There’s no doubt about it, winter is coming in. I’ve caved in and lit the fire in the living room for one thing. Not only that but I find myself wearing a jumper and a jacket when I go and look sheep in the morning, even if it isn’t raining.
Yesterday morning was a bit special. It was a lot brighter and clearer than the photo, so when you looked across the bay you could see the cloud moving slowly down the valleys on the opposite side.
So it seemed a good day for a neighbour to lay cattle in for winter, and he was short handed to I gave them a hand.
Now laying cattle in can be an interesting process. If the weather is pleasant and cattle feel that there is still enough grass, then they’re not particularly bothered about coming in. Similarly if it’s really miserable, cold and wet, they’ll just huddle under the dike and sulk, and they can be the very devil to move.
Adult cattle aren’t too bad. Milk cows come in at least twice a day anyway so they get downright miffed if you forget them. But young stock can be ‘interesting.’ It’s like escorting a bunch of lively teenagers through a busy town centre. You count them when you set off and you try to keep an eye on them, but it’s only when you finally arrive and you still have the same number that you can afford to relax.
Before now I’ve just seem perfectly sensible heifers just set off and run. There doesn’t appear to be any obvious reason for this, even their mates in the same bunch look askance at them as if wondering what on earth they’re playing at.
Breed and character come into it. I let a big batch of cattle into the lane. At the far end of the lane people were waiting to turn them into the yard. There was apparently fifteen minutes between the first ones arriving at the far end, and the laggards who wandered in at the back with me. First to arrive were the limis, who crashed into each other and refused to actually go into the yard until the others came but instead huddled together in a shifty manner just outside the gate.
The others made their way along the lane at a more reasonable pace, until finally I turned up with some young Belgian Blue bullocks who were ambling along like a lot of elderly milk cows without a care in the world.
There again the previous March, when we turned them out in the opposite direction, it had been somewhat different. With the scent of spring in their noses they’d thundered down the lane as if re-enacting the Pamplona Bull Run, a solid wall of cattle bursting out of the lane and into the field.
Then you get those who want to be fetched in but we’ve decided that it isn’t time yet. One miserable day in autumn we fetched one group of cattle in. A group of dry cows saw this happen and ran down to the gate so they were ready to come in as well. Unfortunately it had been decided we’d leave them out another week. They had plenty of grass and were doing fine. They spent the next hour leaning over the gate looking daggers at me every time I came into sight and were still sulking next morning.
But one of the interesting things I’ve noticed is that, at some point in Autumn, my father would always say to me, “We might as well lay cattle in. It’ll be less work.”
And it was true because we were no longer carrying feed round fields for them and messing about with taking them bits of hay or straw or whatever.
Then when spring came, we’d turn them back out, secure in the knowledge that they’d be far less work outside than they were inside.
So surely, following that through logically, every year should have got easier and easier until eventually there’d be almost no work at all?
But anyway, it might be that you’re at a bit of a lose end yourself and are looking for something to read.
For a mere 99p you can now acquire ‘And sometimes I just sits?’
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.