Jonathan: No, we don’t give our sheep names though by necessity they have numbers, and that’s generally how we refer to them. But that doesn’t mean to say we don’t see them as unique individuals, each with its own distinct personality. No 8 for example (officially some other unmemorable number – but that’s another story): she’s as bold as brass and cheeky with it ; always first in line for food, but quite independent when it suits her. Unsurprisingly she’s the biggest ewe in the flock, and this year produced a really fine lamb (who has gone to Harris with her half-sisters to start a new flock, and I’m quite sure she’ll take after her mother!). Others rarely come near enough for me to easily read their tags, hanging around at the edge of the flock as others tuck in greedily to sheep nuts or fresh hay, with a self-sufficient air that may just be a mask for chronic timidity (or is it a healthy suspicion of anything to do with humans?). The in-betweeners drift around just out of my reach, licking their lips and even stepping gingerly forward to take a sheep nut from my outsretched hand … but pulling back at the last moment. Such a one was No 15. It was only recently that I was able to get near enough to take hold of her without having to round all the sheep up to do so. She was standing well apart from (and out of sight of) the others – a sure sign of something amiss. She didn’t make much of an effort to escape me and immediately I could see she’d got scour and had lost a lot of weight, even in the few days I’d been away in Harris. I made up some ‘electrolyte’ (50g glucose powder, 5g bicarbonate of soda, 5g table salt, all dissolved in 1 litre of warm water – a universal treatment for diaorhea) and over the next few days that seemed to help. After that she started coming right up to me for food, and if I stood still awhile she’d come up behind me and rest her nose in the palm of my hand. That was last week. This Monday gone – no sooner was I away again in Harris – Denise reported she was bad again, and couldn’t or wouldn’t stand up. After discussing what we should do, D lifted her into a wheelbarrow and took her off down to the high hen house, and made her comfortable with straw. Over the next few days D called in two or three times a day, nursing her slowly back to health. No 15 started to regain some sort of appetite, but was still too weak to get up. But on Thursday she’d given up trying to eat and seemed to be slipping away, and by the time I was back from Harris and got to the croft, she was gone. That’s the first loss of a breeding ewe in three years – we now have 15.
Denise: J’s last post was two months ago. Since then we’ve waited and waited, me and the cats, the hens, the geese, and the sheep. Especially the sheep. One sheep died waiting. But our wait is over. J will start posting again very soon – perhaps even today! He’s got no excuse now: the 40 galvanized steel posts we ordered back in early July were delivered this morning. The sheep will be pleased!
Jonathan: Over the past couple of days, off an on, I’ve been packing up the Astra for a spell working away from home, across the water. But no, not in England or even in mainland, but in the Isle of Harris. On Monday construction work starts on the first of the ‘architect-designed’ houses for which I’m client’s project manager. This is at Borghasdal (Borrisdale), a few miles east of Leverburgh. I say Monday, but that’ll just be me setting out the first phase of the works, ready for the first machinery to arrive on Tuesday – a back-hoe excavator for stripping off the soils (of which not much) and exposing rock (of which more than enough!). The back of the car is full of surveying and setting-out equipment, from electronic total stations to wooden pegs, from measuring tapes to hammer and nails. Last to go in, tomorrow some time, will be my stuff for staying overnight – I’ve got use of the clients’ leased house in Scalpay. Starting a new build on site – especially a completely green-field site with absolutely nothing on it, not even fencing! – is always a bit daunting, but staying away from home in an unfamiliar environment adds another layer of tension. But from past experience, as work on the ground makes progress, the nervousness will diminish and the inconveniences just become part of the job itself.