Sheep may safely graze


When you have a herd of dairy cows, there isn’t really a lot of room for sheep. The sheep just eat grass that the cow could eat and it’s the cows that are paying of the mortgage. But there again, there are times of year where even the most intensive dairy herd could use a few sheep. That is during the autumn. The ground has got too wet for dairy cows, and you’ve laid them in for the winter, but there is still some grass left. Indeed in a mild winter it might still be growing, albeit slowly. So what to do with that grass?
To be fair, at this time of year it’s not really worth a lot. We used to let cows out for an hour on a nice day in winter and they might browse a little, but normally they’d just sit down in the sun and enjoy the change before they went back inside of their own accord to eat. So that’s what cows thought about the grass. Nice for a change, pleasant enough to sit on, but it’s not as good as silage.

Alternatively you could just forget about it, and it’ll still be there next spring and it’ll get mown or eaten off then. The problem is that by then it’s old and ‘lowky’. So whilst it will help bulk up a silage crop, it actually brings down the quality. So by far the best thing to do is to eat if off with sheep. They’re bare the field right down so that when spring comes, the grass is off to a flying start and everything that comes is beautiful young new-season grass.

Some farmers will buy store-lambs, which have moved down from rougher, higher, farms where the season isn’t long enough to fatten them off grass. The dairy farmer will then fatten the store lambs on his ‘spare’ grass. To be honest it’s one of those ventures where you can do everything properly and still lose money. Or you strike lucky with the year and suddenly the pound collapses and suddenly lamb exports are booming and your store lambs do you really well.

Other people take on wintering hogs. These are young female fell sheep who’re sent down to the lowlands to get one easy winter in which they’ll grow really well and be ready to put to the tup the following year. They can do a good job but they too have problems. Firstly they’re fell sheep. They aren’t used to the concept of fields and fences and they just spread and get everywhere. The second problem is that the dairy farmer really wants them away by January and the Hill farmer doesn’t want them back until May. So they can end up getting in the way and eating the new spring grass which is supposed to go to the dairy cows. There is a further positive side to wintering sheep. A few years ago we rented some land which was, frankly rotten with ragwort. This is a poisonous weed, cattle won’t eat it, unless it’s been mown and horses seem to eat it for the pure joy of running up a big vet’s bill before they die. Sheep on the other hand can eat it and seem to suffer no ill effects. After ten years, the land was totally clear of ragwort, and ten years after we gave the land up, there’s still no ragwort.

Another alternative is to just let a neighbour run a few of his ewes over your fields and that way you can get them away by Christmas and they don’t become a problem.

But anyway this evening I went down to give some feed to the young dairy heifers who are used to be fed twice a day. Of course I took Sal. And when I got to the field there is a sea of sheep with the dairy heifers sticking out like small islands. (To be fair, this can happen whether you invite the sheep in or not)

So I shouted to the heifers.

They took one look, saw me (“Quick, it’s him with the feed”) and Sal (“aw it’s Sal, isn’t she so small and so cute”) and of course they came running to see us.

The sheep saw me, (“Irrelevant tall human, ignore”) and they saw Sal. (“Flee, wolf substitute.”) The sheep then move away in a semi-disciplined huddle.

This is a good thing because means the heifers can eat their feed without getting it stolen from them by innumerable sheep.

Sal ambles across the field on the path she normally follows, and quietly enjoys the fact that for once, something is taking her seriously. Indeed she seemed quite cheered by it all.

Normally cattle and sheep will graze quite happily, largely ignoring each other. On one occasion old Jess and I were moving some suckler cows and their calves from one field to another. What I hadn’t realised was that a neighbour’s sheep had got into the field. I walked ahead of the cows and calves, carrying a bucket of feed, and Jess followed on behind. I noticed the sheep at about the same time as the cows did. The cows formed an impromptu flying wedge which just charged past me and through the sheep, (the calves followed behind the wedge.) Suddenly there were panicking sheep everywhere. At the far side of the field the cows turned round and this time it was more a ragged single line of assorted cattle which charged back. The sheep by this time were running in the direction of the gap in the hedge they’d crept through. By the time the cows reformed and turned round for a third charge, there wasn’t a sheep in the field. So I gave the cows their feed and put a thorn in the gap to stop the sheep coming back.

Mind you, Jess was a picture as all this was going on. She wore an expression of grudging admiration. It wasn’t how she would have done it. To be honest it was a bit flashy. But to be fair, you had to admit it was damned effective.


To be fair, Jess was a dog of strong opinions!

As one reviewer commented, “A great collection of bite-sized tales from the author’s farming life.
Sheep and collie dogs are prominent, but the occasional passerby gets a wry mention.
My favourite is about the bunch of runners who race past him without speaking (noses firmly in the air), except for one friendly Irish lad who is trailing behind them.”

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30 thoughts on “Sheep may safely graze

  1. jenanita01 October 18, 2019 at 6:46 pm Reply

    You live in a completely different (and fascinating) world to the rest of us…

    • jwebster2 October 18, 2019 at 8:20 pm Reply

      Yeap 🙂
      And I am not complaining 😉

      • jenanita01 October 19, 2019 at 8:52 am

        Right now, I think I’d swap!

      • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 11:03 am

        The best thing is to let this life seep into yours 🙂

      • jenanita01 October 19, 2019 at 5:40 pm

        There is a risk that some of mine might seep into yours at the same time, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone!

      • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:41 pm

        I’ll do my best to keep it at bay 🙂

  2. Widdershins October 19, 2019 at 3:18 am Reply

    Cow flying-squad! 😀

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 5:18 am Reply

      yes, good order and decency restored by the prompt action of worthy matrons 🙂

      • Widdershins October 20, 2019 at 12:21 am

        As is the English way! 😀

      • jwebster2 October 20, 2019 at 5:06 am

        to right 🙂

  3. joylennick October 19, 2019 at 10:57 am Reply

    Thanks, Jim. I enjoy learning new info. I didn ‘t know ragwort was poisonous: except to sheep… (something else to chop up and put in the antagonists’ stew,,,,,) Cheers. x

  4. joylennick October 19, 2019 at 12:11 pm Reply

    Hi Jim, As a farmer, what’s your take on Brexit? Did being in the EU, favour you or not, and will you be better off being out of the EU? I love to hear from genuine sources…Many thanks.xx

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 12:38 pm Reply

      I have spent virtually my entire working life under the EEC and EU but can remember the world and working before it.
      Frankly it’s a micromanaged nightmare. I haven’t got a passport but every bovine on the farm has one and it can take longer to sort of deal with the paperwork necessary to move cattle than it takes to move cattle.
      The EU produces all encompassing regulations so that we have to do bizarre things because it’s not a problem anywhere but Germany, but we all have to jump through bureaucratic hoops

  5. joylennick October 19, 2019 at 1:50 pm Reply

    Thanks, Jim. But are you financially better off or not? I have little faith in our lot….They constantly – in the same way as lawyers – answer questions with more questions, or change the subject completely. x .

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:36 pm Reply

      I can remember four outbreaks of FMD, I’ve had to cope with retrospective milk quotas, BSE, the fact that we’d virtually eliminated bovine TB and government managed through policy changes to bring it back, as well as the Rural Payment Agency melting down twice and people not getting the money they needed, for many months, so frankly every five years government has tried to bankrupt me and make me homeless.
      Frankly even a no-deal brexit doesn’t bother me, because it’s just one more thing

  6. Stevie Turner October 19, 2019 at 2:18 pm Reply

    I always learn a bit more about farming when I read your blogs, Jim! How strange that sheep don’t suffer any ill-effects from ragwort.

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:40 pm Reply

      It seems that sheep, goats and deer are just far more tolerant to ragwort, indeed in winter they actively seek out and eat the crowns or rosettes that the ragwort dies back to. So they will clean it out given time.

  7. Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt October 19, 2019 at 3:55 pm Reply

    VERY visual. I love my little visits to your country.

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:40 pm Reply

      The country has to be visual 🙂

  8. M T McGuire October 19, 2019 at 4:23 pm Reply

    Love it. I always enjoy your stories. Never a dull moment eh?



    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:40 pm Reply

      Oh I tell you 🙂

    • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 6:41 pm Reply

      (A bit like your stories with McMini etc, stories just bubble out of life)

      • M T McGuire October 19, 2019 at 7:46 pm

        I guess so … Or we’re just a couple of nutters who see the story in everything. 🤣🤣🙂

      • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 7:54 pm

        I suspect that the reason you’re ‘nutters’ is that you do what matters, not what the world would like you to do 🙂

      • M T McGuire October 19, 2019 at 8:06 pm

        I meant you and I on the nutters front. 🤣🤣🤣🤣 Although if that’s the case I suspect you’ve for it right. 🙂

      • jwebster2 October 19, 2019 at 8:12 pm

        In my case it’s entirely true 🙂

      • M T McGuire October 19, 2019 at 8:41 pm


  9. joylennick October 19, 2019 at 7:47 pm Reply

    Thanks, Jim. You certainly have to be hardy to be a farmer.(Have always thought that anyway…) The very nature of it, apart from the bureaucracy, must have you pulling out your hair at times…It must be therapeutic to write! Let’s hear it for the farmers…..Cheers. x

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