Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Wool Whorl

A hawk-eyed friend found this today in the vegetable patch:

Whorl, possibly?

Reverse of possible whorl
It may be a piece of Lamprophyre, an igneous rock formed in volcanic dykes, suggests Catalina at IES Jaume Balmes in Barcelona.

It is possibly a whorl ('fusaiola' in Catalan), used at the end of a stick to spin wool. If it is, then it could mean (there are a lot of conditional ifs in this sentence...) that people may have been spinning wool here a long time ago.

Which would make sense. Quim the shepherd talks about his grandfather leading his sheep around the area when transhumance was still practised, with a wee shepherd's bothy up on the Pla de la Calma above us that was used in the summer time, and winter pastures closer to home. 

I like these links with history. My grandmother's family kept sheep on a big border farm, Kirkton, now a lovely bed and breakfast. While she was playing in the Kirkton Burn in the first years of the 20th century (she was born on 16th March 1899) there was, perhaps, another wee girl here in Catalunya, sitting by the stream, spinning wool with a whorl.

Monday, 12 March 2012

Love is in the air

The (saintly) Josep the vet says that the big day for Spring romance in the sheep population is March 19th, by coincidence, Saint Joseph’s Day.

Spring romance is not like Autumn romance; the latter is part of a sheep’s natural cycle of sexual activity during shortening days and an anoestrous (no fertility) season during long (summer) days. The day length measuring device is melatonin, secreted during the night from the pineal gland, a tiny lump in the brain just behind the thalamus.

Here is the oestrous cycle in ewes in Montana (a long way from here, but it gives you the idea)

And here is a readable paper on this topic: http://repbiol.pan.olsztyn.pl/docs/pdfs/repbiol_vol2_num3_page267.pdf 

But my youthful sheep are happy that love is in the air. And Phoenix the ram seems to want to make an early start. (If you are of a nervous disposition, please avert your eyes now):
I've got an itch I just can't scratch

Phoenix is such a huge woolly beast: it’s not so much making love on the sofa as making love with the sofa.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Stomach Tube Culture

There are, I’m learning, subtle differences between sheep care here in Catalunya and sheep care in the UK. An example is the humble stomach tube.

The two UK books I have on lambing both talk about this as a good and normal practice with lambs. And here is an article from 1987 by a UK vet, Andrew Eales, saying that

“...feeding lambs by stomach tube is probably the most significant advance in lamb care in the last 20 years.”

Over here in Catalunya things are different. A friend who is an expert in sheep and lambing says that stomach tubing is a dangerous practice – one drop of colostrum in the lungs and bye-bye lamb – and it appears to be something that is either rarely practiced here, or only carried out in extremis by the vet.

To Tube. Or Not to Tube. That is the question.

Investigations continue on this important element of cultural contrast…

Monday, 5 March 2012

Losing Luna

Luna, the new lamb born on the 29th February in a leap year, died today. We named her after the emerging new moon; but having waxed in the womb she waned out of it. 

She failed to suckle, so we did what we could, what we knew to do, milking Thistle and feeding wee Luna. But she just got sleepier and sleepier and I knew that we were going to lose her.

One learns a lot from a death. I’ve learned that despite my books and my reading I know too little about lambs. I’ve also learned, hard, the lesson about colostrum that all the books underline. I’m going to have to learn how to intubate a lamb – something else I was unequipped, and unprepared, to do.

It’s a bloody shame that something has to die for me to learn these lessons.

Agriculture: learning by dying.