Taking life as you find it.


There was once a shepherd who dropped his Bible while he was mending a gap in a hedge. A couple of days later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!”

“Not really,” said the sheep. “Your name is written inside the cover.”


It has to be confessed that my experience of sheep is that their level of literacy is so low they struggle to read the writing on the wall.

On the other hand, it’s interesting watching sheep as they go through the year. If you see them in September, they don’t really want anything to do you with you. There’s plenty of grass, you’re a damned nuisance and the dog is a menace.

As November creeps in, the ewes start pricking up their ears as the quad approaches, and if they see you with a bag or a bucket they will follow, cautiously and speculatively.

Oh yes and the dog is still a menace.

By the time we get to Christmas, the minute you fire up the quad, every sheep within earshot starts bleating and they run after you to be first to the feed you’re putting down.

The dog is no longer a menace, merely a speed bump if she gets between the ewes and the feed.

Then we have lambing. Appear in a field with a bag, bucket or quad and you will be mobbed. Sheep are at their most domesticated, you might even think that they regarded humanity as a good and useful thing.

But the dog is a menace, only now “she’s a menace that will have to be dealt with firmly if she comes any closer to my lambs.” Sal tends to watch from a distance when I’m feeding ewes and lambs, on the grounds that it’s easier on her nerves.

Then as spring drifts into summer and feed is slowly cut back, the sheep revert to apathy and by September, you’re back to being a damned nuisance again.

Lambs on the other hand don’t have the memories to dwell on; they’re more creatures of the immediate present. But even they slowly acquire experience. The two lambs born in early January, (photo here https://jandbvwebster.wordpress.com/2018/01/07/and-so-it-begins/ )

were kept inside with their mum far longer than usual, mainly because the weather was so miserable and wet. Finally there was some reasonable weather and they and mum were put outside.

Then we had the beast from the east nonsense. We had Siberian winds for a week and it was colder than charity. The two young lambs, with a good mum, full tummies and wearing beautiful lamb’s wool onesies were happy as Larry. We had no real snow to worry about and they were just fine with sub-zero temperatures and biting winds.

Anyway now that other ewes are lambing, these two lambs and their mum have been brought back to join the others. (You can see the two bigger lambs with their backs to the camera next to ewe with a 5 on her.)
The young lambs were put out on Sunday, because it was a nice afternoon. Monday on the other hand was miserable. In the field were the ewes and lambs are living at the moment there is a calf creep feeder. Think of it as a ‘shed’ with a low roof so a calf can go inside and eat cake, but mum cannot follow. One of the ewes and her lambs were sitting under the roof watching the rain. Finally the ewe decides the rain had slackened and she was hungry so she sets off across the field to graze. One lamb followed her. The other waited, realised it was being abandoned, dashed out into the rain, shuddered, dashed back inside again, and stood there in an agony of indecision until it finally plucked up the courage to run out and join mum.

At the same time, I saw one of our two January born lambs sprawled out on the grass, basking in the warmth of the rain; when you’ve seen the beast from the east, a bit of drizzle isn’t worth bothering about.



A big breakfast


The ewes seem to have admitted to themselves that it’s lambing and they ought to get on with it. We had three lamb last night. They’re together inside the one building and sheep seem to be happy with that.

Cattle are different, they wander off on their own to give birth, but sheep seem perfectly happy to lamb in the middle of a huddle of other ewes. Of course this leads to the nightmare of miss-mothering where you find one ewe has pinched another ewe’s lambs, whilst abandoning her own to somebody else.

I go through them last thing at night, just to check nobody is having trouble. If somebody has lambed I’ll put her and her lambs in the side pens so they aren’t hassled. It’s interesting walking through the ewes. Some will just stand there and watch you. Some will step to one side and let you past. Some will actually push through the rest of their mates to keep away from you. Then you’ll get one who wanders up to you, sniffs you and then wanders off again to find something more interesting to look at. Finally there’s always one or two who you have to step over because they’re sitting comfortably and see no reason to move.
We’ve also started to turn ewes and their young lambs out. Some of them have been born well over a week, but the weather hasn’t been fit for them. But now we’ll have turned out over a dozen ewes and their offspring and the lambs are rapidly finding their feet and are trying to keep up with mum. At this stage you will get sheep who struggle with big numbers, as long as they’ve got one lamb with them, they cannot cope with the concept that there might be a second. So you’ve just got to keep an eye on them to make sure there isn’t a lamb wandering about on its own, bleating pathetically.

First thing in the morning, I’ll once more go through the lambing shed, and if anybody has lambed, I’ll whisk them and their lambs into the pens at the side of the shed where nobody is going to steal their lambs and the lambs have a chance to feed. Then later I’ll put feed in the troughs outside and let the ewes out of the shed so they can spend the day in the yard where they’ve more room to wander about. As the ewes pour out of the shed, Sal is desperately trying to squeeze past them, intent of seeing if the honest Border Collie’s treat is there for her. Who needs dog treats when you can get fresh afterbirth? Or if you’re a Border Collie, almost fresh afterbirth.

And that job done it’s off on the quad to check that various other sheep are OK and haven’t got themselves entangled in anything. Also there’s a group of tups who need a little feed to help build them up again. So I set off, and at one point glance over my shoulder, to discover Sal isn’t following. I get to the top of the hill and feed the tups; Sal still hasn’t appeared. So I open the gate to go in and look at the store lambs, and then I blow the horn on the quad.

Now when we’re moving sheep, blowing the horn on the quad tells them that we are actually moving them, not just driving about checking them. Now Sal knows this. So if somebody else blows the horn on their quad, she immediately sets off at speed to help out! So having blown the horn on the quad I assumed I’d see Sal moving at speed towards me.

Five minutes later Sal appears. Just in time for me to drive home again! But still she enjoys racing the quad. Not this morning she didn’t, she trotted behind it wearing the expression of somebody who has eaten a far too large ‘all day breakfast’ only to discover that they’re supposed to go for a run, when really all they want to do is sit and belch quietly somewhere.

Has Spring Sprung?


Well somebody seems to think so. At 7am yesterday morning I did my usual wander round the lambing shed to see if anything had happened. As I came out of the shed three big skeins of geese flew overhead, heading north. Obviously somebody has decided that time is pressing and the north is calling them.

On the other hand the ewes have sat there perfectly happily and have done nothing for the last twenty-four hours. It’s mild and even a little damp; you’d have thought that this would have prodded them into action.


Last blog post I mentioned a Sunday school trip, and talking to somebody later they asked if I remembered the trip we did to Manchester Opera House. Honestly after all these years I don’t remember whether is was Sunday school or Mother’s Union or whatever. Different labels, same community.

Thanks to the miracle that is google I’ve managed to find when it was. To quote, “Mary Hopkin appeared at The Opera House Manchester 1971 in “Cinderella” for Mills & Delfont. This pantomime starred Mary Hopkin with Arthur Askey and Lonnie Donegan. The young man playing Dandini on £55 a week was David Essex!

I confess that I remember it mainly because as a child I got to see the great Arthur Askey. There again, it appears that I saw David Essex live as well. But I wonder how many of the names anybody remembers?
But what I do remember about that trip is the Opera House. We were up in the gods! Seriously on the fourth flight of stairs we left the Sherpas behind, making our own way and carrying oxygen. If we’d been any higher we’d have been sitting outside on the roof.

Somewhere down there, an apparently infinite distance away, was the stage. To be fair, it was no worse than watching it on telly because back then tellies weren’t so damned big either. But then the ladies got into action and managed to get opera glasses for all the children. Back then ‘your’ opera glasses were clipped to the back of the seat in front of you. So they ransacked the place and found enough.

And what do I remember of the show? Not a lot to be honest. At one point they threw sweets to children in the crowd. To reach us they’d have had to use artillery. Also something happened down there because Arthur Askey dropped out of character and told part of the audience that if that happened again the show was stopping and him and the staff would have a quiet evening putting their feet up.

And Mary Hopkin sang ‘Those were the days.’ A couple of years before it had been her big Number One hit.

In case you never heard it, it’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3KEhWTnWvE


What I hadn’t realised until now was that the song is far older than Mary Hopkin. It originates with a tune composed by Boris Fomin (1900–1948) with words by the poet Konstantin Podrevsky.

When you see the words of the chorus you see a refrain that has been sung by every generation.


Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

For we were young and sure to have our way


At some point each generation must suddenly come face to face with their mortality and the knowledge that, actually, they’re not special.


Oh, and as an aside, if you go across the Tallis Steelyard blog, you’ll see I’m running a competition.

Go on, you know you’re worth it




Colder than Charity, and man, that’s cold


It’s been an interesting few days. Ewes have slowly started lambing, but they’re hard work at the moment and even when they lamb out of the wind, it’s awfully cold for a small wet lamb. Luckily today’s a lot more reasonable. Mind you it’s OK for some, once lambs get a bit of size; they can cope with the weather. These two are the ones who were born on the 7th January and are perfectly happy outside when the temperature hits four below and you’ve more wind chill than a reasonable person ever needed.

I was chatting to a mate about the old railway men. Back in the day pretty well every village or community had its produce show and there’d be prizes for pretty well every sort of vegetable. There was even one for potatoes. You had to present three (or perhaps five) perfect potatoes all the same size etc. As a lad my Dad worked for a farmer who had four or five acres of potatoes. The railway men used to drop in, dig half a row of potatoes for him, and then take away ten or a dozen perfect matching potatoes and these they’d use to make up their entries at various produce shows along the line. Apparently the farmer was at one produce show, looked at the potatoes and who had entered what and commented that this was the first time for years that his potatoes hadn’t won.

It was the same when they filled the engine up with water. One would watch the water and the other would wander off picking blackberries or mushrooms.

But they were part of the rural community, as a lad my father would be send down to the track to pick up something the driver and his mate had dropped off for the farmer.

However it’s my mate’s tale that tickled me most. Apparently his father had worked on the old Steam trains. Carnforth was about the last depot in England to run them, so I can remember them being normal. We went up to Ravenglass on one as part of our Sunday School trip up to the Lil Ratty. We caught a full sized steam train to take us to where we could travel on a 15 inch gauge steam train.

Anyway my mate’s dad was part of a crew fetching an engine and tender back to Barrow from the north. The snow got worse until finally just outside Barrow they found a drift they couldn’t get through. So they dropped out the firebox to make the engine safe and walked back. Next morning when they went with a team to clear the drift and get the engine back, they discovered there wasn’t a scrap of coal left on the train.

But around the train and heading off to the nearby estate there was a web of paths in the snow.

But back to sheep, we had rain today, and we’ve been promised more. For reasons I’ve never understood, there’s nothing like a bit of rain to get ewes lambing. There’s doubtless logic to it, but it’s a logic only a sheep would be happy with.


Making haste slowly


What you soon learn when lambing sheep is that it always starts with disaster. When you stop to think about it, this is probably inevitable, because you have a lot of sheep reaching late pregnancy together. With a dairy herd, calving tends to be far more spread out, so triumphs and disasters come at random throughout the year. But with sheep you’ll often get a rush of premature or sickly lambs at the start of lambing, and then the flock largely passes through that phase (you hope) and normality is restored.

But it does mean that early lambing can be more stressful and depressing than it really needs to be. As you get older and more experienced, you just come to expect it.

As you can see we’ve got most of the ladies in. They’ve got a bedded building to sleep in, but we put the silage in this building for them. It’s open, light and will at least mean they can mouch around in the dry if it does rain. Obviously it’s not desperately warm with an easterly wind blowing but they’ve all got their winter coats on. Also if it does get that cold they can go inside their bedded building.




Also looking across the yard and eastwards you can see that at the moment we’ve no snow, so here’s hoping it will stay like that.

Mind you, feeding the others who are still outside was fun. Riding into the wind on the quadbike was painful. I was glad that I got into the habit of wearing amber tinted safety glasses after my cataract surgery, because they at least keep the wind out of my eyes and I didn’t have to squint.

Interestingly the sheep who are still outside do seem a lot happier. Whilst it might be cold, it is at least dry and a bit of cold breeze doesn’t bother them in the slightest. In fact if you get out of the wind and keep in the sun it is actually rather pleasant.

Certainly looking out from the top of the hill where I was feeding sheep the view was stunning. It’s obvious that the Western Pennines haven’t had a lot of snow yet, and the Lake District fells don’t seem to have much more coverage than they had previously. Indeed Black Combe doesn’t have any real snow cover at all. But with the sun shining on it all the view was well worth a bit of  chill breeze.

Mixed signals



I know, I know. If I start putting pictures of flowers on the blog people will be expecting Latin names and all sorts.

Me, I’ve a stockman, or even more precisely a cowman. So looking at these flowers from a bovine perspective, they should perhaps be called, ‘piquant, with a slight peppery aftertaste’ or something similar.

But yes, all along the hedges the snowdrops are well out and the daffodils are heavy in bud and spring’s about to burst upon us.

And the Met Office is making dire predictions along the lines that ‘Winter is coming’ and by this time next week travel in the UK will be impossible for anybody who cannot hitch their huskies to a dog sled. As an aside I cannot somehow envisage Border Collies taking well to the role of a sledge dog. But if you ever have your sled pulled by sheep I know no better dog to ensure things keep moving briskly and in the right direction.

Well it’s still February and I’ve known March be grim before.

And of course, in theory, on the First of March the ewes should start lambing. As it is, everything is ready for them. All the pens are washed out, disinfected and bedded, straw is in place ready for further bedding round, and in theory everything is ready.

So every morning when I feed our expectant mothers I try to see if there’s anybody looking particularly close to lambing. To be honest this is all a bit hit and miss. I’m the one putting feed out for them; so my view of the ewes is the front end moving towards me at speed as part of a solid phalanx of other equally peckish sheep.

Now it may be possible, if you reach a certain level of shepherding, to be able to tell how far off giving birth a ewe is by the hang of her lugs or the bags under her eyes, but between ourselves I suspect it isn’t. So instead when they’re eating, I circle the group once on the quad just to see if I notice anything, and then go and tour the rest of the fields they’re in to make sure nobody has slunk off on her own to lamb in a snug corner somewhere.

But anyway, early next week we’ll fetch the ewes in and go through them. Those who look like they’ll be lambing first will stay inside then until they’ve lambed. (Especially if the weather does get bad.) Those who’re obviously furthest from lambing will go back outside. They’ve got shelter, silage and feed and they’ll be OK there unless we have the sort of snow this area hasn’t seen since 1947.

Personally I think snow looks wonderful in photographs. But between ourselves I prefer water in a liquid state.

Buying hard work in


We had a bit of a tidy up, which will doubtless be followed by a ‘throwing out session.’ That’s when we found the old hay knife. As you can see it’s effectively an electric jackhammer with a blade for cutting hay or silage.

Basically back in the late 1960s we had one silage pit which was as big as we could afford, and we put as much grass in it as we could, and that way it got our dairy herd at the time through the winter.

The problem is that we were doing ‘self feed’ silage. Cows were held back from the silage face by an electric fence and just ate their way into the heap. This works great if the face isn’t too high. If it’s too high they burrow into the clamp and it collapses on top of them.

So we had two options, not make enough silage, or throw silage down off the top to take it down to a safe height. But silage, especially back then, was long and fibrous, and just pulling at it with a fork was damned hard work. You’d end up picking up a ‘mat’ at least five foot across.

Now my father had worked with hay before bailers have been popular so was used to dealing with mowed loose hay. You used to cut it with a hay knife. Here you see the traditional hay knife.




My father was at a farm sale somewhere and saw this electrical hay knife. He bought it at the auction and brought it home. All we had to do was use it. Well he used it during the week but at weekends I’d do the silage, and given I was about thirteen at the time, to me it was a brute of a thing and a real sod to wrestle into place. Not only that but you had to be careful where you put your feet with that blade bouncing up and down. I’m not entirely sure my mother knew what I was getting up to.

But I managed, because I’m bluidy minded and stubborn like that. Then I’d get the fork, throw what I’d cut off down onto a trailer and take it round and fork it out for heifers and others to eat.

I suppose I should have hated the blasted thing because it was big, numb and dangerous. But to me it was a sight easier than doing it the old way so was almost a great leap forward.

Now obviously we could have done down the shear grab route, although I think they came in later. Eventually we did get a tractor with a fore-end loader and a shear grab.

This meant that in half an hour I could do what had taken me a fair chunk of the day. Yet this wasn’t entirely without problems. Once when using the shear grab the tractor almost stalled as the grab went into the silage but fired up and the engine kept running.

Unfortunately it was running backwards. Eventually I worked out what was happening as I sat there surrounded by a cloud of diesel vapour, on a tractor which had four forward gears and twelve reverse gears!

This was, to put it bluntly, a little disconcerting, but when I stopped the tractor and started it again, the engine started up running properly. Agricultural engineers tell me that this shouldn’t happen, me I’ve done it twice!

Ah well, it struck me that you good people might fancy rescuing me from a life of hard work and penury. If so, all you have to do is wander across to





There you will find my latest novella

Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.


All that for 99p, what more could anybody want!