Little one at large


When you go into a lambing shed first thing in the morning you never really know what you’re going to find. On some mornings I’ve made my way from one end of the shed to the other and back, to discover absolutely nothing has happened. On other occasions you’ll find that the adoring mum and adorable offspring are the first thing you see as you open the door.

This morning was a fine example of just what you can find. From the door I could see that at least one had lambed. She was a mule ewe who’d had triplets. One had been born dead but the other two were both up on their feet and looked well. So I picked up the lambs and walked backwards towards the individual pens. She is a good mother, she followed me closely and when I put the lambs in the pen she followed without hesitation. I shut the gate, now she wasn’t going to have anybody hassling her, trying to steal her lambs.

By this time I’d noticed there was another ewe had lambed so I went up to collect her. She had two, but frankly they weren’t really a set. Still she had been scanned to have twins so I collected her lambs and led her to a pen.

By this time I’d heard bleating from further up the shed. So I went back to the far end and there was a black faced Suffolk ewe with a single lamb. There was an issue here in that the lamb she had looked awfully like one of the lambs the second ewe had. It did look as if the two ewes had managed to swap lambs somewhere along the line.

Anyway the Suffolk wouldn’t follow her lamb, so I put the lamb in the pen and manoeuvred the ewe until finally it saw the lamb and went into the pen to join it. I looked round, found nothing else, and so I dipped the navels of the five lambs with iodine (to stop infection getting in) and gave them a squirt of ‘Scour Halt’ into their mouths. This protects them from bacterial neonatal disease, sometimes known as ‘watery mouth.’ Basically at that age they’re programmed to suck anything. So when they go under the ewe to suckle, firstly her teats aren’t as clean as they might be, and anyway the lamb might try sucking on a piece of wool. So this procedure saves a lot of little lives.

Anyway a couple of hours later I would feed the ewes who hadn’t lambed. This involves putting feed into troughs into the yard and then letting the ewes out of the lambing shed. When you do this you have to keep well out of the road or they’ll treat you underfoot.

But as I was filling my bucket with feed to put in the troughs it was obvious that I could hear a lamb bleating from the lambing shed. Not only that but the bleating was coming from the opposite end of the shed to the individual pens holding the ewes and lambs. So had somebody else lambed?
Anyway I decided that before I opened the gate to let the ewes out I’d walk through the ewes just to check what was happening. Otherwise the ewe who’d just lambed could be carried out in the stampede and her lamb might even get trodden underfoot.

Eventually I found where the bleating was coming from. A new born lamb had managed to creep behind the water trough and of course now it was cold and hungry and wanted mum.

So I rescued the lamb and gave it to the black faced Suffolk who only had one and who had lambed in that general area. She seemed perfectly happy to see it. But now we have two ewes who seem to have produced four lambs between them and then each picked the two they liked best without worrying about whose they actually were. Still if they’re happy then they can keep them.

Of course our wandering friend did look a bit chilled so he’s in the warming box.

This is a cut-off plastic silage additive drum (well washed out and it’s done this job for a number of years.) There’s an ordinary light bulb shining down to provide warmth. Also you’ll see there’s a fan heater there as well in case you need more heat. The metal thing to the left with a white plastic jacket is an old milk pump motor which is still there from when we milked back in the 1990s. As you can see the young fellow is up on his feet and seems none the worse for his adventures.


Going home


Well the wintering Swaledales have gone home. I’ve borrowed an appropriate photo of sheep belonging to somebody else. It’s suitably scenic. The hoggs that were with us had to leave because in the next week the field they’ve been in over winter will hopefully be ploughed for potatoes. It’s very much a tale of two Cumbrias at the moment.

The pickup and trailer that came to collect them had snow on it. The snow was melting and leaving pools of water under the vehicles. Here our snow is limited to an ‘icing sugar effect’ which disappeared by coffee time. There are times when people contact me and ask how we’re doing because they’ve heard that villages in Cumbria are cut off. The last time that happened the village that was cut off was still in Cumbria but was ninety miles away from us and well over a thousand feet up. Here our spot height is less than a hundred feet and we’ve got the sea on three sides.

Still one advantage of this diversity in the county is that it allows young female hill sheep can migrate downhill onto lowland farms. This has advantages for everybody. The sheep eat up the last of the previous year’s grass, which means your next year’s silage is better than it would be, because it’s all young grass when you mow it.
From the point of view of the sheep farmer, if his hoggs stayed at home, there’s not a lot of anything to feed them. So they’d have to get a lot of bought in feed which is expensive. So with wintering them away they come back bigger and fitter than they would have done if you’d tried to keep them at home, and ideally what you pay for wintering is less that what you’d pay to feed them at home.

As it is, the wintered sheep don’t have to get used to a new diet, they can continue just doing what they do best, which is eating grass. So when they get home and go back out onto your grass they don’t have a period of readjustment. They can just get on with eating and growing.

Back here, ewes are still lambing. They don’t appear to be in any rush, and for some reason a large proportion seem to decide that late afternoon is the perfect time. The strange thing is that whilst they have a lot of yard to wander about on and silage feeders to graze from, they also have the lambing shed left open so they can go in there where it’s warm. Some of them do. I suspect that once they’ve had a feed of silage they like to go somewhere snug to digest it. But do the ewes who’re lambing in the afternoon go into the lambing shed where it’s snug and out of the wind? Of course not, that would be too easy. So they’ll lamb outside where we’ve got to move fast before the lamb gets chilled.

At the moment we’ve got a mixture of singles, twins and triplets lambing. A ewe can only really feed two lambs, because they only have two teats. So ideally a carrying a single lamb and a ewe carrying triplets lamb at the same time on the same day and you can pinch one of the triplets off its mum when she’s not looking and give it to the mum with the single.

If they’re both lambing at the same time and you’ve got amniotic fluid all over everything, you can often get away with it. But if the lamb being added onto the single is dry, having been born yesterday, it’s a lot more hit and miss. If you’re fast enough and get there with the lamb in time to soak it in amniotic fluid from its new mum, and even drape a bit of afterbirth artistically over it so she gets to lick it clean again, then you’re in with a chance. This is called ‘wet fostering’ and you can see why. When it works it’s great because it’s comparatively quick and easy.

But if the ewe remains suspicious then you have to take more time over them. First stage can be just putting a halter on the ewe, with one end tied to the gate of her pen. This way she can shift about, her movement isn’t restricted much, but she cannot chase the new lamb away or attack it. After a few days the new lamb will smell of her and she’ll accept it anyway.

Or alternatively if the halter isn’t working you have to put the ewe in the ‘stocks’. Here she can stand up and sit down without problems. But she cannot see her lambs so she doesn’t know which lamb is suckling her, so she cannot attack the ‘wrong one’. This means that both lambs can feed safely and after a couple of days (or longer with particularly obdurate ewes) the lamb smells of new mum and she’s happy to accept it and they can go out into the wide world and play happy families together.

Anyway back to the wintering hoggs. It’s always good when fell sheep like these go home. The problem with them is that they have no real concept of hedges and fences. Herdwicks are the worst, they just escape. We were lucky these little Swaledales didn’t actually get out on us. I did have to nip in three or four times to fix gaps in the wire they’d found, but that was the limit to it. We wintered Herdwicks one year. Before Christmas they were fine. We had no problems. After New Year I don’t think any of them bothered staying in the correct field for a whole afternoon! As I said, we only wintered Herdwicks once.



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 )

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


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.