Eastside Farm - Through The Seasons
Eastside Farm is a hill sheep farm in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh, Scotland. This booklet describes the farm through the seasons, illustrated with beautiful photography. If you fancy visiting Eastside Farm for a holiday surrounded by spectacular Scottish scenary, you may stay at the farm holiday cottages. See the website www.eastsidecottages.co.uk for details.
Eastside Farm through the seasons 5 Eastside & the Cowan family 7 Blackface the heft 14 Winter ewes in lamb 20 Spring lambing e sheep 8 Late Autumn tupping time 28 Summer marking and clipping 34 Early Autumn sheep sales 3 Eastside & The Cowan Family The Cowan family have run a hill sheep farm in the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh for five generations now. Eastside Farm is 1230 hectares in area (the equivalent of 2000 football pitches joined together) and it encompasses some of the best known hills in the Pentlands such as the South Blackhill, Hare Hill, Scald Law and The Kipps. At its lowest point the farm is 860 feet above sea-level and rises to 1900 feet at the top of Scald Law. It can be a forbidding terrain but is very well suited to Scottish Blackface sheep as well as numerous wild animals e.g. badgers, foxes, mountain hares, peregrines, red grouse and black grouse. Today the farm is run by Alistair and Susan Cowan, following on from Alastair's father before them. Eastside is family farm business with family members pitching in at busy times when extra hands are needed. Farming has changed significantly over the last few years with the number of shepherds on Eastside falling from four in 1982 to just one in 2012 due to the tough economics of modern agriculture. The All Terrain Vehicle 5 Image on front cover: Blackface ewe in the handling pens at Eastside. This page: Hill grasses on the East Kipp looking onto the heather covered Scald Law. Next page: Ewes and lambs gathered in preparation for the sales. (or quad bike) has allowed for the welfare standards to be maintained with one man covering a much larger area than a shepherd on foot did previously. At Eastside, the sheep are virtually wild, enjoying a happy healthy free range life on the hills. The Cowans have managed and added to the diversity of the environment at Eastside through the planting of trees and wildflower meadows and careful hill-ground management. It is their hope to preserve and enhance the spectacular Pentland Hill landscape at Eastside for current and future generations to enjoy and farm. This booklet gives a brief insight into sheep farming through the seasons at Eastside. We hope you find it informative and enjoyable. Blackface sheep The Heft can, and frequently does, throw at them. They are the most common in Britain but as the majority of these are found in the wilder parts of Scotland, many people may be unfamiliar with the way they look. Both males and females have horns, although the male (or "tup") horns are bigger as well as their body mass. They generally have black faces and a white body although sometimes they have white or grey faces too - very rarely you might see a totally black sheep! Their wool is very thick and warm and this helps protect them from the weather. As on many hill farms, there are no fences on the hill pasture to enclose or separate the sheep. Instead of fences, an ancient system called "hefting" is used. Each hill has it's own "heft" of sheep that live within a certain area and they recognize this area as their home. Sheep will instinctively gather in their family groups and often several generations of a sheep family can be seen together. Through many years of being herded to the same place, knowledge of the "heft" is passed from 7 For example, the Kipps have a heft of 150 breeding ewes with their hoggs (one year old offspring that are too young to breed from). If you visit Eastside you will see some fences and traditional stone walls (dykes) near and around the farmstead. These enclose "improved pasture" fields in the valley area. The ewes will come off the hill into the valley fields where there is better grazing during the day but head back out to the hill at night by themselves. Hefting evens out the grazing pressure and allows the grazing resources to be used efficiently. If the sheep were not hefted, they would just hang around the best grazing in the valley all the time and use it all up! B lackface female sheep are very hardy and can withstand almost all the weather one generation of sheep to the next so they know where they belong and where they feel safe. Late Autumn brought together with the ewes to conceive new lambs. The female sheep or ewes are in the peak of health and condition at this time of year from all the rich grazing they've consumed in the summer. They will need all their extra fat reserves for the winter to come and to provide for themselves and the lambs growing inside them. The ewes come into season in November (i.e. T his seems the most logical place to start as it is when the male sheep, "tups", are Late Autumn Tupping Time Just before tupping season when hormones start to run high, the tups are moved into the big sheep-shed to keep them out of mischief! they're receptive to a potential mate) and will start looking for a handsome tup. However we decide when the tups are allowed in with the ewes - this way we avoid early surprises and plan for the lambs to be born when the weather is warmer and there is good grazing to be had. For much of the year you might see the tups taking things easy in the field in front of our house. Just before tupping season when hormones start to run high, the tups are moved into the big sheep-shed to keep them out of mischief! When the time is right, each tup is allowed in with his ewes. It's important for us to make sure that he stays in the right place and doesn't stray from his ground and his group of 60-70 ewes. He'll generally have about 6 weeks to "service" each ewe but with that many there's not much romance involved it's hard work for him! Between Christmas and New Year, the tups are brought back to the sheep shed for a well-earned break. In the winter of 2009/2010 the snow was so 11 heavy the tups were snowed out on the hill, eventually coming back a few weeks later - a little tired but in good health. Consequently, lambing went on for a long time that Spring! Images on previous page: Eastside autumn flora, Heather, bracken and hill grasses. Images on this page from left: Blackface tups (or rams), Blackface tups - the boys are just back from 5 weeks work on the hill. Images clockwise from top left: Blackface Tup, Hill grasses turn red in the autumn season, The farm track on an autumn afternoon, Old "dykes" or walls surrounding the farm, The Hare Hill sheep going home as the sun sets after the gather, The farm track looking towards the farm and the Kipps behind, Old "dyke" with autumnal bracken. 13 Winter The winter can be a harsh time at Eastside, sometimes with deep snow or cold winds and rain. Being in a cosy cottage toasting your toes by the fire makes you appreciate that surviving outdoors is a very different matter, requiring a good knowledge of the local environment. This essential knowledge is something that the sheep at Eastside have passed from generation to generation. In addition, the Blackface sheep has an amazing wool fleece impregnated with lanolin for waterproofing to ensure it's warm all winter. Each ewe has a whole hectare of grass to herself (one and a half football pitches) and she knows all the best places to find food and shelter to ensure a good outcome for herself N ow that the ewes are "in lamb" they are making the most of their hill environment. Mid Winter Ewes In Lamb Gathering is quite a spectacle, with each heft of several hundred sheep rounded up by the quad and sheep dogs and herded to the farm handling pens. and her lamb. The ewes are under regular surveillance and by the end of March each heft is gathered up by the shepherd using a quad bike and sheep dogs and brought in to the handling pens for a check-up. Gathering is quite a spectacle, with each heft of several hundred sheep rounded up by the quad and sheep dogs and herded to the farm handling pens. By this time it is obvious which ewes are in lamb and which are not. All of the ewes to lamb are brought into the fields in the valley and the barren ewes and the hoggs (last years lambs that are too young to reproduce) are put back out onto the hill. This leaves the pregnant ewes for the 17 shepherd to concentrate his attention on. Image on previous page: View from the Backhill, South towards Ninemileburn. Images on this page from left: Beech trees on a sunny winter's day, Sheep sheltering beneath the larch and scots pines on the Blackhill. Images clockwise from top left: Old beech tree on the Blackhill, Christmas at Eastside, Line of beech trees from the Blackhill fields, Walker on the Pentland skyline (West Kipp behind the farmstead) looking South along the Pentland range, The view from the West Kipp of Eastside farmstead and beyond towards the Moorfoots, Track down to the yard and `Archie', A winter sunset. 19 Spring A rural wilderness, just 10 miles from Edinburgh and grass on our hills is growing well to ensure a plentiful milk supply for the new lambs. The gestation period (length of pregnancy) for a O ur ideal lambing time starts in mid April when the weather has hopefully improved Spring Lambing Most ewes are fortunate and their lambs will come into the world without any human intervention. Within minutes the lamb will be on its feet looking for a feed of lovely warm milk. lamb is 5 months so this is why it's so important to control when the tups are put with the ewes in mid November. Most ewes are fortunate and their lambs will come into the world without any human intervention. Within minutes the lamb will be on its feet looking for a feed of lovely warm first milk or "colostrum". Colostrum, as well as being like nectar to a new-born lamb is full of antibodies and protects it from common diseases. In a normal birth, the lamb emerges with head the ewe away from her lamb then sadly all the and two front feet first and this is what usually shepherd will find is a small, hungry orphan happens. Problems can arise when the lamb enters the ewe's birth canal wrongly, perhaps with one leg or both of the lamb's legs left behind. Sometimes twins fight for supremacy and stall the birthing process. In these cases, intervention is required but the most difficult part can be catching the ewe first! Even in the process of giving birth, a ewe can outrun a shepherd on foot so a quad bike and dogs are essential. Fortunately, with the Blackface breed, the majority of lambs are born without any problems. Images on previous page: A Blackface lamb and a that has to be brought in and bottle-fed in the sheep-shed. Sometimes, with a bit of luck, ewe and lamb can be reunited but it is all extra hassle for the shepherd when he least needs it. With problem births, the ewe and lamb will often need to be brought into a small paddock or the sheep shed. The lamb will need special attention, especially if it's exhausted after a prolonged birth. The shepherd will help the lamb to suckle milk from the ewe or, if it is very After a normal delivery, the ewe busily licks the lamb and bonds with it. If this process is meadow buttercup amongst the spring grasses. Image on this page: Ewes and lambs on a sunny disturbed, by a dog or a hill-walker frightening spring day. 23 weak, he will milk the ewe and give the lamb a reviving feed of colostrum with a tube fed carefully down the lamb's throat. After one or two such feeds, the lamb revives and the bonding process begins. Sometimes, in spite of the shepherd's best efforts, a lamb is stillborn. The ewe will be distressed and nudge the lamb in vain to wake it. At the same time, another ewe may both. If this happens we can use a technique called "twinning on". It sounds gruesome to describe but can ensure the successful adoption of the twin with insufficient milk from its mother. The dead lamb is skinned and the skin placed on the twin lamb like a second coat. This fools the dead lamb's mother into thinking it is her own. As the Blackface ewe recognises her lamb mainly by smell, any lamb that doesn't smell right will be swiftly rejected with a butt of the head. Placing the skin of the dead lamb on the twin means it smells correct to the mother and she'll busily nuzzle and feed her seemingly miraculously recovered offspring. Even although it's Spring, the sheep can experience blizzard conditions. More frequently but Blackface lambs are remarkably resilient to harsh conditions and as long as they have a belly full of milk, they will survive harsh conditions quite happily. have twin lambs but not enough milk for them there is a dusting of snow that melts quickly Images on this page from left: The farm track at sunset with ewe and lamb in the Blackhill fields for observation, Once lambs are more robust they are released onto the open hill. This ewe and lamb are at the top of the West Kipp. 25 Images clockwise from top left: A golden spring evening, Blackface ewes are very good mothers always keeping an eye on their lambs, Lambs-aleaping, The shepherd checking the `Low-End' sheep with help from Jill the collie, Orphan lambs or `pets', The bigger orphans get trained to drink from a milk bucket, Pied Wagtail chicks nest in a gap in the dyke, A lamb needing some care in the shed. 27 Summer grass. By June, they have quadrupled in size and are robust enough to be gathered in with their A ll the ewes have lambed by mid May and the lambs are growing well on the plentiful Summer Marking & Clipping Clipping is a highly skilled job that requires much practice to perfect. The trick is in keeping the sheep comfortable at all times otherwise they will struggle - making it a very difficult and exhausting job indeed! mothers for marking. It is only then that the shepherd will know how successful a lambing he/she has had as all the lambs produced from each heft will be counted and tagged with the farm's unique code. Wool clipping (sometimes known as shearing) begins in June with the hoggs (the one year old female sheep that are too young to reproduce) first in line. The hoggs have had an easy time compared to the ewes as they haven't had to produce and rear lambs. This means they start to grow new wool more quickly. This layer of fresh new wool between the skin and the old wool is what the shearer will cut through to make sure the wool is clipped quickly and efficiently. It is called the "rise". Clipping is a highly skilled job that requires much practice to perfect. The trick is in keeping the sheep comfortable at all times otherwise they will struggle - making it a very difficult and exhausting job indeed! By mid-July it is the ewes' turn to be clipped. With the arrival of the warm summer weather, the ewes will be glad to get rid of their winter coats and will have produced enough "rise" to make the shearer's job easy. Often just before clipping, a ewe will get itchy and roll onto her back to scratch but get stuck in that position. If she stays like this she will perish as the gases in her stomach can't escape and 31 build up until she suffocates. Turning her over resolves this problem very simply - she will burp heartily then run off! The newly clipped wool will be rolled up and packed into large wool bags called "sheets" for transporting to the Wool Marketing Board. They will sell it on to make carpets. Blackface wool is abundant but coarse so this is the best use for it. Rolling up fleeces will give you lovely soft hands as the wool is full of "lanolin", an oily substance in the fleece which waterproofs the wool and keeps the animal dry. Lanolin is extracted from the wool in the washing process and used in making moisturising face and hand creams. Images on previous page from left: Clipping is a highly skilled job, Harebells in hill pasture. Images clockwise from top left: Sheep are gathered from hefts individually for marking and clipping, During marking lambs are marked and given a health check, Jill helps out, In summer sheep are clipped (sheared) for their wool, Wild orchids, The Blackface tups (rams) after a close shave, Wildflower meadow. 33 Early Autumn to sell many of the now well grown lambs and some of the ewes. This is to reduce the flock grazing on the hill to a number that can be healthily sustained during the winter. All ewes will have been born on the farm and A t this time of year, sheep numbers on the farm will be nearly 3000. Our next job is Early Autumn Sheep Sales After a full year at Eastside, many ewes will have a fine ewe-lamb to join their hefts on the hill and the cycle will begin all over again. then live here for five years. When they are five, they've had enough of their hard life on the hill and will be sold to a low-ground farmer where they will live and breed for another few years. Within the UK, there operates a tiered breeding system to ensure the supply of prime lamb. This system starts with upland breeds such as Blackface. Once the upland sheep are sold to lower farms for breeding, they are crossed with other breeds (e.g. Bluefaced Leicester) for increased yields of wool and meat. This system has been perfected over hundreds of years and is the envy of much of the world. If an Eastside ewe has produced a good ewelamb, the lamb will be kept as a replacement for the old ewes moving down to pastures new. About half of the total number of ewe-lambs born are kept as replacements. Otherwise, the ewe-lambs will be sold at the market to another upland farm for breeding. When a ewe has produced a fine, strong male lamb, the lamb may be kept as a tup for breeding. However, most of the male lambs are sold as "store lambs" at the market to low ground farmers who fatten them for meat 37 production. After a full year at Eastside, many ewes will have a fine ewe-lamb to join their hefts on the hill and the cycle will begin all over again. Images on previous page: Hay store from the Eastside track looking towards the Kipps. Images on this page from left: Shepherd sorts the stock, Sheep await marking in the `stack yard'. Images clockwise from top left: Blackface tup in the sale ring, Bought tups return to Eastside, Autumn seed heads on the hill, Ewes are sorted for the tupping, Harebells flower on the hill, Autumn light from the farm track looking towards the `Low End', Lambs are ready for the sales. 39 Susan Cowan Eastside Holiday Cottages Penicuik | Midlothian EH26 9LN 01968 677 842 www.eastsidecottages.co.uk firstname.lastname@example.org All photography copyright of Michael Rummey photography, Graphic design by Tigerchick