The temperature is rising. When I looked sheep this morning it was at least -5 centigrade and now it’s probably about plus four centigrade. Yet frankly it feels far colder.
I blame the fact that whereas before everything was dry, with the thaw stuff has got wet and suddenly your hands are wet and cold.
On the positive side, the sheep seem to have been happy enough the last few days. As you can see from the photo we didn’t have snow, just a very sharp frost. It’s Black Combe in the background and you can see how that has caught a dusting of snow.
Sheep are happy enough. Dry cold combined with grass to graze and the occasional molasses bucket to have a nibble from suits them well enough. Admittedly the field this lot is on was bare enough and they were moved to somewhere with a bit more grass later that morning.
Sheep cope with the outside world pretty well, the thick fleece handles the cold nicely and if the weather is wet, well their fleece is impregnated with lanolin which keeps them dry. I’ve seen sheep shake themselves (in exactly the same way that a dog does) when it’s raining and you can see the great shower of water fly off them.
Indeed it’s when you get them inside that sheep start having problems. Put a lot of sheep into a building and they’ll huddle together a bit. This will generate a lot of warmth (which is not a bad thing) but because of the water trapped on their fleeces it’ll be a damp warmth. So suddenly you’ve got a lot of sheep who have crowded themselves together in a warm fug, and they’ll start going down with pneumonia very quickly.
Cattle aren’t so ostentatiously well provided for cold weather, but even they aren’t too bothered. So long as they have somewhere out of the wind and plenty to eat, they’ll get by. The problem with cattle is that they’re bigger and heavier and in our winters, tend to leave the ground a muddy mess when it gets wet. Even then, we’ve had cattle do well on a large field with good dykes to keep the wind off. They had two ring feeders kept full of silage so they had plenty to eat and there was always somewhere for them to lay down out of the weather. We were going to plough that field in spring anyway.
But it doesn’t look pretty. Also cattle are perfectly capable of growing a hairy coat under those conditions, so when you do fetch them home to do anything with them they can look distinctly shaggy.
One of the joys of cold weather is how quiet things get. We’ve seen nobody the last few days, save for two metal detectorists. They came properly prepared; not only were they dressed for the weather, but they even fetched one of those fishing shelters which they erected in the corner of the field and stacked a few flasks of hot soup and hot coffee so they could retire to it and thaw out occasionally. They came in useful when we moved the sheep. Even a metal detectorist can stand in a lane end and stop sheep going down it when you’re running them along the road.
Actually at the moment keeping the sheep happy and well fed is important. They should all be in the early stages of pregnancy at the moment. If a sheep’s metabolism decides this is a really tough time, the system can quietly reabsorb one or more embryos to ensure that Mum makes it through the winter alive. The other issue is that grass stops growing at all when the ground temperature drops below 4 degrees Centigrade. So soon the grass will run out and I’ll be back to carrying how hay and silage to them, because we’re now entering one of the more important parts of lambing; which is keeping the lambs alive before they’re born.
At the moment it’s obvious that the sheep do have enough grass in front of them for them to feel happy about it. There are a couple of signs that they think they’re running out. The first is that the older ones who remember last winter start coming up to you in spite of the presence of a dog and follow you about bleating a lot. The second sign is that sheep can start burrowing into the hedges to look for younger shoots. This presents two problems. The first is that they can end up burrowing right through and out the other side. The second problem is that is you have a lot of briars then burrowing sheep can get themselves nicely entangled. I’ve even seen sheep who somehow have got themselves so entangled their feet aren’t really touching the ground any more. Under these circumstances sheep can decide that they’re doomed and just give up. So somebody has to come along and cut them out. Sal seems to have taken on her own shoulders the task of releasing trapped sheep. It’s amazing how trapped sheep that have obviously been there for twenty-four hours, convincing themselves that they’re stuck, see Sal hurtling towards them and ‘with one bound, they’re free.’ Wonderful stuff, adrenalin.
But anyway it suddenly occurred to me I could do you a favour. You know the Christmas presents you forget to buy or haven’t got round to sending. Well it just so happens I’ve got four books available in paperback
Don’t panic, Amazon will even wrap them and send them direct.