Monthly Archives: May 2017

Consummate professional

Boz and Jess

I apologise for the photo, but it’s a real photograph. We think it was taken by a small girl using a disposable camera in a pre-digital age. So I scanned it in because here you have old Boz in the foreground and Jess behind him.

This is what is now called ‘succession planning.’ Nobody lasts forever, and having been without a dog for a while, we didn’t want to go through that again. Not only that, but the current dog helps train the next dog.

Mind you in Boz’s case he did teach Jess things, but when it came to working they both had totally different techniques. Boz would bimble quietly through a herd of cows as if soliciting tips or just passing the time of day. Cows would get up and make their way home with Boz wandering about in the middle of them. It was his technique and it seemed to work well enough for him. Mind you I once saw him deal with a cow that refused to get up. Rather than bark at it or get excited, he merely cocked his leg up and piddled on her. It seemed to work as well as anything.

I put some of it down to his breeding, when you looked at him it was obvious that there was more Labrador in his genetics than is absolutely necessary for a working cattle and sheep dog. There again, such are the proclivities of the Labrador that I’ve been told there are wolf packs deep in Siberia that have never seen man who carry Labrador genetics they’ve acquired.

Boz seemed to take being good natured to the level of an art form. I remember one winter we had a cow outside with a couple of calves. She was outside because she had problems walking on concrete and we put two calves on her so she didn’t have to go through the milking parlour. Every morning I’d take some feed to her, and Boz, as ‘the dog’, would come with me. To get to the cow we’d have to cross a field with a couple of Shetland ponies wintering in it. One of the ponies took a dislike to Boz and every time we went in the field, the pony would repeatedly charge him.

This was potentially impressive, with head down and thundering hooves. Alas the fact that the pony had a shaggy winter coat making it look like a belligerent pyjama dog rather robbed the scene of drama. Not only that but Boz ignored it. As the pony thundered forward Boz would accelerate very slightly, or slow down just a little, and the Shetland would go galloping past and have to turn round for another go. It might be a small pony, but it had the turning circle of an aircraft carrier!

Another of Boz’s quirks was when he was eating. Because at his previous home he’d been fastened up on his own when not working, he never had any fear of anybody stealing his food. So he ate delicately, enjoying every mouthful. Give him a slice of bread and he’d hold it between his paws, nibbling it with evident enjoyment.

Jess on the other hand was ‘old school’ when it came to moving stock. She went round them in the classic manner and followed behind them making sure everybody was moving at her chosen speed and in her chosen direction.
When it came to food, Jess learned early on that whilst Boz might not be worried about anybody stealing his dinner, he seemed to assume that all food put out was his. So Jess soon learned to eat her meal swiftly. As she got older she got more cunning and used to hide it. Indeed this habit never left her. One lambing I was talking to somebody coming out of the lambing shed and they were carrying a dead lamb. They put the lamb down while we talked, then bent to pick it up again. The lamb had disappeared. We discovered that while we were talking, Jess had quietly pushed straw and suchlike over it. She’d completely buried it. She looked most put out when it was found and removed.




A couple of things you might like to read. Further stories of Dogs, Sheep, Quad bikes and the meaning of life are available at


Then again I did a free short story which is available as a pdf. It doesn’t deal with dogs, sheep or anything so mundane. You could click here

A short story called, ‘A Nice Devotion.’



Evaporating Herwicks and other stories


Sunday morning was a bit hectic. I got my baby ‘pet lambs’ fed (these are the ones who still get milk) but then had to dash off to church because as well as the normal service we had an extra one. Our village lost two lads in the First World War, and this week was the centenary of the death of one of them. The families had asked if we could do a special memorial service and so we did.

Anyway walking home from church I got to our yard gate to discover a herdwick ewe with two lambs standing there. We don’t have any herdwicks. We’re far too close to sea level and the grass is too rich and I suspect even the air is too dense. I looked at this outfit with interest. She was a herdwick but her lambs weren’t. Had she lost her own and somebody had fostered these onto her or had she just been bred to a lowland tup?
Anyway I got her and her two lambs in a field with our last three ewes to lamb and the older pet lambs who no longer need milk. I phoned a couple of neighbours to see if anybody was short of a ewe and then went to get a bit of dinner. At about 1:30pm I fed the bunch the herdwick had joined. She was sitting there quite happily with her two lambs. At 3pm I had to walk through that bunch and discovered the herdwick wasn’t there. She’d gone.

Now that field is stock proof. No sheep have escaped from there in nearly two years now. But then she’s a herdwick. Spring has sprung and they get the urge to head uphill, to where the air is thinner and the grass is coarse. When faced with fences sheep cannot get through, I’ve come to the conclusion herdwicks merely evaporate to re-manifest somewhere less convenient.

Animals do get this urge to travel at times. We once had a large black dairy cow calving. She wasn’t getting anywhere so I tied it up in the calving box to give it a hand. Anyway after faffing about for a while I decided she needed somebody more competent than me, so I would get the vet. I untied her (just in case she went down when she was untended,) and went to phone. I didn’t bother her after that, because given peace and quiet she might have got on with it.

So when the vet arrived we went up to the calving box and discovered she’d gone. She’d jumped over the gate and headed who knows where? It was past 11pm, on a dark (but not stormy) night. So we took a guess on the direction she probably went. There were hoof prints in a gateway where there shouldn’t be hoof prints so we went into the field to look for her. Unfortunately we’d just made round baled silage. So the field was full of big black round bales. Driving round in the dark searching for a black cow amongst a lot of black bales is a somewhat surreal experience. Fortunately we found her, got her home and all the movement and bouncing about had been useful. She’d opened up a lot more and the vet had comparatively little trouble getting the calf out. We put her and her calf in a pen with a lot higher gate and left her to get on with the whole motherhood experience.


Speak to the expert


More tales from a lifetime’s experience of peasant agriculture in the North of England, with sheep, Border Collies, cattle, and many other interesting individuals. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is just one of those things.

It shouldn’t happen to a dog.


You’ll see a lot about how to train dogs to work cattle, but actually you need to give nearly as much time to training the cattle to be worked by dogs. When you stop to think about it, One thousand kilos of bull shouldn’t really be all that bothered by ten kilos of dog.

That’s where the training comes in. A good dog will quietly do their job without a lot of fuss, gently chivvying the recalcitrant and just keeping things moving in the right direction.

We had a spell where we were dogless for a couple of years. Our dairy cattle rapidly realised this and celebrated this by ignoring me. The cow I was walking behind would walk forward; the others would stop and watch. Effectively unless I was going to bring each animal in individually, something was going to have to change.

So we acquired Boz. Boz was effectively third reserve on another farm because he was no good with sheep. So Boz’s owner was almost glad to be rid of him when he discovered I was looking for a dog. So in early middle age, Boz arrived.

He took to us immediately, the moment he discovered that he was ‘The’ dog. Not only that but his kennel (a disused cattle trailer) was strategically placed so that even when he was fastened up he could see what was happening all the time. Then the big moment came, we had to introduce him to the dairy herd. They were less impressed. Boz didn’t do the traditional run round the perimeter bringing them in, instead he just bimbled through them, stopping to sniff this one and in one case to cock his leg up against another. The cows took this badly, shaking their heads, lashing out with back feet and even half charging him. Boz ignored it completely. He didn’t apparently dodge, but the lashing hoof came nowhere near him. Once he’d passed through them and knew everybody was awake, he went to the far side of the herd and started moving them in the right direction.

It took him about a week to get them trained. He would walk into the field and it was if cows were saw him, muttered, “Good Grief, Boz is here, is that the time,” before looking at their watches and lumbering to their feet. No excitement, no fuss, just Boz quietly getting on with the job.

Sometimes the training has to be done more rapidly. We had a bunch of cattle escape onto our land from a neighbour’s farm. We gave them a couple of days to calm down and then Jess and I would get them out of the field and the neighbour and his team were waiting to move them along the road. The cattle, young, feckless, boundlessly fit and just aching for an excuse to run waited for us. Quietly Jess and I got them to the gate and then one of them turned to face back into the field. It started that slow practiced walk that can suddenly turn into a gallop. All the others were watching it with interest. It looked fun. Jess walked straight up to it and stood in front of it. This is unusual; dogs will normally go for the heels and turn the animal. To tackle it head on needs a dog for whom fear is something that happens to others. The heifer stopped and looked down at the dog, reaching out with its nose to sniff Jess. Jess snapped at the nose, her teeth clicking shut the thickness of a piece of tissue paper from it. The heifer stepped back, looked at Jess again, decided that it wasn’t going to be fun, and walked out of the gate onto the road. The others followed.

As Jess would say, “If you ain’t got respect, you got nothing.”


Oh yes, and talking about Jess


You might just fancy reading


As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”


Dulce et decorum est



This time of year can be difficult for the diligent Border Collie. All these charming lambs scampering about might look delightful but they’ve got no respect. As old Jess would doubtless have said, if she could be bothered lowering herself to communicating verbally, “If you haven’t got respect, you’ve got nothing.”

From the working canine viewpoint lambs are a nightmare. They don’t know the rules; they are as likely to walk up to the dog to see what’s going on as they are to run away. Then when they do run away they do so apparently at random and at speed.

Added to this, when they’re still young, if the dog gets too close, Mum is going to march up and stamp her foot at you. It’s not the foot stamping that’s the problem; it’s the fact that she too is now moving in exactly the opposite direction to that intended, or not moving at all.

Once lambs get to a certain age Mum seems to relinquish her defensive role. Whether she reckons they’re big enough or fast enough to look after themselves I don’t know.

The other problem is that lambs play. One time we were fetching a mixed batch of ewes and lambs down a lane. One of the lambs (twenty kilos in weight so no longer winningly cute) kept running back the way the flock had come. Nel, who was a properly trained sheepdog, would run after it, turn it, and bring it back. The lamb did this three times, running poor Nel ragged. On the fourth attempt the lamb found old Jess standing in front of it. Jess merely snapped, her teeth meeting so close to the lamb’s nose that it must have felt the draught. The lamb stared at Jess, shrugged, turned round and trotted on with the rest. You got the feeling the lamb felt it wasn’t fun any more.

But let’s just run through today’s simple task ‘looking sheep.’ First I have to take some feed to the ewes and lambs in the field behind the farm. These are a mixture of the ewes who lambed last (so still need a bit of feed) plus ‘pet lambs’ who somehow misplaced their mother. Or perhaps their mother misplaced them. Either way they’ve been bottle reared and are now out on grass but are too small to play with the grown-ups. They also need something to make up for the fact that they’re not getting any milk from mum.

This is easily done, I walk into the field and they come across to see me and I just put the feed down in small piles. Sal, providing as she does, the canine oversight, has nothing to do and just wanders off to one side, nose to the ground, working out what happened last night.

Then I have to take slightly more feed to the rest of the sheep. This means I have to pass through those I’ve already fed. They’re still eating so aren’t interested. Except, that is, for two of the oldest ‘pet lambs’ who immediately abandon the others and follow me. They’ve worked out that if they look suitably pathetic then I’ll give them something out of the bag I’m carrying. These two are both ewe lambs and are being reared with the idea of them joining the flock and having lambs of their own. Because they’re hand-reared they’ll be a little more domesticated than the rest, which is a mixed blessing. Yes they’ll be easy to handle, but because they’ll follow when they should be driven and doubtless give cheek to the dog, they can also confuse the rest of the flock. Still I give them a little more feed and go into the next field.

At this point the others see me. So far things have been pretty decorous. I think the sheep in the smaller group have worked out that I’m leaving them plenty. In the big group they’re only getting a handful each. They’ve worked out that the last sheep to Jim isn’t going to get anything. So I’m making my way through a surging sea of sheep who frankly don’t care. They’re banging against me and ricocheting off each other. When you get a really large number of sheep being fed it’s not unusual for people to be knocked down. This tends to happen when a ewe moving at speed hits you on the back of the legs at knee height.

Still I keep my feet. Sal watches this from afar. She’s going wide, bimbling about out on one flank. Occasionally she’ll find a ewe or lamb who is either fast asleep and hasn’t noticed my arrival, or alternatively is feeling under the weather and doesn’t care. In the latter case you look them over and perhaps come back later with quad and trailer if they need catching and treating.

Then suddenly we have a problem. Sal wandered through a gate and across the bridge assuming I was going that way. But I’m not. So she has to get back through the gate to follow me. Unfortunately there’s a mob of ewes standing near the gate watching her suspiciously.

For Sal this presents a problem. A Border Collie has no problems slipping through the bars of the gate. It’s just that you don’t want to be squirming through them with a rabble of belligerent ewes present. Sal is in a similar position to the young lady in a short shirt, trying to exit the sports car with dignity under the eyes of the drinkers in the pub beer garden. I can see her pondering the situation. Eventually she abandons the idea, makes her way down to the next bridge and wiggles through that gate before catching up with me. Job done, home for the next job.


I don’t know whether you know, but a collection of similar stories appeared under the name ‘Sometimes I sits and thinks.’


Available as an ebook for a mere 99p.


A gentleman could do no less

download (2)

Every so often a man must do what a man must do. Or something like that anyway. I was browsing through the books in a charity shop when I became aware of the presence of two ladies. From their comments they were mother and daughter and I’d guess the mother was about my age.

Mother was haranguing daughter because she felt that daughter was going to vote for the ‘wrong’ political party. Daughter was growing more and more hacked off by this but did remain civil and just squirmed a bit. The mother’s monologue was pitched at a volume that indicated that it was in no way intended to be a private conversation, being directed metaphorically over her daughter’s head at the entire shop. Have you noticed how the politically incontinent do this?

So I confess I weakened. Now I’ve shunned electioneering on the web, because it’s boring, irritating and an utter waste of everybody’s time. But here in the presence of real people I was tempted. So I turned to the mother and asked, in all innocence, a couple of questions that the party whose virtues she was trumpeting was having difficulty answering. Mother shut up briefly and daughter flashed me a smile and gave me a ‘thumbs-up’.

Mother relaunched the harangue so of course I just asked a few more innocent questions, when gaps appeared in the flow, mainly because she stopped for breath.

This discourse continued out into the street and when I turned one way and mother and daughter turned another, daughter gave me another smile and thumbs-up with both hands. Then she went on her way happily whilst mother chuntered about me instead of haranguing her daughter. Surely something I can mark up as a success.

Actually given the length of time I’ve been exposed to UK politics, it doesn’t really matter what the opinions of the mother were and what party she advocated, I’d still have been able to ask embarrassing questions to put her off her stride. Politicians and those who regard politics as a participation sport seem to forget that we, the great unwashed and unlearned, aren’t entirely lacking in observational abilities. We don’t just sit in a hole eating worms waiting for the wise to open the lid, let a little daylight in, and generously tell us what to think.

So when somebody starts spouting off as how their favoured party, be it Labour/Conservative/Libdem/UKIP (delete as you feel appropriate) has all the answers whilst conversely Labour/Conservative/Libdem/UKIP (delete as you feel appropriate) is the party of the anti-Christ they run into problems. Especially if they do this in the presence of people who’ve actually lived in the same country for a couple of decades and have a sense of humour. Although in my case I’m hoping to hold out for ‘determination to do my Chivalric duty’ as opposed to ‘sense of humour’ or ‘being a stirring beggar who just likes winding people up.’

But the whole thing started me thinking, which is always a dangerous situation to get into. There are various bodies, be they charities, political parties or churches which attempt to get our attention and win our support. Now the political parties largely seem to work on the principle that for most of the time they can get by with just hectoring us from afar, just so we don’t forget them. Then when they actually need us they deluge us with junk mail and candidates. The problem with this is that it doesn’t seem to work too well. People remember the hectoring as they drop the junk mail into the recycling.

The churches, perhaps because they’ve been doing it for longer, have tried a wider variety of stances. Yes some harangue you and thrust tracts through the door but don’t say hi when they meet you in the street. But the best have picked up on what Christ said about generally helping out and being nice to people.

Now in all candour, being nice to all people, the good, the bad and the politically incontinent, is tough and faced with a lifetime of it; most people would probably accept martyrdom as a preferred alternative. But we can see where in some congregations they find they have individuals who have a gift for dealing with people and a real determination to do something for the homeless, the dying, the prisoners. The successful churches get behind these people, providing them with the support they need to do the work, and those church members who like me find loving my neighbour damned hard work at times can still do our bit to support them and help keep the show on the road.

It reminds me of the quote, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

Perhaps if our political parties tried to reach out to us through their good works rather than their speeches and promises, then we’d take them more seriously?

But frankly I don’t see it catching on. It’s not the easiest road to walk. The Christian church has been trying it for the last two thousand years with mixed success.


Oh and back to the real world, we have this blue faced ewe who lambed for the first time last year. It was a nightmare lambing and she had all sorts of problems after it. We weren’t even sure if she’d get in lamb this year. Anyway she did but it seems to have taken some doing because she was obviously going to be the last to lamb.

The others finished lambing at least a fortnight ago and our blue faced lady has remained in the pen, accompanied by another ewe who has lambed a while back but has metabolism issues. She was fine, unless the weather suddenly went cold, at which point she collapsed with severe low blood sugar.

Anyway, yesterday the decision was taken that this was getting silly, the blood sugar lady seemed to be sorted so the decision was taken to let them both out, into somewhere handy. We’d just have to hope that our blue faced ewe would be easy to catch and help if there were any problems.

This morning I went out to check sheep and the blue faced lady was there with her two new blue faced lambs, happy as larry and wondering what all the fuss was about.

Sometimes a lady can do no less either.


The problems a lady can face!
(In paperback or as an ebook)

As a reviewer commented, “I always enjoy Jim’s farming stories, as he has a way of telling a tale that is entertaining but informative at the same time. I’ve learned a lot about sheep while reading this book, and always wondered how on earth a sheepdog learns to do what it does – but I know now that a new dog will learn from an old one. There were a few chuckles too, particularly at how Jim dealt with unwanted salespeople. There were a couple of shocks regarding how the price of cattle has decreased over the years, and also sadly how the number of UK dairy farms has dropped from 196,000 in 1950 to about 10,000 now.
Jim has spent his whole life farming and has acquired a wealth of knowledge, some of which he shares in this delightful book.”

And farewell to all that!


This morning those lambs remaining from last year’s crop were loaded and left. They were by and large those who had perhaps not shone in the past. Still when the weather got cold they were considered a bit delicate and whilst the rest stayed outside these were whisked inside and pampered a bit. Having sheep inside brings its own problems.

Wearing a thick woolly jacket they have problems with temperature regulation, they can get too hot, sweaty and can go down with pneumonia and all sorts of other problems. Then because they’re on bedding, their feet get soft and overgrown and they go lame. So it’s a relief for everybody when they can go back outside as nature (cruel mistress that she is) intended.

We had one who did suffer from its feet. When it came inside we trimmed them because they were a bit overgrown. It seems to have a genetic predisposition to rapid horn growth because I had to trim the feet whilst it was inside and when we put them outside again; I trimmed them for a third time. But it kept hobbling around like an old woman with bunions.

So obviously we kept up the treatment. I would go in with both quad and Sal and I’d catch it. This involved Sal dancing in front of it. The lamb, (about thirty something kilos so we’ve long past the cute stage.) would be far too busy keeping an eye on Sal to worry about me and I’d catch it, turn it onto its back and spray its feet with the magical green spray which clears out various infections.

I did this twice and whilst it got rid of the infections, it didn’t seem to improve things much. So next time I caught it I put it in the back of the trailer and fetched it home. I then stood it with its feet in a bucket of Zinc sulphate solution. So Sal stared at the sheep, the sheep stared at Sal, and I held the sheep in place for twenty minutes and read a little of ‘Three men in a boat,’ by Jerome K Jerome. (Highly recommended if you’ve never read it.)


I then turned the sheep back out with its mates. When I looked at our patient next day it seemed to be much improved. So the following day Sal and I caught it again and gave it another couple of chapters of Jerome K Jerome.

Since then it’s been walking well; so that’s one I can mark down as a success.

But bringing sheep inside always does seem to lead to problems. Ideally lambing ewes stay in for as short a period as possible. Being inside doesn’t do sheep any good.

In another life in another world I had to help somebody who was having trouble with their local trading standards department. Apparently the previous winter they’d had a blizzard and lost ten or a dozen Fell sheep to the weather. Given there were a couple of thousand sheep in the flock my first thought was that they’d done pretty well, and deserved congratulating on the high calibre of their shepherding.

But their local trading standards department seemed to think that it was cruelty because they hadn’t brought the sheep in for winter. So I suggested they got their vet and breed society to write polite letters to trading standards explaining why you don’t house sheep over winter. Indeed if you did, you’d be damned lucky only to lose ten or a dozen.

The letters were obviously written and sent because I got another phone call from the farmer. Apparently trading standards had given up on that approach, instead they were insisting that once it started snowing the farmer should have gone up onto the mountain and brought the sheep down until the snow stopped.

At that point I phoned a few people and discovered that on the day trading standards had demanded a farmer and his children (his only staff) go out onto the mountains to fetch in the sheep, they’d closed their own office as they felt it was too dangerous for their staff to travel to work at sea level! I suggested the farmer point this out, and he heard no more about it.


If you made it up, nobody would believe you.


And here’s some stuff I did make up, you could always see if you can believe it 😉


As a reviewer commented, “Benor the cartographer is offered a job away from home with unusually generous pay. It all has to be done on the quiet, too. Something’s up. Benor has a murder to solve. I thought he had, but there’s more to come. This story is a murder mystery and a comedy of manners, set in a world of fantasy. If you like a genre mashup, this is brilliant. The characters and their relationships and banter would make it worth reading even if it didn’t have a plot – but it does. Another winner for me.”