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!