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!

Monday, 12 March 2012

A bit of prep and a few checks

Hope you had good weekends!

The mist this morning made it a bit of a challenge to find the cows and horses for their start of the week checks. However, eventually I they were found and checked! The girls in the breeding herd of koniks are definitely starting to look heavier and the foaling will begin within the next month, which I'm really looking forwards to. There's potentially 13 mares that will be foaling this year (I think for 2 of them, it'll be their first foal) and foaling tends to go from March-August time, though with some of them it's pretty hard to predict the date. One of the girls in the main harem, Gracie, is looking especially heavy so we will be keeping an eye of her and the others in the upcoming months - soon there will be new additions to the herd! Another telling sign when a mare is going to foal soon (though it is variable between each individual) is that their udder starts to fill and sometimes start leaking milk - this hasn't happened yet with any of the girls that I've seen, so there's still a bit of time to go.

The cows were very relaxed again this morning, and a few were having a good scratch at the trees alongside guinea hall near Monk's Lode. I'm heading out to the bulls this afternoon and am going to do a session of my project, so hopefully I'll see some interesting behaviour whilst I'm there! The other day, Isle was coming into season and Edmund was guarding her very closely - Norman (one of the small black bulls) was trying his hardest to get to Isle, but he didn't really stand any chance with Edmund so close by and so much bigger than he is!

Also today, I've been doing some prep work for a 'Careers With Animals' day thats happening on the 25th. It's being held in the College for Animal Welfare and is basically a chance for students and career-change people to come and have a look at a number of stands from different organisations, and see what different options they have. Wicken Fen are doing a stand there about conservation grazing, so I've just got to sort out the displays that we'll have - Maddie (who went last year) did a load of work printing out/laminating pictures so there's lots of useful stuff here already! I also know that Shepreth Wildlife Park are having a stand there, and that they usually bring along various creatures so hopefully will be able to go along to their stand and see some of those!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, 9 March 2012

A bit of cake and volunteer chat

Hope you are all having a good week!

On Wednesday, Wicken Fen had a Volunteer's day, where most of the staff and volunteers had a day of talks, group sessions and general discussion. It was good to have everyone together and also for the volunteers to be given a chance to say how they felt about volunteering here at the fen and with the National Trust in general. There were so many faces I didn't recognise though, even after 6 months of being here! Lots of the volunteers in education and in the fen cottage only come in once a month or so, so I never cross over with them. It's good to now be familiar with a few more people. The food was also a highlight of the day, with tasty scones, cake and soup being eaten at various points!

Apart from that, this week has mainly been filled with checks, data entry, data collection and working on my own project for a bit. Yesterday I attempted to do some data collection for Carol's phD on the horses - it took me 2 hours to actually completed half of what she normally manages in an hour! I think it was still useful though, and it helped me with my ongoing IDing of the horses. I'm down to only a few bachelors now that I get muddled with and hopefully over the next few weeks I'll get those sorted in my head too. And then when foaling begins soon, there'll be another potential 13 to learn...

Today the herds were all pretty calm - the picture below shows 2 of the stallions of the main harem in the breeding group of koniks (this was after their rest period). One of the dominancy behaviours of stallions is to create 'dung piles'. Multiple stallions will dung in the same spot, sniffing the dung already there - the last konik to dung is meant to be the dominant one, although this isn't always the case that I've seen. Often though there will be groups of stallions standing around and sniffing/dunging and the whole process can sometimes start a few challenges and fights, so it's interesting to watch!

This picture is a nice one I thought of one of the cows (Rush) during a little rest period.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

A month of snow and spring


Sorry that it has been so long since my last entry - I didn't realise that it had been quite as long as it has since I last posted on here! Since the start of February, I've seen the fen in snow, ice, rain, wind and spring sunshine. The spring weather seems to have disappeared again though, leaving the animals a bit miffed that they can't bask in the sunshine each day.

Over the past month or so, 4 of our horses here have fallen in various ditches, due to the ice we had a few weeks ago. There were 2 on Verralls (Percy and Tim) who fell in on separate days, and eventually were dragged out of the ditches using our RTV, strops and shackles. In the breeding herd, Gracie and Hanty were found in the ditch along by guinea hall - Gracie seemed to have given up at getting herself out, whereas Hanty seemed happy enough to jump in and out of the ditch, trying to herd up Gracie in the process. On this occassion 2 fire engines ended up being called out and helped us with hauling Gracie out. So after these multiple ditch-events, things have thankfully been alright with all 4 of the horses, and no-one else has fallen in!

Another 'happening' recentlly has been the decision of who to take on as a 9-month grazing placement here in the warden team. Heritage Lottery have funded about 10 of these placements around the country, and one of these will be based at Wicken Fen. During their 9 months here, they'll basically join Carol and I in the care and maintenance of the animals here on the fen, as well as gaining experience over at Wimpole too (which I'm hoping to tag along with!). We interviewed 4 people a few weeks ago and decided on a guy (Shaun) who will be starting at the beginning of April. It will be really good to have another member of the grazing team here!

More recently, things within the breeding herd of koniks have started to liven up a bit. The tension within the group has been increasing and the stallions have seemed to be more active, becoming more protective of their females and sparring more with each other. Today, I carried out checks on the cows, bulls and breeding herd - the picture below is of Wendy having a good browse around guinea hall ponds - she was tucked away so took a while to find!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Snow snow snow!

Hope that you all had a good weekend in the snow! Some of you may have noticed the artisitc snowmen that appeared outside the visitor's centre yesterday - built by our very own warden team (though I wasn't working so missed out!). There were a few around the fen as well, built by visitors during yesterday which look great too!

Last night, one of the ponies on Verralls fell in Wicken Lode. He was probably trying to drink out of the lode and slipped in on the ice. One of the visitors saw the horse (Percy) in the lode and phoned the centre, who then passed on the information to Carol. We are so thankful to the people that phoned in, because if they hadn't then it's very possible that no-one would have noticed and I don't think Percy would have lasted the night in the lode. So me, Carol and Martin went down to Verralls in the RTV with all the equipment we might need and eventually managed to haul Percy out using the strops and RTV. He was so cold by the time he'd been brought out, and was obviously quite scared by being stuck, but it's just so good that we managed to get him out. First thing this morning I went down to Verralls to check on him, and apart from being a bit jumpier than normal, he seemed fine.

After checking Verralls, I (along with Ajay, one of the volunteers here and at Anglesey) went to complete all the other checks. It was lovely to see the animals with the snowy scene around them - though I think quite a few of them are a bit confused by all the ice! Everyone was fine - the collared animals are still completely not bothered by the addition of their collars. A couple of the bulls on Harrisons had a few new small scratches, but none of them are serious, they'll just need to be monitored for a while until they heal.

In the afternoon, I was in the office and stayed warm!

Thanks for reading - the picture below is of 2 of the boys over on Verralls (Fox and Snips) looking lovely in the snow!

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

A sprinkling of snow

Well, there maybe wasn't even a sprinkling of snow, but there was definitely a bit of snow that fell today! After wrapping up warm this morning, I headed out to Bakers to turn on the water at the abstraction point - there are 7 water abstraction points over the fen, and each one has a separate license to say how much water we are allocated to extract. Mainly this is abstracted during the winter months, up until March, although there is a daily allowance for livestock (though often this isn't needed as the ditches on Wicken Fen provide enough water year-round). The abstraction point onto Bakers links to Monk's Lode, taking water directly from there and pumping through, helping keep wetland ecosystems going on the fen!

I then checked on the collared animals, so the 2 horses and the 2 cows. All 4 seem to be doing absolutely fine with them and so far, there hasn't been any sign at all that it's bothering any of them. The data software hasn't completely been set up yet, but when it is, the positions of all the collared animals can hopefully be linked to google maps or some other map, so we can clearly see where the radio-collared animals (and their herds) are. I think the collars send signals every hour, so it's a pretty frequent location that we will be able to observe. When I was with the breeding konik herd, I managed to get a picture of most of the foals from the main harem - they're so cute!

Later on I headed out to Harrisons to check on the bulls and also to do another data collection session (though not much happened today...). At the end of last week, Edmund got into another fight and I found him on Friday with quite a few new cuts on his flank and between his legs. I'm not sure who he had been fighting as none of the other bulls seemed to be injured at all, so I think whoever he was fighting, Edmund came off worse than them. His cuts are healing well though and he isn't limping - just keeping a bit of distance from the rest of the herd. For the past couple of days, he's been found near Ewan, who used to be the dominant bull, so it is possible that the hierarchy is changing again and Edmund is gradually being pushed to the edge of the group. It's difficult to tell for sure at the moment though. As I said, in my data collection session didn't really witness much aggressive behaviour, though yesterday I did a session and lots went on which was great! Two of the bulls got into a small fight, and it was interesting to see the behaviours that preceded it. It was a bit of a rush writing all the behaviours down when everyone kicked off at once, but I think over time I'll get more used to it and it'll be easier.

Thanks for reading!

Friday, 27 January 2012

Post-vet Activities...

So yesterday was the long-expected vet day, and thankfully it all went smoothly! In the morning, a few of us did the preparation before the vet arrived, which included getting a load of vehicles down to Bakers (the cows were being dealt with first) and ensuring that the cows were all where we wanted them to be. The 2 cows that were radio-collared (Malda 1 and Bramble) were brought into the wooden corral that's on Bakers, through the strong persuasion of cattle feed...When the vet arrived, he sedated the first cow (Malda 1, the red cow pictured below!) and then the collar was quickly fitted onto her. In the picture you can see how it works, it literally fits round the neck and then is screwed on in the correct tightness, so it's comfy for the cow still. After Malda 1 was collared, it was Bramble's turn and although she was a bit more feisty, that collaring went well too. I love the picture below of her in the process - she had only a tiny bit more sedation that Malda but was a lot more out of it, and had her tongue hanging out most of the way through! I also like the red eye she has going on here!

After the cows were collared, they were kept separate from the rest of the herd for an hour or so, and soon recovered well and seemed totally not bothered by the new presence of their collars.

We then headed over to Guinea, where the horses were. The vet, Andy, managed to hand sedate the first horse (Oriola) but had to blow-dart the second one (Nanja) which you can see in the picture below. The sedation in that worked pretty fast, though she kept on being herded by one of the stallions which didn't really help as running around slows down the effect of the sedative. Though eventually she was sedated enough, and the two horses were corraled up and collared. In the bottom picture, you can see how Carol had some attempted 'help' from one of the foals whilst she was trying to collar one of them! Lots of the horses were curious about what was going on, and soon headed over to have a nosy at why two of their girls were being paid so much attention to!

After all the collaring, Andy and Carol went around to the bulls and the koniks on Verralls, to carry out the annual health check. Basically, the vet does a general check on each individual, to keep track of their condition and health. Thankfully everything and everyone seemed to be absolutely fine and he was happy that the animals are all in good health.

At the last bit of the day, a few of us cycled out to double check that Nanja, Oriola, Bramble and Malda were all fine, which they were. We checked them again this morning, and none of them seem to be even slightly bothered by their new collars. Hopefully this will continue and the radio-tracking of the herds can now begin! A good brew was needed at the end of the day by all, but it was really good that it all went so smoothly.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Pre-vet Activites

Tomorrow the vet is coming for the day, and so preparations were made so that there isn't loads to sort out tomorrow morning. There are 4 radio-collars that are being put on animals (2 horses from the breeding group, and 2 cows), and to do this we will need to corral the cows into a crush and sedate the horses. So all in all, tomorrow will be quite a hectic day, but hopefully it will go smoothly! The idea of the radio-collars is that it will help us keep track of the animals, and will give us more information about where they spend their time. The software has taken quite a while to be sorted out, and trial runs have been made with me (and various others!) trudging around the fen with a collar around my neck or hanging off the RTV! So it seems to be working, and now the time has arrived for them to be placed on the animals - they're pretty hardy collars as they're going to have to cope with being bashed around quite a bit, although the animals will quickly get used to having them on - they shouldn't be a hassle to them.

Apart from preparing stuff for tomorrow, I carried out the monthly condition checks on Verralls ponies and the bulls. Although conditions have been dropping off due to the winter weather, none of them are in bad condition really - the female konik, Nadia, on Verralls is looking rather skinny, but she carries a lot of her weight on her belly, so it can be difficult to tell her actual conditions, but we keep an eye on her just to make sure she doesn't get too thin. The foal on Verralls, George, is so lovely!

Out with the bulls on Harrisons, we are monitoring Billy for a swelling that he has on his flank. It's probably resulted from a fight that he's got into, and doesn't seem to be bothering him, so over the next few weeks it should go down, but at the moment it's about the size of a football! Things were very quiet over there today though, which made condition checks easier, but when I did a data collection session for my project, it meant there wasn't any aggressive behaviour to record at all!.. Oh well, nothing is a result I suppose! During lunch, I was watched by the bull pictured below (Harrison) - I think he was intrigued by what I was doing just sitting there munching away at my sandwich.

Anyway, hopefully tomorrow will go well and all the radio-collars will be put on the animals - will let you know how it all goes.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Curious Calf

Hi - hope you had a good weekend!

Today started off just a bit chilly, so I wrapped up and headed out to do the start of the week checks on all the animals. Over on Verralls, everything was fine and the scene of the ponies against a frosty background looked so nice (though forgot to take my camera with me at that point!). I headed over to the cows afterwards, who were over on Guinea and were in the middle of a rest period. Though one of them, Gale, was busy having a good scratch on the fence, which would be ok except it means that over time our fences quite regularly need fixing!.. We were out the other day tightening some of the barbed wire on the top of the fences, and as we went along, the horses followed behind and stuck their head over the fence to graze on the other side, totally ruining any progress with tightening the fence that we had made... They leave tell-tale signs on the fence when you come across patches of fur all along the barbed wire!

Everything with the cows and with the horses was fine. I did some ID work on the breeding horses as I still can't tell some of them by name yet, but hopefully soon I will!

In the afternoon, I cycled over to Harrisons to check on the bulls and also to do another data collection session for my project. The session went ok, though there wasn't that much action going on. It's definitely been helpful though and gradually I'm fine-tuning my data sheet and by the end of the week, it should all be sorted. I got some close-up pictures of the calf, Will, and one of last year's calves, Hedwig - she was so curious today and kept following me around!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Poo under the microscope

Yesterday was mainly spent collecting poo from some of the cattle and the breeding herd of horses. 12 cattle samples and 12 horse samples were collected, which took over 5 hours!..

Today the analysing of the poo was done! The main reason for the poo collection and analysis is to keep an eye on the worm count in the grazing animals. The animals here aren't wormed, but they still need to occasionally be checked. I don't think there has ever been any serious problems with them, but it's definitely worth keeping checking every month or so. The pictures below show a bit of the set up of the analysis!

First you create a kind of poo solution, and then look at it under the microscope! It's a pretty straightforward procedure, though the quantities of each 'ingredient' is really important to get right, otherwise the worm count won't actually be representative. For the koniks, you look for a type of worm egg, whereas in the cattle you look for this same worm egg and an additional worm egg and worm type.

Also today, I was able to do my second session of data collection for my project! The bulls were actually a bit more active than on Monday, which was useful for getting a bit more data. I noticed a few things again that I need to change on my data sheet, but hopefully soon I'll have the finished thing!.. There were 2 short-eared owls flying around on Harrisons and 1 came so close to me, it was great! Yesterday when we were out collecting poo, there was also a barn owl over on Guinea Hall, as well as a marsh harrier and hen harrier over on Bakers. I'm gradually learning my birds - Wicken Fen is a great place to be able to practise!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, 9 January 2012

The day the bulls were calm

Today was the first day that I collected some data from the bulls for my research project on their aggressive behaviour. It was also the day that they were all calm and totally non-aggressive! Oh well, it's all part of carrying out a project on animal behaviour... Although there wasn't any aggressive behaviour from the bulls, it was still good to get started on my project, and hopefully I'll be able to do more sessions later on in the week. At the moment, I've set my sessions to be 1 hour long, although this may alter over the next few weeks, and every Monday afternoon I should be able to do a session, and then fit in more during the rest of week depending on what else is planned.

Apart from my data session, the weekly checks needed to be done and also some fencing checks over on Harrisons. In the breeding herd of koniks, one of the stallions apparently caught their front leg in some fencing, thankfully whilst some of our lookers were there. One of the lookers managed to release the stallion's leg (so thank you to them!) and I checked him today and he seems fine and totally unfazed by the event! The Verrall's koniks and the cows are all ok at the moment, and seem to just be grazing away the winter months quite happily, without any incidents. Over with the bulls on Harrisons, things were, as I said, rather calm, although recently there has been some fights going on. The dominant bull Edmund (pictured below!) has been in a few of these by the looks

of him, and today he was again separate
from most of the herd, which would have been unusual about a month ago, but is
becoming more and more common. It's still difficult to say who's challenging him, but I'll keep watching and see what happens! Also, I managed to get really close
to the calf, Will, which rarely happens as he's still very nervy around people.
However today I think his curiosity must have just become to much and he wandered over to check out what I was doing. He looks like a big fluff ball at the moment!

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

Happy new year!

Hope that you all had a good christmas and new year. It was my first day back today after the holidays - it was VERY windy and wet! In the morning, I was doing checks on all the animals, and thankfully nothing major has happened over the holidays. Some of the lookers and volunteers did checks over the holiday period, so thank you to them! Only one of the bulls, Edmund, who is the old dominant bull has had anything wrong with him. There are a number of cuts on his sides where he has obviously been fighting with some of the other bulls, though they are relatively minor and he isn't lame, but he will be monitored. I'm not sure if this means that some of the other bulls have started to challenge his dominancy or not, but it will be interesting to see if his status in the group changes.

This afternoon, I tried to keep inside due to the weather, and carried on planning my project that I'm going to carry out on the bull's aggressive behaviour. I have my data sheet ready and an ethogram, which is basically a list of behaviours that I have observed in the bulls, and will record when collecting my data. The next few weeks will be a kind of trail-run for my data collection, and I'll adjust whatever I need to, before then getting 'properly' started. Am hoping that it all works out and that I will have atleast something useful to record, though you never know when working with animals... Anyway, hopefully tomorrow I'll be able to have a trial-run with them, and I'll see what (if anything) happens...

Thanks for reading!