds of sheep or more primitive types that are known to be difficult or less likely to flock together.  All of these factors combined can lead to a stressful time for both you and your sheep.  My experience is that moving sheep is a skilled job and one you need to learn.  

 Here at Fifesmallholder space is limited so anything we set up needs to be flexible, because areas have different uses at different times of year.  Through experience we have learned that you need to plan the movement of your sheep like military manoeuvres.  Especially during sesnsitive times like moving the girls (when pregnant) to get them scanned, vacinated and moved to lambing areas.

We use three things regularly:

Move sheep using food


  • We either draw sheep forward with food or divert them with food.  For example if you want to get a sheep to move forward through a gate that you are standing close too(behind is OK but if you are in front of them they will hesitate) then get their head in a bucket or let them eat from your hand (you need to give them some – if you just tease then they will give up).  Your sheep must be used to this and trust you otherwise this will not work (it takes time and patience but a sheep will eat out of your hand).  Winter time is the best time to do this (they are less interested in feed in the summer when there is plenty of grass), but we try to feed our sheep whenever we visit (especially if we are planning on doing something with them).  Lambs and those that have not lambed are another thing all together and are the hardest to try and tame (they do not trust and are very scared)  – we normally put an older ewe in with them that knows the ropes and who trusts you – the rest will follow (if the older sheep thinks its Ok then it must be) because of the herd instinct.  Likewise if we want to enter a field with the pickup and don’t want them crowding the gate and escaping – then feed them away from the area in question and take their mind off the opportunity.

Move sheep using their herding instinct


  • Sheep will always walk away from you (the danger) towards others like them (safety in numbers).  You can therefore drive them in a direction – if they are thinking about bolting or running past you might be able to stop them if you wave your arms erratically and make a sudden high pitched noise. You can also move sheep by countering their position, if they move left then you move left and stare at them – they will move right.  A good sheep dog can hold a flock with just a good eye or stare – try to act like a good sheepdog.  However if they decide to run past you – YOU WILL NOT CATCH THEM (short of a rugby tackle that might harm you or the sheep). In some situations you might only get one chance (they will learn and remember what has happened that day) – if you haven’t been working up to this (e.g. feeding them regularly etc) then either go for a cup of tea and start again or try another day.  Sheep are not stupid – they can also count.  One person is OK but two people means that something is going to happen.  Either hide the other person or try and do it yourself – you’d be surprised with the opportunities that present themselves – just be ready in advance so that you can close the gate or trailer.  A long rope on a gate is a good idea – it  enables you to swing something shut without being too close.  Another thing about sheep is that they will follow other sheep, so you either trap one sheep (e.g. in a trailer with a hurdle) or you get everyone else on the otherside of the gate and they will not want to be alone. However this also means that if you put a sheep in a pen (because it is sick for example), always make sure that they can see or have a friend in the pen with them. Otherwise they will get stressed or try to escape, if you want to move a ewe with lambs – just catch the lamb (easier said than done without a crook) and carry the lamb at nose height to the ewe and walk backwards.  The lamb will bleat and the ewe will respond and follow.  Another thing is that if you want to catch a sheep, do not look at it.  I know this sounds strange but you can get much closer to it if it does not think that it is the focus of the event.  Look somewhere else but watch the sheep out of the corner of your eye, or pretend to be doing something else.  We have a lot of metal lamb hurdles and have found them to be flexible and have lots of uses, if a sheep will not enter a gate or enclosure then make a funnel leading to a race and pen.  It also helps if you feed them in the pen regularly so that you can just close the gate.  Put the hurdles up in advance and let them get used to it, otherwise they will get suspicious of anything new.  On that subject, wearing the same jacket and not having strangers about does keep the stress down.  A bottle fed lamb, and ewes that have lambed will trust you more – use that to your advantage.

Move sheep using a dog


  • If you want to stop running around a field then get yourself a sheepdog, or a retired trials dog.  we dont have a sheep dog (it’s on the list) but it is not the first time that we have used our dogs to control a situation.  Sheep are not as scared of humans as they are about dogs – extend your coverage (a crook is also a good thing to make you seem bigger – it extends your arm) with a dog on a lead or extend-a-lead.  In a situation where a sheep keeps running away through a gap (they will find the opportunity and use it again and again), I have tied my dog there and the sheep will not pass the dog.  There are dangers involved in this situation – you need to know your dog and you need to make sure it cannot run free.  This could potentially be disasterous – either the dog could chase or attack the sheep and stress them, or the sheep could ram the dog and hurt it.  Unless it is a trained sheep dog – I always make sure they are on a lead and secured in position, I also only use no-aggressive breeds like my labradors or collie).  If all else fails then pay a shepherd to round up your sheep.

I know this all sounds complicated but you will fall into a way of doing things, I have seen a farmer move his sheep by just waving an empty feed bag from the back of a quad – all he needs is one sheep to follow and they all will.  Routine is another thing, if a sheep has done it before it will remember (that is where hefting originates from and the knowledge is passed from ewe to lamb).  Good luck, if you can afford it then invest in mobile systems that makes life easier.  Otherwise then plan your moves and leave nothing to chance.

Other tips:

  • We open the doors on our vehicle in order to prevent a sheep running past (blocking a single track road for example), this is done in the absence of hurdles.  
  • A bucket of feed in the trailer will often tempt someone in to investigate.
  • We prefer lamb hurdles that secure with a ring at the top – they are easier to handle than other hurdles.
  • The breed of sheep is important, it is my experience that the more primitive the breed the less trusting they are.  The one exception to this rule is Ryelands, it is said that the gate to a field can lie open and they won’t think to go through it.  We crossed our wild shetlands with a Ryeland tup for that reason and got a sheep that was easier to handle.  If you have sheep like Hebrideans then good luck!  However because smallholders are more hands on and likely to spent more time with their sheep, they may learn to trust or are not so scared – hopefully.
  • If you move the lamb first then normally a ewe will follow.  Keep it at head height to the ewe and move backwards or place the lamb in the area you want the ewe to go – it will call to its mum and she will move to it.



 April 15, 2013  dog, livestock, post archive, sheep Tagged with: , , , , ,
Apr 012013

Its Easter and there is the sound of chicks in the old swallow nest attached to our sunroom.  This concerns me as 2013 has been the coldest Easter in 100 years.  We still have snow and its very cold.  I know that wild bird chicks need catepillars, and greenfly to survive and there will be very few (if any) of these around – I haven’t even seen a bumblee bee this year!  I want to give them some help (food that parents can take into the nest) and here are some useful links that I have found:

Advice from RSPB

“Temporary food shortage can occur at almost any time of the year, and if this happens during the breeding season, extra food on your bird table can make a big difference to the survival of young. Avoid using peanuts, fat and bread at this time, since these can be harmful if adult birds feed them to their nestlings. If you feel you must put out peanuts, only do so in suitable mesh feeders that will not allow sizeable pieces of peanuts to be removed and provide a choking risk.

Meaty tinned dog and cat food form an acceptable substitute to earthworms during the warm, dry part of the summer when worms are beyond the birds’ reach. Blackbirds readily take dog food, and even feed it to their chicks.

Dry biscuits are not recommended as birds may choke on the hard lumps. It is sometimes added to cheaper seed mixtures for bulk. Soaked dog biscuit is excellent, except in hot weather as it quickly dries out. Petfood can attract larger birds such as magpies and gulls, and also neighbourhood cats. If this is likely to be a problem, it is best avoided.”

 In an emergency I am considering putting the following on my bird table for the parents to feed their chicks:

  • Yolk from hard-boiled eggs mixed with crushed, soaked cat biscuits, mealworms, finely chopped tinned cat or dog food, and some chick crumbs.

I also thought the advice on this webpage would be useful should I come across an abandoned chic:

 April 1, 2013  Nature, post archive, spring Tagged with: ,
Jan 252013

In honour of Burns Night 25th January – here is my favourite poem -

To A Mouse

In the poem the mouse’s hard work is destroyed in one fail swoop, and now it will be forced to suffer through the hard Scottish winter despite its careful preparations.

“Wee, sleekit, cow’rin, tim’rous beastie,

O, what a panic’s in thy breastie!

Thou need na start awa sae hasty,

Wi’ bickering brattle!

I wad be laith to rin an’ chase thee,

Wi’ murd’ring pattle! 

I’m truly sorry man’s dominion,

Has broken nature’s social union,

An’ justifies that ill opinion,

Which makes thee startle At me,

thy poor, earth-born companion,

An’ fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;

What then? poor beastie, thou maun live! 

A daimen icker in a thrave ‘S a sma’ request;

I’ll get a blessin wi’ the lave,

An’ never miss’t!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin! 

It’s silly wa’s the win’s are strewin!

An’ naething, now, to big a new ane,

O’ foggage green!

An’ bleak December’s winds ensuin,

Baith snell an’ keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an’ waste, 

An’ weary winter comin fast, 

An’ cozie here, beneath the blast, 

Thou thought to dwell

– Till crash! the cruel coulter past 

Out thro’ thy cell.

That wee bit heap o’ leaves an’ stibble,

Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!

Now thou’s turn’d out, for a’ thy trouble,

But house or hald, 

To thole the winter’s sleety dribble, 

An’ cranreuch cauld! 

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,

In proving foresight may be vain;

The best-laid schemes o’ mice an ‘men

Gang aft agley,

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promis’d joy! 

Still thou art blest, compar’d wi’ me 

The present only toucheth thee:

But, Och! I backward cast my e’e.

On prospects drear! An’ forward, tho’ I canna see,

I guess an’ fear! “

Robert Burns 1785

Listen to it being read here.  

For analysis of what it all means click here.

 January 25, 2013  Nature, post archive Tagged with: , ,
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