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.
You could always check with the expert
As a reviewer commented, “A delightful, chatty collection of jottings, which capture the mindset of sheep and their shepherd on a day to day basis. Thank you for this refreshing ramble in the Cumbrian countryside, Jim!”