Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof



A couple of days ago I mentioned to somebody our temperature here had dropped to -7. His comment, “You should be able to get some work done with a bit of frost.”

Admittedly it was more pleasant checking sheep when you had the opportunity to walk across the surface of a field rather than grub about in the mud, but still, I’m not a fan of frost. We’re OK with a couple of degrees but we’ve just too much water piping running through buildings to keep lagged; especially when cattle will happily pass a boring afternoon by chewing off the lagging.

Anyway, so much for getting some work done, one of the buildings froze. If we’d had two hundred cattle drinking they’d have kept the flow running and it wouldn’t have frozen, but there were only a couple of dozen. So I just made sure they had enough water for the day because the thaw was promised.
And sure enough the thaw came, and with it the burst pipe. Now a lot of our water piping is alkethene with push fit connectors or the chunky ones you can tighten by hand without faffing about with pipe-dogs. But some of it is still old fashioned galvanised. And guess which joint burst? Yes, the one where the stop tap was connected to a length of galvanised. Not only that but it was the joint at the bottom of the stop tap that went, so the stop tap was as much use as a spare bride at a wedding.

So it’s a case of switching it off at the mains and because there was a water heater involved I got somebody in from our local agricultural engineers. Together we looked at the system. The galvanised pipe installed in the mid sixties was looking rough. The problem was that we couldn’t reach it without moving the water heater and that is bigger than me, fastened to the wall and both plumbed in and wired in. So we slung a pipe in to bypass it and we’ll have a rethink in spring. For now the water was running again.

And somebody said, ‘Now I suppose the pipe will be airlocked and you’ll have all sorts of problems bleeding it through.

That’s when I said “Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.” Everybody had water ‘now.’ Of course this morning there were problems. I couldn’t have fixed them yesterday because they hadn’t happened. The problem was that there was no water going into the header tank. (Note the photograph.)
Now I was pretty sure what the cause of this was. If you’ve ever had to work with an old fashioned ball-cock (the best sort, they’re rugged, brass and last for decades) you’ll know that inside them there’s a valve nozzle at the end you screw into the water supply. These narrow the water supply down to a jet to work the ball-cock. However what you find is that when the water pipes freeze, all sorts of crap flakes off the inside of the pipes, and it can make its way down the pipe and block the valve nozzle.

So buggerlugs here had to fix it. The first rule of header tanks is that they’re as high up as possible. If there’s plenty of room above one for you to work in, the plumber’s not been doing his job properly. So it’s a case of tie a ladder to the beam and go up and have a look.

The second rule of header tanks is that it’s always dark up there. The third rule of header tanks is that is at this point you discover your torch has finally given up the ghost.

So equipped with a rejuvenated torch, perched on the ladder, I finally got the ball-cock valve taken off, (luckily there was a stop tap conveniently placed, we must have been thinking when it was put in) and I took it into the kitchen where my fingers could warm up enough to feel anything, and I had a pair of reading glasses so I could see what was going on. To be fair there is room to work on this tank. We had one where everything was so tight that when a galvanised pipe leading to the ball-cock developed a split in it, there was no way I could get in with stilsons to do anything about it. I ended up giving the pipe a coating of weld across the split to stop it leaking. Anybody who says you cannot weld galvanised pipe with water still running through it has never been desperate enough.

Anyway back to the job and ten minutes later everything is assembled and we’re cooking with gas.

And an hour later I had to bleed it because part of the system had got airlocked.

Who knows, tomorrow I might have to go back and bleed another bit, but at the moment everything’s got enough water.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”


Oh and if you’re looking for something to read, whether on a kindle, or on a phone or tablet with a kindle app, how about


Another collection of anecdotes drawn from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England. As usual Border Collies, Cattle and Sheep get fair coverage, but it’s mixed with family history and the joys of living along a single track road.


It’s colder now than it was when it was cold!


The temperature is rising. When I looked sheep this morning it was at least -5 centigrade and now it’s probably about plus four centigrade. Yet frankly it feels far colder.

I blame the fact that whereas before everything was dry, with the thaw stuff has got wet and suddenly your hands are wet and cold.

On the positive side, the sheep seem to have been happy enough the last few days. As you can see from the photo we didn’t have snow, just a very sharp frost. It’s Black Combe in the background and you can see how that has caught a dusting of snow.

Sheep are happy enough. Dry cold combined with grass to graze and the occasional molasses bucket to have a nibble from suits them well enough. Admittedly the field this lot is on was bare enough and they were moved to somewhere with a bit more grass later that morning.

Sheep cope with the outside world pretty well, the thick fleece handles the cold nicely and if the weather is wet, well their fleece is impregnated with lanolin which keeps them dry. I’ve seen sheep shake themselves (in exactly the same way that a dog does) when it’s raining and you can see the great shower of water fly off them.

Indeed it’s when you get them inside that sheep start having problems. Put a lot of sheep into a building and they’ll huddle together a bit. This will generate a lot of warmth (which is not a bad thing) but because of the water trapped on their fleeces it’ll be a damp warmth. So suddenly you’ve got a lot of sheep who have crowded themselves together in a warm fug, and they’ll start going down with pneumonia very quickly.

Cattle aren’t so ostentatiously well provided for cold weather, but even they aren’t too bothered. So long as they have somewhere out of the wind and plenty to eat, they’ll get by. The problem with cattle is that they’re bigger and heavier and in our winters, tend to leave the ground a muddy mess when it gets wet. Even then, we’ve had cattle do well on a large field with good dykes to keep the wind off. They had two ring feeders kept full of silage so they had plenty to eat and there was always somewhere for them to lay down out of the weather. We were going to plough that field in spring anyway.

But it doesn’t look pretty. Also cattle are perfectly capable of growing a hairy coat under those conditions, so when you do fetch them home to do anything with them they can look distinctly shaggy.

One of the joys of cold weather is how quiet things get. We’ve seen nobody the last few days, save for two metal detectorists. They came properly prepared; not only were they dressed for the weather, but they even fetched one of those fishing shelters which they erected in the corner of the field and stacked a few flasks of hot soup and hot coffee so they could retire to it and thaw out occasionally. They came in useful when we moved the sheep. Even a metal detectorist can stand in a lane end and stop sheep going down it when you’re running them along the road.

Actually at the moment keeping the sheep happy and well fed is important. They should all be in the early stages of pregnancy at the moment. If a sheep’s metabolism decides this is a really tough time, the system can quietly reabsorb one or more embryos to ensure that Mum makes it through the winter alive. The other issue is that grass stops growing at all when the ground temperature drops below 4 degrees Centigrade. So soon the grass will run out and I’ll be back to carrying how hay and silage to them, because we’re now entering one of the more important parts of lambing; which is keeping the lambs alive before they’re born.

At the moment it’s obvious that the sheep do have enough grass in front of them for them to feel happy about it. There are a couple of signs that they think they’re running out. The first is that the older ones who remember last winter start coming up to you in spite of the presence of a dog and follow you about bleating a lot. The second sign is that sheep can start burrowing into the hedges to look for younger shoots. This presents two problems. The first is that they can end up burrowing right through and out the other side. The second problem is that is you have a lot of briars then burrowing sheep can get themselves nicely entangled. I’ve even seen sheep who somehow have got themselves so entangled their feet aren’t really touching the ground any more. Under these circumstances sheep can decide that they’re doomed and just give up. So somebody has to come along and cut them out. Sal seems to have taken on her own shoulders the task of releasing trapped sheep. It’s amazing how trapped sheep that have obviously been there for twenty-four hours, convincing themselves that they’re stuck, see Sal hurtling towards them and ‘with one bound, they’re free.’ Wonderful stuff, adrenalin.


But anyway it suddenly occurred to me I could do you a favour. You know the Christmas presents you forget to buy or haven’t got round to sending. Well it just so happens I’ve got four books available in paperback
















Don’t panic, Amazon will even wrap them and send them direct.

Never quite a passive observer


Back when I was between O levels and A levels (probably around ’71 or ’72) we were encouraged to borrow books out of the libraries of the various science labs at the Grammar school to read over the holiday. I borrowed two from the physics lab.

One was slim and seriously cutting edge. What had attracted my attention was the scanning electron microscope photos of various metal crystals. They were seriously fascinating and bizarre. The other was a more general textbook. I’m not sure why I picked it up but I did. When I dutifully sat down to read it there was a whole heap of boring stuff about mechanics and simple machines and suchlike. I confess to skipping them, except for the illustrations which were of a quality we’ll never see the like of again. The book must have been nearly a century old.

Then I came to the section on ‘The Aether’. For those of you who missed out on this stage of your education “In the late 19th century, physicists postulated that aether permeated all throughout space, providing a medium through which light could travel in a vacuum.”

To be fair, it’s not a bad guess, and it was only with the Michelson–Morley experiment in 1887 that they decided that as theories went, this one wasn’t going to cut it. So scientists went off and invented special relativity instead.

But given that even passive observation of quantum phenomena can actually change the measured result, perhaps if we reran Michelson–Morley with a different observer we’d get the aether back? At least the maths would be simpler.

OK so why exactly am I waffling on about this?
Well it just so happens that last week I was hit by one of those 24 hour bugs than laid me low for four days. My guess is that this time it was something like norovirus. I might even find out if the lab tests ever come back. The side effect of working with livestock is that I’ve had them all. I remember my late father had an attack of diahorrea and sickness and the doctor actually took a sample and sent it off to the lab. A couple of days later we got a phone call from the local Environmental health department.

Official voice, “Hello I’m phoning about a salmonella outbreak.”

“Oh, you’ll want me Dad.”

Official voice, filled with concern, “Is it possible to bring him to the phone?”

“Oh yes, but I’ll have to find him first, he’s out with the dog checking round young stock.” Of course he was, the attack was history, he just wanted to be out an about.

Official voice…………….

Official voice, rallying gallantly, “But about the salmonella….”

“Yes, we have livestock kept under natural conditions. They eat the grass that the seagulls defecate on. “

At about that point the official voice rang off and we heard no more about it.

Mind you, whilst I say I was laid low for the last four days, I was still going out, feeding, mucking out and bedding round the few cattle that we have at the moment. It’s easy than when we were milking. I can remember a number of times having a rotten night with one of these 24hr bugs, getting up at the usual time, going out to milk because it had to be done and there was nobody else to do it. It’s a bad sign when you have to lie down on the floor of the milking parlour between putting the clusters on and taking the clusters off because frankly you’re just too knackered to remain standing up.

As an aside, the knowledge that you’ll be the one milking next morning can induce extreme moderation when somebody suggests you have a couple more drinks. My Dad used to tell of cowmen who’d had too good a Saturday night, being found during Sunday morning milking, sitting on their three legged stool, pressed against the flank of the cow, fast asleep. As somebody who did the morning milking on thirty consecutive New Year’s Days, I think I’ve only ever bothered seeing in the New Year twice and once was by accident.

But anyway this morning I was looking sheep as the hail started. I did what I always do, pulled my cap on more firmly and kept going because there wasn’t really any other option. I was on my way back home anyway.
Sal on the other hand was less than impressed. Have you seen those people who pull their coat collar up over their head and run for shelter? Sal somehow managed to give the impression of a Border Collie doing that. It was only my laugher echoing down the lane behind her that embarrassed her into staying with me.


But anyway it suddenly occurred to me I could do you a favour. You know the Christmas presents you forget to buy or haven’t got round to sending. Well it just so happens I’ve got four books available in paperback


Don’t panic, Amazon will even wrap them and send them direct.



wintered herdwicks

This is a fancy technical term for spending your life chasing after sheep, (or in extreme cases, goats.)

Actually people forget that livestock have always moved about a lot. This isn’t just some modern development. If you read about Rob Roy and the 17th century Highlands, an important part of society was the Yorkshire cattle dealer who would buy this year’s crop of hill cattle and have them driven south to fatten in the Vale of York.

In Cumbria we’ve got something similar, in that young Herdwick females (hoggs, female sheep who’re not old enough to put to the tup) spend their first winter in the lowlands, whether around the perimeter of Cumbria or even further away.

Now they just get loaded into a trailer and driven there but I can remember being told that in the 1940s and 1950s my Grandfather occasionally took wintering sheep from a relative who farmed up the other side of Coniston. Back then, two men plus dogs walked the sheep south along the roads. It took them two days to walk south with the sheep, stopping the night at a farm of another relative. It’s about twenty five miles and there’s a limit to how fast you want to walk sheep. When they got here with the sheep, they’d spend the night here, and next day they’d walk back to Coniston again in one day. Men walk faster than sheep.

During the Foot and Mouth epidemic, there was a danger that the Herdwick breed might be wiped out by the Blair government and bureaucratic over-reaction to combating the disease. At one point it was feared that the lowland dairy farmers who were temporary custodians of the next breeding generation of the breed would just surrender them to a slaughter scheme. The thinking was that once grass started growing the hoggs normally head back for the hills. Dairy farms need the grass for their own livestock. Whilst it’s fine to have a few sheep about in winter cleaning up the remains of last year’s grass, having the woolly maggots eating grass that was grown for dairy cows can be a very expensive hobby.

In reality, rather that cutting their losses and just dumping the hoggs into the government’s slaughter scheme I know a lot of dairy farmers who worked with the owner of the hoggs, doing their damnedest to keep them alive and out of the claws of Defra.

So those supermarket buyers who are trying to drive prices down for animals which have spent their lives on more than one farm are in danger of undermining traditional practices of considerable antiquity.

Still, people abusing animal welfare regulation for their own purposes is nothing new. The latest example was the fuss over animal sentience and us leaving the EU. The hypocrisy was mind-blowing. I know people who have been attacking the EU for over a generation because it insisted we have live animal exports as part of the free movement of goods, open market etc. Suddenly they were conned by a lot of people who were looking for an excuse to attack Brexit/Wicked Tory scum (delete as the whim takes you) into claiming that the livestock shipping, bull fighting, puppy exporting EU was the only true guardian of animal welfare.

Animals in the UK have comprehensive protection under several acts. The 2006 Animal Welfare act makes it an offence to cause unnecessary suffering to any animal.

‘Animal’ is defined in Section 1 to include all (non-human) vertebrates and may be extended by regulation to include invertebrates on the basis of scientific evidence that “animals of the kind concerned are capable of experiencing pain or suffering”. While the legislation does not specifically mention the word ‘sentient’, the Explanatory Notes for Section 1 mention that the Act applies to vertebrate animals as they are “currently the only demonstrably sentient animals”.

There’s a useful pdf that sums it up, produced by the House of Commons Library.



There again I was giving a chap a hand unloading some Swaledale hoggs onto their winter pasture. He has other jobs, and the world doesn’t really think of him as a farmer.

I asked him about movement licences and similar and he shrugged.

“I got a thick envelope from Defra the other day but I’ve not got round doing anything about it yet.”
I just nodded wisely. “I see you’re getting the hang of this farming business.”



as an aside, I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.


They’re available on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.


It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


yours for 99p


You know what! It wasn’t a good trip home. The day itself was fine. I was there at Sledge-Lit 3, the Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention hosted by the indefatigable Alex Davis. (An all round nice guy and really good convention organiser.)

The day drew to a close, I loaded the unsold books, my convention goody bag, display stuff etc into my rucksack. I was carrying between 35lb and 40lb, or over 16kg so I wasn’t running anywhere.

Anyway I got to Derby Station in good time, to discover my train was running late. So late I’d arrive in Sheffield too late to get the Manchester train. But help was at hand, there was another Sheffield train coming through ten minutes earlier so I got on that. It was the 18:15, it had come from Birmingham and was packed. Absolutely heaving, so I sat on the seat with my baggage on my lap (because everything was full) and just waited for my legs to go totally numb.

But we got to Sheffield in good time, and I got on the right platform for the Manchester train. This is where the problems started. All the bits of trouble earlier in the day, whether due to cracked rails or bad weather, were beginning to multiply. Instead of leaving at 19:11, my train was stuck in the queue and left about ten minutes late. Well I did have perhaps a quarter of an hour to change trains at Manchester, so I had a little time in hand. We were OK until somebody got stuck on the Stockport Viaduct and we sit in Stockport waiting for something to happen.

Eventually it did and I arrived in Manchester Piccadilly after the last Barrow train had theoretically left. That being said it’s a train that can start late, so I lumbered (rather than sprinted) to Platform 14. If you don’t know Manchester Piccadilly, platforms 13 and 14 are almost a separate station.

I made it to platform 14, the train had gone on time, before I ever got to the station. So I went to find Northern, who had taken the money to get me home. Their chap at Piccadilly looked at the timetables, told me to get the Preston train, and the staff there would make sure I was home.

So we had a happy half hour plus, sitting in the waiting room on Platform 14. The drunks weren’t too drunk and they were courteous. A young lady with a phone was providing timetable updates for everybody there. (I think she was some sort of Paramedic at work but am probably mistaken), and the father of a small family of ‘sub-continent extraction’ had a great sense of humour and fun and we hit it off immediately. So yes, none of us really wanted to be there, but do you know what? It was OK and we all got on happily enough so by about 10pm when we finally got the Preston train, it was more like people going on some sort of outing together.

The photograph is Platforms 13 and 14, but in daylight. Actually it has more atmosphere after dark, especially when it’s been raining.

Well we got to Preston. The rail service had been replaced by a bus (this was scheduled works, I’d known about it in advance. I’d hoped to avoid it.) I asked the Northern Rail people there and they said ‘Get on the bus and it’ll be sorted at Lancaster.’

Fair enough. At Lancaster, at 11:44pm the station was shut, there was nobody about but me and a Turkish taxi driver called Ozi.

Ozi knew the system. He explained that he would take me to Barrow, give me a receipt and Northern would pay it. If I’d arrived when the station was still open, the station staff sort this and the passenger isn’t bothered for money. This is plan A, it’s happened to me before, but as there was nobody there we had to revert to plan B.

There was one problem with plan B. The taxi fare was £90, and I didn’t have £90 on me.
Ozi wasn’t bothered. He’d take me to a cash machine.

Problem number 2 is that I’ve never used one and haven’t a clue what my pin number is. I don’t bank on-line either, because no way am I going to do banking transactions on a phone with the derisory anti-virus capabilities they have.

So I went through my wallet, raided the float for the book selling, gave him £50 in notes and promised him the remaining £40 when we got home.

Ozi was fine with that, especially when I explained that home was actually a slightly shorter distance than taking me to Barrow station.

So Ozi and I set off into the night. The weather got worse but we made it. I gave him the remaining £40, shook hands with him, because he’s a nice guy and a gent, and climbed upstairs to bed at exactly 1:01am.


And guess who’ll be at Barrow Station a 9:30am on Monday? (I’ve got to drop somebody off anyway.) And I’ll have taxi receipts, tickets, photocopies of receipts and tickets and everything. Because, funnily enough, I’m going to put a claim in!


But hey, everybody was good to deal with, the midden does occasionally hit the windmill, and I got home OK. So somebody was doing something right.

You’ve been robbed!


If you produce milk there are very strict legal guidelines. One of which is that the proportion of butterfat in the milk must not fall below 3.5%. Before you throw your hands up in horror, remember an ordinary sliced loaf can be over 3.9% fat. Mind you, we bred and fed for milk quality and the milk we produced was over 4.5%. It’s better for butter and cheese production. Not only that, but frankly, it tastes so much better.
When I was sent to school and tried my first bottle of school milk I point blank refused to believe it was milk. It took them a week to get me to drink the disgusting stuff. Pasteurisation is as good for milk as it is for beer.

Trading Standards, Environmental Health and other bodies watch over milk. I remember one farmer being approached by Trading Standards. He had a milk round and the Trading Standards department had had complains from some people that he’d been watering his milk.

To be fair to Trading Standards, they didn’t go in gung ho, because the complaints were a bit unusual in their distribution. They came from one street. If the farmer had been watering his milk they’d have expected complaints scattered across his entire milk round. Not only that but when they took samples, there was no added water in the milk. So what they did was stay with him and watch him milk. Eventually they cracked the problem.

Cows are creatures of habit. They would come in to be milked and stand in the same place in the shippon. This meant that they were milked in the same order. Each cow’s milk would be collected, poured through the cooler and then go into the bottling plant.
As this was happening, another lad was putting bottles in the crate and loading the crates onto the pickup. He loaded them in the same order, and of course did his round in the same order. What this meant was that customers often got their milk not merely from the same farm, but from the same cow!

In the case of those customers who were complaining, ‘their’ cow was in early lactation, pushing out a lot of milk. But she was producing it with less fat and protein than she would do later in lactation. In legal terms, we have a cow who is producing whole milk which isn’t legally whole milk. It was nearer to semi-skimmed.

The answer that the Trading Standards people came up with was for the farmer to introduce a holding tank in the system so the milk was more mixed. There were no more complaints.

But back then, people got their milk in glass bottles. The average milk bottle could make over 22 trips, and a broken bottle is still recyclable as glass.
Now there was one minor problem, blue tits used to break through the foil top and eat the cream.

Anyway the supermarkets stepped in. They drove the price of milk down to undercut the doorstep delivery. This they did in several ways. One way was to skim off the cream. (I know I know, the major retailers have been metaphorically skimming off the cream for years but this time they did it for real.)
You see, in their eyes, there was a lot of wasted cream in the system. Whole milk only had to be 3.5% fat and people were getting it at 4.5% fat, and worse than that, they weren’t paying anything extra for it.

But if you standardise milk down to 3.5% you’ve got all that extra cream which costs you nothing because you’ll sell the standardised milk at the same price as real milk. Not only that but you can then sell the cream as well.

Also if you homogenise the milk so that the cream doesn’t rise to the top, nobody will ever notice. After all they’ll not be able to measure the missing cream if it’s not visible.

Trust me, the milk tastes pathetic, but supermarkets have been able to make money out of it; especially when they didn’t have to worry about bottles but just sold it in plastic containers that were somebody else’s problem.

Oh yes, and the blue tits? Well like all birds they cannot digest lactose, so milk is no good to them. And now with homogenised, standardised, and grossly attenuated milk, there’s nothing in the bottle for them anyway.


I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.


They’re available on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.


It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


yours for 99p


Point of Comfort


Now this is almost, but not quite, real history. By that I mean it’s what I remember of what my Dad told me, and that depends on how he remembered things.

My dad was born in Askam and at the age of fourteen went into farm service because he didn’t want to go into the Yard or down the mines. He got £13 for his first half year. In 1939 he volunteered and went into the RAF. But when he reached Preston they realised he was a farm worker and therefore in a reserved occupation. So they sent him back. Until he got married and settled down he went to the hiring fairs every half year and so worked on farms from Workington down to Morecambe. Indeed he watched the bombing of Barrow from Morecambe while he was working there.

But one comment he made was about Point of Comfort at Goadsbarrow. He remembered that during the height of the Great Depression, there used to be a lot of lads camping there. Apparently if you were unemployed and lived at home with your parents, you got a shilling a week. If you lived out, you got one shilling and sixpence. So lads would make themselves a ‘tent’ out of a bit of canvas and a few bits of wood and live there. On the days they had to go in to collect their money, they’d go home, give their mum the shilling and the clothes they were standing up in. They’d put on clean clothes, collect a bag of food and go back to where they were camping.

My father remembers them camping on the seaward side of the road. Now you can still see the Scar of stones, but back then he remembered there being grass on it. It might be that they also camped on open land further along, as you can see from the picture, with the old road being so slow, nobody bothered to fence it.

The picture, an old Sankey postcard, is taken from further north up the coast. The Scar itself is beyond the house. To find it now, it’s where Long Lane comes down to the coast from Leece.

Apparently there were a couple of other places where lads would camp. They’d play a lot of football, and with sixpence in their pocket it was even possible to think of going to the flicks on a Saturday night and getting chips on the way back.


I did put together a collection of stories. Some about now, some tales I was told about my grandfather and farming round Barrow in the war.


They’re available on kindle, but you can read them on any phone or tablet if you download the free kindle app.


It’s called, ‘And sometimes I just sits?’


yours for 99p