Monthly Archives: April 2018

Lambing almost live


Well we’ve about made it. There are definitely two left to lamb but they could take a fortnight to make their minds up. Then there are three hoggs who might possibly be in lamb but again they could be even further off.

So the curtain may not have come down on the show, but in reality, we’ve moved on.

I think three brief sketches will sum up where we are. As you can see, the blackthorn is in flower, and this morning as I was feeding one group of ewes and lambs I caught the scent of gorse. It hung heavy in the air by the hedge. Grass is definitely growing faster than it’s being eaten, the ground is drier than it was last week and whilst Sal might find herself being harassed by frolicking lambs, the ewes by and large seem to ignore her as a threat. I think they have the feeling that, if Sal is a threat, the lambs can now run faster than the ewes can, so they’re big enough to cope on their own.

We’re moving onto a new season’s problems. One ewe was looking a bit dopey in a field. (Even by the undemanding standards of sheep she didn’t look bright.) The problem with herd animals generally is that they make a point of not looking ill. If you look ill or weak you’ve marked yourself out to the world as a viable target who isn’t going to run as fast as the rest of the herd or flock. Hence sheep make a point of looking really fit and well until absolutely the last minute.

Now she wasn’t well, and was admitting it, I could catch her and see what was up. What seems to have happened is she got an orf infection on one teat which made the teat sore, and this meant she wasn’t happy at the lambs sucking that teat; this in turn meant that it wasn’t sucked out and she got mastitis in it. This needn’t have taken more than a couple of days to happen.
So she needed treatment and needed to come home. It was a doddle getting her into the trailer behind the quad, but catching the lambs was another matter. We couldn’t catch them, they wouldn’t follow and we couldn’t drive them. Fortunately we managed to cut an elderly Leicester ewe and her lamb out of the rest of the flock. She was sensible and allowed herself to be driven, and her lamb and the two others stuck with her on the grounds she probably knew what was going on. So eventually we got everybody home.

And one more glimpse of how things are. You’ll have doubtless seen plenty of pictures and films about lambs gambolling and frolicking. Last night about 9pm when it’s still light I went out just to make sure one of our two remaining lambing ewes hadn’t surprised us with a happy event. Out in the field behind the buildings I noticed that some of the hoggs who’ve lambed were also feeling the joys of spring. They too were gambolling and frolicking, with their lambs trying to keep up.

Obviously it’s difficult for a lamb to run when it’s trying to look stern and say, “Mum, honestly, behave!”





Now in paperback and ebook format


As a reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”

Spring has sprung?



It’s been longer than normal since I last posted. To be honest I’ve been busy. Yes, Jim has been working for a living. It’s something I’m supposed to do from time to time. But anyway, at the start of the week I had to go down to London for agricultural meetings. They were interesting. Agriculture is in a very unusual position at the moment. Defra is consulting and because two years ago nobody expected us to be where we are, nobody has ‘a plan.’

This is a good thing; it means the consultation is real. The cynic in me normally reckons that you read a standard Defra consultation document, as produced under all governments (party makes no difference here) and you’ll find three options.

One is too hot,

One is too cold,

And one is just right.

And it’s obviously the Goldilocks option that they want to implement and you are supposed to agree with.

But this time it’s obvious that Defra is listening and happy to seek guidance. Which is surely a good thing?
But when I was down in London, the world changed. Obviously London is always too hot and unpleasant, but it was merely a taste of things to come. When I arrived home, Spring had finally arrived. No ethereal maiden elegantly reclining amidst the early flowers. No this year we got the harassed young mum, frantically juggling far too many things at once, who passed through at speed, smelling vaguely of nappies.

But still it was good to see her and everybody is enjoying it. Previously, Sal had abandoned running behind the quad when I went to feed ewes and lambs. Mainly because she had had a bellyful of the general unpleasantness. Now she comes with me again. Whereas previously ewes glowered at the lamb eating wolf descendent that was threatening to prey on their darlings. Now they smile beneficently at her as she stalwartly patrols the fringes of the flock guarding them from some untold peril. She’s still doing exactly what she had been doing, but even the sheep seem to have decided that spring is in the air and the world is suddenly a better, indeed a more wonderful, place.

Not only that but somebody borrowed a loadall and we’re spring cleaning with a vengeance. Plastic in that skip for recycling, metal in that skip for sale. I’ve spent the day cutting up the scrap wood that has emerged out of the various heaps, getting ready for winter.

I’ve been busy in other things as well. I launched a new collection of stories, and obviously I had to tell people so they knew it was available for purchase. (This is a courteous way of saying I did my best to make the internet hideous for people with constant adverts screaming ‘buy my book.’)
One way I do this is produce stories for other people’s blogs. They tend to be people who like the tales of Tallis Steelyard, and so they’re pleased to host a story.

I’ll do a number of stories, and try and link them to a theme. This means that people can follow the story from blog to blog, getting to see a lot of interesting blogs in passing. Effectively it links them together as a ‘tour’. Even more importantly people get to see my stories, like them and invest 99p in a collection of them!

This time, I took my inspiration for the promotion from Mussorgsky – Pictures at an Exhibition. I kept the vague theme of Mussorgsky’s pictures but found some of my own and had Tallis Steelyard write a story for each picture. For other people’s blogs this works well, the internet needs pictures and I’m using the highest quality of art.

Half way through the tour I realised just how much work I’d done on these stories. They were virtually a novella on their own!  So I collected together all these stories, and put them together into an ebook. So what you get is thirteen stories plus the pictures that inspired them. Go on, treat yourself, what else can you get for 99p


As an aside it strikes me you might not have come across the Tallis Steelyard blog, which is an endless collection of his stories. It’s here

A bad day?

Sal is less than happy. Normally when I go out on the quad she runs behind me (because the lanes are narrow) or even tries to outrun me when we’re in a field.

But at the moment we’ve got a lot of ewes outside with youngish lambs. The lambs have got to the adventurous stage. When I feed their mothers this means the ewes gather together, running in from all over the field. The lambs obviously run with them. But they meet up with a lot of other running lambs and of course, they just keep on running together. I suspect the technical term is gambolling. It does have a certain charm.

From my point of view it isn’t actually a problem. Yes I’ve got to make sure none are gambolling around the quad or trailer, because they tend to change course pretty much at random. The other thing that can happen is that they decide to race the quad. I’ve known people who’ve driven out of the gate into the lane, suddenly to discover that they’re surrounded by a sea of lambs who proceed to split up and run in different directions. So you have to make sure that by the time you need to leave the field the lambs are interested in something else. To be fair this isn’t too difficult, a lamb doesn’t have all that long an attention span. Give them a couple of minutes then they’ll head back to mum. Provided they can see her!

But from Sal’s point of view, she wanders into the field and swings wide to keep out of everybody’s way. Unfortunately on this occasion her wise actions brought her too close to an elderly ewe who wasn’t going to stand for any canine nonsense. Sal managed to dodge her, but still she wasn’t happy about it.

The other thing we had was lambs in the ‘wrong bit’. When you’re the size of a lamb, fences are something larger people worry about. So we have two lots of ewes and their lambs in two paddocks, separated by a wire netting fence. Two lambs got through the fence somehow. They seem to use a form of Brownian motion, just moving about and suddenly being on the wrong side. The fact that they were on the wrong side of the fence was brought to my attention by their pathetic bleating. Mum was bleating back, but she couldn’t get to them because of the fence, and of course now they needed to get back, the lambs found the fence to be an impassable obstacle.

By now it was 10pm, black as the ace of spades and a cold rain was starting to fall. Something had to be done now, because lambs of this age can suffer badly if they go hungry, cold and wet, overnight.

So we opened the gate between the two paddocks. The problem is this is being done by torch light. Mum cleared off when the torches started shining in her direction. The lambs were confused because some places were light and some weren’t. Obviously they didn’t stick together. There are probably excellent evolutionary reasons for running off in different directions, but under the circumstances I do wish there was an override code we could input.

Anyway, by accident, the lambs went through the gate and I shut it after them. We switched the torches off and mum, reassured by the absence of ostentatious witchcraft, came back to join her little darlings.

But anyway that was the day before yesterday. Today was so warm I was walking out in shirt sleeves. Is spring about to happen? It’s not been a bad day.


Ask the expert

As a reviewer commented, “This is the third collection of farmer Jim Webster’s anecdotes about his sheep, cattle and dogs. This one had added information on the Lake District’s World Heritage status. This largely depends upon the work of around 200 small family farms. Small may not always be beautiful but it can be jolly important. If you want to know the different skills needed by a sheep dog and a cow dog, or to hear tales of some of the old time travelling sales persons – read on! This is real life, Jim, but not as I know it.”

Stick to what you know best?


In my case this appears to be mud! We’ve had a wet winter, but the ‘Beast from the east’ and the constant, biting easterly winds did one good thing. They dried the ground up. It became possible to travel and sheep could wander about pretty well everywhere without leaving a mess.

Then we had the endless rain of the past few days. It has chucked it down. I’ve seen water running across roads in places I’ve never seen it run before. So a couple of days ago I had let sheep across the beck into another, drier field.

This sort of worked; the ewes ignored the driving rain and poured across the bridge after me. Some of the lambs followed, but the rest sat in what shelter they could find and just glared at me. Indeed they just glared at Sal as well as she tried to mooch among them and just get them moving a bit. Finally we left them on the grounds that their mums would come back to them later. In fact when the rain stopped and the sun came out a bit, they did condescend to join the rest of the flock.

But I used this photo to show what the track is like. We first used it three days ago, and we only go backwards and forwards along it once a day, with quad and trailer. The rest of the field is a lot better, but still it shouldn’t be like this. I’d expect it to be dry at this time of year.

Sal isn’t really enjoying it at the moment, the lambs have got to the stage where they’ll just run and play in bunches. So she wandered about the field well out of everybody’s way so the ewes weren’t feeling threatened. Then suddenly thirty lambs descended upon her and started frolicking around her. Now that as such isn’t the problem. They’re not going to attack her, she isn’t going to attack them, and if they get to be a nuisance she’ll go off or wait for them to just run off at random to play with something else.

The problem is when mum notices what’s going on and thunders across to deal with this wicked wolf descendent who is leading her poor darlings astray. There are times a dutiful dog cannot do right for doing wrong! So Sal knows that you do not stand between mother and offspring. She’s not stupid, it’s the first rule. So what exactly do you do when the lamb decides to play hide and seek with mum and uses you as something to hide behind? At this point Sal merely makes her excuses and leaves at speed to avoid trouble.

Yet, into the grim darkness of the weather there has been a couple of rays of sunshine.
Firstly I got a review for ‘Tallis Steelyard and the sedan chair caper.’


Diana Y

5.0 out of 5 stars A Treat for Lovers of Fantasy and Human Foibles

“Jim Webster’s sly wit and broad understanding of human nature makes his work deliciously appealing. The adventures of Tallis Steelyard, and the characters who inhabit his world, are particularly delightful. Tallis and his creator both have a dry, wry and wonderfully playful perspective, and while the tales may seem like a bit-of-fluff entertainment initially, the aftertaste is that of rich wisdom shared with a wink.”


Click here to see this wonderful book. After reading that review even I was tempted to buy a copy and I’ve already got one!



Then I got a review of a book I’ve just published. ‘Tallis Steelyard. The Festival, and other stories.’



5.0 out of 5 stars  Lovely stuff

“Another selection of tales from Port Naain, as told by jobbing poet Tallis Steelyard. Read about the underpinnings of dancing matrons, the secret beneath the undergarments of a gentlewoman of the town, the resurrection of a dead mercenary, and much more. This is a gentle comedy of manners in a world so different from our own. The author writes affectionately of his world and his characters, and I share that affection. Lovely stuff.”


Again you can find this book here.



This sort of thing can cheer a chap up no end!



One thing you realise during lambing is that not all mothers are created equal. With sheep you get all sorts. For an animal that was supposedly bred to enhance the maternal instinct, it might be time to up the stakes and see if a spot of genetic modification might not speed the job.

Breed seems to have something to do with the maternal instinct. The fell breeds seem to have it in spades. So most breeding sheep are a crossbreed, often with a fell sheep as their mother, and a lowland breed as a father. This means that the offspring should get size and milkiness from the father and toughness and the maternal instinct from the mother. This in theory produces the best of both worlds, and this crossbreed is normally known as ‘The Mule.’

The trouble is that this sort of breeding programme demands that most sheep farmers buy in all their replacements, as few have land suitable for fell sheep. So farmers will have to buy in their Mules. A lot of farmers will buy in some Mules, but will also keep a few useful looking ewe lambs from last year’s crop. So the lowland side of the breeding starts to take over, and perhaps they’re not as strongly maternal as their mothers. But to be fair to them, they can be more docile and produce bigger lambs who grow faster.

Note these are very general traits and individual ewes will vary widely. But across a thousand ewes and several generations the traits can become more noticeable.

One example is what happens when the dog appears. Most ewes will stamp a front foot at it, and perhaps even make a token charge it if it comes too near. This is just to let the dog know that there are rules and limits. A big Swaledale ewe (a fell breed with a fine set of horns) will just stand there and stare the dog out. “Come on dog if you think you’re hard enough.” Most dogs with any sheep experience will remember a previous appointment at this point and slink quietly off. They know they’re dealing with a ewe who will charge, and will happily convert the charge into a hot pursuit!

So at one extreme you have the sheep who are really good mums. The Leicester who had quads, which she produced without assistance, is an exemplar. Once she’d got over the initial shock, she took to them, licked them down, made sure they were fed and didn’t sit on them. We took one of her lambs to put on another ewe who’d lost hers, and the Leicester is still feeding three and feeding them well.

The good mums are a pleasure to work with. When they’ve lambed they’re easy to move. You pick up the lambs and the ewe follows behind you, her nose never more than six inches from her lambs.

You can get those who can be ‘over maternal.’ This is the ewe who is so keen on having lambs she steals them from other sheep even when she hasn’t lambed herself. These can be a real pain in the proverbial. A ewe has just lambed and you’re trying to quietly manoeuvre her into a separate pen so she can lick them down, feed them and bond with them away from the hurly burly. As you do this some idiot keeps charging in and tries to push the other ewe out! She is often the target of harsh language and even uncharitable comments. Still, to be fair, when she finally does get round to lambing she can normally be trusted to be a good mum, and with lambs of her own she doesn’t seem to feel the urge to steal more.

Then you get those who are just thick. You pick up the lambs and walk backwards so that she can always see them. They’re bleating at her. She follows a few reluctant steps and then decides it’s a con and runs back to wherever it was she lambed. So you go back with the lambs, put them in front of her, and she discovers them. All is sweetness and light. You pick them up because she’s lambed in the middle of the yard in the pouring rain and the lambs need to be inside. The minute you pick them up, they become invisible and she charges off somewhere to try and find them. Last year I had one ewe like this who lambed outside. This means lifting the lambs into the quad trailer. The ewe follows them in and I shut the trailer gate behind her and fetch her home rejoicing.

In the case of one bluidy auld witch I finally had to fetch the lambs home and put them under the heat lamb. Then I went back, fetched in all sixty ewes as it was the only way I’d get the new lambed ewe inside. Once they were in the lambing shed I could finally catch mum and stick her in a single pen. Then I let the others back out and brought the erring mum her lambs back. She took to them immediately but frankly it had taken nearly an hour to do a job that should take ten minutes at the most.

Then you have hoggs and shearlings. Hoggs are about a year old when they have their first lamb, shearlings are about two years old. (They’ve been sheared, hence the name.) You’re always careful about putting hoggs in with the tup. You want to make sure they hogg is big enough. Obviously in nature, nobody is that careful. Anything female that comes in season will get tupped. So in a wild situation you’ll lose a lot of young females who’re too small to lamb.

The problem with these young sheep is that they have the instincts but it’s as if they’ve never been activated. So they fire up in a most haphazard manner. This morning I checked the lambing shed at 5:30am, nothing was happening. At 7am when we went in, one hogg had produced twin lambs, licked them down and was feeding them. A couple of hours later she was happy enough to follow them out of the lambing shed across to the pens where we’d let her stay and bond with them for a few days.

Yet I’ve seen hoggs that lambed, took one look at what they’d produced and just abandoned it. If you get the young ewe and lamb into a small pen where mum cannot avoid the lamb, they’ll normally get over their initial panic and their instincts will kick in.

Still lambing hoggs is a somewhat uncertain process. To them everything is new and at times quite interesting. So don’t be surprised to find the young mum climbing half way up her pen gate, just to get a better view of what’s going on.


Somewhere out there are people who know what they’re doing? Available in paperback or ebook format


As the reviewer commented, “This book charts a year in the life of a Cumbrian sheep farmer. It’s sprinkled with anecdotes and memories of other years. Some parts (especially when featuring Sal, the Border Collie) were so funny as to cause me to have to read them out loud to my husband. It’s very interesting to read these things from the pen of the man who is actually out there doing it – usually in the rain! A very good read.”