Betwixt and Between


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!”

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30 thoughts on “Betwixt and Between

  1. M T McGuire December 30, 2017 at 1:46 pm Reply

    We had snow up here but it’s warmed up today. Not sunny but it had deigned to get light. 🙂 hope the flock scanned well. 🙂

    • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 2:08 pm Reply

      about 175% which is good given there are a lot of Hoggs who’re only expected to have one

      • M T McGuire December 30, 2017 at 2:42 pm


  2. oldhenwife December 30, 2017 at 1:51 pm Reply

    I wondered, yesterday, if you had snow as we had. Our street is narrow and a hill so car drivers were having an exciting time. We prudently stayed indoors. As did the hens. I’d just ordered more grain and pellets but that company wasn’t working over Christmas and New Year, luckily I’d ordered just in time, it came last Friday. And one of the hens is growing her comb and wattles and they don’t need painting. We’ll be able to have mayonnaise in a few weeks.

    • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 2:20 pm Reply

      no we’ve not had snow this year, just endless rain.
      Mind you the lad working the scanner farms 12 miles from here, and they had to use a loader tractor to clear the road so the milk tanker could get in, and then he could leave to come down to us 🙂

  3. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 30, 2017 at 2:43 pm Reply

    It’s snowing, and I will have to keep the husband, who just had eye surgery and is having trouble lying still on his left side for most of the day, from going outside and running the snow plow.

    I know. I’m soft. But I can’t walk, either, and it’s just going to lie there. The snow. I wish the husband would, too. If he needs to repeat the recuperation process of trying to keep a gas bubble in place on his retina, we will both go mad.

    About the ewe who is pregnant early, ? I know it’s that time of year, but didn’t expect it in sheep. Parthenogenesis?

    • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 3:07 pm Reply

      keep him still, a friend of mine had a detached retina and he had to lie in a certain position until it drove him mad, but it’s worth it in the end
      The ewe who’s pregnant just found a mate for herself, I suppose you might put it down to promiscuity rather than anything more technical 🙂

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 30, 2017 at 3:27 pm

        I heard the surgeon say that; he heard the surgeon say it was okay to take breaks. I told him the surgeon meant ten minute bathroom breaks, and the ability to eat sitting up; he thinks he knows better because lying on his side hurts after a while. I padded the couch with three layers of memory foam.

        With him, you say your piece – and wait. I just pray that when we see the doctor again on Tuesday, everything is still okay (even though it will mean he was right), rather than something else (because I was right). It wasn’t a complete detachment, but this is really serious stuff, and you can lose your sight.

        I worry too much.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 4:44 pm

        my mate had to sit up but had to keep looking at the floor. No using his eyes (but could keep them open.) So he had a couple of weeks where he couldn’t read, or even watch telly.

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt December 30, 2017 at 5:33 pm

        A friend of mine had to sleep sitting up – it all depends where the detachment is. Hubby can watch TV just fine on his side, and if he wants to read, we have an iPad and a Kindle. Not many excuses. But it’s not me, and he’s an adult, and he will bear (most of) the consequences, unless we go back to ground zero, and I’m back on tap for feeding him, etc. I have so little functionality that I hope he’s right (and he doesn’t listen to me, anyway, 98% of the time).

        Tuesday will tell. Our youngest daughter has offered to come back and help, if necessary. I may take her up on it – I’m wiped. But back to worrying about myself, mostly, I’ve gotten some writing work done this morning I haven’t been able to do in weeks. I think that’s selfish, but I count, too.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 6:23 pm

        you’ve got to look after yourself as well

  4. rugby843 December 30, 2017 at 5:22 pm Reply

    Always interesting, your farm happenings.

    • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 5:26 pm Reply

      Happenings we can manage, it’s when it comes to ‘planning’ and ‘order’ where we tend to lose the plot a bit 😉

      • rugby843 December 30, 2017 at 8:34 pm

        You must have plenty of stamina, always subject to the weather.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 8:40 pm

        When I was milking cows I’ve know me have days where I washed my clothes two or three times
        I’d get up, go out, get soaked. I’d come in for my coffee or breakfast or whatever. I’d throw my clothes (everything I was wearing) in the washing machine and climb into the shower myself. Then I’d dress in completely clean clothes. I’d go out to work again and my washed clothes would go into the tumble drier. I’d come in for dinner, soaked to the skin, throw everything I was wearing into the washing machine, have another shower to warm up and dry off, and put on the clothes I’d put on when I first got up in the morning. (which of course had been washed.)
        I’d go out and normally by this point the day had dried off a bit. But still, when I came in after milking, at 6pm, everything I was wearing would just go into the washing machine again 🙂

      • rugby843 December 30, 2017 at 9:08 pm

        My dad got up e s rly. took care of our dairy farm chores, then went to work as a machinist, came home and did farm work again. His father did it during the day as they lived with us. As I said, stamina and gumption.

      • jwebster2 December 30, 2017 at 9:33 pm

        the stamina must have been amazing. A lot of small Pubs used to be attached to the farm. So the Landlord would get up, milk, do the farm work, be behind the bar to serve at noon, with a break in the afternoon for milking, then work all evening until perhaps midnight before getting up next morning to milk
        Obviously his family would help, and also most of his customers would be living a similar lifestyle, 🙂

      • rugby843 December 30, 2017 at 9:36 pm

        A hard life

  5. jenanita01 December 31, 2017 at 9:09 am Reply

    Reblogged this on anita dawes and jaye marie.

  6. jenanita01 December 31, 2017 at 9:10 am Reply

    You gotta love the job! (and sheep!)

    • jwebster2 December 31, 2017 at 9:45 am Reply

      I’m also congenitally unemployable (I never have been an employee) which probably helps.
      At least with my job I don’t have to be nice to people 🙂

      • jenanita01 December 31, 2017 at 11:03 am

        just to the sheep?

      • jwebster2 December 31, 2017 at 12:43 pm

        They have low expectations and don’t seem to expect polite conversation 🙂

      • jenanita01 January 1, 2018 at 11:14 am

        That’s handy! Not all of them though, we had quite a relationship with one once, seemed very intelligent…

      • jwebster2 January 1, 2018 at 2:20 pm

        I’ve got in trouble before now by saying that sheep are brighter than horses. Actually I think that horses merely prove that with good hair and a nice body you can convince anybody you’re smart 😉

      • jenanita01 January 2, 2018 at 9:38 am

        I think animals are quite like people… some are clever…

      • jwebster2 January 2, 2018 at 12:19 pm

        yes, and some are clever in their own way, to achieve their objectives, which might not immediately look clever to us 🙂

  7. oldhenwife December 31, 2017 at 8:13 pm Reply

    Just as well if you’re calling them woolly maggots. I’m off to bed to eat chocolate, and have a dram at the end of the year. Why, when every day marks a new year? Because it’s tradition and Spouse likes tradition. I’d rather go to sleep. Whatever you do, enjoy!

    • jwebster2 December 31, 2017 at 9:02 pm Reply

      I’ve seen the new year in twice, once by accident because we had a cow calving
      Having to do morning milking for thirty consecutive new years days means that I’m more likely to use it as the excuse for an early night 🙂
      Have a good one

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