But we left him alone with his glory.

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There are days when whatever you intended, other stuff just sort of gets added to the agenda.

I had to go down to London. Virgin did their best, the train was swift and arrived on time and I drifted into London. It was expensive; my Kindle had just failed so I was forced to buy books!

But still, it had to be done and books were bought to ensure I had something to read, at least on the train back.

Anyway I checked in, dumped my gear and pondered the evening which was cold and windy. First stop was St Paul’s Cathedral which is just nearby. I try and catch evensong if I can and it was there I saw it. For Christmas and Epiphany the Cathedral as a virtually life sized crib scene. It has kings, mother and child, shepherds, lambs and a border collie. All I can say is that the sculptor who created it had grasped the essential nature of the Border Collie.

There are kings, the Madonna, the Son of God, and doubtless outside in the yard there are camels, donkeys and all sorts of cattle. Our Border Collie (and it can be nothing else) ignores them all and concentrates entirely on the really important issue. The sheep.

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During the service, it was announced that the Rifles were going to lay a tribute at the Memorial of Sir John Moore, Moore of Corunna. After evensong those who wanted to gathered in a side chapel and there the dean said a few words, the wreaths were laid, somebody read the poem, and six buglers played. Given that was in a side chapel, and there were, as I mentioned, six of them, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he heard it.

He was a decent man, a fine officer, a humanitarian and deserves to be remembered. He died at the Battle of Corunna, where his victory won time for the British army to be evacuated by sea.

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The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna

 

Not a drum was heard, not a funeral note,

    As his corse to the rampart we hurried;

Not a soldier discharged his farewell shot

    O’er the grave where our hero was buried.

 

We buried him darkly at dead of night,

    The sods with our bayonets turning,

By the struggling moonbeam’s misty light

    And the lantern dimly burning.

 

No useless coffin enclosed his breast,

    Not in sheet or in shroud we wound him;

But he lay like a warrior taking his rest

    With his martial cloak around him.

 

Few and short were the prayers we said,

    And we spoke not a word of sorrow;

But we steadfastly gazed on the face that was dead,

    And we bitterly thought of the morrow.

 

We thought, as we hollowed his narrow bed

    And smoothed down his lonely pillow,

That the foe and the stranger would tread o’er his head,

    And we far away on the billow!

 

Lightly they’ll talk of the spirit that’s gone,

    And o’er his cold ashes upbraid him –

But little he’ll reck, if they let him sleep on

    In the grave where a Briton has laid him.

 

But half of our heavy task was done

    When the clock struck the hour for retiring;

And we heard the distant and random gun

    That the foe was sullenly firing.

 

Slowly and sadly we laid him down,

    From the field of his fame fresh and gory;

We carved not a line, and we raised not a stone,

    But we left him alone with his glory!

 

Charles Wolfe

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 Avoiding entanglements

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Obviously it’s tough being a best selling author. After all there are only so many free lunches a chap can attend. Then with the endless free drinks, the groupies, and of course the expense account….

Sorry I was looking at the wrong list, that’s what you get for being an MP. Easy mistake to make obviously.

But anyway, I have occasionally had fame tap me on the shoulder. On one occasion I was asked whether I’d like to do my own radio show on music radio. I confess I was tempted, but only briefly. I’m not somebody who can babble inanely for long periods, (Although if tempted by suitably appropriate financial recompense I could doubtless improvise.) But really, what deterred me from ever setting my foot on that road was the fact that, frankly, I just didn’t like the music. I did listen to some of the output and I tried really hard to like it, but to be fair it was music designed by a cruel fate to be babbled over.

It’s surprising how subjective all this stuff is. After all there was one group I used to rather sneer at as the teeny bopper boy band my little sister liked. Now I have to confess I do think Dire Straits have produced some good stuff. Doubtless there’s stuff being played now which in thirty years time might be remembered. But still, that being said, playing endless Bon Jovi to elderly people in nursing homes does strike me as coming awfully close to being a cruel and unnatural punishment.

There again, given my ability to get myself caught up in declining industries, perhaps the music industry is glad I’ve given them a miss. After all, they’d hardly be keen on following down the same road as Agriculture and Freelance Journalism when it comes to paying folk a living.

Still, it has to be said that there’s nothing like a good dose of reality to help ground a chap and stop him getting ideas above his station. The last few days have been fine and the ground was almost starting to dry out a bit. Except that last night it rained. No, it didn’t just rain, it sodding well chucked it down. When I went out to feed sheep this morning the rain had slowed to a drizzle, but water was still streaming down both sides of the lanes. As for the fields, it had started getting silly again.

But Sal and I pressed boldly on, undeterred by the fact that when the quad stopped, I could here the splashing of Sal’s feet. Still at least the ewes were glad to see us. When you’re feeding ewes the best plan is to get far enough ahead of them on the quad so that you can stop, get the feed and start putting out in little heaps on the ground before the ewes catch up with you. If you manage this then you’ll probably not be trampled underfoot.
If you don’t think this can happen, there’s a video here that might surprise you.

https://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/sheep-attack-watch-moment-175-7837517

 

But anyway, as we check sheep, Sal always combs the hedges looking for those who’ve somehow got themselves entangled. With Sal bearing down on them it’s amazing how they can suddenly break free. On the other hand, we do get those who’re so entangled they cannot manage it. I included a photo of one. Left to her own devices she’ll starve.
You know the bible stories about the shepherd who lost one sheep and left the ninety-nine to find it. In all probability, this is what happened to it.

When you do find a sheep this tangled up, I’ve found the best way to untangle it is to get hold of both back legs and just pull the sheep backwards, away from the hedge. When you think about it the sheep has been hurling itself forwards for some time and that hasn’t worked.

If you pull the sheep backwards it’s as if the briars have less grip. Also you can find that the briar roots have a weaker hold on the ground than the thorns have on the sheep’s fleece.

Then when you’ve pulled the sheep free, still holding the back legs, walk it round so that it is no longer facing the hedge. Then let it go. If you let it go still facing the hedge there’s every chance that the daft beggar will accelerate straight back into the briars.

There again, a mate of mine had similar problems with women. Get him untangled from one and he’d just hurl himself straight into the next.

 

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Now for anybody who’s interested, there is a collection of tales, some of them featuring Sal, for your delectation and delight. Available for a mere 99p

The advantages and disadvantages of ladies high-heeled cowboy boots.

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Now I’ve never worn cowboy boots, with or without high heels, so I approach the whole subject with a completely open mind.

Still it strikes me, that as a public service; I ought to warn people of the risks that one can run wearing these boots. I speak of course not from personal experience but instead I shall relate, in a sober and restrained manner, what happened to a lady of my acquaintance.

The daughter of a farmer, she had got a good job working for one of the organs of the state. Thus she had a salary, a civil service job contract and of course, an index linked pension coming down the line. This latter was a distant prospect when the fateful incident happened.

The particular organ of the state that the lady worked for had to deal with farmers. Thus and so it was decided they would have a stand at one of the countries leading agricultural shows. The lady of my acquaintance was an obvious person to work on the stand.

She was pleasantly cheered by the prospect, as was her father. The family were contemplating purchasing a new tractor, and daughter, being one of the people who would be using it most, was the ideal person to discuss matters with various salesmen and other company representatives. After all, daughter might have a job, but that didn’t bar her from working for a living when she wasn’t slouching about playing at being a civil servant. In the course of a year she probably worked more hours at home than she did at work.

So the great day came and she headed into the deep south to do her bit for her employer. But of course, all the staff on the stand were given some time off during the day to look round. She made an immediate beeline for the tractor lines.

Now then, it is a self evident truth that any tractor salesman is happy to spend a little time talking to an attractive young lady. When that attractive young lady not merely knows what she is talking about but appears to be serious about purchasing a tractor, then your tractor salesman has been lifted direct to some higher heaven.

It has to be admitted that the tractor salesman could not have been more helpful. Not at all patronising, with no hint of sexism, he went through the complete specifications of the tractor she was interested in. Then he suggested she actually climb up into the cab and see how the layout worked for her. This she did, and liked the layout. So she started to climb out of the tractor cab.

It is at this point that her problems started. You climb down backwards, facing the tractor. This is easy enough, but not, apparently, when you’re wearing ladies high-heeled cowboy boots. Not to put too fine a point on it, she was stuck, and the salesman had to lift her down to the ground.

Now let nobody point a finger at the salesman. He was the perfect gentleman who gave the impression that lifting attractive young ladies was just another part of the job that he performed numerous times during the course of his working day.

Indeed his manner was so polite and decorous that had a patrol of the famed Saudi morality police been passing, they would doubtless have found nothing to disturb their equilibrium.

In fact the whole incident passed off in an entirely respectable manner. It’s just unfortunate that one of the young lady’s work colleagues happened to pass at that particular moment and captured the incident for even on her phone.

Unwilling to be seen as less of a gentleman than the tractor salesman, I shall not reproduce the photograph.

And with one bound she was free! (or ‘Have you got a dog who can raise the dead?’)

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Another day older and deeper in debt, but at least it’s not raining. Indeed it’s a good frost. The ground is hard, but the taps around the yard are still running. I can cope with this.

So the dog and I go to feed sheep. There’s some grass that needs cleaning off from a couple of fields somebody intended to make hay on last year. They got everything they needed to make hay but the weather, so hopefully the ewes will chew it off for them and tidy it up a bit. Also at least the fields are relatively dry and sheep aren’t paddling.

But anyway, after feeding two batches of ewes, I go and take a quick look at another batch. They’re not mine but we’ve somebody who’s got health issues and various neighbours are just looking after various bits of their enterprise until they’re back on their feet.

I was still on the quad, so drove into the field, and noticed one had got herself stuck in some briars. I decided to check the others, make sure they were OK, before coming back to get this one untangled. Everybody was OK, and as I drove back it occurred to me that I had a camera with me, it might not be a bad idea to get a photo of our entangled victim, just so people could see what happens.

Except Sal was on top of her game, dived over the hedge into where the sheep was, and suddenly the sheep erupted out of the tangle, running for its mates. Yep, with one bound, she was free!

Mind you that’s nothing. Yesterday, I’d just got changed for church and we got a phone-call. There’s a sheep stuck and probably dead in the hedge, apparently there was a crow landing on her. So I got unchanged, unleashed both quad and Sal and set off at speed. She might be alive but if she was trapped the crow would still take her eyes. Isn’t Nature wonderful!

Into the field, a quick look round and spot the likely suspect. She was lying prone by the hedge. With a quad bike and a Border Collie converging on her at 30mph she leapt to her feet and was off, trailing bits of wool and briar behind her. Well if she had been dead, she wasn’t now. Sal can notch up another success. She’s pretty good at wandering round hedges finding trapped sheep; she seems to regard it as her particular job.

 

Oh yes, in case you’ve forgotten you can see Sal here

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/sometimes-I-just-sits-ebook/dp/B077C89YDH/

 

Indeed for a mere 99p not only do you get a picture of her on your computer or phone, you can download the free kindle app and read a selection of stories as well. She even features in some of them.

And so it begins!

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When we were scanning between Christmas and New Year, one ewe was ostentatiously more heavily in lamb than the others. So she was brought in and pampered a bit.

Because the weather has been so wet and disgusting, one of the hoggs that was running with the ewes was starting to look sad and bedraggled as well, so she was brought in to keep our expectant mum company.

Then the handful of fat lambs left were fetched in as well. In spite of being fed outside they were just spending more time huddled under the hedge than they were spending eating, and they gave the impression they were losing weight rather than gaining it. So they were brought in for a final week or so. So our expectant lady didn’t lack for company.

Anyway, yesterday morning when I went in with the bucket to feed them, there she was, standing with her two new lambs. OK so they’re born a month before any of the others are expected to arrive, but she’ll not be the first lady to manage this sort of thing without enquiring too deeply into the plans of others.

Indeed she does rather give the lie to those who think that it’s farmers who force sheep into early lambing. Sheep won’t lamb earlier than they will lamb. We can keep the tups separate, put them out later, to ensure ewes lamb later in the season, when hopefully the weather will be better, grass will be more plentiful, and lambs cheaper to rear. The alternative is to let tups in a bit earlier, let nature take its course, and have the lambs born earlier. This means that you have to feed them more. On the other hand you might get them away at the higher prices you see earlier in the season.
However a quick look at the graph will show that whilst you might hope for decent prices early in June it’s very variable, and is it worth betting the farm on?

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But anyway, the rest of the ladies are still out at grass, we’ve started giving them some concentrate feed because now they’ve got lambs to feed and you’ve got to build up both mother and her unborn lamb. But not too much. There’s an art to feeding sheep at this time of year. You want ewe and lamb to be in good condition, but at the same time you don’t want to have the lamb grow too big or the ewe get too fat so that you end up having a difficult birth. We’ve got to get the jelly-baby through the hole in the polo mint, without damaging either the jelly-baby or the polo.

Happy New Year

Happy new year

New Year’s Eve was pretty much like what you’d expect. I got two phone calls, both to discuss sheep, and we agreed that we’d get some wintering hoggs wormed New Year’s Day morning.

The problem is that the weather so far this winter has been so wet; it’s been perfect for the snails that carry the intermediate stage of the Parasite. At the moment it’s so wet that when we go checking sheep in the morning, I can tell where Sal is by the splashing she makes as she runs about checking stuff.

 

Liver-fluke-LC-sheep

Anyway this morning I decided to be clever. When I went out at the usual time to feed some dairy heifers I decided I’d get the wintering hoggs handy for the gate. This is because they’ve got two fields, and they’re separated by a shallow ditch which is currently a shallow lake. I decided that if I got them from the back field to the front one, then if they stayed there, when we came to collect them an hour later they’d be so much easier to bring in.

So Sal and I went to move them. They stood looking at the water obstacle as if it was a raging torrent, and then looked at Sal, and came to the reasonable decision that, actually, the water was the least of their problems. So they scampered through it, over the crest of the hill and out of sight down to the gate. Sal and I quietly left them there. We left the fields by a different gate so they couldn’t see us leave. My hope was that they’d hang about round by their gate, and would be wary about checking over the crest of the hill lest Sal was still there.

Then we went to get them, a bunch of little Swaledales, and, of course, they’d gone back to the far field, blithely crossing the water obstacle as if it were a matter of no concern.

Still we got them in, we got them wormed, and we took them back out again. Indeed it didn’t actually start raining until we were riding home on the quad, and it wasn’t raining properly until after we’d got the quad away. So all in all, quite a civilised way to spend a New Year’s Day morning.

 

Reminds me of a chap I knew who farmed further over, he got a phone call from a mate, just before Christmas.

“George, fancy some rough shooting?”

“Aye it’d be alright.”

“Boxing Day then, we’ll make a day of it, get picked up about 8am, dropped off about 9, spend a day working through the area. Then about 4pm we’ll be just nicely placed for the pub so we’ll go in, have a few beers, get a meal when they start serving, and we’ll get picked up and fetched home about 10pm. What do you think?”

“Sounds great, but I’ll be working.”

“Don’t worry, it’s a bank holiday, nobody works.”

 

Anyway Happy New Year to you all.

Betwixt and Between

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I’ve seen a lot of comments this winter about the period between Christmas and New Year. In one newspaper a journalist was moaning about how he loses track of even what day it is and eventually the stultifying boredom of it all gets to him.

I must confess that it’s never been a problem for me. With livestock, if you get two quiet days for Christmas Day and Boxing Day, you’ve done well. From then on you’ll plunged back into normal work (with an added element of catching up) which keeps you nicely busy all the way into the New Year.

This year has been no real exception. Boxing Day and the day after were our first two fine days since about the 18th of December. Since then, as if ashamed of showing weakness, the weather has reverted to foul.

Indeed in agriculture you deal with a lot of companies who work through Christmas, although most do shut on the bank holidays (except for emergencies.) On the 28th December, if I pick up the phone to a Vet, an agricultural engineer, a haulier, or an auction mart, I’d expect the phone to be answered because they were working. Even feed merchants will have some staff on to cope with emergencies. Indeed we have always had a rule, in that if you cannot get hold of a business between Christmas and New Year, do you really need them the rest of the year?

Still one of this week’s jobs has been scanning sheep. People have been using ultra-sound to scan sheep to see if they’re in lamb for years. I don’t know whether they started doing it before the NHS did it routinely with women or not. The advantage with sheep is that not only do you have a fair idea whether the ewe is in lamb or not, you also know how many lambs she’s carrying. So a ewe carrying triplets will need a lot higher plane of nutrition than one with a single.

I found a photo on the web for you. The scanner sits alongside the ewe and runs the scanner across the ewe’s tummy in front of the udder. There’s very little wool there anyway so you don’t need to clip it. While he does that he looks at the picture on the monitor and that tells him what’s going on.

What the picture doesn’t show is that sheep scanning tends to be done at this time of year. The scanner, a contractor with all his own tackle, arrives in the yard with a trailer towed by a 4×4. The trailer unpacks so you get a race along which the ewe travels, is scanned and then goes out to rejoin her mates. As well as needing people to keep the sheep moving up the ramp and through the scanner, you also need an artist who stands there with two spray cans of marking paint. We put a red spot on the rump if the ewe is carrying triplets. If she’s barren she gets a red spot on the back of the neck. The other can has green paint in, and a green spot on the rump means she’s carrying a single. Twins don’t get marked up at all, they’re considered the norm.

Because scanning is virtually always done outside, in the cold, and probably the rain as well, the scanner will have a ‘tent’ of sorts to keep the worst of the weather off him and the electronics. For the rest of us we just huddle in our waterproofs with the rain beating on us, trying to keep sheep moving. This they do sporadically. Sometimes they will push past each other in their eagerness to follow along the race (herd animals can be like that.) At other times some idiot ewe will stand in the pen with her rump blocking the entrance to the race, so nobody can get up it.

At this point you’ve got to stop huddling and physically turn her round so she’s pointing in the right direction. At one point yesterday (as a particularly cold rain was blowing across the yard) I heard somebody say to a recalcitrant ewe, “Don’t make me take my hands out of my pockets you auld witch, or you’ll be sorry.”

As always, checking every ewe flags up those who’ll need pampering. One is due to lamb in the next two weeks. This means she managed to get herself pregnant three weeks before the tups went in. So it will be interesting to see just what sort of lambs she has. Anyway at her stage of pregnancy she needs more pampering that she’d get back out in the field. So she’s now inside where we can make sure she gets a high enough quality diet. Because she’s a sheep and they need company, one of the younger hoggs who isn’t in lamb but looks as if it’s finding winter a bit much has been kept in with it. They can keep each other company.

As we walked them back to the field after scanning, every so often a ewe would shake herself, (Just like a dog would.) and a great sheet of water would come off her fleece.

Happy New Year.