Monthly Archives: February 2018

Making haste slowly

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What you soon learn when lambing sheep is that it always starts with disaster. When you stop to think about it, this is probably inevitable, because you have a lot of sheep reaching late pregnancy together. With a dairy herd, calving tends to be far more spread out, so triumphs and disasters come at random throughout the year. But with sheep you’ll often get a rush of premature or sickly lambs at the start of lambing, and then the flock largely passes through that phase (you hope) and normality is restored.

But it does mean that early lambing can be more stressful and depressing than it really needs to be. As you get older and more experienced, you just come to expect it.

As you can see we’ve got most of the ladies in. They’ve got a bedded building to sleep in, but we put the silage in this building for them. It’s open, light and will at least mean they can mouch around in the dry if it does rain. Obviously it’s not desperately warm with an easterly wind blowing but they’ve all got their winter coats on. Also if it does get that cold they can go inside their bedded building.

 

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Also looking across the yard and eastwards you can see that at the moment we’ve no snow, so here’s hoping it will stay like that.

Mind you, feeding the others who are still outside was fun. Riding into the wind on the quadbike was painful. I was glad that I got into the habit of wearing amber tinted safety glasses after my cataract surgery, because they at least keep the wind out of my eyes and I didn’t have to squint.

Interestingly the sheep who are still outside do seem a lot happier. Whilst it might be cold, it is at least dry and a bit of cold breeze doesn’t bother them in the slightest. In fact if you get out of the wind and keep in the sun it is actually rather pleasant.

Certainly looking out from the top of the hill where I was feeding sheep the view was stunning. It’s obvious that the Western Pennines haven’t had a lot of snow yet, and the Lake District fells don’t seem to have much more coverage than they had previously. Indeed Black Combe doesn’t have any real snow cover at all. But with the sun shining on it all the view was well worth a bit of  chill breeze.

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Mixed signals

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I know, I know. If I start putting pictures of flowers on the blog people will be expecting Latin names and all sorts.

Me, I’ve a stockman, or even more precisely a cowman. So looking at these flowers from a bovine perspective, they should perhaps be called, ‘piquant, with a slight peppery aftertaste’ or something similar.

But yes, all along the hedges the snowdrops are well out and the daffodils are heavy in bud and spring’s about to burst upon us.

And the Met Office is making dire predictions along the lines that ‘Winter is coming’ and by this time next week travel in the UK will be impossible for anybody who cannot hitch their huskies to a dog sled. As an aside I cannot somehow envisage Border Collies taking well to the role of a sledge dog. But if you ever have your sled pulled by sheep I know no better dog to ensure things keep moving briskly and in the right direction.

Well it’s still February and I’ve known March be grim before.

And of course, in theory, on the First of March the ewes should start lambing. As it is, everything is ready for them. All the pens are washed out, disinfected and bedded, straw is in place ready for further bedding round, and in theory everything is ready.

So every morning when I feed our expectant mothers I try to see if there’s anybody looking particularly close to lambing. To be honest this is all a bit hit and miss. I’m the one putting feed out for them; so my view of the ewes is the front end moving towards me at speed as part of a solid phalanx of other equally peckish sheep.

Now it may be possible, if you reach a certain level of shepherding, to be able to tell how far off giving birth a ewe is by the hang of her lugs or the bags under her eyes, but between ourselves I suspect it isn’t. So instead when they’re eating, I circle the group once on the quad just to see if I notice anything, and then go and tour the rest of the fields they’re in to make sure nobody has slunk off on her own to lamb in a snug corner somewhere.

But anyway, early next week we’ll fetch the ewes in and go through them. Those who look like they’ll be lambing first will stay inside then until they’ve lambed. (Especially if the weather does get bad.) Those who’re obviously furthest from lambing will go back outside. They’ve got shelter, silage and feed and they’ll be OK there unless we have the sort of snow this area hasn’t seen since 1947.

Personally I think snow looks wonderful in photographs. But between ourselves I prefer water in a liquid state.

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Ask yourself, does she look like a potential sledge dog to you?

 

As one of the reviewers commented, “Another great collection of bite-sized tales from the author’s farming life. (The first one being ‘Sometimes I dit’s and thinks’)
A gentle sharing of observations from a sheep farmer (and his collie)
More wry observations of animals and humans!”

 

Buying hard work in

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We had a bit of a tidy up, which will doubtless be followed by a ‘throwing out session.’ That’s when we found the old hay knife. As you can see it’s effectively an electric jackhammer with a blade for cutting hay or silage.

Basically back in the late 1960s we had one silage pit which was as big as we could afford, and we put as much grass in it as we could, and that way it got our dairy herd at the time through the winter.

The problem is that we were doing ‘self feed’ silage. Cows were held back from the silage face by an electric fence and just ate their way into the heap. This works great if the face isn’t too high. If it’s too high they burrow into the clamp and it collapses on top of them.

So we had two options, not make enough silage, or throw silage down off the top to take it down to a safe height. But silage, especially back then, was long and fibrous, and just pulling at it with a fork was damned hard work. You’d end up picking up a ‘mat’ at least five foot across.

Now my father had worked with hay before bailers have been popular so was used to dealing with mowed loose hay. You used to cut it with a hay knife. Here you see the traditional hay knife.

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My father was at a farm sale somewhere and saw this electrical hay knife. He bought it at the auction and brought it home. All we had to do was use it. Well he used it during the week but at weekends I’d do the silage, and given I was about thirteen at the time, to me it was a brute of a thing and a real sod to wrestle into place. Not only that but you had to be careful where you put your feet with that blade bouncing up and down. I’m not entirely sure my mother knew what I was getting up to.

But I managed, because I’m bluidy minded and stubborn like that. Then I’d get the fork, throw what I’d cut off down onto a trailer and take it round and fork it out for heifers and others to eat.

I suppose I should have hated the blasted thing because it was big, numb and dangerous. But to me it was a sight easier than doing it the old way so was almost a great leap forward.

Now obviously we could have done down the shear grab route, although I think they came in later. Eventually we did get a tractor with a fore-end loader and a shear grab.

This meant that in half an hour I could do what had taken me a fair chunk of the day. Yet this wasn’t entirely without problems. Once when using the shear grab the tractor almost stalled as the grab went into the silage but fired up and the engine kept running.

Unfortunately it was running backwards. Eventually I worked out what was happening as I sat there surrounded by a cloud of diesel vapour, on a tractor which had four forward gears and twelve reverse gears!

This was, to put it bluntly, a little disconcerting, but when I stopped the tractor and started it again, the engine started up running properly. Agricultural engineers tell me that this shouldn’t happen, me I’ve done it twice!

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Ah well, it struck me that you good people might fancy rescuing me from a life of hard work and penury. If so, all you have to do is wander across to

 

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-sedan-chair-caper-ebook/dp/B079K4LDBT/

 

There you will find my latest novella

Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping adventure. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.

 

All that for 99p, what more could anybody want!

Roe deer and Herdwicks, oh my.

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This afternoon the weather had somehow overlooked us. So far today it has neither rained, snowed nor pelted us with hail. Given that yesterday had managed all three plus thunder and lightening, we were really expecting fog or perhaps a rain of frogs today. So mere weak sunshine seemed something of an anticlimax.

Still I took advantage of the freak weather to walk down to the bottom land and see what things were like. In theory we could be putting ewes and lambs down there in a month so it’s always a good idea to check what conditions are like.
It’s heavy land, we rarely had cattle on after October, unless it was a particularly fine and dry back end. This year the sheep came off early in November. The result is that when I went down, whilst there was a lot of standing water, nothing was paddled. Also there was some grass. It’s managed to very slowly keep growing and provided things go sensibly for the next month, it should be fit to put sheep on. We just need some dry weather for a change.

Mind you, as soon as I got down there, Sal set off and three Herdwick hoggs came running up out of a beck edge where they’d been hiding. They were nothing to do with us. I did, once, take in wintering Herdwicks. Keeping them in is like trying to wheel smoke in a barrow. They’re fell sheep and whilst they might indeed be hefted to a particular bit of fell, that fell is the far side of Coniston at the moment and probably covered in snow.

Herdwicks down in the lowlands are a bit like vets at a conference somewhere. Relieved of all responsibility for being in the right place at the right time vets tend to hit the bar and Herdwicks tend to just go where they want, ignoring fences, becks, or whatever.

So the three hoggs set off with Sal following them. Close enough to keep them moving but not so close that they’d panic. I followed at a more sedate pace, getting a feel for the ground and looking for grass. Eventually I almost caught up with them and stopped. The Herdwicks had halted and were watching Sal with a degree of nervousness. Off to one side, well out of the way, were a pair of Roe deer who were watching both Sal and the Herdwicks with benign curiosity. They gave the impression that they were fans of ‘One man and his dog’ and were waiting for the bit where I whistled just so and Sal would put one hogg in one field whilst loading the other two into a quad trailer.

I just shouted “Send them on Sal,” and she advanced on the hoggs who turned and fled across the beck to join their less adventurous flock mates. The Roe deer, doubtless disappointed that I’d sunk so far as to use voice commands, faded seamlessly away into the hedges and rushes.

Sal trotted back to me with the look of a dog who’s quite enjoyed her afternoon.

 

But as an aside, it struck me that I’d not yet got round to mentioning that I’ve got another novella out.

 

  Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.

 

Rather than his usual collection of anecdotes, this time Tallis presents us with one gripping escapade. A tale of adventure, duplicity and gentility. Why does an otherwise respectable lady have a pair of sedan chair bearers hidden in her spare bedroom? Why was the middle aged usurer brandishing an axe? Can a gangster’s moll be accepted into polite society? Answer these questions and more as Tallis Steelyard ventures unwillingly into the seedy world of respectable ladies who love of sedan chair racing.

 

Available for the discerning and undiscerning alike at

 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tallis-Steelyard-sedan-chair-caper-ebook/dp/B079K4LDBT/

Running in high heels

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Not something I’ve ever tried to be honest. I’m tall enough as it is and my legs, decently clad in working trousers, are too utilitarian to warrant being exhibited to a dumbfounded world.

And at the moment it’s not the weather for high heels. As I sit on the quad in the rain, watching the sheep fish about for the nuts I’ve put down for them, I can hear Sal splashing towards me. When a small Border Collie bitch splashes when walking across what is supposed to be dry ground, you know it’s wet enough.

This morning the rain was coming across in great curtains. I had to slow down when driving into it because it was painful on my face if I went at any speed. Not only that but I think even Sal is losing it. She came up to jump a netting fence, totally mistimed everything jumping into the rain (or she may have slipped as she jumped) and ended up piling into the fence rather than sailing over it. She glanced at me in an embarrassed fashion to check that I hadn’t seen it and then quietly jumped over it properly.

But I was on about high heels wasn’t I. It’ll be about forty years ago now. It would be winter and after midnight when we were awakened by a hammering on the front door. We never use the front door to be honest, but sometimes people knock on it. Just rarely at midnight.

So my parents (whose room was above it) shouted out of the window to ask what was the problem, and I got dressed and went down to open the door. There was a barefoot young lady standing there. When my mother arrived we got her full story. Just down the lane from us was a lay-by where courting couples used to park up. She had been at a dance in Ulverston and had accepted a lift back to Barrow from somebody who had been ‘more affectionate than she had intended.’

So when he stopped at the lay-by she’d seen the lights of our cubicle house. In winter when cows are housed we leave some lights on. It’s easier for cows to get up for a drink or something to eat; and if they can see, they’re less easily startled by anything. So they’re happier.
This lass had seen the lights, opened the passenger door and had run for it. In the course of which she’d abandoned her high heels. By the time she’d worked out the lights came from outbuildings, she could see where the front door was so had hammered on that.

She was seriously nervous, so I went out to both make sure there was nobody still parked in the lay-by and to find her shoes. Whoever she’d had the lift with was gone, and I even found both her shoes. When I wandered back in she was on the phone for a taxi.

Strangely enough she’d decided that she’d get a taxi home rather than phoning for her Dad to collect her. I think she felt the taxi driver would need fewer embarrassing explanations.

Fear and Greed

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Feeding sheep this morning and I took some tub to a dozen gimmers (ewe lambs kept for breeding; these are nearly a year old). They had been chewing some grass off elsewhere but are now closer to home. I walked in with the bucket, shouted to them and rattled the bucket.

They looked up, saw the bucket and came towards me. Then they saw Sal and stopped abruptly. Sal watched them, they watched Sal. Nobody moved. The gimmers drifted forward a little. Sal continued to watch so the gimmers stopped and watched her. Then Sal shrugged and drifted off to follow a scent trail that interested her. With this the gimmers made their way towards the feed which I’d now put into their troughs.

But there were only eight of them, where had the other four got to? I could hear bleating from over the crest of the hill, and suddenly the other four appeared, saw their friends eating and hurtled towards us. Then they noticed Sal. Separated from their ‘flock’ they just accelerated. Sal who has had to deal with this situation before made damned sure she wasn’t between the sheep and their feed.

It did strike me that with her experience of the balance between greed and fear Sal ought to be producing expensive training courses for investment managers and similar. As it is I suspect that she’s too wise to get caught up in the rat race. Growing ridiculously rich isn’t something that seems to appeal to the Border Collie.

Anyway we went to look at the wintering hoggs. We got there and one had got its head caught in the netting. They’re Swaledales so are horned sheep. Sal shot through the gate to deal with the hogg. I parked the quad and followed her. The problem is that in the presence of Sal the hogg can just keep charging forwards which achieves nothing. (Except perhaps to break the fence posts!)

Just as I was shouting, “Sit down Sal“,  to ensure this didn’t happen, she got in front of the hogg which went backwards, unentangled itself and ran off. Sal gave me a look of dog who has absolute confidence in her abilities. She has no interest at all in selling out and training investment managers. She passed the test, she will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Sal.

 

Oh and more of Sal’s antics appear in