Friday, 14 September 2012

Last Week at Work!

It's been a long time since I posted on here and it's now my last week working at Wicken Fen so I thought I would put up a final post. My replacement may be persuaded to start her own blog, so the volunteer grazing warden blog may continue so look out for that!

Over the past few months, the rest of the foals have been born in our breeding herd of koniks and in the past week a calf has also been born over on Harrisons. All of the young so far this year have thankfully been fit and healthy, including one who is already bigger than some of our yearlings! (see picture below of him)

Bronte the Giant Foal!

So in total this year, there are 13 new foals in the breeding herd and also 1 filly over on Verralls, born to the mare that was moved over last year (she conceived before we moved her). This birth was slightly unexpected, as we hoped that we had removed the mare from the breeding group before she conceived. Her body condition dropped off a lot over the winter and it is possible that she won't be able to sustain enough weight this winter to be able to feed her filly. This will be closely monitored and there are options for us to move her up to our emergency paddock and be supplementary fed there with her foal. We will see how it goes, but ideally she will be able to keep on the weight and feed her filly!

Apart from foals being born, the breeding herd have generally just got on with life on adventurers quite happily. The harems in the herd have been mixing up a bit recently and the yearlings have mostly been kicked out of their parental harems now and are either joining the bachelor group or forming their own little groups. It's a constantly changing social structure, but there are groupings that will develop over the coming months and some of these will stay around and potentially form new permanent harems in the herd.

Over on Verralls, there has only been one major occurrence and that is the death of one of the geldings, Robin. We had noticed that he was lame on one of his hooves and monitored this closely to see if it would improve over time. After a while, the decision was made to call in our vet, Andy, and after examining Robin's leg, said the best thing was to euthanase him. He had fractured his pastern, the equivalent of our ankle, and without the ability to pump lots of money/time into his treatment, our only option was euthanasing him. It was sad to see and witness, but I understand why it had to happen, especially in the grazing system that we have set up at Wicken Fen. Apart from Robin, all the others are well and the new little filly has settled in well with everyone.

The new calf on Harrisons was born to Megan, our blonde cow over with the bulls. The calf is a heifer and was born on Monday, so is still very small and fluffy! We eartagged it on Monday, as it's easiest to get it done as soon as possible, and noticed that it wasn't very steady on one of its hind legs. Since then we haven't seen it standing/walking, although this could be because the mum wants it to just hide away. The cattle's strategy is to stash their young away for the first week or so, before it spending more time with the rest of the herd. We are expecting the calf to be standing up and wandering around by next week though, so hopefully she will be!

We have also sold off a few of our cattle. 4 cows have gone to Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and 1 bull has been sold to a local farm (he has now got his own 3 cows to take charge of!). At the moment, decisions are being made about when and how we are going to move our cattle around, to form the new breeding and non-breeding herds. We are hoping to do some of these movements in the next month or so, which will be an exciting time!

Anyway, thanks for reading and do check out the (potential) new volunteer grazing warden's blog if she decides to start one!

Monday, 28 May 2012

A couple of hoof trimmings

Hope you are all enjoying the sunshine!
Last Thursday Andy the vet came in to hoof trim a couple of the cows on Bakers. We had spent the week before baiting the cows over to the corrall, so that on the day itself, we could make sure that we were able to round them all up and get them where we wanted them. To bait them, we take in the RTV and cattle feed and call them over to where we want them. Once they catch onto the idea that 'calling+RTV = food', they're pretty good at coming to call.
So on Thursday morning, Carol and I popped out and called the girls over to the corrall and got the ones sorted that we needed to. Malda 1 (the girl below!) needed to have her GPS collar taken off as it's stopped working (as have a couple of the others which is a bit worrying...) so she was given a bit of sedation before it was removed and was let out the crush.

After Malda 1's collar was removed, Black Myra was the first cow to have her hooves trimmed. It was decided that the best way to do it was to completely knock her out with sedative and then hoof trim her when she was lying down, with a couple of people holding her hooves/horns so no-one got hit with them at any point!

Black Myra mid-sedated! The front of her collapsed before the back end did...


As you can see it wasn't exactly a delicate process. Andy mainly used an angle grinder and a saw was als used for some of the hooves! It doesn't cause them any pain though if you cut a bit too far up the nail then it hits the live nail, which then bleeds lots. Only one of Myra's hooves did that thankfully, and none of the 2nd girls, Griannach. 

So after B.Myra had her hooves done, she was let out - she kind of staggered out as she was still very sleepy! Griannach then was moved down the corrall where we wanted her (which took a while as she was being very stubborn) and the same process happened to her. She took a lot less time to be affected by the sedative but was knocked out by it for a lot longer!  

Once Griannach's hooves were done, a few of us stayed with her for a while just to make sure she came out of the sedation ok. It took her the rest of the day, but eventually she did!..

In the afternoon, there was a grazing forum meeting, which was mainly talking about all the animal movements that are going to be happening over the next year. This summer, the bulls and cows are going to be rejoined together and also some cattle are moving over to verralls (5 from Bakers and 3 from Harrisons). Hopefully this will all be happening in June, though no dates are confirmed yet. Then next summer, there will be both cattle and ponies heading over to Burwell Fen. Also in the meantime, some kind of crossing will (hopefully) be built across Harrisons Drove, giving the animals access from bakers to harrisons and joining those 2 areas together.

So a lot will be changing with the animals soon, so if you notice changes in numbers of herds around the fen, then that's why! Thanks for reading.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Horses in the ditch

Hope you are having good weeks! Things have been getting slightly more summer-like over the past couple of days, and with the warmer weather the grazing animals are able to enjoy a bit more sunshine.

Over on Verralls we've had 2 horses falling into a ditch over the past week. Thankfully both have managed to haul themselves out at drinking points, though we still needed to go over and check on them afterwards and make sure they rejoin the rest of the herd and are alright. Last week it was Percy who fell in and this week it was Tommy. Both are absolutely fine and had quite a nice swim before getting out! It is stressful for them though, so in both cases it was great that they got out the ditch so fast. We have had a couple in the past who we've found in a ditch when they've been in for quite a few hours, and they are just so exhausted then. Apart from those 2, all the others have been fine and well. George (the foal) has been extra-friendly over the past few weeks, so it's nice when he always comes over to say hello to us. His mum Nadia, who has been in quite a poor condition, seems to be doing a bit better, though we are a bit concerned that she is going to foal again in the summer. Ideally she won't, as I don't know if she has enough weight on her to get her through another winter with a new foal, but we'll make a decision as to what to do when (and if) the time comes. The picture below shows her at the moment - she looks thin but we are checking on her daily and ensuring that her condition isn't dropping any further.

On Adventurer's fen, the cycle path towards priory farm is being worked on for the next few weeks - we're trying to get rid of any bottle-necking that happens for the herds, so the crossing points for them are being extended. This'll make it better for the grazing animals and the public. So at the moment, the cows and the breeding herd of koniks are all fenced into Bakers and being kept out of guinea hall. It's a rather long stretch of electric fencing - I have definitely realised that electric fencing and barbed wire are both really awkward to put up!

There haven't been any new additions to the breeding horses. One of the mares, Meg, is starting to look like she may foal soon. She's hanging quite heavy and her udders have started to bag up, so possibly there will be another new little one quite soon! Apart from her, I think the next ones are expected from June onwards, so there'll be a little break from foaling for a few weeks. The other new ones are all doing well though. Willow's little foal (who is now called Joey) has brightened up a lot. We were worried about him at first as he was so small and was born in a week of awful weather, but he has survived! He has however got a few things that are a bit strange about him. He's got dummy foal syndrome, which is basically when he has his tongue stuck out at random times, and hasn't got control over it most of the time. He can look quite funny with it, but it can be a serious problem if it prevents him grazing properly (which at the moment doesn't seem to be thankfully). He also has quite a scabby back and hind legs, though again we are monitoring this and ensuring that his condition doesn't drop, which it doesn't seem to be. So apart from those 2 things he is a bright and very friendly foal! I'll update you with how he's doing next week.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 30 April 2012

A bit of a rainy week

Hope you all had a good week and managed to stay dry in the slightly wet weather we had - the sunshine is definitely appreciated today!

Since last week, there haven't been any new additions to the breeding herd of koniks. I took this picture of Iris today (the new foal in Charlie's harem) who is quickly becoming bolder! Her 2 older brothers, Ernie and Jack, are both very friendly so I think this rubs off on her and she gets more confident because of them.

Over with the cows, things remain very relaxed, with a minor drama on Tuesday evening when Ivy managed to escape from guinea hall and was seen strolling along on the wrong side of the fence. Carol, Shaun and I popped out in the RTV with some feed and tried calling her to the bucket via the gate but instead she jumped back over the fence into the field! After having found the part of the fenceline which she'd vaulted over, Shaun and I went out the next day to do some much needed repair work to the barbed wire - sadly this was the afternoon when the rain properly kicked in and there was constant downpours with a bit of hail mixed in with it...

Over the weekend, the new 'fenman's workshop' had it's official opening, with lots of demonstrations of old fenland crafts and activities. If you haven't been to see it already, it's well worth a visit! There was scything, wood splitting, mole-trap making and various other things going on - volunteers are still needed to help out with it, so it can be open for as many days as possible!

This week, one of the things needing to be done is fencing off the cows and breeding koniks into Bakers. So hopefully at some point this week, both of the groups will be in bakers! Fencing work is being done on the guinea hall cycle path, creating new crossing points for the animals to avoid bottle-necking of the herds. This is all going to happen next week, so by the end of this week, the animals need to be out of guinea... They'll probably be fenced into bakers for about a month, so grazing pressure on this area will increase, but there's enough there to cope with this. Anyway, hope you all have good weeks and that the sunshine continues for a while (although I do keep trying to remember that we need the rain...)! 

Thanks for reading :)  

Monday, 23 April 2012

7 born, 6 more to go...

I realise that it's been quite a while since I've posted on here so sorry to anyone that's been on and was left wondering what's been going on in the world of grazing at Wicken Fen recently. As the heading to this suggests, we now have 7 foals in the breeding herd of koniks (3 of which were only born in the past few days) and 6 more are possibly still on their way. Here are pictures of all of them - any that are lying down are not dead, however much they might look it, they're just enjoying a little rest in the sunshine!

Gracie and foal!

Krieka and foal (and possible father on far right!)

Napia and foal!

Octavia and foal (Lucky)

Oriola's foal (she'd fallen asleep and Oriola had wandered off grazing)

Willow and foal!

Yara and foal (Iris).

All of the foals seem to be doing well, though the first week for all of them is a bit touch and go, so we'll find out over the course of the week how the 3 little ones from this weekend get along. Hopefully they'll all be fine though! When I went out to do the checks this morning, the breeding herd were very hyped up, with lots of the stallions pushing their weight around and a few trying to guard some of the females. I think it'll be interesting with Willow and her foal, as she isn't actually part of a harem at the moment, and so there isn't a specific stallion guarding them and pushing others away. She seemed to be doing a pretty good job at it herself this morning, but it is possible that a little harem might form with her, the foal and one or two of the stallions. 

Apart from all the new arrivals, Flynn, Ralph and Peat have all had injuries. Ralph was found with quite a deep wound on the top of his right leg a few weeks ago. It's thought maybe another stallion caught it with it's teeth or kicked at him. It's healing well though and he hasn't seemed bothered by it. Flynn's injury was potentially more serious as a few days after noticing him limping, Carol also noticed an infection breaking through the skin on the inside of his right leg. As the infection came from the inside, it was possible that his joint was infected, which apparently often ends with the horse having to be euthanased. The vet, Andy, sent some antibiotics to us but thankfully they haven't had to be used and he definitely seems to be on the mend, which is great! A few days ago, Peat was found with his nostril torn - this has happened to a couple of the other stallions, and looks quite nasty but they heal quickly. Peat's has done this, and looks a lot better than last week, and again he doesn't seem bothered at all! He's making sure that he's as much of a hassle as he can be though with Krieka having just foaled. Krieka is in Eric's harem though Peat is often found hanging around with his group and herding them all up.   

Everything with the other animals seems to be going well at the moment. The horses on Verralls are starting to be able to enjoy some sunshine and make the most of it by sprawling themselves on the ground soaking up as much as possible. The cows are quite similar, being very relaxed most of the time and enjoying the easy quiet life. This will change soon however, as this summer a breeding herd of cattle will be formed! Carol has been organising the whole process, which is a lot to do, and soon it will be started. I think the bulls and cows are going to be joined together around September (hopefully I'll still be here to see it!) so things will kick off a bit then I'm sure... But in the meanwhile, the girls are enjoying a life away from the boys and their antics. The bulls over on Harrisons are all well, though a couple are starting to show signs of having lice. Tansley, one of the reds has quite noticeable bald patches on his flank, though they don't seem to be bothering him. It's normal for some of them to get lice and as long as it doesn't get too extensive, or the animal starts losing condition, then we just monitor it. 

So I think that's about all for the update on the animals! Thanks for reading.  

Thursday, 22 March 2012

A muddy bath

This week has been so nice being outside in the sunshine, and I think the animals are appreciating the slightly warmer weather too. Yesterday I was out doing the monthly condition checks on the koniks, when they then decided to have a roll around in the water out on bakers!

As you can see by these pictures, the water is pretty grim for a roll in, but the koniks seemed to enjoy it and it cooled them off nicely.

Apart from the monthly checks on the koniks, the cattle checks were completed too. The final parts of preparation for Saturday's 'Careers with Animals' day was completed too, so we are almost all set for that. On our stall, we'll have general information about conservation grazing, Wicken Fen and the National Trust. We are also meant to take an 'entertaining activity' according to the CAW, so we are taking some poo analysis equipment. I'll collect some dung tomorrow from one of the koniks, and then we'll take all that we need to make a solution and look at some under the microscope for a worm count. I don't think 'entertaining' is the first word that comes into mind, but hopefully people will find it interesting!

Around the fen at the moment, there are definite signs of spring - everything seems to be coming to life a bit more, and the place seems to be filling up with birdsong and spring wildlife. I was out on Monday afternoon and this afternoon collecting some data for my project on the bulls, and although there was hardly any aggressive behaviour to record, it really makes a difference when you're standing for an hour in the sunshine rather than the cold! Over on Harrisons, there seems to be a couple of barn owls that are settling in one of the willows - I'm not sure if they will nest, but hopefully they'll stay around. If you walk down Harrisons drove towards Wicken Lode, you might catch sight of them - they're towards the reed beds (in compartments called Rothschild&Lapwing), about half way into the bulls' fields. Over in guinea hall, there are lots of skylarks busy singing away in the fields, and many will nest in the fields as it's ideal habitat for them out there.

Next week, I won't actually be working out on the fen. I have a week's work experience at a veterinary surgery in my home village, which I'm really looking forward to! I'm potentially thinking of veterinary nursing after my placement here, so next week will (I hope) help me decide whether I definitely do want to do this or not. So until I get back next time, thanks for reading!

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A new addition!

This week there has been a new addition to the breeding herd of koniks - Yara, one of the mares in Charlie's harem has had a filly! She is so cute, I went out this morning with one of the lookers, Carole, and managed to get some pictures.

A couple of visitors around the fen managed to see her being born and then phoned the visitors centre to let us know about it. Carol and I went down straight away to check out how it was doing and stayed for a while until it looked like it was able to stand up. It's amazing how quickly they're able to stand and walk around - usually it's between 30 mins - 1 hour old when the foal is able to stand! Thankfully this filly seems healthy and happy. Her mum Yara seems to have bonded well with her and Charlie has been good so far at protecting them both from the other curious stallions who get a bit too close!.. Even though Yara is part of Charlie's harem, she only joined it last summer so chances are that this foal isn't actually Charlie's. Still, he's protecting them well!

Apart from then new addition, things with the grazing animals have been fairly quiet this week. The breeding herd of koniks are becoming more active as more mares are getting closer to foaling and then will come into season. The non-breeding herd on verralls have a totally relaxed, quiet life without the fuss of harems and fighting off other stallions from their girls. This summer, 8 of our cattle will be moving over onto verralls to form a small non-breeding herd. It will be strange seeing cattle out there! The individuals moving over have almost all been decided on, so there will be a mix of (castrated) bulls and cows. They'll affect the vegetation in different ways to the koniks that are already there, and hopefully they will help keep some of the scrub down, which is important for preventing succession going too far.

Anyway hope you have good weekends and thanks for reading!