Culture clash

Amongst sheep farmers in this country you’ll find a medical condition called, ‘dipping flu.’ Basically it’s organophosphate poisoning from the chemicals in sheep dip.
So obviously farmers have stopped using them.
Except for the fact that the use was compulsory up until 1992, and that government knew that they were dangerous.

The reason farmers use them is to treat sheep scab. To quote from one website, “Sheep scab is an acute or chronic form of allergic dermatitis caused by the faeces of sheep scab mites (Psoroptes ovis). The mites are just about visible to the naked eye and can only remain viable off the host (sheep) for 15-17 days. The sheep is the only host where the mites can complete their lifecycle, though there is evidence that they can remain viable on cattle. The lifecycle takes 14 days and the population of mites can double every six days.”

The problem is that Sheep scab is a serious threat to sheep welfare. Infestations can be very debilitating with significant loss of condition, secondary infections, hypothermia and eventually death. The top picture is of a sheep with scab.

Another reason for using organophosphate dip is to prevent ‘fly strike’. This is a condition where parasitic flies lay eggs on dirty wool or open wounds. After hatching, the maggots bury themselves in the sheep’s wool and eventually under the sheep’s skin, feeding off their flesh. It’s one reason why it is so vitally important to shear sheep. Even if the wool is worthless, you’ve got to get it off because otherwise it gets dirty and sweaty and just attracts these flies.
Now both sheep scab and fly strike are perfectly natural. Natural is regarded as a good thing by people who live in major cities with electricity and plumbing and spend their time on their mobile phones, but actually, natural is not an unalloyed blessing and it can be pretty damned cruel and painful at times. So we have to do something to temper the natural. Here are some of the maggots in place.


And the farmer’s dilemma is that organophosphate sheep dips genuinely do protect the sheep, saving them from a lot of pain and distress. Nothing else works as well. Not only that, but there are considerable precautions in place to ensure that the dip doesn’t enter the food chain or the environment. So the important people are in point of fact protected. But some of us are more susceptible to organophosphate poisoning that others. So some farmers have worked with dip all their lives and have suffered very little whilst others have been left crippled by the effects. Still, they’re only self-employed enemies of the people and it’s not as if they’re important. All three main political parties have been in the governments who’ve ignored their plight. To be fair, in another forty years or so, they’ll all be dead and that’ll be an end of it.

But I was chatting to a farmer a bit back. He’d got dipping flu, had it for years. And he was on pretty strong painkillers for the joint pain. Then he’d got another long term chronic condition as well and that put him on even more medication. He’d stepped away from managing the farm, letting his son take over, but he carried on working on the farm and did the paperwork. Small family farms need the labour and there isn’t the money in food production to enable them to pay anybody.

The problem there was an error in the paperwork and that particular government body fines farmers if they make errors. So the family pointed out that the error came about because nobody had realised just how much the medication was effecting him. In the letter explaining this the family had pointed out that he’s now so bad, when he goes out to work, his grandchild accompanies him to keep an eye on him and make sure he’s safe.

Well not unreasonably the government body asked why the Grandchild couldn’t do the paperwork. If they were old enough to be responsible for his safety surely they were old enough to do the paperwork.

At the heart of this issue was the clash of cultures. The civil servants were struggling to cope with the idea that a person so ill they needed this much medication was still working. Can you imagine the shock it was for them when they discovered that the Grandchild who watched over grandfather working, all the while keeping their mobile phone close at hand, was aged about five.


There again, what do I know? Speak to the expert.

As a reviewer commented, “This is a selection of anecdotes about life as a farmer in Cumbria. The writer grew up on his farm, and generations of his family before him farmed the land. You develop a real feeling for the land you are hefted to and this comes across in these stories. We hear of the cattle, the sheep, his succession of working dogs, the weather and the neighbours, in an amusing and chatty style as the snippets of Jim Webster’s countryman’s wisdom fall gently. I love this collection.”

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32 thoughts on “Culture clash

  1. Stevie Turner September 6, 2019 at 10:45 am Reply

    Never knew about this condition. Sounds to me like the Government wants to avoid lots of compensation claims.

    • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 10:47 am Reply

      Absolutely. All three parties are part of it. There was even evidence produced which showed there could be a link with BSE in cattle as well

  2. Sue Vincent September 6, 2019 at 12:06 pm Reply

    It is this kind of willful myopia on the part of ‘the authorities’…a laughable term sometimes… that makes my blood boil…

    • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 12:46 pm Reply

      Well part of the reason for the introduction was animal welfare, human welfare always takes second place
      The other was consumer protection. The current dips are safer for animal and consumer than previous dips. Just more dangerous to the user 😦

      • Sue Vincent September 6, 2019 at 12:51 pm

        I suppose producers are more ‘expendable’ than product or consumer… 😦

      • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 12:58 pm

        In the eyes of the civil service, the self employed generally seem to be anathema and an administrative inconvenience to be remedied 😦

      • Sue Vincent September 6, 2019 at 1:02 pm

        They appear to have their methods…

      • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 1:14 pm

        sadly 😦

  3. Cynthia Reyes September 6, 2019 at 3:09 pm Reply

    Ugh. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Sorry to hear about this bureaucratic bungle, Jim.

    • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 3:16 pm Reply

      You can see why a lot of farmers aren’t too worried about Brexit, it’s the feeling that the bureaucracy is out to screw you whatever happens 😦

  4. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 6, 2019 at 6:13 pm Reply

    There isn’t the requirement that anyone making or enforcing regulations which affect farmers should have a ten year unpaid internship, working with five different farmers, is there? It’s like men wanting control of women’s bodies, or bureaucrats in Washington deciding about grazing rights in National Parks: they always get it wrong.

    • jwebster2 September 6, 2019 at 10:32 pm Reply

      Not only that but in the UK we’re the first country that went through the Industrial revolution. So our population is the worlds furthest from the original farming roots

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 7, 2019 at 2:26 pm

        Hadn’t thought of that, but you’re right.

        And it suffered through the pain of workers displaced by machines (and corporate greed) before everyone else. And the failure of governments to help people cope with the displacement.

      • jwebster2 September 7, 2019 at 3:30 pm

        Governments tend not to bother about small and unfashionable minorities

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 7, 2019 at 9:45 pm

        Too bad you cannot make the human components of government go hungry. That would teach them.

      • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 5:21 am

        That is why the Europeans came up with the much reviled common agricultural policy. It was put together by people who had eaten grass in the winter of 1944 and were determined never to do it again
        Now Europe is run by people who have eaten foie gras and expect to keep up that standard of living

      • Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt September 8, 2019 at 5:44 am

        My ignorance is showing; but the concept of people who suffered personal hardship running things is a good one.

  5. M T McGuire September 8, 2019 at 1:49 pm Reply

    I remember finding a fly blown ewe when I was a kid. It died shortly after we found it. Pretty grim. As for the government’s, only to be expected. Bastards.

    • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 2:15 pm Reply

      Why do you think I’m so blasé about Brexit? I assume the government is going to screw me over

      • M T McGuire September 8, 2019 at 4:01 pm

        So do I, so do I. They seem to think it’s what they’re there for.

      • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 4:29 pm

        I worked out that every five years of my working life (on average) the government has tried to make me bankrupt and homeless

      • M T McGuire September 8, 2019 at 4:42 pm

        Yeh. That figures.

      • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 4:47 pm

        And for a lot of livestock farmers, it’s a common experience 😦

      • M T McGuire September 8, 2019 at 4:48 pm

        When you look at how many smaller farms have failed it explains a great deal.

      • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 6:58 pm

        Yes, the older generation just got out, and the younger generation looked at the lifestyle and said, “No thank you.”

      • M T McGuire September 8, 2019 at 7:32 pm

        I think it’s very sad.

      • jwebster2 September 8, 2019 at 8:06 pm

        you get used to it. All my life has been spent with governments who were pushing a cheap food policy.
        Actually the UK governments have had a cheap food policy since the repeal of the Corn Laws. The need to provide cheap food for an urban workforce. This means wages could be relatively low and still allow workers to spend on consumer goods. This boosts the economy more than having them just buy food

  6. patriciaruthsusan September 12, 2019 at 1:13 pm Reply

    Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    First, a description of conditions on some farms in relation to infections and the treatment of them for both the farmer and animals. Next, is an amusing book by Jim Webster included about the farming life and animals. There is a review from a pleased reader included.

    • jwebster2 September 12, 2019 at 2:46 pm Reply

      All human life is here 🙂

      • patriciaruthsusan September 13, 2019 at 5:24 am

        That’s for sure. 🙂 — Suzanne

  7. Jack Eason September 30, 2019 at 6:46 am Reply

    Reblogged this on Have We Had Help? and commented:
    More from Jim…

    • jwebster2 September 30, 2019 at 6:51 am Reply

      other writers do wit and elegance, I give people maggots 😦

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